It was only the third morning Ron Stoppable had spent by himself since the junior prom (two weeks ago now) and the end of the school year (three days before). Kim had gone shopping at Club Banana – not one of Ron's favorite pursuits – and so he had decided to spend some quality time in his treehouse. He had almost reached the top of the ladder when he heard the voice.
"Good morning, Ron-san."
"AAAAAAAHHH! Haunted!" Ron's hands shot up to cover his eyes – which was, he instantly realized, a really bad idea, because it meant he was no longer holding onto the ladder. He teetered backward, on course for a perfect 20-foot nosedive into his back yard . . .
. . . when a black-sleeved arm reached through the entrance hatch, grabbed his collar, and hauled him up into the treehouse.
Once he'd registered that he was right-side up again and likely to stay that way, Ron carefully spread the fingers of his right hand and peeked through the gap. "Oh!" he said. "Yori! You're in my treehouse. As in, here. As in, not in Japan." He frowned. "Does this mean Sensei's missing again?"
Yori giggled. "No, no. Sensei is fine."
"Okay, then, Monkey Fist's up to something – taking another shot at the Lotus Blade?"
"No, he is still hiding from DNAmy and her gorillas."
"Fukushima's back? Master Lunch Lady wants my naco recipe?"
Yori's giggling erupted into outright laughter. "Oh, Ron-san, I have missed your American-style humor. All is well at Yamanuchi – but it is our summer break, just as it is yours."
"But if there's no mission," Ron said, his eyes starting to glaze over, "and school's out, then, um, how come you're in my treehouse? Not," he added quickly, "that I'm not happy to see you. And of course, my treehouse is your treehouse. Except it's here, and you live in Japan – you do still live in Japan, right? They haven't kicked you out of Yamanuchi or anything? Because if they have—" He paused, mostly for breath, but also to demonstrate his serious face.
Yori kissed him.
From a strictly physical viewpoint, it was only an average kiss – more than a peck, less than a full-on lip lock – but it was still well past innocent. She had pressed her lips to his, not merely brushed them against his cheek, making firm rather than tentative contact. And if the kiss hadn't quite tasted of intimacy, it had definitely been flavored with anticipation. Ron's eyes went wide and round, his vision unfocused, and his muscles found themselves caught halfway between total paralysis and utter relaxation. Rufus, who had barely avoided falling out of Ron's pocket earlier, squeaked once and scampered into a corner, curling up behind a small heap of forgotten socks.
After a moment, Yori broke the abrupt silence. "It is no more than I have said, and no less. All is well at Yamanuchi, but classes are not in session and so the students have scattered to the four winds. I have come here, where I hope I may enjoy the companionship of one I – very much admire." She stopped, not exactly breathless, and looked at Ron, her eyes more than usually bright. "You are a hero in Japan, you know."
"Hero? Me?" Ron blinked as he emerged from the dazed state. "They must have me confused with Kim."
"You are both heroes, Ron-san," Yori said firmly. "Nakasumi-san has said so, and his words carry much weight. There were not many Diablos in Japan, but those that were there could have done much damage had you and Kim-san not stopped them."
Ron's expression was doubtful. "Kim was the one who really stopped the Diablos."
Yori's wasn't. "I am sure she could not have done so without you. You are a hero, Ron-san, whether you believe so or not."
"And you're here because . . . ."
"I am here because I like you very much, Ron-san," Yori said softly.
"Ohhh, man," Ron said, just as softly.
One of Yori's eyebrows rose slightly. "I am not yet fluent in your American-style slang," she said, "but that did not sound entirely joyful."
Ron gulped. "Ohhh, man," he said again. "The Ron-man is all about the liking. And the joy. But the Ron-man is also way confused. And it's – kinda complicated."
Yori took a deep breath. "Is it – Kim-san?"
"It kind of is," Ron admitted. "We – connected on prom night, right in the middle of the Diablo sitch. And it felt really, really good." Talking quickly, he unfolded that night's events.
"So you are—"
"That's just it, I don't know. Kim and I are really close now, and that's way cool. But - what just happened, right here, felt good too. The liking, I mean, not just the kissing. And it's, well, awkweird."
"Oh, Ron-san," Yori said. The emotions in the treehouse were stretched tight enough for a musician to play like a guitar, but she still managed to sound amused. "This I have seen; it is like your American-style soap opera. Your heart is torn between Kim-san and myself, is it not so?"
Visions of Agony County spun through Ron's brain. "You could say that, I guess – only without the cheating and the keeping secrets and the really expensive cars. Because the Ron-man will never, repeat never, go behind Kim's back."
"That would be a path of dishonor," Yori agreed at once, then fell briefly silent. "Still, while you are – how does the television say, examining your feelings – we may remain friends with one another, yes?"
"It would be my honor," Ron said, exhaling a relieved breath. "Friends who are hanging out during summer vacation, that would be us. So," he asked, "how long are you here? Where are you staying? Do I get to meet some of the ninja graduates this time?"
Yori smiled. "Our ninja graduates come to Yamanuchi's aid in matters of power and importance," she said. "Their favors are not to be used lightly. I am here as a Japanese tourist, that is all. And did you not say that your treehouse was my treehouse? It appears most comfortable."
Ron looked around, startled, at the treehouse's well-used third-generation furnishings. Then his mind flicked back to the quarters he'd been given during his visit to Yamanuchi, and he nodded. "Comfortable, right. Might get a little cool at night, though. And I should let my parents know, so they don't think you're a burglar or a hobo or something."
"You are very gracious, Ron-san." Yori started to lean forward as if to kiss him again, but abruptly caught herself and sighed. "It will be my honor to accept your hospitality – but I do not wish to be a burden."
"Not to worry," Ron said, then glanced at his watch. "Hey – it's almost lunchtime. Allow me to introduce you to the wonder that is Bueno Nacho."
"Ah, yes, your American-style Mexican-style fast food. It will be a new experience," Yori said cheerfully.
Ron frowned briefly. "Wait, don't they have three Bueno Nachos in Tokyo?"
"Indeed so, Ron-san," said Yori, "but the Diablos wrecked them all during the uprising two weeks ago, and it is not yet known when they will reopen."
"Oh, right. Lucky for us, the only thing we lost here was the sign. Come on, let's go." Ron headed for the exit hatch.
"One moment," Yori said. "I am not properly dressed to appear in public."
Ron turned, blinked, and said, "Huh? You're just fi– oh, gotcha. That'd be a little conspicuous." Though she wasn't wearing the hood, she was otherwise in full midnight-black ninja costume. "You did bring, like, normal clothes, right?"
Yori nodded, retreating behind a screen Ron didn't recall having been there before. "Some," she said. "Perhaps after lunch, you will help me choose more. I fear my American-style clothing may not be the most current fashion, and I do not wish to look out of place." She emerged again, wearing the blue top, short plaid skirt, and high black boots in which she'd turned up at Middleton High at the start of the Gorilla Fist adventure.
Ron gulped. "You look – fine," he said, knowing as the words left his mouth that it was a wild understatement. "It would be my honor to help you shop, but I'm not really, uh, up on the latest trends." Heck, you'd look spectacular in a burlap potato sack, he added to himself, managing with an effort of will not to utter the line out loud.
"I am sure you will guide me well, Ron-san," Yori said, stepping neatly past him to the top of the ladder leading down. "Now come, I am eager to sample this Bueno Nacho."
"Cheese!" Rufus put in, poking his head out of the nest of socks. He raced across the treehouse, leaping into Ron's pocket with a perfect one-and-a-half somersault.
"You got it, little guy," Ron told him, following Yori as they descended. "Just keep it neat today; we've got company. Got it?"
Rufus gave him an of course I'll behave look – and a raspberry.
Yori eyed her naco warily. "It looks – untidy," she said, reaching for a tortilla chip from the paper basket Rufus wasn't sitting in.
"Not to worry, we have extra napkins, or there's sporks at the counter. But there is no honor," Ron added firmly, "in eating a naco with a spork."
"Ah," Yori said. "A challenge, then: one must consume the naco without marking one's clothing. It is a worthy test." She considered the entrée thoughtfully for several moments. Then she lifted her right hand slightly and flicked her index finger outward, causing a needle-thin five inch blade to spring from nowhere in particular, as if it had been hidden beneath her fingernail. Four lightning strokes slashed the naco into eight equal parts in something less than a second, another flick bisected a napkin (neatly wiping the blade in the process), and a subtle crook of Yori's finger caused the weapon to vanish as quickly as it had appeared. Calmly, she folded one of the segments into a fortune-cookie shape and popped it into her mouth.
"It is – good," she said once she'd finished chewing. "But I believe it needs some of your American-style Mexican-style seasoning."
Ron's eyes were spinning. "Whoa."
"Diablo!" said Rufus, handing Yori a packet of the liquid dynamite. She slit one corner with a fingernail, then carefully squirted the entire packet onto a second naco segment.
"Um, you might want to be careful with that," Ron told her. "It's pretty potent." Yori merely nodded, folded the segment as she had the first, and ate it in two quick bites.
Ron tensed, ready to spring for the self-serve soda machine. But Yori smiled and held out a hand to Rufus, who passed her another sauce packet. "Spirited," she said. "Master Lunch Lady's wasabi is more powerful, but this Diablo sauce has greater subtlety. Are you not going to eat your naco?" she added.
"Uh, sure," Ron said, shaking off his dazed state.
He considered the naco for a moment; clearly, his usual all-at-once scarfing tactic was ill-advised in this situation. Then he carefully slid one hand underneath the wrapper and lifted it to mouth-height, leaned slightly forward, and began nibbling at the naco's edge as he deftly turned the wrapper using his free hand. In short order, he'd spiraled his way inward and polished off his meal, whereupon he crumpled the paper wrapper, blotted his lips with a napkin, and grinned across the booth at Yori. "Honor is satisfied. And so is my tummy."
"Indeed," she replied. "Then let us go shopping."
The naco suddenly felt heavy in Ron's stomach, but he took a deep breath and stood up. "Shopping it is," he said.