Freedom

XX

Night had fallen over Middleton, and for a town of citizens released only hours ago from mental enslavement, there was surprisingly little rejoicing. The streets were even quieter than usual, and through the windows of various houses in the suburbs, people could be seen sitting on their couches or around their kitchen tables, deep in thought. There was a lot to think about - Drakken and Shego's capture had been all over the news that afternoon, and most of the world was now free from the brainwashing formula. People in Middleton, as elsewhere, had a long trail of memories which were dominated by an irrational love of the two villains.

Many people found themselves with mixed emotions. They were free: free to think and do what they wanted, free from the mental manipulation of another, and yet they were also free of the passion they had felt in that time. Freed from a fixation on Drakken and Shego that had, in its own way, given a certain meaning and direction in their lives. Most people were happy to be rid of the control of the brainwashing formula – some more than others – but everyone, at least in some small part of their mind, recognized a bittersweet quality to their mental change.

Down a dark suburban street, through a yard filled with the chirps of crickets, through the glow of a kitchen window, one particular group of Middleton residents could be seen who were also deep in thought. Kim Possible, her family, and Ron Stoppable were enjoying some takeout pizza, all of them too tired and bothered by their past memories to make an effort at cooking. They were thinking about many of the same things as their neighbors in Middleton and in the rest of the world.

Jim and Tim, who had been circling each other over a last piece of pizza lying in the box, seemed like they had gotten over the brainwashing more quickly than their parents. "I can't believe he let Kim walk around free without being brainwashed!" said Tim as he lunged for the pizza.

"Yeah," said Jim, pushing his brother aside. "That was a dumb move on his part. If it was us, we totally would have brainwashed Kim first!"

"Thanks guys," said Kim. "It wasn't Drakken who let me go free, though. That was Shego's idea."

"Why did she do that?" the tweebs asked in unison.

Kim thought about how to answer their question, but she didn't know if she could explain it to anyone who had not known Shego for as long as she did. Kim understood Shego's motivation for doing what she did, as twisted as it was, but she didn't know if she would ever forgive her foe. Not that Kim was exactly forgiving towards Shego in the first place.

"It's kind of hard to explain."

James Possible pulled his two sons back from the pizza carton and cut the remaining slice in half, handing a piece to each of them. "I can't believe I actually wanted to stand around fanning Drew Lipsky all day," said James. "The man can't even tan. His skin is blue! The whole thing was low, even for Drew."

Ron took a bite of his pizza and nodded in agreement with Kim's father. "It's weird, having these memories about myself when I believed something completely different than I do now. Like, on the one hand I feel violated, but the other hand I keep having these moments where I feel scared. Kinda unsure of myself. It's like now Drakken and Shego aren't such a big part of my life anymore, I have no center. Nothing to organize my thoughts around."

Kim had a hard time understanding what they meant, since she had not been brainwashed herself for more than a few brief moments, but she supposed that living in an altered state of mind for so long must be hard to shake off. She and Ron had spent most of the afternoon after the palace takeover in a sort of debriefing with Global Justice, along with numerous political and scientific figures. They had talked about the effects of the brainwashing formula and how people might react once the formula was no longer effecting them.

"Dr. Director told us there were still groups of people fighting to put Drakken and Shego back in power even though they weren't brainwashed anymore," she said. "It's kind of hard to believe."

Kim's mother shrugged at the news. "I'm not that surprised," she said. "It's not that different from fundamentalists, or people who put too much faith in any other leader. They want that simple world view. Even if you show them their beliefs are faulty, they're reluctant to give them up."

Kim supposed her mother was right. Anne's explanation was much the same as what she had heard from certain people at the Global Justice debriefing.

The scientists at the debriefing had told her that almost everyone would experience some strange feelings over the next few weeks, maybe even months – flashes of yearning for the way things were, a wistfulness for what had been a simpler way of thinking – but that everything would return to normal once people got back into life's daily routines without Drakken and Shego's constant physical and mental presence in their world. Whether the scientists were right, Kim could only hope. Something about the way they talked about the formula and its effects on the human mind made Kim suspect they didn't know as much as they were pretending, but for now, there was nothing she could do but take their word for it.

XX

"Enjoy your cell, scumbags. You ain't getting' outta here in a long time, lemme tell ya!"

The guard left as he slammed the steel door, leaving Shego and Drakken to themselves.

Shego had gotten a brief look at the cell door when she and Drakken were being pushed inside, and it looked like it worked under some kind of electronic locking mechanism. She tuned her ears to the sound of the guard outside, and was fairly sure she heard the faint sound of a keycard being swiped to lock the door. She took a seat on the lower bunk of the cell's bunk bed, and Drakken sat in a small bench welded onto the wall opposite her.

The sound of the guard laughing trailed faintly down the hall outside. Shego waited until it was silent and began to look at her surroundings. The cell looked fairly solid, but there were usually weaknesses; numerous occasions in the slammer had taught her that. And even if there weren't any weaknesses in the cell itself, she already knew of one other weakness. That stupid guard. Human error accounted for most of her escapes, and while she knew they'd be under heavier guard than usual this time, that just meant more opportunities for their captors to slip up.

"I wish they'd give us some flowers," Drakken complained. "Not a very homey atmosphere, is it?"

Shego ignored him. To tell the truth, she was a little relieved that they had gotten off so easy. Their sentence was a long one, but it could have been worse. They had been shuttled around to various clandestine locations for days, interrogated mainly by Global Justice agents, at first. Before long, however, a number of other people also taken part in their questioning.

Maybe people from the CIA, people higher up on the ladder of authority. Some of them had carried faint accents in their speech – Shego recognized one of their visitors speaking in a Mandarin Chinese accent, although she could not place most of the accents. Who was interrogating them, she could only guess. Shego had been starting to worry if she and Drakken would disappear permanently, but then the interrogations abruptly ceased with no explanation. And now, here they were.

Shego had no idea why the interrogations had stopped, although she could hazard a few guesses. The subject of the interrogations had increasingly turned towards the makeup of the brainwashing formula and its antidote. How Drakken had designed them, what else he had designed, whether Drakken had given these formulas to particular governments. She got the impression that a lot of countries were interested in Drakken's invention, or maybe in Drakken's mind itself. For all his faults, he was even more of a genius than Shego gave him credit for. Maybe he was more valuable alive than dead. Either they had friends in high places, or they had enemies in high places that decide they were more valuable than dead.

The events since their capture had given Shego an unsettling feeling that maybe supervillains were not actually that super when it came to villainy. She and Drakken were, perhaps, small fish in a worldwide pond with much more dangerous creatures swimming through its murky depths.

"I've had some time to think over the last few days," said Drakken, "and I've already begun to cobble a new plan together. I was thinking that maybe we've been going about this the wrong way, Shego. We keep flouting the law, but who has the power in the end? Those who make the law!"

Drakken wrung his hands together in anticipation of carrying out the evil scheme that was forming in his mind. "You see, I was thinking about the new age of information we live in and how we could take advantage of that. Maybe I could brainwash just a few key people and get myself into a position where I have some kind of talk show, or a radio show.

"Then, I could use my media pulpit to spread lies and misinformation – repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth, after all. I could make people afraid, make them feel oppressed, position myself as a voice for the masses, and convince them to vote me into office. That's what I really need, after all. Political power! How can we be arrested when I'm the one making the laws? Plus, if I had a radio show, I wouldn't be lying to my mother anymore!"

Shego frowned. As ridiculous as it sounded, Drakken did have a certain charisma about him, and he was headed in a direction that had certainly been demonstrated throughout history to be effective. Maybe it was time for her to make good on her promise to Kim and steer that crazed blue head of his in another direction.

"Uh, sure Doctor D, that sounds okay, but it's been done before. Not very original at all."

"No?"

"Nope. Besides, where's the fun in that? You want to do something where you can make some crazy invention, don't you? Think about the supervillain code, think about tradition. The way you're going after world domination is just as important as actually doing it. It's not the destination, it's the journey, as they say. You gotta do something original. Something stylish! The whole reason you gave your mom the radio show excuse to hide your supervillain lifestyle was because it was totally mundane, something a regular person would do, right?"

Drakken pondered Shego's advice.

"Hmm. You may be right, Shego. What do you suggest, then?"

It was Shego's turn to ponder; she needed the most ridiculous concept she could come up with, something that had very little chance of succeeding, but something that would appeal to Drakken at the same time.

"How about sharks with lasers on their heads?"

Drakken formed a mental image that was clearly giving him a lot of pleasure.

"Shego, that's brilliant! But how would it help us in defeating our enemies on land?"

"Well, it's just the first step. But it's a good start."

"Yes," Drakken agreed, nodding malevolently. "Yes, a good start indeed."

Shego turned and lay back in the bunk, relieved to see that Drakken was following her line of thought. Hopefully the brainwashing scheme had just been a fluke. Usually, Drakken's schemes fizzled out before they got anywhere near actual world domination, but sometimes he struck gold. The Lil Diablos and the MC Ultra formula had been two hits in a row, which was quite a coincidence, but a pair of successes didn't quite make a pattern. As long as he wasn't actually turning into a more practical sort of genius, Shego didn't think it would be too hard to keep him in check.

She folded her arms behind her head and stared at the frame of the bunk above her. The fight with Kim had been invigorating. Shego realized now that, as much as she may have enjoyed Kim's total defeat at first, she had grown to dislike the sight of a Kim Possible who had given up. Kim was a fighter, just like her. Shego had a certain grudging respect for her foe that had been lost in the excitement of victory. Heck, she told herself, just admit it. You need Kim Possible. You're two sides of the same coin, and you can't get heads all the time.

Never before had Shego enjoyed losing so much. Kim Possible was back in business, and soon she and Drakken would be up to no good as well. Breaking out of their cell might be easy, or it make take a little longer, but Shego knew it was only a matter of time before she and Drakken would be back to their old ways, engaging in some wildly misguided scheme and fighting off that insufferable teen and her clumsy sidekick.

It was not until Shego had won completely that she realized how much perverse enjoyment she got out of being hit by a snappy one-liner from that redhead. Hearing that familiar, inexplicably shocked 'Kim Possible?' from Drakken, or the sound of Ron tripping on something. Turning in shock to see their teen foes smirking at them in what Drakken had insisted was a well guarded lair. And then the fights - oh, the fights!

Shego couldn't wait to be defeated again.

XX

"Go – Mad Dogs, go – go – Mad Dogs!"

The electronic scoreboard counted down into the final seconds of the game as the Middleton Mad Dogs cheerleading team pulled out all the stops in rousing the game's audience. Kim did several cartwheels and got into position for another pyramid as her squad mates moved into formation with her. The crowd was shouting and cheering as the two teams on the field also got into formation, preparing for a final play.

As far as high school football games went, this one was unusually tense; partly it was because it was a close game, with the Upperton Ungulates narrowly in the lead, and partly because it was the school's first game after Drakken and Shego had been defeated and MC Ultra was neutralized worldwide. Mostly neutralized, anyway. Kim wondered if the spectators at the game were just excited to be pouring their passion into something by choice, instead of saddled with a forced passion they had never asked for.

But now was not the time to get philosophical. Now was the time to step on Bonnie's back.

"Come on, K!" Bonnie hissed.

The pyramid was in formation and ready for its crowning piece. Kim vaulted to the top and raised her pom-pons in the air, spurring the audience into a louder cheer as the ball was hiked and the two teams broke their lines into opposing waves of attack. Kim was facing the crowd, but as the audience's cheer reached new heights in response to something happening on the field, she couldn't help but try to crane her neck around and see what was going on. Her boyfriend had the ball. He was driving it down the field, dodging Upperton players left and right. Kim joined the deafening cheer rising up from the stands as Ron ate up yards like they were Nacos.

Fifteen, ten, five... touchdown.

Kim was too excited to notice that in twisting around to see the field, she had set the pyramid off balance. She caught a brief glimpse of Ron beginning to perform some kind of incredibly embarrassing end zone dance before performing her own embarrassing topple. The pyramid sank to the ground in a heap, cushioning Kim with the bodies of her teammates. Those on the bottom of the pyramid were not as lucky.

"Uuugh, Kim!" came several muffled voices.

Kim rolled gingerly off of her teammates and helped them up, apologizing profusely. Bonnie groaned as she got up, brushing grass from herself, and shot daggers at her teammate.

"What was that about, Kim?"

"Sorry Bonnie. I guess I just got distracted by my boyfriend."

"Oh, rub in the fact that Brick's in college why don't you! It must be nice to have a boyfriend to distract you when you're supposed to be doing your job. Can't you do anything right?"

Kim sighed as she made sure the rest of her teammates were okay. Strangely enough, she almost enjoyed being berated by Bonnie.

"Hey Bonnie?"

"Yeah?"

"It's nice to have you back."

Bonnie glared for a moment, but just before she turned around to join the rest of the cheer squad as they spilled out onto the field to congratulate the team, Kim thought she noticed a brief glimpse of a smile.

The two teams gathered around each other to shake hands and pat backs – there seemed to be no hard feelings about the outcome, as everyone was just happy to be playing a carefree game of non-brainwashed football – and before Kim had taken a few steps onto the field, one player emerged from the others and ran towards her. Ron Stoppable removed his helmet and threw it aside just before embracing Kim.

"Nice job, Ron!"

"Thanks. You totally missed my cool end zone dance though, I noticed your pyramid was collapsing. You okay?"

"Oh yeah, I'm fine. So not the drama. That was Bonnie's fault, anyway."

"Hey!" came an indignant voice from nearby.

Ron would have to go to the locker room before long, but Kim led him towards the stands since she knew that their friends would want to congratulate him on making the winning touchdown. She saw Monique, Felix, and Wade picking their way down through the crowds of rejoicing spectators, but just as they reached the edge of the field, Ron was stopped by a thick hand on his shoulder.

"Oh, hey Mr. Barkin."

Mr. Barkin nodded curtly. "Nice run there at the end, Stoppable."

"Thanks!"

"Might I suggest," he continued, "that you follow up this victory on the field with some victories against your constant punctuality problems? You've been late to class for almost a week now."

"Come on Mr. B, I only got to class on time before because I was brainwashed! It's not fair to hold me up to that kind of standard."

"Lack of brainwashing is no excuse, Stoppable. You too, Possible – you have a dangerously high number of absences this year."

Kim's eye twitched in frustration a little. "I was busy saving the world and releasing your mind from the control of evil supervillains, Mr. Barkin. Isn't that some kind of extenuating circumstance?"

Mr. Barkin thought about it for a moment.

"Maybe. I'll have to do some calculations."

After telling Ron he had to be in the locker room with his teammates before long, Mr. Barkin left to talk to some the other players as Monique, Felix, and Wade congratulated Ron on the team's victory, as well as complimenting Kim on her cheer moves, minus the unfortunate ending. Ron stopped to chat with his friends for a moment, but excused himself from the group before long to join the rest of his team as they went inside the school.

Felix looked around at the fans leaving the stands to start on their way home. "So, what's the plan now?" he asked.

"Don't ask me," said Wade. "I don't know what people do after a game."

Monique punched Wade playfully on the shoulder, which made just the faintest hint of a blush spread across his cheeks. "You gotta get out more, boy. Stop sitting in front of that computer all day."

Kim had to agree. "I am kind of amazed you actually came in person to watch the game. I was half expecting you to send a Wade-bot when I heard you were going to be here."

"What can I say? I guess it seemed like it would be nice to get some fresh air after I was stuck in that palace for so long, doing Drakken and Shego's dirty work."

Kim thought about Wade's situation, and while she had not experienced the brainwashing herself for more than a handful of minutes during that first mission to stop the weather machines, she could imagine it must be disconcerting to have all the memories that Wade now held. While Kim had been trapped with her own family, she had sometimes thought it would be better to be brainwashed, but she wasn't sure who really had it worst. She supposed the important thing now was that it was all in the past.

"By the way, Wade, have you heard anything new about Drakken and Shego?"

Wade shook his head.

"Global Justice is keeping pretty tight-lipped. Still, I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of them."

Kim had to agree; the world wouldn't be back to normal if Drakken and Shego weren't finding some way to escape from capture. Maybe she would have some extra time to enjoy herself in this case, since the two of them had probably made a lot of powerful people angry. But Kim felt almost certain that she would see them again.

It bothered Kim that her foe, even if she was defeated, had still managed to orchestrate things in the way she wanted. Shego had voluntarily chosen to give up the antidote, she had chosen to help Drakken brainwash the world in the first place, and she had chosen to change things when she was no longer happy with the world she had created. Kim had never been given that luxury.

She never had a choice, and that was what made the whole brainwashing thing so sick and wrong, even with the unexpected benefits that came with it. As much as Kim liked the idea of world peace, it was only a good thing if people chose it. And, optimist though Kim was, she decided that humanity as a whole would never choose such a thing unless they were forced, which was exactly what Drakken had demonstrated. Kind of a paradox, she thought. The only way world peace could be achieved was by making it a bad thing.

Ron had just managed to extricate himself from the congratulations of his teammates back in the locker room, and rejoined the group as they left the field and walked aimlessly into town.

"Ron, did you take a shower?" Kim asked playfully as she scrunched her nose.

"Yes, yes I did. What are you suggesting?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all."

"Maybe we should go to Bueno Nacho," Monique suggested. "Come on Ron, I know you're gonna back me up here."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

The group headed towards their favorite fast food hangout. Kim knew it would probably be crowded after such a packed game, but she also knew that there was no changing Ron and Monique's mind when they had both decided on Bueno Nacho. But she could deal with crowds. She was just happy to be enjoying a life of freedom with her friends around her.

The last few months of Kim's life had been some of the hardest ones she had ever faced, and she still felt angry when she thought about what her foe had done to her. Shego had definitely crossed a line, and judging by the letter Kim had gotten in the package along with the antidote, maybe Shego had realized that.

Kim couldn't do much except hope that Shego had learned a lesson. If she did break free, Kim would just have to be on top of things. Hopefully she would keep her promise in the letter and make sure that things did not go too far with Drakken's evil schemes again. There was something simultaneously bizarre and understandable about the idea of Shego helping Drakken pursue world domination except in the case that he actually got close to achieving it. She didn't want the victory as much as she wanted the fight.

And Shego had been right – Kim probably wouldn't enjoy a world in which she had no enemies to defeat. She wouldn't enjoy a world without Shego, either. No one else could really challenge Kim physically the way she did – no other opponent kept her on her toes, forced her to put everything into the fight. In a way, Shego was a big factor in what kept Kim's skills honed and let her defeat all her other enemies time and time again.

Kim still hated Shego, maybe even more than ever now that she had been put through so much. But she had to admit that she was looking forward to defeating her again.

XX


Notes - That's it! Hope you guys liked it.

I wanted to explore the effects of the brainwashing formula a little more in the conclusion, especially how people might feel after being released from it, and I wanted to address Drakken and Shego. I also wanted to show Kim enjoying life with her friends, since she's been sort of morose for much of this story, and while I think she would be like that in this situation, it's a bit different than her portrayal on the show, so I wanted to end it with a scene that kind of brought things back to the show's tone more closely.

I am currently in the middle of posting a Hey Arnold story, and I may write a Kim Possible one-shot sometime this weekend (we'll see), but after those I am going to take an indefinite writing break. I've been saying I'm going to do that for a while now and then I end up writing more stuff anyway, but this time it's for real, I swear! So put me on alerts if you want to catch me in the future, I guess.

In the meantime, feel free to R&R my other stuff if you haven't before. Going Green and Back to School are my most popular KP stories, although they have a lighter and more upbeat tone than this one, and Just a Jock is my longest. The only story I've written with darker content than this one is Beyond the Stone, if you're into more unsettling themes and whatnot. So those are my suggestions.