Kim spent the next two days walking on eggshells. Somehow she managed to get through several study sessions with Ron without holding hands or kissing him. But it was obvious that Ron was noticing it, and her excuses were becoming repetitive and more transparent.
She didn't know what else to do. She wanted to kiss him, but every time she did, she remembered the visions of her spiritual journey, and it totally killed the mood. School encounters between them were getting more awkward. And it seemed to Kim that Bonnie was always lurking somewhere nearby, as if enjoying the sitch immensely.
At the end of practice, Kim had gone home to do her own homework. She turned on the TV in her bedroom loft, taking a short break between two history chapters, and flipped through several news reports.
World communications were almost fully restored, and nations around the world seemed to have settled back into their routines of bickering and quarrelling over trade, borders, all the 'normal' things. Damage from the golem attacks was being repaired, and some of the reports were already turning to other news events - a sign that things were truly settling down.
But some channels and reports were still covering aspects of the golem sitch. A few channels here and there were showing silhouettes of Monkey Fist with a question mark on his chest, and banner headlines in all caps - WHERE IS MONKEY FIST NOW? But each report left the question unanswered.
Kim did note that in all the reporting, Maze had escaped scrutiny. He was never named, and even the reports that did mention him referred to him as 'Monkey Fist's mysterious accomplice'. Kim wondered where he was now. He was the one who had freed Monkey Fist and started the entire scheme, yet no one seemed to be inquiring closely about him. Maybe it was because Monkey Fist was the one who had made the video ultimatum to the world when the golems were attacking. Or maybe Monkey Fist was simply more high profile because of his previous crimes. But whatever the reason, Maze remained anonymous.
Kim wondered if she should have mentioned Maze directly to the press, and was thinking she would do so if any more reporters made inquiries. But another report had started, and she listened to a well known anchorman on DNN.
'...manhunt is still underway for the super-villain Monkey Fist, who crippled the world's satellites and attacked with an army of animated statues. Any person with information regarding his whereabouts is urged to contact the appropriate authorities. So far, the Department of Justice will not confirm if they have Monkey Fist in custody, as teen hero Kim Possible asserted in a recent statement.'
Kim's mouth fell open as she heard what the reporter said next. 'Kim Possible of course, is the teen heroine who single-handedly defeated Monkey Fist and saved the world, as she has done on numerous occasions....'
Kim turned off the TV in disgust. Single-handedly? When she had answered questions from the press, she had been careful to make mention of Monique's role, and Ron's. But like Maze, Ron was being quietly dropped from all the press coverage. As far as she knew, no one, not even A.U. Dibble, had gone to his house to ask about his version of events, or even ask how he was doing.
She clenched her hands as she thought back to all her past missions. Somehow, Ron always got cropped out of every photo. He got edited out of every interview. No one ever cared what he had to say. He never seemed to get any of the glory. And he never really complained. Every so often he would say, Aw, man! But then he would forget all about it and go right on smiling.
And he had done so much. The number of times he had saved her - even if only by just distracting the bad guys long enough for her to take them down. He had stopped Monkey Fist. He defeated White Stripe. He had beaten Gill - twice. He had flattened an army of Wegos bare-handed. And the one time Ron had gotten some of that glory, just after he saved Russ Cueler, she had resented him for it.
Many times when Ron had been absent from missions - like the sitch with Hank's Cupcakes and Drakken's freezing machines - those were the times when Kim had come closest to being defeated. And now Ron had destroyed the Ultra-Atmospheric Jammer - saving the world from Monkey Fist and Maze. Where without him, she and Grimm had been thwarted for nearly a month. But once again, Ron's role was being ignored.
Ron had stepped up for her a hundred times over, and what had he gotten in exchange for any of his sacrifices? A place on the sidelines so he could clap and cheer - for her? While the world ignored him and his contributions? Was it any wonder he had turned into a vengeful super-villain when the Attitudinator removed his good?
She curled up in a chair - her homework forgotten as she brooded. Ron had joined the football team for her. Gotten his job at Smarty-Mart for her. He went on missions, risking life and limb... for her. Weren't these improvements? Rising to his potential? Would he have done any of those things if she hadn't driven him?
Potential boy. He had so much potential that was just lying idle because he had no reason to use it while she was getting all the attention. 'And he'll never have the chance to live up to that potential,' she thought with horrible realization. 'As long as he has to live in my shadow.'
She thought back and suddenly remembered a note, sent by Grimm just before he turned up in Middleton, asking for her help.
Help me reach a friend in darkness.
Ron had been in the Spirit World, in darkness, for weeks. But when she had seen him returning, he had been so bright to her eyes. When she had thought about the note, about Ron, all during the time she was trying to save him, she thought he was the friend in darkness she was struggling to reach.
She remembered what Grimm had said. 'He's an exceptional guy. In all the years that you've known him - has he ever done anything to willfully hurt you? But how many times have you done things to hurt him? You've lied to him - you've ditched him - you've marginalized and criticized him at almost every level. And still he's stuck with you. Frankly, you don't deserve him.'
She heard Kim-i-i shouting at her during their battle. 'Ron was always there for you to step on when you wanted to look a little taller! What kind of monster are you?'
She buried her face in her hands. 'The friend in darkness wasn't Ron - it was me all along.'
She started as she heard her Kimmunicator beeping, but it wasn't Wade. It was a text message from Ron. The bright blue letters flashed across the Kimmunicator screen. Back from Smarty-Mart. Can u come over? - Ron
Kim turned off the Kimmunicator, trying to muster her courage. She'd had no lack of courage while Ron was missing. She had worked harder and fought longer than she ever remembered to save him. And now it was time for her to save him again. Though the thought of what she would have to do to save him now filled her with dread.
( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - ) ( - )
When she entered the Stoppable's backyard, she looked around but couldn't see Ron anywhere. Under the deeper shade beneath the tree house, she spotted a white sign fastened to the tree. In black marker, it read, 'Up Here, KP'
She climbed up the rickety planks nailed to the tree trunk and hoisted herself up through the trap door. Ron was standing in front of the moth-eaten couch, but he was wearing his tux. Not the ugly, frilly blue one he had worn at Junior Prom, but the nice black one he'd worn at Homecoming. He was even wearing dress shoes.
'Ron?' she said. 'What's the sitch?'
'No sitch, KP.' he said, waving his hand. 'Well, I guess there is one but it's not a super-villainey thing.' He sighed. 'Kim, we need to talk. You've been avoiding me since we got back, and I think I know why.'
Kim felt as if clammy fingers were closing around her insides. She suspected he'd picked up on the awkwardness, but deep down she had also hoped his normally innocent nature would overlook it. 'Ron...' she said, but he broke over her.
'Nah, don't deny it KP!' he said, and there was no trace of bitterness or anger that she could hear. He sounded more like he was trying out his guess at a riddle. 'I can tell. And... I don't blame you.'
Kim was confused now, because it was Ron who sounded guilty. And before she could say anything, he started what sounded like a speech he had practiced beforehand.
'Monique and Felix have been asking what it was like when I was... away.' he said. 'At first there was Monkey Fist to deal with, then it was just too weird to think about. I haven't told anyone yet, because I wanted to tell you first. It's time for me to do something I meant to do almost a year ago, but never got around to - talk about my feelings!'
Kim felt nearly spellbound as he looked down at his feet. 'When I was in the Spirit World, I hung out with Rhonda.' he said, 'There really wasn't much to do except talk. So we talked a lot. Somehow our own bad vibes came to haunt us while we were there. Rhonda was taking it pretty hard, so I kind of helped her out by teaching her how to groove like the Ron-man.'
'But some of the things we talked about got me thinking. And I saw something that I'd never thought about before. I saw I haven't been a very good boyfriend. When you started going out with Eric, I freaked because I thought I was losing you. Then after that thing with the Diablos, you took me to prom and... it was all so amazing.'
'And not long after that, I blew it. I mean, I'd been trying to find a girlfriend for ages. Then suddenly I had one - the most bon-diggety GF anyone could ask for! Someone smart, and beautiful, and talented. I should have been thanking my lucky stars every day and treating you like a queen. But instead I wound up treating it all like it was just another toy, or a game I could put on the shelf without thinking twice. And I'd just expect it to be there ready and waiting when I got back. But dating's not like that. It's not supposed to be like that.'
He heaved a sigh and looked straight at her. 'I can't go back and change all the lousy things I've done.' he said. 'But I can do my best to make up for it.' He snapped his fingers and Rufus pushed a box tied with a pink bow across the couch. Ron picked it up and held it out to her. 'Happy Three-Quarter-Versary, Kim.' he said, smiling.
Kim numbly took the box. 'Three... Quarter-Versary?'
Ron grinned, shrugging. 'Cuz it's about three quarters of a year since we started dating! You remember that belt you gave me for our Half-Aversary? In the Spirit World I realized that I never gave you anything. I was selfish and stupid. This is just... my way of saying I'm sorry.'
Kim opened the box and gasped. It was a dress. A duplicate of the dress that had been ruined by the Diablos, and moreover she could see a logo stamped inside the lid. 'Country Club Banana?' she said. 'Ron, this must've cost...'
Ron waved his hand again. 'Well, since I'm on a homework-only diet until further notice, so I figured I might as well sell the Y-box and use my game money to get you something special.'
'Ron you shouldn't have...' said Kim, shaking her head.
'That's another thing.' he said, and his face was beet red. 'When I was a millionaire, I spent all that money on myself and I didn't even think about you. And you tried to warn me to be careful with it, but I wouldn't listen. I'm sorry about that too.'
Kim felt her breath short. 'Ron, don't...' But again, Ron spoke over her.
'I know,' he said with another wave, 'You're thinking, what's the point of a dress without an occasion to wear it? Check out the card!'
Then Kim noticed a card lying on top of the dress. It was a reservation for Chez Chouteaux. 'Oh no...' said Kim. In any other circumstance, she'd be swept off her feet by all this. But given what she swore she would do for Ron's sake, it only made things worse.
'Yeah, I know the first time we went there it didn't turn out so well.' he said, smiling. 'That's another thing I realized in the Spirit World - that I can be kinda thoughtless. When we first went to Chez Choteaux, I was goofing around with coupons and crayons when I should have been trying to be a little more grown up. I don't get embarrassed much, so I never realized how embarrassed you might be. But we can go back now, and I promise - I won't gorf out, or turn into an orange troll, or try to scam a cheap meal.'
Kim felt tears building. It was all so wonderful, but after her spiritual journey, it was also painful. 'Please stop...' she whispered, but Ron didn't seem to hear her.
'Remember when you got your memory wiped?' he said, again looking ashamed. 'You remembered everything except that I was your boyfriend. In fact you looked totally gorched out when I said we were dating. I guess since I wasn't a memorable boyfriend, I was easy to forget. When you got your memory back, you said, 'I think I love you'. If it had been me, I wouldn't be a hundred percent sure either. You made the effort, and like a total sap, I didn't. All I cared about was myself. And it's just another thing I did wrong that I can set right.'
He bit his lip and looked her full in the eyes. 'Kim, I know guys aren't really good at talking about stuff like this. But I want you know I luuuuh.....' He paused, coughed and took a deep breath. 'I luuuuuh....' he tried again, putting his hand over his eyes. '...I luuuuuh-ve you.' he finished at last, looking like he'd unshouldered a heavy weight. 'I love you, KP. And I hope someday, you can be sure you really love me.'
He looked at her, smiling. 'So what do you say, KP? Would you like a night on the town with a guy who's learned his lesson about how to treat a lady?'
Kim looked into Ron's face. This was what she had fought for, suffered for. To have Ron back. And more, he had stepped up. Not just against Maze and Monkey Fist, but he was promising to make up for all the things that had ever gotten on her nerves. But instead of feeling joy, or passion or even relief, she felt unworthy, and tainted. Ron wasn't even kissing her now, but somehow everything she had seen in her visions with the Mystical Monkey flashed through her mind and seared her heart. All the shame and pity and remorse over what she'd gone through, what she'd seen Ron go through - because of her.
She bit her quivering lip. Death rays. Mad scientists. Golems, synthodrones and evil henchmen by the dozens. She had stared them all in the face without any fear. But she found herself unable to look into a single pair of loving brown eyes. Eyes that belonged to someone with a heart and a spirit so pure and bright that it had hurt her own eyes just to look at him.