Warning: This story will eventually be Kigo, and elements of said Kim/Shego goodness are present in this chapter. If you don't like that sort of thing, please read no more. Also, me writing Kigo fanfiction doesn't necessarily mean I despise Ron Stoppable or any other characters in the show. This pairing just happens to be my (absolute) favorite.

Disclaimer: I don't own Kim Possible. Kim, Shego, Ron, Wade, Drakken, and all the rest are copyright to Disney, Bob Schooley, and Mark McCorkle.

Stranded: Mutation

"Dr. Possible?"

It was one of the nurses. Jenna, Dr. Possible realized as she leaned away from her patient to look at the woman standing in the OR doorway. Jenna worked at the front desk and had three children. Very cute children. Joey would be turning five within the week, blowing out an exaggerated amount of candles on a cake with chocolate frosting, because chocolate was his favorite. Jenna had said so once over coffee.

One of Dr. Possible's helpers mopped up the line of stitches upon which the woman was working. She only had a few more to go. Holding up a finger to Jenna to indicate her task would only take another moment or so, Dr. Possible returned her attention to her patient and tried to suppress the feelings of worried nausea that were starting up a game of volleyball in her abdomen. She tried to think of pleasant things, of her husband's smile in the morning and of the rocketship drawings taped helter-skelter to her refrigerator—of her Kimmie posing for pictures in the hall with that nice young boy that had eventually turned out to be a sack of filthy goo, quite literally.

She finished the last stitch and stood back with the softest of frowns; her gaze went immediately to Jenna. Dr. Possible tugged off her gloves and disposed of them in the nearest waistbin before she approached the woman, all too aware of the nurse's white face, quivering hands, quick respiration. Knowing that she was about to receive bad news, Dr. Possible took a deep breath, reached out to grasp her friend's arm, and guided her over to the nearest chair. Once Jenna had been settled, Dr. Possible knelt before her and asked in what she hoped sounded like a confident voice, "What is it, Jenna?"

The nurse looked up at Dr. Possible and bit her lip. After a moment, however, she folded her hands over her knees with a sigh and told the woman, "I just received a call from that Global Justice place Kim works for, Dr. Possible. They wanted to speak to you, but I told them you had a patient…" Trailing off, the woman floundered. Dr. Possible tipped her head in a display of patience despite the urgency gnawing at her insides. Something was terribly, terribly wrong—she knew it. The sirens of her woman's intuition were screaming.

"Yes, Jenna?" she prompted.

"It's Kim's friend Ron," Jenna blurted. "They have him in custody. He's been hurt—a few burns, they said, and a broken leg, nothing really serious… But Kim isn't with him."

Dr. Possible's heart sank like a stone between her collarbones. She imagined, for a horrible fleeting second, a cherrywood casket and roses drying in the sun and the sobs of her twins and husband in the background, but banished the thought with the firm resolution of a mother who has a very strong faith in the abilities of her offspring. Around the lump in her throat she found herself querying, her words soft, "What did they say about Kim? What did Ron say about Kim?"

Jenna hesitated. Frowning deeply now, Dr. Possible clasped the woman by her upper arms and demanded, struggling not to shake the befuddled nurse, "Jenna. Tell me."

"Ron described an avalanche. Global Justice is looking—and they'll keep looking," the nurse added as though to soothe Dr. Possible, who tightened her hands at the word avalanche. "But they haven't found Kim yet, or that villain girl—"

"Shego's with her?" Dr. Possible interrupted her friend, recalling to memory the list of villains her daughter fought. She remembered a smirking young woman in a tight green and black bodysuit. A young woman with glowing hands.

The nurse gave a harried nod of recognition. "That was her name, yes. Global Justice said Ron told them he saw Shego and Kim fighting before the avalanche happened."

Dr. Possible released the nurse and pressed her face into her hands, making intimate friends with the lines of her palms before she lifted her head and stated quietly, "Then my Kimmie's got a good chance of coming out of this alive. Excuse me, Jenna—I have to go call my husband."

"Dr. Possible?" Jenna inquired, standing so quickly that Kim's mother knew she'd gotten over her shock. The nurse did, after all, have more important things to worry about: her son's impending birthday party being the first. Endless goodie bags, candle color choices, party hats, paper plates with dogs printed on them, streamers, decorations—all of it, a whirl of color and happiness and laughter and parental pride. Dr. Possible regarded her friend with a warmly tolerant gaze. She didn't blame Jenna in the least for having part of her mind on her home life.

"Yes?"

"Aren't you worried that Kim might be alone somewhere with a villain?"

Dr. Possible carefully considered her response. A conscious individual since birth, the brain surgeon was entirely against giving off the wrong impression through words; she usually kept her opinion to herself unless lecturing her children. Now, however, she exhaled thinly behind her paper mask and offered to her friend, "If she is alone with Shego, I feel comforted knowing she's with a capable person. Shego's a girl after Kim's own heart—trained in survival skills, stubborn, and passionate about what she does. I don't really think of her as a villain."

Smiling faintly once she was finished, Dr. Possible nudged past the nurse and quickened her pace to clear the OR doors. She pretended not to hear Jenna's faint musing of, "…but isn't Shego the green-handed one that knocks down buildings?" and kept a straight face even walking past the reception desk, where the other secretarial nurses gave her looks of mingled sympathy and encouragement. It was almost as though they expected Kim to be dead already—dead in the snow, dead in the cold, buried beneath a glistening white expanse that looked suspiciously like cake icing. Smiling falsely back at them, she walked until she found an empty lounge containing a pay phone and slipped in two obliging quarters, not even bothering to remove her mask as she asked to speak with her husband.

"Hi, honey!" her husband greeted her in his usual exuberant manner from the other end of the line after a short pause. Dr. Possible knew immediately that Global Justice hadn't gotten to him yet, and no small wonder—she could hear the roar of engines in the background. "What's up?"

"I need you to get us a plane," Dr. Possible told her husband quietly. Her mask felt like cardboard against her lips, rasping faintly, and she tugged it away at last to murmur, feeling a lump rising in her throat again, "Something's happened."

She spent the next few minutes updating her husband on what she knew and giving him the number to Global Justice, since he needed to know just where to direct their flight and what, if any, information they were lacking. Dr. Possible fully intended to engage in the search for her daughter—and her husband was coming with her, he declared firmly. She could almost hear him gathering his wits on the other end of the line, dragging his every fiber of confidence together to murmur to her just before they mutually hung up, "It'll be okay, dear. I'll take care of everything—and I'll be there soon."

Dr. Possible held the receiver in her hand until it began to click and beep irritably, and only when it asked her in a plaintive monotone for another quarter did she hang it up, fingers tensed about the sleek black handle. Biting her lips from the inside, she drew back slowly and moved to settle on the single couch in the lounge, glad for once that no one was here, that no one was present to see the tears begin to stream down her cheeks, drip from her chin, run down her throat to leave soft gray spots on the collar of her scrubs, her heart, her soul—glad that no one could see she was helpless, paralyzed with worry for the child for whom she worried day in and day out, the light of her life, the red-haired apple of her eye.

As she waited for her husband to arrive, Dr. Possible dropped her face anxiously into her hands and sobbed.

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Kim Possible knew she'd been walking for hours.

She knew this because the glowstick, which was reputed to have a life of at least eight hours, had given out as a reliable light source at least three hours before now. She'd kept it with her, however, treasuring its faint and waning lumination, and had continued on into the darkness with a will. Limp strands of hair clung to her cheeks and forehead as she trudged almost mindlessly onward, her footsteps echoing in the chamber around them; she could feel her fingers bleeding, having been idly tracing over the wall at her side to keep herself both going in the same direction and from walking off onto a diverging path.

Her stomach ached with hunger, but she refused to eat any of their meager supplies under the pretense that she should spread them as far as possible between both she and Shego—and that Shego needed them more than she did. Her tongue was swollen in her mouth, and she found it nearly impossible to swallow now—not that she had anything of liquid measure to swallow. Snow had long since disappeared from beneath her feet, and the tunnel was just as empty as the heads of most high school quarterbacks, she thought in absent misery.

She'd been following the feeble trail of cold, crisp air along the far right side of the tunnel. She'd already encountered several forks and had waited quietly at each one, her head thrust forward, wetting her lips repeatedly until she felt the quiver of the breeze against them. Her shoulders were beginning to scream from the pressure of the straps; she'd eased out of her harness many times to skitter backward to check on Shego, who proved to be an alarmingly silent, still, and rather deep sleeper. The woman gave her not even the slightest bit of acknowledgement whenever Kim lightly tapped her cheeks and lips, fearing that she'd hurt and break anything else if she touched it—she would've thought Shego dead if the woman's pulse hadn't been strong at both the wrist and throat, a stubborn drum beneath the pale skin.

Kim stumbled now, sank to her knees, and lowered her head with a soft moan of frustration. In a rare display of temper she slammed her fists into the solid rock floor, moan increasing to a snarl, baring her teeth against the darkness and the cold and the blood seeping from beneath her fingernails, ignoring the dull spike of pain that lanced up through each of her wrists. "You won't beat me," she growled softly. She could barely make out of the shape of her bangs hanging in front of her eyes.

Gazing at this shape through somewhat blurry vision, Kim found her lips curving up into a smile despite the situation. What a fashion crisis, she mused, and reached up to paw at the lank hair in bemusement. Bonnie would have a field day if she ever saw me like this.

The sounds of her frustration died off into the abysmal darkness of the cave. Kim rested, listening intently to the hitching rhythm of Shego's breathing—she allowed herself a full five minutes of no progress, her hands splayed on her knees and her head bowed forward. Only when her eyelids began to droop did she begin to force herself upright again, thrusting her left palm forward to brace with it. She shrieked in startlement when her fingers plunged directly into the frigid wetness of a body of water, and it took her a moment of shaking those fingers in irritation before she realized the importance of her find. Breath sobbing out in relief, Kim wriggled out of the straps once more and crawled forward to gingerly dip a hand into the water both willingly and experimentally, letting her fingers splay beneath the surface.

It was deep, she found, and possessed a strong current. When she listened closely she could hear the certain shhuuuusssh of water against rock—she could hear it gurgling in the walls, the laughter and lifeblood of the mountain. Rolling up her sleeve as far as it would go, Kim sank her arm into the water and stretched her fingers down, grinning when her fingers brushed the smooth stone and sediment of the bottom of the stream. She cupped her fingers and carefully drew a handful of the icy liquid to her lips, sniffed it, and tipped it in supreme wariness to her lips for the smallest taste.

She soon parted her lips to take an entire mouthful, slanting her eyes shut in bliss. It's heaven, she thought as the liquid ran over her swollen tongue and down her sticky throat; she was finally able to clear it, turning her head to the side to spit, washing out her mouth several times since brushing her teeth was an impossibility. Only after she felt as though the carcass of whatever had crawled into her mouth and died was gone did she drink, measuring each swallow strictly to quell the distressed roilings of her angry stomach. She washed her face, gasping at the temperature of the water—and then she looked at Shego, biting her lips and tucking her hands beneath her underarms to warm them for a moment.

Feeling and sensation slowly crept back into her hands. Kim flexed them and rubbed them for a bit, then rolled forward to crawl over to the parachute cocoon. She seized the edge and carefully dragged the entire thing, Shego and all, over to the stone bank of the stream, crooking her legs as she sat at her enemy's head and gazed down through the darkness at the pale face of the woman who had given her such grief over the years.

Shego didn't look vicious when she slept. At least, Kim didn't think she looked vicious—she couldn't really see Shego to amount to much, what with the glowstick on its very last legs and exhaustion making her vision spin. She knew, however, that Shego's characteristic sneer was gone, leaving the dark lips in a shallow, completely unobnoxious curve. As she dipped her hand into the water again and delicately slid the other into her enemy's raven hair to tip up the woman's head against her knee, Kim reflected that it might just be possible for Shego to be human too.

It took a few minutes—and several unsuccessful dribbles down Shego's chin, which Kim hastily mopped up lest the woman feel the coldness, come awake, and cleave her in two—for Kim to get Shego to open her mouth. As she siphoned liquid down the pale throat, stroking it now and again to ensure the woman swallowed, Kim closed her eyes and struggled to suppress the dark flowers of exhaustion blooming in the fields of her consciousness. She could feel her entire body drooping in a unified protest against walking anymore, against trudging through the darkness like a sled dog without any real destination in sight, and she ran her thumb over Shego's lips to dry them with a soft hiss of indecision. To wait meant to risk it—risk it all, risk dying down here, risk losing Shego's legs forever, risk losing the opportunity to ever see her family and friends. To go on meant… well, eventual collapse, and where would that get them?

I need to sleep. Kim looked down at the woman whose head rested so quietly in her lap and frowned. Guilt nibbled at the edges of her mind, ever present, relentless, and it was with something like awe that Kim cupped Shego's cheek and turned her head again, just the slightest bit, to squint and gaze at the bruise around the woman's eye. It was beginning to go down a bit. She'll be able to open that eye when she wakes up, Kim thought confidently, then swallowed hard when the adjacent musing surfaced: If she wakes up at all.

Berating herself for thinking such things, Kim guided the glowstick down Shego's body. The lumps of Shego's feet were visible at the end of the parachute cocoon, both entirely still. What's she going to do when we get out of here? Kim found herself wondering. She can't be a villain anymore—or, at least, not a villain like she was before. No more sneaking into buildings, no more martial arts…

As though reading her mind, Shego tipped her head in Kim's lap and exhaled thinly, a sigh of mixed regret and pain. Kim froze as the woman, likely seeking warmth, rolled her head and began to nuzzle her way along the inside of the superhero's knee and lower thigh, lips parting to release a rather raspy, grated sound in soft, lulling intervals.

Shego's purring, Kim realized, curving her hand over the dark skull. The thought was quickly followed by the irrational musing of, I'm glad she likes me.

Kim paused.

Does Shego like me? Kim wondered. She saved my life because I'm 'worth it' to her, whatever that means—but we aren't friends. We've never been friends. Settling back in the darkness, Kim was surprised to feel a stab of regret between her collarbones stronger, sharper, and far more painful than a roundhouse kick. It flooded her mouth with a bitter, metal taste; it nearly made her gag, and she rubbed the spot ruefully, wishing with a peculiar bit of her soul that she and Shego were friends. I'll bet she'd be fun to shop with, Kim found herself pondering. If I could actually keep her from stealing… She'd be honest about whether or not something looked good on me.

The teen superhero fought the darkness pressing in against her on all sides by imagining herself standing outside a dressing room with Shego in Club Banana, Kim modeling a dress before a full-length mirror whilst Shego critically examined the notch and fall of every seam. She imagined the dark lips of her enemy twisting into a soft frown in the mirror above her shoulder, imagined the villainess reaching out to pinch a bit of fabric above the soft swell of a hip to murmur, phantom voice faint between her temples, Not your color, princess. You should try green.

"Right," Kim muttered to herself. The word echoed faintly in the cavern around her, bouncing off the walls, skimming over the surface of the frigid stream to her left, and it was to the faint reverberation that she responded, sinking slowly against the nearby wall with Shego's head in her lap, "She'd never go shopping with me. She doesn't like me. She can't—she's a villainess. She's… well, she's Shego."

Not to mention any store in the Middleton mall would be flooded with security guards the moment Shego put a toe over the threshold. Kim frowned, reaching up to rub her forehead—she could hardly believe she was thinking about taking a shopping trip with her nemesis anyway, a nice little frolic back home that would never, could never happen. Shego was her enemy; they fought like cats; they despised each other.

Kim stilled her fingers and slowly closed her eyes, letting her hand fall to twine it with the other in her lap. That's not true, she found herself musing. The thought occurred to her as a simple revelation, the same way the notion occurs to a small child that asparagus really doesn't taste all that bad—it just looks funny. Kim Possible found no hatred in herself for any one being: not for any of the snooty cheerleaders she commanded or the villains she fought, not for Bonnie or Drakken or Monkeyfist. And especially no hatred for Shego, the villainess who'd pressed a foot to her throat on the mountain and had demanded to see in Kim a love for life, who'd pulled her close as the world around them surged to eradicate everything in a wave of white.

Maybe she doesn't like me, but I… well. I guess she's all right, Kim allowed, and couldn't keep a wry smile from flickering over her lips. "Ron would so freak," she breathed aloud. Her voice sounded alien in the cave. Faint, soft, it reverberated against the walls and across the stream and into nothingness, leaving her with only the grating hiss of Shego's purr for company.

Kim touched her cheek to the wall of the tunnel and exhaled slowly, thinly, then slanted her eyes open the tiniest bit and looked down at Shego through the quivering blinds of her eyelashes. Lacing her fingers through the dark hair and caressing as she might for a friend in the crisis of boy trouble, the teen superhero kept her eyes on her nemesis until her vision blurred and bled and went black, and knew no more but for a dreamless sleep punctuated by the sensation of falling, falling fast and far into the darkness with cold arms clamped about her waist.

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Coming out of sleep was like swimming toward the surface of an ocean from a great depth. Shego paddled desperately with her arms toward the light barrier, her lungs and every muscle in her body screaming for air, her hair drifting in a tangling black web about her face. Her legs were dead beneath her, dragging her down, leaden weights of incredible uselessness; her blood drummed in her ears like the repetitive and staggered rumble of distant thunder. A cramp seized her chest and she parted her lips at last, unable to help it—she sucked in a lungful of seawater, certain she was going to drown, certain the light barrier was going to spiral away into darkness—

A rush of oxygen brought Shego bursting out of sleep and dreams. The ocean around her disappeared in an explosion of green light and a sensation not of drowning, but of painful liquid fire pressing into her from the waist down, twining from navel to pubic bone to knees to shins to ankles to the very tips of her toes. She felt like throwing up and crying and screaming all at once, but her heart leapt into her throat and she gagged instead. Her hands curled into fists in the air above her thighs, both of them ablaze with a bonfire of plasma. And it wasn't just them: her entire body burned, roasted, surged with energy that was supposed to remain in her hands, with tongues of leaping green flame and dancing tendrils of searing heat specked with black matter.

The numbness below her waist was gone, nothing but a memory, and Shego knew the paralysis was too when her legs buckled up beneath her and began to spasm under the flames. She could feel the ripple of every muscle she'd ever used and then some—the pain was almost too much. She couldn't gather enough breath to scream, and the world around her was a mix of flickering shadows and eerie emerald light thrown from her own twisting, quivering form. She saw Kim's face above her, saw the girl's eyes snap open as she writhed in the teen superhero's lap. Too bad I can't enjoy it, Shego thought fleetingly, irrationally, and turned her head to thrust her face into the curve of Kim's stomach. Her teeth chattered in her mouth, and her skin felt almost white-hot under the strict confines of her bodysuit: it felt like it was bubbling, cooking away, evaporating in the plasma.

She was literally boiling herself into nonexistence, and she had no idea how to stop.

She vaguely heard Kim yelp as her gloves melted for the second time in just a few hours. The superhero, who'd reached in to foolishly twine hands with her, jerked back and tried to shake away the plastic and nylon that dripped from Shego's palms onto hers, no better than butter in a microwave. The rancid smell of burning flesh wafted to the nostrils of the villainess. Her stomach flipflopped and somersaulted, disturbed; Shego experienced an instant's concern for Kim and wished, more than anything, for a first aid kit.

Shego felt Kim lurch away from her still more. Her head fell out of the teen's lap and onto the parachute and the hard stone floor of the cave, and when her raven temple struck the latter, stars flared into sharp relief at the edges of her vision. She finally found breath enough in her body to scream, but her exhale came out a wail instead, a hoarse sob of words far more revealing than first intended. Fear of abandonment seethed in her—Shego didn't want to be alone while she died, please no, please not here in the darkness and fire and burning, not in the flames she knew were borne of her own blood, from a meteor and mutations she couldn't begin to understand.

"Kimmienononopleasedon'tLEAVE!" she half-howled, half-sobbed, and added on for good measure after drawing in another rattling breath, all sense of pride lost in the fierce crackle of plasma and energy, "HELP!"

Shego saw Kim kneel a few feet away, a shadow in the haze of green; there was a faint hissing sound and a glint of silvery-shine. Water, Shego thought giddily. It's water—Kimmie found water and she's got her hands in it, got her hands in it because I burned them, I burned them and I'm burning now too and it hurts and please, make it stop, Kimmie make it stop make it stop please I don't want it KIM—

Kim spun on her heel to seize the edge of the parachute, cried out something unintelligible—Shego felt one of the girl's burned hands sink into her hair before was tipped, parachute and all, twitching and shuddering and burning alive, into a mind-numbing cocoon of liquid and darkness.

Parts of her brain formerly occupied by pain came into hazy focus as the plasma on her body winked out. Bubbles fizzled into her foggy vision, and she bit her lips from the inside to keep herself from breathing. The sensation of being roasted like a turkey on Thanksgiving diminished just as quickly as it had come upon her, and she quivered and drifted in the heaven of numbness and cold, hardly deigning to care as pins and needles swept through her limbs. Kimmie put me in the water, she mused, and slanted her eyes against the temperature. She got the gumption. I'm alive—I can feel my legs. And my plasma… She swallowed, noting the absence of the emerald energy in her hands. It's gone for now…

Her lungs ached in her chest, reminding her that oxygen was vital to survival, that she couldn't stay forever in the wonderland of wetness and fading pain. Besides, it was getting frigid rather quickly—Shego's more primitive instincts urged her to kick her legs, to battle the current tugging at her hair, her face, the parachute undulating about her person like a great tan jellyfish. And then there was the hand in her hair, tugging so fiercely it made her grit her teeth: Kim's hand, trying to guide her back to the surface, to keep the link between them whole.

Agony lanced through Shego's lower half at the first kick, but it was a kick, MOVEMENT, and she rejoiced despite the pain. She tried again, and again, and again, pressing up into the hand in her hair. She felt in herself a fear that the flames would come back when she surfaced again: she worried the plasma would devour her as it had her gloves. There was a rising horror in her strong form. Suppose she melted in her own power when she hit open air? Suppose she'd regained her legs only to have them scalded away again—

Kim gave a mighty heave and, following her protesting scalp with a string of mental cursing, Shego surged against a slippery stone bank and scrabbled for purchase. Her hands were tangled in sodden parachute; she barked her knuckles against the rock and felt her lips curve into her characteristic snarl, a desperate expression. She spat and gagged and choked the moment she felt air against her cheeks, partly because she needed to breathe and partly because the shock of the cold let her do nothing otherwise—water streamed from her hair and ears and down the nape of her neck. She tensed in panic, expecting to go up in flames or plasma or some sort of emerald inferno, but the power in her hands grumbled placidly and her legs only screamed at her, a pain with which she was familiar but not afraid.

There was no more burning. No more agony—no fear of death by fire.

Spent, Shego collapsed onto the bank of the stream—Kimmie found water, her subconscious echoed gleefully—and closed her eyes. Her legs and part of the parachute drifted in the stream behind her; the current pulled at her boots and the great mass of fabric, but the villainess couldn't bring herself to slide forward another inch. She dropped her cheek onto wet stone, parted her lips, and concentrated on breathing, eyes slanted against the droplets that drained from her hair into her vision. The entire world wobbled, and when she felt moisture on her chapped lips, she sighed heavily and licked at it with feeble intent. Her tongue felt like sandpaper.

For several long moments, there was nothing but an exchange of ragged breathing as the girls struggled to regain their respective composures.

"Shego?" Kim murmured at length in the darkness. Her voice came from somewhere up above, and Shego assumed the teen superhero was leaning over her.

Worrywart, she groused to herself. Then again, she did just see me on fire. I guess it kinda freaked her out a little. …freaked ME out a little, too. Aloud she asked, her voice more quavery and old womanish than she liked, "What is it, princess? I don't know if you noticed, but I'm trying to rest a little here." A hoarse laugh forced its way out of her throat; it hurt her, making such a brisk exit. "Since I was just, you know," she continued conversationally, "roasting alive and all."

"Are you all r-right?" Kim asked. There was concern in her voice that trumped the tears, a richness and a warmth that made Shego smile secretively, proudly into the wet stone of the streambank. Kim was still grounded despite the circumstances, perfectly in her right mind and rising to the challenge with as much determination as she could muster. Shego felt a mix of gladness and strumming pride at the thought—if she was going to rely on someone, it might as well be Kim. She felt the teen superhero's hands hovering in the air inches above her person, too scared to touch but still worried, still anxious.

"Y-yeah," Shego rasped, her lips trembling for the cold, and closed her eyes. "Think so." She turned her head up and, for reasons she couldn't fathom, tried to offer Kim an encouraging smile. "And good news, pumpkin. I can feel my legs again." Her words collided giddily with one another, so happy they were almost false; so faint they were almost lost, swallowed up by the darkness and disbelief that something so miraculous could happen here, happen to them, happen to Shego in the depths of the mountain.

She watched the vague outline of Kim's head nod in the darkness. "I saw you moving them," the girl admitted. The relief—gladness? Doubt? Shego wondered—in her tone was palpable. And then, somewhat meekly, "Does it hurt? Your back—I can't see it. N-not with it so dark. And I don't want to ask you to use your plasma to give us a little light either, not after what just happened." Kim paused, asking in the next breath in a tone both curious and desperate for reassurance, "Has it ever done that before, Shego?"

Exploded? Gotten out of control? Felt like it was going to consume me from the inside out? What do you THINK, princess? Shego bit her lip and tried to calm the mix of fear and bitterness roiling about within her. Fear tugged at her strong heart and made it beat faster; the throbbing ache in her legs brought tears prickling like thorns to the corners of her eyes. Blinking them away, she hissed at her companion, "No, Kimmie, it hasn't."

Kim nudged closer to Shego. Her pants scraped faintly against the wet stone. "Maybe we do need a little light," she breathed, and Shego jerked when one of the teen superhero's hands came to rest on her shoulder. "Will you try, Shego? I want to look at your back. I want to see your skin."

Shego muffled a groan at the rising apprehension that was making her stomach convulse with knots. "You sure you can handle it, princess?" she purred into the darkness. Kim squirmed uncomfortably and she felt a little better.

Lifting one bare hand, Shego snapped her fingers and winced as plasma flared into being around the pale digits. Panic lanced through her as the green flames guttered softly: but it was just her breath making them move, making them dance, and after a moment she lifted her hand as she might a torch, shedding light on everything within about ten feet of them. Kim, crouched almost over her as previously thought, looked thin and scared and trapped; she wrung her hands nervously, and Shego took a moment to notice that the teen superhero's palms were already beginning to angrily blister.

"How's it look?" she asked Kim through gritted teeth. And then she continued, "Hurry it up—I can't hold it long. I'm tired." She couldn't believe she was admitting weakness to an enemy, let alone Kim Possible, but it seemed imperative that the teen know she was on a schedule here, and that the schedule belonged not to her, but to Shego and the candle of plasma she held in her fingers.

Kim leaned over her. Shego turned her head to look up the length of the girl's body, wreathed in green, and concentrated on the determined hinge of Kim's jaw rather than the blaze in her fingers. Her mind wandered—it was better not to force the plasma, she'd learned over the years. Keep it flowing by not thinking about it at all; act as though it was as natural as a heartbeat, as easy as breathing. A muscle in Kim's jaw twitched and Shego blinked: unbidden but affected nevertheless, the plasma in the villain's fingers fell lower, only just smoldering.

"It's just a scar," Kim said. Her fingers, still fastened over Shego's shoulder, tightened considerably. Her breath hissed out in disbelief. "It was a hole before. I could see the bone—Shego, God, you were bleeding… there was a hole the size of my hand in your back and it's gone! There's just a green sca—"

"Green?" Shego snarled. She couldn't help herself, and the plasma in her hand roared higher with her distress besides. "How green? I'm already green, Kimmie! Is it darker? What?"

To her surprise, Kim gave her shoulder a swat and informed her imperiously, "It looks just like any other scar. It's only a little bit darker, yeesh. Vain much?"

"Well, when you said it was the size of your hand, Kimmie…"

"It's not like that now," muttered the girl. Disbelief and bewilderment crept into her voice again, and Shego made an effort to roll onto her side to give Kim her full attention. Her legs screamed protest; one of them gave a faint twitch. Bracing her foot against the slippery surface of the bank, Shego pushed herself out of the stream completely and lifted her head the slightest bit, her cheeks drying quickly in the heat from the plasma at her hand. "It's more like a line," said Kim after hovering over the villainess. Her lips curved upward—a smile? Shego wasn't certain. "From the middle of your back to just where the bodysuit cuts off. It's a wide scar"—she held up her pinky to indicate just how wide, since Shego arched her eyebrows in question—"but it doesn't look bad."

Shego kicked her right foot. Her boot was full of water. She could hear and feel the liquid sloshing around her heel, soaking her thermal sock and making her generally uncomfortable. She clenched her teeth and sat up in a single rocking motion, ignoring the protests from Kim at her side, and reached down to heave away the boot after blowing out the plasma still circling idly about her cuticles. A gout of water, thus freed, splattered onto the stones, and the villainess quietly listened to the liquid drain as she worked at the other boot and gathered her thoughts.

"Your wounds don't normally heal that way, do they?" inquired Kim.

The villainess turned the other boot upside down, shaking her head. "No. Cuts and scratches need bandaids, burns need ointment. Black eyes need steak." Shego tried her best to keep her puzzlement to herself. "I've got a bruise on the back of my arm that's been there for days, not to mention it still hurts. I should… I should still be down and out."

She heard Kim turn toward her in the darkness. Reaching out to give her side a nudge that was, perhaps, experimentally encouraging, the teen superhero murmured, "Ever had a life-threatening injury before?"

"Please, princess." The villainess rolled her eyes. "I fight you, remember?"

"I'm going to be polite," Kim said, tone frosty and touch withdrawn, "and ignore that. Maybe your plasma isn't the only thing you got from your mutations, Shego. Did you ever think of that?" The teen superhero paused, ending at last with a quiet, "Maybe getting close to death triggered something you didn't know about before."

Shego blinked into the darkness, then drew her aching legs up to her chest and rested her chin on the shelf of her knees, considering. Kim had a point. Her entire body was a single agonizing throb, but again a throb that was fading fast compared to the healing rate of injuries she'd sustained in battles beforehand. The memories of being numb from the waist down seemed more like a nightmare than a past reality, a fleeting fear banished by the soothing sensation of wiggling toes and quivering knees. Even the pain encouraged her: at least she could feel it. At least she wasn't half a person anymore.

"Whatever it was, Shego," Kim laughed nervously into the darkness, "I don't think I need to tell you that it just made you a lot more dangerous."

Shego turned her head and squinted in what she hoped was Kim's direction. The potential thrill at being considered more dangerous to her enemy was dampened by the teen superhero's tone of voice: by the faint quiver behind the laughter, by the hiss of cloth over stone as Kim edged a few inches away from her. Forcing her gaze away from the girl, Shego bit her lips from the inside as a wave of self-disappointment and anxiety sloshed about in her stomach.

She had a sneaking suspicion Kim Possible was afraid of her—afraid of her for her abilities both known and unknown, strength and power and healing and plasma. When she was honest with herself, and when she thought of being engulfed in a seething inferno of emerald flame, Shego had to admit: she was afraid too. She hugged her knees a little more tightly in the darkness for it, pondering and agonizing and wondering just how many secrets her blood was keeping from her, pulsing deep and strong and rich in the corridors and chambers of her fiercely beating heart.

—To Be Continued…

Notes: Agh! I am so, so sorry this took such a long time to post. Life's been busy and I've not been able to write nearly so much as I'd like, but hopefully that will change now with the end of this semester in sight. Thank you all very much for the helpful critiques and comments. I've taken them all into consideration—please, keep them coming! I can only improve with input. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it; I also hope it was worth the wait. Any helpful critiques, comments, and fluffy hats are very much appreciated.

This story is dedicated first and foremost to my friend Lizzie, who pestered me about writing Kigo until I finally gave in and did so. Thank you, Lizzie. I hope you like it.