Ron reappeared in Middleton on Wednesday, as quietly as he had left. He spoke with Kim briefly on the phone before he crashed to sleep off the jet lag.
Kim was glad the eye doctors told her not to go out, she didn't want to be seen in her condition, but Ron was always welcome. He stayed with her all day Thursday, not answering any of Kim's questions about his summer and asking her more questions about Shego than her internship at Global Justice. He kicked himself for leaving. Maybe if he's stayed in Middleton he could have kept this from happening.
Kim's mom stopped him before he could leave for home, “Ron, do you need an invitation to dinner tomorrow, or will you just show up like the old days?”
“Either's fine Mrs. Dr. P.”
“Will your parents mind you eating over here? You’ve been gone so long I'm sure they'll want to catch up with you too.”
“That's okay. I can eat supper at home before I come here for dinner.”
Jean hesitated, but knew she had to ask, “Did Kim tell you that Shego will be here?”
“Only forty times.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“Nope -- how about you and Mr. Dr. P?”
“We're adjusting better than I could have imagined. We tell each other that Kim's happiness is all that matters. Sometimes we even believe it.”
“And it's really serious between them?”
“Kim thinks it is. She told James and me that Shego is the person she loves. She seems very happy, but James and I just don't know where it can go.”
Ron walked home slowly, so that he could have more time to think. It had been a good summer… He felt like he was over his romantic feelings for Kim, that some of what he had taken for love was simply the deep affection for his best friend. At the same time, seeing her stirred a lot of memories. “No, I'm not interested in Kim. But she still has no business with Shego. I'm not jealous. I'm just trying to help her. I wonder if Shego has her drugged?”
Kim had high hopes as they all sat down at the table. She was with the woman she loved. Her family seemed to be adjusting to the new reality very well. And Ron was home. She hoped that Ron, like her parents, would soon realize Shego was not a monster and these two who were so important to her might start becoming friends.
Kim's dad brought the steaks in from the grill and her mother served. “Ah, Mom, how come Shego got the biggest steak?”
“Hush Jim, that's for her job as a bodyguard for Kim last weekend.”
“It's really more than I can eat Jean. Ron, would you like a piece of my steak? Are you really happy with grilled fish and salad?”
“I'm fine, thanks. Uh, kosher laws, I got the old time religion over the summer.”
“Oh, were you in Israel” Jean asked.
Shego snorted, “I have a lot of guesses about Stoppable's summer, but none of them include Israel.”
“I'm curious, Ron hasn't said anything about his summer.” Jean said, “What are your guesses Shego?”
Ron looked a little uncomfortable, but Kim was too curious to intervene on his behalf.
“First, he spent his summer training. Intense training at a good school.”
“He does look fit.”
“Those muscles are more than fit. He almost looks like he might be a match for either Kim or me.”
“I can't believe lifting weights would make him a better fighter.”
“Oh, if that was all he was doing it wouldn't. Those muscles came with training -- not free weights. Do you remember the sounds he made when he came in the dining room?”
Ron had progressed to very uncomfortable now.
“No, why would I remember how he sounded?”
“Because sometimes is the clue is the dog that didn't bark. He didn't make any sound walking across the room, not any. Those two,” indicating the twins, “sound like a pair of elephants. I make no sound. Kim makes very little. Stoppable made no noise either. I didn't believe that skill could be picked up in one summer. He's good.
“And I'll throw in a couple fast guesses here. First, Stoppable, is currently kicking himself and saying he needs to develop a louder style of movement for ordinary situations.”
Ron's eyes narrowed and he glared at Shego, “So, you maybe want to see how good I got over the summer?”
“Later dear, I was about to tell Jean about the great sex you were having.”
“Jim, Tim, be quiet. Shego, with the boys present I'd prefer you pass over how you came to that conclusion.”
“Fine, let's move to the grand finale, where Ron Stoppable spent his summer vacation.” She leaned over and inhaled. Her eyes widened in surprise and she actually moved around the table, leaned over sniffed his head and arms. “He doesn't smell!”
“Gee, thanks Shego, I took a shower before I came.”
“Quiet clown, you known what I mean.” Turning to Kim's mom, Shego continued. “Everyone has a distinctive smell. The human nose isn't very powerful, it was easier for the human race to evolve if we didn't have to smell our neighbors. It takes special training today to really notice it. Stoppable always reeked of cheese. I could smell him a block away. It takes special diet and herbal teas to lose smell. Because the human nose isn't very sensitive you can become ‘invisible’ to it fairly quickly. A couple years on the diet and not even a blood hound can trace you.”
Shego stared at Ron. “I am impressed,” she whispered. “If you were… I tried to visit once, they told me gaikokujin were not allowed.”
Ron licked his finger and made a tally on an imaginary chalkboard, “Oh yeah, score one for the Ron man!”
Kim moved quickly to change the subject, partly to spare Ron's feelings, party because it bothered her Shego might know something she didn't know herself.
“Ron, do you know who is going to be at Berkeley this fall?”
“I'm thinking you mean besides Felix.”
“Justine will be doing grad work there. Wouldn't they make a cute couple?”
“Kim -- You and Shego? Felix, our little Felix, and Justine? You need to pull out the dictionary and review the definition of cute.”
“But he's just what she needs.”
“Oh yeah, like he will even see her on campus when he's a freshman and she's a grad student.”
“Actually, I got an email from him. They have grad students teaching undergraduate courses -- and guess who he has for calculus?”
Doesn't matter Kim, doesn't matter. They can be on the same campus. They can be in the same classroom. But they are still on two different planets. I was going to say they could even be in bed together, but the image started to burn little black spots onto my brain.”
After dinner Ron went with the twins to the television room to catch up on their recordings of Justice League Unlimited. James set up the card table.
“I want Shego as my partner for life,” Kim announced.
“We're playing bridge Kimmie, and I don't think you have partners in Life, you play for yourself.”
“I know that, Dad. I want Shego for my bridge partner. There's a grad student in engineering who claims he is fifth alternate for the Lithuanian National Team. We've been paying him in Cappuccino for lessons. Shego and I are ready to take on you and Mom.”
“Five diamonds. You seem extraordinarily happy tonight Kim.”
“I am Dad, all is right with the world. I have two eyes that work. I have the most wonderful parents in the world. I have the love of a beautiful woman. I am besotted with Shego. I am intoxicated with life!”
Between bridge and dessert Kim managed to corner Shego briefly alone in the hallway. “You said Ron and I shouldn't be a cliché, but you know the two of us are one.”
“Yeah, the hero always gets the girl.” Kim leaned toward the pale woman and give her a soft kiss.
Shego couldn't help herself, she returned the kiss. But as their lips parted she looked as confused as she felt. “Kim, I don't know… This isn't…”
“I love you, Shego.” Kim whispered. She waited, but Shego didn't respond as she was supposed to.
Kim was still trying to understand Shego's silence when her mother called, “Girls, where are you? Time for dessert.”
As they finished dessert Shego offered, “Jean, can I help you finish cleaning up in the kitchen?”
“Thank you Shego, that would be nice”
Once in the kitchen Jean stacked the plates on the counter and looked at the other woman, “Okay, Shego, I think you want to talk rather that load the dishwasher”
“Promise you won't tell Kim what I'm about to tell you.”
“I don't think I can make that promise.”
“I'm not sure I can tell you then. Please, it's something I think you need… want to know.”
“Okay, if it's that important to you.”
“Thanks, it is. And you Possibles keep your word… “
“I'm sorry… I just don't know where to start. I don't think Kim should see me any more. I don't think I should see her. I don't think I can see her… It hurts too much…”
“I love her Jean. I know you don't approve, but I do love her. And I know I'm not right for her. I can't stop seeing her, I need to see her. But I'm afraid the more I see her the more pain I'm going to bring her. I've got to stop it now before I hurt her more.”
Jean Possible wrapped her arms around Shego and drew her close. “And it hurts you too,” she whispered.
“I don't care. I've messed up my life. I don't want to mess up hers.”
“It's going to hurt her. It's going to hurt her a lot.”
“But you know she will be better off without me.”
“I don't think I've seen Kim happier in her life than she is tonight. She needs someone like you. Someone who will love and protect her. Someone who cares more about her feelings than anything else in the world. Someone she respects and trusts. Someone who makes her laugh… Oh, Shego, she needs someone like you.” Shego felt Jean lean down and gently kiss her head.
“But not me, she needs a man.”
“I'd like that Shego, I want grandkids someday. But her happiness is more important.
“I wondered what was going on with you and Kim -- I suspected she just needed someone who would pay attention to her -- it could have been a man or woman. When she started going on about you I hoped it was just crushing. I thought it might just be because you are dangerous and exciting. Kim loves excitement -- it's the life she's chosen. But as the weeks have gone by I've seen it grow. I've met you and know Kim has seen the good qualities in you. I believe she really loves you.”
“She needs someone who isn't seven years older than she is.”
“You're six and a half, but you know that really isn't what's important either.”
“She needs someone who isn't wanted in half the countries in the world.”
“Yes, Shego, that's the problem.” Shego felt Jean kiss her again on the head. “You have a past and no future. She doesn't need someone who could go to prison. You make her happy Shego. I've never seen her so happy. But what it will do to her when they finally figure out how to keep you behind bars? There's a lot of good in you Shego. I hope she can find someone as good for her as you are, someone who can make her as happy.”
Ron had not meant to eavesdrop. He had gone to the kitchen for a glass of water. Silent had become force of habit to him. When he heard voices he paused for a minute, not wanting to burst in a private conversation. He quickly realized the conversation was intensely private, but found himself unable to leave. “We're never going to find out whether I could beat you. I don't think I could ever raise a hand against you.”
“Kim may hurt for the next few weeks. Please be there for her…”
“You know I will Shego… She's not going to be over you soon. But who will be there for you Shego? How will you make it?”
Ron quietly returned to the television room at a loss for what to do, promising himself to be there for Kim if any way he could -- and Shego also.
“Hey, where are you two, I want my Shego.” Kim burst into the kitchen and stared at her Mom holding Shego. “My Mother! And my girlfriend! Should I be jealous?”
“Not at all Kimmie, Shego needed a little serious talk with me -- and you seem incapable of serious talk this evening, a little too intoxicated with life.”
“Serious talk? Did Shego ask for my hand in marriage? I know it is usually the girl's father who takes the request. Maybe its different if you fall in love with a woman. Did you say yes Mom? Did you say she could marry me?”
“Thanks, Dr… Jean. Kim, I'm not feeling well. I have to go.”
Shego almost ran from the room. “She's okay isn't she Mom. She's not pregnant is she? I swear I'm not the father -- I never laid a hand on her.”
Jean drew her daughter to her, “Hush Kimmie, you're scaring me. I'm afraid you may be scaring Shego also.”
“Scaring Shego? but she's the scary one.”
“No she's not, Shego doesn't scare me Kim; you do.”
“Me? How do I scare you?”
“Because you're so happy. And… I wonder if I'll ever see you this happy again.”
“Mom, that makes no sense… Mom? Why are you crying?”
Something was wrong. Kim was down to her last number from Shego, and attempts to talk with her were met with a flat, “Sorry, Kim, not able to talk now.”
Could Shego be dumping her? Kim refused to accept that theory. Drakken must be up to some new plan and Shego couldn't talk with him present. Shego would explain it all on Friday, they would laugh and drink coffee… Maybe they'd get into Herbie and go out to the drive-in and spend the time necking instead of watching the movie. Did it hurt to get a hickey?
Kim scanned C2K, no Shego. She glanced at her watch, only 9:15? The two of them had been arriving earlier, Shego could have been there, but there was no need to worry yet. Kim ordered her mocha and found someone she knew to talk with.
Shego had not arrived at 10:00. Kim went to a quiet corner and called Wade, “Anything happening that might be keeping Shego out late?”
“No reports I can see.”
10:30… Kim took out cell phone and dialed the last number, there were still a few minutes left on it. ‘Sheila, where the hell are you. I've been reduced to watching Mustapha and Vladamir play chess. If it gets any slower I'm going to listen to the Legals discuss contract law”
One of the Legals seemed to resent the charge of being dull. Marina took the phone from Kim's hand and did an evil villainess voice, “We've got your little friend, Sheila. If you aren't here in half and hour to rescue her we will do evil and depraved things to her. BAHWAHAHAHA!” Rina handed the phone back to Kim.
“Help, Sheila, help,” Kim giggled into the mouthpiece. “Save me.”
It was only twelve minutes until the barista called back, “Hey, Kim, she's almost at the door.”
Kim quickly sat on Marina's lap. She tried to read Shego's expression as she stormed towards them. Kim had never seen such a complex series of emotions play across anyone's face. Kim was a little afraid of what Shego might do, but Shego managed to go with the scenario.
“Unhand that woman, vile despoiler of virgins.”
One of the Legals snickered, “We heard you beat us to that.”
Kim sprang up from Rina's lap and put the back of her hand to her head, “My hero has rescued me!” Then she gave Shego a loud stage whisper, “Catch me, I'm about to swoon.”
Shego caught the fainting Kim and carried her back to their booth.
Shego seemed awfully quiet. Tony brought her a latte automatically, but Shego left it untouched.
“Where were you?”
“I wasn't going to come. And then, when you called I knew I had to tell you something. That I couldn't just walk out the way I did last week. I… I can't see you any more here.”
“If its about the caffeine addiction we can check you into the Betty Ford Clinic.”
“Dammit Kim, this isn't a joke. Your teasing hurts, it's like you're playing with my mind. I just can't take it any more. I can't see you here. I can't see you anywhere.”
“I'm sorry. Give me a chance to show you I really am sorry.” Kim reached for Shego's hand, but Shego angrily drew hers back.
“Look Kim, I like you. But you know you could never feel anything real for me, I'm one of the bad guys. I've got to get out of this before you hurt me any worse.” “I can only screw up your life. And I am so madly in love with you that I would rather ruin my own life that risk messing up yours any more than I already have.”
Kim watched Shego leave, and started to cry. Rina came over and let Kim cry on her shoulder.
“Did I mess up kid? I'm sorry.”
“No, not you. She said I hurt her. She said she was leaving.”
“Don't believe it kid, don't believe it. We can all see how much you two care about each other. It's probably just that time of month. We all get a little bitchy. You just wait. She'll be calling to apologize in a day or two.”
Tuesday Kim received a call to the office of Betty Director, head of Global Justice.
“Kim, we've got a problem with you. One of the things that sets Global Justice apart is our moral compass. We aren't like the CIA, NSA or other groups who'll put thugs and terrorists on their payroll. We don't torture. We're the cleanest group around. And we arrest criminals, we don't date them.”
The director put a VHS tape into the machine and handed Kim a small pile of pictures. Kim stared at the television screen. “This was your hospital room. Someone disabled the audio track -- we suspect your mother. We were worried that Shego might be threatening your mom, making her let Shego stay with you. But it doesn't seem like that's the case. This tender moment occurred on Sunday morning.” According to the time signature Shego had been telling the truth about it being around two in the morning. But she had lied about it being a dream. Kim watched the tape, feeling flushed as it showed Shego gently kissing her again and again and again.
Kim tore her eyes from the tape and looked at the snapshots, all taken at C2K. She tried to remember the nights and the outfits. “Hmm, so Mustapha works for Global Justice… and Victor… and Eddie… Wait a minute. Victor and Eddie are the same guy. Which is his real hair… umm, the light brown hair was the wig, and he wore a belly belt as Victor to look heavy. And this shot… A woman took this, I don't know her name, she was only there once.”
“Damn, Kim, you are good. Eddie is his real name. He's going to be sorry to hear you saw through him. You are very good. That's the whole problem. We work in the open. We take the moral high ground. We don't hire terrorists. We're not CIA--”
Hoping to change the subject, Kim asked, “What is your objection to the CIA?”
Betty Director took the bait, at least for a minute. “My first assignment with Global Justice -- filling body bags in Nicaragua with victims of the CIA's Contras. Do you want the list Kim? Chile, Indonesia, Congo, Cuba… The list is long. Oh, let's not forget their proudest moment -- they were the ones who gave terrorist training to Osama bin Ladin, because an American president figured anyone who hated what the Russians were doing in Afghanistan must love the United States. Oh yes, I have the CIA as a constant model of what Global Justice must never become. As long as I lead the organization I plan keep our reputation intact.
“So the question becomes what it going on with you and Shego? Why are you seeing her on what appears a rather intimate basis? What does she want from you, Kim? What is she trying to up to? Is she using you to get into GJ? What does she ask about us?”
“She hasn't asked any questions about Global Justice. She just likes being with me. And I like being with her!”
“You really think a woman like Shego could care about you Kim? Oh, that's no reflection on you. I'm asking if a woman like Shego is even capable of love. She uses people Kim, can't you see that? Haven't you ever asked yourself that question?” Kim remained silent. “Answer me Kim.”
Shego was not at C2K that Friday. Kim was there, almost defiantly waiting and watching for her to come in.
Kim sat fidgeting at the booth for awhile, then stalked over and snatched the wig from ‘Victor,’ “Hey, look,” she shouted towards the table with the Legals, “A sneaking little pervert who likes to look at women together because he can't get any. Oh, wow, it's Victor pretending to be Eddie. Or the other way.” She threw the wig at Eddie, “It's the ears, creep, you can't disguise your friggin’ ears.” She directed a few more choice comments towards his back as he hurriedly left.
She turned towards the chess table where Mustapha sat waiting for an opponent. “And how about you Mr. Justice agent. Why are you still here? Still pretending to be a professor?”
“You will please sit down and shut up, Miss Possible,” said Mustapha -- pointing to the chair opposite him. “I've been teaching Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi at the university before this place opened, and coming here long before you and your green-hued friend found the place.”
He pointed to the chessboard, “For what you just did I want to kick the shit out of you, and since I'm fifty-five years old and fifty-five pounds overweight this is the only place where I can do it.”
Sullenly Kim sat down.
“What odds would you like?” he offered.
“Look, we both know you'll beat me even if you give me both rooks and the queen. Odds just rubs salt in the wound -- you can even be white.”
He pushed his queen bishop's pawn. “Dammit Kim, what you did tonight was stupid. It was also illegal and immoral. But I think the stupid is what bothers me most.”
“Illegal and immoral?”
“Fingering a Global Justice agent in public. Putting an agent's life in danger. You could just hang a target on us and say ‘Shoot him.’ You could go to jail for that Kim.”
“But, Shego wouldn't--”
“And you won't go to jail, but that's not the point Kim. You were stupid. Will losing your temper bring Shego here? You need to be more like Shego.”
“You want me to rob banks?”
“No, I want you to stop being stupid and think. Shego finally realized how dangerous it was for her to keep coming here. She acted with her brain, not her heart.”
“So why did she keep coming here so long.”
“It was really most unusual… Checkmate. You will play white this time.”
The pieces were placed back in position.
“Why did she keep coming? I can only guess because of a pretty face, who knew that Shego was attracted to women.”
“You make it sound wrong.”
“It is wrong. Two such pretty women as you and Shego… I would love to have you as wives three and four.”
“You have two wives?”
“No, just the one. But while I am dreaming I will have Sarah Michel Gellar as number two.”
The professor continued to lecture her on why seeing Shego was a mistake. Finally Kim asked, “Do you have a daughter?”
“Yes, two sons and a daughter. She's in second year residency at a Detroit hospital.”
“You sound very proud of her.”
“And if she brought home a woman and said they were lovers?”
“I can only pray to Allah she would not be Jewish. Checkmate.”
The next two games were over equally as quickly.
“You really think she loves me?” Kim asked; needing some reassurance it was more than a dream.
“Yes, I think she loves you, but I do not believe her love outweighs her fear. For Shego the fear is too strong.”
“Ah, what fear indeed. There are so many fears to chose from. Fear of the future? Fear of intimacy? Fear of rejection? Perhaps she even fears the truth. I think her heart calls her to you, but her fear and her brain tell her to flee.”
Kim spent Saturday staring at the ceiling of her darkened room, refusing to come out even to eat. She copied a song off one of her mother's CDs and set her computer to endlessly loop Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
Cause we'll never be wrong together
We can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there's only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
“Eddie Haskell filed a complaint against you Kim. He wanted you arrested, but I convinced him you were an intern and not a regular agent and that we should keep the complaint in-house. He says you outed him as a Global Justice agent last Friday, is that true?”
“Yes, him and Mustapha.”
“Mustapha? Dr. Kemal? Eddie doesn't mention that in the complaint.”
“That was after Eddie left.”
“There's no mention of it in Dr. Kemal's report.”
“He doesn't mention kicking my butt in chess and giving me a lecture?”
Betty Director studied the second sheet of paper, the one with less writing. “No, what did he tell you?”
“That I screwed up royally. That I put Eddie's life, and his, in danger and that I should never let anger control my mouth.”
The corners of Betty Director's mouth twitched slightly. “And do you agree with that?”
“Yes, I screwed up.”
“Hmm… Dr. Kemal's report seems to disagree with one very important point in agent Haskell's complaint. Do you remember exactly what you said last Friday?”
“No, not exactly. I was upset.”
“Do the terms scum-sucking, sneaking pervert, creep, and voyeur sound familiar? According to Dr. Kemal those were terms you leveled at Eddie. But he states you did not call Eddie a Global Justice agent.”
“I'm sure I said something about Must- Dr. Kemal being a Justice agent.”
“Not in his report Kim, there is no report of you identifying any individual as an agent.
“Kim, I won't ask you to apologize to Dr. Kemal, I think you have the integrity to do that on your own. But if you want a future in Global Justice you will personally apologize to Agent Haskell… Close your mouth Miss Possible, it is the very least you can do for putting him in potential jeopardy. As for his complaint… He wanted this to go on your permanent record, but I seem to have misfiled it.” The shredder made a little humming sound as it misfiled the complaint. “Shego will contact you again. She knows she was sloppy to get into a pattern we could trace. She'll be more careful now. Don't trust her Kim.”
Kim only hoped that Shego would contact her again.
“Why haven't you gone after her?”
“She's the most dangerous woman in the world. Standing orders are not to attack Shego if there are civilians present, we don't want any fatalities.”
“With all due respect Director, I don't believe you. Can I tell you why that doesn't make good sense?”
Betty Director hesitated. She didn't believe in lying, and doubted she would be able to tell one which Kim would believe. “There are several reason we don't take an active approach with Shego. The most practical, of course, is that the fact we can't hold her anyway. Local jails might as well come with revolving doors. We've had her in custody six times, in specially constructed cells, and she's gotten out every time. We call our project the Cage. We're still trying to figure out how she got out of the last one. When we've got that problem fixed, next time you bring her in, she'll get to make try number seven. She may get out again this time, but there will be another cage, and another, until she can't get out. Right now I think the only ways to take her down would be to kill her, or to keep her pumped so full of drugs she wouldn't even know her own name.”
Kim shuddered, at the mental images and the Director's words, “next time you bring her in…”
“No, neither option sounds appropriate in dealing with a thief -- even the best thief in the world. Moral compass Kim, the punishment shall not exceed the crime. That's why we don't move against her aggressively at the moment. But when the next Cage is ready, if Global Justice knew that Shego could be found at Columbia to Kenya, there would be a hundred agents waiting for her outside. She knows that. I'm surprised she let us see a pattern like those Friday nights. I suspect she wanted information from you -- maybe information on the Cage--”
“NO! Shego respects me the way I am. She wouldn't use me!”
Betty Director stared at Kim for a moment, then said softly. “I wish I could believe you Kim. I only want justice, no revenge… There is something else… Gemini and I have a sister with a normal life, her family lives in Go City. Six years ago my nephew was in the second grade. Do you know the story?”