Old and Young
The townhouse was the same as he remembered it. But the backyard was definitely different.
James and Drew stood behind the townhouse and looked at where the oversized shack once stood. Someone had torn it down since the 80's – not really surprising, since the thing wasn't in great shape even then – but there was still something sad about seeing a blank patch of grass, no different from the rest of the yard, where once he had enjoyed so many hours of tinkering and inventing. Drew looked like he was feeling the same thing.
"Things change," said James, patting Drew on the back.
"Hey, what are you two doing back here?"
James turned around to see a young man approaching them from the open patio door, sporting a huge head of frizzy hair and a pair of glasses. James was embarrassed to realize they had walked right into the back yard to see if the shack was still there – mostly because he had been following Drew's lead, and Drew thought nothing of it – even though the townhouse was occupied. From the looks of the boy approaching them, it was still being used as a residence for college students.
"Hello," said James, shaking the boy's hand. "I'm James Possible, and this is Drew Lipsky. We used to live in this townhouse a long time ago. We were just stopping by for a stroll down memory lane. Didn't mean to trespass on your property."
The boy stared at the two of them and adjusted his glasses, like he had forgotten how to have a conversation.
"Is something wrong?" asked James.
The boy's head switched rapidly between the two of them. "Wait a minute," he said. "You two are – James Possible, Drew Lipsky?"
"That's what I said."
"Are you the guys who were responsible for the Pinky Joe Rampage?"
James was surprised. "Yes, that's us," he said. "You know about that?"
"Know about that? It's like a campus legend! Pinky Joe gets rescued from a science lab after being subjected to evil brain experiments that make him into a rodent supergenius, you guys build a mech for him, and he takes revenge on his human captors! Everybody knows that story."
"What's a mech?"
"Like a giant robot thing."
"Oh," said James. "Well, you've got it mostly right."
He and Drew looked at each other, smiles growing on their faces. James knew he shouldn't be smiling about an incident that could have put people's lives in danger, but still, it was a shock to hear that their names were still known on the campus and their deeds had gone down in MIST history. James felt his ego flaring up; he'd have to be careful about that. It was nothing compared to the size it had been in college, but sometimes it could get ahead of him.
"Can I get your autographs?" asked the boy.
"Depends on how much you're willing to-"
"Sure," said James, putting a hand on Drew's arm and stopping his response.
"Sweet! Come inside, we have brownies!"
James and Drew followed the boy into the townhouse. Inside, several more college students were sitting around the living room, watching television. They nodded awkwardly to the newcomers. James couldn't help noticing they all looked different than he remembered students looking when he was in college - but then, maybe it was just a matter of perspective. The boy joined his friends in the living room and pointed to their guests. "Guys," he said. "This is James and Drew!"
"Whoa!" said one of the boys, gawking at them. "Like from the Pinky Joe Rampage?"
The boys leaped up from the couch.
"Can we have your autographs?"
James laughed and nodded as they went off to find something for them to write on. It only took a moment before their fans returned with various pieces of paper and pencils; he was happy to write his autograph, and Drew was definitely enjoying the limelight, too. It was like being a celebrity, at least for a moment. James realized that although he had visited the MIST campus since graduating, he never really talked to current students that much or went around to the dorms and off-campus housing, so he had no idea he'd become a well-known name.
One of the boys bounded back downstairs, having gone up to his room for a moment, and handed James a large poster for The Memo Pad, which James assumed the boy had taken down from his wall. Not exactly what he would have expected to be signing, but he didn't judge anyone's taste. As he signed his name along the bottom, he looked around the living room and into the kitchen. The furnishings were different, of course, and it looked like the walls had gotten a new coat of paint or two, but it still brought back memories. He thought about asking to go upstairs and see his old bedroom, but he didn't really want to impose – and he had seen a lot already.
"I think we'd better get back to the campus," said James, partly to their fans and partly to Drew. "Everyone's probably waiting for us." He and Drew had left their loved ones on campus to do other things while they had taken a short visit to their old townhouse before they all returned home.
"Thanks for stopping by!" said the boys. "You know, there's more lab rats on campus you can-"
"Oh, I don't think so," chuckled James. "One out of control cybertronic battlesuit is enough for us!"
Drew did look tempted. Still, if he was going to be a teacher at the Middleton Institute of Science and Technology, he couldn't be getting into trouble all over again. The two of them said their goodbyes and headed out the door, walking along the sidewalk beneath the shade of overhanging trees as they strolled through their old neighborhood. It was interesting how James' attitude could change over the course of less than a day. When he had first run into Drew after arriving at the orientation, he had been expecting an unpleasant experience. But after telling his story and remembering so many things about his past, after taking a visit to their old home – even if Drew didn't live there with them for very long – it wasn't so bad at all. He was almost enjoying this little outing with his former friend.
"You know," said Drew, "I'm almost enjoying this."
"Just what I was thinking."
"But don't think it means we're friends again," he clarified quickly.
"No, of course not."
The two of them walked in silence for a while.
"It is funny how our friendship could have been destroyed over something so silly," said James. "I mean, a cybertronic battlesuit – who would have thought that could cause so much drama? And it even turned you into a supervillain."
"That's not what turned me into a supervillain," said Drew testily.
"Oh? What did?"
Drew thought about it, but maybe the question was too complex, because it took him a long time to speak up.
"A lot of things," he said. "It was a long process. Some of it had to do with my father. He died soon after I returned home after being suspended."
James looked over at his friend in surprise; he had never heard that before. He didn't know Drew's father well, but it was hard not to remember Ken Lipsky's stern demeanor, the way he always stood really straight, arms crossed over his chest, like he was deathly afraid of being caught having fun by someone. "I'm sorry," he told Drew.
"That's alright. It was years ago, after all."
"I'd rather not talk about it."
James nodded. That was fair enough.
"But maybe the whole battlesuit fiasco did nudge me in the direction of evil," admitted Drew.
"I thought so!"
"None of you ever recognized my genius, either. It was obvious we were drifting apart before we even finished the battlesuit – and Bob and Ramesh didn't like me for a while before that. I was always the black sheep of our little posse, you know. The odd man out. You three were always laughing at my ideas. Even when I made those robot girlfriends to accompany us to the science mixer, you had to laugh!"
"Come on Drew, you have to admit – you're not that great at making robots."
"Not that – what -" Drew sputtered indignantly. "What do you call that battlesuit, then?"
"Well, it's not exactly a robot, is it?"
"It's close enough. And I did an excellent job on that!"
"I seem to remember I did most of the work on that."
Although they had been enjoying their visit to the townhouse, James could already see their rivalry returning. His own ego had shrunk down a little over the years, but Drew hadn't changed much. Although James wondered if he was being unfair. He couldn't remember just how much work each of them had done on the battlesuit, to be honest. Maybe he was overestimating his own contribution. And while Drew's original robot girlfriends weren't exactly the kind of robots you took home to mother – Bebes, he had called them even then – his more recent Bebes had been impressive.
"Okay," James admitted, "maybe you've gotten a lot better at the robots since college."
"Let me ask you something, Drew."
"You told me you were never going to come back to MIST, but here you are, ready to be a teacher. Why the change of heart? And why did you give up the supervillainy, anyway?"
Drew shrugged. "I realized that people might recognize my genius even if I wasn't trying to take over the world, I suppose. And I was getting a little tired of having my schemes constantly foiled by your bratty teen daughter."
"Hey, now. And she's not a teen anymore, anyway."
"Fair enough. But I suppose I wanted to try something new. And once Shego and I got a little closer, well – I had to think about the future. About family. From what I've read in all the parenting books, it would be hard to raise a child if I was on the run from Global Justice or trying to manage every detail of human society from the top down as a ruthless autocrat. You don't have time to change diapers when you're trying to crush your enemies."
"As for the job offer from MIST, well – it paid well. After I got kind of famous from helping your daughter save the world from the Lorwardians, they were happy to hire me, despite Barker's best attempts to stop them. I had to think about it, but I realized their old insults to me were past, and somehow, having them beg me to teach here was a sign of my ultimate victory. Plus, this lets me be closer to mother, and closer to home."
"Your mother, huh? She still lives here?"
Drew nodded. "I tried to avoid her for a long time, but she has a way of finding me wherever I am. And I suppose now that I'm married to Shego with a baby on the way, I've had family on my mind."
From the sound of it, maybe Drew had finally started to grow up a little. It only took another twenty years or so after college, but better late than never. James was amazed to feel a sense of pride in his old friend. Despite all the trouble Drew had caused his daughter, he tended to think that everybody deserved a second chance. Except maybe show folk. And those psych students, too.
Orientation would soon be over, and James would be heading back to the house with his family. He and Drew certainly hadn't rekindled a friendship after half a day strolling around the MIST campus, but James wondered if they might become more amicable in the future. He'd have to see the man from time to time, probably, since Jim and Tim would be attending the college and taking classes with him. He wondered if was possible to ever be friends with Drew the way they had been in college. You never knew.
Trudging across campus all day had taken its toll; Kim felt herself beginning to huff and puff just a little as she followed her twin brothers around. It was embarrassing, but she was keeping it quiet enough that they didn't notice. Being so far along in her pregnancy was a feeling she had never felt before – not just the pregnancy itself, not just the little kicks and twitches she felt in her belly sometimes, but the effect it had on her ability to get around easily. After freak fighting and cheerleading for years, she wasn't used to being physically restrained like this. It gave her another reason, beyond the obvious, to look forward to Annabelle's birth.
"You're never going to find it," she told her brothers. "And we need to get back to the car soon."
Jim and Tim bounded ahead of her, following the coordinates Wade had just given them on their Communicator. It wasn't Kim's Kimmunicator – they had actually gone on a few missions lately, working with Global Justice once or twice when Kim and Ron opted out. Once Annabelle was born and the two of them spent some time with their infant daughter and started up their missions again, working with her little brothers might be strange. But then, she supposed they were marginally less annoying now that they were full-fledged teenagers. Hopefully college would force them to grow up a little more, too. Although she wondered if her father's story had had the opposite effect of what he had intended.
"Come on, Wade," said Jim, "are you picking it up again already?"
Tim grabbed the Communicator from his brother. "Try harder, dude!"
Wade frowned on the screen. "I could swear I picked it up around here. Just keep going."
They reached the orientation building, where they had listened to Drakken and the Dean give their speeches about the upcoming semester. Some workmen were wheeling folded tables out of the room, and the overflowing metal trash baskets outside the main doors spoke of a long day of new students and their families heading in and out. But the day was almost over, and the sun was sinking lower into the sky. Her father and Drakken were off checking out the townhouse where they had lived when they were students, and Shego – strangely enough – had gone off with her mother to talk about parenting advice. Kim didn't know how she felt about that.
But soon they would all be meeting up at the car, minus Drakken and Shego, of course. She was looking forward to going home and watching some TV on the couch with Ron. Maybe she'd make him go out and get her some takeout Bueno Nacho. Maybe he could stop by the store and get her some pickled eggs, too. She was having an overwhelming craving for those.
"I'm getting it again," said Wade. "Stop right there!"
Jim and Tim stopped in their tracks, only about a dozen yards in front of the orientation building's main entrance. A few straggling people looked at them strangely as they left the building. Wade was silent for a moment, and Jim and Tim pointed the Communicator to the ground as if that would help him. Kim smiled at their enthusiasm.
"Yeah," said Wade. "It's some kind of reading, under the ground. I think there's some kind of technology under there giving off a bunch of signals – maybe there's an entrance in the orientation building."
Jim and Tim were about to race inside the building, with Kim reluctantly following, when they ran straight into Dean Barker coming out the door. He was an old man, but still bulky enough to drop his cane and hold out an arm to each side, blocking the boys' entrance. In the old days they could have run right under his outstretched arms, but now that they were larger than anyone else in the Possible family, there was no way they were getting through. At least not without knocking an old man over, which was out of the question, even if he had come off like a jerk in their dad's story.
"What are you two doing?"
"We just wanted to get inside the orientation building," said Jim.
"Yeah, we're looking for an underground facility that might have a cybertronic battlesuit."
"The cybertronic battlesuit," said Tim. "The one that Pinky Joe took on a rampage through campus."
Dean Barker narrowed his eyes at the two boys. "You two," he said, his voice barely higher than a hiss. "You're James Possible's boys, aren't you?"
"Well, you're not getting inside this building. Orientation is over, and we've just cleaned everything up."
Dean Barker beckoned to a workman who was standing patiently behind him, waiting to go through the doors. "Go get a padlock and chain," he said. The workman disappeared back into the building.
The dean stood and stared at the two boys as he waited for the workman to return; Kim thought it was a little ridiculous, but then, maybe she was so used to dropping unannounced into lairs over the years that she hadn't thought twice about looking for some hidden complex beneath the campus. Wade definitely seemed to think there was something hidden down there. Jim and Tim glanced at each other impatiently, and they were about to head off in another direction – probably to find a side entrance – when Barker stopped them.
"You two aren't causing any trouble," he said. "I've got my eye on you!"
"We're not even students yet!"
"Yeah," said Tim. "Aren't we supposed to get, like, a tour of the campus?"
"You've had your tour. I can already see you two are going to be just like your father."
Kim nodded. "You're pretty much right." Her brothers turned and glared at her, but she couldn't resist.
"Well," said the dean, "Your stay at the Middleton Institute of Science and Technology won't last long, then."
"What do you mean?" asked Jim. "Dad graduated!"
Tim nodded in agreement. "Yeah, and you couldn't even kick him out when you wanted to. He told us all about the whole Pinky Joe thing, and he said the Board of Directors overruled you. You couldn't even stop Drakken from being hired, could you? It sounds like you don't have any power at all."
The dean was deathly silent, glaring at Kim's brothers for what seemed like an eternity. She wasn't sure if it was her imagination, but she could see him shaking almost imperceptibly, like he was suppressing a volcano of rage. Finally, he made a motion like he was about to stoop down and grab his cane from where it had fallen on the ground – but instead, Jim took a quick step forward and picked it up first, handing it to him.
"There you go, sir."
The dean looked like Jim had just sucker punched him in the mouth. As the four of them stood awkwardly at the door, the workman returned from inside with the padlock and chain. The dean took it from him, closing the doors and running the chain through the handles before attaching the padlock. Once it was sealed shut, he turned back to Jim and Tim, pointed from his eyes to their faces to indicate he was, in fact, watching them, and made his way slowly off through one of the hedge-lined paths that led away from the building.
Jim and Tim watched him go with a smile. They were about to head off in another direction when Kim stopped them. "Hold on, you two," she said. "I think we should just head to the car now."
"There's gotta be a side entrance!"
"You guys have your whole college career to cause trouble. I want to go home now."
Kim briefly considered pulling out the puppy dog pout, but decided a simple glare would work well enough. Her brothers joined her as they made their way back to the parking lot. Maybe Wade was right, and there was some kind of underground facility beneath the college – but even then, there was no guaranteeing the battlesuit was still around anymore just because their dad had given it to the university. Maybe MIST had sold it off, or taken it apart. That was decades ago, after all. And if it was still around, she had no doubt that Jim and Tim would find it on campus once they actually became students. There wasn't any point in them powering the thing up and rampaging across campus when they hadn't even started classes yet – could they even get suspended before then?
"I know it's down there," said Jim. "I just know it."
Tim wrung his hands together in anticipation. "College is gonna be great!"
Kim got the feeling her father was going to regret telling her brothers that story.
The mouse had been watching the two boys and the girl talk with the old man. They were blocking his way across the little path in front of the building that led to the drainage hole, so he had to wait for them to stop talking. He held the cheese in his mouth, trying to resist eating it right there under the bushes. He liked to wait until he was underground instead. He felt safer underground. Soon, the boys stopped talking to the old man, who left with his cane clacking on the ground. They were about to come towards the mouse, but the red-haired girl led them off in another direction instead.
The mouse was happy. His path was clear now.
He darted across the little path and through some hedges on the other side until he reached the side of the building. He followed along, going past the building and running through an open patch of grass as fast as he could, just in case any birds were watching. Soon, he went down a little embankment and found the drainage ditch, a trickling stream of water going inside. There was another way to get to where he was going, inside the building where the man and the girl and the boys had been talking, but he used this way sometimes when he didn't want to be noticed. Like when he had a piece of cheese had had stolen from the dining hall.
He scampered into the darkness, using his sense of smell to make his way through. Another pipe off to the side went further down into the ground, and the mouse followed it. Deeper, deeper. He knew he was close to the underground part of the building up above. Soon he found a little tunnel he had dug in the earth and followed that until, finally, he reached an old, dusty, narrow crawlspace which ran along behind a wall. He found his little hole in the wood and crawled through. He was there.
Now that he was safe in the underground place he liked to go, he bit into his cheese.
It was delicious.
The most delicious cheese he had ever tasted, although he felt that way about every piece of cheese he ate. A few of his brothers and sisters would be here soon, as they were getting their own cheese from the other building where the humans ate – the lady who guarded the cheese had seen him and he had to run off first, but that meant the rest of them could get their pieces without being seen. He took the time to look around the underground place and wondered what it was for.
He was in a small room, with a lot of dusty filing cabinets lining the walls and a few old desks. Through a door, however, was a much larger room, with metal walls and lots of strange things everywhere – some of them like the cars the humans drove up above, some of them like things he had never seen before. There was one large thing, made of metal, standing on two legs, with a pair of clawed hands and a glass face. It was kind of like a human in shape, but kind of like a mouse, too. He had seen humans looking at it before, and although he could only understand a little bit about what they said, he was pretty sure they had called it a 'battlesuit.'
The mouse could only understand words here and there – but that was still more than most mice could understand. 'Cheese', of course, was his favorite word. He knew there were lots of mice living all over the place, in between the buildings up on the surface, inside them, but he was different. His whole family was different. They were much smarter than the other mice. That was why he kept to his family, mostly. He knew there were some mice in the laboratories in the building above him that were like him, smart, but they were trapped in cages. So he stuck with his family.
His parents had been fascinated by the battlesuit, always coming down here and sniffing at it, crawling over it. He remembered his grandfather had been the same way. For a long time, his whole family had lived down here below the big building up above them, in the dusty areas behind the walls, building little nests of torn up newspaper and anything else they could find that was soft. Food was hard to find here, but the buildings with food – 'dining halls', he always heard humans say that when they came to the buildings – those were not far away. And his family liked it down here. They could go around the campus easier than the other mice, anyway, because they were a lot smarter.
The humans walked around with books all day. In the nest behind the wall, there was a piece of paper with a man's picture on it, which he knew his grandfather had nibbled out of a book a long time ago, cutting it into a square shape with his teeth. There was a boy in the picture, and below him, the name 'James Possible' was printed. His grandfather liked the picture, and so he liked it, too. He knew his grandfather used to know the human, a long time ago. And because his grandfather had visited those labs up above sometimes, the mouse assumed his grandfather had escaped from there before meeting his grandmother. Earlier that day, he had seen the boy in the picture up on the surface – much older, though. He knew the boy was related to the battlesuit, somehow.
He liked the battlesuit, since his parents and his grandfather – before he had died – had also liked it. He didn't know why his family liked it so much. He didn't really know what it was for, either, although it had arms and legs and stood upright, so he wondered if it could walk like the humans did. He could not get into the glass covering on its face to see what was inside, even though he had tried a lot. But he had seen humans come down here every once in a while, and he remembered once they had opened it up, poking at the inside and talking to each other about it.
The mouse would wait, and he would watch, until they came down again. And if they opened it up, he would sneak inside when they weren't looking. Maybe then he would see whether or not it could really walk. And maybe he'd rescue those smart mice up in the laboratory, too. His grandfather was gone, but he knew it would have made him very happy. All he needed was to wait for the right moment.
Notes - Hope you guys enjoyed this story! As always, I appreciate reviews and feedback to see what people thought. If you aren't already reading it, you might enjoy checking out Pater Unfamiliar, which focuses more on Drakken and his family but goes into some aspects of his college life and relationship with his father that were unexplored in this story. As a matter of fact, I just updated Pater Unfamiliar with a chapter that heavily overlaps with the climax of this story.
I'm pretty happy with how this turned out - I wanted to look into James' college life with Drew, Chen, and Ramesh because I thought it would be a lot of fun and hadn't really seen much of that in other KP fan fiction. I also found this to be more interesting (and sometimes challenging) to write than many things I've tried because of the story-within-a-story structure, which I hadn't really done before.
I would say this story and Pater Unfamiliar are probably my two favorite stories out of what I've written. I suppose James Possible (being a minor character) doesn't exactly draw a crowd, as the total hits on this have been even lower than a lot of my one-shots, but I appreciate all the reviews from you guys. Thanks!