All I Want for Christmas is Blue

XX

The parking lot of the Middleton Bueno Nacho was more crowded than usual. Some of the spaces were blocked off with heaps of snow that had been plowed aside in the past week, and the remainder were taken up by people tired of eating holiday leftovers. Many of the diners still wore their coats inside; every time a newcomer opened the doors in search of a Mexican meal, a cool breeze would wander through the restaurant, poking its way curiously through the booths.

Kim Possible gathered her coat around herself as one of those breezes brushed by. Ron was ordering their meal at the registers, gesturing animatedly at the overhead menu while he talked to Ned. I wonder if Ned is going to college, Kim asked herself. He's been working here forever. At least he seems to enjoy it. She looked around at the interior of the restaurant. It had been rebuilt after a Lorwardian robot stepped on it, and was a lot bigger than it used to be. To Kim, it seemed more like the Bueno Nacho in Go City. Somehow it was less personal, less cozy – not the place that belonged in her memories. She supposed it was part of growing up. Places change, people change. Still, she knew that Middleton would be her home as long as her parents lived there, and the Bueno Nacho booth she occupied would always be her booth, if Ron was sitting there with her. Stuffing his face with a Naco.

"Snackage has arrived, KP!"

Kim snapped out of her reflections as a tray of salad dropped in front of her. Ron slid into the other side of the booth, balancing a heaping tray of Nacos and sauce packets with one hand while keeping Rufus at bay with the other. Rufus had a tendency to eat the entire order before it hit the table if no one was watching him.

"How's Ned doing?" asked Kim.

"Pretty good. He's the manager here now. He's psyched about that."

"Oooh, thapth gooth for him!" sputtered Kim with a mouth full of salad. It was a bad habit that Ron happened to find endearing.

Ron, having opened his Diablo Sauce packets, noticed that most of his Nacos were already gone. Rufus was on his back and asleep in the middle of the table, distended belly jiggling slightly as he snored. Ron sighed and wolfed down one of his remaining Nacos. "I still can't believe your dad was helping Drakken redesign the nutcracker. I guess they're best buds now, huh?"

Kim laughed. "I'm not sure about that. It was ferociously weird for sure, but I think dad was trying to prevent 'Attack of the Diablo Robots Part Two' from going down."

"Haha, Mr. Dr. P knows what's going on! I guess Drakken needs a little work before he jumps from mad scientist to entrepreneur. What was he going to name that thing again?"

"The Nutinator 2000, I think."

"You know, if it were me, I'd rethink that name. Why do machines always have '2000' on the end of their name, anyway? I can understand machines made in the year 2000, but what does it mean the rest of the time?"

Kim shrugged. It was a good question, though.

Ron swallowed a mouthful of Naco that his pet mole rat had not yet stolen. "By the way, how's Monique doing? You called her when we got back to your house, right?"

"Yeah. She sounded a little wiped out because she had to shovel the driveway. I believe Monique's description of it was S.N.C."

Ron squinted in concentration. "Snow... needs... okay, I give up."

"So not cool. But she did say she's going to hang out with us for New Years! She has a few more designs she wants to show us, plus she got some outfits for Christmas, so it sounds like we get a free fashion show."

"Badical!"

"As long as you're not checking out her skimpy outfits too closely. Then it will be very badical for you, Ron."

"Come on Kim, you know you're my main girl!" Kim raised an eyebrow at Ron's comment. "Wait, you're my only girl I mean. No other girls!"

"I know, Ron. I'm just teasing you."

Kim watched as her boyfriend finished the rest of his Nacos and belched loudly. They still had a lot of time left on their holiday break, but she couldn't help but think about the next semester of college. Ron's major was still undecided; he was taking a few culinary classes, but was otherwise unsure of his future.

Kim didn't like to admit it, but she felt the same way. She had always been driven to excel in high school, had always been confident about what she was meant to do with her life, but the first semester of college had been daunting. Getting good grades was not a challenge, but it was bewildering to have so many choices available, and so many paths where those choices could lead. Did she want to become a neurosurgeon like her mother? Did she want to go into criminal justice, or international diplomacy?

Kim and Ron did not share a dorm – there was no way her father would have given that an okay – but Ron hung out with her constantly and took several diplomacy and criminology classes with her, even though he had a harder time keeping up. Kim knew that she could have problems with staying grounded and not stressing herself out, and on a campus surrounded by strangers, she was thankful to have Ron by her side. Or her back, as he would say. Ron grounded her. He was the buoy that kept her afloat in deep water.

Ron pocketed his sleeping mole rat and stood up. "Ready to go, Kim?"

"Done already? Sure."

Kim zipped up her coat and took Ron's hand in her own as they slipped out of the booth. They walked through the doors into bright sunlight, and set sail into the unknown.

XX

Shego was mercilessly pummeling a punching bag in the gym room when she heard the doorbell ring. Something about having a doorbell always struck Shego as unbecoming of a villain, but it was one of those things Drakken would insist on if she complained. She ignored the doorbell and continued working out. Giving punching bags a hard time helped Shego release her annoyance at various things, but sometimes she could go overboard. Drakken's lairs had always brought in a steady stream of fresh bags to replace old ones that were thrown in the trash, clawed to shreds or burnt to a crisp. As the doorbell rang again, Shego lashed out with a little extra venom, giving the punching bag a deep gash.

"Drakken! Answer the door!"

No response came from the main room. Picking up a green towel, Shego was about to enter the shower room when the doorbell rang for a third time. She wiped her face with the towel and walked down the hallway to answer the door. Drakken was in his laboratory space, fiddling with a new prototype of the nutcracker robot that he had started building over the last week, after he gotten some advice from Kim's father on Christmas. This time it was closer to a child's size, and – Shego assumed – not programmed to have an unquenchable thirst for human flesh. The doorbell suddenly belted out a staccato series of rings, but Drakken ignored them, lost in his work.

"Yo, Doctor D! Do you hear the door?"

"Oh, yes. Could you answer that, Shego?"

"Rrrrrgghh!"

Shego stomped towards the door and whipped it open to reveal a shivering man, dressed in a delivery uniform and holding a pair of boxes. "What is it? What do you want?" she snapped.

The delivery man tried to keep the boxes pinned against his body with his arms while holding out a clipboard and pen. "Happy New Years! Sign for these, ma'am?"

"Do I look like a ma'am to you?" Shego snatched the clipboard away from him and scribbled down her signature with a frown. "What are those?"

"I don't know ma – Mrs – um, Miss," the man stammered as a pair of hands ignited with green flame in front of him. "It's a delivery from Middleton."

Shego took the two boxes and tore the cardboard away, revealing a pair of presents. One present, wrapped in newspaper and twine, had a card addressed to Drakken from Ron Stoppable. The other present, which was for Shego, looked like it was wrapped by a more competent hand. Or maybe a less lazy hand, Shego thought. It was from Kim Possible.

The delivery man rubbed his hands together with a hopeful expression. "Do you know how long it took me to get up the side of that cliff and deliver these? It was tough, let me tell you! You know, it's customary for a lot of people to give the deliveryman a small tip in cases like -"

Shego idly slammed the door in his face as she looked over the presents. "Hey Drakken, you've got a special delivery here."

"What? Shego, you can't just take anything inside without checking it! How do you know Dementor isn't trying to send me a bomb in the mail!"

"It's from Kim's little sidekick, you idiot."

"Oh, the buffoon! Gimme gimme!"

Shego tossed the poorly wrapped present to Drakken, and went into her room with her own gift. She had no idea why Kim would send her something, but she wanted a little privacy. As she lay back on her bed, Shego laughed in amusement when she realized why Kim and Ron had sent late Christmas presents. They felt obligated after Drakken had given them presents, even though they hadn't brought any of their own. The fact that they came to Drakken's lair expecting to foil an evil plot was irrelevant – for a do-gooder like Kim, you had to give a gift in exchange for one you received, even if it was a gift from your arch foe!

Shego felt the present in her hands - it was very light. She shook the present out of curiosity - there was no recognizable sound. She tore the wrapping paper away and threw it aside, revealing a small white box. She opened the box and saw that it was almost empty inside, save for a few rectangular pieces of paper that rested on the bottom. She gingerly picked them up, and realized that they were photographs.

Shego recognized them instantly, because she had seen them before. Printed on each piece of paper was a series of vertical photographs taken from a photo booth. Framed in each picture was Shego, dressed in a schoolteacher's uniform instead of her usual black and green outfit, and Kim. Their expressions were serious in the first few photographs, but the pair rapidly switched to goofy expressions and poses. They both looked very happy.

A sudden hoot came from the lair's main room – Drakken had opened his present – but Shego did not notice. She sat quietly, looking at the photographs for a long time with no discernible expression on her face. A jumbled collection of thoughts and memories twisted their way through her mind. Echoes of her past, before she had turned to villainy, when she was still with her brothers. Echoes from the photographs, of the time she had spent with Kim Possible. Echoes from that deeper part of herself. The part that was trying to find its voice.

She turned to the bedside dresser and opened the top drawer. Inside lay a framed picture of herself as a child, posing for a family photo with her brothers. She carefully arranged the photo booth pictures on top of the family photo, so that they were surrounded by the black wooden picture frame. She looked down at the arrangement for a moment with a pensive expression, and finally closed the drawer. On the nightstand lay the silver and obsidian necklace that Drakken had given her for Christmas. She picked it up and fastened it around her neck as she left her room.

Sprawled across the living room couch with a glass of cocoa moo in one hand and a remote in the other, Drakken was turning on his DVD player. The coffee table in front of him, on which his feet were casually propped, was strewn with shredded pieces of newspaper.

"What did Stoppable get you, Doctor D?"

Drakken turned at the sound of Shego's voice and smiled. "The newest season of Agony County on DVD! Now I'll never miss a repeat again!"

"Great. Sounds like all your dreams have come true."

Drakken removed his feet from the coffee table and sat up on the couch, patting his hand on a spot beside him. "Why don't you come join me, Shego? I'm just about to start the first episode!"

Shego briefly tried to think of a sarcastic comment, but decided to just sit down with Drakken and watch the show. She would never admit it to anyone, but Agony County was a bit of a guilty pleasure for her. As she got comfortable while the opening credits rolled, Drakken put his mug of cocoa moo on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch with an obviously faked yawn, snaking his arm deftly behind her. Shego saw a faint blue smile take shape in the corner of her eye, and felt a little warmer as he scooted over a bit closer. It was a strange feeling, and she was surprised to find out she liked it.