Ishimura Yusuke. Her brother.
Yori found it hard to wrap her mind around that concept. She had a brother. She, who for years thought of herself as an only child, was looking into the face of a man with whom she shared kin. Truly this adventure was full of surprises!
He tended to their wounds and gave them water. Once they'd recovered sufficiently, Yusuke led them deeper into the woods. The sky had darkened and the weather took a turn for the worse. Yori was still in pain despite her brother's tender care, but Kimiko remained by her side at all times and together the two women managed to keep pace with Yusuke. From time to time, he would leave them momentarily to scout ahead or behind them. He left the white ninja restrained back where he had found them; tied up around a series of trees and facing away from the path the trio had taken. Yusuke also made sure to clear their tracks, going so far as to mask their scent by spreading a natural deodorant around the trees. Once he was sure no one was following, he made his way back to the ladies.
Yori was amazed at how fluidly he moved in that green suit. He looked like a robotic ninja; like one you would find in those anime cartoons. His face was behind his visor which seemed to hold secrets of its own. Yusuke warned them to keep moving for Yo-Yo can sense brain waves even from a distance. He explained that his helmet shielded his mind from her scans but the same could not be said for Yori or Kimiko.
"I need to rest," Yori announced. Kimiko look frustrated. She hated having to stop every few minutes for Yori to catch her breath. She thought the kunoichi was stronger than that but it seems she gave the girl too much credit. Though even she was losing strength with the onset of the cold, Kimiko pushed through her pain. Yori may be Kenji's daughter, but the apple sure fell far from that tree.
Above, Yusuke leaped between the trees with grace that even the most talented ninja could never hope to match. Yori did feel a twinge of jealousy at his skill, but then had to ask herself whether it was he or the suit that enabled him to do that. She had to confess, even being raised so traditionally, that she really liked the suit. Does it come in black? She wondered.
Yusuke looked down at them from a branch twenty feet above their heads. "It's not far from here." His voice was slightly muffled so that it sounded a bit mechanical. They understood him just fine, though. "Wait here. I'll be back." He blurred through the air before they could offer up a reply.
"Men just love barking orders." Kimiko guided Yori to a tree where she helped her down to sit. Finally resting, Yori began to rub her shoulders.
"It's going to get a lot colder," Kimiko told her.
"I know. I grew up in the mountains."
"Then you know it's best to keep moving to fight off the cold. Sitting down prevents the blood from flowing. Your limbs will start to go numb if you remain still for too long."
"Proper healing requires that the body remain still. It is not the cold that hinders me but my wounds. My brother," Yori stopped. My brother. She has a brother. Eighteen years and she never knew she was part of an extended family.
Yori realized that she left Kimiko in mid-sentence.
"You were talking about your brother."
Kimiko's eyebrow went up. "Feels strange, doesn't it?"
"I'd feel the same way. Except I knew Yusuke since he was a little boy. And his brother—your brother." She allowed herself a smile. "Takashi."
Yori remained silent.
"Don't be so reserved. It's okay to be curious about your family. You're getting the chance to reunite with yours after so many years. Many don't get that chance."
Perception kicked in at that moment. "Does that include you?"
Kimiko looked away. "Thought I saw something," she tried to play it off. Yori decided now would not be the best time to press the issue.
"What were they like…my brothers?"
"A handful. Yusuke was always getting into fights at school. He was picked on because he was so scrawny and weak. He always tried to act tough around the big kids and that's usually what got him into trouble. He'd come home with a bleeding nose or a lump on his head and face and try to act as if he'd won. I always knew the truth, though. Never did understand why he looked for trouble. But he was a restless kid. Always had to be doing something for the sake of it and for no other reason."
"Now Takashi on the other hand was a homebody. He would spend hours in his room reading. He was lousy at sports and would always get picked on by Yusuke. Now when someone else tried to pick on him, his brother was always there. I guess that's why they were so close. Yusuke and Takashi looked out for one another. I remember how Yusuke would get in trouble with his parents. Kenji was a strict disciplinarian and he would strike Yusuke with a belt. Takashi would hide that belt to keep his brother from getting another beating. When Kenji found out, he would punish both of them. But it never ceased to amaze me how much they cared. Sometimes…I envied them."
"Why?" Yori brought her hands up to her mouth and blew warm air on them. "Were you not a part of the family?"
"I knew the Ishimuras cared for me. But I was never a part of the family. Kenji and Yuriko took me in as a stray. I became a nursemaid who looked after their brats while they were away and helped Yuriko clean the house. I stayed with them because I had no other place to go."
"You never told me about your life before you met my family."
"Didn't have one. A life or a family. My parents died in an earthquake and I was raised by my bastard uncle. He never liked me. Instead, he treated me like some unwanted obligation. I was a servant to him, doing chores, cooking meals, grocery shopping. Seems the only time he ever acknowledged me was when he needed something. Save that, I didn't exist."
Yori listened. "Go on."
But Kimiko smirked. "If you're trying to start a bonding moment I'm afraid it's not going to happen. There's too much bad blood between us for that."
"A moment is all we have. You or I could die today for all we know. If that is our fate then at least we can 'clear the air' so to speak. I am still angry with what you did to me, Kimiko, but I don't want to hate you. I don't want to hate anyone."
"Except Saito?" Kimiko offered.
"I'll make an exception in his case." Yori cracked a smile.
"Please. I want to hear this. It seems unfair that you know so much about me yet I know so little of you."
"Not much to tell."
A sigh escaped her lips. Yusuke could be back any minute. This may be the last chance she and Yori had alone time together. Not that she trusted the girl or anything but talking about this stuff might take some of the load of her chest. She'd been carrying so much weight. Yori may not understand everything, but at least she is a friendly ear. That is something Kimiko had not been offered in a long time.
"If you want to be depressed," she went on. "Your brother, Yusuke, had a knack for biting off more than he could chew. One day I was coming home from the market and found him being picked on by a bunch of kids twice his size. I was never that big myself, but long hours of slaving away in my uncle's house helped me build up some muscle. I never liked bullies—guess I have my uncle to thank for that. When I saw what was happening I stepped in; I took a few good hits, but I managed to scare them off. Boys are always afraid to hit girls. Luckily things don't work the other way around. A kick in couple of groins and those punks just ran off."
"Yusuke didn't like the idea of being saved by a girl, but he was always taught to be grateful so he thanked me and offered to help me carry by bags home. The path I took happened to go by his house. Yuriko was cooking dinner and Yusuke asked if I would like to stay. I was hesitant but couldn't refuse. Once I smelled that food my stomach overcame my sense of obligation to my uncle and I accepted. When Mama Ishimura heard what I did for Yusuke she practically adopted me. I ate with them, got to know them, and became a sort of big sister to Yusuke and Takashi, who was a baby then, mind you. That was also the day I met your father. Kenji didn't seem too keen of having a stranger eat with them. It wasn't until I learned of his past with the Yakuza that I learned why."
"Back then I thought he just didn't like me. Overtime, he started to lighten up. We were never as chummy as with Yuriko and me, but we got along okay, I guess. So that's how I became the surrogate daughter. You tell me if it's fate or bad luck."
"Do you regret saving my brother that day?"
"No. I told you I don't like bullies. What I regret is taking Yusuke up on his offer. I should have just gone home straight away."
"For one act of kindness you blame my family. Sounds to me your life would have been far worse without them."
"Worse? Look around you, Yori." She accentuated the point by waving her hand at the trees. "It's getting worse by the second." The sun was almost gone and the light was waning. Soon it was be dark and that's when the real cold would settle in. "Even if we get out of here in one piece, Saito is not going to stop looking for us."
"Then at least we're not alone."
"Yusuke? You honestly believe he'll even our odds against Saito?"
"He saved us from the ninja."
"He had the element of surprise."
"Which is key to winning any battle." Yori eyed her. "Regardless of what you think, meeting my family was not the worst thing that could have happened to you. Can you honestly say your life would have been better had you not?"
"They certainly would have been better than this."
"Really? Consider this: what would your life be like had your stayed with your uncle? You would have remained his slave. You would have spent every waking moment at his beck and call. Without the Ishimuras you'd never have known what it means to be a part of a family. You would not know love or friendship."
"I was a servant in their house. They treated me no differently than my uncle."
"You are wrong. Being part of a family means responsibility. Everyone works and plays together. They treasured you, Kimiko. I saw it in Yusuke's eye when he saw you. He was happy to know you're alive. How can you despise those who've shown you the best years of your life?"
"They took my life away from me."
"You chose to go with Kenji. No one forced you."
"He betrayed me."
"You were too young to understand what you were getting into."
"His past destroyed my future. Were I not there that night you were born, I would never become a part of this. I would not have run into the night. I would have stayed home; safe. I would live the rest of my years in peace."
"A life of servitude to a man whom you did not love."
"My life is ruined."
"By a man named Saito. Not Kenji. It was his men who came to the house that night. Had it not been for his orders, you and my family would have been left alone. He is our enemy. Saito is the one trying to destroy everything we cherish. You have lost so much, Kimiko, but now is the chance to get some of it back. You've found Yusuke and now you have me. Let's find my father and together we can remove Saito from our lives forever."
"You think that by killing Saito we can go back to the way we were? Don't be a fool. When this is over you will return to Yamanouchi and Yusuke to…wherever it is he came from. Me? I will still be a wanderer. A stray dog no one wants but is more than willing to use."
Yori scanned her features. "You really hate us that much?"
"I hate…what you've done to me."
"I think you hate yourself."
"I think this conversation is over." Kimiko turned away. She took two steps before adding, "As are we. When we're finished with Saito I never want to see you, Yusuke, or any Ishimura ever again."
Yori could say nothing to that. A gentle wind kicked up, forcing her to cover her eyes. Kimiko's hair fluttered all over the place. The breeze became a strong wind. Yori looked up at a large shadow which slowly made its way down to them. It was a craft of some sort though she could discern no markings of any kind. The ship looked like a flying disk with two thrusters strapped to either side. It was green in color, hovering just some thirty feet above the ground. A hole appeared on the bottom at which a long, metallic ladder snaked on down. Yusuke's head, without the helmet, popped out of the opening.
"Sorry it took so long. I kind of forgot where I parked it." He scratched his head embarrassingly. "The cloaking system works both ways."
Kimiko grabbed a hold of the ladder. She looked at Yori with an unfriendly stare. "You coming? Or do you want me to carry you all the way to Saito's lair?"
The Ishimura girl got to her feet. Like it or not, she was stuck with her for the foreseeable future.
A manhole cover was lifted with considerable force. Tired hands pushed it to the side and then grabbed the sides to hoist its body out onto the street. Hirotaka was dirty and he breathed a sigh of relief, and exuberance, as his lungs inhaled fresh air. Not that the air in Tokyo was known for its freshness but it was much better than the putrid musk which permeated the sewers.
"Hiro move!" He felt someone smack him in the rear.
Pulling himself up, Hirotaka moved to the side to allow Hoshi passage. "No need to get fresh, Hoshi-san."
"Fresh is exactly what I want to get." She told him. "Air that is. Not you. You haven't smelled fresh since we met."
"I'll have you know that I bathe regularly."
"I was talking about those ointments you put on. Don't you know that most women prefer a man's natural musk?" She climbed out and sat herself parallel to Hiro on the other side of the manhole.
He gave her a flirtatious smile. "I'll remember that."
"Don't get any ideas," she told him. "Not that you have any good ones to begin with."
Hiro feigned pain: wincing with one eye closed and grabbing his chest where his heart would be.
"Ron, what is the freaking holdup?" Kim's irritated voice asked below.
"KP," Ron whispered. "I think they're having a lover's spat."
At that, Hoshi leaned her face back toward the manhole and said, "We are not lovers."
Ron chuckled down below. "Could have fooled me."
"Watch yourself, whiteboy."
Still laughing, Ron climbed up the ladder. Rufus poked his head out of his pocket and gasped. The little molerat had been holding his breath for most of the trip. Between human sweat and various assortments of feces and other things he didn't even want to guess, the dank smell of even a nearby garbage bin was pleasurable.
Kim was the last to come out and she quickly closed up the manhole. She wiped her hands of the whole ordeal. "Mission accomplished."
"Not quite. We still need to find Yori. Not to mention stop whatever it is Saito is trying to accomplish," Hiro said.
"Always worrying about bridges you've yet to cross." Hoshi stood herself up, regarding Kim with an amused stare.
"What?" The auburn-hair girl said.
"I have to say I'm impressed. The stories don't do you justice, Kim. May I call you Kim?"
"Team Possible always brings it's A game." Ron approached Hoshi, taking the time to slick back his hair and smile. "I don't believe we had the time to properly introduce ourselves. My name's Stoppable. Ronald Stoppable. But you can call me Ron."
"Mind if I call you Hosh?"
"Actually I do."
"I don't," Hiro quipped.
"You. Shut up."
Rufus crept up to Ron's shoulder. "Hello."
"This is Rufus."
Hoshi smiled at the hairless rodent. "Konnichiwa."
"Dozo Yoroshku." Rufus bowed.
Hoshi beamed. "Kawai!"
"I didn't know your friend spoke Japanese." Hiro regarded Rufus with newfound respect. "And with such eloquence."
"He picked it up back in Yamanouchi. Our teachers said he learned faster than any foreign student they ever taught."
"And that's not many," Hiro began. "If I recall correctly there has been only one non-Japanese student to ever study at Yamanouchi. I believe his name was…"
The Kimunicator went off. "Go Wade." Kim said once she beeped him on.
"Go," Hoshi said as she touched a finger to her earring.
"Good news, Kim. We were able to crack some of the info you sent us. Turns out Saito's been a busy man."
"He's building an army."
"A what now?" Ron blurted.
"A big one. I'd say it's almost the size of the JSDF."
"Japanese Self Defense Force, Ron." Kim turned back to Wade. "What's he planning?"
"Don't know yet. We haven't decoded all the files yet."
"People only build armies for one reason," Hiro explained. "And that's to start a war."
"But who's he going to war with?" Ron asked him. "Isn't he already the big sushi in the JU?"
"Japanese Underworld," Kim told Hiro.
"What kind of army we talking here, Wade?"
Wade typed something on his computer before looking back at Kim. He punched a key which brought up a display on the Kimunicator screen. Ron, Rufus, and Hiro got in close to have a look-see. Ron wasn't too keen on Hiro's proximity to Kim's face.
"Unlike anything I've ever seen," Wade's voice said while the screen showed pictures of something large and automated. "It's a robot army. These are only some of the models Saito has in construction at various instillations throughout the country." The models range from six-foot tall humanoid foot soldiers with beam weapons on their arms to towering, battle platforms brimming with guns. Some of the models are flying machines capable of shooting multiple missiles at once. One in particular resembled the synthetic robots they fought while trying to make their escape. "This is no joke, Kim. Saito has enough firepower to invade a small country. No criminal organization in history has ever been as armed to the teeth. Even Global Justice Headquarters would have a hard time repelling that kind of invasion force."
"The question is: who is he planning to invade?" Kim scratched her chin in thought. The idea of Saito possessing a force that powerful was very distressing. She'd been up against insurmountable odds before, but those were usually against second-rate villains with half-baked-take-over-the-world plots. Saito knew what he was doing. He had money, men, material, and worse of all, ambition.
"If I may offer up a suggestion…" Hirotaka spoke so that all eyes were on him. "Perhaps it is not what or where Saito plans to attack, but whom."
"You got a name?" Kim inquired.
"Just one. There is only one man powerful enough to defy Saito: Master Sensei."
"You think he's going to use this army to attack Yamanouchi?" She asked.
Ron became horrified. Yamanouchi had been his home away from home. The ninja there were like family to him. The more he thought about it, though, there were only three people in that ninja school that Ron would forever cherish: Yori, Hana, and Master Sensei—a would-be girlfriend, his little sister, and his very own Mr. Miyagi. "KP, we can't let that happen. Sensei has always been good to us—to me. If Yamanouchi's in danger then we got to warn him."
"It does seem like an awful lot of trouble just to destroy a secret ninja school. A simple air strike would suffice and from the look of this readout I think Saito can easily manage that."
"Do not underestimate us, Kim Possible," Hiro said, sounding a bit offended by her tone. "Yamanouchi's greatest strength lays not in its warriors or in its weapons, but the connections it has forged over the years. Sensei has trained the leaders of major corporations and men at the highest positions of government. Some of his students have even been known to start their own ninja schools, further adding to our numbers. With but a word, Sensei can rally a force that will equal Saito's own."
"What I mean is if you were building an army this big and with this much firepower, would you throw it all in an all or nothing attack against a secret ninja school hidden in the mountains? I doubt Saito knows all of Sensei's contacts. Even if he did succeed in leveling Yamanouchi, he can expect a retaliatory strike from Sensei's allies. That might expose his entire operation."
"Hm. You make a very good point, Kim." Ron glowered at Hiro's use of informality. "From what we know, Saito is not one to act so blatantly. He relies on subterfuge and quiet manipulation. These are skills Master Sensei understands better than he. Our master would know of a coming attack long before it happened and have prepared accordingly. Saito would face an enemy who knows the terrain and is dug in for a siege. Yamanouchi is a fortress as well as a school and we can hold out for weeks with our provisions."
"More than enough time for reinforcements to come and help."
"Okay that makes sense. Though he'll still have to deal with Sensei eventually."
"Only when he is in a stronger position than he is now."
"Looks to me like he's not far from it, Hirotaka," Wade's face came back on the screen. He looked more worried than Kim had ever seen him. She wondered what more could he have seen on those files to unnerve him so. Wade was usually more in control than she when it came to missions. Course that probably came with being safe inside his room while she was out in the trenches. "By my calculations, if production continues at this rate, he'll have an army big enough to overrun the country by the end of the week. By next week, that army will rival China. The week after that," his eyes widened. "We're talking a lot of robots, Kim. A LOT of robots."
Her eyes narrowed. "Where could he have gotten the power base to build so many of these things?"
Kim followed the voice to Hoshi who was standing with her back to her and the boys. "Who better equipped to build a robot army than the toy master himself?" All three followed her gaze to a soaring building that literally scraped the sky. "Nakasumi."
"The Diablo guy?" Ron's eyebrow went up. "Kay hold up! Why would the man responsible for making children's toys and some bomb-diggity video games go and help some criminal mastermind build an army of robots?"
"Let's find out. Wade, see what you can dig up on Nakasumi's operations over the past year. Also, see if you can put me through to the head honcho himself."
"Already on it, Kim."
"It still does not make sense." Hoshi was shaking her head slowly. "I asked Yori that same question two days back. Saito may be using Nakasumi Industries to build his army but it still doesn't explain why. Why would Nakasumi-san do this unless," Hoshi's eyes widened. Hoshi reared her head back toward Hiro. "Hirotaka! You don't think…"
He seemed to grasp onto her way of thinking. "The man in the basement."
Kim and Ron exchanged confused looks.
"Nakasumi-san would never help Saito on purpose."
"Perhaps he didn't have a choice."
"And we stumbled onto it."
"Guys," Ron started. "You're not making a lot of sense. And you're speaking English this time."
"Forgive us, Team Possible. A great deal has happened before your timely rescue. There is much you need to know."
"Right." Hoshi agreed. "But now here. Let's go."
"Where are you going?" Kim asked but Hoshi was already moving out of the backstreet and towards the nearest corner. Her prison clothes were dirty and she had stains all over them. Even with her attractive features she'd have a hard time hailing a cab which it appeared she was trying to do.
"What are you doing?" Hiro asked as they came up behind her. "You've any idea how difficult it is to get a taxi in Tokyo?"
As if by magic, a taxi came barreling down the street and came to a complete stop in front of them. "I told IT we'd need a ride." She opened up the back. "Hop in!" Her cheerful tone belied their serious situation and it never ceased to amaze Hiro how quickly her moods would change. It was like she has a switch that she flips on and off at will.
Ron was eager to comply. His feet were killing him after all that fighting and running and quite frankly he needed to sit. "KP! They've got TV back here!"
Kim rolled her eyes.
"After you, Kim." Hiro stepped aside to let her pass but Ron stopped her.
"Whoa! Kim, you go first." Ron glared at Hiro. "Someone's got to be the middle man."
Still rolling her eyes, Kim went in first followed by her BFBF. Hiro looked at Hoshi. "I take it you will be sitting up front?"
"Three's a crowd, Hiro-chan. Sides, it's my cab. I call shotgun."
Being an island, Japan's coastline is dotted with commercial properties. The overwhelming majority are involved with two things: trade and fishing. The Japanese have a long history of fishing but due to due to an over consumption which led to most of the nation's fish population to shrivel and disappear, and with the market economy being the way it is today, numerous fisheries closed down. Abandoned, they became suitable places for those who want to hide.
The cab dropped them off at the main gate to the fishery. Money had been wired to their fare via IT though the cabbie didn't know how. Not that he cared. He was only too happy to drop off his customers because they were stinking up his cab. What's more, the teens wouldn't stop talking excitedly about something or other. Not understanding English, he couldn't tell just what had them so heated up, but the racket was annoying the hell out of him. The girl up front asked him to drive them to an area on the outskirts of Tokyo in an old commercial district which had seen better days.
Once he left, Hiro, Hoshi, Ron, Kim, and Rufus stood alone on a horror movie set piece.
"Where are we?" Kim didn't like the setup. They were too exposed. She didn't much like the way she smelled either. Maybe she'd try one of those hot springs Japan was so famous for. There is no way she'd go home on a trans-Pacific flight smelling like this.
"Hoshi?" Crossing his arms, Hirotaka eyed his female companion suspiciously. "What is this place?"
"This is where I live." She told them while she approached the gate. The gate itself was chained up and there was a DO NOT ENTER sign written in both English and Japanese.
"You live here?"
"Come on." Trained legs and reflexes allowed Hoshi to scale the gate like a small lizard up a tree. She landed safely on the other side with the grace of a ballet dancer.
Hiro puffed out one cheek but followed suit. Kim went soon after. Only Ron and Rufus were left stuck on the other side.
"Oh right. Make it look easy."
"It is easy, Ron."
"For those of us not trained in the mystical art of cheer-jitsu, it is not," Ron countered. On his shoulder, Rufus, urged him on. "Yeah, you're right. I was trained to be a ninja. Shouldn't be too hard."
"That a boy."
Stepping back, Ron rubbed his hands together, eyes focused solely on the gate itself. Ron ran full speed. His naked molerat suddenly didn't seem so confident anymore as he held on tightly to Ron's sleeve. Two steps from the gate and he braced for impact. On the other side, the three teens cringed. Ron didn't make it up half the gate but succeeded in colliding with it full force. He slid to the ground and remained there. Rufus hopped off and tried to resuscitate his friend.
"Is he okay?" Hiro asked Kim. "Because he looks dead."
"Ron!" Kim knelt down. "Are you okay? Ron!"
Ron opened his eyes. "That…was just…a practice run."
"I'd say practice makes perfect, but at this rate he won't survive the ordeal," Hoshi commented.
Kim glared at her. "Ron can make the jump just fine."
"In how many tries?"
"He can make it."
"Perhaps we should let him try it again, Hoshi." Hiro said and was pulled off to the side by Hoshi. "What?" He asked, seeing her face.
"Don't you think it's a little odd seeing them together?"
"How do you mean?"
Hoshi glanced back where Ron was slowly climbing up the gate with Kim and Rufus urging him on. "They just seem mismatched. Kim Possible is everything I thought she would be, but this Ron guy,"
"Ron Stoppable," He corrected.
"Yeah that. He's just…I don't know."
"Unorthodox is the word I'd use. Seeing him in action, it's a wonder he survived fighting beside Kim. How does she stand his clumsiness?"
"The same way I stand your unpleasant remarks. By recognizing that each member of our team possesses a skill that is necessary to the success of our mission. You, Yori, and I work well together despite a few disagreements. We escaped with the aid of Team Possible. Our abilities may differ but in the end we must rely on them if we want any chance of defeating Saito."
"I don't need a lecture, Hiro."
"I should think you of all people would appreciate the irony. You are a chaotic element, Hoshi. I've said this to you before. When Yori and I first met you at the airport I knew you'd be nothing but trouble. I thought you'd be a hindrance to our effectiveness as a team and jeopardize our chances of success. Overtime," he admitted grudgingly. "I have to say that you've proven me wrong. Despite a few missteps, you've proven you can be a reliable, if annoying, addition to our team. Without your assistance and that of your friend IT, we would not have made it this far. I think that you and Ron Stoppable have a great deal more in common than you think. My advice is to not to be so judgmental until you see him in action. He did find that control room and if it wasn't for that we wouldn't have discovered Saito's plans. I believe that constitutes some measure of respect."
Back at the gate, Ron looped his legs over the top and went over. After a couple of seconds dangling, he landed with a thud on his feet. Kim wrapped her arms around him.
"Kim Possible seems to believe in him."
"She's his girlfriend."
Hiro looked at her. "You are not mine. Yet I believe in you."
Hoshi felt herself blush at the compliment. She turned away.
"Is something wrong?"
"I am not a bumbling fool."
"But you're my fool," he joked.
At that, Hoshi angrily turned away; leaving Hiro looking like he'd just crossed a line. "Was it something I said?"
The night was cool and the air was colder thanks to the ocean. The four teens plus the molerat made their way to one of the many empty warehouses on the far end of the docks. Inside, rows of conveyer belts and hooks lined the warehouse proper. The smell of fish still lingered in the air and there was old blood stains mixed with melted ice along the floor.
Kim pinched her nose while Hoshi took point; leaving the boys by the main entrance.
"It always seems this way, doesn't it?"
"What?" Ron asked Hiro who spoke to him all of a sudden.
He motioned toward the girls. "The females take up the lead while we bring up the rear."
"What? Kim? She's always the leader."
"And that does not bother you?"
"Dude. She's Kim Possible. She can do anything."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Where does that leave Ron Stoppable? Are you comfortable always living in her shadow?"
Ron took a moment to gaze at Kim. It was a fine shadow to live under, of that he had no objections. "What's your point?"
"It seems to me that Kim leads and you follow. Normally in a partnership, team players take turns leading. From what I've observed, you are always just following." He then asked, "Are you and her equal partners?"
"Kim and I have been best friends since Pre-K. We've done everything together. I trust KP with my life and I know that she feels the same."
"You did not answer my question. Are you equal partners?"
Ron's face became stern. "Yes we are."
But Hiro did not look convinced. "I believe there is a discrepancy."
Rufus whispered something into Ron's ear.
"Oh." His eyes narrowed. "What are you getting at?"
"I respect you, Ron Stoppable. Your reputation in Yamanouchi is one of a great warrior hero. Yori speaks highly of you as does Master Sensei. The more I heard their praise, the more I've wanted to meet you, Ron Stoppable."
"Dude. Stop using my full name. Just call me Ron."
"As you wish." He bowed his head before continuing. "Now that I've had the chance to meet you and fight beside you, I have come to a conclusion: Kim Possible does not see you as her equal."
Ron felt his hands ball into fists. "What does that mean?"
"How can one who has obtained such praise from so many warriors be treated like some…" He searched for the right word. "Sidekick? I see the way she commands you. She treats you like a subordinate. Why do you allow this? Surely you do not take her patronizing lightly."
"Kim respects me."
"As her second, yes. But not as her equal."
"You don't know anything, Hirotaka. And speaking of patronizing, let's talk about you and Hoshi. I think I know who the alpha is in that group." Ron crossed his arms smugly as if he had turned the table on Hirotaka. But the ninja did not take offense.
"Hoshi can be difficult to work with at times. She had I have do not always get along. However, our barbs are only playful bantering. We are comrades. We do more than rely on one another in a fight, we respect each other."
"Could have fooled me."
"I believe that no one accomplishes that better than you, Ron-san."
Ron became angry. "Hirotaka, you are pushing it. Don't act like you know anything about KP and me. We are a team. We save the world. Can you say the same? I don't think so." He narrowed his glare. "Know what I think? I think you're jealous. You had a crush on KP and now that she's mine you can't stand to see us together. Well tough luck. She loves me. Whatever chance you thought you had with her is long gone. Say sayonara, my friend, because your ship has sailed."
"I'm afraid you have it all wrong, Ron-san. In my time in Middleton I not once tried to woo Kim Possible. Instead, it was she who displayed flirty affections toward me."
Not believing him, Ron took major offense. "You're out of line, buddy."
"I am being serious. Kim approached me. While I must admit she was then and still is an attractive girl, I had no interest in her. Besides, back then I already had a girlfriend. Nothing came out of that relationship and I believe I was only a trophy to her. That is not to say I did not feel the same way about her. American girls tend to spend so much time on their looks that they forget to develop personality."
Realizing he had strayed from the topic at hand, Hiro went back to his original point. "Forgive me if my words seem offensive. My intention is not to insult but to understand. I find myself in a supportive role many times when I am with Yori. She is Yamanouchi's top student. She, however, never treats me with the same dismissive attitude as Kim does you. It is as if you've accepted it as your destiny to forever walk behind her and not with her. Is there some reason why you do not assert yourself?"
Ron appeared caught off guard by his words. Rufus looked between them. The molerat was supportive of Ron but he did not like the feeling he was getting from him. He can feel the tension building in Ron's body. Rufus did not want to be in the middle of a fight should it come down to it, though he would always throw his support behind Ronald. At least he could scratch Hiro's eyes out.
"Look, I think I know what you're trying to say, but the truth is I'm happy just being the sidekick. Some people laugh at me. They think I'm unimportant. Sidekicks always get that rap. Nobody takes us serious until we step up. So I'm the man behind the woman. So what? I've fought beside Kim against some of the meanest bad guys on the planet. I have arch foes. I've beaten them too. I may not be that smart but my wits have always seen me through. I can't fight well, that doesn't stop me from trying. I'm a bit slow. Come trouble I can't be there fast enough."
Rufus noticed Ron calming down. The molerat settled as well for he was ready to pounce on Hiro at a moment's notice.
Hirotaka listened to Ron speak. He wanted to better understand Ron. His unfamiliarity with foreigners put him at a disadvantage. The time he spent with Hoshi he came to realize just how little he knew her. She was half-American. Ron and Kim were outsiders. They lived in a different world than he and Yori. Time and again their talents would prove invaluable. For them to work better as a team, Hiro felt it best he try to understand their points of view. Their philosophies. Why they do the things they do? The way they talk, act, and think. It was all about finding harmony.
And it wasn't often one got to speak with a warrior hero.
Ron lowered his voice and his gaze. "I don't mean to sound angry. Kim is very important to me and when I hear people talk about us like we're not meant to be—I just get…frustrated."
"I never meant to imply that. Forgive me."
"Look it's fine."
"Yes." Ron said with finality. There was an awkward silence between them when he said, "So there really wasn't anything between you and Kim?"
"On my honor, Ron Stoppable."
There was a moment of tension before Ron smiled. "Call me Ron."
"If you call me Hiro."
And you can all me relieved, Rufus thought with a wipe of his furless brow.
"Guys!" Kim called from ahead. "Over here."
The group gathered by a door on the far end. Hoshi opened it to reveal a storage closet filled with knives and hooks.
"Everybody in," Hoshi ordered and closed the door behind them. "You guys are careless. If I had been one of Saito's henchmen, you would all be dead right now. How do you willingly walk into a room full of sharp objects without at least waiting for me to go in first?"
"We trust you, Hoshi."
"You trust anything with a double X chromosome, Hiro."
"Hoshi, what are we doing here?" Kim asked. She backed away from a particularly curved object.
"I'm about to show you where I keep my things." She went over to the back where she then pulled a hook with a trident tip. The wall gave way to reveal a stairway. Lights automatically lit up along the downward path which curved out of sight and to the right. "Let's go." Hoshi took the lead this time, walking casually down the stairs. Her friends followed and nearly jumped when the wall slammed shut behind them.
The trek down was uneasy for those not familiar with it. A hidden camera watched their progress. The descent ended with a bare steel wall with no apparent opening. On the corner there was a small pad. Hoshi placed her thumb on the pad and waited for her print to be scanned. The wall slid away so fast it was like it had been ripped aside.
"Welcome to my crib."