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"the forms of earth correspond to the forms of heaven; the blotches of the skin are a map of the incorruptible constellations" – Jorge Luis Borges

I. Thursday, April 28th 3:35 p.m.

"So … what you're telling me is that you joined the Middleton Cheer Squad two years ago so you could ogle me in this uniform?"

Kim Possible, her arms folded, her right eyebrow fully arched, glared intensely at her boyfriend Ron Stoppable. She had managed to get him to sheepishly admit that he liked, had always liked, make that always intensely liked looking at her in her cheer uniform.

However, one couldn't tell that now since his gaze was aimed everywhere but at his girlfriend in the aforementioned outfit.

"Umm, well … KP … it … uh, geeze," Ron stammered.

"I'm waiting," Kim huffed, not taking her eyes from her ferociously busted boyfriend. She didn't even blink.

"Rufus!" Ron finally screamed, searching his pockets frantically for his erstwhile bald pet.

"He isn't here, Ron," Kim said coolly.

"I know! Oh no! Where can he be?" Ron wailed.

"At home, Ron. Your mom had to take him to the vet this morning for a checkup, remember?"

"Ohhhhhhhh, yeah. Heh-heh." Ron smiled. His poor stratagem to change the subject had been an utter failure.

"Spill." Kim said evenly yet sternly.

Kim actually wasn't THAT upset. She thought it was kinda cute if Ron had, in fact, decided to join the squad during their sophomore year because he was crushing on her rather than for his stated reason at the time: "Hey! I'm upbeat!" The idea that he had been holding a torch for her even back then gave her a pleasant sensation of embarrassment intertwined with warmth. But why wouldn't he admit it now? Surely, this confession could not be as difficult as admitting he liked looking at her in the uniform to begin with. Unless … there's something else …

"KP," Ron sighed, "that's actually not the reason … exactly."

"Oh," Kim blinked and dropped her arms to her sides. Uh-oh, something's wrong here …

"I joined the cheer squad partially because I'm upbeat," Ron began.

"And?" Kim asked uneasily.

"And," Ron's voice sounded hollow and defeated, "because I wanted to ogle Bonnie, Tara, Hope, and the other girls."

"WHAT!"

II. Friday, April 29th 8:25 p.m.

Kim switched off all the lights in her bedroom. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noted the outline of her computer desk and bookcases. Within a few moments she was able to clearly distinguish the outlines of the various cheer trophies that lined the top shelves of the bookcases. She slapped her forehead as she realized she still hadn't taken the bra off her sophomore year trophy. How long had in been up there, weeks? Well, to her knowledge only her mother and Ron had been in her room during that time. But she had to remember to take it down tonight after they were finished. If Dad saw that ...

A thump from downstairs startled her back into the sitch at hand. She thought how odd it was that a sudden noise could make silence seem all the more intense after the noise faded. She focused her attention on the eerie glow emanating from the space in her floor where her loft hatch lay open.

She had to admit she was a spooked. A little. The bluish-green cast to the light coming from downstairs was most definitely spooky. Not goose-pimply spooky, but spooky nonetheless. She sat on the edge of her bed waiting for the digital alarm clock to flash eight-thirty. Three more minutes.

She had no idea how long she had been nervously drumming her fingers on her bare right knee, but she was more than a little annoyed when she discovered she was doing it. Then a chill ran through her. Is it getting colder in here?

This situation was so strange. Sitting in the dark, dressed in her cheer outfit waiting for the time to begin. She'd have to somehow make it outside (without using her bedroom window) before he could catch her. It was so not going to be easy. She knew he could simply wait at the foot of her ladder for her to come out - but, no, that would be too easy.

As the clock changed (struck?) eight-thirty, she took a big breath and walked gingerly to the hatch opening. Her eyes were well adjusted to the darkness by this time. It was almost as good as with the lights on … almost. As she inched down the ladder as silently as possible, Kim thought she heard … music.

No!

"Ronald Dean Stoppable," she muttered as quietly as she could, "you are so going to get it!"

Kim was a ball of conflicting emotions. All at once she was pleased because this particular piece of music would certainly amp the "spooky factor," miffed because Ron hadn't told her he was going to do this, and finally somewhat disturbed because the music added a sinister quality to the darkness that was reminiscent of the worst nightmare she had ever had.

III. Saturday, April 16th 10:01 a.m.

Ron and the tweebs had worn themselves out horsing around ten minutes ago, and all three had collapsed in front of the big-screen TV in the Possibles' den to watch cartoons. So far, it was the same routine as every Saturday morning at Kim's place. Except no Kim. She was still upstairs.

When Ron arrived at his usual Saturday morning Possible home check-in time of nine-thirty, he had been met at the door by a somewhat distracted Anne Possible who informed him, with a bemused smile, that Kim was still getting ready and would be down to see him in a few minutes.

Now a half hour later, Ron found himself asking the same questions that had struck him when Mrs. Dr. P had first uttered her strange announcement. Still getting ready? For what?

It was their first Saturday morning after the prom.

Actually, it wasn't.

It was the next Saturday, the week after the prom. However, it might as well have been Kim and Ron's first Saturday after the prom since they had missed the previous one.

Technically, Kim and Ron had arrived at the dance Saturday morning, around one to be exact, after having defeated Drakken, Shego, and the Diablos, but they still considered it Friday night, even when it blended into the next morning and that blended into the next afternoon and evening. They were together from the moment they rocketed away from Bueno Nacho HQ until they finally passed out, still dressed for the prom, in each others arms on the Possibles' couch the following evening. They were both somewhat shocked when Anne gently woke them the next day and informed them that it was three o'clock on Sunday afternoon. Where had Saturday gone?

To say they both felt cheated by "losing" a day would not be completely accurate. The blissful hours of their new love had been more than worth the price of cutting their weekend short. The time had been wonderful, perfect, everything each had ever wanted … and they had only held hands and kissed. Still, the time had flown by quicker than they would have liked. Now it was the next Saturday, the first normal Saturday, and the big unspoken question for each of them was what "normal" might mean now that they were a couple.

IV. Saturday, April 16th 9:11 a.m.

Kim woke up at her usual Saturday time. Since she killed the alarm clock on the weekends, she had to rely on her internal clock to wake up. Over the past ten years, it had adjusted to allow her just enough time to do the bare essentials before Ron arrived. These "bare essentials" were far fewer in number than what she did to prepare for school on a weekday morning. One of the things normally cut out was a shower. She would usually find herself stepping into the tub around noon after Ron and she had been hanging out for a good two hours or so. Some Saturday mornings she didn't even bother combing her hair. Unless the person that greeted her in the mirror was sporting a hairstyle similar to one worn by a citizen of Whoville in that Grinch movie, Kim would wander down to the living room in her night sweats to hang with Ron. Brushing her teeth was the only "beauty enhancement" she'd complete beforehand.

However, this morning as she rolled out from beneath her comforter, Kim was in the grip of a wild sense of anxiety. The source of this anxiety was the fact that Ron, her boyfriend Ron, was going to be knocking on the door within the next ten minutes or so.

"Mom!"

Anne Possible was not used to her daughter frantically yelling at any time, let alone on a lazy Saturday morning, so she hurried up her daughter's ladder to see what could be the matter.

She discovered her eldest child streaking, in practically every sense of the word, from her closet to the bathroom and back again. Dressed in only her underwear and a bra Kim was alternately pulling at her hair with her right hand and tossing random articles of clothing across the room with her left. Anne noticed that one of Kimberly's bras was hanging from the trophy for the regional cheer championship she helped Middleton win in her sophomore year; the first year Ron had been the Mad Dog.

"Kim, what exactly is going on?" Anne asked in the most hushed voice she could manage under the circumstances. "What if your brothers or your father were to have walked in? And Ron is going to be here any minute!"

Kim shot her mother a look that was part frenzied terror and part utter exasperation. "Don't you think I know that, Mom! Ron could already be in the drive, and I have nothing to wear!"

The instant she spoke the words, Kim became momentarily compelled to check the driveway from her window. Fortunately, her mother just as instantly read her daughter's thoughts and, thankfully, beat her to the window, deftly shutting the blinds. "What do you think you're doing, young lady? You can't go near an open window half dressed! Public nudity was cute when you were three, but someone is liable to call the police if you appear half naked when you're seventeen!"

Only half listening to her mother, Kim muttered frantically, "You're right. You're right. What am I thinking? What am I going to do?"

"You're going to calm down and tell me what this is all about for starters." Anne said sternly.

The look of exasperation of her daughter's face was now complete. "Mom, Ron is going to be here any minute."

"Yes," Anne said calmly. "Just like he's been coming over every Saturday morning for the past decade. Why is it such an emergency today?"

"It's different now, Mom," Kim managed, her eyes still darting about her room for something to wear.

"Why," Anne asked with an arched eyebrow. "Because before he was 'just a friend' and now he is your 'boyfriend.'"

"Well, doi!" Kim snapped, a little harsher than she had intended. "Sorry, Mom, but, yes, of course!"

Anne frowned and spoke slowly. "So before he was Ron, and today he is Ron." She emphasized the second "Ron" ever so slightly.

"Exactly!" Kim stated. "Could you help pull some things together for me and stall him while I'm in the shower? Something really nice?"

Anne Possible had not seen her daughter this frenzied in a long time. Scratch that, she had never seen Kim this frenzied before; the only time that came close was several summers ago when Ron came back from Camp Wannaweep. Kim had been a bundle of nerves waiting for Ron to come visit her that first day back. Of course, once he walked through the door, Kim was completely calm and gave no hint as to how agitated she had been mere moments before. But even that tornado of frenzy had been mild by comparison. Ranked among the top five brain surgeons in the world, Anne Possible's professional opinion was that her daughter was acting ... well ... nutty.

She looked into her daughter's eyes and realized Kim was far too gone at that moment to hear out any argument to convince her of the needlessness of her concerns. Anne thought it best to lay back and wait for another "intervention" opportunity.

"I suppose." Anne sighed.

"Please and thank you." Kim managed a smile as she rushed into the bathroom and hurriedly turned on the shower.

V. Saturday, April 16th 10:16 a.m.

Watching cartoons with the tweebs, Ron was confused. Actually, more than confused, he was starting to get concerned about Kim's delay. What was keeping her? Things had been going wonderfully during their first week as a couple, and their first official date the night before had been great.

At least he had thought so at the time.

But maybe he was wrong.

Maybe, his love for Kim had blinded him to the fact that it had actually been a disaster; after all, he had knocked over an entire dinner cart during their first dance. At the time of the accident, Kim had given every indication that she was only concerned if he had been hurt, but maybe, just maybe, she had only been being nice.

Maybe that misstep and other things he hadn't notice because he was such a loser had convinced Kim that he wasn't quite what she was looking for in a boyfriend. That was why she wasn't coming down. She was trying to find the right words to tell him so. She was preparing a "break-up" speech right this minute.

"Oh man," Ron breathed and sunk into the couch, wanting to disappear from the world.

"What's up, Ron?" Tim asked, looking up from what used to be a toy rocket he was tinkering with absently.

"Nothing." Ron answered in a defeated voice.

"Doesn't sound like nothing," Jim said without looking away from the TV screen.

When Ron didn't answer, both twins turned to each other and then stared at their de facto big brother. He looked like he was going to cry. That wasn't too unusual a sight for Jim and Tim. Whenever they beat Ron at Zombie Mayhem, he always, however briefly, got that look in his eye. Now, however, it looked like it was there to stay and that he might actually start to cry. He hadn't done that in front of them for weeks, maybe months. And, to the best of their knowledge, they hadn't even done anything!

VI. Saturday, April 16th 9:35 a.m.

Although a soothing hot shower had always calmed Kim down whenever she was amped about anything, her shower this morning wasn't soothing, and it certainly was not hot.

As soon as she stepped in, she realized she was out of both soap and shampoo. She leapt from the tub and started to frantically search the cabinets for what she needed. Once she found it, she had an obnoxiously hard time opening the new bar of soap-for some reason he fingers didn't seem to be behaving properly. When she got back in to the shower, she realized she had forgotten the shampoo. She got back out again, dug through the cabinet under the sink and yelled for her mother to see if she could borrow some of her shampoo. Fortunately, her mother was still in her bedroom to take her request, and, fortunately, the shampoo her mother used didn't have a strong scent that would overwhelm and intermix with the strawberry fragrance of Kim's conditioner. Unfortunately, Kim had been so random and rushed (or feeling rushed at least) that she had failed to turn off the water on her two extended excursions. By the time she was back in the shower with everything she needed, the water was lukewarm.

It got flat-out cold by the time she started to lather her right leg. She had shaved her legs on Thursday morning, so she wouldn't have considered shaving them again so soon, especially not on a normal Saturday. But today most definitely was not a "normal Saturday," and she wanted to be perfect for Ron. Besides, the dress her mother had offered through the bathroom door when she handed Kim the shampoo displayed enough leg to make Kim feel shaving was going to be a necessity. However, cold water and jangled nerves did not bode well for the shaving process.

After shaving her right leg, Kim began to lather her left.

"Shoot!"

Absently, Kim had dragged the razor across the top of her right knee. The cut wasn't deep, but it was bleeding … a lot. Kim was mortified. She had never cut herself shaving before. The pain-there was a mild sting that radiated from her knee for the first few minutes-was nothing compared to the embarrassment she felt.

She had wanted to look perfect for Ron, and now she would be sporting an ugly scar for at least the next few weeks. With more care, she shaved her left leg and stood stewing in the chilling stream of water waiting for her knee to stop bleeding.

VII. Thursday, April 28th 3:58 p.m.

"Ron?"

As he walked from the gym to the locker rooms, Ron got the impression that someone had called him. He paused, but then continued on. He didn't see anyone and the voice he "heard" had been so low that he could have easily imagined it.

"Ron." The voice repeated, this time a little louder.

"Yeah?" Ron spun around. He didn't recognize the voice and, again, he didn't see anyone. Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him. When he spun around again, he nearly knocked Bonnie over.

"Hey, watch it you los-jerk," she snapped in her normal voice.

"Whoa, sorry!" Ron said raising his hands, "I didn't see you. You startled me."

"Sorry," Bonnie said, quietly. She looked sad.

"What's wrong, Bonnie," Ron immediately sensed that Bonnie was not feeling good. For one thing, she was being nice to him.

"I-I want to apologize to you."

"You just did," Ron said, "you just startled me, Bon-Bon, no problemo."

"Not that," Bonnie said, the normal edge returning to her voice for a moment. "I want to say I'm sorry about something important."

"What?" Ron really didn't know what else to say. The whole situation was strange, but his weirdar was not going off. That's what made it so strange; he instinctively knew Bonnie was being honest. She wasn't trying to play him.

"Everyone knows I don't like Kim," Bonnie began, "but that's not the same as not respecting her. I do respect her. I don't fully understand why she does this whole save-the-world-thing, and I certainly don't agree with where she wants to take the cheer squad, but I don't take her lightly either. She definitely has … ugh … skills and abilities."

"Bonnie, I'm glad to hear you feel that way," Ron was totally confused, "but shouldn't you tell Kim that? I mean I guess I could tell her but-"

"Please, don't interrupt," Bonnie snapped, "this is really difficult for me to say and I want to get it over with."

"Okay."

"Sorry," she breathed again in her small voice, a voice that reminded Ron of a little girl. A little girl he had once known back in elementary school; one that had once split a tuna salad sandwich on toasted rye with him in third grade.

"Anyway," Bonnie continued, "I've never EVER seen Kim cry. Not once. And I have seen her take some pretty bad spills during practice and competitions, and she has never shed a single tear. Until today ... just now."

Ron was going to say something, but Bonnie raised her hand to indicate she wasn't finished.

"When I came over to snark on you two just now and saw her tears," she smiled a little and looked away, "I knew they were from ... happiness."

"I …" Ron began.

"No, don't tell me, Ron." Bonnie continued looking at her feet, "I don't want to know what you said or what you did."

They were both silent for a minute. Ron kept staring at Bonnie, but she refused to look up at him. Finally she broke the silence.

"All I know is," she began hesitantly, "if you can do something like that for someone who is normally so …" she looked for the right word and reluctantly said the only one she could come up with, "strong, then you must be somebody pretty special."

"Bonnie?" Ron began.

"What I am trying to say is that although I don't agree with Kim on anything, she is right about one thing: you are not a loser, Ron Stoppable."

Ron was thunderstruck.

She raised her head and looked him dead in the eyes, "I'm sorry, Ron." Then she quickly waked past him towards the lockers rooms.

He was so taken aback by the entire conversation (if it could be called one) that he didn't have the wherewithal to say or do anything to stop her from leaving.

He could never be sure, but at the time, Ron thought he heard Bonnie start to sniffle as she quickly made her way to the girls' locker room.

VII. Saturday, April 16th 10:20 a.m.

"Mr. Dr. P," Ron asked, sticking his head into the breakfast nook of the Possible kitchen, "do you know where Mrs. Dr. P is?"

Not looking up from his paper, James Possible replied, "I'm not sure, Ronald. She might be upstairs with Kimmie."

"Oh, okay."

"Is there something I could help you with?" James asked still reading his paper.

"Well, uh," Ron had never considered asking Kim's father for advice when it came to Kim.

Although he really liked Kim's father, Ron had never been especially close to him, at least not to the extent he felt close to Kim's mom. True, they had spent "time inside" together when they had been briefly captured by Drakken's men the previous summer in Montana. Still, Ron couldn't shake the memory of Mr. Dr. P not-so-subtly threatening him with a one-way trip into a black hole the evening of Middleton Days if he didn't keep Kim happy. Strange, he had not sensed any menacing vibes from the older man in the past week when Kim and he became a couple for real. Maybe asking him for advice wasn't such a bad idea.

"Yeah, Mr. Dr. P, I was wondering if I could ask you something." Ron stammered.

James Possible put down his paper and looked in the younger man's eyes. "Sure, what's up?" Ron felt a warmth from Kim's father's eyes that he had not noticed before.

Ron took a deep breath, steadied his tapping foot, and … chickened out, "Could I have some cheese for Rufus?"

"Oh course, Ronald," James smiled, "there's Cana de cabra in the crisper like always."

"Th-thanks," Ron trudged to the fridge, his head slightly bent. He opened the door and waited for Rufus to leap out of his pocket for his more-or-less traditional mid-morning snack. But he didn't leap out. Ron searched his pocket and gently lifted out the sleeping pink bundle of hairless rodent flesh that was Rufus.

That's odd.

Ronald remembered Rufus being fairly active when he arrived and goofing around with the tweebs, but he did half-recall Rufus snuggling into his pocket while he was moping about Kim on the couch.

I hope the little guy's just tired.

"Ronald?" James Possible asked from the table.

"Yeah, Mr. Dr. P," Ron answered still distracted by Rufus' inexplicable nap.

"Are you sure you didn't want to ask me something about Kimmie?"

"Huh? Wha-?"

"Is everything all right between you two?"

Ron didn't know whether he should duck or run, so he just stood there caught in the headlights. However, before he could even begin to play out the black hole scenarios in his head, he noticed that James Possible's headlights were really not that harsh. In fact, they still had the warmth Ron had noticed a moment before.

Ron placed Rufus back in his pocket, gave his pet a light pat for luck, and took the plunge. "Mr. Dr. P, remember when you said you wanted KP to be happy?"

"Yes."

Ron wasn't sure if Mr. Dr. P's tone changed or if he had answered Ron's question with an ominous inflection or not, but Ron felt he had to continue with his question, no matter what. "Well, what if I am not making her happy?"

Although he probably wasn't aware he was doing it, James Possible shifted in his chair slightly at this question. Ron, on the other hand, most definitely was aware of this nuance.

"No, NO! I don't mean that I'm making her unhappy," he threw up his hands defensively and backed away from James Possible's still seated form, "well, maybe I am, I sure hope not but I am NOT trying to hurt her, I would never hurt KP-"

"Ronald, calm down." James Possible gestured for Ron to take a seat across from him.

"O-okay." Ron patted Rufus again as he inched warily toward the table and his girlfriend's father.

"I know you wouldn't hurt Kimmie, Ron."

"Y-you do?"

"Certainly. You've been looking out for her since you were both four. Of course," James chuckled, "you could say she's the one who's been doing most of the leg work protection-wise for most of that time."

"Yeah." Ron smiled feeling a little bit more at ease. "But, what about … uh?"

"The deep space probe?" James smiled.

"Y-y-yes, that." Ron said, suddenly very uneasy.

James sighed. "I really regret saying that to you, Ronald. Of the two young men who have taken Kimmie out on dates, I can't believe that I decided to give you the mad-rocket-scientist lecture."

Ron was quietly pleased that Kim's father had either forgotten or consciously decided against counting that thing Erik among the boys who had asked Kim out on a date. Or maybe he isn't counting Monkey Boy?

"I've always been protective of my Kimmie-cub, but you definitely did not deserve that. And I realized my mistake later that night when Kim told me what happened. That darn emotion chip, Drew's appearance at the festival, and, most importantly, that you had broken up with her."

As good as he was starting to feel about how this conversation was going with Kim's father, Ron visibly winced at the words "broken up with her." His reaction did not go unnoticed by James, but the older man let it pass for the moment.

"As if twelve years of friendship was not enough proof for me, the fact you would end a romantic relationship with her because you knew it didn't feel right speaks volumes for your character and how you feel about her as a person."

Ron smiled at the older man. He didn't know what to say, but knowing that Kim's dad realized how much he truly cared about her felt very, very good.

"It's funny when you think about it," James continued with a smile, "it took breaking up with Kim to show me that you'd never hurt her."

When Ron winced this time, James placed his hand gently on Ron's arm. "Why would you think she wants to break up with you, Ron? That's the problem, right? I can't think of any reason why she would, son. She loves you."

Ron was immediately struck by three things after Dr. James Timothy Possible uttered the final two sentences. One, the warmth he had noted in the older man's eyes had grown to a sympathetic glow. Two, Kim's dad had never called him "son" before. And three, although he hoped Kim loved him, she had yet to give words to this feeling and Ron realized how oddly wonderful it was for the first person to confirm that Kimberly Anne Possible loved him would be the same person who threatened to send him into a black hole.

Make that four things struck Ron.

A second after James' words had begun to sink into Ron's worried heart, he was smacked in the side of his head by one of the tweebs' experimental rockets.

VIII. Saturday, April 16th 10:15 a.m.

Kim came out of the bathroom, frantically toweling her hair. She had no idea how long she had kept Ron waiting, but it seemed like she had been up for at least an hour. She hoped the tweebs had been able to keep him occupied.

"Kim."

Kim's eyes shot up to find her mother sitting on the corner of her bed with a very resolute look on her face. The dress her mother had shown her earlier was laid out on her right, and Kim knew that she wouldn't be allowed to put it on until her mother got some straight answers.

"Spill?" Kim asked.

"Spill," Anne affirmed with a nod.

Kim sat down next to her mother with a heavy sigh. "I just want to be perfect for Ron."

"I understand that, Kim, but there's more isn't there."

Kim just nodded at her lap, but didn't volunteer anything.

"Did something go wrong last night?" Anne asked.

"Not at all," Kim said brightly. "It was perfect. Well, not so perfect. I mean Ron did knock over a dinner tray during our first dance and some of the food kinda spilled across the dance floor and I think some woman may have been clocked with a French roll. But other than that, everything was great."

Anne bemusedly noted how her daughter's slight grin had broadened into a full smile as she gave the details of Ron's misstep. Not too long ago, Kim would have told a similar story with a roll of her eyes.

"So the accident didn't spoil anything?"

"No. Oh, you should have seen how Ron handled himself. This little baby at one of the tables near the dance floor started crying. I guess she got scared by the noise. And Ron just went up to her, made a couple of goofy faces and then the baby started to laugh. Like that," Kim snapped her fingers, "and the sitch was resolved."

"Good with kids," Anne nodded in approval, "I can definitely see that in Ron. Probably would make a good father too."

"Yeah," Kim nodded happily and then blushed profusely.

Ignoring her daughter's embarrassment, Anne made her point, "So if nothing was wrong with the date what is wrong?"

Kim went back to looking at her lap. When she turned her head, her towel got unbalanced and it uncoiled onto the bed and floor. She bent down and wrapped it around her head once more and sat back on the bed. In the few seconds it took her to perform this simple act, Kim had reached and crossed over her breaking point.

She started to cry.


To Be Continued …

Chapter Text

IX. Friday, April 29th 9:40 p.m.

When Kim awoke she found herself cradled in Ron's arms on the living room couch. She absently reflected on what a strange picture they made: she in her Middleton cheer uniform, he in his silly costume. One of his arms was beneath her, gently crossing her midriff, the other was draped over her bent legs, hugging them to his.

Ron's arms. Zorpox's arms.

She smiled to herself. Why had she never noticed how strong Ron's arms were? He wasn't muscle-bound, no, but she didn't like that anyway. They were wiry, and then there were his large hands. She felt so safe within his embrace. In addition, the Zorpox gloves felt warm and cozy against her bare skin. She did so like her bad boy. She smiled again.

Ron's mouth hung open and a dribble of drool was coursing down his chin and pooling on his tunic; his breath was not the best at that moment. Yet Kim could not help but think eagerly about some time in the future when she could wake up every morning in his warm embrace and look upon his goofy, sleeping face. And then they wouldn't limit themselves to "Ron Factor" caresses and "KP Five Alarm" kisses.

Or to tickle fights.

Making as little commotion as possible, she fished the Kimmunicator out of the special pocket her mother had sewed for it in her cheer skirt. She checked the time. Nine forty-five! She double-checked and, yes, it was still p.m., not a.m. They had been asleep for less than half an hour. The night was still young. Not that it really mattered. Her family wouldn't be back until sometime Saturday afternoon. Maybe she could still convince Zorpox to cook her something. The thought of one of Ron's dinners made her stomach rumble slightly, yet she didn't make any motion to wake her boyfriend. Although she could never say no to one of Ron's meals, she so wanted to stay put because she knew this was exactly where she wanted to be. He shifted position slightly and both arms tightened their embrace upon her.

Oh yes. Right where I belong.

In less than five minutes, however, Ron's eyes shot open. "We fell asleep! Oh no! What time is it!" He started to get up, but immediately stopped when he caught the annoyed look in Kim's eyes.

"Amp down, Ron," Kim said slightly peeved at having her peace disturbed, "it's not even ten."

"Really?" he immediately calmed down. "It seems like I've been sleeping for hours!"

"Mm-hmm," she said snuggling back into him, trying to arrange his arms back in their original positions on her body.

As long as we can snuggle together afterwards, Zorpox can capture me anytime.

X. Now

Kim has no clear idea which direction is up. All she knows is that it is not the direction she is headed.

Stubbing her toes against unseen boxes, she stumbles and catches herself in the darkness.

Funny-so not "ha-ha funny"-she can't help but wonder in which direction she would fall if she did. And then … what would come afterwards?

A sense of vague familiarity envelopes everything. Something akin to the hallway outside their sixth grade classroom door hangs in the air. The gritty sense of the sand from their pre-K playground etches the lines of her palm. She can't decide if this feeling is in her left or her right hand, but it is there.

Everywhere is the unmistakable stench of rotting bananas. Gor-chy.

It is getting more difficult to move, the path is cluttering exponentially with these unseen "boxes" and shadows. Even without enough light to see, she knows instinctually that this path is so not "a disentanglement from" but rather "a knotting into" wherever she is.

Reflexively, she reaches for her Kimmunicator in her back pocket. The feeling she has tried this earlier many, many times washes over her. It is not there. She is not wearing her cargos but her cheer skirt. How? Even so, it should still be there.

Light?

Coming from overhead? The room readjusts, and she realizes that, no, it is coming from below—what, until a second ago, was overhead.

Like pushing through coats in her Nana's closet when she was four, like trying to find her way from under the layers of comforters and blankets piled high on her six-year-old bed the night the snowstorm caused the blackout, Kim struggles and inches her way toward this flickering beacon.

Just as she can make out surrounding shapes and the slightest hint of color to the still far-off light source, it goes out. The wretched banana smell is overwhelming.

Burst of flame. The green-tinted outline of an unmistakable figure erupts into view not ten feet in front of her. The eerie pulsating glow that enfolds and backlights the figure is echoed in the figure's eyes. They are pitiless, reptilian and without pupils. Jade slices of evil cut out of the surrounding darkness.

Disembodied, Kim watches as the haunted flames jet out from the figure's extended arms and enshroud her own helpless being.

The lights flicker and all goes out.

Only the cloying stench of rotting bananas remains.

XI. Saturday, April 16th 11:35 a.m.

"Kim? Kim?" Ron mumbled seconds before shaking his head and blinking open his eyes.

Kim's head shot up from her lap. Although she wanted to scream, the emotional rollercoaster she had been on for the last hour had left her completely drained, so her exclamation came out just above a whisper. "Oh Ron, you're okay!"

"Y-yeah. Never better." He smiled weakly at her and tried to sit up. "Well," pain erupted on the left side of his face, "maybe not 'never.' Whoa!" He dropped his head back on the pillow, his face twisted in pain.

"Mom!" Kim had just found her voice and called for her mother, who should have been no further than just outside the hospital room in the ER's hallway. When she turned back from the door, she just caught the remnants of a major wince leave her boyfriend's features. "Oh, I'm so sorry, honey!" she said in a hushed, if still frantic, voice.

The pain Ron felt was ridiculous, but, fortunately, Ron had something to occupy his mind. She called me 'honey'!

He wanted to raise both fists and shout "Booyah!", but the pain radiating from his skull told him that yelling anything would be a seriously bad mistake. Besides, it seemed that his right hand was currently spoken for at the moment.

Kim had been clutching Ron's right hand for the last half hour. During that time she had absently reflected on how large his hands were and how odd it was she had never noticed that before.

For the better part of that time, she had been trying to keep herself under control and not cry. Bursting into tears in front of her mother earlier had been awkweird enough, but Kim really didn't know how she could handle breaking down in public. Well, as public as a room in the ER could be. Her mother had told her that most of Ron's signs had looked good on the ride over—the swelling wasn't too bad, his pulse was strong, his breathing not erratic; in fact, the only sign that suggested anything was out of the ordinary was that he wasn't conscious; but it was still all Kim could do to keep the tears from pooling down her cheeks in front of her dad and her brothers in the car.

Watching Ron "sleep" in the hospital bed had been a very strange experience. On the one hand, she couldn't help but see him as the hapless friend she had known for the better part of twelve years, the friend she had always been able to protect. That something potentially fatal had happened to him without her even knowing had been devastating. The fact that it had been an accident had only made her feel worse. Without question, as she sat next to Ron's bed, a major part of Kim's self was cloaked in the same paralyzing dread that her nightmare had inspired in her earlier. Dread was not something Kim was accustomed to, so she channeled it into a much more comfortable feeling, anger.

The Tweebs! Of all the stupid things! Arrr! When I get my hands on them! However, she did have to admit that Jim and Tim had seemed genuinely upset about what had happened to Ron. Jim had even tiptoed into the hospital room a few minutes earlier and quietly told her how sorry he was. She had nodded, without looking up; she knew that looking at him would have only fanned her anger again.

Now that Ron's one bad "sign" had apparently taken care of itself, Kim brought his hand to her lips and was giving it gentle kisses.

Ron's smile grew a little wider but a puzzled look flashed in his eyes. "What are you wearing, KP?"

"Oh," she looked down at the rather obnoxious Otter-fly slippers Tim had given her last Christmas. They so clashed with the dress that the term "clash" wasn't really adequate. "Well, I grabbed whatever I could when we were leaving—I know they look really silly." In fact, during the last thirty minutes as she had been busy staring at either Ron's hand or the floor, she had noticed that the left Otter-fly's eyes were crooked, making them look all the more ridiculous.

"Huh?" Ron asked, even the sound of his own voice—soft to anyone he was speaking to, yet booming within his own skull—making him wince slightly. "Th-they're beautiful."

"Huh?" Kim replied in kind. Before he could speak, she whispered, "No, no, Ron. Don't explain. Not until speaking doesn't hurt anymore. I mean, if we keep bantering back and forth, you'll never—I'll shut up now." They both smiled. After a few moments, Kim went back to soundlessly kissing his hand.

And she did so until Mrs. Dr. Possible entered the room.

Kim's mom was pleased that Ron was awake and satisfied after a few preliminary tests that he seemed okay. She called down to the nurse's station for some, as Ron termed them, "ridiculous-strength" headache pills. She then pulled Kim aside and informed her that they were going to run a CT-scan just to be sure Ron was "fit as a chimp." The non-plussed look this "Ron-phrase" elicited from Kim told her mother that the two best friends-turned-lovers still had plenty of little things to learn about each other.

After taking his pills and drinking a very large amount of water, Ron sat, without speaking, and looked at Kim with a faraway smile on his face. Kim desperately wanted to ask Ron what he was smiling at, but didn't want to say anything for obvious reasons.

Ron couldn't believe how beautiful Kim looked. He had always known she was pretty, and, over the past school year, he had begun to notice that "pretty" didn't do her justice. Yet he was flat-out amazed by how gorgeous she looked right this minute beside his hospital bed. Her hair was in these "tangled ringlets" that seemed to cradle her face. Her earrings twinkled when the fluorescent lights on the ceiling hit them in such a way that they echoed the stars in her eyes. Her eyes! Why had he never noticed how large and expressive they were? And their color when combined with the color of her hair made him think of the smell of oranges—which was to say they made him think of Christmas and since he was Jewish, Christmas always made him think of Kim. Her skin seemed to … glow. And the dress she had on made her seem like … Ron could only think of the words "angel" and "princess" but neither word seemed enough. Then it hit him, Kim looked like an angel princess. Or a princess angel.

After a few moments, Kim suddenly smacked herself on the head, gave Ron the "1 minute" signal with her hand, and then ran down to the nurse's station for a pen and a pad of paper. I can fly a space ship after seeing it done just once and yet it takes twenty minutes to remember how to pass notes to my boyfriend. Maybe if we had done it more oftenin class …

When he had handed her the first note, Kim couldn't decipher what Ron had written and was momentarily panicked that the Tweebs' rocket had caused him some degree of brain damage. However, she soon remembered how atrocious Ron's handwriting was and passed the note back to him with instructions: "In English not Ronnish."

After giving her a mildly perturbed look, Ron passed back a rewritten message.

"You're just so beautiful" was the more clearly written response to her original question -"What are you smiling about?" Actually, Kim wasn't one hundred percent sure that the last word wasn't actually "badical." But that didn't matter; the effect was the same.

Ron's breath caught in his throat when he saw Kim's reaction to his message. She absently brushed her hair behind her right ear with her hand. It was the same move she had done when (ick!) Eric (double ick!) had first sat down next to her in the caf on its first day of school. But there was one difference that made Ron feel extra grande-sized: Kim also blushed when she did the flip. In all the years he had known her, he didn't think he had ever made Kim blush. Eric hadn't even made her blush; at least he didn't think it had. He couldn't remember if even Mankey had ever made her blush – but then again there was that whole sitch where Kim almost blushed to death and she had been out with Mankey that night and … and who cared! What mattered was Kim had just blushed because he, Ron Stoppable, had told her he thought she was beautiful.

Maybe she does love me! Maybe Mr. Dr. P is right.

Whoah! Waitaminute!

Ron gestured for the pad and quickly began to scrawl a brief message to Kim.

"What happened to me?" she read soundlessly. Doi! Why had she or her mother not thought to explain to Ron why he was in the hospital. She scribbled down what she had learned from her dad and the Tweebs. And then she briefly explained that he was going to need a CT-scan before he could leave.

As Ron read the story of how he got where he was, Kim found herself staring at his ears. She had begun paying these features a great deal of attention over the past week. They had always been there, but now she was noticing them in a new way. For whatever reason, staring at them resulted in a slight flutter in her chest just below her throat. She didn't know exactly what this meant, but she did like the feeling. In fact, everything about Ron looked a little … different. For instance, she now realized that the freckles on Ron's right check were somewhat higher than those on his left.

Ron shot Kim a confused look once he reached the end. Before he could write his question, Kim, sensing what the problem was, gestured for him to return the pad to her. He leaned forward and handed it to her (neither took notice that he had raised his head without any visible signs of pain).

She crossed out what she had written about the CT-scan and replaced it with "They are going to x-ray your brain."

Ron looked concerned rather than confused when he read her correction. She gestured for the pad again, replaced "They are" with "Mom is," and handed it back to him. This time he smiled and gave her a thumbs up.

He then flipped the sheet over and started scribbling another question.

"Why do you think your earrings look silly?"

It took Kim a few beats to realize where this question had come from. "No," she wrote back, "my slippers look silly. I had to toss them on when we left to bring you here. You like my earrings?"

He wrote back that "Cha!" he thought they were that word that was either "badical" or "beautiful." And then he wrote, "Slippers?"

It occurred to Kim that because of how he was laying on the bed Ron couldn't see her slippers. Maybe he had never seen them. They were a present she had opened Christmas morning, not on Christmas Eve when Ron usually came over for the Possible Christmas celebration.

She raised her right leg and gave her "Otter-fly" toes a twirl. Momentarily forgetting she was wearing a mid-length skirt, Kim had inadvertently given Ron a prime opportunity to look up her dress. However, her boyfriend's eyes, after noting the cross-eyed aquatic mammal-insect on her foot, became fixated upon her bandaged knee.

He gestured for the pad (again neither took notice that Ron was now sitting up in bed without experiencing any "ridiculous" pain), scribbled a bit and handed back this message: "What happened to your knee?"

After reading the pad, Kim took a deep breath and looked back at her boyfriend sheepishly. She then began writing her answer.

After a few pleasant minutes of staring at the cute crinkle between Kim's eyes, Ron realized that it was taking her a rather long time to explain a simple band-aid. He would have assumed the story behind why he was in the ER would have been a little more involved. The problem was that Kim kept crossing out what she had written and starting over. By Ron's count, she had already gone through three false starts.

"Mom!" he exclaimed suddenly as his parents materialized behind Kim's chair.

Before he or Kim had gotten over the momentary shock of his parents' appearance or of the fact that he had just yelled out loud without wincing in pain, Barbara Stoppable had brushed past Kim and smothered her son in a very tight embrace. Unlike the pitch of this new visitor's voice, her embrace was causing a painful reaction in the patient.

After flashing Kim a quick smile, Eliot Stoppable quickly rescued his son by saying, "Barb, when Anne said that Ronnie would be okay, she didn't know you were planning on throttling him."

Barbara gave her husband the stink eye, but released Ron and stepped back to survey the couple. "So, what are we writing, Kimberly?" she asked bending over to inspect Kim's notepad.

XIII. April 16th 10:25 a.m.

As Anne Possible hugged her crying daughter close to her, Kim's towel once again unwound and fell to the floor. Anne couldn't remember the last time she had been in this particular situation, the position of consoling her daughter. Sure, Kim needed advice and someone to vent to from time to time, but this break-down was definitely a unique moment in their mother-daughter relationship. What made it exceptionally difficult for Anne was that she had no idea with what Kim needed consoling.

Kim rarely cried, and when she did, it was never with abandon. The only time her mother could remember Kim crying profusely had been when Ron had lost it when Kim had skinned her knee when they were six. And then there was the time two Christmases ago when the entire family had searched the world for Ron and, for a few tense minutes, Kim had believed Ron might actually have died. Even now, Kim was not hysterical. She was not wracked with sobs, but Anne could tell the tears were flowing steadily if silently. It was as if, in spite of everything, Kim was still trying to maintain her control.

But, Anne reflected, that was the problem. Kim was trying to control how she felt and that is not always possible … even for a Possible.

After letting Kim cry into her shoulder for a while, Anne whispered that she needed to get up for a minute, but that she would be right back. Kim snuffled and righted herself. Her mother walked to her daughter's dresser, opened and shut one of the top drawers, and snatched a few tissues from off the computer desk. She handed Kim the tissues.

Kim wiped her still flowing eyes, but she soon realized that her mother was placing an earring into her left ear. Kim stopped crying and gave her mother a questioning glance. Anne returned a light smile and gestured for Kim to give her a minute. After fixing the second earring in Kim's right ear, Anne disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a small hand-held mirror. Holding the mirror out to her daughter in ways so Kim could only see her earrings (not her tear-stained face), Anne asked her how they looked.

"O-okay. I guess," Kim mumbled.

"Just okay?" Anne asked, "I was sure they'd be perfect." Even with them looking slightly bloodshot from her crying, Kim's eyes still radiated and when accentuated by the earrings' stones, they were dazzling.

Kim absently shrugged her shoulders and blew her nose.

"In fact," Anne continued, "I know someone who would definitely agree with me. Most likely because he thinks you're perfect."

Kim gave her mother's stratagem a half smile. Anne could detect a small glint in Kim's eyes that might indicate the beginnings of happiness or maybe just relief. However, before Anne could continue down this path, the look in Kim's eyes changed completely.

"Mom, I need to tell you something."

"Well, Kimmie, I can see why that would be very upsetting, but I don't understand what that has to do with Ron. He wasn't even in it."

"Mom, that's why it is about him, because he wasn't there."

Anne frowned, "So you're worried that Ron might not be there for you someday?"

Kim shook her head. "Ron has always been there for me when it counted. There is only one reason why he wouldn't be."

"Oh, I see." Anne said finally comprehending. Before the unspoken statement had time to suffuse the moment in dread and melancholy, Anne brought the focus back to the problem at hand. "So," she began slowly, "you think that by being perfect for Ron you can somehow … prevent that."

"Well, … no," Kim admitted. "But, maybe, I can make up for everything … everything I've put him through. Everything I … might put him through in the future."

"Kim, you never forced Ron to go with you on those missions. You need to realize that he goes because he wants to."

"He goes because I want him to." Kim said firmly.

"I think you're being too hard on yourself. Wasn't it his idea to go on the first mission? Hasn't Ron gone on missions alone before?"

"Yes, but the time he went alone was to save me! And then while he was risking his life for me, I make all his sacrifices practically worthless by going out on that date with … Josh."

"Yes, that was not one of your wiser moments," Anne asserted, somewhat to Kim's surprise. "But I think you are forgetting that Ron was happy to do it. He never held it against you, did he?"

"No, but that's makes it so much worse!" Kim was practically in tears again.

Anne placed a gentle hand on her daughter's knee. "Kim, you are going to have to realize that you can't control everything. Not everything you do and, certainly, not everything you feel. Sometimes, you just need to pardon your heart."

Kim was trying to take in all the implications of her mother's words when Anne suddenly said, "Kim you're bleeding."

"Oh, yeah," Kim admitted, "I cut myself shaving. So stupid."

Anne got up and went to the bathroom.

Oops! I guess that wasn't exactly being easier on myself.

When Anne returned, she had a small band-aid. Kim was dabbing her knee with one of her damp tissues and when she saw what her mother had, she shook her head. "That's not necessary, Mom."

"And which one of us is the doctor?" her mother asked, brushing aside Kim's objection and her hand.

"Are you serious?" Kim said with an arched eyebrow as her mother applied the bandage.

"Ick!" Kim pronounced as she extended her leg and stared at the bandage that was off-color enough from her skin tone to be totally noticeable. "It's even uglier than the cut!"

"Trust me, Kimmie," Anne said with a slight smile.

Although Anne understood the serious nature of Kim's major concern with Ron, she could also see that her daughter was suffering from a slew of superficial concerns as well. She knew if Kim could somehow consolidate Ron-the-new-boyfriend with Ron-the-best-friend-of-twelve-years, these trivial worries would vanish and everything would come into focus. Only then would Kim be able to deal with her greatest fear.

"Honey!" James Possible's cry from downstairs startled both women. The urgency in his tone was palpable. The sound of the Tweebs' steps hurtling up the stairs left little doubt that whatever it was involved them. However, instead of running to their room, they stopped at the foot of Kim's ladder.

"Come quick, Mom!" Tim called up through the open hatch.

"Something's happened to Ron!" Jim explained.

Anne immediately looked at her daughter. All the blood had drained from Kim's face, and she looked like she was in a daze. This, however, was not preventing her was walking quickly to the loft hatch.

"No, Kim," Anne directed in her most firm and professional voice, "get dressed. I'll tell you when you can come down."

XIV. Thursday, April 28th 3:39 p.m.

She refused to look at Ron.

"Tweaked" didn't cut it. Neither did "five-alarm upset." Or "ferociously angry."

No, the only word that seemed to even come close to touching how Kim felt was "betrayed."

And she knew it didn't make sense—but that was how she felt.

At the time he joined the squad, Ron was just her best friend. The idea that they might become romantically involved with each other was probably the furthest thing from either of their minds. But romantic betrayal wasn't the type of betrayal she felt. The type she was feeling seemed much worse.

She had always thought of Ron as a really sweet guy. His large heart was part of the reason they had remained such good friends for so many years. His kindness to everyone as well as his ability to forgive her occasional periods of thoughtlessness had been a large component to the bedrock of their relationship. And, now, now after she had given him her whole heart, he tells her that he has been hiding some creepy agenda from her—that he wasn't who she thought he was. That he was no different than those scummy guys at the swim meet.

Although she tried her best to ignore its existence, for the longest time Kim had known there was a food chain of beauty. The fact that she sometimes felt inadequate around girls like Bonnie and Tara who were more … umm … "developed" than she proved it existed and that it had an effect on her. She knew where her "strengths" lay in this demeaning rat race-her most attractive features were her legs.

Although it had only happened once, Kim could never forget it. During a swim meet sophomore year—not a week after the Seniors' Pop Pop Porter caper, Kim had walked up to the diving board for her first dive, and two shrill whistles and a laugh had erupted from somewhere in the crowd. Since she was the only diver in competition at the time, she knew the whistles were directed at her. She glanced at her father before climbing the board, and the look on his face more than confirmed that he had the very same suspicions as to the meaning of those outbursts. This had never happened to her before—most likely because everyone knew that she kicked super freak biscuit on a daily basis. However, on the solitary occasion that it did, Kim couldn't help but feel very, very awkweird. For that brief instant, she had become a piece of meat to somebody, and it made her feel extremely icky inside.

And now Ron was admitting he felt that same way about the other members of their squad. About their friends!

Ron had been shielding himself from the onslaught he knew was coming for what seemed like forever. As soon as Kim had screamed "WHAT," he had covered his head with both arms and awaited the verbal tirade he assumed he was in for … but it never came.

Finally, he dared to look at Kim. He quickly dropped his arms to his sides. She was wearing a look he had never seen before. It was a depressing mixture of anger and sadness. It made her look old. Not "old" like Nana, but tired old.

"Kim?" Ron asked with more concern for her feelings than for whether or not he might be in trouble.

"Don't talk to me, Ron," she replied tersely. She hadn't turned to face him, and Ron realized that she actually seemed to be averting his gaze, as if she didn't want to see him.

"But, Kim," Ron began hesitantly, "I-I…"

"I don't want to be around you right now, Ron. Please go." She looked like she was about to start crying. Ron had not seen Kim cry in a very, very long time.

Ron shook his head in painful disbelief as he slowly obeyed his best friend girlfriend's request and inched his way down the bleachers.

What have I done? Oh, man. What have I done?

XV. Saturday, April 16th 9:59 p.m.

It was getting very close to Kim's curfew, and as Anne walked through the foyer, she was more than a little surprised not to see James peeking through the blinds for signs of Ron's car. Then she heard a truly amazing sound-snoring.

As quietly as she could, she followed the sound into the living room, and there, in front of the widescreen television showing the "hometown" Rockies beating the San Francisco Giants, was her over-protective husband sound asleep. She was so flabbergasted that the thought struck Anne that maybe she should check his pulse just to be sure he was "fit as a chimp."

However, the sound of the front door opening preempted this impromptu physical.

She turned and caught sight of Kim bounding and practically skipping into the house. Not only that, she was singing!

"I wanna live with a cinnamon girl—uh, boy, something something something cinnamon boy …"

As Anne entered the foyer from the living room, she found herself in an almost unimaginable position: having to warn Kim not to wake up her father after coming home from a date.

"Oh, Mom!" Kim exclaimed as quietly as she could. She was practically dancing around the tile entranceway, and trying hard not to giggle. Unless Drew had just zapped her with some sort of spaz-inducing laser gun, it was readily apparent that Kim had enjoyed her second date with her best friend boyfriend.

Unbeknownst to Anne, there was a gun trained on her daughter. Of course, this was more like a crossbow than a laser gun. Instead of Drew Lipsky, it was Jim and Tim Possible manning it. Finally, instead of some emotion-distorting microwaves, this weapon was armed with fruit-juicy-red-gelatin-filled water balloons. All Anne needed to do was move four inches to the left, and the weapon's presence and destructive power would be made manifest to the entire Possible clan.

"What is it, Honey?" Anne found Kim's smile most infectious. She couldn't remember seeing her daughter this happy in a very, very long time.

"He loves me." Kim said, trying hard not to cry. Again with the waterworks, Possible? What is this? The thirty billionth time today you've nearly lost it? "Ron really, really loves me."

"What?" Anne said with a shocked smile she could not keep down. "Did he tell you—"

"No, but wait until I tell you!" Kim gushed. She bit her lip and whispered as best she could, "He … he looked at me … and …"

Anne smiled, "Took your breath away, didn't it?"

"So did," Kim beamed back. The fluttering sensation Kim felt right along her collarbone was still so strong.

Since the Ron-Factor-and-KP-Five-Alarm-Sauce pit stop had run a little longer than they had anticipated, Ron did not pull his mother's car up the Possibles' drive until the dashboard clock blinked 9:56. This, of course, meant it was actually 9:59, and Kim decided to sprint to the door alone to make sure she didn't breach her curfew on only their second official date. Just before she took off, she half-turned to smile and wave bye to Ron.

He was staring at her again … just as he had in line at the theater. Pure concentrated adoration. "Seeya, KP," he said quietly without blinking.

She let out a half squeal and ran to her front door feeling like her heart was going to burst. What is going on with me? I sound like a twelve-year-old girl crushing on some guy on the cover of Tiger Beat … oh, WHO CARES!

As she was unlocking the door (Ohh, this is going to be sooo close even if I do make it!), she heard a faint "Booyah!" and then Ron's mother's car stereo rev up. He was playing that "new" old song he had been obsessed with for the past week or so—"Cinnamon Girl." It wasn't until that moment that Kim realized the time frame was no chance accident, and that Ron was playing it because it made him think of her. Doi!

Jim and Tim could not make out half of what their mother and big sister were saying. Even still, it was obvious something was most definitely wrong. Kim had gone crazy. Either that or, what was more likely, she had been body snatched and replaced with some sort of space pod—an eight-year-old space pod. Whatever the case, this was probably not the best time to test out the Jello-Bow Mach ii.

Even though they practically shared the same brain, Jim, who was holding the device, still looked over to Tim to confirm the decision to scrub the mission.

Tim nodded, but then his eyes went wide with alarm. As he had turned to face his bother, Jim had inadvertently lowered the bow slightly, and, as a result, one of the gelatin-filled projectiles was wobbling down the scope of the weapon. Before either Tim could grab the balloon (which wouldn't have been the best of ideas) or Jim could right the crossbow, the jello grenade was already airborne and on its way to landing smack on top of Kim's head.

Fortunately, she was so giddily bouncing from place to place that at the last moment she stepped four inches to the right and the balloon hit the tile floor instead.

Unfortunately, the impact still sent wobbling, stain-inducing, artificially-flavored shrapnel all over her sneakers, socks, legs and shorts.

"Hicka-bicka-boo!" Jim nervously mumbled.

"Oosha!" Tim anxiously concurred.

They both took off for their room, only to freeze at the sound of Kim … laughing.

Their mother was most definitely not pleased with them, but their sister, splattered with cold, jiggly Hawaiian punch from the waist down, was clapping.

"Space pod," Jim asserted.

"Insane space pod," Tim corrected.

She was a sticky mess and her shorts and shoes were most likely ruined. But to Kim none of that mattered. As crazy a day as it had been, this ending made a crazy kind of sense. A perfect ending to what had become a perfect day.


To Be Continued …


Author Notes:

Thanks to Rich Sirois whose picture "End of Line?" served as the spiritual mother for the Shego in section ten. All of Rich's art (KP or no) hurricane rocks! Links to the pic and Rich's gallery can be found on my profile page.

A grande-sized booyah to MrDrP whose "Zorpox and the Cheerleader" story/concept inspired sections II and IX. More importantly, his Zorpox idea was what inspired me to try my hand at fanfiction writing in the first place.

Chapter Text

XVI. Saturday, April 16th 12:30 p.m.

Kim could not believe what Ron had just done to her in front of everyone.

Both their parents, at least one of the tweebs (who knew where Tim had snuck off to), not to mention the two CT techs assisting—they all saw him do it! Her cheeks were so flushed that she felt like she was running a fever. She had not felt this embarrassed for a very long time!

As she stared at the floor in a futile attempt to lessen her embarrassment by avoiding everyone's eyes, Kim found herself caught in the gaze of the two sets of eyes on her feet.

And she started to giggle. Possible, you are such an idiot!

Here she was embarrassed because Ron had given her a kiss in front of a roomful of people and yet she had been walking around a crowded, busy hospital for over two hours and never thought twice about how ridiculous she must look, dressed as she was.

First of all, there was this hideous dress. She had been so flustered that morning getting ready for Ron, so panicked when he got hurt and they had to rush him to the hospital, and so relieved once he woke up that she failed to realize until this moment how badly she had been played by her mother. The baby blue fairy princess dress that made her look like she was an eight-year-old posing as a twelve-year-old at a neighborhood Halloween party was the same dress her Nana had sewn for her this past Christmas. A dress she had cordially received on Christmas Eve but had sworn, aside to her mother, that she would never, ever, ever wear in public. All she was missing was the wand and the silver wig and she could sing "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" at any children's birthday party or Diz-nee-themed karaoke night.

One anxious tug at her hair told her it was a tangled mess. Since she had rushed to the hospital without fully drying (let alone combing through) her hair, it must look like an auburn rat's nest. Split-end city. She might even be sporting a handful of cowlicks that would put Ron's solitary one to shame. She so didn't want to look in a mirror. Unfortunately, there were so many shiny surfaces in this hospital; she knew there was very little chance of her making it out unscathed by her reflection.

Finally, there were her not-so-trend-forward slippers. OMG! I really am dressed like an eight-year-old! All I need is Pandaroo under my arm to make the picture complete!

All in all, Ron's kiss was the last thing she should have been embarrassed about. True, it had been a silly kiss, even a cornball kiss. But that was who Ron was, and she had better get used to it. As she felt the flutter in her chest overshadow and obscure the fading heat of her cheeks, Kim realized that she was getting used to it.

"Kimmie-cub," her father called. "Ron's about to go in."

Kim dropped her reverie and scooted across the room on the rubber soles of her Otter-fly slippers to the observation window to watch as Ron was slid into the CT machine. Just before his eyes were draped in shadow and disappeared into the machine, they reached out and made contact with hers. Her flutter intensified for the fractions of a moment that she held his gaze.

She beamed as she watched the rest of her cornball boyfriend disappear into the machine. She just knew that everything was going to be all right … with his test … with them … with everything.

Ron, on the other hand, was not so certain. In fact, as the darkness overwhelmed him, he was terrified. Terrified for Kim.

XVII. Saturday, April 16th 10:04 p.m.

As the last guitar notes faded, Ron immediately pressed the rewind button on his mother's tape deck. He had listened to the song and replayed it so often during the past week that he knew the exact amount of "Mississippis" it took before he could hit the play button and start the song over from the beginning (it was eight and one "Mississ").

Importantly, the ride between his house and Kim's didn't allow him to hear it two complete times, so, like the night before when he drove back from their first official date, Ron spent a few moments parked in his parent's driveway playing air guitar to the badical solo that closed out the song. As he learned the night before, playing air guitar in a car is so much more effective when the vehicle isn't in motion.

A hodgepodge of memories of his BFGF tumbled and flowed through his mind as the song played. What did he ever do to deserve being this lucky? Lucky enough to have Kim Possible, the Kim Possible, as his girlfriend. It was almost too good to be true. But there it was. Not only that, but Ron was pretty sure that Mr. Dr. P had been right that morning and that Kim did love him.

No, he was sure.

As the song faded out and he turned off the car, he suddenly realized that he did believe her father; he did believe Kim loved him. And, in a fraction of a second that was so slim that you couldn't slice it with a razor, he realized that the reason behind this realization of his was because it was true. Ron had never been a quick thinker, but this thought hit him like a crackle of lightning.

Wow.

Not Booyah. Not Badical. Just … Wow.

That morning he had been so worried that he had done something goofy the night before to ruin everything. And, if last night hadn't been the relationship-killer, then there was always tonight, or tomorrow night, or next week, or next year. With each approaching second there was the chance he would screw everything up.

But that wasn't true. He knew that now.

That afternoon in the hospital right before they slid him into that space capsule so Mrs. Dr. P. could X-ray his brain, Ron had done something incredibly goofy to Kim. Her initial reaction had not been good.

Ron wasn't sure what he had been thinking, but it seemed like a sweet idea at the moment. As his stretcher was wheeled into the examination room, Kim, who had been holding his hand and walking by his side all the way from the ER (in fact, the only time they had been separated was for a brief five minute period when changed into a hospital gown), hopped up on a chair next to the stretcher once the nurse brought Ron to a rest. They exchanged smiles and Kim's mother started explaining the testing process to Ron or, to be more accurate, to Ron's parents. Elliot Stoppable had complete confidence in Anne Possible's abilities, but his wife was still overly anxious. As everyone patiently endured Barbara Stoppable's questions concerning radiation leakage and brain damage and the like, Ron found himself focusing more and more upon Kim's right knee.

Kim was sitting on one of those high swivel chairs that Ron noticed seemed to congregate in the labs, research institutes, and even mad scientist's lairs that he had visited in the course of Team Possible's many adventures. The height of his stretcher and the corresponding height of her chair aligned in just such a way that, lying down, Ron was eye level with Kim's knee.

He still had no idea what the reason was for the band-aid. When his mother had leaned over to see Kim's answer to his question back in the ER, Kim had turned the color of her hair and reflexively covered the pad with her hand. He wasn't sure if his mother had read anything, but she had said "Oh," and stepped away from Kim with a knowing smile.

Well, whatever had happened, Ron knew that it must be fairly serious. Kim wasn't really the band-aid-wearing type. That hadn't always been the case. When they were kids, she never gave such things a second thought. Up until sixth grade, some part of their bodies were constantly either bandaged or bundled in gauze. That ended once Kim got caught in Bonnie's beauty food chain or whatever. No more bandages and no more rough playing.

At the time Kim pronounced her moratorium on "rough housing," Ron's mother had tried to comfort him that Kim was becoming a "little lady" and had grown above such things. Ron knew then that wasn't true. Kim may have been a "little lady," but she was a rough-n-tumble little lady. The missions, of course, proved Ron correct. How Kim managed to fight freak biscuit every week and remain fairly un-bruised was a mystery Ron could not explain. However, that mystery begged the question of the band-aid all the more. What had happened?

She must have gotten really hurt.

Half-listening to her mother pacify Ron's mother, Kim was starting to feel just a little uncomfortable. For the past few minutes, Ron had been completely ignoring the winks, looks, and finally stares she had been shooting him. He seemed completely transfixed on her legs. Not that she minded the idea of her BFBF looking at her bare legs (she quite liked it, in fact), but they were in front of both of their parents, and, really, Ron had been staring at them for quite some time. It seemed so long in fact that part of her started to worry that he might have slipped back into unconsciousness.

Suddenly, at the very instant that Barbara Stoppable had been placated, that the machine had finished prepping and was ready for the patient, and that all eyes had focused back on him, Ron leaned over and gave Kim's knee a gentle, if exceedingly loud, kiss.

As soon as he looked up at her face, Ron knew he had screwed up. Her eyes were wide with shock and her face was redder than her hair. It was "brick red crayon" red.

"Eeep," he managed as Anne's assistant wheeled him into the room with the CT scanner. Anyone who heard his meek utterance would have assumed he was expressing fear of the machine he was about to inserted into; in reality, he was worried he had embarrassed Kim (dur hur) and that he had ruined his chances with her (so not).

Fortunately, there wasn't even time for this fear to build. A mere ten seconds later, he was in the scanner room and could see Kim observing him from the large window that separated the two rooms. Just one look in her eyes told him that even though he had screwed up, things were still fine.

They had been friends for over twelve years. He was a goofy guy, "never be normal" and all the rest of it. And that was cool with Kim.

She knew who he was.

She loved who he was.

She loves who I am.

For someone who used to cry over every little thing, Ron Stoppable was surprising clear-eyed at that moment sitting in his mother's car alone when he discovered that Kim Possible loved him in all his goofy, screwed-up essential Ronness.

After a few moments without saying a word when all he could hear was his breathing and the rapid beating of his heart, Ron cried out happily, "I gotta hear that song again!"

As he sang along with the song for the third time in ten minutes, Ron's sense of elation blossomed into inspiration.

"That would be so badical!"

Ron was in the habit of talking out loud to himself because he usually had Rufus with him, so, technically, he wasn't really talking to himself. However, with the still-under-the-weather naked mole rat curled up on Ron's pillow, Ron's exclamation struck Elliot Stoppable as rather odd as the latter looked out the living room's picture window to see why, after practically five minutes after killing the car's engine, his son had yet to come in the house.

Maybe Ron could serenade Kim with this song. Nah, he had already sung along with it while she was in the car. Hmm. Maybe he could learn to play the guitar so he could really perform it for her. That sounded pretty cool and although Ron had helped establish the Procrastinators' Club at school (they still had yet to hold their first meeting), he knew he could see something even that time consuming through to the end if he was doing it for Kim. The more he thought about it though (he was listening to the song yet another time now), that didn't seem right either. He wanted Kim to be a part of the experience. Was there someway they could perform it together?

"Next year's talent contest! Coolio!"

Elliot shook his head, smiled, and walked back to his computer desk. If it had been anyone other than his Ronald, he would have seriously been reconsidering Anne Possible's diagnosis from that afternoon.

The first talent show idea that popped into his head was having Kim sing the song. But, no, it really was a song meant for a guy to sing. Of course, she could change the lyrics, but "Cinnamon Boy" sounded so lame. Besides, Kim really was a much better singer than the guy on the original song—it was the music, not the lyrics, that made the song great. Hmm. Maybe she could dance—ya know, act out the song. No, that was a terrible idea. She wasn't some showpiece; Kim was more than just a super pretty girl, she was a take-charge, natural born leader.

Then it hit him—she could play lead guitar! The coolest part of the song was the badical solo at the end; why shouldn't she play it? The more he thought about it, the more Ron liked the idea. The song was about how fantastic a girl she was; why not end it with her wowing the crowd with biscuit-kicking-guitar-fu?

If anyone could master those solos in less than a year, Ron knew Kim Possible could.

"Yes! Double Naco Booyah!"

Ron was just about to rewind the song again when a tap on the window startled him. After the echoes of his scream had faded into the night, his father, standing outside the car door suggested that he could always play the song when got up to his room.

As he made his way up the stairs, the idea kept expanding. He could play the bass guitar since he was practically a bass guru thanks to the 'Naked Mole Rap' (How hard could it be?), and Rufus could play the drums. Wade could design some miniature drum kit for the little guy with the phat beats of a regular-sized one. And they could call themselves KP and The Ronshine Band! And, then, when the song sounds like it is going to end and then the guitar player plays this funky little rift that seems to go nowhere and everywhere at once, Kim could play that with the guitar behind her head!

The only detail that Ron's power of imagination was sketchy on concerned the clothes this band would be wearing. In his mind he strummed the bass in his normal school-day get-up, Rufus was naked of course, and Kim … well … she was in her cheer squad uniform.

Because …?

Well, he liked when she wore it.

He threw open his bedroom door and flipped on the lights in one fluid motion. He was so amped! He couldn't wait to tell Rufus all about his idea and about his night with Kim.

His face fell and his spirits vanished when he caught sight of the little pale bundle lying on his pillow.

"Buddy?"

When he heard the pitiful squeak of greeting from the undeniably ill-if pleased-naked mole rat, Ron was as relieved as he was heartbroken.

Oh man, he looks so old.

XVIII. April 16th 1:45 p.m.

Dr. Anne Possible looked over the CT results one more time just to be certain the data confirmed her own diagnosis and that of her team. She exhaled slowly and shook her head. With resolve she opened the door and entered the waiting room where Ron, Kim, The Stoppables, and her husband were patiently (Elliot and James) or otherwise (Barbara, Kim, and Ron) awaiting her. She noted that Ron was sitting normally in a chair in his usual clothes with Kim and Barbara standing on either side of him.

She meet everyone's gaze, but the look on her face was inscrutable.

"Well," she began hesitantly, "I am not really sure the best way to say this."

Ron gulped. Not so much because Kim's mom seemed to radiate dread (she didn't); rather, the dread was radiating from either side of him as both Kim and his mother gripped an arm each as Mrs. Dr. P began to speak.

"However, after going over these results with my staff we are all in agreement."

Yeah … AND? Please don't do this, mom!

Anne sighed, "Elliot, Barbara …"

Oh come on, mom!

OWW! My arms!

"Your son is a cartoon character."

After two seconds when only the ticking of the room's clock could be heard, Elliot Stoppable gave a mild chuckle. His wife and son however only blinked in perplexity.

Anne smiled, "That is the only explanation. Everything about Ronald's brain is normal, and by all rights that shouldn't be. He should at least have a concussion, even a mild one—he took and massive shot to the head and was unconscious for almost an hour. But, no, this is probably the cleanest CT scan I have ever seen. It looks like the example scan for a normal brain in an anatomy textbook. I would attribute this to Ronald's good fortune, but this seems beyond mere good luck."

Kim and Ron breathed a shared sigh of relief and Kim laid her head upon Ron's shoulder. She still aimed a semi-cross look at her mother however. This was the second time today she had been played by her.

"So," Barbara began, still perplexed, "Ronald's going to be okay? He can go home?"

"Immediately," Anne asserted. "However, if he experiences ANY more 'ridiculous' headache pain, he should come directly back to the ER."

Five minutes later, Kim and Ron were slowly walking hand-in-hand down a hallway toward the hospital's main entrance.

"So what do you want to do with the rest of the day?" Kim asked.

"Well, KP, I hoping to take my bon-diggity girlfriend out on another date."

"I think she would like that very much. What do you have in mind?"

"Oh, I dunno, maybe something simple tonight."

"Fine by me. Believe me, I think I have had enough dressing up for a while, " she said gesturing with some disdain at her dress.

"Yeah, what's up with that, KP?"

"Oh—well, uh," Kim was so not ready to discuss this with Ron. Considering the great news they had just received about Ron's health, she really wanted to put all problems and ishes on the backburner for the rest of the day.

"Don't get me wrong, KP," Ron said quickly, "I really think you look beautiful right now."

"You do?" she asked in surprise.

"Of course!" Ron exclaimed. "You look like a fairy princess angel."

A bemused smile crept across Kim's lips as her cheeks reddened ever so slightly. "With Otter-fly slippers?"

"An angel fairy princess with Otter-fly slippers." He asserted.

Neither seemed to notice or mind that he had flip-flopped his words.

"You're too much, Ron." Kim gave him a one-armed hug.

"I still have a question, KP."

"Mm-hmm?"

"Why the band-aid?" Ron immediately regretted his question as he felt his best friend girlfriend tense up.

"I," she began hesitantly, "I cut myself shaving."

"Why were you shaving, KP? I thought Saturday was your bumming around day. You usually don't even shower."

"I most certainly do!" Kim said somewhat offended. "I just usually wait until the afternoon."

"Don't get upset, Kim." Ron said calmly. "I didn't mean to dis you. It is more than cool with me. In fact, I like it when we can just chill out on the weekends."

"Really?" Kim asked a little sheepishly. She so did not mean to harsh on Ron. "I'm sorry, Ron. I guess I have been kinda amped about my appearance recently."

"Why, KP? Because we're a couple now?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Kim was looking away from Ron. She wasn't really sure how to broach the next topic. It was difficult enough discussing it with her mom earlier, but she also knew she couldn't keep it from Ron. "But there is more, Ron. Umm. Well, Ron, its just that I—OW!"

She had been so preoccupied with how to address her main concern with Ron that she had failed to see the empty stretcher that suddenly rolled into her path. Fortunately, the stretcher was only slightly in her path. Unfortunately, it was at the same height as her right knee.

"Oh man!" she said rubbing it.

"Are you okay, KP?"

"Yeah, it only stings a little, but it'll probably leave a bruise. Great! A scar AND a bruise. Terrific! I have been SUCH a klutz today."

"Are you sure, you're all right?" Ron asked with a funny look in his eye.

"Y-yeah," Kim asked, testing her weight on her knee. As she suspected, it was fine to walk on. "Why do you ask?" Her eyes had a look that wasn't much different from Ron's.

"N-no reason, KP," he smiled.

"You want to kiss it better, don't you?" she asked.

"Only if you want me to," he said with a nervous laugh.

"I do," she said without hesitation.

Ron stood there in slightly-shocked silence for about a second and a half. "Okay."

He happily dropped to one knee and began to bend over.

"No, wait, Ron." She rested her right Otter-flied foot on his bent left knee, so her knee was positioned right in front of his face.

He looked up at her and smiled.

"Go ahead. I'm waiting." She smiled back.

He bent down and gave Kim's knee a slight, gentle, graceful kiss.

"Feel better?" He asked with just the beginning of a blush in his cheeks.

"Yes, actually it does." She said with smile. She shook her head. "Cornball."

"But you like me anyway, don't you?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

They had both noticed the nanosecond of deliberation on Ron's part when he mentally selected which "l" word to speak. And they both noticed that the other had noticed although they pretended they really hadn't. But they had.

XIX. April 17th 2:00 p.m.

As they walked through Middleton Park, Kim was sure that the events at the vet were still bothering Ron. Even though Rufus would be fine, their experience had been pretty traumatic.

The earliest the vet could see Rufus on a Sunday had been at one in the afternoon. They were the first to arrive, but just after they had signed in, a man burst into the office carrying a large German shepherd, saying that his dog had just been bitten by a rattlesnake. Instinctually, Ron and Kim took Rufus back out to the waiting room.

It seemed to take forever and normally Ron would have been whining about having to wait. Not this time. The howls they could hear coming from the back rooms kept everything in perspective. As bad as Rufus seemed, it most definitely could be worse.

"Would you like me to hold him, Ron?" Kim asked quietly.

"In a minute, KP."

As the minutes inched by, the howls were getting more shrill and pained. Kim so wanted to do something to help, but she knew that the dog was in the best possible hands and there was really nothing she could do. Every so often, Ron would lean down and whisper something soothing in Rufus' ear. Despite the little guy's weakened condition, Rufus looked up and made a sympathetic squeak after a particularly heartbreaking whine echoed from the back.

Then the cries suddenly stopped. Almost on reflex, Kim took Ron's free hand in both of hers and squeezed tightly.

With much effort, Rufus raised his head to look at his owner and then in the direction of the back of the office and then back to Ron.

Without knowing what else to say, Ron whispered, "Its okay, buddy, it'll be okay."

A minute later they saw the man who had brought the dog leave from the back quickly. His hands were empty. He looked like a fairly burly and tough guy, but Kim could tell he had been crying. He left without noticing them.

A nurse walked out from back and gestured to them. "You guys can come back now," she said quietly.

Ron took a deep breath, and Kim gave Ron a reassuring pat on the back and Rufus a reassuring smile.

"We've got your back, buddy," Ron said quietly. "We've got your back."

One hour later Rufus was cradled in Kim's arms sleeping peacefully as she and Ron walked home through Middleton Park. The smallest member of Team Possible had been suffering from a rare infection that only affected underground dwelling rodents from sub-Sahara Africa. Fortunately, the vet, Dr. Mondaugen, had connections with that part of the world and just happened to have the serum that could combat the sickness on hand. A shot of the serum and a second shot of nutrients meant to help get Rufus back on his feet as soon as possible, and the threesome were on their way home.

Mondaugen did warn Ron to bring back Rufus if he didn't seem better by that evening, and to not forget his pet's annual check-up which was a little less than two weeks away. Even if it hadn't been for Rufus' exploits with Team Possible, naked mole rats were very high-maintenance pets health-wise, especially when not living in their natural colony environment. In addition, the doctor told Ron not to be alarmed if the vitamin shot made Rufus sleep through the rest of the day.

"Oh, man! He slept all day yesterday too!" The immense relief Ron felt was enough to allow him to give voice to this characteristic whine. Kim certainly took it as a good sign that her boyfriend was finally felling better.

As they made their way silently through the park, Kim could see he was still bothered by what had happened with the dog. Spying a bench that looked out over the lake, Kim said, "Hey, let's sit a minute."

The bench not only overlooked the lake, it also gave a view of the Middleton Elementary playground on the opposite shore. After a few more minutes of silence, Kim said conversationally, "I remember when they put that playground equipment in."

"Yeah," Ron said half-heartedly.

"I remember you were so gung-ho to try it out." Here Kim couldn't help but let out a small laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"Well, Ron, we were in sixth grade at the time," Kim smiled.

"So?"

"So? You were the only sixth grader on the teeter-totters, Ron. Two-second graders had to get on the other end for it to work. But the thing I remember most is you standing in line for the slide with the first and second graders. You were twice as tall as every other kid!"

"Okay, okay," Ron smiled, "you're right. Maybe I was a little more gung-ho than the rest of the guys in our class, but not really-maybe I was just the only one not afraid to show it …"

"I love you, Ron."

She hadn't intended on saying it then. Initially, she had just wanted to boost his spirits, but as the images of Ron-the-sixth-grader clambered over her memory, and she heard his voice boasting of his goofy deeds from so long ago, she found that she couldn't help herself.

"Wh-what did you just say?"

"I said that I love you, Ron," she smiled and then nibbled a corner of her bottom lip in a semi-nervous gesture that helped keep her from crying.

Ron, however, did not have an effective facial tick at hand to prevent him from crying. His eyes pulsed with feeling and quickly overflowed. "Kim … I love you so much. So much." He embraced her in his large arms, tightly but gently, and let his running tears flow into her shoulder.

She placed her free arm around his shoulder, kissed his ear and then softly whispered, "Remember this moment, Ron. Remember it forever."

XX. April 16th 12:32 p.m.

The darkness that enveloped Ron as he slid into the scanner made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The sensation of urgency that radiated through his body was so overwhelming that he almost sat up and cried out. Fortunately, he was able to control this compulsion; otherwise, he would have banged his head against the top of the chamber when he sat up subsequently preventing him from crying out because he would have been knocked out cold for the second time in as many hours.

It wasn't that Ron was scared of entering the scanner. In fact, he thought it was kinda cool, like that scene in that old sci-fi movie when that guy in the funky green helmet goes into that floaty room to turn off that singing computer.

The problem was that the initial ridiculous darkness of the chamber reminded Ron of a dream he didn't realize he had forgotten.

The first thing that came back to him from the dream was the smell. He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, but it was very, very familiar and pretty gorch-tacular to boot. He couldn't see anything and for the longest time in the dream he wasn't sure he was dreaming. But then there was the smell … and the sounds.

Someone sounded like they were pushing things—boxes, crates. Like someone was cleaning out his mom's garage with the lights burnt out. Then he heard her voice.

It was most definitely Kim. Although she wasn't saying anything, he could recognize her sighs anywhere.

He tried to call out to her, but he found he had no mouth. No body either. It was like he was floating somewhere off to the side—like watching it on TV from inside of the screen.

Suddenly, there was an eruption of green flame on the far right of the "room" or whatever it was. Even if the flash hadn't illuminated the figure's outline, he would have immediately known it was Shego. Everything went dark again and then there were two bursts of flame that streaked off to the left. He knew what was coming next.

Kim's collapsing figure was briefly illuminated in that same horrid green color before the darkness swallowed it. Only the darkness and that smell he couldn't place remained.

If it had just been a simple nightmare that would have been bad enough, but Ron knew that it was more. Much more. There was a message in this dream. And the message was that his sincere belief that when the chips were down that he could always do what it took to save Kim was wrong. Dead wrong.

The fact that Shego was the dream's monster was very important. He could handle all of Kim other foes. The Seniors? Monty, Killigan – no sweat. And her arch foe? Come on—after that scene on the roof of BN HQ, Drakken was probably petrified of him.

But Shego was another story. Kim had always handled Shego herself because she was so dangerous. So far Kim had never lost, but that streak couldn't last forever. Even if it didn't go down exactly like it did in the nightmare, it would happen eventually. And there would be nothing he could do. Nothing.

Ron was so depressed by this realization that he was practically inert. Which was a good thing because he was supposed to remain completely still during the scan.

How could he protect Kim? Anything was possible for a Possible, even being rescued by a Stoppable. But he couldn't kick Shego biscuit like Kim did. True, he did have mystical monkey power, but he couldn't always control it. It would take years of training with Sensie to get to any kind of competent level of control, and what if he didn't have that kind of time before he would need to save Kim? Besides, how badical could the power really be—it's number one fan was Monkey Boy. No, even if he could harvest that power it wouldn't be the solution. But what other power did he have?

Ruefully, he recalled his claim on the "power of imagination" back when they had helped Shego's brothers. Didn't do much good then.

Then it hit him. No, he couldn't defeat Shego, but maybe he could frighten her off. And the only person Shego had ever been afraid of had been him. Well, not 'him' him, but him nevertheless. Maybe the power of imagination would work after all.

No maybes about it. He was going to protect Kim no matter what. If Ron couldn't do it, Zorpox would.

"Booyah!" he exclaimed raising his arms as far as he could.

The pain he felt in his hands as they contacted with the walls of the chamber were somewhat overshadowed by the pain cause by his "booyah." The resulting echo his exclamation caused within the scanner seemed to reverberate through his bones. And it was ridiculously painful.

"Ron," Anne Possible's disembodied voice announced evenly, "I need you to remain completely still while I'm running the scan."

XXI. Thursday, April 28th 3:30 p.m.

Kim had been thrilled when Ron first brought up the idea of performing "Cinnamon Girl" together at next year's talent show. Although she didn't know all the lyrics, she had been humming the melody off and on ever since their second date. She was disappointed when Ron told her that he didn't think she should do the singing, but this was quickly overcome when he told her he thought she should play lead guitar on the song instead. Kim had never given much thought to playing a musical instrument, but now that she was thinking about it, it really intrigued her.

She could see Ron was right. Not only was the song not really a song for a female voice, but it would be "no big" for her to sing it. Actually, kinda boring—no challenge to it. Playing the guitar, on the other hand, would be a challenge, and she was so about challenges.

Mild doubts about Ron learning to play bass were pushed aside quickly. She knew he was sincere about giving it his all, and, besides, they would be learning to play together.

She also agreed with his assumption that Wade could probably fix something up so that a mole-rat-sized drum set could produce loud "phat beats."

She loved the band name he had come up with—so Ron.

Her only question had to do with what costumes they would be wearing.

"Well," Ron said offhandedly, "I haven't given that too much thought, KP. I was thinking about wearing my normal clothes and you wearing your squad uniform."

"My squad uniform?" Kim asked in genuine confusion—what about playing lead guitar in a rock band said "cheer uniform." "Why do you want me to wear my cheer uniform?"

XXII. April 17th 2:22 p.m.

Kim was sitting on Ron's lap, encircled by his arms while Rufus slept in her lap encircled by hers. They weren't saying anything. They didn't need to. They were enjoying just being together, enjoying their life.

A breeze picked up from somewhere behind the elementary school. It moved through the playground, pushing a few of the empty swings, rushed across the surface of the pond and weaved its way through the braches of the trees that edged the water. A wisp of the breeze descended gently upon the park bench and Kim felt its ineffable coolness touch her cheek and tangle itself in her hair. And she remembered.

"Ron?"

"Yes, Kim?"

"Do you remember what it felt like when we were in sixth grade? I mean what it was actually like to be that old—can you still feel it, sometimes at least?"

"I-I think so, yeah."

"I remember the first day of school and just thinking, or feeling, I guess, that we were so old."

"Old?"

"Well, maybe not old, but that we were, I don't know-adults."

"I don't think anyone thought that about me, Kim. Still don't."

She smiled. "Its just that we were only twelve and it seemed like we had already experienced so much."

"Oh, okay, I see what you mean."

"Yeah, and that was before the missions …:

"Before Rufus," Ron said giving his little friend, whose pink skin already looked much better, a pat.

"… before Rufus," Kim smiled, "before so many things."

She was silent for a minute.

"What are you thinking, KP?"

"That time just seemed to go by so quickly. I mean, five years, and its gone."

Ron stroked her cheek.

"I-I just," Kim continued, "I just don't know what the next five years will bring."

"I don't know either, KP, but I do know one thing," here he leaned in and kissed her neck, "we'll be together."

She fought against the pleasant thrumming in her chest; she had to talk about this now. She measured her words before she spoke. The first phrases that leapt to her mind ("We need to talk," "That's what I am worried about," etc) were all ferociously bad ways to bring up the topic she needed to discuss with him. In the end, the direct approach proved to be least potentially alarming method. "Ron, I had a dream Friday night that really scared me."

"O-okay. What was it about?"

Kim wasn't five seconds into her description before Ron exclaimed, "Rotting bananas, of course! That's what that smell was!"

After the shock that they had once again shared the same dream settled down, they shared their own description of the events they had seen played out in their minds. With only the shift in point of view as an exception, their dreams were identical.

"Oh Ron, I was so worried about you," Kim confessed with the concern evident in her eyes.

"Me? Why me? Shego was after you."

"Ron," Kim explained, "you've always been there for me when it really counted. The only reason you couldn't save me would be because …" She was silent and closed her eyes.

"What is it, Kim?"

She kept her eyes clinched shut. There was no way she could not cry if she said it to his face. "The only reason would be if Shego had … had already killed you."

Ron was floored. The mild terror the picture of Shego actually killing him generated passed very quickly. The feeling that he couldn't shake was one of amazement. Kim dreamed of getting seriously hurt by Shego (he was not ready to say or think the "k" word in terms of his best friend girlfriend), and all she was worried about was him.

"Oh, Kim," he hugged her so tightly that he almost woke up Rufus. "I am so lucky … so lucky to have you in my life."

She was grateful for the sentiment and the hug. She had definitely needed them right then. However, the concern was still beading in her eyes.

"KP, I think I know what we need to do."

"Huh?"

"We need to perform an exorcism."

Kim blinked blankly at him. Twice. No, thrice. And then she said completely dumbfounded, "I was so not expecting you to say that."

"No, no, hear me out. We need to exorcise our dream."

"O-okay?"

"Aren't your parents taking the tweebs to Colorado Springs in a couple of Fridays for that conference or something?"

"Y-yeah. They won't be back until the next evening."

"Well, do you think we could convince your mother to let me sleep over then?"

"Whoa! I don't know. Dad may have fallen asleep before I got home last night, but I don't think he's comfortable enough with "us" to okay that!"

"It's still worth a try. I'll talk to her if you want—heck, I'll even talk to him if you want, well, okay, maybe not him." He gave her a very warm, confidant smile, "I've got an idea KP that just might scare off both our fears."

XXIII. Thursday, April 28th 3:45 p.m.

Even if the bleachers weren't creaking, she would have known he was there. When you spend the majority of twelve years together with someone, you can sense when they are near.

She knew she had been too hard on him. But still she felt justified for being upset and shocked by his revelation. It had been almost ten minutes, but she still didn't feel ready to face him.

"Kim?" Ron asked with trepidation. His voice sounded so far away, muffled.

"Go away." That sounded way harsher then she meant. "I mean, I need a little more time, Ron. Could you leave me alone for a little while longer?"

"Kim, have I ever lied to you?" Ron's faraway voice asked.

The question pierced her heart. They hadn't even been a couple for a month and it had already come down to that question! She had thought their relationship would have been so perfect and now it looked like it was headed down some angst-riddled cliché-strewn road she did not want to be on.

Reflecting on the question itself just made her feel worse. Ron hadn't always been truthful. He had tried to keep his Fearless Ferret identity from her. He had fibbed when trying to retrieve her library book. He had tried to keep her out of the loop when he went to stop Drakken two Christmases ago. But those weren't really lies. In fact, in two of those instances he was trying to do something nice for her, to surprise her. And THAT only made her feel ten times worse.

She, on the other hand, had actively lied to him. And those Halloween lies were only told to benefit her. With just one simple question, Ron, without meaning to, had made Kim feel two inches tall.

Sadly, she raised her head to face him and nearly choked on her tongue with laughter.

He was wearing the Middleton Mad Dog mask.

"I didn't want you to have to look at me," Ron explained from inside the mask.

"Ron, take off that mask!" Kim said after finally regaining control of herself.

"No," Ron said flatly, "not until I explain. I'm still in the dog house, so I won't take off the mask until I'm out."

"Okay," Kim said getting serious again.

"My main reason for joining the squad was because I am upbeat, but, I have to admit, I am a guy, and I like looking at pretty girls."

Kim nodded, but sadness was starting to creep back into her eyes.

"And everyone on the squad is pretty," he continued.

"But can't you see, Ron, that when you ogle them you are using them as objects, not as people?" She was starting to get upset again.

"Two things, Kim," Ron said calmly, "you are absolutely right about that, and I realized that almost immediately after joining the squad. Tara, Hope, even Bonnie in a strange way is my friend, and it just didn't feel right ogling them. I soon found that I couldn't do it. Now, that doesn't mean that an occasional 'guy thought' won't cross my mind, but I can't see them as objects-they're my friends."

At first Kim thought he was going to tell her exactly what he thought she wanted to hear, but as he went on, Kim understood that he was being upfront. Good or bad, she felt like he was going to tell her the truth.

"And that's also why I didn't join so I could ogle you." Even through the mask, Kim could see little points of anxiety start to blossom in Ron's eyes as she met this last statement with silence. "You were upset about that too, weren't you?" he asked with obvious concern.

"Honestly," she began, "I hadn't even gotten around to getting upset about that yet."

"O-okay," Ron continued, "that actually leads back to my second point."

"Oh?"

"There's something else tweaking you about all this, right?"

He knew her; there was no doubt about that. She nodded.

"Do you want to talk about it? And, uh, could take off this mask, it's getting kinda hot in here."

"Sure," she smiled, "and no, you can't. Not yet."

"Oh man!" he whined, but with the beginnings of a smile in his voice.

That smile vanished as Kim told him about the swim meet.

"If I had been there, those guys would have been so …" from his eyes alone, let alone his agitated gestures, Kim knew the Middleton Mad Dog was mad for real.

"Amp down, Ron," Kim said, "and take off that mask, I don't want you having a heat stroke."

"Whew!" Ron's tongue was hanging out of his mouth. "Thanks, KP. I-I'm sorry I didn't have your back at that meet."

"Ron, you were having your tonsils out that day, don't give it a thought. You made every other meet that year."

"Still, KP, the one meet I miss and that's when some jerks start …"

"Ron," Kim held up her hand, "what is the major dif between what they did and what you were planning on doing to the rest of the squad?"

"There couldn't be a bigger dif, KP! Every guy looks at pretty girls. Even if they try not to, they still do. And sometimes even the best of us let that look … well … linger into ogling. I would be willing to bet that every guy in those bleachers with the exception of your dad liked looking at your pretty legs that day."

Even during a heated discussion, Ron's judgment that her legs were "pretty" made Kim feel slightly embarrassed—but in the good way.

"But my point is it is not what you feel—no one can help what they feel—it is what you do with those feelings. When those jerks whistled at you they were trying to embarrass you, to show what big guys they were. They WERE trying to demean you. They were trying to HURT you, and if I could find them I'd …"

Ron's tongue continued to lash out against the jerks in the bleachers, but, suddenly, it discovered that it couldn't. Kim's mouth was in its way.

A few minutes later, and they were both a little short of breath.

Once they had recovered, they both said, "I'm sorry." And Kim won another soda.

"Ron, I shouldn't have assumed the worst of you," Kim said her eyes downcast.

"No big, KP, I told you I wanted to ogle the rest squad."

"But that's just it, Ron. You were honest with me, and I harshed on you for it. That would have been the perfect opportunity for to lie, but you didn't."

"I couldn't."

That earned him a kiss on the forehead. However, to make sure he hadn't thought he would get off the hook too easily, she asked, "So do you still have occasional 'guy thoughts'?"

"Yeah, but I much prefer the 'love thoughts,'" he quickly responded.

"Nice save," Kim said appreciatively.

Then, so as to make sure he really didn't think he could get off the hook that easily, she asked, "So what part of me to do have these 'love thoughts' about?"

"Are you asking me what part of you I love the most?" Ron answered suavely.

Touché, Stoppable. "Yes, that's what I am asking," Kim asserted.

"What part do you think I love most?" he asked coyly.

"I don't think, Ron. I've known ever since our second date," she answered dryly. And to demonstrate, she stood up and swatted her rear.

Ron blushed.

Knew I could break you. Kim's smile was both saucy and smug.

"Actually, that's not true."

"Really?"

"Don't get me wrong, KP, I really like your .. uh …"

"Bodacious butt."

"Y-yeah, but that isn't my favorite part."

"It isn't? What is?"

"Close your eyes."

Arching her eyebrow, Kim asked the completely understandable question, "Why?"

"Because I'm going to kiss you on it."

"I don't know, Ron," Kim said starting to feel somewhat uneasy.

"Trust me," he said, his eyes locked into hers. She couldn't say "no" to those eyes.

"Okay." She closed her eyes, and as she heard the bleachers creak she shot off one more quip, "It really better not be my butt, or you'll be in real trouble."

Kim felt the moist tenderness of Ron's kiss just below her left knee.

Her eyes opened in surprise. "What did you kiss?"

"Your freckle," Ron beamed back at her.

"What freckle? I don't have a freckle on my leg."

"Sure you do."

"I don't think so," she said, extending her leg to see the exact spot where her best friend boyfriend had kissed her. If there was one thing Kim definitely knew about herself it was where her few remaining freckles were. She despised them and was so glad when they started fading away when she turned ten. There were those few that popped out on her nose when she got a sun burn, one on the instep of her right foot, and that constellation on the back of her neck that her mother had drawn to her attention a few years ago. Otherwise, she was freckle-free.

Except for just below her left kneecap. "I can't believe it! I have never noticed this one before. How is that possible?"

"Anything is possible for …" Ron chimed.

"Don't even," Kim laughed. "Wow," she said looking at it, "I never knew."

"I always knew," Ron smiled.

And then Kim Possible started to cry in front her boyfriend, Ron Stoppable. There weren't too many, but that's how pleasant tears usually are.

Just at that moment, Kim heard the bleachers creak; someone was coming up to visit them. She didn't look up, but then she heard the bleachers creaking in the opposite direction—apparently, their visitor had changed their mind.

"Uh, are you okay, KP?" Ron asked concern creeping into his voice.

"I'm fine, Ron. Wonderful in fact."

Ron gently brushed away the one or two tears that had leaked down her cheeks.

Before Ron kissed her freckle, Kim knew how much Ron truly loved her—now she knew and she felt. The leg he was kissing, the legs he saw, were not the same ones those creeps at the meet had whistled at. Those guys had been looking for some sort of perverse perfection—someone with the same perfect skin and muscle tone as those airbrushed models in magazines. But Ron wasn't in love with a fantasy or an image of perfect beauty. He was in love with her. He loved looking at her legs because they were hers.

Kim knew that if he could cherish her for her blemishes, her imperfections, then Ron must truly adore her.

And that is just what she saw now in the eyes and goofy grin of the boy seated next to her—the boy who had been her best friend for twelve years and, she hoped, would be her life for as many years as they had left-pure, absolute adoration.


A:N: Credit for Ron's fantasy for the talent contest is utterly and completely owed to CarbonF and his fantastic dA fan art piece "Rock and Roll."