Operation: S.T.A.K.E.O.U.T.

Sometimes. Taking. Along. Kuki. Ensures. One. Understanding. Togetherness


Location: Gallagher Shadydale Park

Time: 1600 hours

"It's so pretty out this afternoon," Kuki gushed as she twirled around for no apparent reason. The bubbly child made a series of joyful squeaks and noises as she skipped mindlessly around the hillside. She smiled towards the sky, letting the waning sun's warmth brush against her cheeks. It had been surprisingly rainy and deary these past few days. There were no words to express how excited the girl had been to see the sun peak out from behind the grey clouds for the first time in what seemed like forever.

The simplest things overjoyed Kuki, even sunny days. No one knew why, but then again, no one ever questioned it.

Without warning, her arms spread as she collapsed on the soft ground, giggling as the grass tickled her exposed skin. "We could have had a super fun tea party out here. Oh, even better! A megaly fabulous picnic! Wouldn't that be fun?"

Only a few scant inches away from here, a boy sighed as he glanced up from his readings. Nigel dog-eared the page of his book and adjusted his shades as he regarded Kuki. He found is eyebrow arching as he skeptically studied the girl, sometimes wondering how her mind operated. He was sure the science nerds at the undersea lab would have a field day with it. "Numbuh 3, try to stay focused. Our current mission is too important for either of us to be goofing off."

"Aw, spoil sport," she lightly teased as she rolled over to him. She released a puff of air to blow her hair from her face, then sent a dazzling smile his way. "What could possibly be more important than having a terrific tea party slash picnic?"

Nigel's lips thinned as he stroked his chin in thought. "Hmm, oh I don't know, maybe THAT?"

The boy's arm sprung out, pointing towards something downward from their current position. Kuki followed the length of Nigel's arm, her eyes wandering down to search for the object or person who held his attention. She saw nothing out of the ordinary until her gaze landed upon a lone man seated on a park bench.

The man did not seem that extraordinary from what she could make of him. He was oddly dressed, as if he were going to some suave dinner party. She mildly wondered if they could go if they asked nicely. Shaking her head, she trailed her eyes over his ruffled over-shirt all the way down to the tips of his shiny dress shoes. Nothing weird about him, discounting the fact he was dressed so fancy on a particularly normal day.

He seemed a tad nervous; his hands wringing together before combing at his slick hair, and then fumbling with something in his left pocket. He would then go stark still before repeating the process over and over. Kuki was curious as to what had him so worried. Was his pet hamster sick? Oh, that would be terrible. When Flu-flu had a tummy ache, she nearly drove herself into a panic attack. That was one rough night of crackers and ginger-ale she wouldn't be forgetting anytime soon.

Kuki blinked as she turned back to Nigel. It seemed he had forgone awaiting her reaction and went back to reading his book, his head flicking up to monitor the adult every other second.

She was stumped. "What's so special about him? Did he make funny faces at our treehouse? Forgot to say thank you when you held the door? Oh!" she gasped, her features molding into a frown. Her eyes shifted as she leaned in close enough to whisper secretly in his ear. "Did he steal your rainbow monkey underwear?"

"No. N-NO!" Nigel spluttered as he registered her inquiry. Becoming a bit self-conscious, he peered around the area to ensure no one had been in ear-shot of that little revelation. Once he was assured they were alone, he glowered in the cheeky girl's direction and retaliated with his own furious whisper. "And the less who know about those, the better!"

"Well I don't get it," Kuki pouted, not liking being out of the loop. "Why are we stalking that nice man?"

"Nice man?" Nigel slowly repeated, as if the words did not compute in his workaholic mind. He almost launched into a tirade about the evils of adult espionage before a light bulb went off over his head. With a groan, he started massaging his temples. "Numbuh 3, do you remember exactly why we came out here?"

"Of course I do! We came out here to have a picnic, right?"

"No. We're here on a very crucial reconnaissance mission," he corrected. At her blank stare, he paused as he searched for the right word. "Er, a stakeout."

"Oooooh, you mean like in those super secret spy movies that have the cheesy one-liners and bad guys who have sharks with laser beams attached to their heads? I love those!" she grinned. However, she frowned as she looked down at their target once more. "He doesn't look like he owns a shark…"

"He's obviously incognito," Nigel haughtily replied. "That adult is one of Robin Food's Hungry Men; one high-up on the food chain, at that. " Kuki suddenly giggled, but he ignored it. "They've been below the radar as of late, but we know what those fiends are planning."

"We do?"

"Does anyone pay attention at my debriefings?" Nigel quietly whined. Kuki only patted his back in sympathy, coaxing the bald operative to continue. "Fourth Grade President Eggleston was finally able to repeal ex-President McGarfield's ban on Tater-tot Tuesdays, and new shipments are coming in this week. However, Robin Food has sent one of his henchmen here to arrange a deal with a member of the school-board to replace the tater-tots with yucky baby carrots so they can make off with our tots Scott-free!"

"Aw, baby carrots are so cute!" Kuki interrupted, her arms gently rocking back and forth as if she was cradling an infant in her hold. "Sometimes I like take the big carrots and pretend they're one big happy carrot family and–"

"Focus," Nigel stressed as he snapped his fingers in front of her face. "With that on the line, we have to sit here and wait for his contact to show up so we can make sure their devious brand of lunch time larceny can never come to pass. And that is why we are here."

Kuki narrowed her eyes as she looked down at the man again. Her eyes were locked in an intense stare as she accessed his profile. After her evaluation, she turned to her superior with her lips quirking upwards. "Maybe he's just waiting on his girlfriend."

Nigel said nothing as he slowly lifted his head from his book to blandly stare at the girl. Kuki peeked up at him, their gazes locking. The intense staring match went on for a long set of dragging seconds. Kuki then broke the stalemate by playfully jutting her tongue out at the boy. She tittered triumphantly as the Brit snorted and returned to his readings.

Satisfied with herself, Kuki repositioned herself on her stomach, and rested her head on her folded arms as she watched the man they were supposed to be watching. She gently kicked her legs to and fro as time passed, and her smile shorted with each passing second. This was getting boring. "So what are we supposed to do about him?"

"We sit here and wait for his contact to arrive," Nigel answered, flicking a finger to turn the page of his book. "Until then, there's not much we can do about it. That's the whole point of a stakeout, Numbuh 3."

Kuki sighed. "That doesn't sound much like super secret spying."

"Why don't you take one of my books, then? I always bring plenty of reading material to help pass the time. These things can go on for hours."

Intrigued at his offer, Kuki reached for Nigel's back-pack and began digging for a juicy book to immerse in. However, she soon came to discover Nigel kept a very bland, and predictable, library of reading material.

"Big Book of Code-Phrases, Hamster Military Tactics, KND Espionage for Dummies, Yipper Squad Force?" she gagged as she pulled at the horribly boyish graphic novel. She grimaced at the brooding, anamorphic crime-fighter before tossing the paperback away. "Don't you have Rainbow Monkeys In Love comic books?"

"Too syrupy for my tastes," Nigel commented, heavily engrossed in a passage in the Book of KND. "Was turned off to the series when Popkin Posh Rainbow Monkey's character development was butchered in the third volume."

Kuki rolled her eyes as she continued searching. She was prepared to give up when something caught her eye. "Hey, it's the new issue of KND 'He Said She Said' Gossip Article!" She began flipping through the column until one story in particular stood out. "'Does Numbuh 1 secretly buy extra large rainbow monkey underwear to accommodate his humongous tushy? Eyewitness accounts from the Delightful Children claim'–"

She blinked one second, and the next, the entire issue had disappeared from her hands. Her eyes widened, patting around her curious as to where the magazine went. Sounds of ripping and shredding paper drew her attention to Nigel, to which she shockingly discovered that he was in the process of tearing the article to bits.

Nigel seethed as he destroyed the magazine, not content until the thing was eradicated beyond recognition. Once finished, he threw the remains into the air, the pieces raining down around them like tiny, paper snowflakes.

Nigel closed his eyes, and took long steadying breathes to collect himself. He then calmly picked up his book, ignored Kuki's off-put expression, and went on about his business as if nothing happened. "Don't read tabloids, Numbuh 3; they'll rot your brain.

1640 hours

Kuki's eyes clenched in utter concentration, ignoring the overflow of blood to her brain. It was a straining, demanding task, but she had to persist. The fate of the entire kid world as they knew it depended on her actions these next few, precarious minutes.

Well, maybe she was exaggerating, but still, this was pretty important.

She heaved, ignoring the pain and sweat trickling down her face. The pressure of her teeth grinding together was so fierce, one would think they would shatter. But she could not let that bring her down. She had to keep going. She had to carry on. She was so close, she could taste it.

Her left eye managed to pry itself open to gauge her time, and upon seeing the timer nearly reach the golden mark, she worked her mouth into a defiant grin. She would triumph. She would make her friends and family proud. People would look at her and say, "that's the girl who could get things done!". After today, she would no longer be remembered as that rainbow monkey fanatic of sector V. No sir, after today, her name would go down in the books.

Why, they'd probably want to make movies out of her.

Suddenly, the wind blew, carrying a faint scent of lavender on its breeze.

Her nose twitched.

Her eyes widened as she felt the tale-tell tingling.

Oh no.

Oh no.

"…a-ah…"

Not now.

"Ah…"

She was so close!

"Ah…CHOO!"

PLOP!

"Darn it," Kuki grumbled, rubbing at her sore temple. Beside her, the clock began chiming as its alarm went off, and the girl could only curse in response. Sitting up, her hand smacked the object away, and folded her arms as she moped. She was so close to breaking the all time world record for longest head-stand.

Well, not really. Honestly, she was willing to settle for having the all time 31th world record for longest head-stand. There was no way she was going to stand on her head for almost three days. She'd break the record for world's biggest headache, in that case.

"Next!" she spouted, reaching for the book of world record set by KND operatives she managed to find. It was only thing of Nigel's that kept her vaguely interested.

Flipping through pages, she pursed her lips as she tried to find the record that was begging to be broken.

"Oooh, world's longest time for singing backwards? I can totally do that." Clearing her throat, Kuki loosened her vocal cords and prepared to blow the book away. "I dna uoy ekil kool snoitalletsnoc esoht!"

"Numbuh 3, shush!"

Kuki frowned in Nigel's general direction. "But I'm trying to break a world record!"

"And I'm trying to listen in on what our prep is saying," Nigel growled, irritation thick in his glare. "Which one of those do you think is more pressing right now?"

Kuki was prepared to answer that question, but stopped short as her curiosity got the best of her. She scouted close to Nigel, transfixed on the extremely ornate helmet was he currently wearing. It was made of a torn old top hat, with a bulky looking crock-pot strapped on with a spinning fork at the tippy top. His ears were covered with headphones with wires connecting to the odd helmet, and a megaphone he had firmly in his hand. "Um, Numbuh 1? If you needed a sunhat, you could of just asked."

"It's not a sunhat, it's a new listening device I had Numbuh 2 whip up," he explained as he waved the megaphone around and fiddled with a knob on his headphones. "It should allow me to drop in on that adult's conversation."

Kuki looked down at the man in question, and found that the man they were watching was up and about. He was pacing around in front of the bench, almost carving himself a rut in ground. His lips were moving, a clear sign he was mumbling to himself.

"Wait, so you're listening in to what he's saying?" She gasped in realization, then began wagging her fingers like her mother would do when she caught her in the cookie jar after bed-time. "Numbuh 1, that's eavesdropping!"

"Uh, duh?" Nigel awkwardly pointed out. "Kind of the whole point of a stakeout, don't you agree?"

"Oh, riiight." Kuki nodded, smirking as if she was in on some big conspiracy level intell. "So what's he saying?"

"I'm not sure," Nigel mumbled as he fumbled with the settings of his helmet. "This thing is extremely finicky about its settings and I can't get a good signal. Blasted thing is the best I could get on short notice."

"I can help! I know how to read lips."

Nigel paused, glancing over looking mildly unconvinced. "Really now?"

"Really!" Kuki lurched forward, leaning over the hillside as far as she could reach, narrowing her eyes and zooming in on the nerved wracked adult. His motor mouth kept on yapping, and she attempted, at best, a rough translation. "He's saying something about his king. No no–his…ring? Something about a taco stand– uh, I mean, something-blah band and–"

"I appreciate the offer," Nigel interrupted as he returned to working his microphone thingy, "but I believe I'll take over from here."

Kuki cast a downtrodden look towards the ground as Nigel brushed her off. She was only trying to help. There must be something else she could be doing. She peered up to him again, watching him grumble as the odd helmet was apparently still intent on causing grief.

As she inspected the helmet, her eyes caught sight of something prodding out of the its backside. Ever curious, the child crawled around until she was directly behind the unaware bald boy. She carefully peered closer, studying the strange knob and the wording labeled above it.

"Volume setting?" Kuki asked herself as she read the inscription out loud. Her head flooded with understanding as she pieced everything together.

No wonder Numbuh One's fancy super sleuth listening machine wasn't working, he didn't even have it turned up all the way!

Smiling at the chance to be useful, the naïve girl began twisting the metal knob.

"Can't something work for just once?" Nigel complained as he waved his hand around, hoping the megaphone would settle on a decent angle; preferably, one that didn't involve him having the dance around like Numbuh Four after drinking too many root bears. Suddenly, the static in his ears lessened as a voice began clearing up. Grinning in success, Nigel adjusted his headphone as he listened to the man spill his guts. "That's right, you unsuspecting adult. Tell me all your little secrets…"

However, as seconds ticked by, Nigel began to frown. The voice was coming in clear. Very, very clear.

Why, it was almost as if it was getting louder.

SCREEEEEECH!

"AAHH!" Nigel bellowed as the volume suddenly spiked to inhumane levels. Acting on instinct, he ripped the helmet off and tossed it into the air, hoping to put as much distance between him and that infernal device as possible. He hissed as he wiggled a finger in his ear, hoping to alleviate that insufferable ringing.

He jumped when he felt something clasp his shoulder, and he quickly spun around in response. He almost went on the offensive, but immediately calmed himself once he saw it was only Kuki. Concern laced with her girlish expression with an odd trace of guilt mixed in. She was going on about something, but he, for the life of him, couldn't figure out what.

Hold on a second.

"What?" he asked. He then froze. He knew he spoke, but for some reason, he couldn't hear his own words. He couldn't hear Kuki's words either, now that he thought about it.

Her mouth continued moving, but he couldn't hear a thing besides the ringing in his ears.

"What?"

Kuki glared at him, hands snapping to her hips. She started talking again, but he didn't need to hear her to tell she was annoyed.

"What?" he asked again. He flinched when she seemingly exploded, but he countered back in what he assumed was his strictest voice. "I can't hear you! That stupid machine busted up my ears!"

She stopped, her eyes filling with understanding. Just when she looked about ready to come over and check him over, she froze as her eyes spotted something in the air. Her antics then resumed again, this time apparently freaking out about whatever she saw.

"What?" he asked again, his hearing slowly starting to return. Forgetting Kuki for the moment, he craned his head upwards to see what sent her in a fuss. It was the listening device coming down. Ah, he had wondered where he–

BANG!

1700 hours

Nigel glared down at the unsuspecting adult, just itching for him to try something. Anything. If he even made one funny twitch, he would be all over him like a teenager with a bad case of acne. Now there was a lovely little image that brought a smile to his face.

His smile faded away when he felt a dull ache atop his scalp. His hand moved to massage a sore bruise, which was currently being treated by a pink polka-dotted band-aid. It was all he had left to remember that stupid listening device by. The rest of it broke apart after it made contact with his bald dome. At least he wasn't walking away deaf from the experience; that would have ruined his day.

The boy found his thoughts traveling to Kuki, who had apologized up and down for the mishap. He supposed he couldn't really fault her for trying to help, but that didn't change the fact that that helmet really hurt. He got a very serious boo-boo out of it! He probably would've gone on complaining about the injury more, but after she had placed the band-aid on, she had shocked him by "kissing it" to make it better. Needless to say, it effectively silenced him.

Most would say it was just Numbuh Three being Numbuh Three, but he had a feeling she mostly did it to shut him up.

He looked around the area, wondering what sort of mischief she was getting herself into now. He spotted her a few meters away, skipping around the lot with a butterfly net in her clutches, searching high and low for said insects. He began wondering where the heck she had acquired a butterfly net on short notice, but he concluded it was best to leave well enough alone. Besides, the more distracted she was somewhere else, the odds of him needing to sport another band-aid decreased drastically.

Turning back to his mission, Nigel opened his field-book as he continued to monitor the adult. The target was quite the interesting study. He would flutter about at random times, as if it were Father he was supposed to be meeting. Whomever it was had him in knots. There were even times when the operative thought the man would make a run for it.

Intriguing.

"Hmm, his contact must be one of the big hitters; only explanation for his hesitant deposition," Nigel mused to himself as he wrote his thoughts down. He felt a slight tingling on his head, but brushed it off. Probably the bruise acting up. His pencil tapped against the page of the notebook as he mentally ticked off a list of suspects. "The Common Cold, maybe?"

"Numbuh 1!"

Nigel tensed at Kuki's voice. It was hushed and filled with alarm, and that could only mean one thing: they were about to come under attack. His hand snapped to his left, trying to reach for his discarded side-arm.

"No! Don't move a muscle!"

He froze at her command as his common sense kicked in. Why didn't he see it before? The sneaky devils were probably on orders to shoot at his slightest movement. How could he be so careless? He would have to commend Numbuh Three's forethought once they got out of this. "What's their location?"

"Right on your head."

Now that confused him. How can they be right on top of them? There weren't any trees around here. Teen Ninjaz with jet-packs? He figured they'd be in league with Robin Food. They must be getting a cut of the tater-tots, the lousy sell outs. His eyes slowly moved to his hand. It was only mere inches away from his blaster. "Numbuh 3, on my mark, I want you to–"

"Just stay still!" she whispered, her voice sounding closer than before. "I can do it."

She was apparently sneaking up on them, which mean they must have not have noticed her yet. Ha! They would pay for that crucial mistake. He stiffly nodded, deciding to go along with Kuki on this one. When she gave the word, he would unleash heck on those rotten, back-stabbing, no good–

"NOW!"

SWOOOOP!

"Gah! They got me!" Nigel yelped as he suddenly became constricted by some sort of net. He struggled against his bindings, surprised to notice the material was a lot more flimsy than he would have predicted. The dummy-heads couldn't even afford quality trapping supplies. He chuckled as he folded his arms, preparing to attempt to break free with sheer force.

"Oh, poop! I didn't get him."

All thoughts of escape screeched to a halt when Kuki suddenly walked out in front of Nigel, looking around for something. The bald boy couldn't help but notice she didn't appear all too worried about walking right into the open of a Teen Ninja ambush.

He also noticed she didn't seem concerned about his apparent imprisonment, either.

Nigel blinked, suddenly second-guessing his earlier suspicions. "Numbuh 3, exactly whom were you trying to 'get'?"

"Huh?" she uttered as she looked down at him. She then grinned. "Oh! The butterfly, silly!"

"…Butterfly?"

"Yeah! There was this amazing, super gorgeous butterfly I was trying to catch to show to you! It's really pretty," she insisted. "It must of liked your shiny head, because it landed on it and stayed there for a long time. I thought I had him, but he got away."

Nigel's shades dropped down the bridge of his nose as she explained her motives to him. When he was finally able to come out his stupor, he fought off a growl–unsuccessfully. "You mean to tell me we're not under attack by teenagers, and you just wanted to catch some stupid butterfly?"

Kuki pouted as she idly kicked at the ground. "I didn't think it was stupid…"

Nigel rolled his eyes, his anger diminishing at the look she was giving him. He then noticed something fluttering down in her dark tresses. Cue another eye roll. "The thing's in your hair."

Perking up, Kuki whipped out a mirror–he would really need to find out where she randomly got these things– and studied her hair. There, finding home on her locks like a bow, was the silvery, blue winged insect that had held her eye the last few minutes.

"Yay!" she suddenly cheered. She went into a twirl, the butterfly taking flight and circling around her. "I caught it!"

Nigel groaned. "That's nice, now if you don't mind, could you please get this net off of me?"

"Okay!" Kuki giggled as she tugged the net off of her leader. Once he was free, she patted his head with an amused look. "You're not a butterfly, silly-head."

Nigel ignored her in favor of returning to the task at hand. However, he flinched when the annoying little insect decided to land on the tip of its nose. It seemed infinitely interested in its reflection in his sunglasses.

"Aw, it likes you."

Nigel hissed in attempt to shoo the bug away. It only changed direction, and landed on his head again. "Lovely."

1720 hours

The adult made yet another phone call. This was third one in the past twenty minutes. He didn't count that second time, for the man immediately hung up after picking up the receiver. Oh, the devious things he and his conspirators must be conversing about. The thought made his blood boil.

Nigel only wished the listening device hadn't been broken. It was hard enough to hear him from a distance without having the glass of a phone booth to further smoother any noise. He considered moving in closer, but with the adult's already paranoid antics, he decided it was safer not to risk it. All in all, this stakeout was becoming annoying.

Speaking of annoying, where had Kuki gotten off to now?

"Bah dum dum dum dum dum-dum. Bah dum dum dum dum dum-dum…"

He glanced off to the side to see her humming some tune to herself, her body moving as if it were deciding to break out in some dance. He shook his head, then brought his B.O.N.G.O.S.C.O.P.E back to his eyes, watching as the adult made his fifth phone call.

"It's close to midnight, and something evil's lurking in the dark…"

He was going to ignore that.

"Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart…"

Ignoring it.

"You try to scream," Kuki suddenly came up behind him, clasping a hand over his mouth. She leaned in close, a cheeky smirk as she whispered. "But terror takes the sound before you make it…"

Nigel peeled her hand from his face, and calmly went back to his work. Not paying her any mind at all.

"You start to freeze…"

The Brit stared intently down the sights of his scope, keenly inquisitive as to just who that adult could be calling so frequently. This would be what, his seventh call? He lost track when Kuki began acting ridiculous.

As if thinking of her would make her appear, he found two familiar dark violet pupils moving into the view of his B.O.N.G.O.S.C.O.P.E, staring back at him.

"As horror looks you right between the eyes…"

Nigel removed his binoculars, clearly displeased as he prepared to scold Kuki. However, she vanished . As if she had never been there at all. Grumbling, he returned his scopes to their place. He then felt a weight upon his back, and didn't even flinch as Kuki wrapped her arms around his torso.

"You're paralyzed!" she bellowed before playfully nipping at his head, pretending to imitate some form of undead zombie. However, when the girl noticed Nigel wasn't even registering her little performance, she slumped, wondering if her ploy worked. "Did I scare you?"

"No," Nigel dully answered, all the while, keeping his eyes trained on their target. He was wondering if he would go for fifteen calls. "Now please remove your teeth from my head, as I still happen to be quite fond of my brain. Shocking, I know."

"Shocking? Numbuh 1, do you really think people wouldn't miss their brains?"

"Numbuh 3, remind me to have a long talk with you about sarcasm when this is over."

1750 hours

"1750 hours, and still no sign of contact," Nigel dully reported into his tape recorder. The boy was currently stretched out, his left hand supporting his bald cranium while the other held the recorder close to his mouth. He yawned, then continued. "Target has made forty-seven phone calls in the last thirty minutes–ten of which he hung up on after dialing. Has either given up, or has run out of quarters. Highly positive that the latter is the case."

He saw an array of flowers pass through his vision, and glanced down to see some sort of flower necklace found its way around his neck. He peered up to see Kuki, smiling as she nodded, and returned to her place over by a patch of flowers. She resumed her flora craftsmanship, and he could only sigh.

"Numbuh 3 is currently making random assortments of flower necklaces and pedal crowns–two of which I am currently wearing," he mumbled, his finger idly fiddling with the necklace. He sniffled a bit and frowned as he brought the recorder up again. "Note to self: check to see if allergic to azaleas."

Nigel put the small device to the side as he reached for the Book of KND, deciding to read up on how the Kids Next Door of Feudal Japan were able to sneak in fortified adult castles. Perhaps they could make use of some the techniques to break into the Cheese Shogun's nacho vault.

The boy suddenly snapped up, something feeling a bit off. He quickly looked over to Numbuh Three, who was still happily picking flowers. But that wasn't what set him off. It was the strange figure coming up the hill, right behind her. She didn't even see the intruder coming.

She was wide open for a surprise attack.

Glaring, he kicked himself onto his feet, his hand grasping his blaster as he prepared to sprint off. If he was fast enough, he should be able to easily intercept the attacker before he reached Kuki.

"Oh, these are really pretty," Kuki gushed as she picked a handful of tulips. She hummed to herself as she began kneading a string through the steams, her hands moving expertly to quickly whip up another necklace. "This one will be for Numbuh 2."

She paused in her actions as she noticed a shadow blocking her light. She turned to greet the stranger, but was denied the chance when Nigel sprung out of nowhere and tackled the figure before he even had a chance to say hello.

"Guess again, Chad!" Nigel shouted as he centered his blaster on the blond youth's face. The teenager he loved to loathe may have been wearing some strange uniform he failed to recognize, but it was him, all the same. The ex-operative attempted to escape the bald boy's clutches, but Nigel firmly planted his feet on his arms, trapping him. "It'll be a cold day in Father's furnace before you ever get the drop on us! Now who sent you?"

"No one sent me, you bald doofus!" Chad spat back, struggling to release himself. Of all the days he decided to forgo wearing that mangy B.R.A. Last time he ever made that mistake. "I'm trying to work here!"

"Wrong answer!" Nigel rebuked, setting his blaster to the highest charge available. "You have until the count of three to confess, or else I'll introduce your pimple ridden face to the world of extra spicy mustard sauce!"

"I haven't done anything to you stupid babies," he growled. "…yet!"

"One. Two," Nigel ignored his threat, counting down as his finger slid over the trigger. "Three–"

"STOP!" Kuki cried, slapping the blaster away. Nigel misfired, his blast hitting something high above in the sky. Before he could even question her sanity, Kuki leaned over the downed blond, and smiled at him. "You're here with the pizza, right?"

Nigel blinked. "Pizza–ow!" he yelped as Chad took advantage of his lowered defense. The blond gripped the bald boy's leg, and unceremoniously threw him somewhere off to the side.

"Yes," Chad groaned as he managed to stand again. He peaked a glance over to Nigel, and darkly grinned when he saw the boy had landed in a nearby recycling bin. He then frowned down at Kuki as he reached into his carrier bag. "Extra pepperoni, right?"

"That's the one!"

"What in the name of gum is going on here?" Nigel demanded to know as he marched up to him, shaking bits of paper off his turtleneck. He saw Chad going through a bag of steaming pizzas, and back to Kuki, who had a hungry look in her eyes. "You ordered a pizza?"

"Of course I did," Kuki nodded as she fumbled through her pockets. "I was getting hungry."

"You can't order a pizza while we're on a reconnaissance mission!"

"But I just did."

"You weren't supposed to! There's, like, a gazillion security risks at stake here!" Nigel frantically babbled, his arms flailing around. "Someone might trace us to this location; our secret cover hiding spot is ruined now!"

"So you brats were hiding in the middle of the park all this time?" Chad deadpanned. "Wow. I haven't been this shocked since I discovered the secret to living a long full life was breathing."

"I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand the finer concepts of a stakeout, Chad," Nigel said condescendingly. He then fixed his sights on Kuki and frowned. "But Numbuh 3, I expected you to know better! This hurts me. Not just as a friend, but also as a sector leader. Can you imagine how I must feel? Knowing one of my team would act so carelessly? This kind of thing makes me wonder if I'm cut out for the job. If I can't implant the simplest of knowledge into my orders, then maybe I should just–"

"Nigel," Kuki said, a mask of annoyance covering her face, "I was going to share it with you."

"Well then pay him so he'll leave," Nigel said as he motioned to the teenager. "I'm starving!"

Chad snorted. "That'll be ten fifty."

"Here you go," Kuki said as she paid the blond off. All too eager to leave, he shoved the box into her hands, and made his way back to his bike, muttering something about going back to cashier duty. Kuki opened the box, the delicious aroma wafting up in her face. "Yummy!"

"We'll take a quick break to eat," Nigel said as he grabbed a slice, stuffing the piece into his mouth, "then we need to get back to–ow! Hot hot hot!"

"Numbuh 1," Kuki scolded, "wait for it cool down. And don't talk with your mouth full, mister."

"Yes, mother."

"You brats!" Chad's voice roared from afar. "THIS IS MONOPOLY MONEY!"

1820 hours

One empty box of pizza and a particularly shady "I-Owe-You" agreement later, Nigel and Kuki laid out upon the hillside. The bald boy continued to watch their target, who had dozed off, and the girl kept herself busy doodling sketches on the blank back of Nigel's Yipper comic.

Kuki analyzed her masterpiece, happy that her art skill was improving. However, a familiar jingle entered her ears, and she squealed.

That series of bells and tunes could only mean one thing.

"The ice cream truck is coming through!" she announced, snapping Nigel out his trance. She scouted up the boy, putting on the best pleading expression she could muster. "Can we go get some ice cream? Pretty please?"

"No," Nigel said as he frowned. Kuki's expression molded to that of a puppy who had been denied a treat, but nevertheless, Nigel would not relent on this. "We just had a pizza!"

"I know, but this could be like dessert," she countered, jutting her lip for added effect. "Pretty, pretty please?"

"No."

"Pretty please with sugar?"

"No."

"Pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top?"

"No means no."

"Pretty please with–"

"A thousand times no!" Nigel put his foot down, not having any more of these silly games. "You don't even have enough money to get any ice cream."

"I'll owe you!" she pressed again. "When I get my allowance, I'll pay you back. I'll even hold off buying the new rainbow monkey to make sure! Pleeeeeeaaaaaase?"

"For the last time, Numbuh 3," Nigel said sternly, "We. Are. Not. Getting. Any. Ice cream."

1825 hours

Nigel found himself sullenly licking at his pistachio ice cream, while Kuki was contently munching away on her frozen chunky choco crunch bar.

1900 hours

The evening was quiet as the party of two sat upon the hillside, both indulging in their own thoughts and the only sound being the soft whistle of the wind, or the buzzing bugs becoming active as the sun completed its descent into the horizon.

Kuki sighed as she played with her hair for the hundredth time. The stakeout was advancing in boredom at an alarming rate, and the adult they were watching still hadn't done anything. He looked a bit dull himself, now that she thought about it.

The girl lazily glanced over to Nigel, the boy sitting as he wrote something down in his book.

"Numbuh 1?

She was acknowledged with a grunt.

Silence. "…Who's on first?"

"What?"

"What's on second! Ha!"

"…what?"

Awkward silence. "I really don't know."

"…Alright then."

"Don't ask."

"Fine by me."

Silence settled in once more.

1930 hours

"Do something," Nigel pathetically begged. He knew the man couldn't hear him, but he was desperate enough to raise his voice a few octaves. They had been sitting here on this kid-forsaken hill for over three bloody hours, and the adult hadn't done anything worth mentioning. His contact hadn't shown up, he hadn't made anymore phone calls, why the heck everything was taking so long was beyond his comprehension.

Now, it was getting late. The sun had went down long ago, and the stars were beginning to poke their way out into the darkening sky. The street lights scattered around the park were starting to switch on, and the nightly chill was finally rolling in, overcoming the pleasant warmth the afternoon hours managed to provide.

Nigel was normally all about the mission, but at this rate, he was about to break one of his personal codes of conduct, and say to heck with the tater-tots and just go home. He was sure there was thousands of infinitely better things he could be spending his time on. Anything was better than sitting here watching this Robin Food flunky un-wrinkle his suit for the forty-ninth time.

Wait...

Fiftieth time.

"That's it," he muttered, throwing his B.O.N.G.O.S.C.O.P.E. aside. He went to his feet, loosening his neck as he worked out the kinks. "Start packing things up, Numbuh 3. If something doesn't come up by 2000 hours, then we're calling this a bust."

He began moving around their small site, putting away the books Kuki had pulled out from his back-pack from earlier. He paused as he looked over his Yipper comic, noticing the doodles Numbuh Three had made on the back. He shook his head as he stuffed it in with the rest, then went on to the empty pizza box, wondering where that recycling bin he had been tossed in earlier had wandered off to.

However, his thoughts trailed to a halt as he realized he hadn't heard Kuki's response. Displeased, he looked around the small hillside, and was put off by the fact that he saw no sign of the girl. What was she up to this time?

"Numbuh 3, I don't feel like playing games right now," he sighed softly. "So come out. I kind of want to go through this next half hour without incident."

"You hear the door slam, and you realize there's nowhere left to run…"

"Oh, hardy-har-har," Nigel dryly laughed as he faced the direction of the voice. He expected to see Kuki standing there, but only became only mildly ticked when there was no one there. "Wasn't funny the first time, I doubt an encore is going to change to my mind. Now knock it off."

"You feel the cold hand…"

"Wha–Aah!" Nigel jumped as he spun around, his hand flying to cover his left arm. He swore he just felt a bone chilling hand clench his shoulder. He circled his position, but to his dismay, he only found that he was the only child there. "C-Cut it out, Numbuh 3. That's an order!"

"…and wonder if you'll ever see the sun…"

Nigel found his hand slowly creeping to his blaster. He really, really wanted to write this off as some foolish prank, but he couldn't help but let doubt sink in. After all, Kuki was nowhere to be found, and the more he listened to the voice, the more he realized it didn't sound like Kuki at all. It was far too venomous, dripping with malice.

…cold.

"Kuki, if this is you, you better stop this now," he said, his voice quivering a tad. "But if it's not, you better watch yourself. Numbuh 1 of the Kids Next Door doesn't scare so easily!"

"You close your eyes, and hope that this is just imagination…"

Nigel snapped his arm out, firing at where he assumed the voice originated from. His blast continued on into the dark, and the voice let loose a haunting laugh that shook his nerve. "T-That was just a warning!"

"But all the while, you hear a creature creeping up behind…"

The boy froze as he felt something breathing down his neck. Whatever it was took long, laboring drags, scenting out the fear they both knew quaked in his belly. Steeling his nerve, Nigel yelled as he spun around, firing randomly at the monster. He clenched his eyes shut, emptying his clip.

At the repeated clicks of an blank cartridge, he slowly pried his lids open, only to drop his weapon in terror.

He hadn't hit a thing. There was nothing there.

He starting running, taking off wildly towards his back-pack. He had to get his spare. He had to protect himself before the monster ate him as well.

"You're outta time!"

"WAAAAAH!" Nigel screamed as something suddenly tackled him from the front. It placed itself squarely upon his chest, and he lifted his arms to shield his face. "DON'T EAT ME!"

"Hehehe."

He stopped at the giggle, and slowly removed his arms from his face. He faced the "monster", only to find Kuki laughing triumphantly. The girl held a Cheshire cat like grin as she leaned in close, the tips of their noses barely touching.

"Got you!"

2010 hours

After her little stunt, Kuki had decided to mind herself around Nigel. He most certainly did not like being caught off guard and scared out of his willies. It took him almost ten minutes to start talking to her again. She would still claim it was worth it, though. It was a rare sight indeed to see the stoic Numbuh One caught with his pants down.

Not literally, of course. You would have to ask the Delightfuls, in that case.

The girl risked a glimpse over to the boy, wondering if he was still peeved at her. She winced when she noticed his face. To the outside observer, he appeared blank as a stone slate. But only those who knew him closely knew what to look for underneath the surface. His shades were lowered just enough to reveal a peak at his pensive eyes, and his brows were wiggling ever so slightly. Blink, and you would miss it. Not to mention the corner of his lip quirked despite his best effort not to.

All these signs were clear warnings that Nigel Uno was about to explode.

Kuki nervously wrung the sleeves of her overgrown sweater, her mind ablaze with apologies. She didn't think he would be that upset over her little prank. When she settled on what she believed what was the right thing to say, her mouth slowly opened –

"Stupid adult!"

Only to clamp it shut. Too late.

"I've been sitting here ever since four bloody o'clock in the afternoon!" he raged, rising to his feet just to begin stomping around. "I started preparing even long before that! I've sat here for over four, long, hours just watch NOTHING happen!"

Kuki gained a new sense of understanding the longer Nigel went on his tirade. Also, some relief snuck its way in as well. At least he wasn't mad at her.

"I mean look at this idiot!" he spluttered out, pointing a sharply accusing finger at the man. "There he goes again! Adjusting that stupid neck-tie of his. You want to know how many times he's done that? Don't ask me! I stopped counting sometime after I reached one hundred and six!" He turned to her, eyes blazing. "Who the heck adjusts their neck-tie one hundred and six times?"

Kuki shrugged.

"The nerve of this guy. I go through all this trouble to painstakingly plot out a stakeout to spy on him, and he doesn't have the common courtesy to make sure his contact arrives! Can you blame me for feeling this way?"

Kuki shook her head in negative.

"Well you want to know something? I don't even like tater-tots anyway!" he spat. "There, I said! Numbuh 1 is done for the night, folks!" He performed a sharp about face, blazing a trail over to his back-pack to finish up his packing. "Robin Food can take a hike, for all I care!"

Kuki faced Nigel's backside with a sympathetic twinkle in her gaze. It wasn't fair. All Nigel wanted to do was stalk some adult who wanted to steal everybody's lunch food, and he didn't even get to do that. The fact she probably had way more fun on this stakeout than he did wasn't making her feel any better either. Just more guilty. She needed to make it up to him somehow.

She got it! When they got back to the treehouse, she would let him hug her limited edition, Huggles and Kisses Rainbow Monkey! The doll came equipped with real grabby-grip tech arms that actually hugged you back. It never failed to cheer up her day, and she was sure it would give Numbuh One some extra kick in his step. Yep, that's what she was going to do.

She then glared down at the adult, sticking her tongue out at him in a lewd manner. Big meanie. He was the reason Nigel was so grouchy now. And that doo-doo headed woman too. If she would have got here earlier, than none of this would have–

"Wait!" Kuki stopped, double taking to make sure the night air wasn't making her see things. Grinning, she tugged Nigel away from his back-pack and turned his face to the two down below them. "Look Numbuh 1, I think that's the person!"

Nigel's face slowly brightened as he processed what he was seeing. The contact had finally arrived. "She's here, perfect! And look, that's the new fifth grade science teacher! I knew there was someone working with Robin Food inside the school!"

"Yay! We did it!" Kuki cheered as she performed a tiny victory dance. She paused for a moment, looking up to the bald one for the affirmative. "We did do it, didn't we?"

"Almost," Nigel cockily grinned as he reached into his pocket, pulling out his tape recorder. "Now for the easy part. All we have to do now is get close enough to listen in on their plans and record it with this. Once we know how they plan to make the robbery, we'll be able to stage a counter-offensive. Those off-key Broadway rejects won't know what hit them."

"Ookie dookie!" Kuki nodded along, preparing to show off her new super secret spy moves Numbuh Five had been teaching her during her off time. But as the two started to make their move, Kuki noticed something off about the two adults before them. "Um, Numbuh 1? Something feels weird here."

"Just some jitters Numbuh 3, they'll wear off," he rattled off as they slowly moved down the hillside. "I remember my first recon mission. I was sent in to monitor the Terrible Tutor during his shift at the local library, and let me tell you–"

"Wait," Kuki interrupted, pointing at the two adults. "Why are they standing up? Is it over already?"

"Can't be," Nigel uttered as they came to a halt. The man was facing the woman. He looked more nervous than ever, while the woman looked confused and a tad…hopeful? "What's going on here? Is he doubling crossing her?"

Kuki watched as the man got down on one knee, her eyes widening as she recognized the gesture. "Is he…?"

Nigel's shades nearly slipped off his face when he saw the man pull a box from his pocket. "He's not…"

The man opened the box, presenting whatever was inside to the woman. She and Kuki simultaneously gasped. The woman rushed to embrace the man whereas Kuki nearly bit her lip off to contain her girlish squeal. "He IS!"

"I…" Nigel fumbled, not being able to compute this new information. "I…I don't believe it…"

"I told you he was waiting on his girlfriend!" Kuki teased as she lightly bopped him on the shoulder. She then went back to cooing over the new bride and groom to be. "That is so adorable! Do you think they'll invite us? We could go ask them! Oh, we'll be the first to congratulate them! Won't that be–"

"I sat here all this time just to see this."

Kuki stopped her train of thought and cast a worried look over to Nigel. The bald boy was not smiling. Not even fawning in the slightest. His eyes were dark as a deep scowl marred his face. He glared down at the couple. What was going through his mind, she could only guess.

"All that preparation and precaution wasted. All those hours waiting just to find out the adults want to procreate." He stood up, turning back up to hill, obviously not caring if he was spotted or not. "Unbelievable."

Kuki hurriedly rushed to follow the boy, concerned to where his thoughts were taking him. When she returned to the peak of the hill, she found him slinging his back-pack over his shoulder, and picking up his B.O.N.G.O.S.C.O.P.E in one hand, and the Book of KND in the other. He acknowledged her presence with a nod of his head, but said nothing beyond that.

He made to leave, but stopped, and looked down one last time at the couple.

"Wasted our valuable time, but that's okay! You're getting married," he scoffed. "Congratulations."

Down below, the man tore his face away from his girlfriend, and glanced up the hillside. Having heard Nigel's final proclamation, he waved with a goofy looking smile. "Hey, thanks kid!"

"Arrrgh!" Nigel seethed as he threw his B.O.N.G.O.S.C.O.P.E, not caring if it hit the stupid man or not. Without another word, he stalked off into the night, a troubled Kuki hot on his heels.

2020 hours

"Numbuh 1?" Kuki asked, not sure what to feel when the boy stopped at her voice. "Are you okay?"

"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" he said, with a hint of…something she was sure that was related to that word he used earlier. What was it? Sarcasm? "I just saw a happy couple preparing to commit the rest of their lives to each other after realizing this whole stakeout was for nothing. I feel pretty darn good."

"You don't sound like it…"

"No, I'm happy for them," he protested. "I'm happy to know he'll end up being with the woman he loves, and go on with that wonderful feeling in his chest. I'm happy to know he'll continue going on, thinking everything's okay. He'll have his life, his work, and his girlfriend; all while oblivious to the fact he'll end up neglecting one of those things. He'll brush her off, get embarrassed about her in front of his friends, and maybe even miss a few dinner dates because something else he thought was important came up. Never mind the fact he'll be blind to what's in front of him, never mind the fact it's eventually going to go Grandfather in a candy basket and that she'll leave him in the dust."

A sad look overcame Kuki's as she watched Nigel going, unknowingly vent about a sore spot in his life that hadn't completely healed.

"And you know what will happen to him then?" he asked, not even waiting for an answer. "He's going to cry and wonder what the heck he did wrong. He was a good boyfriend, wasn't he? He did everything he could, didn't he? Then one day, he's going to get this big epiphany: he was a jerk! A stupid, horrible, selfish jerky McJerkface who wouldn't take her to nice places, get her fancy gifts, or even put her ahead of everything else for just once…" Nigel's rage died as he slumped over, his voice quieting down to what could barely be considered a whisper. "And then…and then he'll…"

A hand on his shoulder caused him look up, and there was Kuki. She was giving a subdued smile that betrayed the sorrow behind her eyes. "We're not talking about that guy back there, are we?"

Nigel was silent, before giving a weak chuckle. "I don't think I ever was."

The girl simply did the one thing she knew best, she leaned in to give the boy a light comforting squeeze. "Aw, it's okay to feel sad sometimes, Numbuh 1. Bottling it all up makes you go nuts."

"Yeah," he agreed, feeling slightly relieved in the throes of the hug. "Maybe you're on to something."

He didn't know how, but they ended up sitting back down again, this time somewhere far out from that wretched hillside. He briefly wondered how far they walked before Kuki worked up the courage to stop him. Nigel couldn't quite ever recall coming to this section of the park.

In fact, he wasn't sure this was still the park at all. It looked more like a field, with its billowing grass that seemed to stretch on into the horizon until it touched the night sky.

Kuki had long since relinquished hold of him, but she remained close by. She peered around curiously, more than likely having the same thoughts as he about their location, before she turned to him again. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head. "It's alright." At her frown, he held up his hands. "I mean, I'll be okay. With all that's went on today, the stakeout being a bust, and that little event we witnessed…I sort of just snapped." He looked away, thankful his sunglasses hide the hesitance in his eyes. "And…"

"And?"

"And the fact that seeing those two together kind of reminded me that today would have been mine and Lizzie's anniversary."

"Oh," Kuki uttered in understanding. "Well, it's sorta sweet you still remembered it."

Nigel shook his head. "Only because something reminded me of it."

"Well, you can never be sure," she tried to comfort. "You remember and know a lot of things, Numbuh 1."

"You'd be surprised how easy I can forget things that matter, Numbuh 3," Nigel sighed, randomly flipping through the pages of the Book. "Or how little I really know in the grand scheme of things."

"Don't be silly," she tried to tease. She was able to crack a tiny smile out of him, but it disappeared as quick as it came. Changing tactics, she decided to move the conversation somewhere else. "Do you wanna go home now? We can watch the Rainbow Monkey Night Time Special if we hurry."

"You can go on ahead," he declined, finding a page on the book, and glossing it over. It was a decent enough distraction. "I'll stay behind and see what I can dig up. Intel, adults ambushes, anything useful. I'm not in an agreeable mood right now. If I go back now, I might snap on Numbuh 2 for just telling a joke, or something."

"Well that's okay, we don't have to go right now," Kuki smiled, leaning against his back and glancing upwards. "We can stay here and tell ghost stories, or play pretend space ninjas, or maybe…"

She paused, urging her brain to think of something fun they could do. There was no way she was leaving Nigel when he felt so down. The lights dancing in the sky gaze her inspiration, and she beamed as she pointed to them. "We could watch the stars!"

Nigel stopped in his place, looking over his shoulder quizzically. "Watch the stars?"

"Well, you can keep reading your book if you want to," Kuki mumbled, thinking he didn't like her idea. "Hey, how are you reading that when it's so dark out?"

"Night-vision," was all he said as he tapped the side of is shades, them blinking once before returning to normal. He returned to his reading, but not before saying, "Watching the stars sounds interesting, I suppose."

"It is!" she smiled, glad he decided to play along. She looked up, and began counting. "Oh, those look really pretty tonight. They look like Buffer, the cute pudgy hamster."

"Uh, Numbuh 3?" Nigel felt the need to interrupt, "They're stars, not clouds. They don't make shapes like that."

"I mean the constellations, silly," she giggled, pointing to what she meant. "It's like playing connect the dots! You just start at that one, then go to that one, skip and jump to that one right there, and look, hamster!"

Nigel peered up, tilting his head. After falling her motions, and staring long enough at the collection of stars, he could see why she'd attest the cluster looked like one of their more rounder hamsters.

"You just have to look at it differently," she explained, urging him on. "Try it."

"Well, if that looks like a hamster," he frowned, trying to get in on her game. He awkwardly held up his hand, making slow slashes in the air as if he were drawing some picture. Once he was done, he awaited judgment. "Then…that one looks like the treehouse."

Kuki was silent for a few seconds, and Nigel was already back in his book, figuring he messed up somehow. But Kuki only giggled, and clapped her hands together. "Wow, you're good! I never would have seen that."

At that, Nigel rubbed his nose, feeling a tad sheepish. "Well, I have been known to be a quick study."

"Okay then," Kuki nodded, returning her attention to the sky. After making another series of observations, she smiled as she pointed to far off segments of stars. "Those look like the Delightful's birthday cake from last year."

"Don't let them know that. Might try and steal the stars for themselves."

Something-something hours later

In the quiet time of evening, when the stars had assumed their patterns, two children sat out in a lone section of Shadydale park, each attempting to playfully outdo the other in their stargazing contest. They knew not who was winning and who was falling behind, but it really didn't matter in the first place.

"Well, that one looks like a hippo."

"A hippo? I can top that! Those over there look like ballerina flamingos."

"Ballerina flamingos? Now I know you're making things up," Nigel shook his head, a wry smile in place. He studied the skyline, searching for the perfect set of stars to outdo whatever it was Kuki had thought she had seen. He snapped his fingers, spotting something he knew would beat her for sure. "I've got one, and it's an actual constellation too." He pointed towards a set of stars almost in the dead center of the sky. "That's Follow-the-leader."

"Follow-the-leader?" Kuki blinked. "I've never heard of that one."

"You should have, it was taught back at the academy," he frowned, a bit saddened that he seemed the only who paid attention to those sorts of details. "Follow-the-leader is a set of stars lost operatives use to make it back to their treehouses. Where ever you are, Follow-the-leader should be able to point you in the right direction."

"It really does that?"

"Of course! Any KND navigator worth their weight in sugar would attest to the same thing."

Kuki raised a brow at his speech, but said nothing on it. She looked upwards, then grinned as she pointed towards another set. "Well, I don't know about that, but I like that one."

Nigel followed her gaze, then became somewhat surprised at what he saw. "Huh."

"What?"

"Nothing, it's just, that's supposed to be Numbuh Eleventy Billion," Nigel uttered, reaching for his book. "It's an old constellation recorded near the very beginning of the Book of KND. It says he watches over every Kids Next Door operative, no matter where they are. I'm just surprised you spotted it. I've only heard of it mentioned here in the book."

"Well, let's wave at him. Hi, Numbuh Eleventy Billion!" Kuki waved at the set of stars. A twinkle caught her eye, and she suddenly turned to bring greetings to a smaller, single star. "Hi, RAMON!"

Nigel was lost. "RAMON?"

"I wave to him every night so he won't feel so lonely up there," she said pointing towards a star, which he assumed must have been Saturn. She began poking at him, jerking her head towards the far off planet. "C'mon, Numbuh 1. Say hi to RAMON."

"Uh," he hesitated, slowly waving at the star to appease the girl. "Hi, RAMON."

He didn't know if it was the light reflecting off his sunglasses or not, but Nigel would swear that he saw the star twinkle at him after he waved.

"He says hello," Kuki smiled, happy her two friends liked each other. Suddenly, she became acutely aware of how long they had been at this little game of hers. "Hey Numbuh 1, what time is it?"

"Oh? Well, it should be about…" he trailed off as he peaked at his watch. He lifted his shades to rub at his eyes, positive he as seeing things. But upon realizing the device was accurate, he let loose a depressed sigh. "It's almost ten. Perfect."

"What's wrong?"

"All that time slipped me by, that's what's wrong," he grumbled, folding his arms together. "I can't stand it when I lose track of time. Then I start thinking on how much time was wasted, and how many opportunities were missed, and how much work I could've done instead of doing whatever I shouldn't have been doing. It annoys me."

Kuki simply nodded along, understanding Nigel's proficiency towards getting as much done whenever he was able. Honestly, if the boy wasn't sleeping, eating, or out on a mission, he found some way to keep himself busy.

As always, that line of thinking caused a question to pop into her mind. A familiar question she always seemed to have about the boy. Normally, Nigel was either never around to answer the question, or she simply decided not to bother asking and go play with her rainbow monkeys instead. Well, this time, Nigel was around, and there weren't any rainbow monkeys nearby that she knew of to cuddle with.

So…

"Hey, Numbuh 1," she started glancing over to the boy. "Why do you like working so much?"

That seemed to catch him off guard. She felt the need to keep score. Two times in one day. "Why would you ask a thing like that?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "But I always wondered. Is it fun? Because every time I try to work as hard as you do, it always make me feel bored, so I go do something else. Am I doing it wrong?"

"What?" Nigel stuttered, not prepared for this, oddly enough. "Yes. Well, I mean, no. The thing is…uh. Well, different people have different work ethics. So, eh, it's probably not the same for you as it would be for me."

"So is it fun to you?"

"Uh…" he fumbled for the correct way to put it. "Not…all the time."

"Then why do you like it?"

"It's not a matter of liking it. Work is work. Things have to get done."

"But you work all the time."

"I'm not working now, am I?"

"No," Kuki shook her head, "But we were before we came out here."

"It's just, how do I put this?" Nigel mumbled, the question being more for himself than anyone else. "Well, I guess…I guess because time flies when you're having fun."

"What does that mean?"

"Just…think about it for a minute," he began to elaborate. "When was the last time you had a lot of fun?"

"Today!" she excitedly answered. "We got to catch butterflies, eat pizza and ice cream, and spy on people! I had lots of super fun today."

"Okay, then did you feel the time go by? Did it feel like the stakeout took forever?"

"No," she shook her head. "It got boring sometimes, but other times, it felt like it went by really fast."

"That's just it," he pointed out. "You had so much fun, you barely noticed all that time going by. Now that the fun's over, it's already dark. The day is already over, and you wonder where all the time went."

"I know where the time went, it…" Kuki trailed off, her usual airheaded reply being pushed aside as a light bulb went off in her head. "Wait, so you mean, the reason you work all the time is because you think if you have too much fun, time will go by too fast?"

"I wouldn't put it like that…exactly," he muttered. His fingers traced along the worn pages of the Book, feeling its age beneath his touch. For something that inspired great amounts of youth, it was probably one on the oldest things of the planet. It was a startling thought for him to consider at times. "I'm not against having fun. I love going to the playground, or playing video games like any other kid. But at the same time, I don't want all that time I have as a kid to just slip me by. One day I'm having a blast, then before I know it, I'd have grown up and have to say goodbye to…well, almost everything we know now."

Kuki looked down as she swallowed the implications of his words. It was a shivering concept to have to face every now and then. The fact you can't stay a kid forever, and that the day you have to realize that is drawing closer.

"It's not like I think working hard in the Kids Next Door is going to magically allow me to stay a kid forever," he continued, taking a long hard look at the Book of KND and the weight it carried in his hands. "But…when I'm working, everything goes by slower. I'm not having fun, per se, but I can keep track of the seconds, the minutes, the hours... It may get boring, but at least that way, I can keep time so I won't let what's coming take me by surprise."

"But…what's the point in keeping time if you don't do anything with it?"

Nigel snapped his gaze to Kuki. He lost himself for a moment there, nearly forgetting the girl was there. "Pardon?"

"I mean," Kuki frowned as she tried to think of something to say. She wished she was smart like Abby, Hoagie, or even Nigel. They knew how to always say the right things. "You don't want to waste all your time having fun, but at the same time, you're wasting time worrying about wasting time. So, maybe by wasting then not double wasting time, you should…uh…" she fumbled her words. She then frowned. "Crud."

"Kuki!"

"Well, what matters is what you decide to do with your time," Kuki quickly got out. She then nodded. Yes. That would work fabulously. "That's it. You can do whatever you want with your time, Numbuh 1. You can have fun or do work, but you shouldn't worry about wasting time. Then, you end up wasting time. And…that's not what you want to do, right?"

"Right," Nigel nodded. "I don't think I could have put it better myself."

Kuki giggled, rubbing at her noggin. "Don't try it. That made my head hurt."

"Sorry," he chuckled. He looked off again, thinking. "I guess I'm just like everyone else. I'm afraid of growing up, getting decommissioned. One day I'm going to have to say goodbye to you guys. All of my friends. Nobody knows what they'll become after decommissioning, so who's to say if we'll ever see each other again? I'm…I'm fearful of that possibility."

Kuki was quiet for a long moment. Nigel began to feel horrible. He had ruined the game they were playing by going off on some depressing tangent. He was ready to apologize and pretend the whole conversation never happened, only to stop when Kuki tugged his arm, pointing towards the sky again.

"See all those stars?" she asked, making sure he was looking at the right set of constellations. "Those are my favorites."

Nigel tried to see what she was seeing, but he couldn't make out the same image she was clearly seeing. "Why?"

"Because that one is Abby," she explained before moving on to close by set. "On top of her is Wally, and he's holding up Hoagie. They're all trying to climb to the moon, see?"

He was almost shocked at how the stars connected. He could make the three of them out, flawlessly, as the picture Kuki was painting was becoming clearer. "Where are we?"

"We're right there at the top," she grinned, pointing to a conjoined mass of stars. "You're standing on Hoagie's shoulders giving me a piggy back ride while I wave at the Moonbase. Say hi to the Moonbase!"

She went off in a series of giggles before calming herself down. He peered up at the image, the last two blanks filling in.

"Just like Numbuh Eleventy Billion, we're up there watching you," she said, her voice carrying a proud tone. "So whenever you're feeling like a Mister Grumpy-pants, working too hard, or just miss us, you can look up there, and say hi to us. Anytime you want! Isn't that neat?"

"Yeah," Nigel nodded along, smiling warmly at the constellations. "It's actually pretty cool."

"I know, right?" she smiled. "And no matter what happens, even if we get decommissioned, we'll always stay kids where it counts. And as long as we're always kids, then we're always friends. No matter what."

Nigel smiled at her words, looking up into the sky to appreciate the alignment of the stars. He gazed at the team constellation once more, and found himself chuckling. "Heh heh."

"What is it?"

"It's just that, the way the stars are formed around us up there," he pointed out. If looking closely, one would notice that the way the stars were positioned, it made his nose look ginormous and Kuki's hair would be wildly fanning all over the place. "They just look sort of funny, is all."

"Then that's what we are: funny friends," Kuki beamed up at the image. "Right, Numbuh 1?"

"Right," he smiled back, enjoying the view of the stars. "Thanks for agreeing to help out with the stakeout, Numbuh 3."

"Aw, it's okay," she shrugged off. She then remembered how it all ended, and frowned a bit. "I'm sorry we didn't get to find out when they're gonna steal all the tater-tots."

"It was a shady tip anyway," Nigel brushed off. "Besides, I've already got a good idea of where to look next. The Hall Monitors have been sending unusually large patrols around the cafeteria hallways recently, I've noticed. With Numbuh 2's connections inside the force, we might be able to get some more insight on when and where Robin Food might strike. We'll look into it first thing tomorrow."

"Okay!" Kuki grinned. She then looked down at Nigel's wrist watch, then peered up questioningly again. "Should we go home now?"

Nigel only opened the Book, finding his place as he started reading again. "We probably should…"

If I had to do this all a second time,

The two sat quietly, back to back as Nigel continued his nightly reading and Kuki glanced up at the skyline. Suddenly becoming excited, she tugged at his collar and frantically motioned up to the stars.

I won't complain or make a fuss.

"Look! There's some that look like a colony of rainbow monkeys wearing top hats!"

Who would the angels send?

"Hm, there you go making things up again."

But that unlikely blend.

"I'm not! If you'd just put down that book and look…"

Of those two funny friends?

Nigel slowly closed the Book of KND, putting its wonders on hold as he looked up the sky along with Kuki, smiling. "So show me already."

That's us.


Now, to vanish~