"Finding everything alright, um – what was your name again?"
Ron looked back at Drakken in irritation. The two of them would probably be doddering old men someday, assuming Drakken was still alive, and still he would not remember Ron's name. Even the name tag that he and Hank had given Ron when he arrived for work read 'Rob Snoggable.' Something about the last name in particular seemed obscene, although Ron couldn't put his finger on it.
"Stoppable, Drakken. Ron Stoppable. And yeah, I'm finding everything alright."
"Don't need another tour of the facility?" asked Drakken. Hank Perkins walked into the employee room, and the sound of loud chatter reached them for a moment before the employee door swung shut again. "It sounds like it's pretty busy out there, so we want to make sure you're not falling behind."
"I'm fine," said Ron. "Just keep taking the cupcakes out for me so I can focus on the baking."
Ron was amazed at how much he had to bake in order to feed the customers of the little bakery and cafe. The place had already been popular enough when he visited it before, but it seemed as if word of mouth had been picking up exponentially, unless Drakken and Hank had been picking up their advertising as well. The first day of any new job was stressful, but Ron was enjoying himself, and he had Rufus there with him for company and a little culinary help. Still, he felt a little bit like a cog in an assembly line; the Bakinator 2000 spitting out cupcakes on one end, customers inhaling them on the other.
Upon arriving at the bakery for his first day at work, Ron had been surprised to find that Drakken and Hank had taken some of his suggestions from the other week to heart. The cupcakes – or D Cups – were still the shop's signature item, but they were baking numerous other items as well: croissants filled with chocolate, strawberry, and cream cheese; danishes topped with powdered sugar and artistically dribbled stripes of white chocolate; coffee cake, topped with a crust of crumbling brown sugar. Most of it had been stomach-churningly bad when Ron had arrived, however. The stand-in baker that they had working there, Assad Sacke, clearly did not know what he was doing. Apparently Drakken and Hank had been fortunate in hiring Ron when they did, as they were short on bakers.
"This is so much more exciting than being an operations manager," said Assad as he watched Ron working. He had attempted to pitch in earlier, but Ron had quickly told him just to fetch ingredients when needed and take some of the baked goods out to the customers. "And there's much less risk of being crushed by heavy equipment here."
"Don't get too excited, Assad," said Drakken. "We're still going to be expanding now that Kim Possible put an end to our thieving troubles, and we'll need you back at the warehouse now that we've got Stoppable to help us with the baking."
"Sir, I'm just so happy that you have given me the opportunity to-"
"Yes yes, very well!"
Drakken propped open the door to the employee room and looked out into the dining area, speaking briefly to one of his employees standing behind the counters.
"Don – I mean Ron, Ron Stoppable," he said, looking back into the employee area, "we need some more cupcakes with blueberry frosting. Those are going like hotcakes!"
"You mean cupcakes," said Assad.
"No, I do not. It's an expression. Hotcakes."
"We sell hotcakes here? How fast are those going?"
"What? No, I meant that – Nnnngh!"
Ron looked at the high-tech table containing the cooled trays of frosting that he used to top his cupcakes, but noticed that the blueberry frosting was used up. Drakken wasn't kidding about them being popular. No matter; Ron would just have to make some more. He grabbed a sampling spoon to take a taste of another batch of frosting and noticed it was seriously lacking in flavor. Assad had probably prepared the frosting earlier in the day. Maybe Ron would have to remake all the batches and be done with it.
"Good?" asked Rufus as Ron put down the sampling spoon. Ron shook his head emphatically.
"No. Bad, very bad."
He opened up a cupboard that contained a number of ingredients and toppings for his baked goods, including the flavorings and food coloring used for the frosting. A row of glass tubes filled with multicolored fluids stood on a shelf near his eye level, looking a lot like a supervillain's laboratory equipment. Ron read the labels on each tube, going from left to right. Strawberry, banana, apple. Asparagus, for some bizarre reason – Drakken must have been experimenting and forgotten to remove that one. Chocolate, vanilla. And there it was: blueberry.
Before Ron grabbed it from the flavoring tray, however, Rufus began to chatter on his shoulder. A claw pointed out at the tray of flavorings, and Ron followed its path to another flavor, just after blueberry. Rufus gave a little squeal, which Ron interpreted as suspicion. He read the label: H.O.O.K.
Ron had never heard of that flavor before.
Rufus scampered onto the shelf and peered more closely at the vial of flavoring as Ron looked at a smaller subscript on the label, which read 'Habitual Olfactory Obligation Keeper.' For a moment, he wondered if the 'hook' was a reference to the flavoring tasting like some kind of seafood, but as he thought about the full name, he began to realize that it was no ordinary flavoring.
"Whoah!" said Drakken as he slammed the cupboard's door shut and placed himself between it and Ron. "That was nothing. Just an experimental flavoring we're going to throw away."
"Wait a minute," said Ron. "Olfactory Obligation? That's talking about your nose, right?"
Rufus pointed at his own nose for emphasis and agreement.
"I have no idea what you mean."
"What was that stuff?"
"It was nothing, nothing at all. You've got a lot of baking to do."
Ron frowned. Clearly something was up, and the name of that substance was beginning to set off alarm bells in his head. He knew that Kim, Monique, and Wade would be arriving at the bakery soon, as he had invited them to stop by on his first day of work.
"Well, I think Kim should take a look at that," said Ron as he began to back towards the employee door.
Hank Perkins, who had been out in the dining area momentarily, came back through the door to see Drakken give him a hasty glance and a nod in Ron's direction. Hank caught wind of what was going on and blocked the door.
"Now, hold on just one moment," said Drakken. "Look, I'll tell you what it is, but it's no big deal. It's just a little something we've been adding to the cupcakes in order to make sure we get more repeat customers. It's a little droplet of liquid that we place on our baked goods to give them a little fragrance-based pizazz that hooks our customers.
"So it's a drug?"
"That's such a crude word," said Drakken. "So many things could be called drugs, really."
"Computer games," suggested Hank. "Or diversifying stock portfolios."
Ron looked askance at Hank for a moment before continuing with his line of questioning. "Is it illegal?" he asked Drakken. "Worse than caffeine or something?"
"Oh no! It's harmless to human beings. I believe. There should be no side effects based on our testing, and as for the legality, these things tend to be gray areas. Who really needs a meddlesome government agency like the F.D.A. getting involved in things like this, after all? Have they ever helped anyone, really?"
"I don't get it," said Ron. "Wade did a scan of one of your cupcakes and he didn't find anything. He said it was just a normal cupcake."
"Oh yes, we made sure of that," said Drakken. "I was foolish the first couple of times Wade visited the shop, and we gave him cupcakes with the formula applied to them. I realized my mistake after I briefed you all on the situation during your first visit, but I did not remember your little friend taking any cupcakes to go, so I hoped we were safe - and sure enough, nothing happened. After that, I told my employees not to apply the formula to any cupcakes if they saw that meddlesome boy arrive in the shop. I've even got his photo pasted up behind the counter! He's come in once or twice since then, but even if he managed to get any samples, they were just normal cupcakes.
"Besides," said Drakken indignantly, "who says your tech genius friend can detect my H.O.O.K? You don't think I designed it to be hard to detect? Your friend may be a genius, but so am I!"
"You certainly are," said Hank, fluttering his eyelashes as he continued to guard the employee door in case Ron decided to make a break for it.
"Okay, even if Wade didn't find out," said Ron, "I've seen both of you eating cupcakes. Are you saying you just eat uncontaminated ones?"
"Oh, actually we're both addicted to the substance," said Drakken. "That was unintentionally part of our testing, actually. We just forgot which cupcakes were the control group and which were the ones our employees got to eat. Just a little advice, but never create a dangerous formula without having the antidote invented beforehand."
"You said a dangerous formula?"
"Did I say that? Haha, no, I meant harmless. They're very similar words. But see here, if you tell Kim Possible about this, we'll be shut down! You'll lose this job just as soon as you took it. Do you really want that, Stoppable?"
Drakken had a point, and Ron paused as he thought about it. He had just gotten the job, and didn't want to fall into unemployment after making such a risky career move by quitting Smarty Mart. Not to mention that Drakken could be right – maybe the substance was harmless. Caffeine was widely accepted and legal, after all, and if Drakken had been using the substance on the cupcakes until now, that explained why Kim and Monique and all the others had been so enthusiastic about them. Actually, Ron realized, it meant that he was addicted to the cupcakes himself. His baking was just so good that he still preferred his own supply.
And yet, Ron knew he couldn't trust Drakken and Hank now that he had discovered their little secret ingredient. He couldn't take their word for it – at the least, Wade needed to run tests on it and make sure it was safe. Ron needed to tell Kim Possible, as soon as she arrived. He began to walk towards the employee door when Hank backed up, keeping his body against it. The door shook for a second as an employee on the other side tried to walk through, only to smack into it and drop to the ground with a grunt and a thud.
"Oops," spoke Hank through the door. "Sorry, impromptu management meeting in here!"
"Hey, am I a prisoner?" said Ron, feeling a little nervous. "I'd like to take my fifteen minutes now!"
"Yeah, rrr – move!" squeaked Rufus.
"Just wait one moment," said Drakken. "Of course you can leave, but – okay, how about this. I promise you that we won't use the substance anymore. Deal?"
Drakken approached Ron and extended a hand. Ron stared at it suspiciously.
"It's that easy? How do I know you're not lying to me?"
"You're the one who makes the cupcakes here, correct? We've been putting it on the frosting with an eye dropper after they're ready – you'd know if we were using H.O.O.K! We haven't been using it tonight because I wanted to ease you into the idea a little more slowly. But I did not anticipate you finding the formula while it was still being kept out in the open in the cupboard like that, Hank," he said as he gave his boyfriend a pointed glare. Hank shrank in embarrassment.
"So no more addictive cupcake drugs?"
"That's right. We hired you because of your baking skills anyway, did we not? It's not like we need it anymore – you're just that good! We'll give up using the substance, you keep baking, and we all win."
Ron thought about the proposition. Drakken was a tricky character, but he did want to keep the job. And he could keep an eye on his supposedly non-villainous employers while he was working here. Maybe Drakken and Hank had not given up the path of evil quite as much as it had appeared at first. But at least for the moment, they seemed to be willing to concede to Ron's demands.
"Alright then," said Ron. "No more H.O.O.K. And I'll keep it to myself, for now. You guys did a good job deciding to diversify your baked goods beyond just cupcakes and make them fresh-baked on the premises instead of trying to mass produce them, but you still need to run this place less like a supervillain lair."
"Oh yes," said Drakken as he laughed nervously. "Certainly. It just takes a little time to get past the old habits. But that's why we have you, right? And we're hoping you'll train the chefs at our other branches once those are up and running. This is probably going to be our busiest location, unless we can get an edge on the competition in Go City, so it's likely we'll keep you working here. But your baking expertise will serve us well. And I see promotions in the near future, Ron Stoppable."
Ron was impressed that Drakken had actually remembered his name. "Promotions?" he asked.
"Oh yes, certainly. You could be sort of a head chef for our entire store chain if you do a good job here."
Ron had to admit that the idea was appealing. He knew Drakken was trying to flatter him, but, Ron had to admit – the man was doing a good job of it. At least he acknowledged the superiority of Ron's baking skills to any cheap addictive formula created in a laboratory.
"Okay then, you'd better get on with that blueberry frosting," said Drakken as he motioned for Hank to join him at the far end of the employee room.
Ron and Rufus reluctantly returned to their baking duties, Rufus helping grab ingredients for Ron as he focused on remaking the frosting batches. Hank left the door hesitantly after deciding that Ron was not going to dash out and spill their secret to his red-haired partner in do-goodery. He sidled up to Drakken as the two of them watched their new employee and his strange rodent pet going to work.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" he whispered to Drakken. "He knows our secret now!"
"It's alright," said Drakken. "I believe we can corrupt him. We just need time, and I bought some for us. We'll stop using H.O.O.K. for now, but I believe he will eventually be convinced. Maybe you could drum up some fake charts and graphs, tell him it's harmless. What do you think?"
Hank nodded in excitement. He loved charts and graphs, especially if they were misleading ones.
"The boy may be a good baker," said Drakken, "but he'll be even better if we give his precious baked goods a little chemical boost. This is no whole foods store, after all. Why depend on the fruits of nature when we can pervert its laws and add our own synthetic touch?"
Hank wrung his hands together in gleeful excitement, nodding in agreement.
"I think Stoppable must have some kind of secret ingredient of his own, after all. There's no way his baking can be better than my cupcakes enhanced with H.O.O.K. That buffoon has got to have something up his sleeve. And mark my words – now that he's working for us, we will find out what it is soon enough."
The Possible family was back home from the Upperton Arena, having been blown away by the wrestling match. All of them agreed that Monique, Ned, Steve, and Paul had outdone themselves - and judging by the crowd's reaction, the new show would be a hit once the G.W.A. gave everyone the go-ahead to take it onto the road. Monique and the rest of Kim's family were downstairs, but Kim was up in her room changing clothes, since an unruly fan had spilled soda all over her outfit. She would need a new one if she was going out to the bakery tonight.
Kim put on a fresh shirt as she thought about the match. Although it wasn't her passion, she could definitely see why wrestling appealed to Ron and Monique. It had a certain campy, theatrical air, filled with drama and surprises. Almost like some of the Agony County episodes Kim liked to watch, although featuring much more musclebound male leads who tended to resolve their differences with piledrivers and suplexes peppered in between their emotional tirades. She wondered if Monique would have to go on the road with their wrestling routine. Kim decided it was unlikely. Ned was a more likely candidate as Steve and Paul's manager, and it would interfere with Monique's classes as well. And, most importantly, Kim would miss her too much.
After putting on her fresh outfit, Kim took a moment to sit in her room and enjoy a little peace and quiet after the cacophony of the wrestling match. She could hear her girlfriend and family downstairs, still pumped up by the match from the sound of it, although Ron had already left to start the first day of his new job at Drakken's bakery. She and Monique would be going there to visit him soon, and Wade would also be tagging along.
A framed photo on Kim's desk caught her eye, and she stood up from the bed and walked over to look at it. The photo had been taken during her high school graduation. In it, she and Ron stood side by side in their graduation gowns, holding their diplomas and waving excitedly at the camera. Kim smiled at Ron's goofy expression. She knew that neither one of them had anticipated the course their life would take afterwards. Some things were different now – but, now that Ron and her missions seemed to be coming back into her life, maybe things weren't so different after all.
A voice trailed up from the stairway that led into her loft room.
"Honey!" her mother shouted down below. "Are you up there?"
"Wade just got here!"
Kim put down the photo and went down the stairs to rejoin her friends and family. Wade was in the kitchen with her parents and Monique, but Jim and Tim were missing. Judging by the sickening crunching sound that had just come from the living room, Kim guessed her brothers were trying out some of the wrestling moves they had seen earlier that day.
"Wade," said Monique, "you been workin' out lately?"
Wade laughed nervously. "I do get out and walk a little more. Thanks for noticing!"
Monique noticed Kim arriving in the room and gave her a wink before turning back to Wade. "Me likey," she said as she looked him over.
"Stop corrupting him," said James as he teased Monique with an eye roll and led Wade away. "Now Wade, you're still on to help us out with the new propulsion system at the Middleton Space Center next week, correct? I have a new formula I think you'll enjoy seeing in action!"
Kim looked at the wall clock. They hadn't told Ron when they would be arriving, but she didn't want to keep him waiting too long – it was his first day, and he might need a little encouragement just in case it was stressful. A more selfish reason that Kim was in a rush to leave was so she could avoid her brothers inevitably attempting to use a wrestling move against her. Not that they would succeed, but she didn't want to give the two of them sore backs for the rest of the night when their move backfired and end up getting admonished by her parents.
"You guys ready to go?" she asked Wade and Monique.
"Ready when you are!"
Kim grabbed a jacket in case it was cold outside while Wade and Monique said goodbye to her parents.
"We're going out now," she told her parents before leaving the kitchen.
"Just as long as you aren't going out with any boys," said James.
"Very funny, dad."
A baker's hat and apron lay discarded on a stainless steel table in the employee area, even though there was a rack for uniforms in the dressing area. The doors opened as Ron walked into the restaurant itself with a tray heaped to the brim with fresh-baked cupcakes of all varieties. Baked with his special touch, and certainly not with any synthetic enhancements. He arrived at the booth where Kim, Monique, and Wade had been chatting and drinking some coffee as they waited for their snacks and placed the tray in the center as he took his own seat.
"I've got fifteen minutes to hang out before I get back to work," he said as they dug in. Assad was taking over in the kitchen, and Rufus had offered to help him out a little, although Assad seemed to be hesitant about working with a naked mole rat, to Rufus's indignant surprise. Not that either of them had much to do, fortunately – the shop's hustle and bustle was dying down as the night went on.
"So how's the job so far?" asked Kim. "Ready to run out the door screaming yet?"
"It's been a lot of fun, actually. The baking is nice, and it was cool coming out once in a while and hearing people say how much they enjoy it. I feel like I'm doing something a lot more rewarding than anything I did at Smarty Mart when I was manager, you know?"
"Great," said Monique. "Sounds like a good fit."
"I was just talking with Kim about missions," said Wade. "I assume you guys are interested in going on more sometime soon?"
"Well," said Ron, "I have this job now, and Kim has college, so I don't think we can keep up the pace that we had in high school, but I'd definitely be into it if Kim wants to try it out again."
"Totally," said Kim. "Why, what do you have for us, Wade?"
"Nothing tonight," he said as he tried to discreetly brush away a mess of cupcake crumbs he had made on the table, "but I've been talking to Dr. Director and she has a few things on the shelf that she could throw at us."
Kim tapped the wrist Kimmunicator, which she was now wearing in place of her regular watch. "If you want to reach me, you know what to do!"
"Excellent. I'm really glad you guys made up, you know. I was hoping you'd work things out on that last mission, because I was getting pretty bored there for a while. I did some consulting work with Global Justice, but they can get pretty boring. Did you know I even helped out on a mission or two with Will Du?"
"No kidding," said Ron. "How'd you like that?"
"Horrible," said Wade. "That guy is about as exciting as an appendectomy. There's really nothing quite as fun as working with you guys. I don't know how, but you always get into the craziest sitches."
Ron nodded thoughtfully as he took a sip of coffee and chewed on one of his cupcakes. He was surprised to know that Wade and Kim had been out of the loop on supervillains and their activities as much as he was. He supposed the breakup had really thrown them all off. But things would change now. Drakken and Shego were off the radar, at least sort of, but there were other villains to fight.
"We might have to deal with Bonnie," Ron pointed out. "And Midas, since he took over Shego's island after I left."
Kim had briefly heard about Midas rebelling against his green-skinned employer from Wade, but Ron's comment about Bonnie was more confusing. "What do you mean by Bonnie?" she asked. "She seemed okay when we visited the Senior's island."
"Oh, nope, you didn't see it. Bonnie and the Seniors attacked me and Shego when we got back from par –" Ron stopped abruptly and coughed out a spray of crumbs. "From, uh – when I was keeping tabs on Shego's activities to see if she was up to any villainy. But anyway, Bonnie had some new martial arts moves and everything. It seemed like maybe Señor Senior Senior's been turning her to the dark side."
"You say that like she wasn't already on the dark side," said Kim. "Still, that's interesting. Sounds like I left Shego's island a little too quickly. I guess should be thanking you for sticking around and making sure Shego wasn't up to anything. That was a pretty gutsy decision on your part, too – if Shego was in the mood, she could have been all over you once I left!"
Wade raised an eyebrow at Ron, who blushed a deep crimson and tried to hide his face behind a raised mug of steaming coffee. "Just part of the job," he mumbled as he took a sip. "But yeah, I think we'll have more than enough to deal with if those two are on the rise."
Monique scarfed down another cupcake as she listened to the conversation. Missions were not really her thing, although she had to admit that fighting the Fashionistas years ago had been sort of enjoyable in its own way. After the fact, at least. Maybe someday she would even join her two friends once in a while.
"I gotta say," she said as she finished her snack, "Drakken's cupcakes were pretty good, but these – man! How do you do it Ron?"
Kim and Wade nodded their heads in agreement.
"These totally rock," said Kim. "I forgot how much I missed your cooking, Ron. Er, not that your cooking is any worse, Monique!"
Kim breathed a sigh of relief. "Still, what's the deal, Ron? Is there some secret ingredient?"
Ron shook his head in amusement. Drakken had also asked him about his secret a couple of times already, but there were no secret ingredients in his baking.
Not exactly, anyway. It was true he sometimes liked to throw in some unusual spices, work with high-quality flour and butter, fresh eggs. Not to mention that timing was very important when it came to taking something out of the oven so it tasted just right. But all of that was really just icing on the cupcake. Ron always believed that, no matter what he was baking, the most important thing was not really the food itself, but what he put into it beyond its ingredients. Love, passion, and attention. A personal touch.
Just as important as all the heart that Ron poured into his baking was what happened after he took it out of the oven. The act of sharing, of enjoying it with friends and family. Food was a communal experience, whether it was a home-cooked meal or something from Bueno Nacho; the people with whom you shared your meals made all the difference in the world. One of Assad's amateurish cupcakes could taste like heaven around loved ones, while one of Ron's cupcakes would taste like bitter ashes in the company of enemies. There were many things in life that could tear people apart, but Ron always believed food was one of the few things that could bring them together. He had experienced that firsthand as a result of his cupcake mission with Kim.
Monique, Kim, and Wade grabbed the last few cupcakes, and while Ron was about to grab the last one, lying there tantalizing and alone on its tray, he relented at the last moment and let Wade take it. He didn't really want it that much anyway. His friends chatted happily with each other as Ron sat in the booth and enjoyed the rest of his break, content in the knowledge that he already had everything he wanted.
Notes - That's it! Hope you enjoyed the story, and leave a review to let me know what you thought! Thanks to Earl Allison, Darev, Joe Stoppingheim, Eoraptor, Rika24, princessvmlg, XanQenadius, lovemekp, EnterpriseCV-6, Pojko, MaskedClouds, Katsumara, Lope21, Neo the Saiyan Angel, and Eddy13 for reviewing.
I wanted to leave a few things somewhat unresolved, most obviously how Kim might react to discovering Ron's budding romance with Shego, as well as just where Drakken and Hank actually fall in terms of morality. Out of all the stories I've written so far, this is the one for which I'd be most interested in writing a sequel, since I feel like there's a lot I could play with.
That being said, I don't think I will write a sequel. I felt like there was no built-in audience for this story - apparently I did not learn from my previous big Brick Flagg centered story, Just a Jock, hehe. Given that I enjoy writing most of my ideas about equally, I'd prefer starting something new where I could get a lot more reviews. And I seem to prefer starting new stories instead of continuing existing ones anyway.
Putting this up was kind of an interesting experience for me. Despite the alternate pairings warning, it seems like mostly K/R fans were reading it (at least at first), and no Kim/Mon fans or alt pairing fans in general. I was a bit surprised by that. Some stuck with it and some dropped out early, which I can understand. This has actually gotten more hits than Just a Jock but fewer reviews... not sure what that means. I think Just a Jock was more focused and streamlined, but didn't have as much intertwining character interaction or twists, so I guess I like them both in different ways.
I'm not sure when I will write another Kim Possible story. I've been planning to write for other shows more, not that I'm saying I will give up writing for Kim Possible in the future. My next story will be for The Office (U.S.). I've even been thinking about changing my name as I switch to a wider variety of shows. DoofusPrime comes from KP, it seems to suggest comedy, and perhaps sounds like it comes from Transformers, which I haven't watched - but maybe I'm overthinking it. I've been thinking about using the name "Fanegyric" as a play on "Panegyric", and it sounds sort of catchy to me, but maybe it's pretentious. I dunno, I can't decide if I should take a new name or just keep this one. What do you guys think?