The morning light that streamed through the windows was very subdued. Of course, the room was not one intended for patrons who welcomed either the dawn or illumination. Still, combined with the strange bed and the odd tapping sounds, the light was enough to wake up Kim Possible. Conscious of warmth on her right side, Kim looked that direction and was disappointed to see Marie sleeping next to her. Kim sighed; knowing that Ron would be hard at work on the internet, just like he was last night.
Last night, after revealing Ron's real name, she had spent an hour and a half divulging selected portions of the mystery man's history. Kim had been forced to call a halt to the session, exhausted and as talked-out as she had ever been in her life. She doubted that she had ever shared as much with her $300 an hour therapist, Dr. Klem, than she had with these semi-strangers. While Ron had asked a few, pointed questions, it was Marie that had pressed the redhead for details. The young woman had idolized Kim growing up, and took full advantage of her proximity to find out as much as she possibly could. Ron had simply observed the information dump, dividing his time between the two women and the computer in front of him. It had taken Kim several minutes to realize that Ron was analyzing her, verifying the answers she gave Marie.
Ron was still an enigma. After that temporary grin, when Kim insisted he mentally add some years to any images of her he found, he had put his game face back on. Those brown orbs showed neither hostility nor friendliness; they simply sucked up every action and reaction, delivering the raw data to the mind behind them.
Ninety minutes after Kim revealed Ron's true name; the first yawn had burst from Marie's mouth, prompting an answering one from Kim. Both women had finally hit the figurative wall. The only one in the trio that hadn't shown any exhaustion was Ron, whose Treadstone conditioning had inured him from such human frailties, or at least kept him from showing the effects. Still, Ron had understood that he needed to keep his companions functional, so he had called a halt to the questions and answers and chased Marie into the shower to clean up before perusing the hotel's services for some food. The last memory Kim had, before exhaustion claimed her, was settling in to sleep while Ron had taken his turn in the shower. Now, the early morning light revealed Ron, clad in only a towel around his waist, working away at the internet.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" Kim asked him, while she tried to get off of the waterbed without waking Marie. Her scanty apparel didn't help her efforts. She and Marie had hung up most of their clothing, opting to let the garments air out. Getting out of a waterbed, clad in a wrapped around towel while maintaining ones modesty wasn't an easy endeavor. She was somewhat disappointed that she didn't need to try. Ron only had eyes for the screen in front of him.
"I rested a little," Ron replied, never taking his eyes from the screen.
"That isn't exactly the question I asked," Kim retorted, in a gentle voice.
"No," his voice held no emotion. "I couldn't settle down. I thought it would be a good idea to get to know me, so I spent most of my time researching myself and making some plans."
"You've rejected my plan to go to Seniors Island?" Kim demanded, consciously, repressing an urge to sidle up behind him and wrap her arms around his chest. "What have you come up with instead?"
"I didn't say I rejected your plan," Ron corrected her. "It's a good goal, but we need to think about how we're getting there. We're still a good, long way from the Mediterranean Coast and we don't have any way of actually getting to the island, once we reach the coast. I know I can't swim the distance you described and I don't think that you and Marie can either. Now, let's take into account that the news agencies are showing our faces and descriptions to everyone who's bothering to look. We need to supply ourselves, get some disguises and acquire transportation."
Kim could only nod, his reasoning was sound. "Have you come up with anything?" She asked.
"Nothing specific. I was thinking of taking a chance on the metros to get us out of the city proper. After that, we could steal some clothing and a car and head south. Once we get to the coast, we could try to steal a boat."
"If we steal a car, the police are going to be looking for it," Kim pointed out.
"Do you have a better plan?"
"Actually, I do. I have another favor I can call on, here in Paris."
"And you waited until now to bring this up?" Ron's tone was all politeness, but his expression was anything but.
"Because I didn't think that a simple boutique owner could offer us much in the way of help until you outlined our challenge!" Kim snapped. "No, he won't be able to get us transportation or hide us very long, but he might be able to disguise us and help us with some other things, like clothing. Would YOU think of calling on a hairdresser when someone's coming at you with a knife?"
"Okay, fair enough," Ron nodded. "It would have slipped my mind as well. A developing tactical situation dictates changing resource requirements." For a moment, Ron took on a thoughtful expression, as if wondering where that latest pearl of wisdom had come from. "What's your plan?"
"We call on Francois," Kim told him. "He'll be able to cut and die our hair, and do some makeup to alter our appearances. He should be able to have one of his employees go out and buy some clothes for us, so you don't have to face the horrors of taking two women clothes shopping in Paris."
Kim's joke elicited a small, very brief smile from Ron. "Okay, I have no idea who Francois is, but that sounds like a plan. I want to bounce it off of Marie."
"No need," the vagabond's voice announced from the bed. "But I think you need to add a decent meal to the priority list."
Kim's stomach immediately growled in agreement with that last observation. Surprisingly, Ron's did, as well. The hotel didn't have a room service menu, just some…appetizers. The strawberries and champagne had been tasty but not filling.
"We need some real food," Ron agreed. "Something rich in cholesterol, sugar, carbs and fats."
"You always were an expert on comfort food," Kim remarked. "Why don't we get ready and head to Francois' place? Once we get disguised, we'll have a better chance at a peaceful meal."
Not waiting for an answer, Kim retrieved her clothing and stepped into the bathroom to change. It became clear to the redhead that neither Ron nor Marie knew how porous the walls were, in regards to sound. As soon as she closed the door, Kim heard Marie whisper a question to Ron. Kim didn't know if she was offering her companions the chance to converse privately, or if she was trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. She simply dressed as slowly as possible, straining to hear the barely audible conversation in the next room.
As soon as the door closed, separating her from her childhood hero, Marie brought her palms to her face and rubbed vigorously at her eyes. "Wow," she commented. "Yesterday was some day. Did you get any sleep?"
The male figure in front of her, whose eyes had followed the redhead into the small room, focused on Marie for a bare instant before returning to the closed door. He made no sign that he was going to answer her question.
Marie blew the bangs off of her brow in a childish show of irritation. She didn't mind Jas…Ron, being all 'strong and silent', to be honest, she found it a bit of a turn on, but she didn't like the way the man was looking at Kim. Maybe she was experiencing hero envy or maybe she knew that the former heroine outclassed her in nearly every conceivable category. The fact was that a few hours ago she was the insider and 'Tiffany' was the suspicious outsider. Now, after Kim had revealed both her and Ron's identities, Kim had started to displace her as Ron's confidant, pushing the vagabond into the outsider role. The problem with any group of three people was that two always seemed to interact, leaving the third one all alone.
Last night, she had tried to conceal her discomfort by barraging Kim with questions, trying to insinuate herself into the two-person team. Unfortunately, she had the impression that she came off as more of a babbling groupie than a potential teammate. She was actually relieved when sheer exhaustion had halted the night's revelations.
Still, she hadn't earned the Jason Bourne silent treatment, not after everything they had gone through together. If he was going to get chilly towards Kim, that was the redhead's damage, but she deserved better. At least, she had earned a simple acknowledgement.
"You know, humans generally respond to other humans' inquiries."
"I heard you," Ron turned his attention back to Marie. "And I'm not ignoring you. I'm just…processing…and no, I didn't get any sleep."
Marie rolled over to the edge of the bed, consciously keeping the towel where it belonged. "Processing?" She asked. "What's to process? You're Ron Stoppable, Kim Possible's partner."
"So that's who I am, Ron Stoppable? She just tells me this and Jason Bourne is dead and gone?"
"I would think you would want that," Marie answered him. "You've been asking the 'Who am I' question since we met. Now you know."
"Ron Stoppable is a name, not a person. Jason Bourne is a name, but he's not me either. She wants me to be someone I don't know."
"What do you mean?"
"Kim doesn't want me, not me 'me'. She wants me to be this…guy…on her website but she hasn't asked me if I want to be him. She's just assuming that she can show up, tell me my identity and wham! I'm this Ron Stoppable guy again. I spent a good piece of the night researching this guy and he was a joke! He was a screw-up, comic relief for the incredible Kim Possible. If you told the guy to turn left, he'd turn right; not because he was difficult, because he didn't know left from right. You were a member of her fan club; did you even know his name?"
Marie shook her head.
"And this guy was at her side for something like a dozen years! How can anybody take a guy like that seriously?"
"So what's the substitute?" Marie asked. "Do you want to be Jason Bourne?"
"Oh, there's a choice. I'm either the hopeless buffoon or the shadow assassin. I will say this, Jason is a hell of a lot better than Ron, and at least people take Jason seriously."
"Okay, what about door number 3? What's wrong with who you are now? I kinda like him. We could call you Ronald Bourne, or Jason Stoppable."
"Those are still just names, Marie."
"That's not my point," Marie shook her head. "What I'm trying to say is that you can be whoever you choose. Okay, you have the choice between the incompetent and the soulless. Since neither one is all that appealing, choose neither! It's who you are now that counts! Besides, if you were to ask her, " Marie head-gestured towards the bathroom door, " she'll probably have something else to say about Ron Stoppable being worthy of respect."
"I can grasp that," Jason nodded. "The problem I have is that she hasn't asked me if I want to be Ron Stoppable again. For good or bad, Kim took on the task of recovering Ron Stoppable…HER Ron Stoppable. Both her old website and you agree that she can do anything, but I don't know if I can be him, or if I want to. She keeps telling these fantastic stories and do you know what I thought? Insane! Completely insane; a blue, mad scientist, a green hued, glowy chick with nasty claws, a golfer with a testosterone surplus and a martial arts master with a monkey fetish. How is it that I can't remember any of this? For Christ sake, I was an 8-foot human/possum thingamajig. Why can't I remember that?"
"Uh, first of all it was a beaver," Marie corrected him. "Secondly, most of those rather odd criminals did exist; you can look up the news articles and their criminal records. Third, if you couldn't remember the name you had for eighteen years, why is it so hard to believe that you wouldn't remember being a giant, furry, dam-building man-rodent for a couple of hours? Okay, so you're not happy with the idea of being Ron Stoppable for the rest of your life? Get to know him a little better, get to know Jason Bourne a little better, and find out what parts of each of them you want to keep."
"I don't think it's that easy," Ron replied, shaking his head sadly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again, his expression had become soulful. "I've been trying to come to grips with this all night, Marie. I've researched every story that Kim told us and while she's been truthful with us, the stories haven't sparked any memories. About three hours ago I quit trying to prompt memories and decided to look into why I can't. If Kim and I saved the world as many times as we did, and I have proof that we did, why can't I pull up a single memory? If the two of us were an item, why didn't I catch a glimpse of her when I had the glimmer of those three other girls?"
"Maybe you're trying too hard? Maybe if you stopped forcing yourself these things will start to come to you a lot easier."
"I don't think so," Ron countered. "I've been trying to remember everything and while I've managed the occasional glimpse, nothing has involved her. Even if we weren't an item, I have the proof that we went into life and death situations together and I still can't get even a glimpse. I caught a glimpse of three girls, only one of which I even dated. Don't you think that over a decade of constant companionship and five or so years of going into harm's way would warrant a slight glimmer? She said that we were closer than siblings were and that she doesn't have a single memory up through her teens that don't include me, in some form. Why can't I return the favor?"
"I take it you have a theory?"
"A half formed one," Ron admitted. "I don't think it's as simple as me 'forgetting' her…I honestly think it's all about me 'rejecting' who I once was. At the same time, I'm rejecting …her. If that's the case, if I'm rejecting Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible, what does that imply?"
"Okay, let's go with your 'rejection' theory for the moment, Sigmund. I have no idea but I think you're trying to present something to me."
"I am," he admitted. "Exhibit number one, from the moment we met her, I've had this underlying animosity towards her that I couldn't explain. I still can't."
"Jas..er..Ron, you were kidnapped and brainwashed. They did a complete 'Manchurian Candidate' on you. Maybe they made you think you hated her."
"I thought about that," Ron countered. "But it doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. Why would they waste their time on the sidekick? What made me so special that they would risk exposure by grabbing me?"
"Ron, you were Kim Possible's partner," Marie pointed out. "You helped her save the world nearly a hundred times over. That says something about you, something that this Treadstone outfit would want to exploit."
"Then why take me out of the game? If I was doing so much good with her, wouldn't they have left me out on the playing field?"
"Duh! Ruthless assassin organization! Did you just forget your previous occupation? The people who warped you aren't the good guys; they don't follow anyone's rules! They turned you into a cold-blooded killer so that they could have a professional hit man on speed dial."
"That still doesn't make sense," Ron insisted. "Why Ron Stoppable, the screw up who couldn't keep his pants on? If all they wanted was a professional killer, they could have recruited better raw material than Ron, they could have recruited from the SEALs or the Green Berets. No, they invested a whole lot of effort and took a big risk to turn Ron Stoppable into Jason Bourne. After they did that, they set me up here, in Paris, with a new name and a new life, confident that I wouldn't make any attempt to contact my family or friends. What they did was aimed, somehow, at Kim and as much as I want to know what they wanted to accomplish, that's not the question that's bothering me right now."
"You still want to know why you can't catch the slightest glimpse of your life with her," Marie concluded. "And you don't want other questions to distract you until you solve that mystery."
"Exactly," Ron agreed. "We can worry about what Treadstone hoped to accomplish at a later time. What's important right now is that I feel animosity towards Kim and I can't explain why."
"And you don't think that this animosity is Treadstone inspired, why?" Marie prompted.
"Because I don't feel the same animosity towards any of my former enemies," Ron explained. "I dug up records and pictures of the blue mad scientist, the green psycho-bitch, the monkey guy and the weird fish-guy. None of them elicited the same response. In addition, I looked up information about my parents and my adoptive sister. While I can't recall them, I actually got a bit of a…fond…vibe towards them."
"I'm assuming that you'll get to the point about this."
"I'm just trying to be thorough," Ron offered her a rare, brief smile. "I now present my summation. I acknowledge that I cannot fully trust my emotions, due to Treadstone manipulation. However, I cannot believe that Treadstone is in business simply to manipulate its stable. The manipulation has to be a means to an end. If Treadstone instilled this animosity towards Kim, perhaps to sever my ties to my former life, they would have included my family, as well. Since I don't feel any animosity towards them, I have to conclude that this animosity does not originate with Treadstone."
"That … well, that actually makes a bit of sense," Marie agreed.
"Secondly, I feel no animosity towards the people who used to try to kill me. That leads me to believe that this animosity I feel towards Kim must be something unique between the two of us, something she did."
"Love is a powerful emotion," Marie cut in. "If you were as close as she claims, if you were as in love as she says, such a powerful emotion could easily become warped. An insult from a cherished lover is more damaging than the same insult from a complete stranger."
"I understand that," Ron nodded. "But that doesn't take into account the fact that I feel no animosity towards my parents who, if I can believe the sites, weren't terribly close to me."
"Are you ready to present me with your conclusions yet, Holmes?" Marie joked.
"One last piece of supporting evidence, first, my dear Watson." Ron answered. "Kim has been fairly reluctant to offer information. Oh, she'll expand a little when I come up with something and she'll reveal something when we corner her, but she doesn't want me to know everything."
"That again," Marie muttered. "Okay, you feel hostility towards her and nobody else. You're completely blank as far as she's concerned, and she isn't forthcoming with the information. What's your conclusion?"
"I suspect that she did something that alienated the two of us," Ron told his companion. "And that brings up another question, did Treadstone actually kidnap me and take me away from her, or did I give myself up to Treadstone to get away from her?"
Ron's conclusions stunned Marie into silence. It was obvious that Ron expected some response, either a denial or acceptance, but the vagabond couldn't decide between the two. Instead, Marie found herself recalling the street conversation she had had with her childhood hero the previous evening. The desperate love that the redhead felt towards, and was keeping secret from, Ron still haunted the vagabond. Ron's eyes softened and she knew that he was silently begging her to shoot down the far-fetched, yet strangely plausible theory he had just presented. She wanted to tell him to take a 'chill pill' and stop introducing imaginary conspiracies to an already tense situation. The only problem was that she couldn't, in all honesty, do so.
It always surprised her how the most poignant ideas could be conveyed without speaking. She so wanted to support Ron, to tell him that his overnight deductions were evil fantasy, but she had to admit that his scenario was logical. It would explain why Kim was so guarded. While Marie couldn't believe that her idol had brazenly handed Ron to this monstrous organization, Kim was hiding something. The vagabond recalled Kim stating that she was withholding information for Ron's benefit, but now she wasn't sure. Ron's theories were chillingly plausible. Was Kim Possible trying to protect Ron Stoppable, or herself? Marie honestly didn't know. She did know that Ron was a great deal more clever and calculating than Kim realized; something she had tried to tell the redhead when she warned her against playing the guy. Right now, if she had to choose between a paranoid assassin and a self-serving childhood idol, God help her, she would side with the assassin.
Marie reluctantly met Ron's gaze, faced with the uncomfortable prospect of telling him she agreed with him. While his expression remained impassive, there was a tension in his shoulders, indicating the emotions that must be churning inside. Marie opened her mouth to respond, only She opened her mouth to deliver the bad news, but was interrupted.
The bathroom door, which had closed behind Kim scant minutes earlier, burst open to reveal a now dressed redhead, her eyes red and swollen as though she had been crying. With a savage swipe, Kim swept the moisture from her eyes and focused her gaze upon the only male present. With a determined stride, she crossed the four feet separating her from her quarry and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Her eyes locked with his for a bare moment before, exhibiting more force than passion, she pulled their bodies together and locked her mouth onto his.
If Marie's mouth had not already been open, her chin would have dropped to her chest in shock. Kim released her desperate hug and allowed her hands to wander up Ron's body, where she twined her fingers in his hair. The gesture looked strange to Marie, as her view was somewhat blocked by Kim's body. However, when the transient shifted her viewing angle, she saw why Kim was clinging to Ron's head. Ron was pushing against her chest, avoiding groping his amorous assailant, while Kim was doing everything she could to resist the separation.
In the blink of an eye, Marie realized that what she had thought to be a heartwarming, desperate and misguided act of passion was really abuse. She acted without thinking, her brain dredging up memories of being where Ron was right now; with some guy assuming, because she had no roof over her head that she was willing to provide a little action, in return for a night's shelter. She sprung to her feet and reached towards her former idol, noting that Ron had clamped his jaw closed, clearly resisting Kim's efforts to push her tongue into his mouth. Without a moment's hesitation, Marie seized a handful of the famous, red mane and yanked.
While Kim was no longer the world-saving heroine, she was still strong enough that Ron was unable to dislodge her without injuring her. The painful hair-pull proved to be enough to peel the redhead off of her perch and Ron's shove sent her stumbling backwards. The waterbed's edge caught the back of her thighs and she wound up sitting on the bed, looking at her companions with a dumbfounded expression.
"Just what are you trying to do?" Marie demanded of her childhood hero. "In case you haven't noticed, you haven't patched things up with him that far yet!"
"I was trying to trigger his memory," Kim wailed back. "Hoping he would remember something if I…"
"If you did the wild thing, whether he wanted to or not?" Marie snarled right back. The vagabond refused to be intimidated by either Kim's reputation or her capability. Witnessing Kim's aggressive effort to seduce Ron into 'recall-mode' had triggered a response she had never felt before. True, she was dismayed with the 'I want – I take' approach from the former heroine and her own experiences with being subjected to that type of entitlement by others in the past didn't exactly soften her stance. What really got her claws out was seeing Ron subjected to this abuse and a vague wish that it had been her clamped onto the young man.
"Uh, Marie? I wouldn't have…" Ron murmured, unnoticed from his seat.
"Most civilized countries, and this is one of them, have a term for it," Marie continued her heated lecture, ignoring the stunned assassin behind her.
"It wasn't like that!" Kim snapped back, rising to the challenge. Her emerald eyes easily betraying to the other female of the depths of her understanding of why Marie had truly pulled her off of Ron. No words needed to be truly communicated on this issue now, certainly not with Ron in the room. This was a private matter and it was one that needed to be aired between just the two of them.
"I wouldn't have let it get to…" Ron pointed out.
"Then what was it like?" Marie demanded. "It sure looked like you wanted some erotic contact and weren't about to take no for an answer!"
"It was for him!" Kim protested, edging herself forward in a hostile display towards the younger woman. "I had my own memories wiped once, as well. A…familiar event triggered my recall."
Marie stood her ground, but squared her shoulders and stood more upright, clearly showing that she wasn't about to back down. "Then why didn't you just walk out here and tell us what you were doing?" Marie snarled in response. "Why did you keep it up when he was trying to break it off?"
"Uh, Marie?" Ron mumbled. "I don't think…"
"It was for him!" Kim repeated. "All he needed was…"
"Oh, I've heard that one before!" Marie's voice was a vicious growl. "Hey baby, you'll feel so much better after a little. You know you want it. You just need to loosen up a little. Oh, yeah! I've heard them all and they all amount to the same thing! I want it and I don't care if you do or not! After all, fifty no's followed by a single whatever is still a yes, right?"
"She wasn't being that…" Ron attempted to intervene again.
"BE QUIET!" The two women snapped at the now-stunned male, before squaring off against each other once again.
"I wouldn't have pushed it that far!" Kim insisted. "I overheard the two of you talking about how he couldn't remember anything about me so I…"
Marie, however was in no mood to hear excuses to what she believed to be a massive violation. After all, how many times had some self-important SOB done the same to her? How many times had she tried to call a halt, or cry out for help, to ears that had no interest in listening? As far as she was concerned, Kim had crossed the line from hero to villain.
"Then why didn't you come out here and talk about something you did together? You said the two of you were friends for something like a dozen years before you really got together! Why did you come out and talk about a movie you saw together or a television show you liked? Why didn't you talk about a party you went to or some junk food he enjoyed? Why did you come out and force him to visit the mouth of the Amazon?"
The two women were forced to glare at the spluttering Ron Stoppable for a moment before they could continue.
"It was…just…I…" Kim stammered, unknowingly mimicking Bonnie Rockwaller's speech when Kim had caught her clamped onto Ron's mouth, all those years earlier.
"Yes?" Marie prompted, her features impassive.
"It's been eight years!" Kim wailed, bursting into tears again. "Eight long, freakin' years without my best friend and boyfriend. The person I loved more than I've ever loved anyone in my life!" Kim turned slightly, now addressing the flabbergasted Ron Stoppable. She refused to meet Marie's eyes as she made this confession. It was Ron, only Ron, who she needed to justify herself to, not some rival trying to twist her words and motivations.
"Eight years, Ron! I know that you've been through nine layers of hell that I can never appreciate but put yourself in my shoes for a moment! I know it sounds selfish but I've missed you so badly, for so long! I haven't spent a single night, in all that time that I haven't thought of you and only you, as I fell asleep, when I could sleep. I did this so that I could dream about you and now, I finally find you and you can't even remember me! I love you and the only thing you can drum up about me is a vague hatred? How can you not even know me when I love you so much?"
The redhead gave her tears a viscous swipe before facing Marie again. "Do you have any idea how rare it is to find true, pure love when you are so young? Do you know what it's like to find your one and only, only to have him vanish without explanation? Do you know what it's like to hope he'll turn up dead, just so you'll at least have an answer? For years I held out hope, and then what followed was silent plea's of just a body to bury so my heart could have some sense of closure. Do you know how much I started to HATE myself for even thinking such thoughts? Do you know what it's like to have the man you planned to spend the rest of your life with return, only to have him not love you back?" Kim buried her head in her hands in an effort to concel the welling of tears that were beginning to cascade down her cheeks. "What's even worse, Marie, do you know what it's like to love someone so much and have him confide in another woman because he doesn't trust you?"
"If you want to call me a selfish, manipulative bitch then fine! I'll admit to that and I'll admit that I've been dying to do that from the moment the two of you stepped into his apartment yesterday! Hell, I've been dying to do a whole lot more than that! I've missed him so bad that when I finally saw him… and then when I heard the two of you confiding in the other …"
Marie shook her head, refusing to be caught up in Kim's 'blame-game'. As far as she was concerned, Kim had crossed the line. The two had made promises and pledges the previous evening, agreeing that if the redhead ever did anything to take advantage of Ron, all bets would be off. The only problem was that after hearing the heroine's pleas for understanding, she had to confess that she was deeply troubled and moved by Kim's words. The truth is that she didn't know what it was like to experience all those things, but she could imagine. Yet, in the end this was not about Kim Possible crossing some grey area, plain and simple, she had all but assaulted Ron. He was confused and vulnerable to everything that was happening to him. He needed people he could trust to watch his back and stand up for him when he could not stand up for himself, not take advantage of his indecisiveness. "So you decided to jump him, whether or not he returned the feeling?" Marie's tone was still chill, but not the polar ice temperature of a minute before.
"It's more complicated that that," Kim whimpered, pulling her face from her hands, now studying the floor between her feet. "Yes, I'll admit that I've missed the…intimacy…with Ron and I was trying to regain it. Please believe me that I was hoping that somehow, by some miracle, if I rekindled some passion, some fire, that it might trigger something and he would love me back. Truth to tell, right now I don't care if he can't remember me anymore, just as long as he is able to remember our love for one another, we can work out the rest. I wanted him to feel my love in the most intense way he could, I wanted him to know that my love for him would never betray him like he believes it could, that it's real and not some story I've made up just to get close to him and …"
"Umm. Can I say something now?" Ron asked, in a meek voice.
Marie and Kim both turned to glare at the subject of their heated exchange.
"I just wanted to say," he began, flinching under the twin glares. "That first of all, I appreciate you sticking up for me, Marie, I really do and that I'm truly sorry that I can't be who you want me to be, Kim. I wasn't aware you could hear us while we were discussing you, if I did I probably would have kept my suspicions to myself or spoken a little quieter. I … I never meant to hurt you but what I said to Marie, just now, is what I think and feel."
"I..I can't say that I'm going to want to be Ron Stoppable but I do want to get my memories back so that I can decide. Me. Not you, me. I have the right to chose who I am, you can't just stuff memories of your old boyfriend down my throat and get what you want. I'd also like to get my Jason Bourne memories back, so I know just what kind of person he was, as well. I need to know these things, Kim or I will always be living some kind of a lie, trapped between two personas without being able to see either one"
Kim winced when Ron had said 'old boyfriend', she felt as though the ground beneath her had opened up and swallowed her whole, but at least there was some acknowledgement there. Maybe she could work with this little breakthrough, later.
Ron stood up and walked over to his knapsack, picking it forcefully up off of the floor. His bearing and posture clearly dictated that the discussion was over. Carefully, he drew back one of the curtains an inch and peered outside, studying the bright, sunny city streets outside.
"However, we aren't going to be able to do anything unless we get moving. We did a good job of leaving a false trail yesterday but it's only a matter of time before Treadstone tracks us down. Not only that, but the two of you slept in, checkout time's in a half hour."
Kim enveloped herself in a self-hug and looked awkwardly towards the other female. The 'Ron' issue would not go away as easily as just changing a topic. "Fair enough," Kim replied, in a neutral tone. Marie offered her a tight nod that told the redhead that they weren't finished with this conversation.
Kim's eyes fell on the keyboard and the connection leading to the screen. It was time to get back to the business at hand. "Okay, time to arrange transportation and leave another false trail," she declared. "I want to send a couple of emails."
"Treadstone has to have all of your accounts hacked," Jason scowled at her. "You'll lead them right to us."
"I don't think so," Kim smirked back.
"Do you really think you can outsmart an entire agency?" Ron's suspicious look was back.
"Only for a short time," Kim countered. The redhead took a moment to collect her thoughts. "I have four e-mail addresses and your right, if they're only half-way competent then Treadstone's already monitoring them but, I doubt that they'll know why I keep so many. One address is a holdover from my adventuring days and is the linked to my site. The second I use to communicate with personal friends and acquaintances; Monique, Felix and some of my old squad buddies. The third is for my family and the fourth is on I've never used before. It's one I keep for emergency communication. Every time I've used my emergency account, I've cancelled it and opened another. Now, my first email will be to a pilot friend of mine, who freelances for the UN. He's got a free pass throughout Europe, so he should be able to meet us anywhere we want."
"And Treadstone must know that as well," Jason pointed out, his expression dangerous.
"Of course, I know that!" Kim snapped back becoming irritated that Ron was questioning her intelligence. "The man likes to fish and the two of us got together for a half-dozen fishing trips. On our first trip, I rented a boat just outside the city of Nice. We were about four miles out to sea before we realized that we had both assumed that the other one was going to bring the tackle. We've referred to that as 'The Blunder Trip' ever since. I'll ask him to meet us where we cast off for our Blunder Trip. I really doubt that Treadstone will know what I'm talking about."
"But they probably tracked your movements," Ron pointed out, unaffected by the redhead's snappy reply. "They might not have the manpower to stake out every place the two of you visited, but they might get lucky and guess the place you want to meet."
"That's where the second message comes in," Kim grinned. "I'll send a message to Duff Killigan, via my site address. He owns a small island off the Scottish Mainland. I'll ask him for sanctuary."
"I thought we were heading to some island in the Mediterranean!" Marie protested.
"We are," Kim agreed. "That's why I'm asking Duff to help us. With any luck, Treadstone will believe that we're trying to get to Scotland."
"Asking a pilot for help will strengthen the deception," Ron mused. "Insinuating that you want to go to Scotland while contacting someone with international flight clearance makes sense. The two stories will support each other…but maybe too much."
"Like I said, I'll be using different accounts," Kim suggested. "Maybe Treadstone will think that I'm naïve enough to think they don't have them all hacked. After that, I'll send a blanket e-mail to my family and close friends. Nothing too specific, just that 'I'm alive, safe and will see them real soon.' With the controversy that I am certain Treadstone's false news report has stirred up, the people I care about are going to be very worried. I'll keep the communiqué brief and send it to nearly every one I know. I'm sure that Treadstone won't look to deeply into the motives of it, especially if they have 'Tooth' and Killigan to focus on. This simple message will make its way to Bonnie's account and I know she checks her account up to 5-times a-day so there is little chance she will miss it."
Kim smirked at Marie. "Bonnie is Senior Senior Junior's fiancé. The so-called happy couple lives on that private Mediterranean Island with Senor Senior Senior. The e-mail should help provide her with some notice that I'm running around Europe. She and Senior will deduce that I'm being pursued and will be sort of looking for me."
"It's not the best plan in the world," Ron commented. "But I think it's the best we can come up with."
"How long to get to Nice?" Kim asked as she started to type away on the keyboard.
"Let's give us three days," Ron suggested. "Even with disguises, we won't want to use public transportation."
"Three days isn't very long to vagabond it across the country," Marie commented. "Take it from me, I know."
"If we can't move quickly, we're dead anyway," Ron told her as he looked, discreetly, out the window again.
"Okay, I'm accessing my accounts now," Kim informed them. "Feel free to check what I'm about to send."
While Marie didn't make any comments, taking the opportunity to pull her own clothing on, Ron approved of the language Kim intended to send. Soon, both primary messages were on their way and the generic ones would follow.
With a single icon click of 'Send' the sending bar at the right-hand bottom of the screen flared into life and began stretching itself into completion of task. The trio was certain, Treadstone was probably already reading them.
"Okay, the next stop is the stylist's shop," Ron declared. "What was his name again?"
"Francois," Kim answered, politely averting her gaze while Ron got dressed. The redhead frowned at the bloodstains on the front of his sweater, but hoped that nobody would give him a terribly close inspection.
"Francois," Ron repeated, committing the name to memory. "From his shop, we'll leave the city either to the north or the west, leaving a false trail in case anyone notices us. We still have a lot of planning to do, but we can't stay here any longer."
It took an hour for the trio to make their way across Paris to the city's upscale, stylish boutique area. Everywhere they looked, they were confronted by the city's wealthy and influential, the sort who could spend an entire afternoon, and a working man's weekly wages, questing for the 'natural' look. Kim shoved that cynical thought to the back of her mind. She had, on occasion, made use of her old friend's talents. Now, however, she and her companions looked tragically out of place, surrounded by the city's power players, driving their German and Italian sports cars, the trio was conspicuous in their averageness.
The shop itself was a very nondescript building located in a very high-profile neighborhood, a place that looked like the owner didn't want to draw attention to himself. Yet, a true artist and genius lurked inside. Francois might not be up on most current political events or economic situations, but few knew more about hair and how to make it compliment the bearer and his or her apparel. The man had cheerfully tended to both nobility and the common man, at least those who could afford his services. It was rumored that his services had, in the past, been that extra little push that got an actress the lead in a blockbuster, obtained the coveted position for a prospective CEO, or even made or broke a political candidate.
Of course, a talent like this didn't sit around idle. Some of his appointments were made literally months in advance and it was unheard of for a group of three 'Joe and Jill six packs' to just walk in off the street and obtain his services. Kim, however, knew a little more about him. Like many masters in the various arts of enhancing a client's appearance, Francois was used to the occasional, panicked celebrity showing up suddenly, desperate for a quick miracle. Francois' clientele, Kim included, knew how to get on his 'mercy list'.
Finding Haute D'Style was the first step. It had been over a year since she had visited his shop and it had been almost ten years since she had reached it via the subways, without a cab to deliver her. Kim didn't have to try to humor Ron's request that they travel a random, circuitous route; simply finding her goal involved a great deal of lost wanderings. Ron had proven capable of keeping a low profile, even with their faces plastered upon every front page. The amnesiac obtained a city map and the three kept their heads together and planted close to the paper. Rather than looking like they were keeping their faces covered, they looked like a trio of lost tourists who didn't want to throw themselves upon the uncertain mercies of the Parisian cabdrivers. Finally, upon finding the proper shop, Kim led her companions away from the front door and into a nearby alley.
The back door to Haute D'style sported a keypad, speaker and a simple doorbell. Praying that her old friend hadn't changed the combination, Kim typed the code he had given her into the keypad. While the door didn't open, a green LED flashed, indicating that her code was still good. Moments later, a friendly voice greeted her over the speaker.
"English, if you please," she requested, in response to the greeting.
"What may we do for you?" Her unseen counterpart asked.
"Three for an emergency," Kim replied.
"Please come in," the voice was accompanied by the sound of the door's lock releasing.
Kim pulled the door open to find herself facing a stylish woman, perhaps two years her junior.
"Francois is currently overseeing his charges," the young woman assured the trio, leading them down a short hallway. "He will be with you shortly. In the meantime, let me show you to your private room."
"Thank you," Kim smiled. "And please pass on our condolences about Gigi the first."
The young woman flashed the redhead a smile that conveyed the fact that she understood she was about to pass on a secret message that she did not understand. She ushered them into a small, yet comfortable room, which was dominated by a hairdresser's chair. Once the guests were seated, the young woman exited the room, closing the door behind her.
"An emergency room at a hairdresser?" Ron asked, with a slight smirk, once they were alone.
"You don't speak 'woman' any better now than you spoke 'girl' when we were teens," Kim smiled back. "Say a celebrity woman suddenly receives an invitation to a high profile event. Of course, she'll need to have her hair done but she won't have an appointment. If she were to show up and Francois were to bump another appointment for her, he would get some very bad press. On the other hand, if she's a long-standing client, Francois will give her a code for the keypad. That way, he can see to her without making it look like he's pandering. In addition, she can obtain the service with complete anonymity, maintaining the illusion that she didn't visit a stylist at all and that her hair always looks the best."
"What about Gigi the first?" Marie prompted, as Ron shook his head in amazement.
"His prize poodle, now long deceased," Kim answered. "He loaned the dog to Ron and I once. When he hears about the dog, he should realize that I'm the one waiting here."
Any response that either Marie or Ron could have made to this was interrupted when the door flew open again. The trio had a moment to contemplate the tall, slender man facing them. Ron had a moment to appreciate the irony that the famous hairdresser appeared to be balding before their host stepped into the small room and closed the door behind him.
"Mademoiselle Possibeel!" He exclaimed. "Is it really you?"
"Hello, Francois. I trust I'm not interrupting anything important?"
"Nothing that I won't set aside for a dear, old friend in trouble," the Frenchman declared, stepping up and clasping her tiny hand in both of his. "I saw the news this morning and my heart nearly stopped beating! I couldn't believe what I was seeing but the papers all agree you were kidnapped and your intimate boyfriend murdered! The man who did the deed…" the hairdresser's voice faded to silence as he recognized Ron's features from the media blitz.
"Don't believe everything you see in the papers or on television," Kim urged him, placing a calming hand upon his shoulder. "This man is no murderer and I did not have a relationship with that other man. In fact, that other man attacked me and this man saved me."
"But the photographs? The two of you were close, no?"
Kim remembered Ron and Marie telling her about the news broadcast insinuating that she and 'Choirboy' were lovers. According to them, the news channel had also offered some photographs as evidence.
"I haven't seen these pictures," she confessed to the stylist.
"One moment," he declared. "I will fetch today's paper and then we will see to why you are visiting me."
Francois was gone for less than a minute, giving the trio scant time to share nervous looks. The energetic hairdresser quickly returned with a copy of Liberation. Two pictures dominated the front page, the first showed Kim and the grinning assassin in London, with linked arms. The second showed her and the man on some beach, a nude beach if the observer was to draw the obvious conclusions from the strategically placed blurring. Neither image was of her, of course. While it was her face looking back from the photographs, the bodies attached to the faces were subtly different from her own. Someone in Treadstone had found images of women with builds and complexions close to her own and performed some alterations. The cropping and doctoring had been very well done, no wonder Ron had been so taken the previous night and had assumed that she was some kind of plant. The images could fool almost anybody.
That last thought brought her up short. These pictures! Surely her parents had seen them by now! She did some quick, mental calculations and realized that it was still morning in Middleton. The story, however, had broken last night, locally and that would be late afternoon back home. Not only would her 'rents be beside themselves with worry over her reported kidnapping, they would also be confronted with pictures of her, in the buff, with a man they had never met. The thought of the less than considerate reporters swarming into their 'Father Knows Best' life filled her with anger. Then there were the tweebs. True, there were every bit as annoying now as they were when she was a teen but they had always been incredibly protective of her. This familial defense, combined with their even greater computer and rocketry skills, could spell disaster for CNN, the BBC, Fox News, Sky News, or any other network that got a little too enthusiastic about reporting the steamier side to this story.
Kim heaved a sigh. Back in her teen years, the occasional pervert would make a few alterations to her photos and post them on the net. She was unaware of most of these incidents, as Wade would quickly trace these 'candid photos' back to their source and unleash computer viruses upon the offender. This, however, was at a whole new level. Where the creeps of the past only wanted recognition or money, Treadstone was trying to damage her reputation for reasons she couldn't fully comprehend.
"I did not even know the man," she told her old friend as her grip on the French newspaper tightened. "These pictures are faked. Things are very complicated and I…we need your help. We need to flee the city and we need you to alter our appearances. I'm calling in a favor."
The word 'favor' energized the hairdresser. Although he wasn't a large man, he gave the impression of a soldier preparing for duty. "I am at your immediate disposal, Mademoiselle," he declared. "Tell me your needs and I shall spare no effort or expense to fulfill them."
"This will be a favor in scheduling only, my friend," she replied. "We have money and will pay you for your efforts…And there will be no cutting the bill!" Kim added the last bit, knowing that the man would work himself into poverty to assist those he considered friends.
"You may be putting yourself in danger by helping us," Ron interrupted. The blonde was rubbing the top of his head, smoothing the long-vanished cowlick he had had in his teen years. Kim didn't know if she should be amused at this latest memory blip, or heartbroken that he still couldn't recall her.
"Then we will keep you out of sight, here," the Frenchman declared. "You will need some cosmetic work to alter your appearances, a change of clothing, and transportation out of the city, no?"
"The altered appearance will be good enough, Francois," Kim assured him. "The less you know, the better for both you and us."
"Understood," he answered. "Let me now perform my services."
The salon owner became a whirlwind of activity. The first thing he did was select identities for the three. They all decided that they would look like a small group of American tourists, traveling across the country at their own pace. That done, Francois called a fellow businessman, then gave his guests some masquerade masks to conceal their facial features. Shortly thereafter, an apprentice tailor showed up and took the fugitives measurements and left, never knowing their identities or seeing their faces.
"Celebrities do not always want the tabloid photographers to know their activities," Francois told Kim, in response to her question. "Several of us who deal in fashion and glamour have this cooperative agreement. A client, who knows the proper people, can visit one of our establishments and receive the benefits of all of our services, in complete anonymity. Now Miss Possible, I would like to work on your young lady companion."
Marie was, of course, delighted. As an occasional Parisian, she had heard of the famous Francois but had never thought that she would benefit from his services. Even though it was for a disguise job, rather than a true beauty treatment, Marie considered it a treat. In a short time, her auburn coloured hair was blonde and curly, rather than wavy.
"Now for you, Miss Possible," their host declared. "I am afraid that your long, red hair is too well known to remain. You will become a short-haired brunette."
Kim was surprised at how much this upset her. She didn't think that she was vain but her heart twinged at the thought of losing her hair. She laughed at her own discomfort as she climbed into the chair. After all, if she kept her well-known hair, she might not survive. If she survived, she could always re-grow her hair.
The Frenchman's scissors moved above her as though they were possessed by some enthusiastic demon. "I was actually quite sad when you told me that you were not intimate with the man in the photos," Francois told her, making conversation as he removed the majority of her mane.
"Why would that be?" Kim asked. "He was…horrible."
"Ah, but I thought that you had finally found someone," he answered. "Although we have only spoken a few times since your lifelong companion, that blonde boy, vanished, you always spoke of him with such longing and affection. Even now I recall the sincerity of your plea when you asked me to first style his hair nearly 10-years earlier. You wanted him to feel good about himself so you called on me to help you in your quest. So few people are that devoted to another. Even years after his disappearance, you were clearly lonely for him. I had hoped that you had found someone to share your life."
"No," Kim replied, stifling her urge to shake her head. "I haven't managed to find anybody special. I don't think that I'll ever be able to do so. Ron will always be … well, he will always be Ron. No one could ever replace him."
Kim's eyes then caught her reflection in the large mirror as Francois continued to trim away her red-mane. In the background, she observed the seated amnesiac assassin paying very close and silent attention to the private conversation.
"Don't give up hope!" the stylist urged her, now leaning the chair back and repositioning it so that he could bleach her hair in the sink, in preparation for dying it black. "I'll admit that your love life with him was a thing of fine literature; two people molding their lives around each other as friends and having that bond turn into romance."
"That's why I don't think I'll find another," Kim confessed shyly, aware painfully that her intimate words were being processed by the man her heart belonged too. "Everyone I've met is either too serious, cannot cook, or isn't devoted to me the way he was. I truly didn't appreciate what I had at the time."
"It is so sad," Francois commiserated. "I fear for you, my friend. A favorite character in some very old, tragic movies from before our time is an elderly woman, whose love died in the World War One trenches. She is often shown having only his picture and memories. It would be tragic for you to become a living example of this character."
"I guess there's always hope," Kim murmured her face blushing. "But I don't know where to find it and I'm growing weary of the search."
Fortunately for Kim, the conversation turned to happier topics. The hairdresser applied dye to her hair then turned his attention to Ron, while waiting for the coloring to set.
"There is not much I can do here," he admitted. "This young man's hair is to short to cut shorter. While it is tempting to make you a redhead, I believe it will be best to make you a brunette, as well."
As soon as the Frenchman's hands made contact with his latest client's scalp, his eyes flew wide. He recovered from his shock, however, and continued his work in silence. Shortly before he completed his labors on Ron, the fugitives' new clothing arrived.
"I have a bit more styling to perform on Miss Possible's hair," Francois informed his other two patrons. "I have some private fitting rooms across the hall, if the two of you would like to try your new apparel."
"Which will give you some private time with your old friend, won't it?" Ron asked, his eyes scrutinizing the motives for the Frenchman's wish to divide the trio.
"This is true," Francois admitted.
"Good enough," Ron shrugged his shoulders, mollified by the honesty. He favored Kim with the friendliest smile he had produced since this adventure had begun, before he and Marie picked up their clothing and left the room. If he remained suspicious, he did nothing to demonstrate it to the others.
"Miss Possible!" Francois exclaimed in an excited whisper. "The young man! He is your lost companion, no?"
"How could you tell?" Kim gasped.
"Faces and features can be altered," the Frenchman declared. "Believe me, I have seen more than one cosmetic surgery 'miracle'. Faces and features change, but nobody ever thinks to alter the shape of a scalp and I never forget one that I have personally worked upon. Where has he been all these years? Are the two of you still a couple? My indiscression earlier with you is unforgivable, the things I said and in front of him too. What is…"
"Francois," Kim interrupted. "It's very complicated. Please don't ask me any questions. Please try to forget that that was Ron. I'm very serious, you could be in danger and the less you know the safer you will be."
"Very well, my dear," he nodded. "But when you resolve your latest…sitch, as you say, I want a full accounting."
"Deal!" Kim smiled at her friend. She was interrupted by her companions' return.
The trio had decided upon nondescript, practical clothing and Francois' associates had delivered. Ron and Marie looked like typical young, American tourists, the type who took a few years to 'find themselves' by hiking across Europe, while in reality putting off taking on real responsibilities.
"Since you are the most famous," Francois told Kim. "You will need some additional cosmetic work. Fortunately, you are fair complexioned enough to pull this off."
Much as most skilled tradesmen have at least a passing skill with associated trades, the master hairdresser was competent with cosmetics. In a very short time, he darkened Marie's and Ron's skin tones slightly to offer a casual observer a pair of people who enjoyed the outdoor and natural lifestyle. To the no-longer-a-redhead's horror, however, Francois turned her into a Goth, a person who looked upon the sun as their natural enemy. Still, Kim had to admit that it was a good disguise and one that would fool even her own parents if they were to cross her in the street.
Despite the fact that she was ready to cry, upon seeing the pale woman with dark lips and violet eye-shadow looking at her from the mirror, Kim couldn't deny the effectiveness of the trio's concealment, she just wished that Francois hadn't clashed her so drastically from Ron's own 'look'. Marie was standing side-by-side with her 'one and only' and the two looked picture-perfect, like they were both models in a 'Tommy Hilfiger Ad', whilst she looked like Anne Rice's number one fan.
Ron glanced out the back door while Kim put on her new clothing, noting that the sky was growing dark and confirming that nobody was watching the alley. Kim paid their bill, speaking quite firmly with the stylist when he tried to charge them less than what Kim knew he usually did for his services. Ron returned, interrupting the conversation.
"It's time for us to go," he announced to the hairdresser. "I appreciate your efforts. Truly. We could very well owe you our lives, so I want you to know how sorry I am for what I'm about to do. Please don't take this personally."
Before any of the others could react, Ron's left hand lashed out, catching the hairdresser's shirt. The former Jason Bourne simultaneously pushed the stunned hairdresser back against the wall and pulled up his shirt, exposing his soft stomach. Kim, Marie and Francois were too shocked to scream as Ron slashed with the scissors that nobody had seen him grab from Francois' tool tray.
"It's not a serious injury," Ron assured the now quivering hairdresser. Kim could now see that Francois sported a shallow, if bloody cut across his abdomen. "If anybody confronts you about assisting us, show them the wound. When you do, try and remember the terror you were feeling just a moment ago."
Ron dropped the scissors and grabbed a dry towel. Without expression, he pulled the stylist's hands away from the wound and covered the cut with the towel before placing Francois' hands over the fabric, slowing the bleeding. "I'm a wanted murderer, after all, so tell them you were in fear for your life the entire time," Ron instructed him. "When you attended to me, I immobilized these two with duct tape. I wounded you and threatened your employees, so you didn't dare resist. I told you that I would kill you or your employees if you called the police, so you didn't report my actions. Do you understand?"
Francois could only nod, speechless.
"Good," Ron said, slipping an extra thick roll of Euros into the man's pocket. "I didn't say where we were going, only that I would know if you tried to report us. I honestly regret treating you like this but that wound and my fingerprints on the scissors are going to be better than a dozen lawyers, if the authorities track us here. Whatever you do, don't clean them. If the authorities track us to you, just repeat the story I gave you, who knows, you just might wind up some sort of national hero for standing up to me for your employees."
Ron patted the stylist shoulder as a surrogate replacement for shaking his hand and turned to look upon the two stunned and shaken females.
"It's getting dark," he told his two companions. "This will make our disguises better. It's better for all of us if our host doesn't know which way we're heading. This has been a good reprieve and I hope we can meet our host under better circumstances some day, but we need to get moving."
Kim could simply nod her head, numbly. Ron's 'Jason Bourne' had emerged and just like the other times she didn't see the transition happen until 'he' was already there. The only thing different this time was that there was no perceived threat, at least as far as she was concerned. Jason came out of Ron's Id without provocation, which she suspected meant that the Jason-persona was slowly gaining the upper hand over the Ron-one.
The trio's feet had no sooner met the pavement outside the shop than Ron experienced an explosion of female anger. What surprised Kim the most was that this explosion came not from herself, but from Marie.
"What the fuck was that?! The guy helps us and you nearly disembowel him?"
Ron's eyes searched up and down the street, looking for anything he might consider out of place and doing his best to ignore the bohemian's rant. It wasn't until the newly dyed blonde and curly haired female forcefully grabbed Ron by the arm and aggressively turned him to face her that any form of recognition appeared on his emotionless face.
"I asked you a question, dammit!"
In a steady and controlled manner, Ron gently removed Marie's hand from his person. "And I gave you my answer inside. If anybody ever finds out that he helped us, it might cost him his life. The injury I gave him looked a whole lot worse then it really was. You might have a hard time understanding it, but I did him the best favor I could."
"But you could have killed him, what if you cut deeper than you intended? What if you had missed your target?"
"Marie, I don't miss. I just put my mind in cruise-control and everything just comes together. Whatever skills I have hidden away up here, I know that I am as equally proficient in whatever weapon I put in my hands as I am walking. If that terrifies you, then imagine how I feel. Am I 'sorry' I hurt him? Yes, I am. Do I 'regret' it? No, I don't Sometimes you have to do a lot of small evils to accomplish an even greater good."
"That's crap, Ron and you know it." Kim couldn't hold her tongue any longer. This talk of small evils leading to a greater good sounded too much like Ron's former boss. "Marie's right, François not only aided us without question, but he was also our friend. OUR friend, Ron!"
"He was your friend, Kim, not mine. I don't even remember the guy. I'm not saying that what you just said isn't true, maybe 'Ron Stoppable' did know him, but *I* don't."
"Oh well, then I guess that just means you can go about maiming everybody you don't remember, right?"
Glancing back down the street, not meeting Kim's eyes, Ron murmured a chilling response under his breath. "Careful with what you say, Kim, as we have already established I don't exactly remember you either. So I wouldn't provoke or offer me such an invitation if I were you."
Kim's blood ran cold, she was certain that Ron didn't mean her to hear his words but it didn't change the fact that she had. This was the third 'threat' Ron had made to her in less than a day. Three-times more than he had ever made to her in her entire life. "My God, Ron," she snapped back. "What did those bastards in Treadstone do to you? Don't you care about anybody but yourself?"
For a brief moment, Ron's face lost its impassiveness and became as mournful as the former redhead's words sunk in. "I … I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I don't why I said that just now. But …but I don't see the world the way you do, Kim, that's for damn sure. And I think you two have best start accepting this. To the two of you, everyone is just a friend you haven't met yet. And that's great. But for me it's not that simple or honest. For me it's about the 'angles' and judging the advantage. My mind is always ticking over on either 'fight or flight', assets and liabilities. For whatever reason, Treadstone, made me a survivor. Someone without sensibilities or moral ambiguities towards achieving their ends and objectives."
"My world, Kim, is made up of shadows and darkness and it's because I live in this 'grey' that I know the attitude and tactics of the people after me …. After us. A black eye and a couple of bruises wouldn't have cut it with them, they would have thought that kind of thing as being below someone with my 'skills' and an obvious give away to François' collusion. If they were able to track us to him, they'd see right through it and tortured him until he cracked. And he would have cracked, Kim, because they wouldn't have stopped until he did. After that, they would most likely have killed him."
Ron then dug his hands in his pockets as the street lights began to flicker into life. "The two of you may think of me as some kind of monster and to be honest, I can't blame you. You stand there now not knowing exactly what I'm capable of. As for me? I *KNOW* what I can be capable of and it scares me to death. There is blackness there, a void in me of emotionless freedom. It's because of this I didn't what you two to come with me and why I wish to God now for you both to just turn around and pretend you don't know me and just let me disappear. But your not going to do this are you?"
Kim and Marie in union shock their head in the negative to the question.
"I'm going to probably do things … *have* to do things, that you are not going to agree with. Your not going to like it. Your going to want to yell, stomp your feet, threaten me, call me names, challenge my decisions. Your going to want to have a say in what we do and why we do it, but guess what, this isn't a democracy. Whatever I have to do, I do. Whether it's lie, borrow, steal, beat down or beat up in order to give us an extra day's distance or one additional advantage over the people hunting me down. Then I'll do it. I won't be happy about it, but I'd do it just the same. And worry about making amends for it all later if we survive. I will make this up to François, Kim, you have my word on that. And though you might still look on me as a bit of a monster now, know this: I'm *YOUR* monster. And I will do everything in my power to keep the pair of you safe, even if you don't like the way I go about it. Even if it might cost me my life, I'll keep you both safe."
Kim looked up at Ron dumbfounded and she knew without having to share a glace with Marie that the sensations and emotions that were roaming in the pit of her belly were probably doing the same to the other as well. One minute ago she was angry to the point of tears at him, now she was happily prepared to be arrested for lewd acts on a public street as long as Ron played along as her accomplish.
Ron was right, as he was before, this was his 'world' and it was an 'eat or be eaten' one. She may not like how he … or 'Jason' would do things, but she had to trust that these things were being done for her and for their over all survival. Without speaking any additional words, Ron started to walk down the street, not bothering to look back to see if 'his girls' were joining him. For a brief moment both female's eyes sought out and found the other. No words were shared, but both young women knew that this would be Ron's last attempt to dissuade them from joining him on his mission.
To Kim, Marie seemed a lot more paler then she had a moment before. But her features were determined and set. And with a blink of an eye, the lock the two had momentarily possessed was broken. The newly dyed blonde then started jogging down the street to catch up with the male. As Kim watched the female run, she reflected upon the genuine fear that she saw reside in the other and felt a pain of cowardice on her part for allowing her to have such emotions. She was Kim Possible, Hero-Adventurer, the 'I can do anything' Girl. When did she become so useless and helpless? There was a time where her mere presence used to encourage in others hope. She never would have stood numbly silent as a dear friend was slashed with a pair of his own scissors. And she certainly would never have allowed herself to be brutalised, or threatened to be brutalised without wanting to fight back. She had been on the back-foot ever since this assignment began, but François was the last straw. This might be very much Ron's 'Grey' little World, but he was going to be using HER resources to survive in it and she was not going to allow anyone else suffer, not friend, not stranger. She was better then that. RON was better then that. And if 'Jason' had a problem, then well … she guessed they had a problem.
Maybe instead of repeatedly having to tell Ron that he was in love with her, she instead show him WHY he was in-love with her. Since the second they were re-introduced she had to admit that she was behaving very un-Kim. She was servile, anxious to please. Happily giving the lead up to other's. Maybe he couldn't remember her because she wasn't doing anything that he could remember. When she had her own memory issues years before, Ron was telling her for days that he was her BFBF and she thought he was joking. It wasn't until his pants fell down on a mission that it triggered anything even remotely romantic in her memory. Maybe she needed to show Ron a 'pant's fall down moment' too? Maybe she had to be who she was and is. Maybe she had to be THE Kim Possible: The 'I can do anything' girl once more and not Kim Possible: you lead I follow. She would show Ron why he fell in love with her. If he was about to cross a line then she would be there to pull him back. And if he didn't like it, then he would have to deal with her face-to-face, she would make it impossible for him not too. No more bouncing idea's off of Marie in secret, or talking behind her back. No more moody silence, or pensive glares.
With a black beaded crucifix rattling as her steps increased to a sprint. The Goth dressed Kim Possible's feet found themselves running to catch up with her two companions. Joining them in whatever they would face.
'Yeah, Ronald Dean Stoppable, I CAN do anything. Even save a friend from himself.'
Earlier that day at Nicky Parson's Field Office.
Senior Agent Jack Conklin wasn't a happy man. For one thing, he preferred to keep close to DC, keeping a close eye on this government's doings and only leaving to inspect his field operations. It was a mark of the respect he had for the former Ron Stoppable that he decided to cross the Atlantic and personally see to the man's liquidation. Of course, it was liquidating Jason that had him on edge.
Jack Conklin had dumped a great deal of time, effort and money into turning Ron into Jason. The field operative was supposed to be a productive asset for years to come, before retirement. Despite the conversation Conklin had with Possible, he had honestly hoped that Jason, as all of his assets, would eventually reach retirement. While he knew that most of his agents would meet their ends violently, he did his level best to get each of them through their commitments, while still meeting their objectives. The inevitable stress from trying to both protect his charges and put them in harm's way at the same time had aged the senior agent prematurely, but it was a price he had willingly paid.
Finally, the fact that he had lost another operative and risked exposure had him more than a little edgy. If his personal division within the CIA became public, his life was forfeit. His own mortality didn't bother Jack Conklin a great deal; he had worked out long ago that he wasn't going to live a long, peaceful life. What would happen to his mission and his charges if this came to pass? Jack Conklin lived in the real world. Every major government had a division similar to Treadstone, even if their own citizens resented it. If Treadstone became exposed, the house cleaning would damage the US's spy efforts for years, if not decades to come. Not only that, Treadstone's surviving assets would be fed to the wolves. No, this situation needed to be resolved quickly and quietly and that called for his personal intervention.
"What do you have, Parsons?" He demanded, striding into his Paris office, prompting Jason's handler to jump to her feet.
"We just picked up some activity with Possible's email accounts," the agent explained. "One of the accounts is a sleeper; she opened it several months ago but has never used it before."
"I know what a sleeper account is," Conklin grumbled, hiding the fact that he was pleased his agent understood the ramifications. "What's she saying?"
"Her first message was on a standard account," Parsons reported. "She's asking an old lover of hers for a favor."
"Who's the bedmate and what's the favor?"
"The old lover is one Robert Altis," Nicky answered. "She's asking for a ride for three to an undisclosed location, three days from now. Altis is a semi-freelance pilot, still employed by the UN after six years. He has international clearances throughout Europe."
"Meaning he can get Bourne's party just about anywhere," Conklin concluded. "Where are they meeting?"
"Impossible to determine," Parsons responded, flinching at her superior's scowl. "The two of them took numerous, so-called fishing trips, which were probably just excuses to put out to sea for a little privacy. Possible told him to meet her where they cast off for their 'blunder trip'. Altis does have a private runabout moored in a Marina in Nice, so that's one possibility."
"But only a possibility. If we move there and Possible goes somewhere else, we're screwed. What actions have you taken?"
"I've assembled a strike team, waiting your order to apprehend Altis," Parsons reported. "He's currently returning to Rome from Iraq."
"Let's not risk it just yet; we've already fucked up once on French soil, I'd rather not repeat it again unless it's a slam-dunk. I sure as hell don't want to bring Italy into the mix." Conklin decided. "What were Possible's other messages?"
"The first was a multiple sending to nearly everyone in her private address book, close friends and her family, telling them not to worry and that she's safe despite what the media is reporting. The third one, however, she sent through her old web-site, an account she hasn't accessed for a number of years. She contacted an old foe, one Duff Killigan, and asked him for sanctuary. Killigan and Possible made their peace approximately five years ago."
"A red herring?" Conklin prompted.
"Possibly, but she hasn't used this account for quite sometime so she might think we are no longer observing it."
"Okay, let's assume that she thinks that messages, other than the mass mailing, were covert," Conklin told his underling. "Why would she run for Killigan?"
"Duff Killigan owns a semi-autonomous island. The British authorities leave him be, as long as he doesn't make trouble."
"Making his island a safe sanctuary," Conklin finished Parson's thought. "And we have no way of knowing for certain where Possible is going to link up with her ride. It could be Nice, but as this Altis has a boat and a pilot's licence their mode of transport could be in question. All we know for certain is their probable destination."
"Are you sure you don't want me to order the team to apprehend Altis when he lands in Rome? I could also delay him. The Italian's love their beurocracy, so I'm certain he won't be overly suspicious and it might give us several extra hours to a full day to run down Bourne and his group."
"No," Conklin smiled. "Agent Parsons, are you familiar with the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale?"
"Of course, sir?"
"Why do you think the big bad wolf ran all the way to grandmother's house to ambush the little girl? After all, he had the kid dead to rights on the forest trail."
"Sir?" Agent Parsons was clearly confused.
"When Little Red Riding Hood was on the trail, she was suspicious of the wolf and ready to call for help. The wolf knew that once she reached grandmother's house, she would be isolated and let her guard down. The original version of that fairytale didn't have a happy ending, Agent Parsons, at least not for Little Red and her grandmother. No brave woodsman nearby to hear her screams for help in that fairy tale. Oh no, in the original telling Mr Big Bad was able to avoid his comeuppance."
"Sir, I'm not following your.."
"Get your team ready to move, Agent Parsons," Conklin interrupted his agent. "They're going to go Grandmother's House in Scotland. We'll seize control of the island and be waiting when Mr. Altis drops off Little Red and her basket of goodies. And then? Then it will be dinner time."
Gowned from head to toe in black, the Ninja slid the door leading to his leader's room aside and entered quietly, sliding the door closed behind him. As his first foot fall fell onto the tightly weaved flooring he removed his cowl and knelt down, staring to the floor to await acknowledgement of his presence.
A figure dressed in ceremonial white stood at the window, looking down upon the training yard below with both longing and regret. After a moment and with a tired and silent sigh she addressed her visitor. "To what honour have you sought out my audience, dear friend? You know that at this time of day I prefer to be alone with my thoughts."
"My humble apologies, Mistress Sensei. But the Holy Blade is glowing once more, and this time it is emitting a vibration."
The male ninja, known simply as Hirotaka, continued to kneel with his head dutifully bowed before the Head of the Yamanouchi Clan. Though the two were of the same age and old study-mates, Yori had risen to the role of Sensei and as such the warrior still knew his place. Unlike others within the school who voiced their dissention, sometimes not very quietly.
Unlike his 'Brothers and Sisters', the skilled thief and fighter held his leader no ill-will, nor did he not see any cause to doubt their predecessor's wisdom in appointing Yori to be his successor. Even though he knew that many within the School wanted him to challenge Yori for the title and position. He knew that he was more a man of action than contemplation and that Yori had the temperament for both. As far as he was concerned, she was by far the better choice and he demonstrated his approval through obedience and loyalty.
Yori turned away from the view and looked at her supporter with tired and lonely eyes. Though still in her mid-twenties, she held the bearing of one much, much older. Her youthful face and slender, toned body were things that she sometimes cursed with their deception. She felt old, even though she did not look it on the outside.
Lost in her thoughts, she looked fondly upon her old and loyal friend, Hirotaka. He was still handsome, had a youthful spring in his step and was eagerly liked by all within the school. She however knew she was not. When Master Sensei passed on she prayed that she would finally be accepted, but she was not. At that time she could have used a few more loyal friends like Hiro for the transition stage, but she had so few. Master Sensei was a grandfather-figure to so many in the clan that any who followed him would always be compared to him, usually not favorably.
Now, like so many times, her thoughts found their way back to her memories of the 'Chosen One' and his praise and support of her. How much easier it would have been if, upon Master Sensei's death, he would have been there to support her. His enthusiastic grin and carefree attitude would have been a great counterpart to Hirotaka's quiet, competent support. Unfortunately, that support, and possibly more, was denied her. He was gone.
The weeks and months that followed her elevation to clan leader had aged her before her time. She truly wished that she could attribute most of this 'old age' to the stress and burden left behind by her beloved Master but her honesty wouldn't allow her such an easy excuse. The truth was that she lost her youth at the same time as her dear friend and rival Kim Possible had. She aged beyond her years the day that Ron Stoppable disappeared from the world's eye.
She remembered hating her revered teacher way back then. He used to be so prophetic where Stoppable-san was concerned and yet at the time he could not say where Ron-kun was. To a man who could cast his image to the other side of the world with ease and communicate with any living being in this form, how could he not muster the strength to find the whereabouts of one treasured so dearly?
Now she was the Master. She had thought that the responsibilities that came with this title would fill her mind and leave her with no time to dedicate to her loneliness but this was denied her. Even years after her master's death she still felt terribly unprepared and 'clumsy' in the high office she had assumed.
She received the 'obligated' respect of many but she knew that most of her clan disapproved of her appointment. Their resistance was based on two simple facts: One for her young age and another due to her sex. She, of course, had control over neither trait.
Many whispers existed within the Ninja School that she had only raised so highly and quickly due to her being the Master Sensei's favourite student. Other's whispered that she had come so far because she held the 'Chosen One's' favor. Both had attributed to her station, she could not deny it. But there was also a third reason, a reason that secured her ambition early in her life and helped raise her beyond the station of mere ninja. She had made sacrifices and had proven her devotion to both the school and her master, by meeting both the school's needs and her late master's personal desires at the same time. This desire was the surrendering of her only daughter, a daughter that she surrendered to be raised in its father's household, and not allow either father or daughter to know the truth about the nature of their relationship.
She, Yori, was the mother and the Chosen One himself was the father to 'The Han'.
These days the only joy she really felt was when her child was allowed to visit Yamanouchi for her 'special vacations' and receive her special 'Ninja-Child' training. It was the only time she could silently look upon the flesh of her flesh and watch her child grow. The school's other students and teachers revered the young child and cherished her existence only as 'The Han'. They all treated the young visitor with respect but for Yori? The leader of the Yamanouchi Clan loved the girl as only a mother denied could.
Her cherished Ron-kun met his final fate never knowing, or even suspecting, that he had fathered a child. He did not know that his seed had been extracted from him, covertly, a decade earlier during his first visit to the ninja school.
Master Sensei had two reasons to invite the westerner to visit the school during that fateful exchange program. One reason was to introduce him to his destiny as wielder of the fabled Lotus Blade, the second was to retrieve that which would allow the existence of the destined Han. With the use of narcotic incense strategically placed about his sleeping quarters, the Yamanouchi Ninja induced Ron Stoppable to sleep deeply while special Ninja healers 'retrieved' his seed and took ownership of the future.
Ron awoke each morning dazed and confused, casually blaming his disorientation to his the time-difference between America and Japan, the high altitude, the strenuous lifestyle or even his lack of nourishment.
Looking back upon her first encounter with the American Monkey Master, Yori had to confess that he possessed many flaws that did little to impress. He was lazy and goofy, a true slacker who always looked for the easy alternative. Many of her 'sisters' were repulsed at the prospect of bearing such an oaf's child but as hard as she tried to look at Ron-kun through the eyes of her brethren, she saw someone completely different than they did. She saw someone who possessed a positive quality that dwarfed all his 'negatives'. She saw a well-meaning, sensitive, amusing and honourable young man who possessed a unique gallantry and whom was unafraid to face possible death for the sake of a friendship or an obligation. When he faced that possible death, he was always displaying the ill-timed and inappropriate American style humour.
Of twenty candidates, she was the only one to volunteer for the…. glorious honor. And to her it was an honor and not an obligation since even though they had only known each other for a few days, the strange, American boy had wormed his way deep into her heart. Being the vessel of his offspring was at first an honor and then a privilege.
When next she met Stoppable-san she had already given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl a number of weeks earlier. During this meeting, she was so anxious to tell him the truth, to tell him about the wondrous life the two of them had created. However, this desire to speak was countered by the uncertainty that he would feel objectified if he discovered that his seed had been stolen from him. She couldn't bear the thought that he would reject both her and the child.
During that week, as they searched for Master Sensei, her mind kept returning to the family image she had created in her mind of some future day. She pictured Ron and herself as husband and wife, Hanna as their child and Sensei as father and grandfather to all. This image sustained her even as she came close to giving up hope, sure that she had lost her master to Monkey fist's plots. In truth, she missed her daughter more that week than she had thought possible. Being with Stoppable-san while keeping such a great secret from him felt dishonourable and made her feel unworthy of the support he was freely offering her at finding Master Sensei.
At the completion of the mission she knew in her heart that Ron was not yet ready to know the truth, but she could not deny her yearning. When she left she offered him a simple kiss, one that was freely expressed in American Culture, but in Japan would be strictly taboo. Sadly, he did not realize the significance, or maybe his companion, Kim Possible, played the kiss down for her own benefit. To this day she was never sure on this matter and many times she repeated the age old question; 'What if'? What if she had made her feeling more obvious? Would her open love have changed the outcome?
Eventually, Master-Sensei decided that after a year Hannah had grown enough to be separated from her. It was a decision that she did not support, but she knew that Sensei's wisdom was greater then her own emotions as a mother. So with great reluctance she surrendered her child to it's father's parents, knowing that her sweet Han would be raised in the same household and with the same love as her beloved Ron had lightened her guilt and lessened the sting.
Later that year she remembered telling Kim, when the pair revealed that they were dating, that everyone had a destiny to fulfil. She may never have been able to claim Ron-kun's heart like the red-headed adventurer had, but then again Kim Possible could never stand forth and claim the honour of giving the world 'Hanna Stoppable' either. That was her destiny and claim, and it was one that satisfied her even when she imagined Possible-san and her dear Run-kun kissing and embracing one another.
Now, after many years., Hanna had reached an age where she was beginning to ask question towards her origins. The 'Where did I come from? and 'Who were my real parents?' questions. Being adopted and loved by the Stoppables was now no longer enough for the curious girl. She wanted to know who her true parents were and how she came to possess her abilities in Monkey Kung Fu. For days the Clan Leader had been successfully avoiding this topic. Asking her instead if her curiosity came from believing that Mr and Mrs Stoppable didn't love her enough, which is why she wished to seek out her real parent's. To the Leader's relief and hurt, the reply was an emphatic no. And after answering this question, Hanna, ceased her queries. Most likely, Yori believed, because the young girl now felt guilty at having other's believe that her adopted parent's did not love her, or she them with all her heart.
At the moment, it was a mild mystery for the pre-teen which was easily silenced, but Yori knew that with the advancement of further years and the greater lack of answers it would undoubtedly become an all-consuming obsession. And when the truth lay revealed, as all truths eventually are, there would exist a strong possibility that the girl would hate her for keeping it from her for so long.
Looking down at the training yard she watched Hanna with secret pride and secret sadness as the girl sparred with several male students twice her own age and size. Though the Stoppables only permitted her to visit 2 weeks a year, these were two weeks in which all the world could go to hell for all Yori cared. Nothing mattered to her as much as viewing her and Ron-kun's daughter grow during those 14-days. And for the last week she had been trapped in her turmoil of wondering on how she could eventually address her child's question without having Hanna turn against her. After all, if there was one thing Hanna treasured more then anything in this world it was the memory she had of her 'Big Bother Ronnie'. And anyone who would challenge that pleasant perception would easily make an enemy for life.
"Err … Mistress? The Lotus Blade continues to react. What should we do?"
With a slump in her shoulders, Yori accepted this intrusion into her 'personal time' and was again pulled out of her ponderings. The Mistress turned to face her Clan's number one Ninja. "It has been glowing for a week now, correct?"
Hiro's face became alert to the question, inner pleasure claiming him now that his friend was taking his query seriously. "Yes, Mistress. Eight-days in total. This is not a single occurrence, it has been constant, growing in intensity with each passing day. The last time the blade reacted so was when Ronald Stoppable-san acquired the mystical monkey power. We cannot deny what it is claiming, that a new Chosen-One has emerged and the blade both rejoices and calls to its new master."
Yori's eyes narrowed, for the past week she had worked hard to deny the possibility of Hirotaka's words, even going so far as avoiding the Lotus Blade's Shrine. The thought that her cherished Ron-kun could be so casually replaced pained her heart, but she now led this clan and it was time for her to set aside personal heartache and accept her responsibility with her predecessor's grace. "What about the Han? Have we extinguished all thoughts that it might be her presence that is making the Holy Blade respond?"
Hirotaka's gaze focused upon the window behind the female, hearing the sound a combat and unmistakable battle cry of the young female warrior. Sadly, he shook his head. "Doubtful, Mistress. The Han is indeed imbued with the Mystical Monkey Power, but I do not believe there is any connection between her and the Blade of the Chosen One."
Yori again turned away to face the window, concealing her worried features from her number one ally. Hanna's conception was secret from many in the School, only herself, the healer's that helped with the birth and Sensei knew the truth of the child's origins. Even during the 'conception and pregnancy' period, Master Sensei had conveniently sent Yori on a secret mission that required her absence from the Ninja School for over to a year. When she eventually returned to the school she was placed in special housing. This housing that was next door to the school's hospital and she was specifically 'assigned' to independently care for a new-born baby girl that Master Sensei had 'discovered' one morning as he was taking a walk upon Mt Yamanouchi days earlier before her return.
None outside of the 'know' were any the wiser as to why that was. Or why she continued with this duty for the weeks and months that followed. And if Hirotaka ever knew the truth, that Stoppable-san was Hanna's actual father and not her adopted brother, there would be the potential for scandal, even more so if it were discovered that she, the new Leader of their Clan, was the mother.
Unaware of the internal conflict taking place in his leader's head, Hirotaka continued with his account. "My doubts are based upon the fact that the holy blade has only one master, mistress, the Chosen One. There is nothing in the scrolls that indicate that the Han has claim over the sword. As a test to this suspicion I have held the blade and it has occasionally pulled me in the opposite direction to where I knew she was. Prior to myself joining you, I had even approached the Han and asked her to take hold of the weapon. Like with all, save the Chosen, she stated that she felt as though the sword was resisting her grasp of it.
"Eventually I did what Master Sensei did a decade earlier when he was first trying to locate Stoppable-san. Which was I placed the weapon on a large map of the world and released the sword over it. The tip drew itself across the paper and stabbed into France. If the blade did this three other times, all to the same location. It continues to react the same way it did when we located and discovered Stoppable-san, the closer we get to our target the more accurate the blade will become in seeking them out and identifying it's new Master."
"So this new … 'Chosen One' is French?"
Hirotaka corrected his Mistress. "The new 'Chosen One', whoever that might be, is presently in France. Whether or not this individual is French still remains to be seen. But it is clear that whoever it is they must have been imbued with the Mystical Monkey Power at some time. How this came about I do not know. The statues that radiated Stoppable-san and Lord Monkey Fist with the Mystical Monkey Power were destroyed directly after. So whoever this person must be must have acquired this ability from some other, presently unknown source. Regardless too whoever it is and how, they must possess a purity of heart for the blade to accept this person as its new master. And the Blade has indeed identified that this person is currently in France."
Absently, Yori whispered her response, unaware that the male ninja's keen ears heard her utterance. "There is only one 'Chosen One', Hirotaka-san, and that was and always will be Stoppable-san."
With caution, the male ninja spoke up, addressing the sensitive subject. "With respect, Mistress. Stoppable-san is no more. He is gone, lost to us. He either died or fell in another way, a way that ensured that the Lotus Blade rejected him. But now there seems to exist someone whom the Blade responds to again and we must take their candacey seriously and learn from the errors of the past."
"What do you mean, Hirotaka-san?"
"Mistress Sensei, you know better then anyone that many student's felt that Master Sensei was far to lenient towards Stoppable-san. That he spoilt him and allowed the westerner indulgences. As soon as Stoppable-san discovered the nature of his destiny as the 'Chosen One' all efforts should have been employed for him to transfer from America to here to be educated and trained. With Master Sensei allowing Stoppable-san to remain in Middleton with Possible-san and allowing him to be involved in her high profile adventures he was making him an unwilling target. The lifestyle of Possible-san … it's distasteful for any true Ninja. She is too public, too showy. The foundation of a Ninja's training is stealth and concealment, elements that are very much lacking in Possible-san's life. It is even speculated that Stoppable-san may have met his fate at the hands of one or more foes of Possible-san, as revenge. And that the only reason no one has ever claimed responsibility for his death to the World is because Stoppable-san was successful in dispatching that individual before he too took his last breath."
"ENOUGH! I have no desire to hear your shameful words against an ally of this Clan whose loss was on par with my very own. And I will not have you draw blame for decision's made or not made. It is easy to look back on past actions and suggest 'roads not taken' as the cause for failure. I can say this with no shadow of doubt in my heart, that Master Sensei or Possible-san would never have done anything that would have intentionally placed his life at risk. Aside from myself, I cannot think of any other individuals in the World who are more willing to lay down their own lives for his then them."
"My apologies Mistress, I was not trying to damage their reputations, just attempting to illustrate the opinion that we might best serve the new Chosen One, the Han and even ourselves if we considered bringing them behind the protective walls of the School rather then employ Master Sensei's method of a 'outside integrative lifestyle'."
Folding her arms in front of her, Yori, starred at the mat at her feet in deep contemplation. "We cannot force this new Chosen One to re-align their lives to ours if they have no interest in doing so."
"But what if it is their destiny to do so, Mistress? I do not wish to anger you, but what if Stoppable-san had been offered this alternative? He might very well be alive today. Mistress, the arrival of a new Chosen One, this must be more then just coincidence. The Ancient Scrolls offer a telling that the Chosen One is the greatest protector The Han would ever hope for, or need. How can such Prophecies be written if there is no longer a 'Chosen One' to protect her? Stoppable-san disappeared while she was still very much an infant, surely she will face more trails in the years to come. Trail's that will require a 'Chosen One' to be at her side. With each year, Hanna Stoppable-san's skills increase threefold. There will indeed come a time where the Teacher's at this School will have nothing left to offer her. And then what? I am sorry to say, Mistress, but Hanna Stoppable-san is not an intuitive fighter, she is however a skilled mimic of the highest calibre. Show her a stance, a position, a move just once and she can copy it flawlessly and effectively. But she lacks the natural creativity and free-flowing fighting style Ron Stoppable-san had as well as other natural combatants possess."
Yori nodded. "You have not been the first of her instructor's to tell me such things. They all say that she is a gift and a talent. But lacks the 'think on her feet' methodology that is a necessity in any battle."
"Yes, Mistress. I believe it is because of this reason as to why, Master Sensei, arranged for Stoppable-san's parent's to adopt her. I suspect that he was hoping that some of Stoppable-san's quirks and creativity might rub off on her character as she was growing up in his household and that this might have helped influence her."
Sadly, Yori, nodded. "Yes, Hirotaka-san. That sound's like the kind of thing the Master would have done if he believed that the Han possessed a flaw that would make her vulnerable."
"Mistress, the Han's fate and safety is meshed closely with that of the Chosen One. The Prophecy states that the Chosen One, not us, is the Han's Protector. We must find this new Chosen One urgently so that we can prepare him or her for their destiny Everyday we waste weighing our options is another day of possible threats posed against Hanna Stoppable-san without her foretold defender present."
Yori looked out of her window once more, spying down upon the courtyard where four black figures lay in the dirt, with Hanna, HER Hanna, triumphantly inspecting her fingernails as though to rub in the ease of her victory to her staggered foes. A small smile of pride found its way upon Yori's face. How very much like her father Hanna was becoming. She knew that Hiro was correct with the point he was making, and she knew that if there was anything that would stir her into immediate action it would be the possibility that her 'little girls' life was in danger. They needed to find this new Chosen One and quickly initiate them into their future responsibility.
Hanna slowly spied up and looked up at the window, spotting Yori looking down at her victory. The young Asian girl broadcast a wide smile and offered a respectful bow to her Master and unknown Mother. A bow, Yori, gracefully returned. It was at this moment that the Ninja Leader's mind was seized by a single powerful thought. Why couldn't she seek out the new Chosen One and take Hanna with her? After all, the new Chosen One would have to meet her eventually and it would also give her the opportunity to get to know her daughter in a more personal setting then a school based one. Who could say, maybe she would even be able to ball up the courage and tell her child the truth of her origins and the true identity of her parents. It wouldn't be an easy thing, she knew that. But maybe, just maybe, after they found the new Monkey Master, an opportunity might emerge to reveal the truth that would not lead to harsh words being said by the child.
"Yes, Mistress Sensei?"
"I would like you to retrieve the Lotus Blade, and arrange the jet to be fully fuelled and piloted for departure tomorrow at dawn. I would also like you to advise Hanna Stoppable-san to pack her belongings, her stay at the School has now concluded for the year. She will spend the next week with myself seeking out this new Chosen One."
Turning back to face her friend, Yori unfolded her arms. "I said I and the Han will seek out this new Chosen One together. We shall be going to France, or to wherever the Lotus Blade leads us. I believe the Americans refer to such a thing as this as 'Bonding'."
Hirotaka vigorously shook his head in disagreement to the suggestion. "Alone? I must respectfully advise against such a thing. Please allow me to perform this quest in the school's name. I cannot allow you to place either the Han or yourself in harm's way. The dishonour to me would be too great if I allowed you to take this journey unchaperoned and a injury befell either of you. What if this new Chosen One cannot be trusted?"
"Then the Lotus Blade would not be calling out to them, would it? No, my dear friend, it is appropriate that Hanna Stoppable-san and I do this alone. It will be a demonstration of respect and faith in this unknown person. If we were to send you, or anyone else, as an emissary, the significance of this person's destiny and our gesture of friendship might very well be lost. Showing up with myself, as leader of our Clan, and Hanna, the focus of their destiny standing beside me, I will be able to address any doubts right then and their. I truly believe the two of us should be enough to convince them of the relevance and importance that they will play upon the future of the world."
"But who will lead the School in your absence?"
Offering the male a gentle smile, the young Asian woman offered. "You shall my friend, and I can think of no one worthier to do so."
"But Mistress Sensei."
"I cannot explain it my friend, several moments ago I was ambivalent. But now? Now I believe that I must do this. That this is a trust I can place on no other but myself. I feel as though myself and the Han must do this journey alone. We both have a deep connection to the former wielder of the Lotus Blade and maybe this will help us both come to terms with our shared loss and grief. Maybe this quest will allow us both to move on."
Hirotaka nodded his head respectfully, understanding better then some that his old friend perhaps needed this sense of closure. "I shall do as you instruct, Mistress Sensei. All things shall be prepared for your departure tomorrow at dawn. I bid you success and safety."
"Thank you, Hirotaka-san."
The male ninja again bowed and withdrew from the room, sliding the door close behind him. Yori turned and once more approached the window, the courtyard had been cleared of training now, offering only a still image of perfection. Steadily, Yori inhaled the mountain air into her lungs before whispering out to the empty sky.
"You are not replaceable, Ron-kun. But it is time for you to be replaced. Forgive me."
A lone tear met the flooring at her feet before she wiped her eyes dry. She would cry no-more tears after today for Ronald Stoppable. Her grieving had to come to an end, she had to move on. She could no longer live in either denial or hope that she would ever she her beloved Ronald Stoppable ever again.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait everybody, but I have been pleasantly distracted by a private life as of late …lol.
As always, Daccu65, has to stand up and take a bow for being the inspiration and guidance of this story. This guy deserves kudos, people …lol.
Now to the Comments: Yes. Kim is finally going to come into 'character' and stop following Ron around like a stray puppy dog looking for attention. What Ron did to François was the wake-up call she needed and she's no longer satisfied with being just a 'pedestrian' anymore. She wants to be in the 'game' and be taken seriously by Ron as an equal and not a burden or someone he feels he has to protect.
As for those of you who were not able to make the connection to the Lotus Blade, *ahem*, when Ron gave himself over to the final manipulations and brain washings of Treadstone and accepted his role as Assassin, because his heart was now tainted with darkness the Blade rejected him because he was no longer pure. Master Sensei interpreted this rejection as evidence of Ron's death. When Ron lost his memories, his heart was more-or-less cleansed of the sins and evils he had done so the Lotus Blade began to reach out once more to it's Master.
I thought of including the Hanna sub-plot because the series never really went to any lengths to explain where Hanna came from or why Master Sensei placed her in Mr and Mrs Stoppable's care.
As for introing Yori and having Ron discovering that he was more or less take advantage of/raped and was now a father. Well I just thought, how could I make Kim's life any worse? …lol.
Would love to hear from you all.