Shego stood in an expanse of endless white, staring around her. She wasn't even sure what she was standing on, because there didn't seem to be a floor, just pure, shadeless white everywhere.
She turned back and forth, feeling a little panicked. She couldn't smell anything, hear anything… even herself. And in this expanse, it was almost hard to tell if time was even going by. She started breathing harder, not knowing if she was even breathing anything.
Shego took off running in a random direction, stopped, then changed direction and ran some more. Finally she stopped and put both palms to her forehead, trying to calm down, trying to think, squeezing her eyes shut and looking for some inner equilibrium.
Then light played against her eyelids. She opened her eyes and snapped her head up, staring. A scintillating pillar of light was in front of her, dancing down further into infinity where it faded out, and going up until it was merely a point of white. Relieved to finally find some sort of stimulus of any kind in the white expanse, Shego took a step towards it.
“I don't think you really want to do that.”
Shego's eyes went wide, and she slowly turned, looking behind her. “… Mom?”
The white seemed to have taken on at least a little definition where her mother was standing, wearing green practice clothes, hands on her hips and a smile on her face. She looked the same as the last time Shego had seen her, save that her eyes and lips were smiling, not twisted in hurt.
“Sort of.” Shego's mother walked forward. “Actually, I'm a part of you. I'm using the bit of your mother you keep inside you to talk to you. I needed the little bit of extra weight so that you'd listen to what I have to say.”
“Huh? You…” Shego looked back and forth, then frowned. “I don't know that I really get it. Are you my… er… are you…?”
“The beast, you mean?” The image of her mother held up a hand and made a few biting motions with her fingers. “Not quite. You wouldn't find her quite so articulate. No, I'm… something else.”
“Ooookay. So what am I doing here?” Shego spread her hands to indicate the white expanse.
“You're here because you haven't quite made a certain decision.”
“Oh yeah? What decision is that?”
The image of her mother tucked her hands into her sleeves, expression serious now. “… Whether to live or die.”
Shego stared at her. “… What the hell are you talking about? That's ridiculous! Of course I want to live!”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes! Um, duh!”
“Oh, yes, I know. You have a lot to live for. Your mate, your pack.” The apparition of Shego's mother tilted her head. “But that's also why you're not sure that you want to live.”
“You're crazy,” Shego grumbled, turning away and putting her hands on her hips, glaring crankily at the prismatic column.
“You're not sure you want to live because you're afraid.”
Shego scowled more darkly, but her shoulders slumped a little.
“You're afraid that they'd leave you. The same way your mother did. And that because of how much you love and need all of them, that you wouldn't be able to take it. That you'd become a shell, something worse than you had already become. Not just shallow and uncaring, but completely hollow, without any meaning at all.”
“Shut up,” Shego snarled, pressing her hands to her ears. “Shut up!”
“I'm not going to shut up and I'm not going away!” The image grabbed Shego by the shoulder and yanked her around. “I'm not going to back down because you feel like throwing a tantrum to deny the truth! Because I'm -you-!”
“The hell you are!” Shego screamed back. “I know I wouldn't ever want to die! I… I may have asked Kim to kill me if I became lost to the animal, but that was because I didn't want to lose myself totally!”
“And that's what you're afraid of now,” the image said back, tone cold and acid. “That you're so invested in Kim and the others that if you lost them, you really would lose yourself totally.”
Shego's angry look wilted, her face falling. She slowly sank down to sit on the “ground”, putting a hand to her head.
“… What if it's true?” she whispered.
“Oh, it definitely is.”
Shego's head shot up, staring at the image of her mother.
“Right now, if you lost them, you probably would just let go and let the real beast take over. If that weren't so, we wouldn't be here having this conversation.” The image of Shego's mother folded her arms over her chest and sighed. “It was a good idea to take a year to yourself, Shego. You just did it for the wrong reasons.”
“You can't plan for them to -leave- you. You have to trust that they love you and care about you as much as you do them. You know Ron and Yori do… and you'll have time to establish things with Kim, make them so close and loving. As long as you -don't die here-!” The image leaned forward, looking Shego in the eye. “But what you're going to be doing is dangerous. So you have to be prepared.”
“Prepared?” Shego replied in a tight whisper.
“Prepared to be strong. For the others if one of you died. Even to carry on Kim's ideal if they're all gone and you live. Because you -know- that she'd want you to!” The apparition thumped herself on the chest. “She wouldn't want you to be miserable, but she'd want the world to have a hero! And from what she's said, she'd want it to have one like you! A hero that would tell any government to go fuck themselves if they weren't okay with her saving the day! One that won't just save the day, but will beat the everloving crap out of the bad guys!”
“A… hero and a villain too,” Shego murmured.
“That's right.” The image of Shego's mother smirked. “Because let's face it. Kim Possible didn't tame you and make you a good girl… you made her wild and a bit of a bad one.”
“… Heh.” Shego smiled and lowered her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “… I wanna live.” She raised her head and nodded, looking at the image, and repeating, “I wanna live.”
“Well. Alright then.”
Shego drifted upward through the haze, smells and feelings coming back to her, but not sight. Were her eyes closed? She smelled smoke and something musky, heavy, curling deep down and touching something deep inside her body with the scent. She wanted to stretch and writhe with the feeling of it, but couldn't move.
Something sleek and furred brushed along her hip and arm, almost undulating against her skin, and something warm and velvety pressed to her neck. More fur slid along her other leg, and then she felt someone on top of her. Pressing down on her body, making her realize how hot her skin was and how she ached. Not pain like she'd felt in the fall, but -ached-.
He was pressing down atop her, and she felt something hard and hot and needy rub against her leg. She wasn't exactly unfamiliar with the sensation… she'd been with men before, and she'd spent the last year with Ron pressed up behind her. Guys had certain reactions when pressed up against a girl or in the morning, and she'd understood… it was just physiology when they were sleeping, same as Yori rubbing against her as she got comfortable sometimes got a reaction.
But this wasn't the same. She knew what this ache was, could smell his intention on her. She tried to push against him, push him away, growl, anything. She -had- a mate!
The man on top of her paused, and then lifted away. But those sleek presences stayed at her sides, and Shego slowly sank back down, thoughts of her mate swirling in her mind.
Shego blinked as if coming abruptly awake, looking back and forth. She was sitting on a white sand beach, wearing her old Go Team uniform, one leg propped up and her forearm resting on her knee. Behind her was a silent jungle cast in nighttime colors, the only sound the faint rustle of wind through the vegetation. In front of her…
In front of her the black waters stretched, rippling and washing across the white sand, faintly lit from everywhere and nowhere, just enough to show the true liquid onyx nature of the ocean.
“Kind of pretty from here, isn't it?”
Shego looked into the jungle towards the strangely familiar voice, saw the catlike eyes staring back at her. “Uh… I guess?”
The cat-eyes stopped glowing quite so much as the figure they were attached to came closer, first cast into silhouette, showing curves and a flicking tail. Then she emerged into the lit beach, grinning.
Shego stared for a moment, then held up her hands, waving them in negation. “Nuh-uh. No way. I don't go in for that fetish.”
“Considering what this is representative of,” cat-Shego answered, laughing lightly and flicking one ear. “I think this technically makes you more of a ‘lifestyler’.”
“Oh cute, very cuuute,” Shego muttered, glaring.
The much more feline-like version of Shego prowled forward. She was covered head to toe in a sleek coat of green fur that laid flat rather than fluffing up everywhere. The fur was a light, almost lime green along the front of her throat and down over the fronts of her breasts and over her stomach, and going between her legs and over the insides of her thighs. The rest of the fur was darker, patterned with stripes less like a tiger's and more like the neighbors’ tabby cat that she'd coveted when she was eight. The nose curved a bit more like a snout, but the features were still recognizably hers, not altered too much.
“It's not too hard to figure out the symbolism here,” cat-Shego pointed out as she sat down beside her human self. “I mean, take a look at your fingers or feel your teeth. You're the all-human you.”
Blinking, Shego ran a thumb along the top row of her teeth, finding that only the canine bore any sort of point. “… Huh. So what is this, multiple personality disorder?”
“Oh, I wouldn't go as far as that.” Cat-Shego scratched behind one ear. “You're not crazy, you're just in a really delicate place both mentally and physically.”
“Who's delicate?” Shego huffed, glaring.
“Look, I'm not Kim, stop trying to pick a fight.” Cat-Shego batted a hand like a paw. “It wouldn't be as fun verbally sparring with yourself.”
“… Yeah, okay, I'll give you that one.”
“You're just feeling resentment. You've regressed a little back to the you that hated being changed and wanted to go back to normal.”
“And who said I stopped?” Shego snapped back.
“Um, hello? Hi? Howarya.” Cat-Shego waved one hand.
“… So, what, you're the embodiment of me liking being a large cat?”
“As if you didn't already like laying around in the sun and being pampered,” cat-Shego snickered. “But yeah. I'm the you that wouldn't trade the feeling of being part of a pack for anything. The part of you that's never more content than when you're snuggled up between Ron and Yori. The part of you that gets a thrill out of running as fast as you can or roughhousing with your friends.”
Shego finally smiled a little. “I think that's another thing I already liked.”
“That you wouldn't have admitted you had friends,” cat-Shego pointed out.
“Touche,” Shego muttered, running a hand through her hair. “… Hey, how come you got the braid?”
“More symbolism,” cat-Shego purred. “Yori did it for me, remember?”
“Oh. Right.” Shego sighed a little, then tilted her head. “But you're not the beast…?”
“Nope. She lives out there,” cat-Shego said, gesturing to the dark ocean in front of them. “Partly because you put her there.”
Shego looked out over the rippling, silent black waters for long minutes. “… I've never been… outside of it before.”
“You weren't ready to be, before.” Cat-Shego leaned back on her hands, tail sweeping back and forth across the sand. “You don't know what it is, do you?”
“My rage… anger, hate, all that stuff, I figured,” Shego muttered, glowering a little.
“No. That's not it at all.”
Shego looked at her other self curiously, and the catgirl returned the look as if a bit surprised it had to be explained.
“It's what you use to keep people away from you,” cat-Shego said quietly. “Some people build walls. You made an ocean, Shego.”
Shego stared at her, then turned her head back to look at the black waters. She stood and walked over until the surf almost touched the toes of her boots.
“What I was using to keep people away…?”
“To keep yourself from being hurt,” cat-Shego agreed, prowling up behind her human self and leaning against her side from behind. “You took your feelings and your heart and you set them adrift in the center of it, so no one could get to them.”
“Those dreams…” Shego blinked. “Those dreams with Kim…”
“She was fighting her way through the ocean to get to you.” Cat-Shego put a hand on her other's shoulder. “Forcing her way through your defenses… all that other stuff, your rage and anger, too, but mostly the loneliness you'd imposed on yourself. That's why you haven't dreamed of it since the day you told her you loved her.”
“… And the beast…”
Sighing, the feline looked out at the dark water as well, watching a faint line of neon green slice by under the surface. “She was already there, Shego. Growing somewhere in the deep down places, like a rampaging titan held behind a gate. All Drakken's shot did was open the gate… early.”
“… Heh. I always did like that movie,” Shego said softly.
“Hee, yeah, I know. The little clockwork owl?” cat-Shego replied cheerfully, smiling.
Shego returned the smile, and after a moment both of them laughed. Then Shego blinked. “But was me dreaming of Kim coming through the ocean to get me just a dream I made up, then?”
Cat-Shego looked thoughtful. “You know, I don't know. But tell you what I think. Or what we think, really.”
Shego grinned a bit again. “Well, when I want your opinion, I'll give it to me.”
“Clever!” Cat-Shego snickered, then continued. “I think what you have with Kim is special. I think it always was, and you two finally decided how it was going to be special. I think that it was really her, somehow… she really fought her way through your dark ocean and all the danger it posed to get to you.”
Shego looked at her other self for a moment, frowning thoughtfully, then turned towards the water, cupping her hands around her mouth. “KIIIIIIIIM!”
There was silence, and after a minute Shego gave up hope of any response. Then a breeze stirred across her body, rustling her hair and her other self's fur, the air seeming to curl around her like the ghost of a hug.
“Ahaha… oh god!” Shego gasped, smiling and laughing and crying at the same time all of a sudden. “She… she really did… that really was…!”
“I know!” cat-Shego cried, clasping her other self's hands and beaming at her, the two sides of the same woman smiling as tears streaked down her cheeks. “She heard! She reached out to us! Did you feel how relieved she was? She must have been worried…”
Shego sniffled, rubbing her palm across her cheeks. “Kim… I'm gonna live, and I'm gonna see her again… oh man, I… I can't stop…”
“I know! I know!” cat-Shego enthused, laughing again.
Finally, Shego let out a shaky breath, and looked toward the night-lit jungle. “So if that's my dark ocean, and this is some in-between beach, what's that?”
“Oh, that?” Cat-Shego drew away and sashayed towards the treeline, tail swaying back and forth over her naked rear and legs. “That's where I live. Where it's wild and dangerous, but warm and fun too.”
“… That's where our feelings of pack are, aren't they?” Shego asked, smiling softly again.
Cat-Shego looked over her shoulder and nodded brightly, winking. “Yup! Feel free to come play sometime. After all…” The catgirl bounded forward, disappearing into the shadows, her voice carrying back, “It's your jungle too!”
Shego opened her eyes, vision fuzzy and green for a moment before the sunlit canopy of leaves and vines came into focus. The air was humid and damp against her bare skin, save for the heat of the jaguars leaned against her sides.
… Okay, there were several things wrong with the last bit of that.
Slowly turning her head, Shego looked at the jaguar nestled up against her left side, its cheek against her shoulder, a soft rumble coming from deep in its body. On her right side, the other jaguar's chin was resting atop her hip, and one of her arms was draped along the top of it.
“Um. Nice kitties?” she murmured in a hoarse voice.
The one with its head closest to her opened its eyes and peered at her curiously, then licked her chin.
“Ack! Okay, okay, so you -are- nice kitties. Or nice to me, anyway.” Shego slowly sat up, the other jaguar flumping a bit to the side at having its head perch move. She rubbed her forehead, memory still feeling murky. There was something involving some guy who'd been being way too forward, and before that…
She blinked, putting both hands to her stomach and trying to get a proper look down at it past her chest. But between feeling and looking, she could tell that she not only didn't have a tree branch through her, she didn't even have a scar. She looked her body over, seeing that she didn't even have a scratch.
Shego frowned a little. While she'd always healed a bit better than normal after the meteor, and the transformation had kicked that up even further, what she was seeing should have been impossible. The sword to her palm had certainly left a scar… which, now that she checked, was gone.
“You were bein’ in da in-between place,” a voice called from above. “Driftin’ ‘tween goin’ an’ stayin’ ya were now.”
Shego leapt to her feet and searched the branches, the jaguars standing slowly and rubbing against her legs like affectionate housecats. But her focus was on the man crouched on the branch above. He was black, body painted with white lines and spots, his long hair done up in a number of braids decorated with bits of ribbon and other decoration, his only bit of clothing a belt and a loincloth that, hanging down like it was, wasn't actually covering a lot. He was perched on the branch on his palms and the balls of his feet, gazing down at her with surprisingly green eyes.
“Ya be goin’ da’ deep inta da in-between, ya be gettin’ a whole secon’ chance when ye be comin’ back,” he continued, prowling agilely along the branch.
“Uh-huuuuh.” Shego watched him, almost more curious than suspicious. “So was that you crawling all over me?”
“Ah, I be sorry ‘bout dat,” the man said lightly, leaping down and landing lightly on the balls of his feet, crouched and using one hand to balance fully. “Sensed de animal in ye, sometimes de matin’ urge be bringin’ ye back from de in-between. Didn’ know ye already mated, my ‘pologies.” He made a gesture of sweeping off a hat, bowing his head.
Shego nodded slowly. She was definitely starting to think that this was some sort of kindred spirit, especially in her own reaction to him. She hadn't felt the urge to cover herself up or berate him further for his actions… she knew her modesty wasn't gone that fully.
She was reacting to him like he was either pack, or another animal. And he wasn't pack.
“So if it's not rude to ask,” she said after a moment, putting her hands on her bare hips. “And I don't care if it is… what's a Jamaican doing in the jungles of Mexico?”
The man rose up just a little, the jaguars prowling over to him and allowing him to stroke their backs. “I be here to be perfectin’ my O Punho Do Gato Selvagem.” He grinned wildly again, raising his hands with fingers and thumbs curled, one forward of the other. “My Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu.”
“… They have Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu in Jamaica?” Shego asked, scratching her head. “But… there aren't any jaguars in Jamaica, are there?”
“Hey, dey be havin’ Tai Shing Pek Kwar in Japan, and dere ain't bein’ no monkeys dere,” he said defensively, folding his arms over his chest.
“Uh, yes. Yes there are.”
“… Really? I be havin’ ta go see dat one-a dese days.”
Shego rubbed her forehead. “Okay, maybe we should stick to the basics, here…”
“Ask away, girl, I ain't bein’ in no hurry.”
“Okay, first off, what's your name?”
“Extraviado Simbolo, at ya service, girl,” he replied, standing up fully and giving another formal bow. “Can be callin’ me Ravi, as y'please.”
“Ravi. I'm Shego.” Shego glanced at the jaguars. “How about them?”
“Oh, these bein’ my friends.” Ravi squatted again and patted both jags on the back, the big cats giving soft rumbles. “Ain't havin’ no names, though. Names bein’ for tame t'ings, donchaknow.”
“You callin’ me tame?” Shego said, really grinning for the first time, lips lifting away from her fangs on one side.
Ravi laughed. “I be sensin’ dat might be dan'jrous ta assume, girl. But much as we might grow t'be like one anuddair, jaguars and people ain't bein’ de same t'ing now.”
“I've got a lot more questions,” Shego continued, grin fading.
“And I be havin’ plenty answers ta give. But ya been almost ta t'uddair side an’ back again, time ya be restin’ now.” He leapt upward to where a fallen tree formed a half arch and padded agilely along it. “Be a good clean stream over dere, be suggestin’ ya get a drink an’ some more rest.”
“Hey!” Shego took a step forward, then paused and looked down as her legs wobbled. Maybe he had a point. Still, she called after him, “Hey, answer me at least one thing!”
“And what be dat, now?” Ravi asked, leaping to another tree branch and perching to look back at Shego.
Shego hesitated, then glanced back and forth between the two jaguars who had settled in on either side of her. “Aren't jaguars usually solitary?”
“Aye, that they be. But just like de solitary sort of people, sometimes they be findin’ anuddair who just fits,” Ravi replied with a chuckle, leaping away and disappearing amidst the greenery.
Shego rubbed the back of her head. Then she crouched down and put a hand on each cat's head. “Well, guys, just you and me for awhile. So are we mighty jungle hunters, or big housecats?”
The jaguars looked at her intently, then back towards the patch of sunlight they'd started in.
“Big housecats, right, thought so. Just checking.”
After drinking, Shego laid back down in the sun, the jaguars piling in on her sides again. It wasn't quite like having Ron and Yori around, but it was better than sleeping alone, she thought. The smells from the jags were harder to understand, but she was getting used to them. She was fairly certain that they were both female, and before she drifted off, Shego snickered to herself at a thought that wafted through her head.
‘It's jaguar-Kim and jaguar-Shego!’
When she awoke, pale light was falling through the much darker canopy, and the jaguars were gone. Shego sat up and gazed around, feeling intensely lonely for some reason, before shrugging and getting to her feet.
She started a little as a haunch of something raw and still bearing most of its skin dropped in front of her.
“Ya be hungry, girl?”
Shego glanced up at Ravi, then down at the haunch of… whatever it was. The faint ingrained reactions from before her chains were pushing her to yell at him for flinging something so disgusting at her. And there was a part of her that wanted to jump on top of him and thoroughly thank him for bringing her something so mouth-watering.
‘God I'm weird,’ she thought as she grabbed the haunch and yanked it down, squatting and tearing some raw flesh off with her fangs, gulping it down.
Ravi waited until Shego had mostly finished her meal before leaping down. “De jaguar likes ta be active in de dusk and at de dawn. If ye be wantin’ ta learn de way, ye'll make it yeh own soon ‘nough.”
“The way? Of O Punho Do Gato Selvagem?” Shego sat back and licked at her bloody fingers a bit.
Shego gave one last lick, then looked at Ravi. “So, time for more questions?”
“Go ‘head, girl.”
“… Why aren't I dead?”
“Ah, many an answer dere is for dat, girl.” Ravi crouched and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I came ‘pon ya an’ was takin’ ya ta a sacred place, an’ there be tryin’ ta call ya back from de in-between. But in de end, I be thinkin’ ya decidin’ ta come back on ye own. Much power dere be in ye, girl.”
Shego thought about that for a bit, thinking of the conversations she'd had with “herself”, and finally nodded. “Okay.” She rolled her head and reached back to tug on her braid. “Now tell me about O Punho Do Gato Selvagem.”
“Ah, Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu. It be one of de t'ree Great Animal styles. You be knowin’ anuddair already, I be thinkin’. Claw style, maybe, ya?”
Shego blinked. “The Three Ancestral Dragons school is an animal style?”
“Aye, that it be. One of de t'ree great an’ revered animals. Many dere be, but dese t'ree all be connectin’ an’ reverberatin’ in some way.”
She nodded slowly. “Explain.”
“De T'ree Dragons school is de way of de dragon. Claw, sword, staff, dese be really claw, tooth, an’ tail, see ya now?”
“The places the three dragons grip the dragon balls in the representations,” Shego acknowledged thoughtfully.
“Right be ye. It be connected to de Tai Shing Pek Kwar t'roo de Staff branch… de stiff forearms and swings of de body, ya see?”
Shego considered Ron's style of fighting and her mother's, especially when her mother was fighting hand-to-hand, and nodded after a moment. “Yeah, okay, I can see that.”
“An’ O Punho Do Gato Selvagem be connected by de Claw branch.” Ravi curled his fingers again and gave a few quick, fast jabs at the air. They were shorter, more directed, but Shego could see some similarities in the strikes. She nodded again. “But dis ain't quite so importan’ as what de animals be representin’, ya?”
“What they represent?” Shego considered for a moment. “Monkeys, jaguars, dragons… they seem pretty different.”
“Aye, an’ dey supposed ta be. De dragons, ye see, dey be representin’ knowledge. Dey ancient an’ powerful, full'a secrets an’ stories. De monkey be representin’ de physicality, wit’ its ability ta invent an’ ta walk and act like de human. An’ de jaguar be representin’ spirituality, de mystic and de divine myst'ry.”
“So basically, mind, body, and soul.” Shego ticked them off on her fingers, making a noise low in her throat. “The trifecta that's at the heart of every martial art in existence, pretty much.”
“Aye, ye be havin’ it dere.” Ravi grinned broadly again. “Ain't bein’ many dat try to learn more dan one. You be knowin’ de Claw branch just, aye?”
“And a little of the Staff and Sword,” Shego admitted.
“… Really now.” Ravi's eyebrows lifted, green eyes seeming intrigued.
“My sifu taught me some of the moves of the other two schools as I got close to the end of my training. ‘Just to see how you do’, she said.”
“Dat be quite sum'tin,” Ravi mused, stroking his chin again. “Next ya gonna be tellin’ me ya run ‘round wit’ a master-a Monkey Kung Fu, ya?”
“Well,” Shego said, grinning wolfishly.
“Ah, ya be teasin’ me now, girl!” Ravi stared at her. “Ya don't know what ya sittin’ on!”
Shego glanced at the ground under her, and started to reply with something less than couth.
“Th’ potential ya got, s'eitha th’ most amazin’ t'ing in a thousan’ yeah or bound ta cause more trouble dan anyt'in’ ya can t'ink of,” Ravi continued before she could. He mused for a moment, then added, “Eidda way, s'posin’ I oughtta be tellin’ ya for ya run off an’ be tryin’ on yer own.”
“C'mon, c'mon, make with the deadly secrets of martial arts,” Shego pressed, leaning forward expectantly.
Ravi eyed her dubiously, before raising one hand, index finger lifted. “Ya be learnin’ one of de t'ree animal styles, it no big deal. Lots people learn ‘least a little. Ye be learnin’ two, dat somet'in’ special, ain't many dat do. Ye learn all t'ree, an’ I'm talkin’ knowin’ Monkey Kung Fu, Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu, and all de Staff, Sword, and Claw, and ye be talkin’ myth'cal now!”
“Mythical?” Shego said, a faint hint of the same lust that had often colored her voice when the words ‘stealing’ and ‘extremely rare and valuable’ had been put together entering her tone.
“That's what ye be callin’ de Beast Lord, girl. Master of de Animal Styles, de Ultimate Animal. Ye already been takin’ de steps towards minglin’ de human an’ de animal, I be smellin’ it on ya. But de Beast Lord… ain't nobody be knowin’ if somebody like dat would be human atall anymore.”
Shego felt a chill run through her. She suddenly had a rather distinct memory of one of her dreams, and the creature that swam in her dark ocean. Long and lean, with scales as well as fur, and long, grasping fingers… Maybe Ravi knew what he was talking about when he said learning all three could be dangerous. But for now…
“Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu. You said you were here to perfect it. What do you mean?”
“Ah, well. Ta truly master an animal style, needs ya learn ta descend inta de animal, hold it in yourself. But also ye need ta learn ta come back up. Ain't nowhere ta truly go inside like de jungle… and if ye can come back up to bein’ human ag'in aftah goin’ inside in de jungle, ya can be doin’ it anywhere.”
Shego smiled slowly. “Sounds like just what I was looking for.”
The white sand brushed under her boots as she stood at the very edge of the black tide again, looking out at it thoughtfully.
“I don't think you wanna do that.”
Shego blinked and turned, looking at the catgirl version of her who was sitting on a branch at the edge of the jungle, tail hanging down behind her and swishing back and forth.
“Go in there. That's not what it means to descend into the animal.” Cat-Shego frowned a little as she looked out at the ocean, the glow of the beast sliding across the waters in the distance. “The beast is too strong for you right now. It'd… devour you, eat you up until there was no Shego left.”
Shego sighed a little, turning and walking over to the tree, looking up at her other self. “So, what am I gonna do?”
“You can still learn to bring the beast up without going in there. You've just gotta learn to control how much you let it be in control.”
“Alright,” Shego said slowly. “So how come I'm dreaming of you now?”
“What, you don't like dreaming of me?” Cat-Shego replied cheerfully, drifting her tail across Shego's face.
Shego wrinkled her nose. “It's not that, necessarily, but it's kind of a big change from being out there, to almost nothing for a year, to being here talking to you.”
“Maybe you're ready to face up to some things about yourself and really figure them out for your own sake,” Cat-Shego mused, then grinned and kicked her feet. “Maybe you're just lonely and you want someone to play with.”
Shego started to say something, then hesitated. She looked at the catgirl suspiciously. “Are you hitting on me?”
Cat-Shego considered that for a moment, then nodded firmly. “Yes.”
“Ooookay. That's weird and kind of… well, mostly weird. I mean, you of all people know I wouldn't cheat on Kim.”
“I'm pretty sure that it would quite clearly be masturbation, even as far as wet dreams go,” the gatgirl replied cheerfully.
“… Gimme another month without Buzzy and we'll talk.”
Shego slowly adapted to moving around the most during the early morning and early evening. She was often awake during much of the rest of the day, too, but there was a lot of lounging around and just walking, the jaguars her near-constant companions. Ravi often spent the day with her as well, talking about the animal styles or teaching her the beginnings of Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu.
The style came fairly naturally to her. It was a more direct version of her Claw branch, almost, focusing a lot on jabs and quick swipes rather than the wider slashes she was used to. It also seemed to be well-suited towards getting in with an opponent and staying close in, mixing it up at close range rather than the ducking and weaving she was used to… a useful thing, considering some of the times in the past two years that going on the defensive for any length of time would have meant losing the fight.
Sometimes the training seemed more like fun than actual work, especially when she “sparred” with one of the jaguars. Despite being full-grown cats, the two females seemed to still have the concept of wrestling for play, and Shego would laugh as she rolled around with them, trying to pin one of the big felines.
At first she'd thought that she'd have a hard time with the idea of not having something to call the jaguars… that she'd just instinctively start calling them something, even just in her head. Maybe before the change, she would have. But now they were just her friends, her companions. They weren't quite pack, but they were nice to have around.
Many nights she spent discussing things with her other, more feline self on the shores of the dark ocean. Shego still wasn't sure what to make of her… if she was really ready to so frankly discuss the essential parts of her being with a figment of her unconscious.
Still, it was often more revealing just how they interacted. Separated from her enhanced senses, Shego found herself leaning more towards surly and dismissive, frustrated by her inability to get a real sense of when her other self was joking or serious, or any other emotional state. She could be snappish over small things or fail to react to bigger things.
Cat-Shego, on the other hand, seemed to be having a grand old time. She laughed a lot, almost to excess, and usually had a downright cheerful comment for most everything, even if it was a bit snarky as well. She seemed to always know when Shego was truly pushed too far towards becoming angry or depressed, and would transition to being sensitive and gentle so smoothly that it was as if she'd gone to school for it.
Finally, in frustration one night, she flumped down at the trunk of a tree and folded her arms. “So is this what I am without you?! A moody, pissy sourpuss?!”
Cat-Shego hesitated, then slowly climbed down from the trunk of the tree and curled up at her other's side. “Remember what you found out when you were learning to summon the beast up through meditation, get responses from it?”
“Gonna have to be a bit more clear,” Shego grumbled.
“That after awhile with Drakken, you weren't even feeling depressed anymore? You just didn't care about anything, except maybe getting to mix it up with Kim.”
Shego nodded slowly. “Yeah, I do remember. I didn't think that was one of the big revelations of the night.”
“Bigger than you think. The dark ocean didn't just keep other people away from you, it kept you away from yourself. It made you numb and distant even to your own thoughts and feelings.”
“So… this is more me without the dark ocean?” Shego queried, not sure she liked that any better.
“This is a part of you. Someone who's been treated badly, hurt both physically and emotionally, until she had to do something to stop it. You were disappointed and disillusioned… you set yourself adrift and focused on anger, because it made you feel as if you were getting some back.”
“How can you see all this?” Shego sighed, shaking her head. “Why is it so clear to you?”
“Because I care,” cat-Shego replied simply.
“… You care?”
Cat-Shego laughed. “Shego, I'm not just the part of you that accepts the animal traits. I'm the part of you that loved to play and tussle, the part that saw Kim as a playmate. I'm the part that likes to laugh and is a total hug addict. I'm the part of you that was always here, you'd just taken yourself far away from me.”
“You're… all that?”
“I'm more than that. I'm your self-respect.” Cat-Shego kissed her human self's cheek, actually earning a blush. “Sweetie, don't you see? I hit on you because I'm the part of you that still loves yourself.”
“… Oh,” Shego whispered, still blushing.
“We'll play in my jungle soon, okay?” Cat-Shego grinned broadly. “We'll go running and jumping and we won't stop all night.”
“… Sounds good.” Shego nodded, finally smiling.
Shego went slowly, being a bit careful about how she put one hand in front of the other and moved her feet. What she really needed was some way to bind her breasts down… they swung a little too much when she was clambering along branches.
“You t'inkin’ ‘bout it too much, girl,” Ravi commented from a higher branch. “Need ta listen ta instincts.”
“Well I'm sure the jaguars would think about it much more if they had to contend with counter-motion,” Shego muttered back, eyeing a jump to another branch, then deciding against it.
“… Dat be a fair point, I'm supposin’,” Ravi mused. “Hm. Your chute from few months ago be a bit ‘ways from here, maybe cut you a bit of dat?”
“I always liked wearing silk,” Shego said with a chuckle. She crouched, deciding to try the jump anyway, and leapt, landing lightly on the branch… then unbalancing and falling with a yelp, thudding to the ground below.
One of the jaguars meandered up to her where she was laying on her back, staring flatly up at the treetops. After a moment of careful consideration, the big cat licked her across the face.
“Yes, very helpful, thank you.”
Tying the swath of green silk around her chest, Shego tied some inelegant but firm knots and then sliced through the spare material with her claws. It wouldn't be easy to take on and off, but she wasn't planning to take it off any more than she could help, it would just be too much trouble. Besides, if it got ruined, she'd made sure to cut a few more salvageable strips out of the chute.
“Feelin’ bettah, girl?” Ravi called from above.
Shego grinned, then leapt up to one of the tree branches, digging her claws in and pressing with her toes. “Let's try this again.”
Shego laughed as she bounded through the dreamscape jungle with her other self. It came to her even faster and easier than in the real world, her mind propelling her more than her muscles, the jungle opening up before her as she unconsciously thought it into existence.
“Now you've got it!” cat-Shego called exultantly, laughing as well. “Now you've definitely got it! You're almost ready for your tail, girl!”
Shego kept her gaze even, then launched a quick flurry of jab-swipes at the air in front of her, focusing on speed more than power. She wouldn't be knocking down any enhanced clones, but she could tell that the barrage of strikes would shred things nicely with her claws out.
Satisfied that her Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu was coming along well, Shego trotted back over to flop against the roots of a tree and lean back, closing her eyes. The jaguars hauled themselves up from their own resting spot, acting like it took supreme effort to haul themselves the required five feet to flop against her legs so that she could rub their heads.
“I dunno, guys. I like this new style, and I like hanging out around here with you… but is this learning to descend into the animal? Or am I just on a bit of a survival trek?”
One of the jaguars lifted her head and nudged Shego's stomach.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, less reflection, more petting.”
“I just dunno if this is going anywhere.” Shego leaned back against a tree in the night jungle, closing her eyes. “If I'm actually getting anything out of it.”
“Well. Our conversations seem to be helping,” cat-Shego offered, laying across the same branch further out.
“I could have those anywhere. At least, I'm pretty sure.” Shego shrugged. “It's hard to know how much time I'm losing if this is a waste, though.”
“When the rainy season comes, you'll know it's time to go,” cat-Shego said quietly. “I know it's hard. Kim's got it hard, too.”
“Heh. Yeah. Putting up with mom.”
“… I want to see her again.”
“I know, but-”
“Not Kim. Well, not just Kim. Mom.”
Shego went quiet, and rubbed at her neck with one hand.
“Shego. I wanna see Mom again.”
“… Yeah. Yeah, I know. I just… dunno if she wants to see us again.”
“She will,” cat-Shego said softly, desperately. “Please?”
“We'll just see how things go. Okay?”
“You alright? You're usually not one to let anything get you down.”
“Just… a bad feeling.”
Shego blinked. “What, about Kim?”
“Don't know. Just a bad feeling. … Be careful.”
“… Okay. I will.”
“So, what do you think?” Shego asked, sitting on a branch and looking down at her trainer. “Is it just a mental block or something?”
“Coul’ be, coul’ be. Maybe just can’ rush dese t'ings always, ya? Maybe take ya awhile ta find how ta be yer animal.” Ravi glanced upwards musingly, swiping his thumb across his chin.
“I don't have all the time in the world, though, y'know,” Shego pointed out.
“Mebbe you hafta make time, girl. Dat's up ta you.”
Shego nodded slowly. ‘Learning control and independence… or getting back to Kim? Which would I choose? Kim would wait… wouldn't she?’
Shego thrust a palm at Ravi's chest, the black man blocking and knocking her arm away, swiping at the side of her head. She ducked just enough to the side to jab a swipe towards his face, and he dropped back and crouched.
“Good girl, dat pritteh damn good. Enough for t'day, ya?”
“If you don't wanna lose,” Shego teased, wandering over to the stream and crouching down to drink. After a moment, though, she lifted her head, water still streaming down her chin. “… Ravi, where are the jaguars?”
“Eh? Dey be off doin’ dey own t'ing, no doubt. Dey ain't housecats, ain’ no mattah how ya be talkin’ ta ‘em.”
“Yeah. But they've never been gone this long before.” Shego straightened up, turning her head slowly. “… Sssshhh.” She lifted one finger as he started to reply, listening intently.
For a moment, the birds and bugs quieted, allowing a heartbroken mewl to carry across the jungle.
Without a moment's hesitation, Shego and Ravi burst into motion, taking to the trees and leaping from branch to branch, darting amongst the trees with a speed that would have done any ninja proud. Shego slashed and tore through vines and thinner branches that got in her way, at times actually bounding off the sides of other treebranches or dropping to the ground, anything to move faster.
She burst into a tiny clearing, the smell of blood, death, and gunpowder already striking against her face like a sticky film of horror. Shego stopped, raising up just a little on her feet, chest heaving, eyes wide and teeth bared as she took in the scene.
One of the jaguars was laying on the ground, still and flopped out in an unnatural pose as if it had just been tossed there, some of the blood and tendons already having blackened amongst the gleaming, revealed muscle. Her body was almost completely stripped of fur, save her head and tail and a few lingering bits around her paws. Her mouth gaped open, tongue lolled out and eyes fixed on nothing.
The other jaguar lay beside the body of the first, letting out short, heartbroken yowls, occasionally pressing her head to the ground and rubbing at it, quieting, then looking at the body and starting to wail again.
“Ah… oh god,” Ravi gasped out, stumbling as he arrived and pressing a hand across his nose and mouth, tears welling in his eyes. “Dose fuckin’ poachers… god…”
Shego slowly walked forward until she collapsed to her knees in front of the body. Her trembling hand reached out until it touched against the fur of the muzzle, seeming to have turned stiff and dry in death.
Then she threw back her head and screamed. The scream grew louder, deeper, pouring out of her from the deepest parts until it wasn't a human sound, just a roar of anguish and rage. Birds took to the wing, fleeing the thing in the jungle that had suffered enough to make that sound.
When she'd cried out all there was in her to give, Shego collapsed forward, wrapping her arms around the other jaguar's neck, sobbing against its fur. The mourning cat's own cries turned into soft little mewls, rubbing her head against Shego's arm and shoulder.
The light was fading into dusk by the time Shego slowly pulled away, staggering more than rising to her feet. She swayed a little in place before steadying, not turning towards Ravi, her voice hoarse as she spoke.
“The poachers… show me.”
“… Girl, I don't t'ink dat be…”
Shego turned towards him, the green of her eyes glowing faintly, illuminating the onyx black of her slit pupils. “Show me.”
The three of them stood on a cliff overlooking the camp. It was a large one… well over thirty men, there for the season, the right officials bribed or just not paying attention. They were milling about, cooking dinner or gambling. The jaguar nudged her head against Shego's leg, the green-skinned woman's face seemingly carved in ice.
“Be thinkin’ real hard ‘bout this, girl,” Ravi cautioned, his voice quiet. “Dis ain't no small t'ing you be thinkin'a doin’. Might be one of those things you don’ come back from.”
Shego didn't look towards him, but that thought curled inside her with cold satisfaction. Yes… maybe this would be exactly the thing to give her what she was looking for. Actually descending into the animal. And if she didn't come back… eh.
“Shego girl you -listen-,” Ravi hissed, leaning close. “I be lovin’ dese cats much as you, much as any, but that be a lotta people ya be lookin’ ta murder for killin’ one!” He dared step in front of her, blocking her view for a moment. “You do dis, you ain’ never be able ta take it back!”
‘You can't fix it.’
Ron's words echoed in her mind, that tormented look on his face as he explained how you could take back or make right everything except taking a life. That it was the ultimate permanent solution. Would Ron approve? More to the point, in her heart of hearts, would she approve? She was talking about killing over thirty people in retribution for the death of one animal she'd personally loved. Could she do that?
Her gaze lowered a little, just enough to catch sight of the jaguar skin stretched out on the drying rack. She watched one of the men pantomime shooting a gun, the rest around him laughing.
Yes. She could.
A twig snapped, and the guard lurched out of a half-snooze, looking towards the edge of the jungle. His eyes widened at the sight of a pale, wild-looking woman, wearing nothing but a strip of thin green cloth around her breasts. Her eyes were cast into shadow by her thick bangs, long dark hair unfurling from the braid behind her.
“Whoa, Chiquita, you came a long way just to find me!” he crowed softly, rising to his feet and setting his gun aside, walking forward with arms spread.
He barely even saw that she moved, just felt a sudden intense pressure in his chest and back. He looked down and saw that her arm was buried up to the elbow in the center of his chest, and looked at her, jaw gaping. She was looking up at him, snarling lips pulled away from fangs, animal eyes glowing faintly.
“I did,” Shego hissed, her hand igniting with green fire and incinerating the poacher's heart.
Gunfire blared in short bursts through the night, little bursts of light that caused more confusion than illumination. Men screamed and fled, stumbling over each other in their desperation. Monster, demon, whatever it was, it was slaughtering them all as if intent on dragging ever last man in the camp back to Hell with it.
Shego roared, arterial spray splashing across her body as her claws cleaved through flesh and bone, strength born of fury driving her fingers through rib cages and vertebrae as easily as skin and muscle. She threw one poacher's corpse into another one trying to flee, knocking him over into a fire and setting both live and dead man ablaze, his panicked and pained screams adding to the chaos that reigned over the night.
There was no style to it, none of her arts. There was just thrusts of claws, digging them into vital spots, slicing and hurting until life fled. The sound coming out of her was like thunder from a storm, she couldn't stop it and wasn't sure she wanted to.
She leapt on another man who fired at her with a hunting rifle, his panic sending the shots far wide. Shego dug her claws into his side and sank her fangs into his shoulder, channeling her power, feeling him twitch and writhe as his veins burned from the inside. Throwing away the still-twitching body, she darted forward, cutting through a trio who'd been trying to make it to a truck, cutting one's leg off at the knee and letting the other two stumble over him. She loomed over them, plunging her claws down again and again, shoving them through whatever was moving until none of it moved anymore.
She killed and she killed. Her misery and rage over every last depredation humanity had ever visited on her and anyone or anything she ever loved drove her, powering the animal like adrenaline in her veins. These people had killed part of her pack. She'd kill all of theirs.
She never even tried to hold the animal back. She slashed through its leash and cut it free, wanting it to slaughter to its content. She wasn't even sure anymore that she'd be content with one camp of men. Bring on the world.
Finally, the only heartbeat she could hear was her own, pounding in her ears. Her roar had become a faint rasp in her throat, mouth full of a coppery taste that was partly hers but mostly theirs. She took a step, and her exhausted body almost collapsed under her. But she forced it on, the conscious Shego mind pushing her on from some distant little place inside her.
She finally stopped, looking up at the stretching rack, at the beautiful spotted fur turning bristly and stiff in the night air. With tired jerks of her hands, her claws cut through the cords, letting the skin flop to the ground. Bending, she picked it up and carefully rolled it up, not even seeming to see it as her hands smeared blood on it, just hugging it to her chest and stumbling out of the camp.
She staggered on through the jungle, not thinking about where she was going, not caring. But eventually she came to a broad, deep stream and stared at it for long moments before wading in, moving to the center and then collapsing to her knees. She stared down at the water rushing past her and coming away red, turning as colored as wine.
Finally, she pressed her face against the bloody hide of her friend and wept.
Shego sat on the white shore, staring out at the dark water with blank, empty eyes. From out in the ocean, a deep, undulating cry of pain and mourning carried across the surface, seeming to fill the entire night-lit world.
Cat-Shego slowly stepped out of the jungle, walking tentatively up behind her counterpart, then pausing, biting her lower lip.
“…” Shego turned her head a little bit, then looked forward again. The blood covering her hands just continued to seep out from somewhere, sinking into the white sand and staining it. Finally, she whispered, “Who did that? Me? You?” She tilted her head towards the ocean, the unearthly cry still carrying primal sorrow across the dreamscape. “Her?”
Cat-Shego slowly walked forward and sat down on the beach next to the human, lowering her head, tears dampening the fur of her cheeks. “We all did, Shego.” She slid one bloody hand over, settling it atop her other's.
“We all did.”
“… Well,” Ravi said quietly. “What's done be done.”
Shego stared forward at nothing in particular, hugging her legs to her and pressing her lower face against her knees. The strip of parachute cloth over her breasts had been ruined. She'd replaced it with a white one, and its cleanness just seemed to mock her with how dirty she knew she was.
“Sometime, dere be nothin’ we can do at dat moment in our life but what we gonna do,” he continued after awhile. “Whether it de wrong t'ing, de right t'ing, or somet'ing else entire… at that time, it de only t'ing. What you t'ink of it, maybe dat up ta you. But as for de rest of ya life… dat in front of ya.”
“What will she do?” Shego whispered, looking over at the remaining jaguar, who was laying by the side of the stream, head resting on her paws, just staring out across the running water and into the jungle beyond with heartbroken eyes. “Her best friend is gone and isn't coming back. And she knows it. What…” Shego sobbed, hiding her face in her legs. “What the hell is she gonna do?!”
“… I don’ know, girl,” Ravi said quietly. “I jus’ don’ know.”
Shego wandered through the jungle, on foot, ignoring the trees. The jaguar padded listlessly beside her, head hanging low.
“How do you keep going? Even this much?” Shego whispered. “You lost your mate… my friend… it hurts me this bad, how do you even live?”
The jaguar lifted her head as if listening, then mewled softly and bumped her head against Shego's leg. The green-skinned woman didn't seem to notice, haunted eyes fixed on some path in front of her that only she could see.
“Kim. When she learns what I did… and I'll tell her, because she's gotta know… needs to know the kind of monster I am… will she be able to look at me?” Shego leaned against a tree, raising one hand to stare at it. “… How can I look at me? All those people… bastards, but maybe with families or… I…” She trailed off, silently staring at her hand.
Some tiny motion caught her eye, and she looked up. A slightly strangely-colored tree seemed to ripple a little, before its bark silently exploded into a million pieces. Butterflies in hundreds of different colors swirled into the air, sunlight playing over fluttering wings as they all took to the air, circling their home and spiraling out in a chaotic and yet ordered flight, brushing past Shego and the great cat like a thousand tiny eyelash-kisses. The jaguar lifted her head, turning it to watch all the motion, tail flicking back and forth a little.
Shego took in the natural beauty that seemed to have been arranged just for her, and felt dead inside.
“Your body came t'roo wit'out a scah, but your spirit is ailin’ an’ dyin’.”
Shego lifted her head listlessly, staring at Ravi almost as if not recognizing him, her hand stroking along the jaguar's back in a mechanical motion. The jaguar's head lifted towards Ravi, animal eyes seeming to almost plead with him.
“Shego girl, ain't nothin’ gonna be made right by you sittin’ ‘round waitin’ ta die,” Ravi continued, sighing.
“It can't be made right,” Shego whispered, head tilting back to the side, gaze settling on the ground. “It can't be fixed.”
“Aye,” he agreed slowly. “Ain't nothin’ gonna be bringin’ ‘em back. But that be done, and time ta move on. Maybe someday you be havin’ ta settle up accounts wit’ someone biggah dan de both of us, but ‘til den, still a life you got to live.”
“… There's something wrong with me, Ravi,” Shego whispered, without looking up. “I can't feel anything anymore… it's not like before… it's like something's dying inside me.”
“Aye,” he said with a sigh. “Somet'in’ worse'n jus’ feelin’ bad at work here. Some hurt you got on you eatin’ ‘way inside, like infected scratch on th’ spirit.” He walked over and slid a hand under her back, and when she didn't protest, lifted her into his arms. “We gon’ try somet'in’, girl, you just hold on.”
As Ravi carried Shego deep into the jungle, the jaguar prowled after them both, tail lashing worriedly.
Ravi laid Shego out on the stone slab, settling her into position. At each corner, a roaring jaguar statue faced out into the jungle, weathered and discolored with time, but still whole.
“Ravi… what are you doing?” Shego asked a bit distantly as he unsheathed his belt knife.
“My bes’, girl, s'all I can be doin’ at dis point,” Ravi murmured, slicing through the parachute silk band around Shego's chest and pulling it away. Then he turned and walked to the trees nearby.
Soon he returned, mashing up berries and dicing up a root into a shallow stone bowl. The mixture turned dark black, like ink, barely even glistening in the light. Dipping long fingers into the mixture, Ravi began covering Shego's face with it, covering every bit of skin, her eyes slipping closed without being told.
Somehow, despite the bowl fitting in one of his hands, there was enough to cover Shego's body from head to toe in the blackness. Ravi checked the sun, saw that it was sinking low in the sky, and let out a long breath. Murmuring a quick prayer, he turned and walked away.
“It was not your mate that died.”
Shego opened her eyes, staring at the dusky sky above. She slowly sat up, staring down at what she knew was the source of that soft, rich female voice.
“It was not your mate that died,” the jaguar repeated, gazing at Shego with gentle eyes.
“Then why does it feel like it was?” Shego whispered back, heartache in her voice.
“It is the first time death has truly touched you. Before you have mourned, you have felt for the deaths of those around you, or that you have caused. But without intending to, you made my mate and myself part of your pack. You did not even know you could.”
“… I…” Shego choked on the words, swallowing hard. “I loved you, but you were just animals. I thought… I thought it was like…”
“A pet,” the jaguar finished softly, actually smiling. “You are still human. I forgive you your human perceptions, Shego.”
“But you're not people,” Shego added quietly.
“No. But we still loved each other. We still love you. And you know that.”
“I… know.” Shego swallowed hard. “I love you too.”
“And this I know as well. You saw yourself and your mate in me and mine. When she was killed, both your human side and your animal side felt mourning… for yourself, and for me. You let yourself feel it as if your own mate had died. Is there any stronger bond in the pack?”
Shego slowly shook her head.
“You straddle the two worlds, Shego. Perhaps you will always feel things twice over, with the strength of both human and animal. You love twice over, rage twice over, mourn twice over. And it will destroy you if you cannot learn to live with it.”
Shego looked down at the ground, then raised her eyes to look at her friend. “What if I don't have the strength?”
“Then take my mate's.”
Shego blinked, and then for some reason looked up. Full night had fallen, and through an opening in the canopy of leaves she could see a sky flooded with stars.
“Pack is never truly gone, Shego. You will learn this in time.”
The stars began to move, like tiny diamond flecks in water, slowly taking on the glistening, shining form of the other jaguar, slowly walking down from the sky towards Shego as tears streaked down the human girl's cheeks, leaving the black paint untouched.
“When they go, they go into you. You take your memories of them, your love of them, all that was best of them, and you make it a part of you.”
And in a single fluid movement, the star jaguar leapt forward and into Shego's body, the blackness that covered her flooding with a million pinpoints of bursting light.
“Forever will my love of her be reflected in you… and forever will you reflect her love of me. And that is the way of pack.”
Shego closed her eyes, two final tears sliding down before the starlight grew to overwhelm her.
In the brightness, Shego held her other self close, arms wrapped around her, neither of them clothed this time.
“I guess this is goodbye,” cat-Shego whispered, smiling sadly, her voice quavering.
“No. It's hello forever. Every second of every day. The way we were always meant to be. I'm tired of being without you.”
“I know. But… I'll miss playing in our dreams.”
“You never know. Dreams are dreams,” Shego replied, smiling and resting her forehead against her other self's.
“…” Cat-Shego closed her eyes, tears sliding over the fur on her cheeks. “I love you, Shego.”
“I know. I love you too.”
Shego gave her other half a soft kiss, and then the white overcame them as well.
Shego gasped as if she were drowning, kicking and flailing and abruptly sitting up, staring around her at the clearing. She panted, putting a hand to her black-painted chest, feeling and hearing her heart race.
“God DAMN! What an intense dream!” Shego gave her head a shake as if clearing cobwebs, then put one hand to her forehead, still trying to catch her breath. Then she paused, and slowly turned her head.
The jaguar was sitting nearby, staring at her expectantly.
“… Any comments? Some advice, maybe?” Shego asked suspiciously.
The big cat tilted her head a little, ears pricking.
“… Nevermind.” Shego shook her head. “I dunno what the hell is in this stuff Ravi smeared on me, but I better wash it off before I wind up ODing.” She slid off the stone slab, rolling one arm around. “… Damned if I don't feel better, though.”
Shego trotted through the jungle, following the smell and eventually the sound of water. Arriving at a stream, she stepped in and bent down to rub at her feet, pleased when the black stuff came off and dissolved in the water easily. Wading further out, she began scrubbing down, somehow feeling like she was getting clean for the first time in a long time.
Eventually she'd cleaned off every part she could reach, and used a leafy branch to scrub most of the rest. Sighing pleasantly, Shego bent down to scrub at her face with both hands. After a few moments, she raised her head, then blinked at spotting a fairly large black spot still on one side of her face. Frowning, she gave it another few scrubs, to no avail.
“'Do not apply around eyes’,” Shego muttered, scooping up a double handful of water and trying to hold it still enough to serve as an impromptu mirror. She peered at her face, then almost dropped the water when she realized what she was looking at.
The black “splotch” over her left eye was actually the stylized outline of a jaguar's head. Shego let the water in her hands splash back into the stream, then stared down at the surface, seeing the much less distinct reflection. Tentatively, she reached one hand up, touching her fingers to the mark.
‘Pack is never truly gone, Shego. You will learn this in time.’
The words drifting through her head, Shego looked up and stared at the jaguar, who was sitting crouched at the water's edge, almost expectantly.
Finally, Shego shook her head and smiled, beckoning her friend on. “C'mon, ya silly.”
The jaguar immediately bounded into the water and all but tackled Shego into the shallows, the green-skinned woman laughing as they started to play-fight. Maybe things would be okay after all.
“You be seemin’ better,” Ravi commented from his perch above.
Shego smiled a bit as she stroked the jaguar's back, the big cat rumbling softly. “I guess. I feel… whole again. I may still need to learn about the beast, but the parts that are really me… they're back together. And then some.”
“You been honored in a way few ever even be hearin’ of,” the Jamaican agreed, bobbing his head. “So how you be feelin’ ‘bout everythin’ else?”
“Y'know, I can't really say.” Shego frowned a little, hand stilling on the jaguar's back. “I know I was sick inside, but now that I'm well, it's harder to see the stuff from before.”
“Well, all t'ings in dere own time,” Ravi said philosophically.
“Yeah. Maybe someday I'll have to settle my accounts, and when that day comes I'll take responsibility. I did what I did, no taking it back. Just have to deal with it.” All the same, a distant look came into her eyes, face tightening a little as if in pain.
“You gon’ tell your mate and pack ‘bout it?”
Shaking off the brief relapse of moodiness, Shego shrugged. “When the time's right. Selfish as it might sound, it was something that happened to me. So it's my choice when and how to tell them.”
“Fair ‘nuff. Fair ‘nuff. Seem even more attached to she-cat now,” he noted. “You gonna wind up givin’ ‘er a name?”
“Only if she tells me she wants one,” Shego replied with a smile, rubbing the back of the jag's neck and getting a louder rumble in response. “Names are for tame things. And she's a lot like me… she's only as tame as she wants to be.” She scratched along the back of the jaguar's neck, then mmed. “I'd risked my life for an animal's before, but he was… well, he was special. But then so are you, huh baby?”
The jaguar turned her head and gave Shego a look that perfectly said ‘Of course’.
“T'ings always be comin’ by sa'prise, it be seemin’,” Ravi commented, meandering off into the trees.
Shego gazed after him, suddenly thoughtful. She had her own way of communicating with her inner animal… maybe it was time she made use of it to get some more questions answered.
Shego looked at the stone slab and its jaguar statues, reaching down to run her fingertips along it. The people that carved this had been incredibly violent and cruel themselves… she wondered where her little rampage fit in against that, or if it even did. They'd killed for some ideal of spirituality or societal push… she'd killed because they'd hurt her. She wondered which was the more “right”.
She clambered up to sit on the slab and folded her legs, resting her hands on her knees and closing her eyes. She didn't have to push down through her memories and impressions this time. She knew where the beast was… she just had to bring it up.
“Tentative” wasn't really the right word, but it came up more slowly this time, not roaring up to the surface with enough overpowering force of self to rock her body. But then, she'd been through a lot lately… the beast was still a part of her, being sick of spirit had no doubt made it a little weak as well.
She wound up actually “coaxing” it up further, letting her senses fill with the jungle around her, pulling the smells deep inside her and letting the sounds wash through her like water through cloth. Gradually, it settled up inside her, a wild and wriggling thing inside her skin.
‘Okay. You remember how this goes,’ Shego thought, taking a deep breath. ‘Let's just give a quick refresher.’
She called up her impression of Kim.
The instinct-word was more nuanced, if that was the right word for it… more longing this time than ever before. Swallowing, Shego understood. She might feel better, but there was still a hurt inside of her, one that she needed Kim to truly start healing. … Fair enough. She settled in a bit more, and placed her impression of the jaguar out.
Well, she'd already pretty much known that. And just to confirm, she placed her impression of Rufus out and got the same response. Apparently being human wasn't required to be part of her pack. Perhaps just being able to love and support each other was enough, and that wasn't exclusive to humans.
She actually hesitated, but then placed out her impression of the other jaguar, the one who had been killed.
The instinct-word was longer, carrying some resonance of the mournful cries Shego had heard that night reverberating across the dark ocean. Shego swallowed past the lump in her throat. Yes, pack. Pack didn't end at death. As she'd been told… she'd understand that in time. Maybe she was beginning to. The black mark over her eye almost seemed to warm for a moment, but she decided that was either the sun or her imagination.
Centering herself as much as she could, Shego began the complicated process of communicating with her inner animal again, figuring out the right impressions and memories to “show” it to get responses. She slowly began to understand why she couldn't just descend into the animal whenever she felt like it… -it- wasn't tame either, to come when called.
‘Well, we're just going to have to learn to work in tandem, then. You want to come out, don't you?’
She gave the beast the impression of laying on the floor of the genetics building after being knocked into a generator. The jumble of emotions and instincts that flooded her in response to the memory was essentially a very long and very heartfelt ‘Yes!’
Shego hesitated again. She wasn't sure about using any part of the camp slaughter as an example, didn't want to dredge up that part of herself again. But it was the only time she'd managed what she was talking about, and if she wanted to get this settled, she'd have to.
‘Then we're going to need to learn to work together when we need to.’
She took a deep breath, then dredged up the memory-impression of racing through the camp, blood thundering in her ears, animal rage and human desire for vengeance mingled, working in concert.
It wasn't exactly hesitation. The beast never hesitated, it always responded with its immediate and heartfelt instinct. But all the same, the answer was so soft that it almost wasn't there.
Shego actually wondered about that. The blood, the slaughter, it seemed like the sort of thing the beast longed for. But in the “echo” of its answer, she felt that same mournful howl, and began to understand.
The beast wanted to fight. It even wanted to be joined with her.
It just never wanted it to be for the same reason again.
Though this session hadn't exhausted her nearly as badly as the first, Shego decided that she was about done with it. Still, before she let the beast sink back down, she gave it one more impression to define, Ravi.
Its answer both surprised her and didn't. As she let herself settle back down to more normal levels of perception, Shego frowned. She'd both suspected and been confused by her previous thought, and the beast had merely confirmed it. She needed more information… and she could either be human about it and beat around the bush figuring out how to do it politely, or she could do it her way.
“Why aren't you pack?”
Ravi blinked, raising his head from where he was sprawled stomach-down on a branch. Shego was a bit above and across from him, hands planted on a branch and one leg stretched out behind her, the other partway forward of it, toes gripping the bark.
“Not be sure whatcha talkin’ ‘bout, girl.”
“Nuh-uh. I'm pretty sure you know a whole lot that you don't say, and that you know what I mean.” Shego slid her feet in closer, crouching down on the branch and peering at Ravi with a curious frown. “My last teacher wasn't pack, he was just ‘teacher’. But we've been closer than that. So why aren't you pack?”
“…” Ravi slowly propped himself up on the branch, stretching his arms and legs out, toes dragging along the bark. “Mebbe dere ain’ no one answer ta dat.”
“Gimme a few, then. I need to understand this,” Shego pressed, cocking her head.
“… Arright.” Ravi crouched on his own branch, shrugging. “Could be dat I tried matin’, an’ it made ya be pushin’ me ‘way. Could be dat I di'n’ react so strong as you when de jaguar died. Could jus’ be dat I your teacher an’ ya hold me bit distant ‘cause-a it.”
“But you don't think that's why,” Shego prompted.
“… Pack be dedicated to ya, girl.” Ravi sighed, shifting around to squat in more humanlike fashion on the branch, resting his forearms on his knees. “I be likin’ ya, maybe lovin’ ya. Ya like a li'l sistah ta me, someways. But I ain’ gonna be droppin’ everyt'in’ an’ followin’ ya wherever ya be goin’.”
“… You're not willing to give up what you've got just to stay with me,” Shego murmured, nodding.
“Aye. I be lovin’ it here in de jungle. I ain’ goin’ back ta de civilize’ worl’ just on ye whims, girl. De jaguar, she gon’ follow ya when ya go. I ain’. An’ I be thinkin’ ye know dat.”
Shego looked down to where the jaguar was sharpening her claws on a tree trunk, chunks of bark and curls of wood raining down to the jungle floor.
“Well there's an extra complication I hadn't fully considered.” Shego sighed a little, closing her eyes. “But I guess I'll figure it out.”
“Ya bein’ okay, girl?”
“… I guess it makes me a little sad. Being pack with someone is…” Shego settled down more on the branch, resting her chin on it. “I guess sometimes I want to share it with everyone I care about.”
“Sometimes, de special t'ings are more special ‘cause ya don't decide ta share ‘em, ye jus’ be doin’ it.”
“Heh.” Shego closed her eyes and let her head tilt to the side. That pretty precisely summed up her entire romance with Kim.
The remaining months were in some ways unremarkable. She practiced her Jaguar Jiu-Jitsu, she followed the jaguar and learned more of her ways and the secret places of the jungle. She hunted her food and she at times fought for her survival.
As the days began to be cloudy, she often looked towards the sky and pondered. She'd come here to learn to be strong outside of the pack. Instead she'd just found… more pack. A lot of heartache and pain, but also a special sort of pack-love that didn't need to be rationalized or talked over in the human way.
Maybe that was the lesson she'd needed. That deprived of her pack, her vital connections… she could make new ones. Separated from those she loved and trusted, there were still those she could learn to love and trust on their own, even if they weren't what she'd been expecting.
Her pack wasn't going to leave her. They'd always be with her.
Shego smiled and raised a hand to rub her thumb over the edge of her jaguar-mark. Some more obviously than others.
“I think it's time for me to go.”
Ravi looked up at Shego, and nodded slowly. “Aye. Think ye learned all there is here for ye ta be learnin’.”
Shego had used what was left of the parachute to make an improvised skirt that wasn't a lot better than a sarong, and used a slightly larger strap to cover her breasts. She brushed her hands along her arms, then shrugged.
“Maybe we'll see each other again, someday. Never know.”
“Aye, aye. Ye be takin’ care, now.”
Shego nodded, then gave an almost forlorn wave. Somehow, a hug just didn't feel right here. Maybe because humans just didn't hug wild animals… and that was the roles they were playing at the moment.
“… Seeya.” She turned around and walked into the trees, the jaguar padding along at her heels. The big cat paused, looking over her shoulder at Ravi, then loping off after her packmember.
“Heh. Jungle gon’ be lonely for ‘while,” Ravi commented to himself, looking up, the first few raindrops of the rainy season hitting his face.
The bank officials were very put out by having a practically-naked woman and a jaguar come into their bank. Moreso when she refused to leave, and responded to the summons of a security guard by lifting him off the floor by the front of his uniform. She would only agree to leave if they would first check her thumbprint against their global account holders database.
Once they did, however, they were quite apologetic, and assured Miss Go that she was obviously allowed to wear whatever she liked when visiting any of their branches, and of course her feline friend was perfectly welcome, and that desk it had clawed wasn't really all that nice of an antique.
Shego leaned back against the side of the tub, sighing and closing her eyes. She wasn't soaking… she'd had several baths and showers already in the twenty-four hours since she'd checked into the hotel. Her hair, however, had needed a great deal more attention once it had been freed from the braid, and she'd gone so far as to acquire enough milk to fill the bathtub for the express purpose of soaking her unruly mane in it.
Decadent, sure, but she figured she was entitled. She'd gone almost an entire year without a single comfort of civilization. She was obviously due at least a year of splurging.
“Heeeey,” she said to the jaguar as it poked its head over the side of the tub and started lapping at the milk. “That's my hair treatment, not your lunch.” Grinning, Shego rubbed the big cat's side, though the smile slowly faded. “Well, you're gonna complicate my plans a little bit. But I'll manage somehow. The hardest part would be getting you across the border… it's not only a long-ass drive, but I think customs might take more than a second look at you.”
The jaguar flicked an ear, still lapping at the milk and largely unconcerned with “people problems”.
“Luckily,” Shego said after a moment, grinning again. “I know a certain pilot who owes me a lifetime of favors… if he likes having all his body parts, that is.”
The bell over the office door of the El Retrete Storage Facility, Equipment Rental, and Tire Depot rang, the owner, proprietor, and sole employee raising his gaze enough to take in the tan woman standing there, wearing a flat-topped black cowboy hat, dark sunglasses, tight black t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans. He almost didn't recognize her with her hair loose, but then again, no one that looked like that had walked into his office more than a couple of times in the last four decades.
“Well hey there, miss. Here for your stuff?”
“You got it. Still there?”
“Great. Thanks.” She tossed a twenty on the counter as a tip, then headed for the door, the jaguar turning and prowling after her.
“Tha's a big cat ya got there, miss.”
Shego yanked up on the steel rolling door, forcing it up despite the rust, then looking over the sealed plastic bins stacked in the center of the storage unit. None seemed to have been moved, or the locks tampered with.
Ah, listlessness. Better security than honesty.
Shego checked the smaller bins, making sure the fake identity papers and credit cards she'd left Yamanouchi with were all there. The bins did indeed have all their contents just as she'd left them… she loved this place.
Opening the large container, she shifted through extra sets of clothing, her small collection of weapons and her ninja outfit, and various other personal items. She blinked a little, then grinned and held up one in particular.
“Well hello, Buzzy! Did you miss me?”
“Why yes you did!”
Shego made a brief stop in the general store to pick up a few things and to inquire if anyone had a truck capable of the few hundred mile round trip to Laredo. Informed that there was such a person, she spent awhile finagling a deal for passage, and was soon on the road, sitting in the bed of the truck with one arm around her friend.
“Okay, listen,” Shego said seriously, looking at the jaguar. “We've been okay up ‘til now, but we're gonna have to make some concessions as we get into an actual big city.” Shego dug in the plastic bag beside her, and pulled out a plain leather dog collar and leash. “You're gonna have to wear this.”
The jaguar's ears laid back against her head.
“Yeah, I know, I know. It's not like I -want- to put it on you, alright? This isn't something I'd do if I could think of any way to avoid it.” Shego rubbed her hand down the jaguar's back, the big cat's ears slowly starting to raise again. “I know you're not ashamed of not being tame, and you shouldn't be. I'm not ashamed of what I am either, but hey.” She reached a hand up to tap on her sunglasses with one nail. “It's just to keep our day from being too hard by freaking people out. We need to keep as low a profile as we can, and this will let us. Okay?”
The jaguar finally gave a little chuff, bumping her head against Shego's chest.
“Thanks. Knew I could count on yoooou,” Shego cooed, scruffling the jaguar's chest and shoulders until she started rumbling. “Who's my buddy, huh? Who is? Ack! No licking, makeup! Makeup!”
Attractive women in casual Western wear weren't exactly an uncommon sight in any city in Texas, if not quite as prolific as the rest of the world might think. Attractive women in casual Western wear with really big cats on leashes were somewhat less so, and as Shego made her way along, she got more than her share of stares… but not any moreso than if she'd walked into town green.
Of course, a green woman walking a jaguar might have been a bit much. Thus the (in some areas recently reapplied) body paint.
After considering her options, Shego finally outright bought a black minivan and paid to have it given all the options, as well as having a superior set of shock absorbers installed. Once the seats had been folded down in back and some extra padding applied here and there, it made a decent travel compartment for a big cat.
Shego started off on her long drive, deciding to pace herself. Though the urge was strong to just drive on and stop as little as possible in hopes of seeing Kim as soon as she could, she decided against it. She didn't know if anyone was still searching for her, but if she let herself get exhausted, she'd be more prone to mistakes, and too many of those were a bad idea no matter what. Besides, driving without stops made everybody grumpy.
She didn't really feel like driving almost 2400 miles with a grumpy jaguar.
One stop along the way was a certain mechanic of her acquaintance… moron though he was. Through a series of thorough beatings and standing over his shoulder the entire time, she got him to install some things she considered necessary extras without actually “tricking this soccer wagon out, seriously”.
Between frequent rest stops, not driving until too late at night, and the stopover to get the van worked on, the trip took a little over a week. She judged she was a few days late from their assigned meeting date, but she just hoped that meant Kim would be there waiting for her.
As she pulled into Seattle, it was the middle of the night. She'd decided to push it this time, since they were so close, and having figured it was probably best to enter their new “hideout” under cover of darkness anyway. She pulled around to the opposite side of the building, then let the jaguar out before heading to the other side and hitting the dual codes for the door before heading inside.
She stopped in the nearly empty first floor and took a deep breath. A lot of dust and faint smells of things like oil and metal, but also distinctly human smells. She smiled at the scent of Ron and Yori, slightly different than she remembered, but comforting and longed-for all the same. Wanting to run but still having a bit too much pride, she compromised by jogging up the stairs, digging in her pocket for the key to unlock the office door and heading through it, throwing open the door to the inside.
Ron and Yori both sat up on the bed at the sudden opening of the door, then cried out enthusiastically and, not holding back in the least, leapt to their feet and ran over, hugging Shego from both sides. She laughed and wrapped her arms around her friends, feeling Rufus leaning on her head and hugging the top of it.
“Man, I haven't had my hug addict fix in a long time,” Shego murmured, giving Ron and Yori another squeeze. “How are you guys…?”
“We're good. We're good.” Ron smiled at her, straightening up. Dang, he was just a little taller than she was now. Must have finished out his growing while she was gone… or maybe she just hadn't noticed before. Then he tensed a little bit, apparently at what he saw over her shoulder. “Uh, Shego, did you know you have a -really- big cat following you?”
“Yeah, actually.” Shego grinned and stepped back from the hug, turning a bit and squatting, waving the jaguar over. “C'mere, meet everybody.”
The jaguar padded forward, and Rufus squealed, cowering down on top of Shego's head. The sound attracted the big cat's attention, and her eyes snapped to the little pink thing like a missile lock-on.
“Hey! -Hey-!” Shego snapped her fingers, attracting the jaguar's attention back to her. “He's not food. He's pack. Understand? Pack.”
The jaguar tilted her head, seeming leery.
“He's a packmate, and he's a good one. He's not for eating.”
Almost wrinkling her nose, the jaguar pondered this for a bit, before leaning her head up to sniff at Rufus, the naked mole rat quaking while Ron looked distinctly nervous. After a moment, the jaguar flicked her tongue out and gave him a lick on the side, Rufus giving another fearful squeak, before another, more inquiring one and peeking his eye open. Tentatively, he reached a forepaw out to pet the jaguar on the nose, starting a little when she began rumbling, then actually perking up.
“Hm, friend kitty!” he chirped, leaping off of Shego's head and sliding down the jaguar's neck to rest between her shoulders.
“Wow. You've been up to a lot,” Ron murmured, seeming quite impressed.
“You have no idea,” Shego replied in a tired tone. “I'll tell you guys about it later.” She straightened up, then snagged Yori's hand and held it up, grinning. “Looks like you guys have been busy too.”
“I am afraid I rushed Ron a bit after he proposed,” Yori admitted bashfully, blushing. “I am sorry you could not attend.”
“Hey, it's me, remember? As far as I'm concerned you two have been mated a lot longer than this.” Shego shook her head, still grinning. “Still, way to go, Ron.”
“Eheh. Thanks.” Ron ducked his head, rubbing the back of his head and smiling sheepishly.
“And way to go, Yori,” Shego whispered, ducking her head down. “I think he got hunkier since last year.”
“I think so too,” Yori replied, eyes dancing.
“We've got a lot to talk about,” Shego said, idly watching as the jaguar prowled off to explore her new home, Rufus still riding along on the big cat's back. “But for now, the second thing I want to do is go to bed.”
“What's the first thing?” Ron asked.
Shego gave Yori a doe-eyed look, holding up some of her hair on her fingers. “Get my braid redone?”
Yori laughed. “Of course.”
Shego had wondered if it would be awkward for them to get back into their old pattern. But as they got ready for sleep, everyone started getting out of clothes and moving around to sides of the bed, she realized that sleeping in their little huddle had become ingrained to the point that even a year of interrupting it hadn't dulled the easy feel of it.
She snuggled up behind Yori and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, feeling her relax easily. Ron scooted up behind her and draped his arm across, resting his hand on his wife's side. The space heaters near the bed kept it warm enough that only a thin sheet was required, and Shego closed her eyes, breathing deeply. As she began to sink into a happy cocoon of the smells and sounds and feel of her pack, the faint sound of thunder and steady rhythm of rain starting to fall helped create the equivalent of sensory relaxation heaven.
Shego wasn't sure how long they'd been asleep when something started pulling her up out of her comfortable nesting feeling. She came awake just enough to listen more closely, and heard the outer office door open. The faint smell filtered in a moment later, permeating her warmth and happiness and spreading through her whole body. ‘Kim!’
The inner door opened, and the smell got stronger. Shego took a moment to gently disentangle herself from Yori and Ron and sat up, looking towards the door. There she was… a little taller, a little older-looking, even a little more severe. But it was her mate, after all this time, and Shego smiled brightly. “Kim!”
Kim Possible turned and bolted out the door and down the stairs.
-End Part Eleven