Kim threw open the door and ran out into the night, blindly picking a direction and just running, anything to get away from that place. The rain was almost like a solid wall against her front as she pelted down the sidewalk, her clothes as soaked as if she'd been swimming in moments. She'd never felt more betrayed, hurt, and humiliated in her entire life.
The woman she loved was cheating on her with her best friend and another woman.
She heard Shego's voice behind her, took a quick glance and saw the other woman running after her, wearing baggy black pants and a tanktop, one hand outstretched. Kim ducked her head forward and tried to run faster. She didn't want to hear the excuses, the apologies. She just wanted to go somewhere and mourn over the shattered pieces of her life. The last two years and more, it had all been for nothing!
“Kim, please! Kim!”
The rain seemed to stop as Kim ran under a store balcony that had been left extended, and at the same time a hand fastened around her upper arm. A hundred different martial responses came to mind, but she didn't have the heart for any of them. Shego yanked Kim around to face her, grabbing her other arm as well and holding her. The redhead kept her head down, eyes squeezed closed, refusing to look at her.
“Kim, what are you doing?! What's wrong?!”
“What's -wrong-?!!?!” Kim shouted back, trying to yank away a little, but still held firmly. “How can you ask me that?!”
“What are you talking about?” Shego stared at her uncomprehendingly, confusion written all over her face.
“I -saw- you!” Kim snapped back, finally raising her head. They were almost the exact same height now… Shego was still taller, damn her. “I saw all three of you!”
“… So?” Shego asked blankly.
“… -So-?! Are you going to tell me you think that was okay?!”
“Of course it was okay. Kim, what on Earth are you-” Shego glanced back towards the warehouse, then blinked. Something tickled the back of her brain. She'd become so completely used to the idea of pack that she was having a hard time processing what it would look like from an outsider's perspective. After all, Kim wasn't supposed to be an outsider anyway, but still. “Oh, Kim, no, that's not-”
“Not what?! You're cheating on me! With -Ron-! AND Yori!” Kim shouted back.
“That's NOT what was happening!” Shego said firmly, squeezing Kim's arms just a little and looking her right in the eye. “There has never, ever been anyone but you. Look at me. Look me in the eye. There hasn't been -anyone- else.”
Kim wanted to look away, but found herself meeting Shego's gaze anyway. Looking into those strange, still somewhat frightening catlike eyes, trying not to be distracted by the new tattoo over one of them. She saw nothing but sincerity and an almost desperate plea in them. Lady Clover's teachings told her she should try to take the upper hand here, be confident, in command. She shouldn't have run in the first place, she should have demanded an explanation and reckoning then and there.
Of course, Lady Clover had also told her, ‘Sometimes, some people will be able to get right to you no matter what, no help for it.’
“Kim, please,” Shego whispered. “It's been two years, and I've missed you every single second of every day. I guess I understand what that looked like to you, but please. Come back inside and let me explain. Please?”
Slowly, Kim nodded, her own voice hoarse as she agreed, “Alright.”
Homecoming hadn't exactly gone like either of them had hoped.
Kim sat at the small round table set up near the improvised kitchen area, a towel wrapped around her. If she hadn't been so miserable, she might have been a little embarrassed by the fact that her shirt had gone completely see-through. She wasn't.
“Um… here, Possible-san,” Yori murmured, setting a cup of steaming tea in front of her.
Kim picked the cup up, not looking at or speaking to Yori. She didn't trust herself not to explode, and Shego had promised her an explanation. No sense saying things that she couldn't take back if it wound up being unnecessary.
“Kim…” Shego started, then trailed off and sighed. She pulled out the chair across from Kim and sat down, her own sparse clothing having been exchanged for a fresh set of identical garb after a quick toweling-down. “Ron and Yori and I were not having sex. We never have.”
“Then why were you in bed together? Naked and pressed against each other?” Kim demanded without any real force in her voice.
“That's… it's hard to find a good place to start explaining,” Shego said with a sigh, resting her hands on the table.
“Um, Kim, listen,” Ron spoke up. “We all knew Shego had undergone a lot of changes, but I think we all thought they were physical and the way she'd kind of lose herself and go feral sometimes. Right?”
Kim nodded slowly, stealing a glance at Ron. He'd been her best friend since playschool, and now she wondered if she could trust him. Trust him to be honest about what was going on.
“Well it was more than that. Um, see, the way she thinks and feels things got changed around too. And about three months after the two of you separated, she started… er, well, going a little bit nuts.” Ron glanced at Shego apologetically, but she just gave him a wan grin in return. “But it was because she needed you. Like… really needed you.”
“You're my mate, Kim,” Shego interjected, voice quiet. “I pretty much have a physical need for your presence.”
Kim's eyes widened a little, her gaze lifting back up to fix on Shego. “… Mate?”
“I knew it back in Havana, but I wasn't at a place where I could talk about it or think about what it meant. You're not just the woman I love… you're the person I'm bonded to for life.” Shego's wan smile returned. “So cheating on you's kind of not an option.”
“… Oh.” Kim sat back in her chair, feeling a little stunned.
“But, uh,” Ron began again. “See, we thought maybe if she was close with her friends, that would help her, so we tried sleeping close together. And after those first few nights, it just seemed sort of… well, natural. It got to where we couldn't sleep if we weren't together.”
“…” Kim looked at him again. “Naked?”
“Nudity doesn't mean anything when we're sleeping like that, Kim,” Shego stated, voice firm. “The same way you're my mate, Ron and Yori are pack. We sleep together because we have a need for one another's presence. It comforted me and kept me sane while we were apart.”
Kim hesitated, then whispered, “Was it really that bad?”
Shego glanced at Yori, pain flicking across her eyes. “You have no idea.” Then she shook her head. “But sex really doesn't even enter into it.”
“So all three of you were chaste?” Kim asked, glancing around.
“… Not… all three, Possible-san,” Yori murmured, cheeks coloring.
Kim frowned, then glanced at Ron. Then she finally noticed the ring on his finger, and looked back at Yori. “… Oh. … Ohhhhh.” Her own cheeks flushed a little. “Um. Congratulations.”
“Heh, thanks, KP.”
“But, uh… how does that work? Do you two…?”
“We usually just, um, take some ‘alone time’,” Ron murmured, rubbing the back of his neck, face red. “Y'know, go off somewhere else, another room or something.”
“… ‘Usually’?” Kim eyed him, then looked at Shego suspiciously. “… Have they made love while you were in the room?”
Shego coughed and looked aside, actually seeming vaguely uncomfortable now.
“… They have.”
“Kim, you've gotta understand,” Shego pressed, shaking her head. “Ron and Yori are part of my -pack-. Things like shame and modesty don't really figure into it.”
“… So you didn't enjoy watching it?”
Shego raised an eyebrow. “Hey, I never said that. I have enhanced senses and a pulse.”
Kim sighed. “I just don't know what to make of this.”
“… You're part of this pack, Kim.” Shego lowered her head a little. “I know it's hard to understand. It was hard for me too, and I was living it. It got to the point that I felt I had to leave and learn to live outside of the group, and I've been running around in a Mexican jungle for a year.”
The redhead blinked. “Er… okay. So what did you do about the… separation anxiety there?”
“Wound up finding new packmembers,” Shego said wryly, then turned her head and called, “Hey! C'mere, wouldja!”
A moment later, the jaguar prowled her way around the dividing wall behind the bed, Rufus perched between her ears and trying to pose majestically.
“Uh… wow, okay.” Kim's eyes widened.
“… Yeah.” Shego shook her head a little. “I know it's a lot to take in. And I…” She trailed off, petting the great cat as it ambled up and sat down beside her. “… I'm not a normal person, Kim. I wasn't when we met, and I was getting less so when all this started. But now I know who I am, and… well, this is it. If you wanna tough it out… I guess here is where we start.”
Kim's features tightened. “What if I couldn't? What if I made you choose between me and the… pack?”
Everyone went so silent and still that she immediately knew she'd said something completely wrong. Yori had stopped moving around the kitchenette, and Ron's fingers had tightened on the back of a chair.
“I'd just hope you'd never even think about doing that,” Shego answered, her voice quiet and tense.
Kim still felt off-kilter and confused, but she wished she could take the question back. Obviously this wasn't just Shego that felt the connection… her friends had bonded in a way she didn't understand while she'd been gone. After a second, she nodded.
“Okay. I won't. I'm sorry.” The redhead glanced around. “I… I wanna understand, and I wanna tough it out, but this… it may take awhile, okay?”
“Okay, pumpkin.” Shego smiled tentatively, laying a hand palm-up on the table. “That's good enough for me.”
Kim smiled back, unsure herself, and laid her hand in Shego's. “I knew we'd have to get to know each other again. I just didn't think the stuff would be so… big.”
“I well understand your concerns… Kim,” Yori said, walking back over and freshening Kim's still almost-full teacup. The redhead gave her a small smile. “I was not used to physical closeness, and my culture is often somewhat restrained about what we show. But the feeling of pack is different… if you come to understand, you will not want to go back to any other way.”
“Okay. Well… I said I'll try.” Kim glanced towards the bed, then gave the others a wry look. “But how about for a start, we keep some clothes on in bed?”
“That's fine,” Shego said slowly. “Maybe it's better to start slow.” She stood up and tilted her head. “There's a bathroom on the other end of this floor. I'll show you where, and you can get cleaned up.”
“Alright.” Kim nodded, standing up. “That sounds really good.”
She took a few quick gulps of her tea, thankful that the inner warmth it brought would soon be joined by the outer kind. Then she followed Shego back to the small bathroom, looking at the shower.
“Um… I can go, if…” Shego started, turning towards the door.
Kim snagged her wrist. “No. Please. Stay.”
“… Okay.” Shego smiled, nodding.
Starting to peel out of her clothes, Kim kept her voice low. “I'm sorry I freaked. It just looked like… well…”
“I understand. At least intellectually.” Shego leaned against the counter, eyes drinking in every move of her long-absent beloved. “On some of this stuff I just think about it so naturally I have a hard time… stepping back, you know?”
“Uh-huh. You'll definitely have to tell me all about it. I do want to understand. … And I wanna hear all about you. Immediate past and more.” Kim peeled her shirt off and wrung it out a bit, making an aggravated noise.
“Niiiice tattoo,” Shego murmured, eyebrows raising.
“Er… you like it?” Kim blushed, actually more embarrassed by the tattoo than her nudity, for some reason. Maybe Lady Clover's lessons hadn't been wasted after all. “Yours is pretty interesting, too.”
“Huh? Oh, right. That thing.” Shego reached her fingertips up to touch the edge of her jaguar-mark. “Part of that long story you haven't heard yet.”
“Guess so. Does your feline friend have a name?”
“Oh. Well… how do we refer to it?”
“Are you planning to acquire any additional jaguars, that we'd need to tell them apart?”
“… Good point.” Kim shook her head, turning on the water in the small shower and waiting for it to heat up before stepping inside. After thawing for a minute or two, she raised her voice and called, “Your mom liked my tattoo, too!”
Shego shook her head slowly, grinning a little and folding her arms over her chest. “Yeah, I bet she did. … She doing okay?”
“Yeah. I mean… I'd say more, but… well, she wrote you a letter!”
“Really?” The green-skinned woman blinked, glancing at the door. “… Okay. Guess we'll look at it in a few.”
Kim opened the shower door a bit and peeked out. “Guess my freaking out delayed that, too. Sorry again.”
“Look, it's over and done with. Enough sorries.” Shego shrugged. “You're gonna give it a try now, and that's what's important.”
“Yeah.” Kim ducked back in the shower, quickly scrubbing down then turning off the water and stepping out.
Shego was looking at her with such longing heat in her eyes that it was like a physical caress. Kim could feel her breathing quickening and goose pimples rising on her thoroughly warmed skin.
“I guess… we should take it slow, at first. With everything,” Shego murmured after a few moments, looking away.
“… Probably a good idea.” Kim picked up a towel and wrapped it around herself, then slid in close and murmured against Shego's ear, pink lips faintly brushing green skin. “For just a little while.”
Shego gasped, a shiver passing through her body, before she stepped away and gave Kim an almost wounded look. “Tease.”
“Is it?” Kim smiled sweetly, starting to rub herself down slowly with the towel.
“I'm going to go find you some clothes before I throw you on the floor and fuck your smug little brains out, princess,” Shego grumbled, stalking out the door.
“That'd be super!” Kim called back in positively sugar-coated tones.
Kim padded barefoot back to the bed area, wearing loose grey pajama pants and a tanktop. The others were dressed almost identically, except Yori who was wearing a pair of shorts. She noticed the jaguar looking at her, and looked back at it with a cautious air. “Um. Hi.”
The big cat chuffed, rising to its feet and circling her a few times. For some reason, Kim summoned up her command aura, shoulders squaring and eyes cooling, a thread of steel entering her voice. “Behave.”
The jaguar immediately thumped down to sit in front of her, then blinked as if in surprise. Kim tried not to show her own surprise, since it probably would have ruined the effect.
“Whoa, KP, boss tat,” Ron commented, looking a little awed.
“Yes, Kim, you look a bit like a tough Yakuza woman,” Yori said, tone gently teasing.
“Thanks, I think,” the redhead replied dryly. She looked towards the bed, frowning just a bit. “So, uh, how does this work?”
“We were just discussing that before you came back in,” Yori allowed. “We are not exactly sure… we've slept with the same arrangement for so long…”
Shego pondered for a few moments, then hmed. “Well, let's see. Since Yori gets the ‘protected’ role, why don't we put her kind of in the middle, between Ron and Kim? That way I can be on Kim's other side, protecting her.”
“I think that would be alright,” Yori agreed, then blushed a bit and glanced at the redhead. “If it is alright with you, Kim…?”
“I said I'd try.” Kim wondered why Yori needed to be protected, then remembered how terribly fragile and pale she'd looked laying there in bed after the fight in the old base. That was one of her own prominent impressions of the girl, and it was pretty much how Shego had made her acquaintance. Perhaps she'd actually needed to feel protected after that. “It's fine.”
The group milled around a little, finishing a few last preparations for bed. Kim drifted to one side, then snagged Ron by the arm and pulled him into a hug. “I missed you a ton.”
“Missed you too, KP,” Ron murmured, voice suddenly hoarse with emotion.
“You got so tall! And you look really good!” Kim grinned and reached back, giving his ponytail a flick. “My grown-up, married friend!”
“Heh. You look good too, KP. Yori's right, though, you look kinda like a tough chick.”
“Was a bit of the idea.” Kim smiled and kissed him on the cheek, then stepped away. “We'll talk soon. I've gotta give Shego something.” She paused, then added, “It's a letter, smart guy.”
“Oh, right. I knew that.”
Thwapping him on the shoulder genially, Kim headed over to her bag and unzipped it, digging around for the envelope. Finding it, she carried it over to where Shego was at the table, drinking a glass of milk. “Here.”
Shego blinked, then eyed the letter rather uncertainly. Finally, though, she took it and used a claw to slice open the top, taking out several sheets of paper and unfolding them to look at the top one.
She was silent as she read, though her face said volumes, sliding from surprised, to angry, then to sad. As she turned the page and continued reading, her expression became indescribable, like some mingling of emotions that were impossible to determine visually.
“… Shego?” Kim reached a hand out, resting it on the other woman's shoulder.
“She… she says…” Shego took a deep breath. “Well. She says a lot. But towards the end… she says…” Her voice shaking just a little, she read from the page. “'The letters my acquaintance Mori Sujigaki sent me proved what I'd always hoped and dreamed. That you truly had learned the lessons I'd tried to teach… even if you didn't learn them all from me. You've earned your honor name many times over, and I hope what Kim tells me is true, that you do cherish it.’
“'I gave it to you in hopes you wouldn't forget where you were from. Maybe I didn't do my part to make that something worth remembering. But I do know that you've come a long way. And though there's usually formal rites associated with it, this time when I ignore tradition it's because I think you've already proven yourself. Mori thinks you have. The path I'm laying before you is long and-'”
Shego trailed off, pressing a hand over her mouth and closing her eyes for a minute, before whispering, “Master. She says I'm a Master now.”
“Oh, Shego!” Kim beamed, throwing her arms around the other woman. “That's wonderful! I'm so proud of you!”
“Y-yeah… I kind am, too.” Shego swallowed hard, leaning her head on Kim's shoulder and resting a hand on the redhead's arm. “I just never expected… some of the stuff in the letter, and that… oh wow…”
“Shall we call you Shego-sensei now?” Yori queried brightly.
“You better not,” Shego retorted, eyes shining as she smiled.
“So wow, Kim's been training with your -mom-?” Ron looked back and forth between them. “What was -that- like?”
“It was great.” Kim grinned at her friend. “She's a really amazing woman. Must be genetic.”
Shego quickly rubbed a thumb across both her eyes, then pecked Kim's cheek. “Flatterer.”
“Maybe a little.” Kim smiled and gave Shego a squeeze, then straightened up.
“So… Chione.” Shego grinned at Kim. “Mom always did love all kinds of mythology. It's pretty.”
“Kim, your Honor Name? It is quite lovely!” Yori stepped in, smiling. “Would you prefer us to use it from now on?”
Kim shook her head. “No. I don't think that's right for me. Maybe I'll figure out when I need to use my Honor Name later. It's certainly got an interesting origin.” She paused, then gave Shego an extremely sly look. “But not as interesting as some.”
Shego blinked, then stared at Kim. After a moment, she muttered under her breath, “Oh, that -bitch-.”
“Well, come on, let's get to bed,” Kim said brightly, padding away from the table. “I'm sure Shego's bubba wouldn't want to hear that she'd been neglecting her health.”
“Oh that BITCH.”
Kim shifted a little uncertainly, trying to figure out of she was supposed to actually look at Yori or just sort of generally ahead as the two of them settled in face-to-face. She was overly conscious of her arms, feeling nervous as she tried to find the right place to put them. Finally, one wound up under Yori's head and the other draped over her. When Ron moved into place behind Yori, the lower hand wound up curled over the top of his shoulder and the other on his side.
She tried not to feel bashful as Shego pressed in close behind her, reminding herself that they were all just going to go to sleep. Oddly enough, it wasn't that hard once she tried… maybe because the others were treating it fairly casually, as well. Besides, it was just easier to feel good about things with Shego's arms wrapped around her.
Shego's hand rested on Yori's side, the other curled under and around Kim's middle. Kim glanced down as Rufus clambered from Ron's side to find a bit of empty space between her and Yori and settle into it, then tried not to jump as one side of the mattress depressed a bit more. The jaguar rubbed herself along Shego's back, then turned a bit and flopped down heavily to be back-to-back with the green woman, the bed giving a few loud creaks and a cracking sound or two.
“Ron,” Yori said quietly.
“Reinforce the bed frame tomorrow, gotcha.”
Kim wondered if there would be a lot of talking as they tried to go to sleep, like a sleepover or something. But instead everyone actually just seemed to be going to sleep, Ron reaching over languidly to turn off the lamp and plunging them into darkness. Kim could feel Shego's breath rustling warmly through her hair and across her ear, the other woman seeming a lot warmer than Yori in front of her. She was a little surprised when Yori snuggled closer in against her front, but after a moment Kim just ducked her head a bit to let her face rest a bit more against the top of the Japanese girl's head.
‘Maybe there's something to this whole pack thing,’ she thought as she drifted off.
When Shego woke up, it was Yori's smell strong in her nose rather than Kim's. Blinking a little blearily, she raised her head and looked around, taking in the slightly brighter look in the windows. The jaguar was stirring behind her, and Shego carefully slid away from Yori and out of the bed. The big cat followed her as she followed the traces of Kim's scent up the other stairs.
“Here. Go run around in there,” Shego said, opening the door to the top floor and waving the jaguar in. “We'll just have to clean it up later, until we find a better option.”
Continuing on up, Shego stepped out onto the roof and immediately spotted the redhead sitting in a plastic and metal lawn chair that was apparently part of a set with another chair and a little table between them. She was looking off over the city, watching the dawn edge over the skyline, clouds like a very thin grey wash over the scenery.
Shego walked over and eased into the other deck chair. “Hey. Morning.”
“Mm, morning.” Kim smiled at her.
“Get uncomfortable or something?”
“Huh? Oh. No, not at all. I really think it's gonna work out.” Kim's smile remained as she looked back towards the skyline again. “I just wanted to watch the sun rise. How about you?”
“I got used to doing a lot of my… well, my hunting and running, early in the morning or in early evening. Probably keep the habit for awhile.” Shego leaned back in the chair and watched the dawn for awhile, before she asked, “So, where do we go from here?”
“You and me? Or all of us?” Kim said quietly, not looking away from the skyline.
“… All of us, to start.”
Kim nodded a little. “I've been thinking about that. Overall… I've been thinking we'll start small. Feel things out here in Seattle, figure out how to help people now that we're not letting little things like ‘expectations’ and ‘the law’ get in our way.” The redhead gave the other woman a brief smile before looking ahead again. “And I guess as we figure that out, we can start spreading out, until maybe we're doing global stuff again.”
“Okay. That sounds good.” Shego nodded, then looked at Kim again. “… So what about you and me?”
“… Well. Do you still love me?”
“Of course. Do you still love me?”
“Yup.” Kim gave her a softer smile. “But we've never really gotten to be -in- love, have we?”
Shego tried to understand that, brow furrowing a little. “I… think I get what you mean. I mean, we just sort of… fell in it. But we haven't exactly gotten to be a couple, have we?”
“Mm-mm.” Kim shook her head. She laid her hand on the table, palm up and fingers extended. “So I love you, and you love me, and we'll learn how to actually be in love. We'll do things as they feel right, as they develop. We kept thinking of things like we'd be on the run all the time, constantly hunted and pursued… and I guess we'll make preparations for if it comes to that. But until then, there's no reason we can't go to the movies, go out to eat, go to the theater…”
“You mean date,” Shego prompted, grinning.
“Mm-hm. We can turn this place into more than a base… we can make it home.” Kim squeezed Shego's hand. “I have the investments your mom helped me make and some extra to help us along.”
“The three of us have ‘hazard pay’ for every mission the Yamanouchi sent us on. It is a ninja's honor to help the clan, but the clan's nice enough to compensate us for it,” Shego replied wryly. “Plus I have a huge trust fund I've pretty much ignored since I left home. We'll have the money we need.”
“Enough for a really nice wine fridge, I bet,” Kim mused.
“Oh lord, she got you hooked on the stuff, didn't she?”
“Can you love a wine-lover, darling?” Kim teased.
“Well if I -have- to,” Shego muttered in a put-upon tone, rolling her eyes.
Both of them laughed briefly, then settled in again.
“… Shego… did something happen to you?” Kim asked after a minute. “Because there were times that I'd have these feelings, and-”
“Tell me you love me and watch the sunrise.”
Kim smiled, then shook her head and laughed a little. “I love you, Shego.”
“I love you too,” Shego replied, smiling.
And so, hand in hand, they watched the sun rise over their home.
-End Part 12