The next morning, he forced himself to roll out of his bedding of animal skins and dead leaves. As he shuffled onwards in search of sustenance, he groaned, brushing lichen and twigs from his loin cloth and straggly troll hair. It was as if all the outpouring of emotion, all the public humiliation, all the vulnerability he couldn't take back, had transformed into alcohol in his bloodstream. His head pounded, his gut squirmed, his legs unsteady.
And there to see his lowest point, there Shego was, sitting on the couch in the lab, watching TV. Her hair down once more, as if she'd never left.
And he'd been so certain he'd uninstalled the cat flap. He rubbed his eyes to see if she was just remnants of the Sandman. She was still there when he looked again.
"I'm not staying," she said simply, switching off the TV. No greeting, nothing.
"Oh, I counted on you not staying," he spat; poisonous, hot bile sprayed out and melted the floor by her feet. It had just been refinished, too. No, wait…that had been over two years ago. "In fact, I don't even know why you're here in the first place."
"I'm here," she said, walking across the disintegrating floor without getting a mark on her, "to take you with me."
The cave troll made a quizzical sound. The floor stopped sizzling and remained as shiny as ever. Well, nearly as shiny as two years ago.
Cats were antisocial. They didn't take anybody anywhere. They moved alone.
It must have thought it was a knight, and that the cave troll was a prince to be saved.
"Right!" the cave troll chirped acidly, feeling almost like Drakken again. "I'll just drop everything and we'll be on our merry way, then! It's not like I was doing anything!" He clapped his hands together. "So, since we're moving in together and all, I'm assuming you've procured a dream home for us and that we'll be spending the day picking out china patterns together! I can't wait! Ooh, hang on, here's a small bump in the road— I don't think there's enough room in the hover car for your boyfriend!"
His upbeat production of Sarcasm on Ice was met with ringing silence. Then she began to slowly cook his innards with her eyes, looking as if she was trying to think up a suitable spice to garnish them with. He thought their stuffing of liquid fear would go well with basil and garlic.
She crossed her arms on her chest, as if she wanted a fence over which to glare at him. "I don't have…a boyfriend."
"But you said—"
"I said I was dating somebody."
"So? By my book, you're still not really available. " He waved a hand, his expression souring. "Am I supposed to think that you're willing to dump him for me? And that you won't regret it and slink out again?"
Her exterior was oddly serene, but in a way that seemed like the edges of a wound being held together. "You said you loved me."
"I know," he pressed out, through a thick layer of shame and nausea. He must be as green as her now. "I was there. So was most of your staff, if I recall correctly."
The arm fence dropped, as did her gaze. "Well…the past year, I've played cards with my business associates a lot. And I figure an 'I love you' kinda trumps a 'let's go make out in the back of the theater'."
He flinched. He hadn't wanted to know about other hands on her, but now he did. "Making out at the movies? Who the heck are you dating, a big teenager?"
"Apparently. And now I've just dumped him for a big child. Tell me, is that a trade-up?"
Drakken looked up, met her sharp eyes, as green as ever. Pine needle green, unripe lime green, poison green.
Cats didn't keep their promises, but they respected promises made by others.
"Look, we're done here, I don't wanna stay here, and neither—" She walked straight up to him, then, put her finger on his nose, pushing, as if it was the button with which to switch him on, like a robot. "—do you."
He brushed her hand away. "Oh, I don't, do I? And I suppose you can read minds?"
Cats always looked like they could.
She shrugged. "I just figure we've been trying it your way forever, so maybe it's time to try mine. I know you can be a business man. I've seen you at the white collar evil, and heck…back then you were more into it than me. If I hadn't insisted on going forward with the plan when you were getting all sidetracked, who knows where we'd be today, the money we'd have? Well, you know, apart from that whole thing where carbs were suddenly untrendy, but we could've always switched our product from cupcakes to something else— ugh, okay, speaking of getting sidetracked— anyway— I just know I need a chief scientist." She met his eyes with determination, as if she was forcing herself to say her next piece. "A really good one. A genius. It just didn't really occur to me before to hire you."
"Your way?" he demanded, confused and defiant. On the one hand, what she was suggesting sounded sensible, especially since he knew he was in a rut, but on the other, she was being so insistent, barging in here, telling him to throw everything from the past away, deeming it worthless— wasn't that what she was saying? Or was it? That last bit had almost sounded like a compliment.
"Yeah. Also?" She cocked her head at him, one hand going to her hip. "My way has more sex in it. Although that isn't really difficult, considering yours has none."
The cave troll got dry mouth. "Nnnrrrhhpphh?"
Cats! They talked of fornication so casually, pretending there wasn't more to it. Then again, he supposed they were better than cave trolls, who pretended there was no sex at all and nothing more complicated either.
At the same time as it made him cringe, he was absurdly grateful for her tactlessness. The skulls of cave trolls were thick and their wits slow in such matters. Maybe that was why she'd brought an ice pick. Here she was, spelling it out, making it easier for him: If they managed to be friends again, live together again, then they wouldn't just be friends.
"I've got a new, bigger place," she offered, gesturing around herself as she continued, "smaller than this one, but with less pointless moats and empty hallways, and it's easier to keep heated. I thought you could live there with me until I figure out if I want to accept your offer." Then she added emphatically, "The sex would come later, if at all. Definitely not now. Sooo not now."
"My offer?" This baffled him; he couldn't remember making any.
Her eyebrows challenged him. "And here I thought you said you were there when you stormed into my office and declared your everlasting—"
"All right! All right!" He waved his hands frantically. "Knock it off! I get it! Look, I was full of caffeine and functioning on forty-five minutes of sleep and—"
She chuckled. "And the voices in your head told you to do it, I know, I know."
"Anyway…" And here her voice went soft and her fingers suddenly found her hair annoying and he wondered if everything she'd said and done today had mostly been a front. She sounded almost hoarse when she spoke next. "That was…pretty much what I came here to say. You can…you know, leave with me now, or catch up later, or…not show up at all. That's kinda your call."
This was beginning to sound too incredible an offer, so he decided to see if he could tempt the fates further. "You said 'chief scientist'. Would there be a big laboratory, at your place of business? Just for me? Where I'd be in charge?"
She actually smiled a bit at that, as if she'd wanted, waited for him to ask. "There already is. There's a married couple in charge there now. They're giant egg heads with massive technical skills but no creativity, so they're just aching for new ideas. They'd just about pee themselves if a world-saving Nobel prize winner walked in the room, evil or not. We wanna branch out, cater to more villainous needs…not just security. We think we can be a serious contender for HenchCo, but we need to expand Research and Development. That's where you come in." Her chin rose, her shoulders squaring. He could almost picture sitting next to her at a meeting already. "I know you've been busy, accumulating assets and contacts in the science world. I'd like you to come invest in me. I'm suggesting a merger. If nothing else, I can pretty much guarantee you that nobody would dare steal from your lab— you'd have the best security money can buy."
He studied her face for a long while, momentarily recalling sending her out to steal from Jack Hench, way back when. It had been so easy for her, and now she'd apparently gathered everything she'd learned about HenchCo's mistakes…and removed them.
But mostly all he could think was: She put in a lab. Of course, every self-respecting super villain had to have a lab, even white collar super villains, but still…she'd put in a lab.
I've been working on a sort of stabilizer for doomsday devices, he wanted to tell her, because they do always seem to blow up, or melt down, they're so volatile—
That wasn't what he told her at all.
"I love you," he said, solemnly, not screaming this time, and properly taking her hand. As one should. As one did, if one weren't him. A cave troll. A big child.
Now he watched her knees buckle, her hands tremble, her breath catch— without her actually doing any of those things. He could still see them there, circling her calm exterior like ghosts.
Then one of them possessed her, making her face turn a slow pale pink. "Okay, so that's…too soon. That's the road to…not good things."
His face had also lost its usual deathly complexion now, burning. "You're the one who insisted on bringing it up. It's not like I needed the reminder, either. And I was far from comfortable with you mentioning the horizontal bop out of nowhere! We're getting the order all wrong."
She snatched her hand from his grasp. "Getting the order wrong? Doy! Out of nowhere, you yelled that you loved me, in public, before we'd even gone on a single date, or kissed, or even talked about it— so maybe I was just trying to shake you as badly as you shook me?" Then her voice lost its sharpness, its volume: "And as for bringing it up again, I was just…trying to get used to the idea of it all. To see if that was something I could be around."
Something about the way she said it, guarded and un-Shegoish, made him worry that she'd made up her mind already, but she just didn't know it yet. He gulped. "And now you can't?"
"No, now I can't decide." She shook her head, pointing at him. "So you do it. The last thing you get to decide for me. Do we try living together again? Yes or no?"
Shrinking back slightly, he presented his hands to her, palms up. "Look, I don't want— if you don't want—"
"Just do it!"
"Y-yes? YES! Okay? Yes!"
Nodding, she seemed to radiate surprise, but also grim resignation. "Great. That's just— great."
Watching her now, he had to wonder if the not-quite-certainty, the uncertainty he saw in her face now, if he'd also sensed it in her back then. Back when she'd first tried to move them forward. If that was part of why he'd been scared, because of these nerves of hers, or whether he was fabricating an excuse now, in hindsight. Or both.
"Really? I still don't— if you don't—"
Her eyes were big, her fingers twitching; she shoved her hands behind her back. "I dunno, it's just…do you actually…you know, lo— l-love me? I mean, you've got a pretty active imagination, and I know mad scientist minds, they can get pretty cluttered—"
"Oh, so you weren't just joking about the voices in my head, then?"
Shego rolled her eyes. "Dr. D…"
"I think I should feel insulted." And he was, and it hurt even if it was only a product of her nervousness, but he wanted to move on, couldn't afford more setbacks.
"Look, just…" She groaned, looking wretched. "…just answer the question, okay?"
He cocked his head at her. "What do you want?"
She frowned. "How do you mean?"
"Do you want it to be true that I love you?"
Again, she gave him one of her long, silent looks. "All I know is…I guess I'm willing to try and see if I want that."
For a moment, he simply studied her. Then, haltingly: "Shego…why did you leave?"
"Lots of reasons." She hesitated, swallowed; either taking her time to think, or merely procrastinating her answer. "My life was dull and repetitive, I couldn't see a future in our work or with you, and in the end…well, after inventing the thing that saved the world, you were somebody. I think I decided I wanted to be somebody, too. The woman who revolutionized the industry." Here she glanced at him suspiciously, as if waiting for him to scoff at her ambitions, at what might sound like pomposity; to somehow get back at her for years of mocking. When he only gestured impatiently for her to move her story along, she did. "Build a better henchman, Hench always says, but when you take a closer look at his henchmen? Yeah, no. Even if they're buff, they still don't know martial arts, barely a little kickboxing, they just follow the leader pretty blindly, they don't learn to take the initiative, although they should know you don't always have time to wait for an order, in the heat of the moment— also, if you've seen my commercial, then— yeah, where are all the henchwomen? Jeez...!" She shook her head. "I guess I was tired of complaining and wanted to do something about this business for once, whatever I could do."
"Do you enjoy your new work?"
Surprised at the sincere interest, she nodded. "You know, I really do? It's actually pretty satisfying. Teaching, instructing, watching people improve, creating less idiotic henchmen and henchwomen, making sure they actually like their jobs so they won't get all mutinous— not to mention building something that's all mine and that's already making an obscene amount of money. And hey, I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoy the yelling and bossing people around." She grinned, then, before taking on a serious expression. "Also, I'm all for job satisfaction, but you have to add a dash of fear in the training, too, so they'll keep in line and so you'll know they'll handle their jobs later. It's a tricky balance. Keeps things interesting."
Yes, this was clearly her baby.
It hurt that he'd never really heard her quite this enthusiastic before, but at the same time, it made him hopeful. Forced his gaze from the end of his own nose and far into the future.
He drew a breath. "Well, then. I'll have to go pack, won't I?"
She exhaled. "Right."
"There are still a few of your things lying around here, too, by the way."
"I know," she said, already on her way to her old room.
A week or so later, she was about to leave for work, dressed in her favorite dark green business suit (the one with the black shirt, tailored slacks and her most expensive and most comfortable dress shoes, perfect for long days), when he tumbled into the kitchen. Trailing papers behind him, he wore nothing but pajamas and a manic grin.
She paused in picking up her keys and her briefcase to take it all in. For a moment, it was just like old times.
"Shego! Take a look! I've been working on a sort of stabilizer for doomsday devices— you know, to stop them from always blowing up, or melting down, or fizzling out, right? And when you mentioned wanting to branch out— well, I know firsthand that there's a market for this! Why, I can already see the commercial now!"
Shego laughed out loud at the abruptness of his rambling speech, first thing in the morning, and the warm, weird familiarity of having him lay out one of his plans for her again. It made her want to finally admit that things hadn't been the same without him.
"Gah, slow down, Doc, it's only eight am and I'm already gonna hafta listen to potential investors all day— but hey, um, apart from all that, you know what?" I think I might've actually missed this. "I love you."
There was a rustle as the rest of his notes fluttered to the floor.
Usually, she didn't cower from anybody, but now she shrank as if somehow trying to cower from herself. Her free hand grabbed on to the back of a chair to steady her as her knees gave a little. She still clutched her keys, the metal teeth starting to dig into her palm. Her briefcase remained on the table.
The commercial for doomsday device stabilizers, which he'd claimed to envision so clearly just seconds before, was apparently forgotten. He didn't even seem to notice having dropped his notes. She had the urge to bend down and pick them up, to do anything to keep herself occupied, to force a feeling of normality, but all of a sudden her arms were as rigid as logs.
As he gaped openly at her, she swallowed. Forcing her body to move, she collapsed on the chair, and tossed her keys on the table so she could bury her face in her hands. Then she moaned as if she'd just worked a twelve-hour day in uncomfortable shoes.
Drakken continued to stare at her. Her face was hidden now, but the kaleidoscope of emotions that had moved across it just seconds ago was still burned into his retina.
Apparently, cats didn't even know they could be cave trolls, and cave trolls didn't always recognize their own.
Drakken tried to keep his voice casual when he spoke next, but it came out timid. "Okay…are you freaking out because what you just said is true, or because…it's not and you wish you hadn't said it?"
Shego looked up slowly, glassy-eyed. "I think neither of us shoulda said it. Not yet. It's all messed up now."
He drew a shaky breath and tried, "But if we feel it—"
She sighed in a sort of resignation. "Let's just…start with trying to have a conversation about something other than doomsday devices, contractual obligations or Kim Possible for once, okay?"
He smiled wryly at her. "Funny, seeing as that's probably what we'll be talking about from now on, anyway, if I start working with you again."
She shot up from her chair. "Then you think of something!"
And he actually did. He'd always been so good at ideas, which was why it'd been so frustrating that he hadn't managed to think up a single workable plan when it came to her. Of course, at first he hadn't even wanted to acknowledge what he wanted, but after that…oh, yes, he'd had plenty of time. And still…nothing, not until now.
"This is two years too late, you know," she murmured into his shoulder.
He merely tightened his hold on her. When her arms went up to reciprocate the embrace, he let all pretense slide and sighed, burying his nose in her hair. She wasn't a cat, she was a woman. Shego. Whole, solid, clutching.
It didn't dawn on him until now, here, that he'd had his head so far up his ass that he hadn't even been aware he'd rejected her not just once, but twice.
He pressed his face to her crown, trying to breathe normally and failing. It still felt like a close call.
"This should've been a space hug," she went on, voice muffled further by the fabric of his pajamas. "Later, I thought it was funny, in a pathetic kinda way…how we couldn't figure things out anywhere on Earth, and not even out in space. We seemed pretty doomed."
He hummed his agreement, drunk on her warmth and her scent and the reassuring pressure of her arms. He'd known she'd given up. Yet she hadn't quite let go, so she hadn't quite left. If she'd been dealing with impossible odds for years, working for him, how could they truly have scared her?
But even so…
If he'd been there a week or two later, would it have been too late? Would she have moved on?
"You sure you weren't happier with Mr. Movie Make-outs?"
There was a brittle chuckle. "If you're asking if you almost lost me, then yeah…I think maybe you did. If you're asking if you almost lost me to him…then no, you gotta be kidding me."
She let go, smoothing down her hair. "I should get going. I have a meeting at nine."
He felt as if the moment needed some closure, however, so he offered, "I could come by later. A tour would be useful."
After some brief hesitation, she nodded. "Anytime after lunch is fine. See you at…oh, let's say one o'clock?" She grinned, and added, "I'll be your personal guide."
Then she was out the door. He wondered if that had been flirting. Cave trolls weren't good at recognizing it.
He definitely needed a guide.
The first thing he noticed during the tour was a small picture of him, printed out and taped to the wall behind the front desk. It hung right above a big patch of photographs of HenchCo employees who'd made attempts at infiltrating SheCo. His mind just hadn't registered this reproduction of his face the first go 'round. So he hadn't been as suave as he'd thought, then, when 'breaking and entering'. They'd known who he was. Made sense that it shouldn't have been that easy, considering who their boss was, and that the company specialized in security. The interesting thing about it, though, was how they'd, apart from not letting him interrupt a board meeting, allowed him access to more or less the inner sanctum of the company.
He wondered whether she'd hoped he'd show up one day, or if she'd merely expected it, and hadn't wanted him to cause a fuss when he did.
When she got home after a long and tiring press conference, he sat in the kitchen, waiting for her. Being the infamous Dr. Drakken and the head of DrakCo, the science branch of the mother company SheCo, he'd also had his share of interviews, but she'd been stuck with the bulk of them. She was after all the head and founder of the entire company (and had a higher TV IQ, but he didn't need to know that, he'd pout for days).
When she'd kicked off her shoes and dropped her bag on the table, she sagged onto a chair, immensely relieved to not only be done for the day, but to find that he hadn't gone to bed yet. She didn't even bother ignoring the warm flutter in her belly. He smiled sheepishly, gleefully at her, holding up a bottle of something, and he might've been waiting for a while, because he bounced in his seat. She couldn't look sillier than that if she tried, so she didn't care to put up a front.
"Hey, Dr. D." She grinned tiredly. "Still losing sleep over me, huh?"
Scowling briefly at her teasing, Drakken pushed the bottle towards her, ever expectant. "Ta-dah!"
He watched her eyebrow arch at the champagne. "Is that the…?"
He nodded eagerly. "C'mon, Shego! In a mere five months, we've managed to become the rulers of the villainous business world! We can't just go to bed! We have to celebrate!"
She gave him a skeptical look; after a couple of seconds, however, the look sort of…softened. "We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow," she said, but he could tell her resolve was weakening.
Champagne was popped, poured and sipped. They declared it top shelf (it would have to be, because what else would a super villain bother stealing?).
When they'd shared a proper toast, he brought out an ancient-looking cassette player.
"Party music," he announced, when she sent him a strange glance. He pressed play.
'—very kinky giiiirrrlll! The kind you don't take home to mother!'
His finger stabbed at the stop button. "I must've forgotten to rewind the tape," he muttered, purple-faced.
"And you've obviously saved that tape about a decade longer than the champagne, huh?" she remarked, exasperated but amused.
"You put something on, then!"
Rolling her eyes, Shego grabbed the radio and fiddled with it for a bit before it settled on some kinda low-key late night station, soft, skippy jazz pouring leisurely into the kitchen. Shego shrugged and put the radio back down, looking like she didn't particularly care what they listened to as long as it wasn't his music.
The champagne disappeared slowly as they went on to talk about the business of the day.
"Ugh, I had to recall like a dozen henchmen today!"
"Yes, Henderson from HR told me at lunch," Drakken offered, scoffing in empathy and absentmindedly refilling her glass for her when she'd drained her drink. "What was it? The global domination clause again? I've had the same problem with the schmucks who try to buy my DrakCo exclusive doomsday devices. They still don't seem to understand we have the power to shut them down remotely."
Shego nodded vigorously. "Yeah! And it's the second time in two months! What don't they get? If they use SheCo personnel to take over the world, said personnel will immediately be released from their contracts, we have the rights to all intel and there will be no refunds. It's a safety catch! I mean, doy, we're part of the world, and we don't wanna be ruled, thank you very much! Not to mention it'd be murder on business! They can only take over 'cities, towns or lesser areas of land where SheCo branch offices are not currently residing'! Nothing else! Respect it! Yeesh!"
Nodding, and secretly admiring her ranting, he donned a pensive look. "You know, I'm actually considering switching to vehicles instead for a while— for the flashier villains with money to burn— just so I don't have to deal with the paperwork. I'm sure customized hover cars would sell like hot cakes."
She grinned. "Not bad, Dr. D. As long as it doesn't involve your Cousin Eddie, we can air it out at the Monday meeting."
"Huh. I still can't believe you've gone legit," he mused. "Sort of, anyway."
She lowered her glass. "What are you talking about?"
He waved his drink at her. "Using your real name and everything?"
"What, you think I'm gonna let all that work go to waste over somebody finding out I've founded my company under a fake name?" She treated him to a look of overbearing amusement. "I had enough trouble just laundering the start-up money. And it's not like people didn't know who I was, ever since we saved the world."
Drakken arched his brow at her, as if to convey his point was still valid. "They didn't know you were Sharon Gordon."
Shego tossed her hair. "Well…now they do."
"I think you'll always be Shego to me, though," he confessed, smiling fondly at her. Things like that were allowed these days. It was painful to remember how there had been a time, a very recent time, when they were barely even allowed to be thought.
"You're just saying that 'cause you don't want me calling you Drew," she teased, her answering smile a touch more mischievous than his.
He only shook his head at that, grinning into his glass. After those terrible, long months when she'd only referred to him as Dr. Drakken, when or if she'd even talked to him at all, he didn't particularly care what pet names she chose for him now, as long as she did. Not now, when she would actually meet his eyes and would banter with him and would never pretend as if they hardly knew each other. Outside of business-related situations, she could use any endearment she wanted on him. Within reason, of course. If she started calling him Drewbie, he'd clearly have to reconsider.
Only a third of the bottle was left now. At the back of her mind, Shego kept an eye on the time. It was nearly midnight, and she had to go to bed soon. First, though, she wanted to see if the Doc would turn into a pumpkin or not.
Her glass was put aside, and she moved closer, a guarded look in her eye.
When she was almost there, when he could feel her breath on his face, he faltered. "Uhm…Shego?"
"Don't tell me you're gonna crap out on me again," she warned, retreating a little. There was a note of incredulous anguish there that made him wonder what cats looked like when they cried, or when they stumbled at the finish line. Probably prettier than cave trolls, but not inside.
"Besides, after the stunt you pulled in the boardroom, like, right before you came to work with me, pretty much everyone thinks we're dating, anyway, right?" Now she'd resorted to humor, her small laugh unnatural.
Drakken helped her along, sparing them an awkward silence by rolling his eyes, agreeing. "Yes, I've gathered. Some of them aren't exactly subtle about it."
"Living together probably didn't help, either, huh?" Licking her lips, Shego wouldn't quite meet his eyes now. "So, um…I'm not…Dr. D, just so you now, I'm not gonna try again, so if you're still gonna…"
"No, not this time," he promised, leaning forward. Taking the initiative.
She didn't skin him alive or even scratch him. If you didn't count the marks she accidentally left on his back the following weekend, of course.
Once a cat, always a cat.
Author's note: "Whatever, it's 2009!"
Sorry for the slight delay. I wanted to publish this about a week ago, but real life got in the way. Thanks for reading.
Oh, by the way: Cats and cave trolls are not metaphors for women and men, only Shego and Drakken. In case anybody wondered.
I'd also like to extend another thank you to my beta reader on this story, Oldandnewfirm. :) Go check out her neat D/S art at deviantART.
Considering the amount of D/S fic I've written, it's kinda funny that it took this long for me to have them say "I love you". Or, considering their characters, maybe not. Aaaand now I've just realized that in the only story where we do get to hear them say I love you, we don't really get to see them kiss. D'oh.
[…] but in a way that seemed like the edges of a wound being held together: Partly stolen from Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn.
'—very kinky giiiirrrlll! The kind you don't take home to mother!': "Superfreak" by Rick James.