He'd suspected it for a while, in a half-conscious, preoccupied kind of way. So he supposed it wasn't exactly a shock, but she'd cemented it when she'd tossed her hair one afternoon, actually laughing at one of his jokes (not that he'd entirely intended to make one, but still). It had made him realize, with queasy horror, that he'd been desperate to get the same reaction out of her again.
Then there was the fact that he'd gone crazy wondering what she'd been up to during her Attitudinated week of absence. And that hadn't even been her, but some brainwashed pod person version of her! She'd even set their hounds on the guy who'd shown up at the lair, the guy the pod person had been dating! So he shouldn't care! He shouldn't be giving it a single thought!
But he was.
He'd started missing her during the weekends, quite consciously, and more often than he'd ever done. He'd started looking at her when she was there, in ways that were probably inappropriate (not that she'd noticed, so far).
No! Why did it have to be her? It was unfair! Wrong! She'd skin him alive! Scratch him up with rabies-infected claws!
Make him bleed green.
Who'd decided this? It certainly hadn't been him! Why couldn't DNAmy just have said yes that one time, so he'd be far away somewhere, making science babies? But no, she'd just ripped out his heart and stomped on it, just like Shego was going to do! If he wasn't even good enough for DNAmy, who was considered a catch by no one but himself (and mostly when he'd been high on adrenaline and grateful for the life-saving) then he certainly wasn't good enough for Shego.
And especially not now. He was gradually turning into some sort of moody cave troll, eating too much— cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes, no, she hadn't liked it when he'd packed on the pounds with Hank's leftover stock— not shaving often enough, not necessarily showering every single day— he still brushed his teeth twice a day and flossed before bedtime, though, because dental hygiene was important—
Not to mention grumbling, growling and snapping his way through life.
More than usual, that was.
He felt sorry for himself, and he knew it.
Cave trolls were always at their most disgusting when they were trying to attract a difficult mate. Unfortunately, only cave trolls knew this. To everyone else, it just looked gross and misguided. Especially to cats, who were always clean, cool and composed.
He glared across the room at her, grooming herself without a care in the world.
It was clear that he wasn't her type.
Whenever he even considered making an attempt, his gut would boil and his face would break into a cold sweat. The only way to hide these things was to refuse to acknowledge his feelings. To tell himself that this was a workplace, and that he had far too much to do, and that she wasn't so great anyway. And once, when he couldn't come up with a villainous plan to keep them occupied, to turn to another method of ignoring her; devoting himself to getting all the floors in his lair refinished.
Most of the time, these methods worked. Sometimes, though, there had to be relief.
One day, when he believed he was all alone in his cavernous laboratory, he decided to blow off some steam. "STOP IT! THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME! I'm tired of flop sweat and clammy hands!" he declared to the world, at least having the satisfaction of his own voice echoing back, empathizing with his frustrations. "I'm tired of feeling nauseous! I swear there's a sack full of wild cats in my belly!"
"What, did you eat a whole bag of bran muffins again or something?"
There she was, leaning on the back wall, eating an apple…mocking him.
Of course she was.
The only fortunate thing about her lippyness was that her apparent desire to keep up a running commentary on everything he did and said had interrupted him before he'd actually revealed anything.
"SHEGO!" he scolded, and then he went into a raging tirade that even he tuned out. When he stormed off he had no idea what he'd just said, only that he was still making noises, despite no longer having an audience.
His body boiled with anger as his legs took him far away. Being furious was the only way to have even a tiny chance at ignoring the bottomless pit of hopeless grief that waited for him, under the thin veneer of offended irritation. Even so, he found the anger came easy.
This was pointless, this was meaningless, this was unfair, unfair, unfair! Why did it have to happen to him? Only bad things would come of it!
The worst thing was knowing that they would come, that they were inevitable, that it was only a matter of time. She'd figure it out eventually, or he'd slip up.
There was no way anything else than pain could come of it. She was all he had.
He'd— they'd— saved the world.
Nobody had seen it coming, least of all them. Shego enjoyed being surprised. Having Kimmie show up or another plan fail was never a surprise, just another disappointment.
Now they were finally home again, after a lot of attention from family, other villains, various scientists and the media.
Drakken looked flustered and tired, but happy, so she decided to surf the good mood. He'd impressed her. Made her think things could actually change, made her reconsider old ideas and wishes that she'd shelved a dozen times before, without him ever knowing.
She leaned towards him, and drew a quick, soft breath of anticipation and nerves, but then he leaned back, his expression full of the same strange, almost irritated confusion she'd seen when he'd decided to back out of their impending embrace on the Lorwardian spaceship.
"What are you doing?" he asked, and she couldn't quite read his voice, couldn't tell what he wanted.
Hesitation fluttered through her for a second, but then her arms dropped to her sides, and she shook her head. "Nothing at all," she said almost neutrally, a sort of disgusted resignation starting to pour into her. So he was ruining everything before anything had even attempted to begin, huh?
"This isn't going to work," she said simply. She had to have been crazy to even try. No wonder she'd always thought nope, never gonna happen in the past.
"What isn't going to work?" His tone went sharp. "What are you talking about?"
So he didn't even have a clue, huh? He was only making it worse.
"Exactly," she said, picking an invisible speck of lint off of her dress as she got up. Maybe it was better this way. Now she could just pretend the thought had never even entered her mind, because he sure wasn't aware of what had almost happened.
"What do you mean, 'exactly'? Where are you going?"
"I'm tired. Good night."
"Hey, wait— what just happened?"
She didn't wait. Nothing had happened.
She also didn't hear the next echoing scream, occurring much later. She was already asleep.
"WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"
She stayed away for a few days before appearing in the lair again.
The next time they met, she only called him 'Dr. Drakken' (when she called him anything at all), but he didn't really consider it.
It took another two weeks for the change to sink in. When it had, the marked absence of any 'Doc', 'Dr. D', 'Chief' or even any 'Sport' grew to be an ever-present, grating background noise in his mind, like the constant hum of a computer way past its prime.
He couldn't bring himself to ask her about it, though. He had no idea how to phrase the question without sounding ridiculous. Acknowledging the fact that he'd noticed something trivial like that missing in their daily lives would be admitting too much already.
Instead, he tried to feel pleased at how she was finally showing him formality and respect. It didn't work.
Somehow he'd lost her, even if she was still here.
When he finally pieced together why she was acting so distant, what had almost happened, what he'd missed out on, he wanted to kick himself.
Yet at the same time, he'd still have no idea what to do with the moment even if he'd known how to work his way back to it.
When he finally realized that he'd been so frightened that he'd gone so far as to convince himself it wasn't in fact happening at all, the thought crossed his mind that he should probably see a shrink. But how he'd bungled things up was so painfully embarrassing that he could barely even admit it to himself, let alone pay somebody tall fees to talk about it out loud.
And now she'd showed him that she'd come to her senses. The train had left the station, and by all accounts it hadn't even stopped there for more than a couple of seconds anyway.
He should've treaded more carefully. There had been signs for a long time, even before they saved the world, that she was contemplating a change, that she needed something more, whether she'd been aware of it herself or not. Leaving him in prison, teaming up with other villains, helping Kim Possible just to beat his new alien sidekick, not having anything against saving the world—
It seemed to him that she hadn't known what she'd wanted, and probably still didn't, but when she'd finally begun to figure it out a little, he'd interrupted her, trodden on her tail, made her outright dismiss her already fragile ideas about him, her, and the future.
And here it came. All the destructive force of having these useless feelings.
When she peered into his bedroom, he was lying on his back on his bed, spread-eagled, dressed in his usual lab gear, but with the collar undone and his thick protective gloves clutched loosely in one hand. His door had been wide open, as if he hoped somebody would stop by. Or maybe he'd just forgotten to close it.
Either way, she went inside. The room was mostly dark, except for the dim glow of his bedside lamp and the light streaming in from the hallway. She sighed; it looked like a possible moping atmosphere.
"What now? Did ya throw your back out again?"
He looked up; he seemed surprised, but not startled. "Hello, Shego," he said, then laid his head down again. "Long time no see."
She simply shrugged; decided not to comment.
"Did you know," he began slowly, "that back in 1998, I stole a bottle of champagne? Real champagne, I mean, not just fizzy party water."
"Uh…Dr. Drakken? You going anywhere with this story?"
"I stole that champagne to celebrate my world domination," he continued, voice turning wistful, "and now it's 2008, and I still haven't opened it. In fact, it's not even the original bottle. I've had to replace it at least twice due to my lairs blowing up all the time."
She tilted her head at him. "So…what? You given up or something?"
He was quiet for a moment before he sighed. "Just saying, that's all. "
She continued to frown at his face; he stared up into the ceiling. "Well…then what's going on? Are we making another attempt?"
For a second, he froze, his face taking on an expression she couldn't quite read. He pushed himself up on his elbows. "Making another attempt at…?" he asked, a timid note in his question.
All of a sudden, her head felt hot, but she managed to merely look annoyed. She was not going there. It was pointless. "Hello, taking over the world?"
There was another stretch of silence, during which he simply stared at her, so many things going on in his eyes that she couldn't catch a single one of them; then his expression went carefully blank.
He cleared his throat gruffly; the sound was almost jarring. "Right. The world."
"Got any ideas?" she asked, uneasy now.
"Uh, no…I've decided my brain and I are taking the day off."
"Dr. Drakken, you didn't even take the day off the time you had that concussion after hitting the train tunnel roof face first."
His brow rose. "Exactly."
"I guess I'll just leave you to your thoughts, then," she mumbled, starting for the door.
"You know, I figured…"
She turned. "Yeah?"
A slow sigh rolled in his throat and nestled somewhere in his chest. "After having saved the world and all…wouldn't it be a waste to try to rule it again?"
Shego spent a long time in the doorway, her face half-obscured by the darkness, just staring at him. In the end, the scrutiny had apparently begun to shake him out of his detached, dreamy state, because he sat up and stared back.
Finally, he cleared his throat again, affecting loud impatience for her answer.
She simply shrugged and walked away.
She didn't know, either.
So now they were stuck at some kind of mid- to low-level of villainy, knocking over banks, stealing things because they could, scamming a couple of companies just to be able to roll in money (as well as pay for the lairs, the henchmen and the cleaning staff).
It wasn't actually fun, however.
There had been another change. Shego didn't banter with him anymore.
She did, however, banter with everyone else. And with gusto.
When she delivered a particularly zesty zinger to the cheerleader and her blonde boyfriend one Tuesday night, Drakken found himself picking them up with his vines and slamming them against the wall with far more force than necessary. As Shego tied them up, he realized he was gnashing his teeth.
She couldn't do it anymore. What "it" was, she wasn't sure. Trying to take over the world? Being a full-time villain? Never knowing when she'd be thrown back in prison? Contemplating some sort of relationship with her boss? Or even relating to him at all on a daily or weekly basis?
Whatever it was, she didn't even want to anymore. At some point, the will had just sort of…dropped out of her, trailing behind her like bread crumbs until her pockets were empty. And she didn't want to turn around and retrace her steps. Didn't want to walk that path again.
She was only twenty-eight. Shouldn't he be the one having a mid-life crisis? Shouldn't he be the one who craved change? Was he such a creature of habit? Or did he want change, but was just too much of a doofus to express it? There had been changes, of course, as they were currently not making attempts at global domination, but they didn't feel like changes. It felt like walking in the same circles, only smaller this time. And sure, she'd fought the Lorwardians, and sure, he would've probably been dead if not for her...but the real fallout from that saving-the-world gig? The offers he was still getting from various scientific institutions about his super hypollenator mutagen? They had absolutely nothing to do with her and her career.
She'd intended to quit her job. She'd intended to hand in her resignation.
But then she'd figured that it didn't matter. They worked together so little these days that her old job would hardly interfere with any new projects she'd feel like pursuing. There was no need to quit, really.
She knew she hadn't done enough, but at least she'd done something. She might not have been fair, might not have given him a chance, but even the thought of actually explaining, of actually admitting, when he'd been looking at her like that, when she knew he'd handle her offers and her questions with all the grace of a drunken elephant…
Well, the thought made her nauseous, and it was only here, alone in the dark of her bedroom, that she could concede that what had happened had already hurt, and if she'd continued, it would only have hurt more.
She knew it was cowardly, knew she might've tried, but she just couldn't see it, couldn't visualize it turning out right— and not just the first stage, the admittance, but anything at all at this point. And she had no idea what was going on inside his crazy head in any case. How would a relationship even work? Wasn't it better to just fade away rather than expose herself and be rejected, either because he didn't want what she might want or because he was too much of a spaz to deal with it?
There was no need for a dramatic exit.
To be continued.
Author's notes: This story idea had been knocking around on my computer since about 2009/2010. It's meant to be an exploration of the kind of Drakken who couldn't even hug Shego after she'd gone up into space to save him, and the kind of Shego who immediately and awkwardly backed away. I just thought it would be "fun" if they both did absolutely everything wrong. More than usual, I mean.
I tried something slightly different with the writing style this time. Hope it worked out.
I'd like to give credit to my beta reader on this story, Oldandnewfirm. Thank you! :) Be sure to check out her wonderful Drakken/Shego illustrations on deviantART.
Then there was the fact that he'd gone crazy wondering what she'd been up to during her Attitudinated week of absence: "Stop Team Go", season 4.
Why couldn't DNAmy just have said yes that one time, so he'd be far away somewhere, making science babies?: "Partners", season 2.
—cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes, no, she hadn't liked it when he'd packed on the pounds with Hank's leftover stock: "Odds Man In", season 4.
And once, when he couldn't come up with a villainous plan to keep them occupied, to turn to another method of ignoring her; devoting himself to getting all the floors in his lair refinished: See the end tag to the episode "Larry's Birthday", season 4.
"Dr. Drakken, you didn't even take the day off the time you had that concussion after hitting the train tunnel roof face first.": "Clean Slate", season 4.