DISCLAIMER: Nothing from Kim Possible belongs to me, though I misuse it all at will. The Cthulhu Mythos doesn't belong to me either, but it suffers as well. Soundtrack for writing this chapter: Victims of the Modern Age by Star One/Sitra Ahra by Therion. Shuffle play is a wonderful thing.
Atom by atom, molecule by molecule, they tumbled down through infinity, trickling back into the real world, the world where giant tentacled monsters only existed in books and movies. And, of course, the occasional mad scientist lab.
The entire teleportation sequence had taken less than a millisecond. It had seemed like a century.
No wonder only lunatics used it.
Kim looked herself over, breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently she was in one piece. Ron looked whole as well.
"We made it," he cried. "We made it." He embraced her. A small crowd of tourists had been photographing the Neoclassical splendor of the Hamburger Bahnhof, one of Berlin's many art museums; now they turned their cameras on the world-renowned couple who had suddenly appeared in their midst.
Two days later a band of art thieves would be apprehended in the museum, attempting to steal Easelsmear's priceless Shirt Tie and Handkerchief triptych; behind one of those enormous canvases would be discovered a healthy, living human appendix, fused to the painting. It would be surgically removed without incident, the whole bizarre event swept under the rug and quickly forgotten.
Across the world Ron Stoppable would suffer the worst stomachache of his life. Like many another man, he would refuse to go to the doctor, preferring to moan and groan around the house for a week, upsetting his daughter and irritating his wife.
The legendary Stoppable Fortress of Immunity would miraculously allow him to heal without infection or even knowing what had occurred.
Such was the immediate future of the Mystical Monkey Master. Right now, though, he felt just fine.
"How'd you work the belt?" she asked in the cab, on the way to Tegel International Airport. They weren't about to play around with the belt again; a jet home would be just fine. "I know you can play the keyboards. How'd you know what to play?"
"Dementor's proud of his heritage. I figured he'd have an escape route keyed to something German. I was right."
"Deutschland uber Alles? Something from Wagner?"
"What? He's a villain, but he's not that kind of villain. No, Der Lederhosen Django. It's on that Bavarian Oktoberfest Band album. You know, the one you don't like."
"That's two-thirds of your collection." His essential Ronness led him down some pretty strange musical alleys.
"The one that makes Cinnabar dance every time you play it?" They had a video of her twisting and hopping to the music, red hair tossing, a big smile on her little face. Just as they shut off the camera, she'd done a handstand and jumped to the top of the kitchen cabinet, teetering on the edge; Kim had flung herself across the room to catch her. She'd fallen backwards into Mommy's arms, laughing.
Why were we surprised? Kim wondered. After all, her first words were 'grappling hook.'
"That's the one!" He grinned. "I'll bet there's no one else in Middleton who can rock the melodica like I can."
"You could have sent us to Sirius." There was just a hint of an edge in her voice.
"And that would be worse than where we almost ended up?"
Her expression was her answer. Point taken.
"Let me ask you a question, then." His grin faded. "Kim, how'd you know it was me? They looked just like me. Sounded like me. Had some of my memories as well. You picked me out in a second."
She kissed him. Hoped he'd drop the subject. "It's a woman thing."
He remained unconvinced. "No, really."
She was going to have to tell him.
"OK. All of them looked afraid. They did a great job duplicating externals. But you were the only one sweating. 'Sweating bullets', as they say."
He broke into the nervous laugh that meant she'd hit a nerve. "Yeah, well, I was scared. You bet."
"I heard you shouting for me as you came down the hallway. Just like old times."
"Not really. I wasn't shouting for you to save me. I was shouting for you to save yourself." He hesitated, cleared his throat, looked out the window, hoping for some revelation, finding only a road sign: FLUGHAFEN – 2 KM. "Kim – I think it's time to take down the website. I – I think this should be our last mission." He paused, added quickly "At least until Cinnabar is older."
The laugh again. "I'm joking."
"Ron – "
"Just joking! Just a gag!"
"Ron. Stop. I've been trying to think of – of some way to tell you the same thing. Somebody once said the minute you give birth, it's not about you anymore. It's about someone else." She was having a harder time with it than Ron had. "It was fun when we were in school. We're not in school anymore. I was scared to death the whole time. Afraid something would happen to you. Afraid I'd never see our daughter again, never see you again." Her eyes filled with tears; this was as hard as breaking up with someone. Harder. "We've been superheroes long enough. Time to hang up the capes. For our daughter's sake."
"We don't wear capes –"
"It's a metaphor, Ron! I mean – I mean Hallowe'en's over. Time to take off the kids' costumes and be adults."
The airport was just ahead.
She was watching the raw video footage again; the gigantic vortex of uncanny energy, monstrous phantoms teetering on the edge of reality, and her tiny form at the center of it all. "Sometimes," she began, still intent on the mayhem onscreen, "I remember some of it. A little at a time. Did you know that you can't remember pain?"
He had no idea how she'd obtained that dvd, and was more than a little alarmed by it. "Why would you want to?"
"You can remember having pain, but not the pain itself. That's a good thing."
"Stop torturing yourself. They forced you to do it. The Old Ones. I was in your mind for a moment; I know." He shuddered involuntarily, hoped she didn't see it. "It wasn't your fault."
"They made me open the gate for them. They made me write that filthy book. But they didn't make me go after Kimmy. And they didn't make me sell them my soul. I did that myself."
"And you paid for it. For five years." He grabbed the remote, shut off the video. "It is what it is. Done. Finished."
"It's never finished." She showed him the morning paper, its front page bearing a photo of Kim and Ron Stoppable, its headline "Superheroes No More!"
"What about it? It's all over the news. They're calling it quits. No more 'missions'. Who can blame them? They have a child to raise."
"And we don't."
The non sequitur annoyed him. "And that means – ?"
"I mean someone has to watch after the world. If Kimmie and her hubby are off watching their kid, someone else has to do it. There are all kinds of nuts out there." And some of them have that book, she thought. Who knows what the next crazies might find in it?
"The world isn't in danger. The most dangerous villain they ever faced isn't even a villain anymore."
"Are you talking about yourself?" She rolled her eyes, laughed. "Ple-ease. Don't be ridiculous. Stoppable's muskrat thingie was scarier than you."
"An ad hominem attack. As expected. It always comes to that with you, doesn't it?" His heart belied the irritation in his voice. For the last half decade he would have given anything to hear her mock him again. The bickering was, somehow, part of the glue in their relationship. It was how they got along. "Well, I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about you."
Her smug look evaporated. He continued, satisfied.
"I was never as good at it as you were. You know that. There's no one else out there on that level. Even Global Justice can handle pests like Electronique and Dementor."
"GJ won't have to." She smiled a tiny little smile. "I'm going to do it."
"I'm all that's left of Team Go. They died before they'd let the Old Ones use them. I just went with the flow. I've always just gone with the flow. It's easier to be bad than good."
"Easier to mock than support."
She pretended not to hear. "I owe them. Yeah, I couldn't stand them, didn't even invite them to the wedding, but I can't let them down, either. Call me soft if you want." She'd never seen him look more surprised, not even the night of the L'il Diablo disaster. "That's right. I owe them." And everybody else. I gave in to the monsters because I was a monster. They used me, used my arrogance, my vendetta against Possible to almost destroy the world. That has to change. I can't quit until I can walk into Middleton with respect, without inciting a riot. Until the people of Go City remember me as a hero, like my brothers.
She suddenly realized Dr. D. was pacing the floor, back and forth, waving his arms, talking to her. And she wasn't listening. Just like old times.
" – don't have your powers anymore." She frowned; he hastily added "Not that you need them. But, you know, there are things out there that won't submit to just ninjutsu."
She looked at her hands, more conscious than ever of the opportunity she'd squandered, using her powers for chaos. Now they were gone. A crazy idea struck her. He was, after all, a scientist. "Maybe you could make some sort of, I don't know, gloves? Plasma-generating gloves." She felt foolish even saying it. "Is that possible?"
His outburst startled her. "Gloves!" The prospect of some Mad Science kindled a fire in his eyes. "Yes, I could do it! A superlative idea! Delicious! Gloves! Why haven't I thought of that before?"
Because I never needed them before, she thought, but held her tongue. For once.
"And I could go with you. My botanical powers are second to none."
"They only work when you're completely up against it. I mean, thank God they do, but – "
"Drakken and Shego. Together, you know, we'd be the bane of evil everywhere. Like, uh, like…the Fearless Ferret and Wonder Weasel."
She'd expected this. "Yeah, about that – don't take this the wrong way, but I, uh, I think I'd need to do this alone."
He sniffed, lower lip trembling.
She was ready for that, too. "I'd need you here. You know, Princess had her computer guy, the dude on the Kimmunicator, filling her in on, I don't know, hidden death traps and villain activity and stuff. I'd need someone to be the stuff guy."
He smiled, brightened. "No one does stuff better than I. Me. Is it 'me' or 'I'? I'll google it and be right back."
As he ran off to the study, she grabbed the remote, flipped to the KXKVI News at Nine. Gregg Greatman smiled out at her, every hair of his pompadour glued perfectly in place. "The supercriminals Phobos and Deimos struck again today, stealing an experimental rocket propellant from the Middleton Space Center while using their feared Zodiac Gas to incapacitate the guards."
Onscreen, a man in uniform rocked back and forth like a balance, arms outstretched; another wandered through on all fours, roaring at the camera. A third flopped in and out of view, a fish out of water. Zodiac Gas was a terrible thing.
Shego watched with interest. In the asylum Dr. D. had told her Hallowe'en was over. She hadn't understood then, but she certainly did now.
Phobos and Deimos, all you other criminals of the world, beware. Kimmie and Ronald might have played games with you, but Shego and Drakken mean business. Hallowe'en's over.
Now comes Judgment Day.