Too Good to Be True
by "The Enduring Man-Child"
All standard disclaimers apply.
This fic takes place sometime after my last Ned fic, "No Man Knows My Story." How it, or my other stories, fit into the KP series time line I don't know. At the end of the series Middleton had been destroyed and Kim and Ron had graduated high school and were (one assumes) on their way to college. All my fics assume is that Kim and Ron are dating. Other than that they seem to take place in a vacuum.
This fic features Mt. Middleton, which, to the best of my knowledge, was not in the series and which I did not create. Props to whoever did. If I knew who it was I'd credit him/her by name.
Once again, this fic is dedicated to all the Neds out there in Real Life.
And of course, as always, thanks to cpneb for the beta and for his contributions to the story!
Ned was thoroughly miserable.
He was in the deepest pit of the deepest of the Faustian hells.
He had seen this coming for three years and had done his best to forestall it. He had told himself to be prepared, to head off any such trouble. And, on occasion, he congratulated himself at having apparently succeeded. However, he should have known better. It was inevitable. He was doomed. How could he have been so foolish as to ever think otherwise?
And now, here he was. His shift at Bueno Nacho had ended and, once again, as almost every evening for the past three years, he found himself sitting across the table from Dr. Vivian Frances Porter—wearing her extra-nerdy-looking horn rim eyeglasses from work, no less (was there No merciful God, at all?)—as she ate a quick fast food dinner after her own work day and talked about her favorite subject:
On, and on, and on she went about how he shouldn't sell himself short, about how smart he was, how nice he was, how he didn't appreciate what a truly special person he was...about his great inner strength and force of character at having overcome so much...about how much she admired him...how much she liked him.
How much could a man endure?
Did hejust say that? Out loud? He'd been thinking it for some time. Shoot, he'd found himself thinking it on many occasions over the past couple years, and more often recently, but he'd never have expected to have the courage to actually say it! Nah...he couldn't have!
Only...Vivian was frozen there, her mouth open in shock, her salad fork poised halfway to that selfsame mouth.
"What did you say?" she managed to get out after finally getting her jaws to working again (which she did only after a few false starts).
Ned turned red with embarrassment and looked away as he nervously scratched the back of his head.
"Never mind...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that out loud. Just forget about it."
Vivian put here salad fork down.
"No, Ned, I'm not going to just forget about it. You told me to shut up!"
"Well, that's not what I said," Ned said, fear building up within him.
"Well, that's pretty much what you meant, isn't it? Isn't it?"
Ned bowed his head in shame.
"I don't understand," Vivian continued. "Did I say something wrong? Did I offend you in some way? I was complimenting you, you thick headed...aaargh!" She threw up her hands in frustration, and salad greens flew into the air and over her shoulder to land on the window, sliding down and leaving a slight green and vinegar streak.
"I'm sorry, Vivian. You've been so good to me over the years and here I go saying something awful like that. I'm...I'm sorry. I can understand if you don't want to be friends anymore."
Vivian placed her salad fork on the table with a soft cling and stared at Ned. The silence and tension continued uninterrupted for some time, Vivian looking upset and then confused at Ned's statement. Then, finally, Vivian said, "Why did you say that, Ned? I don't understand! I...I thought you liked me."
"I do! I do, Vivian! I didn't mean it that way at all! It's just... Oh, please just forget I said it, okay? Let's just...go back to the way things were."
For a while, Vivian just continued to stare at him with a hurt look on her face. Then, she picked up her salad fork and recommenced eating her meal in silence.
Ned hoped that would be the end of it.
Both continued to sit in silence for some time, even after Vivian had finished her salad. Then, finally, she picked up her purse and her tray and said, "Well, I guess it's time I got you home."
Mentally, Ned breathed a sigh of relief.
As might be expected, things were uncharacteristically quiet in Vivian's car after that, but at least the tension seemed to have evaporated. That is, until Ned noticed that she abruptly missed the turnoff that led to Ned's modest motel room and picked up speed as she headed out of town altogether.
Then, he panicked
"Vivian, what are you doing?"
"Are you still mad at me?"
Still, no answer came from her.
"I told you I was sorry I said it; now, please, take me home, Vivian! I'm..."
He didn't finish the statement, but the word was "scared." All sorts of scenarios were running through his mind: Misery, Fatal Attraction...what was she going to do to him? He dared not look. He wasn't brave enough to try to jump out of the car, especially at the speed she was going now after having taken the exit onto the open highway, and he wasn't brave enough to face whatever she had in store for him, either.
All he could do was hide his head in his hands and whimper.
His pulse quickened as she pulled off the highway onto what seemed to be a smaller road, followed by other turn-offs as well. (How many? Despite his mathematical abilities, he didn't even bother to keep count. He didn't want to know...)
Finally, the car pulled to a stop. "We're here," she said.
Slowly, timorously, Ned raised his head from his hands and dared a quick peep. Below where they were parked, he saw the Tri-Cities glistening in the late evening sun, soon to be bathed in their own electrical garments.
Mt. Middleton! He had heard of this place, but he had never been here. Why in the name of all that is sane did Vivian drive him up here?
"Okay," she said, frightening Ned into hiding his face in his hands again, "now I want to know what's going on. As the kids say: spill!"
"Um...can't I just say I'm sorry?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"Ned..." she began, "I haven't said anything before, but I've noticed this mood creeping up on you for the past few months. Something is going on, and what you said is just a symptom. I want to know what the problem is. You know you can tell me anything, right?" she asked, the last sentence in a more sympathetic and gentler tone.
Ned looked down. "Please," he said, "I can't. I just...I just can't. Please, take me home now?"
Vivian looked very solemn for a moment. "Look Ned: you're my best friend and I don't like doing this. But something is obviously wrong. You've not been like this before. You've always told me...you've told me things you've never told anyone else."
"I know," he said softly.
"So I hope you know that I'm only doing this for your own good. I'm concerned about you. I'm worried about you, darn it! The only thing I can think of is that you're in some kind of trouble, and if you won't tell me, I doubt very seriously that you'll tell anybody, and that isn't good! And only because of that, because I'm worried about you and want to help you, whether you want me to or not, I'm going to say something to you I would never say to you otherwise."
She paused, took a deep breath, and continued.
"Ned...you know, and I know, that I could use my MFP(TM) to force you to tell me what's going on."
Ned looked confused, but he had to ask: "MFP?"
"Magical Female Powers(TM)," Vivian smiled a smile that reminded Ned of a cat, staring at a cornered mouse.
Ned was seized by a sudden terror, the like of which he had never known before.
"Now, I don't want to do that, Ned. And I know you don't want me to do it. Am I right?"
"N—no, Ma'am! I mean yes, Ma'am!" he answered at once, obviously frightened.
"I'd much rather you tell me of your own free will. But tell me you will. Now, that being the case, why don't you just talk about what's bothering you?" And despite the threat in her words Ned could tell that she really was concerned.
"If I have to..."
"You have to!" she insisted.
"Then—then I'll tell you. Only...this is going to be really hard to do." He looked up at her with a pleading look on his face. "Please be patient with me?" And he gave her a pleading look that would have broken her heart regardless of the circumstances.
"Okay," she said, "take your time. Only just be aware that the sooner you finish telling me, the sooner we'll get out of here. There's going to be young couples parking up here when it gets dark."
Ned hadn't considered this before, and the thought of being caught alone in a car with Vivian at night on Mt. Middleton was so embarrassing...yet, at the same time, a very tiny part of him dreamt of this happening, but the rest of him laughed at him.
"Okay...okay. Here goes."
She turned to face him to show he had her undivided attention.
For a while he sat quietly with his eyes closed, obviously deep in thought. Vivian was true to her word and said nothing, allowing him to speak whenever he was finally ready.
"Do you remember when we first met?" he asked her.
"Wasn't it at the Robot Rumble?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, "not long after you started it. I heard about it from some of the other guys at the comic book store and thought I'd check it out. That was back when you had Oliver."
"I remember," she told him.
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I was so jealous!" He blushed deeply when he realized what he'd said.
"Why Ned, that's something you've never told me before!" she said, smiling—fortunately for him, in a pleased rather than a teasing manner.
"Yeah...well anyway," he said, anxious to leave that particular topic as soon as possible, "after I'd been going to the Rumble for several weeks—not too long after 'Oliver' stopped coming—I remember one night you walked up to me and said 'Hello.'"
"I remember that too," Vivian said.
"I never dreamt that you even knew I existed, and you knew my name," Ned continued. "I felt like I was on top of the world: you knew my name, and you noticed me!"
"Yeah," Vivian recalled with a smile, "I'd already noticed you. I thought you were with that Flanner girl."
"No, I didn't really know her," Ned said, and Vivian nodded. She knew that Ned didn't really know many people at all, and he didn't seem to want anyone to know him.
"But you came up to me and said hello. You're the one who started it."
"I had to, Ned," she said. Whenever I asked about 'that couple over there' they told me all about Justine, but all they knew about you was that you ran the Middleton Bueno Nacho and spent a lot of time at the comics store. You were a mystery."
"Well anyway," Ned continued, beginning to feel uncomfortable, "you introduced yourself and told me your name, and I asked where Oliver was and you laughed and said he was just a robot you'd made. That was really a surprise."
"And, then, you spoke to me the next week, and the next...all those people around with robots and you'd seek me out to talk. And then you started talking to me whenever you came into Bueno Nacho."
"Yeah, I made it my eating spot because you worked there. That way I could talk to you every day."
Ned blushed and seemed to grow tense. He continued quickly.
"Then, you offered to be my ride to and from work."
"Well, I saw the cab pull up for you," she said. "Why should you have to pay just to get from home to work and back when I could drive you just as easily, and not charge you besides?"
"And the first time you saw where I lived..." He was silent for a while.
"Yeah," she said softly. "And...and I started asking questions. I can't believe you were living that way and nobody knew about it."
"I can't believe I told you," he said. "It had to have been the MFP(tm). C'mon, fess up...you used MFP(tm) on me, didn't you?"
"Word of honor, Ned, I never used any MFP(tm)," she assured him, hand in the air in a "so help me" position. "I was just concerned about you. I wanted to know what was going on."
"And, as the weeks and months went by," Ned continued, "and we spent more time together, and you started coming in and visiting with me..."
"And cooking for you, on occasion," she reminded him. "You were obviously not taking care of yourself. Where all that fat you consume goes is beyond me."
"And I told you about myself. I told you my story. Things I'd never told anybody, that I'd sworn I'd never tell anybody, and I told you. Did you...?"
"No, Ned, no MFP(tm) was involved," she assured him, "I promise that your feeble male willpower was left intact," she said with a grin.
"And now, you're my best friend. You're my only friend. Don't you understand?"
"That's great, Ned. I like being your best friend!" she said, "I like to have bit Kim Possible's head off when she came into your hospital room back when you were recovering from appendicitis. I was downright territorial. So," she smiled, but it was a confused smile, "what has all this got to do with the mood you've been in lately? Why did you tell me to shut up?"
"Vivian, don't you understand?" Ned snapped with a ferocity that surprised her. "I can't take this any more!"
Vivian was genuinely stunned. She felt that she'd been slapped in the face.
"You...you mean...you don't want us to be friends any more? Why? What did I do?" There were no tears but there was a sob in her question.
"No, you still don't understand, do you?" Ned observed with a sigh of hopelessness. "Vivian...look...I know why you picked me to be best friends with."
"Yeah, because you're nice and fascinating and super intelligent and kind and have so much inner strength and..."
"And because I'm a homely scrawny geek you can be 'just friends' with and who'll never ask for more because I'm either asexual or else recognize that you're so far out of my league that I'll know better than to ever hope that you'd like me 'that way.'"
"Well, I've got news for you, Vivian. I'm a guy. I may be scrawny, I may be nerdy, I may sound like that fellow who's in all those cartoon shows, but I'm still a guy! And you're the most devastatingly beautiful woman I've ever seen, and ever since you befriended me—and yes, it was you who befriended me because I'd have never dared to even look you in the eye—I've been having...feelings. I know it's hopeless, I know I'm going to get my heart broken, and believe me, I've tried my best to not let it get to me. I wish...oh how I've wished, that I didn't have these normal guy feelings! I'd love to be what you want me to be, Vivian, because you're a kind person and a wonderful friend and that's what you deserve. But, a girl who looks like you do? Choosing to be friends with me? Constantly praising me, telling me how much you like me, telling me just now that you started going to Bueno Nacho because I was there... I'm sorry. I'm only human. I tried not to let it go to my head but it has. I've known all along it was too good to be true but...yes, I've fallen in love with you.
"We're talking 'hormone with feet' here," he said, and Vivian stifled a laugh at the image.
"And, I can't handle it! I know you never meant anything but good by it, but Vivian, it's become torture: pure and simple Geneva-Convention-violation-level torture. I literally think about you all the time, and I can't stop it! I've tried running through all the digits of Pi but all I can think about is you. And I'm miserable, and I'm scared, and you hate me now, and...Okay you can go ahead and utterly destroy my soul now."
Now, he was finished, literally and emotionally. His soul was on the dashboard, ready for Vivian to take out an iron skillet and smash it into a pulp with a single stroke of her MFP(tm).
He continued to look down, eyes closed, awaiting his inevitable doom. The fact it was taking so long only made it worse.
It's a good thing he wasn't watching Vivian, as the look on her face and the way she was gripping the steering wheel would have provided precious little comfort.
Finally, the wait was over.
"Ned, for a freak genius you are absolutely the most infuriatingly dense human being I have ever met in my life and, in my line of work, I have met plenty of infuriatingly dense people! I thought Fen was a dense chauvinistic swine, not worthy of the air he was breathing, but you've surpassed his denseness and graduated to a true I-D-10-T! You...you...," she took a deep breath, calmed a bit, and spoke in an authoritative voice, "Ned, look at me."
Ned's heart was beating so hard he thought it would come through his chest. He winced, cowering, his hands thrown up over his face in defense. It was no use. Vivian grasped his head between her hands and forced him to face her two very large, very angry eyes.
Then, she let loose a blood-curdling scream:
"LOOK AT ME!"
Oh no, he thought, here they come, the Magical Female Powers(tm)! First she holds me transfixed by her Evil Will, then two bright shining rays of light will emerge from those two gorgeous irises and burn right into my own! Then they'll hit the optic nerves, follow them right into the brain, and fry it from the inside out until my empty cerebrum collapses in on itself, leaving me a pathetic, non-sentient, slobbering hulk, the shell of what once was a human being, a soulless, miserable—
"You imbecilic moron: I've not been torturing you, unknowingly or otherwise! I say those things because I like you like you and I want you to like me like me back! I don't want you to be my platonic friend! I...I've been waiting for you to love me as much as I've grown to love you..."
After the storm had passed and calm had returned to the little scene, Ned just sat there, blinking.
She waited for a moment for Ned to respond, but nothing happened. She looked at Ned and smiled.
"Yes, Ned, Love. I said love. I love you, Ned. There, I said it. Are you happy now?" she asked, the hurt coming from her last statement.
Silence filled the car, threatening to cover the cities like a dense fog.
"Ned?" she asked.
"Yo! Nedders!" She snapped her fingers.
"Yoo-hoo, Ned-meister!" She waved her hands in front of his eyes.
"C'mon Ned, work with me here!" she said, pounding his chest, "snap out of it! I kept my promise and didn't fire the rays!"
Finally he seemed to snap out of it. Quickly he pinched himself.
"Cut it out, Ned," she said, pulling his hand away from where he was pinching his other arm, "you're not dreaming!"
For a while her visage remained stern. But her features softened as the considerable tension between them began to melt away at last.
"Well...this is a new experience for me," he said, blushing once again, "I'm afraid I don't know what I'm supposed to do right now."
"I'm not exactly an old pro, myself," she said. She noticed the incredulity with which he regarded her last comment. "I know, you think I lie in my island lair enchanting sailors and luring them to their doom, but other than dating in high school and college and all the 'crushing' that comes along with it...nothing. I've never been...in love before. Not till you, you Ron Stoppable-heartbreaker, you," she grinned.
Ned couldn't believe what she was saying. Her, with no love in her life:
She could tell he was relieved, happy even, but still uncomfortable.
"Really!" she continued to assure him. "I know better than to cruelly lead a guy on or let him get the wrong idea, and I certainly know better than to wear eyeglasses around a guy I'm not really interested in. I'm not an inhuman monster, you know."
"I know. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply you were."
"If I weren't serious about you I'd have said something to keep you from falling for me. Really I would. But I told you I liked you because I do...that way. Really, what did you think I was supposed to do when I was attracted to a guy...seduce him?"
"Something like that," Ned confessed.
"Sorry, not a siren," she told him. "My mom had a little talk with me when I reached puberty. I've always been very careful about not making anyone feel small—not even the jerks that deserve it, much less the really nice guys like you. Plus I take pride in my accomplishments, not my genetics. And I want you to take pride in your accomplishments, too. You don't give yourself enough credit, you know."
"Well..." Ned floundered for a moment, "you could have said something like 'be not afraid, hapless male.'"
"Um...be not afraid, hapless male?" she offered.
Ned's joy knew no bounds. "Never have I ever dared to hope to hear those blessed words...not outside of my dreams, anyway!"
Vivian looked down for a moment. "So...you ever kissed a girl?" she asked him timidly, almost afraid of the answer.
"Would you like to?" she asked, hopefully, head still down.
"I doubt I'll be very good."
"That's all right. I'm not a perfectionist, and you have my permission if you'd like to try it," she lifted her head, and Ned saw a smile of hope on her face.
He scratched his head.
"I promise you'll live."
"You think so?"
She pointed to her eyes. "Rays are turned off."
"Well...it's something I never thought I'd get to do..." He steeled himself. "Well...if I really do have your permission..."
"You do," she smiled.
"Then I'll try it. But don't expect too much. I'm afraid you'll be disappointed."
"You let me be the judge of that," she replied, smiling even bigger.
Ned lifted his hands to her face and pulled her towards him, smiling as he saw her close her eyes in anticipation.
He closed his eyes, and their lips met.
He kissed her.
True, not very well—it was only his first kiss, after all—but he did it.
And, she wasn't disappointed.
Finally, their lips parted, and they both opened their eyes, smiles on both faces as they enjoyed the afterglow and silence that followed.
"Well," she told him, her heart still more than a bit aflutter, "now I guess I'd better get you home." She reached for the key in the ignition.
Ned's arm reached out to stop her.
"Do we have to go? Just now?"
"No," she smiled at him, "I have plenty of time...for you."
Later that night—but not too late—Vivian returned Ned home safe and sound, his kissing skills and his self-esteem considerably improved. He was, after all, a remarkably fast learner. And Vivian was true to her word. She didn't seduce him, she didn't make him feel small, and she kept the safety locked on The Rays throughout the whole thing.
And, Vivian thought, I never thought I could feel this wonderful, she smiled as he gave her a quick peck on the lips before getting out of the car, smiling and waving as he closed the car door. He blew her one more kiss just before he closed the door to his motel room.
Afterword: This story is based on a similar situation in which I found myself in college. There were, however, two differences: 1)I was not as good looking as Ned, and 2)it did not have a happy ending...for me, I mean (I assume it did for her). But that's what fan fiction is for...right?