There was a circular burn on the back of Shego's neck, barely visible where her hair parted. It would probably sting for a few days, but after that it would be gone completely. The tiny puncture from the tranquilizer dart that had struck her leg would probably fade even faster. Sick as it had made Drakken feel to do it, drugging her had definitely been necessary in order to get the moodulator off her. She'd be furious with him when she woke up, but at least the fury would be hers.
He'd tried to treat her as gallantly as possible, carrying her to the couch in his living room and wrapping her in a blanket in the hopes of offering a little dignity and security, and pulling up a chair beside her for his own peace of mind. She was probably going to be furious about being in his apartment, too, but there were only two places in the lair where he really felt that she'd have the safety and privacy she needed while she shook off the effects of the chip and the tranquilizer. The other was her own place, and waiting uninvited in her home would be adding invasion to indignity. The obvious solution – taking her home and leaving her there alone – was not an option. Whatever else happened, Shego wasn't leaving his sight until he was sure she was all right.
His insistence on that surprised him. He liked Shego. He cared about her. He'd never expected to feel protective of her. But then, the ship had clearly sailed on not questioning the nature of their relationship. He glared at the remains of the moodulator, now a lump of crushed metal and fried circuitry. "You ruined a good thing."
A small groan from Shego was eerily well-timed. The body on the couch shifted, muttered something, and then froze. Her shoulders twisted, upper body turning to face him. The look that crossed her face was a kind of sick shock. "Oh, God," she breathed, sinking back down.
"Hey." He was close enough to touch her and smart enough not to. "Are you feeling okay?"
Drakken flinched at the horror and dread in her voice and couldn't help laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. "It's all right, sweetie. You're safe."
That brought her back to herself in a hurry as she twisted away from him, sitting up in the farthest possible corner of the couch. "No way. Whatever I said, whatever I did, whatever I offered, 'sweetie' is not gonna fly."
"Not entirely sure where that came from myself," he apologized.
"Well, find out, send it back there, and leave it."
It wasn't the cleverest thing she'd ever said, but it was still sarcastic and slightly mean. "You're back," Drakken sighed with relief.
She gave him a startled look before answering with a relieved sound of her own. "I am. I didn't actually leave, but I'm back in charge." She winced in sudden pain, raising a hand to the back of her neck. 'What was that?"
"Mood-altering device," he told her, holding it up. "Seems like the EMA isn't the only thing you got away with in that last raid. You've been under its effect ever since."
A shudder ran through her entire body. "Who was controlling it?"
"Nobody, apparently. Well, not on purpose, anyway. The chips got stuck to you and Kim Possible accidentally, the controller changed hands a few times before anyone realized what it was, it got hooked up to the EMA and the circuitry overloaded…Okay, that part was entirely my fault, but I didn't know it was controlling you, too!"
Shego held out her hand. He dropped the moodulator into it, and she stared at the chunk of metal for a long, thoughtful moment. In one fluid motion she crushed it in her fist, ignited it, and hurled it at the wall. The sound it made was remarkably satisfying. "I guess the frenzy of unstoppable rage has some lingering aftereffects," Drakken joked weakly.
"Nope. This rage is all mine." She touched her neck again. "Jeez, that thing left a mark. How'd you get it off me?"
A glimmer of hope on the horizon. "You don't remember anything?"
"I remember everything," Shego said, in a voice that said she wished she didn't. "But after the rage it all sort of blurs together."
"That part's also my fault." Drakken took a deep breath. "I had to hit you with a tranquilizer dart to keep you from hurting me, or yourself. It was the only thing I could think of. Please don't kill me."
"You drugged me? Why, you—" Drakken shied back as Shego raised a fist, but she lowered it almost as quickly. "You did what you had to," she said quietly. "I was out for blood and I couldn't stop myself."
It was a disturbing thing to hear her admit. "You're not angry?"
"Oh, do not think that for a second, buster. I'm angry, I just recognize that that was probably the best option. I'm not going to hold it against you." She paused and raised an eyebrow at her surroundings. "That is, assuming you have a good explanation for why I'm on your couch."
"Waking up disoriented on your own couch with me sitting next to you would have been even creepier than this already is."
Shego thought for a moment, then nodded slowly. "You make a good point."
Drakken waited for the obvious next question, but it didn't come. She didn't seem at all fazed by the idea that he would have been beside her regardless of where she'd woken up. She drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "Honestly, I was starting to fade out even before the tranquilizer. I remember the anger, and starting a few fights, and going after you – which I feel kinda bad about, by the way…"
He waved away her concern. "It was the most normal thing that happened to me all night."
She shot a glare at him, but for a moment there was a curve to her lip that might have been a hastily-covered smile before a shadow crossed her face. "And that's…all I did? I have to ask!" she added in response to his raised eyebrow, her voice jumping half an octave. "Like I said, I remember everything else about how I was acting yesterday, and I'm weirded out enough without thinking that there could be more that I don't remember."
There was a second when Drakken could almost believe he'd heard a catch in her voice. "There was nothing else," he told her gently. "No offers, no suggestions. Just one or two threats."
He'd hoped to draw out that almost-smile again, but the moment was gone. Shego pinched the bridge of her nose. "I can't believe…I mean, the whole thing was just…"
"Yeah. It's not like I'm famous for my calm nature even on a good day, but I was really starting to freak myself out. That…thing just overrode everything else. I couldn't control what I was going to say, or do, or…" She froze, looking stricken. "Oh, God. I kissed you."
"You did," he confirmed, trying to keep his voice neutral. "That was awkward."
"I don't think I've ever been more embarrassed in my life."
"Hey! I might not have been your first choice, but that's a little harsh."
"Don't get cute. You know what I meant. And it's no fun to insult you when you get to the punch line first."
"Sorry." A soft chuckle. "I can't believe how good it feels to have you insulting me again."
"Feels good to be able to. God knows you deserved it, the ridiculous way you were tiptoeing around me."
Drakken raised an eyebrow. "'Ridiculous'? Don't know if you noticed, but you were kind of insane at the time. I was just trying to ride out the weirdness until whatever crazy thing it was that had a hold of you blew over."
"You're acting like you knew something was controlling me."
"Well, I knew something was going on, obviously! Give me some credit, Shego. I'll admit that sometimes I'm not the smartest evil genius ever, but I know how the world works. And it's not a world where women like you suddenly fall for guys like me."
"'Women like me,'" Shego echoed, warning in her voice.
He couldn't quite meet her eyes. "Beautiful women."
The silence couldn't have lasted more than a second, but it was long enough to unnerve him. When he risked a look at Shego again she suddenly ducked her head, color rising in her cheeks. It was strangely pretty. "Don't be sweet to me, on top of everything else. This is weird enough."
Drakken couldn't remember ever having been accused of being 'sweet,' Amy notwithstanding. And even as soft as Shego's voice had suddenly gone, it was definitely an accusation. "Sorry."
"For God's sake, you acting like that after some of the stuff I was thinking about you…"
"Do I want to know?"
Some of the usual edge came back into her voice. "Hours and hours spent detailing everything I've ever disliked about you, every flaw, every stupid stunt, and every reason I shouldn't have been feeling…the way I was feeling about you. It was thorough, it was inventive, and it was cruel. And I mean by my standards."
"Don't worry about that. People say things they don't mean when they're stressed. And I think this definitely counts as a stressful situation."
A scoff. "First off, I didn't actually say anything out loud. And second, I meant every word of it. Sure, a lot of it went over the top, but it was still all true. What, did you think I was apologizing or something?"
"Too much to hope for?"
"All I'm saying is, there was a part of me that knew something was wrong, too. And it was angry and a little freaked out and it responded accordingly."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you should know." Shego twisted around so she was facing him more directly, placing a hand firmly on the arm of the couch to steady herself as she did so. "You should know that in all that time I was insulting and harassing and accusing you, not once did I think that this might be your fault."
Drakken looked chagrined. "It wouldn't be the first time I'd messed with your mind like that."
"No. That mind-control stunt you pulled? That was nothing like this. There's doing crazy stuff because something's making you, and then there's doing crazy stuff because something's making you want to. Now, I'm not necessarily saying you wouldn't try something like this, or that you wouldn't test it on me, but…" She touched her neck again, squeezing her eyes shut. "You'd have gloated and yammered on and made sure I knew it was you pulling the strings, which would at least be better than having some unknown force in control of me. And I know you're not capable of the accusation I'd be making if I thought this was something you'd set up."
He didn't say anything, but his confusion must have been evident because she rolled her eyes softly. "Think about it: Something weird happens to me and suddenly I'm in love with you. Aggressively in love with you. I find you irresistibly attractive, and there's not a lot I'm gonna say no to. What motive do I have to assume there?"
The bottom dropped out of Drakken's stomach as understanding hit him. Oh, sweetie. "Shego, I could never—"
"I know." Her voice was quiet but firm, cutting through his protests. She took a deep breath. "And I know I was lucky you were there." The words came out in a rush. "Look, don't make a big deal out of it or anything, but knowing I was with a friend…that was important. The whole situation could have been pretty scary if I hadn't known someone was there to look out for me if things got ugly."
It was high praise, and Drakken wasn't entirely convinced that he deserved it. After all, Shego was usually quick to tell him that he could barely look out for himself, let alone anyone else. She gave him a dry smile when he pointed this out. "I should probably be agreeing with you. But…" She waved a hand, the gesture encompassing the couch, the blanket, and him. "What would you call this? You were there, and you did look out for me. And call me crazy, but I don't think it's just because I'd have killed you on principle if anything happened to me."
Again, Drakken was surprised at the strength of his own reaction at the thought of "anything happening" to Shego. "Trust me," he said, his voice low. "When there's a straightforward fight and you come out of it worse for the wear, that's the nature of the job and it's your business alone. But if anyone had laid a hand on you while you weren't able to defend yourself, they'd have had me to deal with."
The almost-smile he'd reached for earlier resurfaced, and blossomed into a real one for a brief moment before turning into a soft laugh. "You say it like that, and I almost believe you really could take somebody on."
He closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to be insulted. After all, even he had to admit that it wasn't the most ominous threat ever. "I didn't say it would be difficult to deal with me," he admitted. "Just that they'd have to. Maybe it wouldn't make a difference, but I couldn't just do nothing if anyone hurt…someone I care about."
Shego didn't seem to notice the pause. That strangely charming flush returned as she studied him. "It would make a difference to me," she said at last. Her dark hair cascaded over her shoulder as she dipped her head, partially obscuring her face. "Just hearing you say it makes a difference."
It was perhaps the most sincere expression of appreciation that Drakken had ever imagined he'd hear from her. The impact of the moment was, unfortunately, lost on him, his head still reeling from what he'd almost said.
I couldn't just do nothing if anyone hurt the woman I love.
He racked his brain, looking at that sentence from every angle and praying to find the rest of it. The woman I love working with. The woman I love like a sister. Nothing. The words stared back at him unadorned, daring him to try and twist them into something more innocuous. He pressed a hand to his forehead, trying to block out the revelation. Oh, God.
Took you long enough to realize it, a critical voice in the back of his head piped up. You've rounded the last corner of madness and fallen in love with a woman who's not only a coworker and just over half your age, but who just recovered from being forced to love you. You probably could have picked a worse time to figure this out, but only if you'd tried really hard.
"You look about as wiped as I feel."
Had Shego's voice always been such a privilege to hear? Or had exhaustion – both hers and his – just taken the normal edge out of it? Either way, it was the most beautiful sound Drakken could possibly imagine at that moment, and it was painfully unfair. She was wonderful, and he loved her, and this new vulnerability – or rather, the trust she'd placed in him by letting him see it – just made him love her more.
And he could never tell her. Not while he could still see the look she'd given him when she first woke up.
She was looking at him out of the corner of one eye now, expression uncertain, and he realized how strange his sudden shock must have looked from the outside. He forced a tired smile. "It's been a long day for both of us."
Her hair was still falling over her shoulder. It took effort not to reach out and brush it back. "Yeah," she murmured, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I should go."
"No, you shouldn't. You're staying here tonight."
She looked startled for a moment before her eyes narrowed. "I don't know what you're thinking…" she started, all the edge back in her voice.
Well, it wasn't like having everything he tried to say to her come out wrong was a new thing, at least. "I'm thinking," he cut her off, "that you look like you're having trouble sitting up. There's no way you're getting yourself home any time soon; you'd barely make it out the door." He sighed, knowing that he wasn't going to win this argument and needing to try anyway. "You just said that you felt better knowing that someone was looking out for you, right? Now it's my turn. Let me feel better knowing that someone's looking out for you."
Shego breathed in slowly, closing her eyes like she was bracing herself for something painful. When she spoke, it was so quietly that he could barely hear her. "You're right."
He couldn't possibly have heard that correctly. "What did you say?"
She glared at him. "I said you were right. It's not fair, but you're right."
Drakken couldn't help smiling, just a little. "I'm sure it was just a one-time thing." She was looking at him strangely again, and he realized he was staring. He wondered if he'd ever stop staring, stop being amazed at that strange perfection and how long it had taken him to see it. He cleared his throat. "Well, you've been here before, you know where everything is. I should be able to scare up a spare pillow somewhere, and is there anything else you need?"
Her 'yes' was almost inaudible, and her eyes suddenly shy. Not just shy, downright embarrassed and sliding into ashamed. Whatever she wanted, she was too proud to ask for it. And Drakken understood her, because for that one brief moment they both wanted the same thing. Without a word, he opened his arms.
She flew into them, falling against his chest with painful force. His ribs protested the crushing pressure of her arms around him, but their complaint was petty compared to how right her head felt nestled against his shoulder. It was just comfort, just one friend reaching out to another in a moment of weakness, but it was enough.
Shego exhaled, a small sigh of contentment. "If anyone ever finds out about this, I will kill you."
Drakken stroked her hair. "I wouldn't expect anything less."