Chapter 1

I.

"Walker to the front! Walker to the front!"

Ron shot up, the Russian pilot's face buried in the icy rocks below. Tracer rounds zipped over his head and a ray beam carried across the entire shore behind him, lighting up the snowy land and heating the frigid air. The sickly green beam came from a repurposed Lorwardian Quadropod, one of about four that Ron could see roaming across the island.

"Stoppable! Stoppable!"

Sergeant Bryer shouted at him from his right. Ron glanced over while his gloved hand struggled to grasp the pilot's jacket and pull him up from the ground. Bryer landed around fifteen yards to his right and behind him, taking shelter behind a large boulder.

"I need you and Shego to take out those quadropods! We don't have any Jav—"

A mortar shell burst into the ground behind them, throwing up sand and rocks, deafening the cracking rifle fire.

"Copy, sergeant!" Ron shouted. Another explosion went off to Bryer's right.

Darting his eyes around the shore, Ron sought out the rest of his operational detachment. He stumbled across Shego with the Russian copilot she took with her on the jump. They huddled up against a rock about twenty yards to his left, firing off pop shots at advancing mind controlled marines.

As his eyes adjusted to barren icy landscape, Ron found more and more of his attachment scattered around the battlefield.

"This is Captain Webber. I repeat. This is Captain Webber! I want those quadropods taken out now. Sergeant Go and Stoppable, get on that!"

The Captain's voice crackled through Ron's headset.

Before Ron could do anything, he needed to pull the shocked Russian pilot up from the ground. Getting a firm grasp, Ron tugged hard enough on the pilot's jacket to lift him up, only to find dead weight.

Ron flipped over the pilot, finding his body riddled with entry wounds and a blood-soaked jacket. He stumbled back from the open, blank eyes staring back at him, taking in short, raspy breaths. His hands trembled as bullets pinged off the surrounding rocks, one ricocheting into the pilot's body, splattering red matter all over Ron.

"Stoppable! Stoppable!" He could hear Shego's voice over his headset.

The Lorwardian quadropod turned its sights on him.

Ron glanced back down at the pilot, but instead of seeing the Russian's face, he saw Collins, glaring at him, blood dripping down from his mouth.

Ron shot up in bed, sweat pouring from every pore in his body, his hands and arms quaking. His breathing came in shallow and ragged puffs, unable to control the pace between each breath. He looked down, his combat fatigues gone, only his shirtless chest drenched in sweat.

He glanced around the room, gripping his sheets.

All lay quiet, nothing stirred.

Ron surveyed the dark room until his eyes fell upon his nightstand, where a sleeping Rufus lay, his tiny paws tucked underneath his head.

He remembered he wasn't on Heard Island anymore.

His eyes drifted to the slumbering body next to him, still covered in the soft silk sheets. Kim's back faced him, her messy auburn hair spilling over the pillow.

Ron took in a deep breath, calming his nerves, careful not to wake his girlfriend. Six months passed since their reunion in Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From the time of their reunion, to their standoff with Global Justice, Kim and Ron zippered up their past and continued their relationship where it left off when Ron left back in college.

Careful not to disturb her sleep, Ron peeled away the sheets from his legs, and slid off the bed, placing his shaky feet onto the cold floor. He paused as Rufus seemed to stir at the noise, but breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled his tiny night hat over his head.

After three months of living together, Ron didn't know whether he regretted their decision or was for it. On the one hand, living together negated having to travel to see each other. Though, Ron grew increasingly worried that Kim would eventually find out about his nightmares.

She couldn't.

She couldn't see that he was weak.

On the inside, Ron's pillars crumbled under the weight of distress.

The Russian pilot's body, riddled with bullet holes, and his lifeless face staring back at him. His warrant officer's ghost image, his body torn open from an anti-aircraft shell.

Blood curdling from the corner of his Collins lips, all burned into the recesses of his mind.

Where was the escape from the torment?

How could he get out?

He stood up and tip-toed out of his bedroom and into the hall, sweat still pouring down his body. If Kim woke now and saw him, what would she say about all of this? In Ron's mind, Kim still encapsulated the perfect girl. It fell upon him to contain this inner monster that ate away at his insides.

His mind reeled as he stumbled into the kitchen. He breathed in, almost gasping, drowning in the memories that flooded his mind. No longer dreaming but still tormented as if the apartment walls around him crumbled away, giving way to the wintery hellscape of Heard Island.

He pressed his hands against the counter, when his eyes fell upon a kitchen knife resting on wash towel near the sink.

It all melted away.

The quadropod exploded from Shego's green plasma blasts, slamming into the walker's head. Its legs folded in on themselves as it collapsed into the black sand below. Rocks, debris, and the walker's legs rose from the ground as Ron called upon his mystical monkey powers and threw them across the beach, slamming them into another roving quadropod over a hundred meters away.

"Contact. Twelve o'clock!" Shego shouted.

Ron watched Collins, Shego, and the Russian co-pilot try to fend off a squad of mind-controlled marines bearing down on them. He sprang up and sprinted in the marine's direction, hoping that by flanking them, he'd give his teammates the chance to press on.

He fired off two shots, three shots, slamming into the lead marine. Ron pulled the trigger again, as it seemed to have no effect against a mind controlled combatant.

"Argghhh!"

In a single moment, Ron's vision changed from staring down the marines ahead of him to the face of an enraged marine struggling against him to gain control of his rifle. Ron slammed the butt of his rifle against the marine's skull and pushed him off, rolling onto the marine.

Ron struggled as the marine managed to maintain a loose hold on his weapon. The marine seemed disillusioned, confused, and in pain from whatever mind control serum Gemini used on them.

Ron reached down to his waist and snatched his K-bar from his belt and unsheathed it. He gripped the handle and brought the onyx blade over his head, screaming. The marine released Ron's rifle and grabbed onto Ron's wrist, trying to avoid Ron's deathly intention.

In vain, the marine tried to push the blade away. Ron's hand and the blade it held began to glow blue. A fire burned within him, as anger gurgled from the depth of Ron's guts. Ron pressed the edge of his blade against the marine's skin before wedging the blade into the jugular above the marine's collar bone.

Blood spurted out all over Ron's face as he tore the blade from the marine's neck.

Ron froze.

As the blood spilled out onto the icy jagged rocks beneath them, the marine's mind controlled will collapsed, and the real person, who the marine really was, broke through the veneer of the serum.

The marine mouthed something akin to 'Why?', before his paling face limped to the side.

This was supposed to be his ally. A brother in another branch. No older than nineteen, not old enough even to drink like Ron had, and he'd just taken his life. His face drained of color as the blood continued to drain from the wound.

"No. No. No. No. No."

Ron repeated the word over and over, almost in prayer form, trying to banish the memories flashing in his head.

"Not a monster. Not a monster."

Ron whispered to himself.

A voice whispered back. "How many did you kill that day?"

"Get out of my head!" Ron whispered. Kim lay just a room away, and he remembered that he couldn't let her see him like this.

"Why not? Are you scared she'll leave you?" the voice whispered back.

"Go away. Go away!" Ron pleaded.

"You killed me. You didn't even try to save my life."

Ron gritted his teeth, hanging his head. "You never spoke to me. You're not real."

"Why?" the voice cried.

He stumbled against the counter, almost slipping and falling to the ground. His hand managed to grab the wash towel and bring the knife atop of it crashing to the floor.

"You're a killer!" the voice taunted Ron.

"No." Ron's eyes watered as he reached for the cupboard above the stove. He pushed around the tupperware searching for his medicine. As quiet as he tried to be, he wasn't. Ron's ears drowned in the haunting voices and sounds of combat, the battle of Heard Island drowning out the tupperware clanging against the granite countertops.

He found it.

Clasped fingers squeezed the neck of a bottle of burnished whiskey. An entire liter of whiskey, one of many that he'd kept hidden from Kim and Rufus. He didn't know how he did, but he was certain that if Kim found out, she would have confronted him about the issue.

"Look at you. What would your girlfriend say if she saw you? Pathetic."

Ron slipped down the lower cupboards and rested his back against them. He popped the lid of the bottle and lifted the bottle to his lips, letting the burning liquid run down into his gullet.

After a healthy swig, Ron lowered the bottle. His vision blurred. The surrounding kitchen spun and all the memories from the battle broke apart, unable to hold their bond against the weight of the alcohol.

"Go away," Ron whispered.

"Go away."

II.

What could she do?

What was she supposed to do?

How could she accomplish it?

Kim knew about Ron's dreams. He didn't know. She did.

In the night she would hear him scream, one time having to catch his fist or fly out of bed to avoid it. But she took Sergeant Bryer's advice to heart. Pressing the issue was a non-starter, unless Ron opened up to her. As of yet, Ron kept all the scars and wounds the war dealt him buried beneath a smiling, cheerful facade in the daytime.

But at night, in the middle of his sleep, his monsters would torment.

Kim watched from the shadows of the hall as Ron leaned his head against the cupboards in the kitchen. Tears stained his reddened face as he poured more of the golden elixir down his throat that seemed to help him through his demons.

She knew about the alcohol, too.

When they first moved in together, Kim found the bottle in Ron's luggage but didn't question it, thinking that it might be a celebratory thing he would bring out if his fellow green berets ever visited. They did, but they never drank at their apartment.

On the second night, Kim found out about the alcohol as Ron would drown himself until he fell asleep on the couch, an empty bottle stuffed haphazardly into the kitchen trash bin.

She never imagined being jealous of a bottle of alcohol. It comforted her love more than she could and that's not for giving no effort. A week in, Kim tried to hold Ron in the night, hoping the warmth of her body would help. Instead, it threw him into a memory that left him reeling over the bedside. She quickly faked being asleep, that being the last time she held him at night.

Shego warned her months before that Ron needed help, and Kim was the one capable of giving the help he needed. She also warned her it would be hard.

She never imagined it being this difficult. Not just on Ron, but herself.

Three months of living together and yet, Kim stood on a beach an ocean away from Ron what mattered most, and that was Ron's grief. The divide it drove into their relationship was a quiet killer, unseen by Ron and Kim felt like a ghost, ethereal to its blade, unable to stop it.

This couldn't continue for the rest of their lives.

Could it?

His body couldn't handle this forever.

But how could she help him as he drowned himself and all the nightmares in a bottle of poison that he firmly believed she was ignorant of?

Her body leaned forward, green eyes glazed over, tears on the brim, her wild heart clanging against his cage, urging her body to move and run over to Ron and hold him. Tell him that everything was going to be okay.

But her logic grounded her feet to the floor, rooted in the shadows so Ron wouldn't spot her. His guard was down, and she did not know how he would react if she found out. Caught him. Knowing Ron, Kim imagined no matter what she said, Ron would conjure the worst of possibilities in his thoughts, concluding that ultimately she would see him in a negative light.

It couldn't be farther from the truth.

All she wanted to do was help.

In her eyes, as weak as Ron saw himself, giving in to alcohol to drown away the pain, Kim strangely found just how resilient Ron really was. His stubbornness to keep Kim unaware of his monsters plaguing him and to keep up a veneer that fooled almost everyone else in the daytime made her realize just how strong he'd become.

If she never moved in with him, she imagined she would have never found out until it was too late.

Yet tonight was different. Kim could tell Ron's nightmares reached the pinnacle, a tipping point. Tonight, Ron hadn't stopped drinking. Before this, usually two good swigs were enough to cast away whatever memories plagued him. Tonight, he seemed to need more.

He'd gone through half the bottle in an hour. Even so, Ron seemed to battle with lingering memories as his head bobbed from exhaustion and drunkenness.

She lifted her hands to her face, quietly sobbing, asking herself what the great Kim Possible would do?

What could she do to help?