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Disclaimer: Kim Possible and all of the characters from the show belong to Disney Corporation.  This is a work of fanfiction and not for profit.  Dalron, Zahn, Kestal, Alexis, and Arrakis are original creations of mine.  Other important original characters that make an appearance in this work will be named at the start of the chapter they appear in.  Enjoy!

 

Steampunk Vision

 

 

 The Search

 

            "Target sighted, 11 o'clock," Ron Stoppable shouted from the crow's nest atop the main mast of The Dauntless.

            Captain Kim Possible pulled out a spyglass from the leather pouch at her waist and zeroed in on the target.  She smiled as the airship came into view below the clouds.  The airship was simple and standard, boring.  But that's how it was meant to look.  Her information had been correct up until now, and that streak continued.  She saw the disguised gun ports for what they were and under magnification the 'merchant crew' wore the uniforms of Imperial soldiers.  So much for the disguise!

            She closed the spyglass and put it back into her pouch.  She spun around the deck toward her assembled crew and shouted, "Get to altitude! Ahead full!  Battle stations, men!  We'll drop from the clouds right on top of them!  They'll never know what hit 'em!"

            The boatswain[1] repeated her orders to the rest of the crew as they gave an anxious cheer for what was about to happen.  Then they ran to their stations and drew their weapons in anticipation for the battle that was soon to come.  Ron sailed down the main mast to his post on the deck while The Dauntless picked up speed.  The wooden boards of the main deck rattled and hummed as the steam engine flared to life.  The airship rose high into the clouds as it picked up speed on its quarry.

            Kim felt the adrenaline rush just like the rest of the crew.  The information trail had led her from Imperial post to Imperial post and then from ship to ship.  What caught her eye was the fact that the Imperial frigates were all disguised as merchant vessels for added secrecy and protection.  The Empire didn't need to do that, their mighty airships were more than a match for the foolish typical air raider and other "independents".  The Empire was acting and moving in secret, not one of their strong suits.  The information she'd bought had bore fruit thus far, and she resolved to get to the bottom of this one way or another.

            The Dauntless pierced the layer of clouds obscuring the ship in a foggy mist that made clothing stick to skin.  Kim heard the commotion below deck as the gun ports were opened and the cannons readied.  Kim steadied herself as The Dauntless pitched downward on an attack vector.  The clouds disappeared as the ship sliced through into the open air.  Kim watched as the Imperial crew on the disguised airship scurried about in confusion.  Kim smiled, they had taken them completely by surprise.

            Kim drew her rapier as The Dauntless stopped directly above the other airship.  "Board and attack," she called out.

            The crew of The Dauntless issued their warcry as they let down the ropes and proceeded to complete Kim's orders.  Kim grabbed a rope and repelled down to the ship below, eager to engage along with the rest of her crew.  Her boots slammed onto the deck and she found herself facing off against a trio of surprised Imperial soldiers stuck in the process of drawing their blades.  Kim's smile widened, it was time to get to work...

 

 

 

A few minutes later, the captain's cabin on board the Imperial frigate, Revenant

 

Being a Supplemental History Report on Matters of Interest to the Empire

 

To: His Excellency, Emperor Wayland Arrakis of the Most Honorable and Esteemed House Arrakis, Chosen of the Gods, and August Ruler of the Empire of Man

Classification Top Secret, for your eyes only

Destruction of this document is preferred after perusal.

 

 

Greetings, my Emperor, I hope this day finds you in good spirits for this report is the last to be prepared on the singular events that have troubled the Empire as of late.  As you know the Empire is beset by enemies on all fronts, from the Undead Masters to the East to the Elven Nations to the West, but this supplemental focuses primarily on dangers from within.  The preceding documents give in full detail all of the information we have gathered to date, but this report condenses that information in a concise way and details the overall threat to the Empire as well as our recommendations for action.

The Intelligence Bureau has redoubled their efforts to look inward, locating and identifying potential threats to the security and safety of the Empire.  When taken as a whole, we have positively identified and eliminated four major terrorist groups, silenced over fifty demagogues, destroyed the chain of command of two illegal weapon smuggling organizations, and all of this within the past year.  However, despite our successes there is still more that needs to be done.  The Event in question to which I refer (see pages 236-312 of Report XII: Runehold, Causes and Consequences) has the potential to destabilize the security of the Empire of Man and the sanctity of your Rule.

As you are most-assuredly aware, Runehold is the second largest industrial machine next to our August Jewel, the capital.  Intelligence has come to light after a thorough five week investigation and seven week interrogation of over twenty eye-witnesses to the Event.  The destruction of the manufacturing plants, the main power plant, and the sabotage of the secondary power plant has nearly crippled production of the Wayland Class Battleships and the Dominant Class Heavy Cruisers that are so crucial to the overall war effort.  We understand the implications and the major setback, but we can now, with full confidence, name the one man responsible for the attack.

James Possible.

The man has been a thorn in the Empire's side for many years.  With this latest cowardly attack he has shown himself to be a man without honor and will be dealt with accordingly once he is in our possession.  As you know, James Possible is the leader of the terrorist group The Freeman's League.  The resources at his command are formidable but do not compare to the might of you and the well-trained and highly motivated men at your command.  The Freeman's League is highly mobile, able to disappear from sight at a moment's notice.  This has been the main difficulty in locating their bases of operation and in tracking down their leader, James Possible.

The organization of the Freeman's League is unknown but we can infer a few things.  One, being highly mobile, the League must have willing accomplices throughout the lower classes in order to move about.  Two, no man is an island, so he must have lieutenants that he trusts implicitly.  Three, their tactics, while dishonorable, bear a striking resemblance to the tactics used by The Black Guns, our elite and deadly strikeforce group.  Could there be a connection?  Possibly.  James Possible may have served a stint in the Black Guns, our researchers are pouring through the archives as I write this.

The danger of the Freeman's League to the security of the Empire is not to be underestimated.  The attacks attributed to the Freeman's League have earned them the highest threat priority we can bestow.  Over half of the resources available to the Intelligence Bureau are being utilized to uncover the structure of this organization and to bring their members to justice. 

In order to understand the man at the League's center I have provided documents from what we were already able to glean from the archives.  Thus far the archives have provided over four hundred pages of documents on this man but as your time is occupied by Imperial Affairs I have condensed all of the relevant information into this one report.  Herein I will describe his priors and particulars, known associates, family members, and other miscellany that may prove crucial in bringing this man to justice and ending the threat of the Freeman's League once and for all.

 

James Possible: James was born in the skies on the Free Trading Freighter Azrealah forty seven years ago.  The Possible Family has long plied the trade routes of the skies above as their calling in life and James was no exception.  Born and raised in the Aether, as we call the skies above, he learned the ways of piracy, even though the free traders shirk at the title, preferring the term "Independent Merchant Captain", but the means are still the same.  Upon reaching adulthood James Possible may have found himself with a troubled heart as he applied to join the Imperial Navy and was somehow accepted.  The documents of that time claim that he served with distinction and valor.  If the documents are to be believed he was a participant in the Battle of Jurrin's Gap, and earned an accommodation of Valor during the Elven siege of Kirkston, the accommodation itself was for helping to break the siege of the beleaguered town.

There is a seven year gap in the paperwork detailing the tenure of James Possible from this point forward.  It is possible that he joined the Black Guns at this time and a team of researchers are coming through the archives to see if this hypothesis is valid.  James Possible is next mentioned when he is discharged under court martial for failure to obey a direct order from his superior.  Apparently his record in the Navy was stellar up until this point and because of his record he was not executed for his actions.

Reliable information on this man becomes spotty at best after his discharge from the Navy.  However the Imperial Registry did locate a document in their records about this man.  He purchased his own ship, a Galley Class airship called The Dauntless.  How he was able to procure this ship still puzzles us at the Intelligence Bureau.  The Dauntless was an aging, decommissioned warship scheduled for demolition.  How he purchased the old war hulk is still not known, but all of the forms are filled out correctly and legal.

The Dauntless was given a new lease on life as a free trading vessel.  Under the command of James Possible and an able crew he amassed a sizable fortune in a short span of years.  All of the regrettably few documents of this time point to a legal profession and no sign of what was to come.

James was able to purchase a small island just beyond the borders of Imperial Rule, close to the hotbed of anarchist activity that is known as the Free City of Stormhaven.  There it could be inferred that James raised a family with his wife Anne Possible.  They had three children; the eldest was a girl, Kimberly Anne Possible, followed by two twin boys a few years later.

It is postulated by us in the Intelligence Bureau that living in such close proximity to Stormhaven may have affected James Possible's outlook on the Empire and may also have influenced his politics as well.  Perhaps James was still bitter at his discharge from the Imperial Navy and sought revenge for imagined slights.  We do not know, but we will endeavor to find out once he is back in our grasp. 

It is around this time that James Possible turned from a life of honest work and profit to a life of piracy and dishonor.  We have verified the documents detailing the cowardly and unprovoked attack on the Imperial Steamer Restless from The Dauntless.  Luckily all hands met with little injury aside from hurt pride and the loss of its valuable cargo.

Thus began a decade long campaign of terror as James Possible added himself to the list of known pirates.  His name resides alongside such despicable personages such as the Tattooed Brute, Dalron Mulimar Jr., the Elven Pirate King known only as Zahn, Korrukk the One-Eye, the bestial Trollkin, Thaddeus Thorne, the disgraced Imperial Admiral, and the horrifying Captain Mourn, the Undead Lord.  There is some intelligence that suggests both Dalron and Zahn once served either with or alongside James Possible, but this information cannot be independently verified. 

James Possible and The Dauntless attacked Imperial ship after Imperial ship; emboldened with each success James began raiding Imperial outposts on the fringes of Imperial lands.  He gained the attention of the Imperial Navy with each attack but his knowledge of Imperial tactics gave him the advantage with each engagement and he slipped away every time the Navy attempted to intercept him.

For two years James Possible disappeared beyond the lands of the Empire only to return and cause the Event at Runehold.  This was his most daring attack yet and you and I are both fully aware of the consequences of his cowardly attack.  Yet, there is something amiss.  It has been six months since the attack and James Possible has disappeared once again.  The Dauntless, however, still flies the Aether under a new captain which I will get to shortly.

The question remains as to where James Possible disappeared to.  Is he hiding inside Imperial Lands?  We in the Intelligence Bureau think this is unlikely but we have shared all available intelligence with the local garrisons if in the off chance that he is found.  The bounty on his capture has increased five-fold in order to further expedite the search.  It is more likely that James Possible resides in the hands of one of our enemies; either the Elves or possibly he has made his way to the Deep South and to the strange cultures that reside there. 

Even with his disappearance his presence is still felt in the Freeman's League.  Our understanding of their internal structure is still in its infancy but it is rather apparent that James Possible still directs the efforts of the League either through proxy or directly.  In the six months since his disappearance the Freeman's League has reared its despicable head throughout the Empire attacking ships, ports, supply lines, and Imperial garrisons.  The frequency and tactics of these attacks suggest intimate coordination and planning in their implementation.  The Navy, despite its overwhelming might is being stretched thin to safeguard politically sensitive targets.

James Possible is a dangerous man.  In our estimation we number him the fourth out of the ten men deemed most dangerous to the Empire.  By all accounts he is quite intelligent, has a keen grasp of Imperial tactics, and is a capable duelist and marksman.  I would categorize his personal threat level to be Very High, and no Imperial Officer should attempt to engage him without backup.  Extreme caution cannot be stated enough.

What little we know of James Possible extends to most of his confirmed acquaintances as well.  Anne Possible, his wife, has disappeared with him as well as their twin boys.  Little is known of her except that she too is an accomplished duelist, something unheard of for a woman!  Next to nothing is known about their twin boys, not even their names at this point in time.

Drew Theodore Lipsky: One acquaintance we do know of puzzles us at the Intelligence Bureau.  Drew Theodore Lipsky, once of now disgraced House Lipsky, was one of the few known Imperials to have served with James Possible.  Drew Lipsky lived in wealth as befitting one of House Lipsky, once one of the great political houses of the Empire.  The elders of the house used their political influence to get him a commission in the Imperial Navy when he was of age.  Drew served three years with little distinction but gained respect from his superiors with his remarkable intelligence.  It was this intelligence that saw Drew transfer out of the Navy proper and into their Special Projects branch. 

Prior to his transfer Drew Lipsky and James Possible served together on the Battleship Sovereign's Might.  It was during that time that we conjecture that they formed an uneasy friendship.  Documents show that they were the same rank but James had more time in grade therefore he outranked Drew Lipsky.  There is no documentation that shows James Possible ever pulling rank over Drew Lipsky.  However personal writings recovered from Drew Lipsky's private journals show a jealousy on his part towards James Possible although no writings could be found to support these claims from other sources. 

Once Drew Lipsky entered the Special Projects branch his intellect was put to use on developing the ill-conceived and ill-fated Aether Spatial Coordinate System, or the ASCS Project for short.  In concept and theory the ASCS Project was a technical marvel.  If it worked it would give all of the ships in the Navy the capability to appear anywhere in the Aether skies at a moment's notice, thus giving the Empire a decidedly larger advantage over the other race's ships, even though it must be said that our advantages and training far overwhelm any from the other races!  I do not need to remind you that the ASCS device was built at great cost under the supervision of the lead designer, Drew Lipsky himself.  Over budget and over schedule, the ASCS device was finally delivered at a cost of nearly twenty percent of that year's total GDP. 

The device was outfitted to Scorn, a destroyer picked to test out the new device.  In testing the ASCS was a complete failure, destroying the Scorn, all hands aboard, and a significant portion of the testing facility, Steelholme, the city where the testing took place, and shattered scores of miles of land surrounding the city.

Drew Lipsky was forced to resign his commission in shame.  In order to recoup some of the monetary resources lost to the project House Lipsky was dissolved and all of their assets were absorbed by the Empire. 

Drew Lipsky disappeared until resurfacing as a crew member on The Dauntless under its new captain.  Not only is he a crew member, but circumstantial evidence suggests that he is the Second-in-Command, although this has not been verified as of yet.

Undoubtedly Drew Lipsky feels pain at the loss of his House.  It is not a stretch of the imagination to think what a loss has done for his psyche.  Obviously he blames the Empire for his failures and seeks revenge.  This is the accepted postulation among the Intelligence Bureau.  Physically Drew Lipsky is of average height and weight.  He knows the basics of fencing and marksmanship, but he excels at neither according to our estimations.  His real strength is his intelligence and his creativity and both are now focused on revenge.  He is a dangerous man, to himself, to those around him, and to the Empire.  We do not place him among the ten most dangerous men menacing the Empire but any Imperial Officer should proceed with caution when attempting to engage him.  It is unknown if he is a member of the Freeman's League but his personal threat level is heightened by association to the League.

As stated previously it is not known if the pirates Dalron and Zahn are connected to the Freeman's League or James Possible, although there is intelligence to suggest such, for the purposes of this report I will omit my postulations until we have credible evidence that supports our claim or dismisses it.  They are dangerous in their own right and all but the most experienced ship and crew should even think to engage them in combat and even then only with sufficient backup.  Our suggestion would be that two task forces working in tandem should be sufficient to take one of them out of the Aether, but as resources and manpower are stretched thin it is recommended to avoid them at all costs.

With a significant portion of our available resources devoted to the capture of James Possible and the dissolution of the Freeman's League I must inform you of the rest.  The following details The Dauntless, specific crew members of importance, and her new captain.  The reason for this is twofold; one: The Dauntless is a known enemy of the Empire and thus deserves your attention given its recent history, and two: evidence suggests that the captain of The Dauntless is also searching for James Possible.

The Dauntless

The Dauntless is an old Galley Class warship fitted with an outdated Mark IV steam engine.  The Galley Class served with distinction in its time but you must remember that the time of the Galley Class was just over one hundred years ago, before the time of our steel-clad ships that grant us the aerial superiority in the Aether that we have now.  The Galley Class ship is an improved design over the older Carrack Class ships.  The hull is still made of wood as most ship builders consider steel to be too cost-prohibitive even today.  The Dauntless served with distinction and merit back in its day, but it is now a pirate vessel and marked for reoccupation, or failing that, destruction. 

The features of the Galley Class are its strengths.  Despite its age, the old Mark IV steam engine produces a lot of power despite its antiquity.  The sails, rudders, and retractable wings aid its aerodynamic design and make it highly maneuverable, easily on par with all but the sleekest of our light frigates.  Improvements to steam power efficiency have increased more than two-fold over the past hundred years, so even though The Dauntless is highly maneuverable it is slower than most of our current medium craft. 

The cargo capacity is standard for a large ship such as The Dauntless.  The cargo space provides enough space for consumables to last a ship at full complement for six months, less if that space is configured for more martial purposes.  The main cargo hold is modular in design and several independent sections may be created for purposes other than cargo storage.  Additional power requirements need to be met if science labs and foundries are to function.  The Mark IV steam engine can provide the additional power but this makes the engine less reliable as more stress is added to the overall load.

The Dauntless was a warship and that it still remains.  Two decks of heavy cannon adorn both broadsides.  A third deck of medium cannon provides a boost to each broadside with speed and accuracy, sacrificing power in its stead.  The heavy cannon are as much a threat today as they were over one hundred years ago.  Only the largest of fortresses, carriers, and battleships have little to fear from these cannons due to the thickness of their armor plating, most other ships are still vulnerable.  The medium cannon are effective against smaller merchant vessels and steamers, but little else.  The Dauntless does not meet the power requirements nor does it have the space necessary to mount a beam cannon or the like.

In giving a final assessment as to the capabilities of The Dauntless she is highly maneuverable, and in firepower she is the equal to most of our medium cruisers and heavy frigates.  However The Dauntless has a reputation for taking down bigger opponents in the Aether than her size and strength indicate.  This is due to the savvy and tactics of her captain and the experience of her crew.  Therefore she is classified as a high threat with a priority for her capture or destruction.  All ships in Imperial lands have been given the same notification and warning as to her capabilities and the search for The Dauntless is active and on-going.

The Dauntless is but a ship and a ship is only as good as its captain and crew.  Evidence and experience shows that even with a new captain in command The Dauntless is still a force to be reckoned with.  This tells us that the crew is still well-versed in ship-to-ship and hand-to-hand combat.  Almost every member of the crew is wanted for some infraction or another by the Empire.  The most notorious and dangerous are given details.

Ron Stoppable: The Stoppable family is closely intertwined with the Possible Family.  A Stoppable served with James Possible when he captained The Dauntless and another does so with the current captain.  From what can be gleaned from the archives Ron Stoppable grew up on the same island James Possible raised his family.  He serves as the chief lookout for The Dauntless.  That is all of the reliable information that we have aside from an oil painting that is out of date (see figure 6-3: Ron Stoppable, in Report II: Potential Threats, read pages 212-245 for more information).  The rest can be inferred from survivor accounts.  He carries a saber emblazoned with the family crest of two white doves flying in opposite directions above three gears on a yellow background (see figure 6-1: Stoppable Family Crest, in Report II: Potential Threats, page 163).  According to various survivor accounts he is well-versed in the blade and is quick at the draw with his clockwork revolver.  He is agile and at home among the ropes of the raven's nest atop The Dauntless

He displays a surprising lack of fear and yet survivor accounts tell that he becomes weak-willed when the battle turns against him.  This information could be valuable if proven true.  As reliable information is sketchy at best we in the Intelligence Bureau err on the side of caution and Ron Stoppable receives a high threat rating.  Proceed with caution when attempting to engage this man.

Drew Theodore Lipsky: See above for information pertaining to the First Mate of The Dauntless.

Motor Ed: This bear of a man is the chief engineer of The Dauntless and is more lethal with a wrench and a screwdriver than he is with a cutlass and a pistol.  The archives tell very little of this man other than he has worked on steam engines for most of his life and is a virtuoso with all things mechanical.  The only document that can be verified from the archives tells of a 'Motorhead' graduating from the prestigious and exclusive Steamworks Academy at the top of his class, even turning down a professorship to teach there.  Could this 'Motorhead' be referring to Motor Ed?  Overall his threat level is medium given his penchant for engineering and maintenance work.  However working on steam engines is labor intensive and the man must be strong indeed to keep an old Mark IV engine running with his own hands.  I would advise caution against him.

Yori: Next to nothing is known about the young woman known only as Yori.  The only thing that can be gleaned with certainty is that she hails from lands far to the South.  She carries weapons that are exotic in nature and her style of fighting is unique.  Then again, what can you expect from a barbaric culture that lets their women carry weapons and fight?  This only reinforces the notion and drive in all of us that you, our Emperor, must prevail against the enemies of the Empire!  The Empire stands with you in defiance of the barbarians and the creatures set against us!  Yori receives a very high threat rating die to her unique assortment of weapons and her fighting style.  It is recommended that nothing less than a score of armed warriors attempt to engage her in battle.  Remember men that she is a warrior and not like the women we know of in our beloved Empire.  Proceed against her with extreme caution!

Shego: Regrettably we know next to nothing about the woman known only as Shego.  All that we do know is that she is an associate or perhaps an underling of Drew Theodore Lipsky.  Her capabilities are at this time unknown.  The threat level given to Shego is necessarily high given that she is a virtual enigma to us in the Intelligence Bureau.  A team of researchers is currently working around the clock in order to uncover her past, but so far our efforts have met nothing but frustration.

The last portion of this report will detail what we know about the current captain of The Dauntless along with personal observations of mine that should prove enlightening.

Kimberly Anne Possible: Kimberly Anne Possible is the current captain of The Dauntless.  Reliable survivor accounts and battle reports have confirmed this as fact.  Not only is she a woman but the matter is further confounded by the fact that she has yet to reach two decades of life!  How a woman is able to command a crew of cutthroat pirates is beyond my ken to reason, but the fact still remains.  She is as crafty as her father and just as dangerous.  She has displayed her father's knack for a keen grasp of tactics and the loss of the frigates Everlore and Thornwrought are directly attributed to her.  I understand that this information is far too fantastic to be believed but facts are facts and facts are our livelihood in the Intelligence Bureau.  The sabotage of the light cruiser Gorgon's Wrath and the destruction of the prototype Interdictor Dracma's Glory fall on her shoulders as well.  The attack on the Imperial garrison at Durnham's Rest, the prison outbreak on Skull Island, and the interception and subsequent release of the Dark Elf Priestess, Kestal D'lil Sylvannen can all be attributed to her and her crew.  In six months Kimberly Possible has made a name for herself in the southern Imperial lands, creating chaos and havoc in every Imperial port The Dauntless has appeared near.  Efforts to intercept her and The Dauntless have met with frustration as the ship disappeared in a fog bank or some other seeming stroke of luck that borders on nigh impossibility.

Kimberly Possible carries her father's sword, a rapier with a basket hilt that bears the Possible family crest, a stylized red dragon breathing flame on a white background above three turning gears.  Despite her age and her being a woman she must be classified as a master duelist, obviously learning the style from her father and possibly her mother Anne Possible as well.  She is quick with a pistol and an accurate shootist from many accounts, but uses grapple guns modified to fire nets that entangle and subdue rather than standard ammunition.  It has been postulated that the guns are an invention of Drew Lipsky at her request as she shows an aversion to violence despite her chosen profession.  This is obviously a weakness that can be exploited to our advantage.  I will elaborate more on this in my ruminations below.

Like her father Kimberly Possible has declared war against the Empire.  Like countless others before her she will fall, such is the might and right of the Empire.  We have no evidence to suggest that she is associated with the Freeman's League but when word of her exploits reaches the right ears it will not be long before she is contacted by them.  We have not yet reached a consensus on if she will join the League or not.  One train of thought says that she will and they will use her and The Dauntless as a rallying cry to garner more support from persons sympathetic to their cause.  Another hypothesis is that she will deny them and continue her doomed crusade against the Empire on her own terms.

Both postulations have its merits and time will tell which one is the truth.  If she joins the League she will be hampered by missions that will distract her from her chosen path.  But in the end this will make her stronger and provide her with more resources, thus making her even more difficult to deal with in the long term.  If she does not join she will be free to advance her own agenda relying on her wits and skill.  However without the resources of the Freeman's League she will be easier to deal with and can be dispatched at our leisure once her whereabouts become known.

The threat level given for Kimberly Possible is very high.  One should look past her birthing as a woman and treat her like her father.  She has shown remarkable intelligence for a woman and commands a crew of veteran pirates.  Any and all ships are encouraged to engage The Dauntless on first sight since the ship has a knack for appearing and disappearing quickly, but reports for aid are required to be sent immediately!  Above all the others Kimberly Possible is perhaps the easiest to underestimate because of her birth.  This is a costly mistake and one that can only be made once.  Look past her physical appearance and you will see a committed, confident, and extremely competent individual.  The warnings that are given for James Possible also apply for Kimberly Possible.

I end this report with some observations and conjectures based on the data collected thus far.  The threat from within is just as dire as that posed from outside forces.  The world is a dark, dangerous place for humanity.  Not since the Great Sundering over one hundred and sixty thousand years ago has Man faced so many challenges to his rightful dominance.  James Possible is one such threat.  The Freeman's League is another.  Sadly they represent only the barest fraction of the threat from within our own Empire, but with each success the court of public opinion sways closer in their favor.  We in the Intelligence Bureau understand the potential for disaster and we will not fail the Empire in the performance of our duties!

As of the writing of this report the whereabouts of James Possible, his wife, and his twin sons are still unknown.  I have studied the man's past exhaustively and focused many a restless night pouring over battle reports and survivor accounts to glean insight into his strategies.  I have come to the conclusion that he has gone into hiding away from Imperial lands.  But the arm of the Empire is long, and he cannot hide forever.  It is my belief that he sulks in the Elven lands to the West as their kind has no great love for the Empire.  Another possible route to explore is the lands to the South and the xenophobic clans of humans that reside there.  This seems the less likely scenario due to the reason given in the preceding sentence, but it is still a possibility. 

The Freeman's League represents the antithesis of the Empire.  The law is strong because the military is strong.  The military is strong because our enemies are strong and far outnumber the Empire of Man, and it is only by a sheer act of providence that the enemies of the Empire are fractured, disjointed, and often at war with each other.  The Freeman's League represents an enemy unified under a cause and this is their greatest threat to the Empire.  Efforts have been redoubled to capture and detain any and all persons suspected of associating with the League.  To that end The Great Wall has been reactivated specifically for this purpose.  The reputation of The Great Wall alone should be enough to quell all but the most rebellious of spirits.

This Kimberly Possible individual both concerns and intrigues me.  The new captain of The Dauntless has caused plenty of trouble for the Empire since appearing six months ago.  But there is more than what appears on the surface.  The attack on the Everlore and Thornwrought led directly to the sabotage of Gorgon's Wrath and the destruction of Dracma's Glory.  She is resourceful and intelligent.  She was gathering intelligence in order to choose her next target.  But you must look beyond her attacks.  Do not take them at face value for there is more that I uncovered. 

I am utterly convinced that Kimberly Possible is searching for her father.  All of the evidence I have found point to this fact.  It is not coincidence that James Possible and The Dauntless had engaged in battle with Gorgon's Wrath, only to repeat their history several years later.  The destruction of Dracma's Glory also destroyed the testing facilities on that remote island.  Again, years ago, James Possible did the same thing destroying several prototype weapons systems under development there years ago.  Coincidence?  Or is it a pattern? 

Durnham's Rest.  Skull Island.  The pattern repeats itself.  What makes this even more intriguing is the fact that Durnham's Rest was a repository for reports and knowledge for the prisoners held on Skull Island.  The archives there also referenced James Possible which is why I think she attacked there.  I believe she did the same at Skull Island in the hopes that her father was there and that she attempted to break him out. 

The rescued political prisoners and other dissidents had to have given Kimberly Possible the information about the Dark Elf Priestess.  She had to track her down for the same reason we did: the Priestess was a known associate to James Possible and may have known his whereabouts.  The Intelligence Bureau is still trying to track her down since Kimberly Possible rescued her from our grasp.  To add to our frustration the Dark Elf Priestess was taken from us before our interrogators had a chance to get any information from her.  Sadly it is a certainty that the Dark Elf Priestess shared what information she had with Kimberly Possible concerning her father and possibly about the Freeman's League.

Every attack led by Kimberly Possible has brought her closer to her true goal: her father.  She appears to be of the belief that we either have him in custody or know where he is located.  This is exploitable information that we can use to trap her and her crew.  I will leave the details for her capture to you and your staff.

Another aspect of her demeanor we can exploit is her reliance on non-lethal weapons.  I am unsure if she uses them from a misguided sense of honor or perhaps she abhors bloodshed.  In either case, this is valuable information.  Her crew may not be held to her own standards but when she is engaged by our troops we can use this information against her.  Our standard armors are heavy and bulky.  We can outfit strike teams with lighter, more maneuverable armor prior to an engagement with her.  They can be further augmented with stun lances if we want to take her alive.  If a final solution is warranted the strike teams can be outfitted with the X-VII Tactical System, a heavy rifle that shoots a mass projectile across distances that are comparable to our heaviest long range assault cannons!  The load can be split between two troopers since they will not be weighed down by so much armor.  The decision is yours to make, my Emperor.

I have been studying this girl for months and have devoted to her the same intensity and focus that I have given previously to her father.  I believe I am beginning to gain an understanding of Kimberly Possible, the person.  She is skilled and capable like her father.  She is a natural born leader, also taking from her father.  Yet she uses non-lethal means to accomplish her goals.  Her father had no such compunctions.  Does this make her weak?  No, I say, this makes her both resourceful and dangerous.  The natural tendency is to dismiss her outright because she is a woman.  She is a duelist and a marksman and our troops must not lower their guard when they encounter her.

I shall continue to pour over the archives and battle reports as they come to me at my desk in an effort to more fully understand our adversaries.  I hope you find this condensed supplemental useful in broadening your understanding of but a fraction of the internal enemies that we face every day.  The glory of the Empire demands that we do not fail! 

By your Command, my Emperor!

Alexis Van Saint

Sector-Chief Intelligence Officer

Internal Affairs Division

Registry Number: 310-310-756521-D

 

 

            Kim Possible carefully folded the pages of the Intelligence report and placed them back into the long envelope with the Imperial Seal.  She looked around the captain's quarters of the Imperial frigate from her sitting position at the captain's desk.  The desk had already been looted and the only thing of importance was the Intelligence Report she had just read.  The rest of the captain's quarters had been sacked but there was nothing else of value to be found.

            Kim stood up from the desk and stared at the closed envelope with a frown.  She knew that she was being actively hunted by agents of the Empire, but she had no idea how thorough their intelligence gathering capabilities were.  In some respects their conclusions were completely off the mark, but in other more personal cases, they were close enough to the truth to make her very uneasy.  She suspected all along that her father was in the clutches of the Empire somewhere but the report declared otherwise.  But she knew better that to trust anything that came from the Empire!  The report itself may have been an attempt to misdirect her from finding her father, but she had run out of leads to track down.  The report mentioned the Elven Lands to the West and the Deep South.  It also mentioned two individuals that may have served with her father for a time.  She heard the tales of their exploits like everyone else had and didn't relish coming face to face with either of them.

            Zahn settled in the Island of Sal Sagev where he owned the Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern as well as the Zahn Vineyards which had a sterling reputation for its wines.  Sal Sagev was a Free City, beyond the Imperial-controlled lands, so The Dauntless would be relatively safe from Imperial interference once it made port.  She pursed her lips in thought as she remembered the stories of the Elf.  The tales said that before he became an air pirate he was an assassin with an almost uncontrollable temper.  Tales also told of the dark blade he kept at his waist, Darksong, a blade black as night with silver runes of power adorning both sides of the blade.  The name of the blade came from when it was unsheathed; a noise akin to a chorus of demons parodying an angelic choir unnerved even the most hard-hearted of opponents!  Yet, the Elf had settled down, married, had three kids, and opened up the Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern.  The former assassin and air pirate had gone respectable even going so far as being elected mayor of Sal Sagev!  Still, a dangerous Elf armed with a magical blade and who knew what else did not appeal to Kim, especially if he did serve with his father as an air pirate.  Most air pirates were rivals, and she didn't want to bring more trouble down on herself and her crew.

            Dalron Mulimar Jr. was famous before he was even born.  Both of his parents were famed adventurers and explorers.  They had a son and soon after his father disappeared, never to be seen again.  Dalron Jr. was raised by his mother until she fell ill from a wasting mental disease and died.  Caretakers sent the young Dalron Jr. far to the South Lands to the Monastery of the Celestial Crane to be trained in their ways.  The stories differed but he ended up leaving the Monastery covered from head to foot in stylized tribal tattoos.  He made his way from island to island and from adventure to adventure eventually gaining his own air ship and he joined the ranks of the air pirates.  Sometime later he settled in the Free City of Rhendarin, an island city close to the borders of the South Lands.  It was common knowledge that he quit being an air pirate then and there and became a bouncer for the Destiny of Fate Inn and Tavern, an establishment that rivaled The Raven's Nest in reputation, quality, and fierceness.  Dalron Jr. was said to be a giant of a man, heavily muscled, and eschewed all weapons save for his fists and feet.  Kim shook her head and sighed, he was another tough guy type that she didn't really want to deal with if she didn't have to.

            Still...her options were closing quickly.  She resisted the urge to take the envelope and the report back with her because then the Empire would know that she was on to at least one of their schemes and she needed to stay a step ahead of them if she was to find her father.  She grabbed her black, plumed, large tricorn hat and placed it back on her head.  She adjusted it as she stared at herself in the captain's mirror.  Her outfit was typical for an air pirate.  Her breeches were loose, her long boots were steel tipped and black, her white blouse was loose fitting to provide better mobility and her bandoleer she wore across her chest had three pistols armed and ready.  Her father's rapier was sheathed at her side and she smoothed out a large wrinkle on the right side of her leg with a gloved hand, her long red hair fell to her right side as she leaned over.  Now that her 'look' was perfect, she left the captain's quarters for the main deck.

            She opened the heavy steel door and left the musty darkness to the twilight of the evening sky.  Her crew had the crew of the Imperial frigate Revenant bound and tied around the deck.  Kim smiled proudly at the work of her crew as she stared across the bow to her ship, The Dauntless, and marveled that she didn't receive more than a scratch in the heady battle!

            "Captain on deck," the boatswain announced.

            Her crew snapped to attention and she raised her hand to the boatswain and he yelled, "At ease!"

            Her crew complied automatically.  "Report," she declared.

            "Captain," the boatswain replied with a smile, "the Revenant is ours and ripe for the taking!"

            Kim returned the smile to the burly man beside her.  His name was Iramus, and he was swarthy, dark, and as salty as they came.  He was also one of the few remaining crewmen who had served on The Dauntless with her father.  Kim nodded, "Good.  Men!  She's yours!  Strip her bare but work on the double-quick, we leave in five!"

            Her crew gave a rousing cheer of approval and proceeded to follow her order to the letter.  Kim paced around the deck as she looked at the bound Imperial crew.  She stopped in front of the ship's captain, a tall, thin man dressed in the gaudy russet-red uniform of the Imperial Navy.  Many heavy medals and accommodations adorned his coat and he scowled in contempt as she stopped in front of him.

            "The Empire will not forget this slight upon its honor," he spat hatefully.

            "I've heard that before," she said more to herself than to him.

            "The Empire will not stop until you are brought to justice," he seethed.

            Kim placed one steel tipped boot on the man's chest.  "I don't care," she shot back in a carefully measured voice, "All I care about is finding my father!  You'd just better be glad that I'm the one in charge here, the others would have you all tossed to the Aether!"

            The Imperial captain gulped audibly and the look of fear that spread across his face made Kim smile.  "When the others arrive tell them that I will find him!  Tell them that if they know what's good for them they'll stay away from The Dauntless!"

            She applied pressure to his chest and that caused him to fall backwards.  Kim straightened up and walked across the deck to the boarding plank.  She waited but she didn't have to wait long before her crew came up from below with all of the swag and booty they could carry.  She smiled at each one as they scampered across the boarding plank back to The Dauntless.  Their excited faces told her plain that the score was bigger than they'd thought!  The boatswain was the last of her crew to leave and she followed behind him.  The boarding plank retracted and the grapple irons disengaged with a loud, sharp hissThe Dauntless swerved to the right and sped away as fast as her steam engine could push them.  The Dauntless was deep into a sea of thick storm clouds and by the time a trio of large Imperial cruisers arrived on the scene to help The Dauntless and her crew were long gone.

            After Kim was sure that they made their getaway she helped the quartermaster with the inventory of the score deep in the cargo hold.  The shares were divided as the quartermaster declared the amount per share.  The crew cheered as the haul was more than twice what they had thought!  The quartermaster divided the shares and distributed them to the crew according to rank and time in service.  Kim declined her multiple shares and gave them back to the quartermaster with the explicit condition that the money and goods would be sold once they reached port to help maintain The Dauntless

            With one ritual out of the way another began.  The quartermaster passed around the barrels of ale and wine that the crew 'liberated' which brought another rousing cheer from the assembled crew.  Kim slipped away from the rowdy festivities and walked to the captain's quarters.

            The captain's quarters had everything a captain needed to unwind from a long day of flying through the Aether.  The quarters were referred to by the crew as the 'loft' due to the amount of space given to the captain of the ship.  Kim thought the room was too big for her but the crew insisted when they elected her for the job.  She placed her tricorn hat on its hanger next to the door and sighed tiredly.  The day had been long for her and her crew.  She unlaced her boots and kicked them off.  She sat down gingerly at the chair next to the long table that had a worn and faded map of the known world on it.  The chair was mildly comfortable but the internal cushioning was worn out.  Kim learned over the table and stared at the huge map.  Her shoulders slumped forward and she held her forehead in her hand as anger and frustration started to overcome her.  The size of the known world was epic in scope, and the realization taunted her that her parents could literally be anywhere!  It would take several lifetimes to search every nook and cranny on the map, and that was the known world, more than half of the rest of the world remained unexplored.

            Where are you, she thought to herself as she struggled against the feelings of despair and futility.  What have you gotten yourselves into?  Why did you leave me?  What do you expect me to do?  Kim raised her head and stared at the chair on the other side of the table, there her father's coat hung across the back.  It was the typical fashion for airship captains to wear but she never felt like she earned the right to wear her father's coat.  Her crew implored her to wear it as it was the badge of office along with the hat, but she refused them outright.  Besides, it belonged to her father, a great airship pirate, not her.

            Her thoughts turned deeper and darker as she stared off into space, her eyes focused on one of the many timepieces that adorned the long shelf on the wall, and then moved to another.  The timepieces ticked off the seconds in perfect synchronization as they were made to do.  Her mother was a passionate collector of them.  Her thoughts turned to her mother and her mood worsened.  Mercifully there was a sharp knock on her door that shook her from her dark musings.  Before she gave the command to enter the door flung open and Shego stepped in.

            "Shego," Kim said as she tried to mask the depression in her voice, "What is it now?"

            "Nothin' to worry your pretty head over, pumpkin.  You weren't down in the hold with the rest of the crew so I thought you'd be here."

            Kim straightened herself up in the chair and affixed her gaze on Shego.  "Yep, here I am, in my cabin where the captain's supposed to be.  But that doesn't explain why you came barging in here."

            Shego ignored Kim's tone as she closed the door behind her and walked closer toward Kim.  She walked past a table and quietly turned on the Victrola.  An orchestral tune issued forth  accompanied by a woman's beautiful voice.  Kim watched her intently as Shego slowly made her way around the room.  The raven-haired woman finally stopped in front of her and placed her hands on her hips, she wore the usual smirk on her face that Kim both detested and found intriguing at the same time.

            "I came to talk," she said.

            "About what?"

            "You know exactly what about," Shego said accusingly, her emerald eyes flashed with brilliance amid the dancing candles placed throughout the room.

            Kim sighed, "Go ahead then, ask away."

            "Why do we keep doing this?  All we're doing is pissin' off the Empire, which, I remind you, is the strongest nation in the known world.  Not a smart move.  The scores from their ships have been fair at best and you and I both know we could be doing so much more, an' gettin' a lot richer at it to boot.  We have enough gold to keep this old bucket of bolts working, barely.  We've been lucky so far but sooner or later our luck's gonna run out."

            Kim leaned back in her chair, "I know," she said.

            "Have you found anything yet?  Did you get any proof that they're even still alive?"

            "No," Kim muttered darkly.

            Shego bent her elbow, which raised her hand close to her face.  She clenched her hand into a fist and activated The Glow.  A shimmering aura of green plasma appeared around her fist.  Shego turned her head downward slightly and met Kim's gaze.  It was a subtle intimidation tactic that Shego used which worked great on Drakken, her former boss, and almost everyone else but not Kim.  "So when are you going to stop this foolishness and move on?  We get into enough trouble as it is, we don't need the might of the Imperial Navy dogging us at every step," Shego said angrily.

            "They already do," Kim answered, "And please turn that thing off before something catches on fire."

            Shego deactivated the plasma aura around her fist and lowered it back to her side.  "You're not even listening, are you?  We've been on this wild chase for six months and what have we got to show for it?"

            Shego waited for Kim to answer.  Kim felt the onset of a headache coming on and she rubbed her temples as they started to throb.  They've had this conversation before and it always turned into an argument.

            "Look, Shego," Kim said as she squinted her eyes and grimaced from the headache, "I've told you this before: if you don't want to be here you're free to leave, I won't stop you."

            "And where would we go," Shego shot back as she edged nearer to Kim, "All of us are wanted throughout the Empire because of our association with you!"

            "There's the Free Cities," Kim offered for the hundredth time, "You got your pick with Stormhaven, Rhendarin, Sal Sagev, and a bunch of others.  They're all far enough away from Imperial lands that you shouldn't have to worry about them too much.  Besides, both Stormhaven and Rhendarin are always looking for someone with your...talents."

            Shego raised an eyebrow as she caught Kim's pause.  "And what exactly do you mean by that," she asked in an accusatory tone.

            Kim shook her head and raised her hands in surrender, her headache was getting worse by the minute.  "I didn't mean anything, Shego.  You're reading into something that isn't there.  I meant that both cities have need for strong warriors like you.  I haven't heard of anyone else having powers like you do, and you'd be able to name your own price doing what you do best."

            "And what is that?"

            The corner of Kim's lips curled into a small smirk despite the throbbing in her head, "Aside from making a great first impression?  You're quick with a blade and you know how to use it.  You have that...Glow...or whatever you call it, but you don't use it as a crutch.  You're smart, crafty, and you've got that perfect womanly attitude that charms all the dandies."

            "You're bein' sarcastic now," Shego said with a hint of a smile on her face, "And here I thought you were telling the truth."

            "I am for the most part," Kim offered as an olive branch to further diffuse the tension between them, "You know how much I respect your abilities, Shego.  It took everything I had and then some to beat you."

            Shego winced at Kim's last sentence, "Mmm...you had to go there, didn't you?  Go on pumpkin, rub it in some more, while you're at it you can still twist the knife a little more into my back before you shove it on through the rest of the way.  Go ahead, I can take it."

            "I'm just saying," Kim said as she shrugged her shoulders somewhat apologetically, "I know what you can do-"

            "Some of what I can do," Shego corrected.

            "Okay, some of what you can do," Kim continued, "and let me say that you are very good at what you do.  I've watched you take on a full Imperial guard patrol singlehandedly and you came out without even a scratch!"

            Shego shrugged, "They were drunk.  Hell, Doctor D probably could've taken 'em down by himself!"

            "Really?"

            "Hell no," Shego exclaimed with a laugh.

            Kim returned the smile and like that the tension in the air dissipated along with her headache.  Their laughter died followed by a strangely comfortable silence for a time.  The comfort level dropped considerably as Shego edged closer to Kim.  She was so close that Kim could feel the unnatural heat radiating from her body.  Her mouth suddenly went dry as Shego's body filled her entire vision.  Shego placed a hand on the armrest of Kim's chair and stooped lower until her nose almost touched Kim's.  Kim had to forcibly recline her chair and she felt her face burn in embarrassment.  Shego's smirk took on a whole new meaning as she spoke.

            "What's the matter, princess?  Is it hot in here or is it just me?"

            "It's you," Kim answered huskily, her eyes matching Shego's for a moment declaring what they both wanted, but then Kim averted her eyes and took an unsteady breath.

            Shego, undaunted, pressed even closer, so close she was practically in Kim's lap.  "You know, I've been itching for a proper rematch," Shego said slowly in a low, lustful voice, "You haven't seen everything I can do...yet!"

            Kim cleared her throat and she raised her head so her eyes met Shego's.  "Shego, why do you do this," she asked breathlessly.

            "Because I can," Shego replied in the same lustful voice, her emerald eyes glittered with desire and mirth.

            The plasma-powered pirate's black-painted lips barely brushed by Kim's sending a jolt of...something quite pleasant...down the red-head's spine.  She felt Shego's hot breath at her ear and her nostrils were filled with the wonderful and impossibly expensive perfume Shego always wore, sending the flustered captain further down the realm of impossibility. 

            Kim was about to protest, to tell the woman to stop, but fate intervened when the door to her cabin knocked loudly and forcefully.

            "Kim Possible!  There is a matter that demands your immediate attention," Drakken's gravel-like voice echoed from the other side of the door.

            Kim felt Shego's body sigh in frustration, she was that close to her!  Slowly, reluctantly, Shego moved away from Kim and walked over to the door of the cabin.  "We'll have to continue this discussion at a later time," Shego grumbled with utter disappointment in her voice, not even bothering to mask it this time.

            "Sh-Shego," Kim stammered weakly.

            Shego turned back around, "Yes?"

            Kim tried to focus on the pirate's beautiful face but was having difficulty with the task.  Words formed in her brain but ran into each other and were a garbled mess by the time they reached her mouth.  She stayed silent until she was able to gather herself.  Shego waited patiently with that damned smirk on her face.  Finally Kim collected herself.

            "Why don't you have dinner with me tonight and we can...resume this discussion?"

            The smirk on Shego's face died!  She hadn't expected Kim to reciprocate!  Caught on the spot, the pirate shifted her weight from one boot to the other as her mind raced to answer her captain.

            "Uh...s-sure," she stammered.

            "Good," Kim answered with a sweet smile, her composure back in full, "I'll be waiting."

            Kim took a small measure of satisfaction at Shego's surprised expression as the pirate nodded dumbly and opened the door.  She regained her composure quickly as she met Drakken who waited impatiently outside.

            "Hey, Doctor D," Shego said nonchalantly, "She's all yours."

            "Shego," Drakken said quizzically, "What are you doing here?"

            Shego shook her head dismissively, "The captain and I were having a...discussion."

            Shego left without saying another word.  Drakken watched her as she left and scratched his scalp in confusion.

            "Come in Drakken," Kim called from inside her cabin.

            The words of the captain shook the confusion from him and he stepped inside, closing the door behind him.

            Kim had risen from her chair to clear her mind and the onslaught of emotions that coursed through her.  She didn't know what she was getting herself into with Shego, but the flirting had escalated to a point where a confrontation was inevitable.  Kim approached the problem like everything else, she attacked it head on.  Her thoughts were interrupted by Drakken clearing his throat.  She turned around to face him.

            "Yes?  You said you had a matter that deserves my attention so what is it?"

            Drakken stiffened as he took a deep breath.  A former member of Imperial nobility, he still kept the air of nobility around him in his mannerisms and appearance.  Despite the blue hue of his skin he did look the part, Kim thought, even down to his well-kept lamb chops.

            "I've poured over several of the documents we...liberated...from the Revenant.  I found references to Sal Sagev and Rhendarin, just like you suspected."

            Kim pursed her lips in thought and frowned, "So it is true!  The Empire's watching the others as well, I knew it!"

            "Your assessment is correct," Drakken said with a single bobbing nod of his head, "Whomever you got your information from is well connected in the upper echelons of the Imperial Hierarchy.  It will not be long before the free cities will feel the crushing weight of Imperial Rule, I fear."

            "I do as well," Kim said as she turned around to face the large mirror on the wall.  She took a moment to stare at herself in the mirror before continuing, "Have you been able to find anything concrete?  Is there anything we can use to substantiate our claims?"

            "I believe I have," Drakken said as he walked over to Kim to stare in the mirror with her, "Two documents list names and places.  One document is for Rhendarin while the other is for Sal Sagev.  If we track down these operatives we may find more evidence to incriminate them, especially if we catch them in the act."

            "Good," Kim said appreciatively as she turned to face Drakken with a smile, "You did real good, Drakken, I'm impressed."

            "I hate the Empire more than you do," he said darkly, "It is my sole mission in life to see the Emperor fall along with his Empire!  I will be there to see it happen!"

            Kim shared Drakken's emphatic declaration, the Empire's reach was extending out in all directions at an accelerating rate, absorbing small towns and villages under its banner in the name of protection.  But Kim and Drakken both knew that the name of the game was exploitation and oppression.  Humanity never got along well with the other races, let alone itself.  The Empire was the poster child for that line of thinking.

            "Sadly I was unable to discern the whereabouts of your parents," Drakken said.

            "Then it's either Rhendarin or Sal Sagev," Kim said, "There are no other leads to follow."

            "Yes," Drakken said with a scowl, "I know of two that traveled with your father for a time.  One lives in each city but they are dangerous men!  If you indeed wish to talk to them, do so with the utmost care!"

            "Didn't you serve with them along with my dad?"

            Drakken shook his head, "No.  I served with James Possible back in our Imperial days, not later."

            That was the reason why he was here in the first place, Drakken was the only other connection she had to her missing family.  "Where do you think we should head to first," she asked.

            "Drakken shrugged, "It does not matter, either place is dangerous to the likes of us.  But if I had a preference I would suggest Sal Sagev based on the fact that their alchemical supplies are excellent and the wine is unequaled."

            "Sal Sagev it is then," Kim said, "Tell the helmsman to set a course and get us going, I want to get through this as quickly as possible."

            Drakken bowed regally, "As you wish," he said then turned to leave.

            "Drakken," Kim called out as he reached for the door.

            He stopped and turned, "Yes?"

            "Thank you for this," she said quietly, "You don't know how much I miss them."

            Drakken's blue face turned distant as he spoke, "I had a family as well, Kim Possible.  The Emperor and his Empire took all of that away from me.  And not just I, most of the crew have suffered the same fate as you or I…some have suffered far worse.  If we don't put a stop to this, how many more families will suffer the same fate as we?"

            Drakken opened the door and walked out, closing the door behind him and left Kim to his last thought.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

[1]   Also spelled bosun, bos'n, bo's'n, and bo'sun.  All are pronounced 'bosun'.

Chapter Text

 

            Kim let her gossamer silk robe drop to the floor.  The chill night air of the captain's cabin was quickly dispelled by Shego's enhanced body heat when her arms wrapped around Kim's chest from behind.  Kim sighed in pure contentment and welcomed the warmth and strength of Shego's embrace.  Shego's wonderful perfume filled Kim's senses as she closed her eyes and gasped when she felt Shego's lips suddenly press against the side of her neck.  Kim relished in the sensations until Shego loosened her grip.  Kim turned around and their lips met.  Shego's mouth was searing hot, almost matching her passion.  Kim shivered under the heady rush of excitement as their tongues clashed and the sensation of Shego as she ran her fingernails slowly up the center of Kim's back.  Gentle pressure from Shego forced Kim backwards until she fell back on to the bed.  Kim closed her eyes tightly and stretched out languidly as an offering to the woman.  A moment passed.  Kim inhaled sharply in pleasant surprise at the tickling sensations of Shego's long, lustrous hair as it glided up her body.  The heat from Shego's body returned to envelop Kim a moment before the woman's body pressed on top of her.  Kim whined in pleasure at the feeling of Shego's tongue as it explored the crevices of her neck.  Kim lost herself in the moment, this perfect moment, reveling in the combined pleasures of Shego's heat and the silky smoothness of her flawless skin.  Kim squirmed and writhed in ecstasy as Shego traveled lower until...

            The alarm klaxon wailed throughout The Dauntless, awakening Kim from her dream.  Bleary eyed and grumpy, Kim got out of her empty bed and dressed quickly.  She opened the door to the hallway and peered out.  One of Motor Ed's gadgeteers almost ran into her.

            "C-Captain," the young engineer sputtered as he straightened.

            "What's going on," Kim asked grumpily.

            "It's the engine, ma'am," he replied quickly, "The main cooling pipes have sprung a leak an' I'm headin' to the engine room to fix it."

            The klaxon stopped and Kim shook her head to clear the sleepiness from it.  "Where's Motor Ed?"

            "He's already there," the gadgeteer replied.

            Kim nodded, "Are we falling out of the Aether?"

            The gadgeteer shook his head, "No, err...at least, not yet!"

            "Right," Kim said as she yawned, "Off you go then.  I'm going back to bed.  Wake me up if things get worse."

            "Yes ma'am," he said as he saluted, "And, sorry about this ma'am, we'll get this fixed as fast as we can."

            Kim waved him off and the gadgeteer resumed his sprint down the hallway toward the engine room.  Kim turned around and reentered the captain's cabin.  She threw off her clothes in frustration and made her way back to her bed.  She stared at the large bed as memories of the dream she just had pierced through the foggy haze of her sleepy mind.  The dream was so vivid as to be real!  Kim shook her head sadly and got back into bed.  She closed her eyes and drifted off into sleep, but the fantasy didn't return, instead the days events played out in her mind.  Fantasy always had a way of trumping reality...

            Kim had everything planned out to the last minute detail.  The cook delivered his specialty to her cabin just like she ordered.  She had soft music playing on the Victrola and the scented candles were the final touch.  But she ate alone because Shego never showed up so they could continue their "discussion".  Kim thought about sending a messenger to track her down but decided against it at the last minute, she reasoned that the gesture would be improper.  Depressed and lonely, Kim ate the specially prepared dinner and went to bed.

            The next day held nothing but frustrations for Kim.  First of all, the trip to Sal Sagev should have already been underway, but Motor Ed and his team of gadgeteers had a hell of a time fixing the venerable Mark IV engine from the night before.  Their work continued on through the morning when the cranky engine quit working altogether.  Motor Ed and his team worked feverishly to jury-rig the temperamental engine and get it stabilized until they reached port and give the damn thing an overhaul.  In the meantime Kim worked with the helmsman to keep The Dauntless afloat in the Aether without a working engine.  The aging warship had a backup engine, an even older Mark II, which she and the helmsman somehow figured out to get the damn thing functioning before they fell from the sky.  Ron, who fancied himself more than just an expert lookout, relieved the helmsman while he helped Kim with the ancient, rusted engine.  It sputtered, hissed, complained, and threatened to blow itself apart, but it kept The Dauntless aloft until Motor Ed and his team got the main engine back online. 

            Kim kept a look out for Shego but the air pirate was nowhere to be found.  Kim got the distinct impression that Shego was avoiding her, but she didn't have the time to confront her until the engine was running again.  Now that the engine crisis was over Kim looked in earnest for Shego.  She searched below deck, but didn't find her.  She searched around the main deck but still to no avail.  Shego only appeared when mess was called and she still avoided Kim like the plague, refusing to even make eye contact with her.  Kim took the hint and left her alone.  Ron sat with her and kept her company throughout the meal like he usually did along with the hero of the day, Motor Ed.  Kim watched Shego from afar and saw her leave after she finished her meal.  Kim had barely touched hers but she left it to go after Shego.  She was too slow to catch up to the raven-haired pirate and saw her enter her own cabin and lock the door behind her.  Frustrated again Kim went back to her cabin and busied herself with navigation routes to avoid Imperial ships that were now snooping about for them, but her mind soon drifted off to thoughts of Shego.

            The flirting from Shego had been there from the very beginning.  Before Kim's parents disappeared she served with them on the ship but she also did some freelance work on the side and that was where she met Shego and Doctor Drakken.  Drakken, furious at the Empire and everyone else who got in his way, devoted every waking moment constructing some doomsday device that would ensure the Empire's destruction.  In that Kim didn't have a problem, but the devices he made would destroy countless innocents in the aftermath, so she had put a stop to it, destroying every one he constructed before it was activated.  Shego acted as Doctor Drakken's main enforcer and all around go-to gal. 

            Their first fight led to a stalemate as they were both evenly matched as far as sword-fighting went.  Kim was no slouch in hand-to-hand combat but neither was Shego, and when crossed blades didn't promote a victor they went to fisticuffs.  Kim was impressed at Shego's great strength but she had a slight edge in speed.  Only when Shego was forced to resort to The Glow did things turn dangerous.  Kim refused to back down and only by the slightest of margins was she able to claim victory.  This process repeated itself over and over every time Kim showed up to thwart Drakken's plans.  Secretly Kim looked forward to her fights with Shego because the raven-haired beauty brought something different each time they engaged in battle.  A grudging respect formed between the two and only grew as their battles intensified. 

            Kim couldn't remember the exact moment when the flirting went to the next level, but their fights had moved beyond simple taunting and wordplay.  Shego called her "princess", and "pumpkin", and at first the name-calling angered her, but after a while she started to like it.  Kim couldn't remember Shego calling anyone else with a nickname aside from Doctor Drakken and even then she just shortened his name to a title and a letter.  Kim took it as a matter of pride in the condescending names Shego called her.  At first Kim thought Shego used the tactic to gain a psychological edge and it worked for a time but Kim adapted quickly.  Each battle was more intense than the last and Kim was hard pressed to stay just a half-step ahead of Shego to win.  The last few fights were too close to call.  At one point Shego had the upper hand and had Kim pinned to a suspended metal walkway.  Kim wouldn't admit it aloud, but she'd lost that fight.  Shego, ever playful even in victory, started to grind her body against Kim's, sending the poor girl's mind reeling!  Luckily, the walkway had received too much damage during their fight and the walkway collapsed.  Kim was able to use Shego's weight against her and flipped around so she took the impact from the fall.  With Shego unconscious but alive Kim went ahead and destroyed Drakken's latest doomsday device with seconds to spare.

            Their last fight was the most intense and the closest Kim had ever gotten to being outright killed.  The doomsday device was bigger than any Drakken had constructed before, the device itself took up enough space to fill an Imperial skyspire!  Kim arrived with backup this time: one Ron Stoppable with sidekick Rufus!  Shego was there to stop them.  The raven-haired warrior ignored Ron, which suited him just fine!  He went ahead to deal with the doomsday device while Kim squared off against her greatest enemy and rival.

            Kim remembered smiling at the onset of the confrontation and thinking, this is how it's supposed to be!  She also remembered that her smile disappeared quickly when Shego attacked!  Drakken's enforcer asked for no quarter and she damn sure gave none!  The Glow suffused her and she attacked.  Kim barely dived to the side in time to dodge the lethal plasma and the spot where she stood became a glowing, molten slag heap.  Shego was faster and even stronger than before!  Kim had to use every trick both of her parents taught her just to stay alive.  This time even she was unable to escape without injury.  A direct plasma-powered claw slash to her back took most of her shirt away, her bandoleer, and more importantly, her guns.  Kim could still remember the pain from the vicious hit, the scar remained with her to the present, as well as other painful scars she gained during that last fight.

            She remembered being dazed and in excruciating pain, but she wouldn't give up.  She dished out as much as she got and Shego learned the hard way just how deep Kim's rapier could cut.  The fight was short but brutal and in the end Kim stood victorious over an unconscious Shego again.  But she had suffered nearly as many grievous wounds as Shego had and if it hadn't been for Ron she never would've made it out of there alive.  Kim smiled as she remembered Ron as he animatedly told his side of the story.  According to him it was epic!  With the doomsday device destroyed the lair they were in began to crumble.  Not one to leave a rival behind and against Ron's better judgment, both Kim and he gathered Shego and limped for safety.  They exited the lair just before it collapsed completely and Shego came to.

            Battered, bloody, and broken, Kim still offered Shego assistance by handing her her last two bandages.  Shego took them and realized just how close she came to death.  She didn't say anything but Kim saw the gratefulness in the woman's eyes, and something more.

            Shego scampered off but Kim and Ron were both too wounded at the time to give chase.  Kim's grin widened in remembrance at the thorough tongue-lashing she got from both of her parents when they got back.  It took her over a month to heal enough for her to move again.  It took Ron a little over two weeks before he was back to full health.  Ron, a true friend, doted on her and helped her with whatever she needed while she recovered.

            It was shortly after that incident that her parents disappeared.  The crew of The Dauntless wanted to know where their beloved captain and first mate went off to and seeing as how Kim was being groomed for the eventual position as captain anyway the entire crew voted for her to become the new captain without a single dissenting vote.  Kim assumed the role half-reluctantly but the drive to find out what happened to her family was too strong to resist.  To her frustration not one among the crew had any idea as to where her parents went.  The only lead she had was the journals of her parents.  They both mentioned Dr. Drakken extensively and since she had defeated him plenty of times he was a natural choice to be "recruited" despite their past history.

            It was easier for her to find him than she would've thought.  He was licking his wounds and salvaging what was left of his pride in a previously used lair she had destroyed before.  It came as no surprise to her that Shego was there with him.  He on the other hand was surprised to see her, along with the rest of her crew.  Kim acted quickly to diffuse the situation and offered Drakken the position of First Mate on board The Dauntless, with the caveat that he would help them find her parents.  In exchange he was given a significant portion of the cargo hold so that he could continue his experiments, under close supervision, and Kim knew that she could redirect his energies and intellect to a more productive goal.  He thought the proposal over for a moment then accepted, much to Kim's surprise.

            Where "Doctor D" went so did Shego, which was another pleasant surprise.  It didn't take her long to turn the heads of her crewmen.  Her black and green outfits were definitely not utilitarian, and showed off way more Creme De' Menthe skin than was necessary!  Of course, she used that to the fullest advantage in whatever situation she was in, and it even worked on Kim, much to her embarrassment. 

            That was six months ago and Kim had been able to keep her crew together for the most part.  A few crew members retired after a few scores and Kim was hard pressed to find good replacements.  She didn't have any trouble with Dr. Drakken or Shego for that matter, and the crew took to Drakken's commands as easily as they did for Kim.  It helped that every time Drakken would issue an order the entire crew would shift their eyes ever so slightly toward Kim who would give a barely perceptible nod and then things were okay.  Drakken was happy with his new lab, the updated equipment, and he dived into his work constructing new weapons for Kim and equipment needed for away missions.  Kim had been right from the onset, she was able to focus his energies towards productive work even though she did catch him sketching blueprints for a new doomsday device on more than one occasion.  Still, he was easy for her to keep in line.

            Shego was another story.

            Kim sighed.  She didn't think that the raven-haired pirate had come to grips yet over her defeat.  Kim saw over time that she had this look in her emerald eyes; a look like a predator right before it was about to strike.  Kim tried to talk to her about it, but the snarky warrior would end the discussion before it ever went anywhere.  The flirting continued, but it had gone back to name-calling and sexy gestures, but only in the rare instances when they were alone.  It wasn't until last night that Kim had tried to end the flirting and take it to the next level.

            That turned out to be a mistake!

            Maybe she'd been wrong from the get-go and all of the flirting was just an act.  It was certainly possible, because the look on Shego's face told Kim as much.  It was like the affirmation stripped the proud warrior of her power, and that was something she couldn't deal with.  Kim felt sorry for forcing the issue in the first place.

            She shoved the map off of the table in frustration and stood up from her chair.  She headed for the door intent on walking over to Shego's room and resolving the situation once and for all.  She made it to the door of her cabin and opened it.  She jerked back in surprise.

            "Sh-Shego?"

            "Um, hi.  Can I come in," Shego asked in an uncharacteristically sheepish voice.

            "Uh, sure!  Come in!"

            Kim moved back to allow Shego to enter.  The beautiful pirate wore a black and green dress that was even more scandalous than any previous outfit Kim saw her wear before!  Her arms were clasped behind her back.  Kim could tell that she had cleaned herself up.  Her long, dark hair was woven and curled in a style that was stunning to see!  Shego's cheeks turned a slightly darker shade of green in embarrassment as Kim realized that she was gawking.  She collected herself quickly by taking a deep breath.

            "I was just coming down to see you," Kim started as Shego glided into the room.

            Kim closed the door for her as Shego spun around.  "Yeah, about last night," Shego said in a nervous voice, "I'm...sorry for standing you up like that, I...I don't know what else to say other than I'm sorry."

            "No big," Kim said dismissively then gestured toward the chair.

            "No," Shego said as she shook her head, "It's big.  You caught me off guard, and I didn't know how to react.  I still don't."

            Shego sat down at the chair and pulled what she had been hiding behind her back: a bottle of wine and two small wine glasses.  "I brought this as a peace offering," she declared as she placed them on the table.

            Kim pulled up another chair to the table and sat down.  "You didn't have to, but thanks," she said, offering a small smile as her own olive branch.

            "Shall I pour you a glass?"

            "Please and thank you."

            Shego popped the cork on the bottle and filled their glasses.

            "You look absolutely stunning," Kim exclaimed as Shego handed her a glass.

            Shego blushed more at the compliment which only added to her beauty.  "Thanks, I don't usually get to dress up like this."

            Kim felt unkempt in Shego's presence.  The woman obviously went all-out and here Kim was still in her captain's garb.  The scent of Shego's expensive perfume added a pleasant air to her cabin.  Shego took the glass and raised it to Kim.

            Kim smiled and took her own glass, "Truce," she asked as she raised her glass.

            "Truce," Shego answered, then added, "For now."

            Their glasses made a slight ringing noise as they met and they took a drink  Kim nodded appreciatively, the wine was fantastic!

            "It's from Zahn's Vineyards," Shego said as she put down her glass, "Very expensive, but you get what you pay for."

            "Speaking of, that's our next stop."

            "Sal Sagev?  What for?"

            "Ever been to The Raven's Nest?"

            "No," Shego answered as she shook her head, "What's there?"

            Kim took another sip of wine before she continued, "I've been reading my dad's journals and there's someone there who served under him years ago.  It's a lead I'm following up on, he may know where my family went."

            Shego downed the rest of her glass then asked," Who are we looking for?"

            "Zahn."

            Kim waited for Shego's reply, but all the buxom pirate did was pour herself another glass and downed it in one gulp.  She refilled her glass and shook her head in obvious disapproval.  "God, pumpkin, you sure know how to raise hell, that's for sure!"

            "What do you mean," Kim asked.

            "You're wanting to talk to one of the Empire's most wanted men, and one of the deadliest assassins in the Known World!  What possessed you to go down this train of thought in the first place?"

            "My dad's journals," Kim answered after taking another sip of wine, "Apparently Zahn served with my dad for a time.  He may know where they went."

            "That's what you're going on?"

            Kim nodded.  Shego frowned, "Sounds pretty weak if you ask me."

            Kim threw up her hands in desperation, "I don't have much else to go on!  I'm out of leads and I'm getting to the point now where I'll take anything as long as it gets me closer to my family!"

            Shego sighed, "Hey, you're the captain, remember?  I don't like it but I'll go where you go."

            Kim could tell by the tone of her voice that she disapproved mightily, but her body language told her that something else was bothering her.  "Shego," Kim began tentatively.

            Shego turned to look directly at her, "Hmmm?"

            "...D-did I go too far last night?  I...I thought that's what you wanted."

            Shego snorted,  "You caught me off guard, princess.  I wasn't ready for that...or this for that matter," she said as she gestured downwards at her gorgeous dress.

            "You didn't have to go through all of this trouble," Kim said after she finished the rest of her glass, "but I do have to say I love the look!"

            Shego blushed again at the compliment as Kim smiled sweetly at her.  Shego didn't return the smile.  "This was for your benefit, princess, it's not gonna happen often."

            "Well, thank you," Kim said sincerely and warmly.  She hoped that her easiness would dispel the noticeable tension around the raven-haired pirate, "I wish I had something that nice to wear."

            "Meh," Shego said dryly, "It's all right I guess."

            The tension in Shego's face and her demeanor didn't change.  Kim decided to get to the crux of the matter.  "Shego?  What's wrong?"

            Shego's look turned so severe it made Kim shudder involuntarily.  "You really have to ask that?"

            "You've been either morose or flighty ever since you came aboard," Kim said as her tone turned argumentative, "And when you're not flirting with me you're belittling me in front of the crew!  So, yes, I think I deserve some kind of explanation."

            Shego's look turned outright dangerous!  For a moment Kim thought that she was going to rip her limb from limb, but then just as quickly the look of malice passed.  Shego sighed, "You really don't know, do you?"

            "N-no, I don't," Kim replied quietly as she was still in the process of getting over the shock of seeing Shego's murderous expression.

            Shego grabbed Kim's glass and filled it back up, then she downed her own again and refilled it.  She corked the now empty bottle and breathed deeply to gather her resolve.

            "It's because you beat me," Shego said slowly and matter-of-factly.

            A long moment of silence passed as Shego waited for the revelation to sink in.  But by Kim's facial expression Shego could tell that no revelations were forthcoming.

            "I beat you," Kim asked.

            Shego nodded, "Not only did you beat me but you also saved me."

            Kim didn't understand where Shego was going and her expression told Shego as much.  "Doctor D paid for the best and that's what he got: me.  I'm the best bodyguard there is, period.  When he told me to steal the "stellar-doohickey-compass-thingy-of-doom" that was locked in the Impenetrable Fortress of Eternal Agony, I did it because no one else could.  When the Empire's agents were snooping too close for comfort around his lair I was the one to dispatch them, no questions asked.  That's what I was paid for, to be the best.  And then here you come and foil his plans, sometimes two or three times in the same week!  Don't get me wrong, I looked forward to our fights.  I'd never met anyone who could stand toe to toe with me in a fight, especially someone without any of the gifts that I have."

            Kim took her words as a compliment and stayed silent so she could continue.  Kim could tell that this conversation was a definite sore spot for her, but Shego continued on.  "Our last fight was supposed to be the final meeting between us.  I held nothing back and gave you everything I had, but it still wasn't enough...I...lost...again."

            Kim stopped herself from reminding Shego that she barely survived the horrible ordeal, she took a sip from her glass instead.  "To make matters worse," Shego continued darkly, "I was robbed of my rightful death!  You and that blond scout of yours had to pull me to safety!"

            "I couldn't let you die there," Kim remarked in a small voice, "No one deserves that fate."

            "Who are you to decide my fate," Shego asked acidly, "I never asked to be saved, did I?"

            "You were unconscious, therefore you weren't in a position to ask anything," Kim offered diplomatically.

            "Is that your attempt at a joke or are you being serious?"

            "I'm being serious, Shego," Kim replied emphatically, even though she knew that anything she said at this point would only make the woman angrier, "Why would you even think like that?"

            "I wouldn't expect you to understand so I won't even try," Shego replied angrily, but Kim thought she felt a deep sadness behind her anger.

            Kim fought against the impulse to press her on the issue but stopped short of asking her.  An uncomfortable silence followed for a moment before Kim broke the silence.  "Well, my door's open if you want to talk."

            Shego's familiar smirk returned but looked out of place because the sadness in her eyes remained.  "So, you're giving me free reign to barge into your room whenever I want to talk?"

            Kim considered the implications of Shego's question, but there weren't any, really.  It wasn't like Shego would burst through the door and find her in a compromising position with anyone because there was no one.  "Yes," Kim said finally, "I guess I am.  Please feel free to take me up on my offer."

            "Hell, I may do that," Shego replied, her voice thick with sarcasm, "Or better yet, why don't I just move in?"

            "I could clean this place up," Kim offered, "There's more than enough space for two people."

            Shego gave her a sideways quizzical look, she was surprised at her captain's sincere tone.  She shook her head, "That's probably not the best idea you ever had, pumpkin.  Can you imagine what the crew would say once they found out?  Soon after you'd have a ship without a crew because I'd melt every single one of them down to slag for pissin' me off!"

            "Like I said," Kim said neutrally, "My door's open."

            "Right."

            Another uncomfortable silence followed for a time.  Both Kim and Shego shifted in their chairs, both unwilling to ask what both of them really wanted to ask.  It was Kim who broke the silence after taking a deep breath to steel her resolve.  "Is there any way we can move past this," she asked, "Or is this going to continue until it gets worse?"

            Shego shrugged, "I dunno.  My mind's not really in the best place right now to dwell on it much.  But I know you have to, being the captain and all."

            "That's right, I'm still the captain.  But I have to look out for the welfare of my crew and if something's bothering them I need to get to the bottom of it and make sure the problem gets solved."

            Shego turned to stare directly into Kim's eyes, "And what would you suggest, Doctor Possible?"

            Tentatively Kim reached out to take Shego's hand in hers.  "We can talk.  That might be all that's needed to get past this."

            "I doubt it," Shego snorted derisively and tried to pull away but Kim held her hand fast.

            "We can try."

            Shego's eyes narrowed distrustfully,but she finally caved in.  "All right, we'll try it your way, princess."

            "Good," Kim said as she let go of Shego's hand, "Do you want me to go first?"

            "Whatever."

            "Okay, well, like I said before I'd like to see if we can talk through our recent problems.  I know we've started out as enemies but in our six months of working together I think we've moved beyond that."

            "To what?  We work together, mainly because you somehow got Doctor D to calm down.  Although I have to say I haven't seen him this...lucid...in some time."

            "I haven't changed his goals, just...redirected...his focus to something more productive.  But we're not talking about him, we're talking about you and me."

            "So is that what this is about?  Are you wanting to redirect me?  I'd love to see you try that!"

            "That's not what I meant and you know it," Kim shot back, "I want us to work together better, without all of the baggage we've been carrying for the past year or so.  And..." she stopped and furiously tried to keep her face from burning in embarrassment, with absolutely no success.

            "And what," Shego pressed.

            "...And...maybe discuss...us."

            Shego's look turned quizzical again, "Us?  You're serious?"

            "Weren't you?"

            Shego ran her hand through her hair distractedly and wished she had brought another bottle of wine with her.  "Wouldn't you like to know?"

            Kim sighed, she felt her ears burn hotter than her cheeks.  "Yes," she said with finality, "I would."

            Shego and Kim locked eyes at for a long time, but Kim couldn't read the expression on her face.  Shego stood up from her chair and Kim watched her pace back and forth like a caged animal.  Shego fidgeted with her hands then hugged herself as she continued to pace back and forth.  She stopped close to Kim and Kim was about to speak, but Shego turned on her suddenly and leaned in so close that Kim's chair was leaned back, Shego's visage filled Kim's world.  The woman was so close that her searing body heat completely surrounded Kim and Shego's exotic perfume assaulted her senses.  Shego stared down at Kim with an look that she had only seen a glimpse of the day before, but the desire and outright lust was magnified tenfold.  The hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood on end in alarm, but Shego's presence overwhelmed her so she couldn't move.  Shego stared into Kim's eyes with an intensity that rooted Kim to the spot.  Her breath was caught in her throat as Shego's lips lightly brushed against hers once more.  Then the tip of Shego's tongue appeared and glided playfully across her lips, sending an electric shock of excitement through her. 

            "Is this what you want," Shego asked in a low, deep tone completely full of lust.

            Kim's mouth moved to answer but her words got lost before they made it out.  But her eyes gave Shego the answer she needed.  Shego closed her eyes and leaned in.  Kim's mouth was forced open from Shego's sudden assault.  A small whine escaped Kim's lips as she was completely unprepared for Shego's searing hot breath, but it was very similar to her dreams.  Kim's body tensed from the sudden assault and all cognitive thought ceased.  Kim surrendered herself to Shego completely, elated beyond words that her fantasy was coming true right before her eyes!

            Strong arms forced her up from the chair and carried her over to the bed, all without breaking the passionate embrace of their lips.  That contact was broken when Shego threw her onto the bed and resumed less than a second later when Shego pounced on top of her.  Kim tried to reciprocate but the power of Shego's passion was overwhelming!  Nimble, hot, searching fingers slid up Kim's sides and brought her arms up to the headboard and held her in place.  With a deep sigh Shego pulled back, breaking their contact, and her eyes opened.  Kim lost herself in those glittering emerald orbs and that's when it happened.

            A soft blue glow appeared in the irises of Shego's eyes and continued to grow until her eyes burned in blue light.  Her features shifted, but the change was subtle as her features became more angular and defined.  Her expression didn't change which was pure unmasked lust.  Kim inhaled sharply and her head snapped back, her mouth hung open as the sheer force of Shego's unleashed sexual energy struck her with the force of a hurricane!  The blue light suffused Shego's entire form as she completed her change.  A pair of bat-like wings sprouted from her back and small curved horns pushed through her forehead.  Every fiber of Kim's being down to her very soul became aroused like never before and she was completely at the mercy of Shego's unchecked power! 

            An instant later the light in Shego's eyes died and her expression changed from unadulterated lust to pure horror as she changed back into human form.  Kim, still held in thrall from the residual power of Shego, writhed and moaned softly in ecstasy.  Shego leaped from the bed and recoiled in shock and horror at what she'd done.  Kim slowly returned to normal, sweat beaded and dripped from her brow as she breathed heavily.

            "M...my god!  It's too much...too close," Shego exclaimed breathlessly in abject horror.

            "W...what was...that," Kim asked, her voice a husky whisper.

            "I...I can't do it," Shego said as her arms refused to stop shaking and she hugged herself to force them to stop, her hands gripping her upper arms in distress, "Not...not like this!"

            Kim forced her unresponsive arms and legs to move and she sat up from the bed.  The heady rush of arousal began to dim but it was a slow process.  Kim managed to turn her head towards Shego and saw the look of fear, shock, horror and distress on her face.  The woman was rooted to the spot and Kim somehow forced her legs to move again as she stood up unsteadily.  She walked over to the distraught woman and placed a hand on her shoulder.  The simple touch was like an electric shock to Shego and she shirked back.

            "Kimmie!  I'm sorry!  I didn't mean to do...that," Shego said, her panicked voice about to reach the breaking point," Y-you can't tell anyone about this, do you hear me?  Please!"

            "Uh, okay," Kim replied, not understanding a goddamn thing.

            "I...I gotta get out of here!  I'm sorry Kimmie!  I...I can't do this!  I'm sorry!"

            Shego spun around to leave in a hurry but Kim caught her arm with her outreached hand, "Wait!  Don't go," Kim implored pleadingly.

            Shego was adamant, "No, Kimmie, I have to go!  You don't know how close you...I...came to..."

            Kim didn't know if Shego's flustered state made it impossible for her to continue or if she refused to do so under her own power, but the thought was left unfinished.  Shego shirked and pulled away from Kim's touch and quickly headed for the door.

            "Shego," Kim called in a breaking husky voice, still under the last throes of Shego's power.

            Shego stopped with her hand on the door nob.  Kim watched as Shego fought an internal battle to keep from turning around to face her, and that battle was won.  "I'm sorry, Kim, I'm so sorry," she whispered as she opened the door and ran out.  The door closed quietly a moment later.  Kim stared at the door dumbly, the incessant tick-tocking of her mothers collection of timepieces the only thing piercing the silence.

 

Shego's Room, a few moments later

            Shego slammed the door behind her and held her face in her hands.  The shock at what she did refused to leave, but the familiar feeling of anger was quickly replacing it.  Her hands fell to her sides as she stared at her room.  It was tastefully furnished with several expensive and rare artifacts from her time in the Adventurer's Guild and other freelance work she did before working with Doctor D.  Her small collection spoke of wealth and power, just like her wardrobe, but her eyes fixed on a framed piece of tattered parchment that hung on the wall.  The parchment was burned at the edges and the black ink had faded due to age and weathering but most of the runes and one sketch were complete enough to still be seen.  Shego stared at the parchment for a long time as her anger rose steadily.  A jade antique vase sat on a small table near her.  She grabbed it and roared in rage as she threw it against the wall next to the parchment.  The vase crashed against the wall and shattered into a million pieces, the force of the blow knocked the framed parchment from its moorings and it fell to the floor, the glass in the frame also shattered.  Shego stared in silence at the parchment, specifically the only sketch still visible: A flaming comet coming down on a mountain.  She stared at the sketch for a long time before uttering two words full of malice and hate.

            "Damn you..."

 

Chapter Text

 

Sal Sagev

 

            Kim slept fitfully that night, her mind consumed with what had just happened.  The next day was no better as the condition of The Dauntless mirrored the state of its captain's mind.  The ship limped along and traveled far off the established trade routes to avoid Imperial entanglements.  This made the simple trek to Sal Sagev an arduous affair with the temperamental engine threatening to quit at a moment's notice, and her mind was still reeling from the encounter with Shego the night before.  Shego exiled herself to her room and refused anyone entrance, even Drakken.  Kim stayed true to her word and didn't mention what happened to anyone, even though she still didn't understand what really happened. 

            Her dreams on the other hand were something else.

            Kim settled into the routine of command and it was a welcomed distraction.  It was easy to bark orders and it gave her a small measure of satisfaction to see her orders carried out with expediency and efficiency.  Even Drakken came out from the hold and helped Kim with issuing orders.  In most cases he didn't even have to repeat himself.  The Dauntless finally broke from the cloud cover late in the evening as it approached the Free City of Sal Sagev.

            Under the light of the two pale moons Sal Sagev emerged from the darkness.  The city was housed on several floating islands chained together and connected with various bridges.  The largest island housed the city proper and most of the mercantile and residential districts.  The next largest satellite island housed the upper class and the wealthy while the smallest island housed the port, its attending facilities, and the constabulary.  The building style was of an older medieval period with heavy Elven influences.  Most of the building materials were grown from the very island and built with an Elven sensibility in mind in flow and design as one building meshed into another but not in a blocky way but in a more natural way.  Torches on long poles provided illumination throughout the docks and the rest of the city, which was a stark throwback to an older age as gaslight lampposts and everbright luminance adjusters replaced the old lit end of a stick ages ago.  But the old school lighting only added to the city's charm.

            As a Free City, it was not entitled to the protection of the Empire of Man and relied on its own small navy and militia for protection.  Raiders, pirates, and worse plied the lanes of the Aether, eager to prey on any and all ships foolish enough to sail unarmed as well as the small unaligned villages and towns that dotted the lanes.  Sal Sagev's navy was small but well-trained with three small, armed freighters, a Carrack Class Cruiser, the precursor to the Galley Class, of which The Dauntless was one, and several smaller vessels mainly used for boarding and surgical strikes.  While they wouldn't stand much of a chance against the combined might of the Imperial Navy, their ships were more maneuverable and faster which was an asset on the defense.

            The militia was also well trained and well equipped; Sal Sagev was famous for its light leather armor that was strong enough to deflect a blade as well as most small and medium caliber shot.  The armor became known as Leather of Iron and Kim hoped to buy a set for herself, but she'd have to wait for morning to do that.

            The Dauntless pulled into an empty dock and the deckhands secured her with their mooring ropes.  Both Kim and Drakken paced around the deck and observed the crew at work.  With The Dauntless safely moored Drakken called the crew to order and they fell in line in front of him and Kim.  Kim clasped her hands behind her and paced back and forth as she gazed at her crew.

            "Men, we made it.  Tomorrow starts shore leave," she declared.

            The crew gave a tired but rousing cheer.  Kim held her hands up to calm them down, "Easy men, easy!  Motor Ed, I'll have the funds released for you in the morning so you can get what you need for the engine."

            Motor Ed crossed his massive arms across his chest and nodded.  Kim turned to the quartermaster, "Bryce?  I want our larders fully stocked before we leave, and I'll have some additional funds released so you can get the quality stuff."

            A few crewmen in the back cheered at that which caused the cook to turn around angrily.  More crewmen smiled at his look, even Kim smiled for a moment before she composed herself.  "Don't spend yourselves into oblivion tomorrow," Kim warned, "We may be here for a while."

            She turned to Drakken, "Drakken, do you have anything to say to the men?"

            His arms were clasped behind his back and his chest puffed out regally.  "No ma'am," he answered.

            "All right," she said as she turned back around to face her crew, "We'll meet here at first light.  Until then...dismissed!"

            The crew fell out and headed back to their cots.  Kim and Drakken watched as they left, as was the custom.  But Kim was looking for one crew member in particular that wasn't there: Shego.  Kim and Drakken followed the boatswain as the last three to leave the deck and Kim headed straight for her cabin, she was too tired to do anything else. 

            She undressed and showered, thankful that her parents had at least upgraded the old ship with working pumps and water pipes.  She finished, dried herself off with a towel, and put on a light robe.  She lit a candle at her desk and sat down.  On top of the desk amid the maps and other stacks of miscellaneous papers were her parents journals: three leather-bound books, two from her father and the last written by her mother.  Kim had already read her mother's journal and already marked the locations on the world map where her journal said they'd been.  She had also finished her father's first journal and had done the same thing on the map for his journal.  She was already half way through his second journal but it was incomplete, she had may twenty pages or so left to cross-reference on the map and that would exhaust all of her leads.  She dreaded going through the last of his journal for fear of not finding anything useful and then she'd be truly lost.  She had procrastinated to the point where she would only do one page a night, but the journal was nearing its end.

            Kim reached for the journal and got as far as putting her hand on it but she didn't open it.  In fact, she pushed the journal aside and just sat at her desk and stared off into space for a time.  Finally she blew out the candle, disrobed, and got into bed.  She drifted off into sleep and her thoughts gravitated towards Shego like they usually did, but this time she fought against her own mind.  An older memory replaced her thoughts but the memory was also unwelcomed.  Kim tossed and turned so violently that the action woke her.  She tried different positions to get comfortable but it was her mind that kept her awake.  She finally found a position that was comfortable then there was a sharp rap at her door.

            Kim pulled the bedsheets around her to cover herself and called out," Come in."

            The door opened but Kim couldn't make out who stood at the door because of the darkness.  "It's me, cupcake," Shego's voice called out meekly from the doorway, "I hope I didn't wake you."

            "No, I'm still up," Kim answered as she sat up but she kept the bedsheets close to her, "Come on in."

            "You descent?"

            "Not exactly."

            "Then I probably shouldn't.  I came here to let you know that I'm...ready for duty."

            Kim squinted to see Shego's shadowed silhouette in the darkness, "So you're okay then?"

            "No, not really, if ever.  But I'm fit enough for duty, just...just don't ask me about last night, please.  In fact, forget everything ever happened."

            "O-okay," Kim said, she could tell from Shego's meek tone that this conversation was hard for her and she didn't want to press it, "I'll see you in the morning.  Good night, Shego."

            "Night," Shego answered quietly then closed the door as she left.

            It took Kim forever to get comfortable again but she eventually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

            The next morning the boatswain called the crew to attention as Kim and Drakken, looked on.  Kim wore her cleanest captain's outfit and even had her boots polished and shined.  Drakken wore an immaculately pressed dress uniform complete with the gold lapel pin of fallen House Lipsky and a plate full of ribbons and honors awarded during his time in the Imperial Navy.  To Kim he looked more like an Admiral than her Number One.  She paced the deck and was pleased to see her entire crew there, even Shego who stood off to the side away from everyone else as she normally did.  Her outfit suited her more for being a member of the Jenny's Guild rather than a good and proper air pirate in Kim's estimation, but she didn't air her disapproval.  She turned to her crew and spoke, "I want everyone on their best behavior!  We don't need another repeat of what happened at Star's Rest, do we?"

            The crew grumbled in agreement.  "Good," she said then turned to Drakken, "Drakken?  Do you have anything?"

            He stiffened and clasped his hands behind his back, "In fact I do," He declared, "I will be staying on the ship.  I've reached a critical point on my latest experiment and I can't leave it now.  But if you are going ashore I do have some things that I need purchased."

            "Give me the list and I'll handle it," Kim said.

            He bowed formally and handed her a small, sealed envelope, "Thank you."

            She put the small envelope in her leather pouch and turned back toward her crew.  "Ron!  Shego!"

            Ron Stoppable stepped forward and saluted energetically.  "Yeah, KP?"

            Shego stepped forward and looked at her with a bored expression on her face.

            "You two are with me.  The rest of you: dismissed!"

            Shego folded her arms across her chest and walked forward along with Ron who ran up to her.  The rest of the crew gave a rousing cheer and nearly beat each other to death as they ran for the ramp.  Kim, Shego, and Ron had to step aside to keep from being run over.  Ron smiled at Kim and said, "What's up, KP?  You got a mission for me?  There's nothin' the Ronmeister and Rufus can't handle!"

            "I do," Kim responded with a smirk as she watched Shego roll her eyes at his comment, "I'm heading out to do a bit of shopping and then I'm going to the Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern to find someone.  I hear the place can be a little rough and I know you'd never forgive me if you weren't around as my backup."

            "You're right about that," he exclaimed with a smile.

            Rufus, Ron's constant naked mole rat companion, popped up from Ron's breast pocket and exclaimed in a squeaky voice, "Uh-huh!"

            Kim smiled at both of them, glad to have her friends at her back.  "What am I tagging along for," Shego asked with an annoyed expression on her face.

            "Heavy support, just in case things get complicated," Kim replied.

            "So I'm the meat shield, huh," Shego asked as she cracked her knuckles together, Ron flinched at the horrid sound, and that familiar smirk appeared back on her face, "This could be fun."

            Kim tried hard to suppress her smile from widening further but failed.  She was glad to see Shego getting back to her old self, but given what happened between them earlier she wanted to keep the doubly dangerous woman close, just in case she decided to change again.  "Ready," Kim asked, and the others nodded in return.

            Kim, Ron, Rufus, and Shego departed The Dauntless for the Free City of Sal Sagev.

 

           Sal Sagev was huge as far as settlements went, a true metropolis.  The city was divided into districts with cobblestone thoroughfares in the residential districts and paved stone in the mercantile and dock districts.  Most of the buildings were made of stone and wood, with an eye toward Elven design rather than simple Imperial functionality.  Only a handful of buildings were over three stories tall, the majority had two stories with sharp, sloping roofs.  Kim, Ron, and Shego made a note of that in case they needed to plan a hasty getaway. 

            The main market district was out in the open and was the largest district next to the dockyard.  Tables and booths lined up end to end throughout the entire district, with the established and more expensive shops in buildings behind them.  From bakeries to the latest in personal protection and firearms, the marketplace of Sal Sagev had a wide selection of options for the potential buyer.  Kim, Ron, and Shego walked the cobblestone road from the docks to the market district.  It was still early morning by the time they arrived as most vendors were still in the process of opening up their booths.  The one shop Kim wanted to check out was already open, Tailor Made, the store had a reputation for fine armor and was one of the few stores that sold the coveted Leather of Iron.

            Kim entered the shop and went straight for the counter.  An older, thin man with a receding, brown hairline looked up from behind the counter.  "Welcome to Tailor Made, I'm Johnathan Tailor, what can I do for you," he asked pleasantly.

            Ron and Shego split off from Kim to look at different weapon and armor displays.  Kim leaned over the counter, "I'd like to get fitted for a Leather of Iron suit."

            Johnathan Tailor raised an eyebrow after he looked over the young...adventuress.  "Leather of Iron isn't cheap," he said, "Every suit is custom made for the wearer and can take weeks to make."

            Kim placed a pouch of gold onto the counter and raised an eyebrow of her own, "This should expedite things."

            He took the pouch and opened it.  He nodded, "Yes, yes it will.  If you will follow me to the backroom, I'll get your measurements and we'll get started."

            She followed Mr. Tailor and got her measurements taken.  He walked her back out to the front room, "I can have it ready in two days," he said to her.

            Kim nodded, "That'll be fine."

            "Hey KP!  Check this out," Ron exclaimed.

            Kim turned and saw Ron decked out in full Ashigaru armor, a set of armor from the South Lands.  The armor was several sizes too big for him as was the hat.  "What do you think," he asked proudly.

            "It's a little big, isn't it?"

            "Your buffoonery knows no limits, does it," Shego asked dryly.

            Ron struggled to move in the large armor, his arms flailed about comically, "No, see?  There's these straps over here...and buckles over...here.  I can...adjust..."

            He twisted himself around so much that he lost his balance and crashed to the floor.

            Kim giggled, "It's so not you, Ron!  Now get up, you're making a scene."

            "Uh, a little help," he asked as the bulky armor made it almost impossible for him to move.

            Shego moved before Kim could, and she grabbed him by his outstretched hand and heaved him up to his feet effortlessly.  The green-tinted pirate shook her head as Ron took the armor off.  Kim waited at the door for Ron to put the armor back and catch up to her.  Shego shook her head as she brought up the rear and the trio left the shop.

             

            The walk to the Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern was short and quiet.  The Inn was one of the largest structures in Sal Sagev; the building was constructed of sturdy stone and wood and was over seven stories tall.  From the fifth story and above a mass of bird nests dotted the windowsills and created a cacophony of noise as ravens and other birds flew in and out of their nests on their morning trek for food.  Kim, Ron and Shego stopped at the base of a small set of stairs that led to the entrance.  The doors to the Inn opened suddenly and a massive troll burst through carrying an unconscious, battered, and bloody patron.  The troll threw the hapless patron out like a sack of potatoes.  The patron sailed across the street and crashed into a wicker table, destroying it.  The poor sod was already unconscious before he hit the cobblestone street.  The massive troll grunted, sniffed, wiped his massive nose, and went back inside.

            Ron turned to Kim with a look of trepidation on his face, "Are you sure this is a good idea, KP?  I mean...did you see the size of that troll?"

            "Gettin' cold feet blondie," Shego asked mockingly, "It's nothing we can't handle," she finished with forced bravado.

            "I hope you're right Shego," Kim said as she gathered her resolve, "Let's go."

            Shego and Ron got behind Kim as she walked up to the swinging doors.  She pushed the doors open and walked inside.

            The Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern was darker and much quieter than Kim would have first suspected.  But then, the sight of the troll getting rid of an unruly patron in such a fashion probably had a lot to do with it.  The intimidating troll leaned against the wall next to the doors and gave the newcomers a glance, smiled, and nodded appreciatively at the sight of their swords peacecorded to their sheaths.  Kim was able to restrain herself from shuddering; even the troll's smile was an ugly sight!  Beyond the entrance the main room sprawled out before them.  Comfortable booths lined up the east wall leaving circular tables and chairs evenly spaced out in the center of the room, and longer rectangular tables lined the western wall.  At the far end of the room was the bar complete with bar stools.  A door to the back of the Inn and Tavern opened and a barmaid came out with a tray of food balanced in her hand as she walked over to a table and gave the patrons their order.  A long stairway led to the second floor and beyond a further distance west from the door.  Behind the bar a small open window connected the bar to the kitchen behind it. 

            The place wasn't even a quarter full, and Kim found a table close to the bar and away from the other patrons.  Her eyes darted back and forth as she took in the measures of the patrons around her, and Ron and Shego did the same.  The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as her eyes met some of the other patrons.  Most of the clientele was human but a significant portion of the patrons were elves.  There was even the odd table of half-orcs, and two tables of dwarves.  Naturally, the dwarves sat as far away from the elves as they could, and both elves and dwarves steered clear of the table of half-orcs. 

            The tone of the place was unlike anything Kim was prepared for.  It was quiet and subdued, more fit for a monastery than a rough-and-tumble Tavern.  Still the air of danger hung in the air.  The scars on many of the patrons spoke of battles fought and won with great struggle.  Missing limbs were replaced with the latest and expensive clockwork prosthetics.  But to Kim's trained eye she could tell that the clockwork replacements were more than functional, some were weapons, and they weren't hid very well. 

            The air itself was tense and Kim quickly found out why as a trio of Imperial soldiers, in full military uniform, came down the stairs.  Ron gave Kim a quick look of concern but she raised her index finger as a warning to them not to start anything.  Ron nodded at the gesture and visibly tried to relax without much success.  Shego had no problem relaxing. 

            A comely barmaid walked over to their table, obscuring Kim's line-of-sight to the Imperial soldiers.  The woman was young and clean, but she wore too much make-up that clashed with her dark brown hair.  The barmaid smiled professionally at Kim and the rest. 

            "Welcome to The Raven's Nest.  I'm Dalaa, what can I get ya?"

            "I'd like the breakfast platter," Ron said, "I didn't eat this morning and I'm starving!"

            Dalaa nodded and turned to Shego, she didn't even raise an eyebrow at the tint of Shego's skin, "An' you?"

            "A glass of port, please," Shego said pleasantly then added, "Do you have any '73?  Or better yet '45?"

            Dalaa nodded, "Both, but the '45 is gettin' pretty scarce.  Everyone seems to like that vintage best so you'd better get it while we still have it."

            "In that case I'll take three bottles and a glass," Shego said.

            That raised an eyebrow from Dalaa, three bottles was expensive to say the least, "All right, an' you, ma'am?  What'll you have?"

            Kim wasn't paying attention to Dalaa, she had caught the Imperial soldiers as they walked over to the bar and she was watching them instead.  "I'll have what she's having," Kim answered absent-mindedly. 

            Dalaa turned to Shego with a questioning look, like if that's what she really wanted.  Shego smiled, shrugged, then nodded.  Dalaa shrugged too and said," Okay, your orders will be up in a few minutes, and I'll bring them to ya as soon as it's ready."

            "That's fine," Kim said automatically, still not paying attention.

            Dalaa left their table and headed back to the kitchen to get the cooks to prepare Ron's breakfast, and then she'd bring out the bottles of port after that.  Ron and Shego stared at Kim for a moment and it was Shego who spoke first.

            "This is Shego callin' Kim.  Hey?  You there, cupcake?"

            When she didn't get a response Ron did one better and stiffly kicked her leg.  Kim jumped in surprise at the sharp pain.  "Ow!  What was that for?"

            "You were zonin', KP," Ron said apologetically.

            "Did you even know what you ordered," Shego asked with her trademark smirk.

            "Yeah, I got what you got," Kim said angrily as she rubbed the tender spot on her leg, "What's the problem?"

            "You'll see in a bit," Shego answered as her gaze trailed over to the bar.

            Ron and Kim both turned toward the bar.  The Imperial soldiers were involved in a heated discussion with the bartender, a male elf with long black hair.  Neither Kim, Ron, or Shego got a good look at the bartender because the soldier's backs obscured his face.  The argument continued for a long time and Ron turned back to Kim.

            "It's not safe here KP.  Maybe we should leave."

            "It's a Free City," Kim said, "The Empire has no jurisdiction here."

            "Yeah, but what about mercenaries," he countered.

            "And don't forget bounty hunters," Shego added casually.

            Ron nodded his head vigorously, "Yeah!  Hell, I haven't checked in a while but I'll bet we're all worth a pretty hefty purse of gold by now."

            Kim nodded in agreement, she knew how much their bounties were worth but she decided against saying the number out loud.  There was no telling what the other patrons in the Tavern would do if they overheard that tidbit of information. 

            "I'll bet I'm worth more than you, blondie," Shego said.

            "You wish," he countered, "Kim and I've been doin' this long before you came aboard."

            Rufus popped up from his breast pocket and nodded, squeaking, "Uh huh!"

            "Keep it down," Kim hissed as her eyes darted back and forth, "That's an order!"

            Ron, Rufus, and Shego both turned to look at Kim with equal looks of surprise on their faces at Kim's admonishment.  "Sorry KP," Ron said in a quieter voice.

            Shego frowned and crossed her arms across her chest but she did as she was commanded and remained silent.  Rufus saluted and dived back down into Ron's breast pocket.  Kim was about to admonish them further but Dalaa arrived with Ron's breakfast and placed it in front of him.

            "I'll be right back with your drinks," she said with a smile then left.

            "Drinks," Kim asked.

            "That's what I ordered," Shego said with a smile.

            "Here, dig in," Ron offered as he moved his plate over so Kim could reach it.

            "I had breakfast thanks," Kim said.

            Ron shrugged and dived into his plate.  A short time later Dalaa returned with six bottles of port and two glasses.  "Here's your wine.  Sagev Port, vintage 1745, six bottles.  Enjoy."

            Dalaa left them for another table to get their order.  Shego's eyes glittered with mirth as she watched Kim's reaction to her order.  "You got enough to cover all this, pumpkin?"

            Kim frowned, "Okay, so maybe I wasn't paying attention.  Ron, next time I do that feel free to kick me in the shins."

            "Aye-aye," he said with a mouthful of food.

            Shego popped the cork on a bottle and filled her glass.  She pointed to the other glass and gestured at Kim with the bottle.  "Might as well," Kim growled, and Shego filled her glass.

            Kim took a sip and had to admit that it tasted delicious.  She leaned back in her chair and relaxed.  The Raven's Nest was beginning to fill with more customers and the tension in the air lessened somewhat as the group of half-orcs stood up from their table and left. 

            "Head's up," Shego warned as she drank from her glass.

            The hairs on the back of Kim's neck stood on end as Shego spoke.  She heard the sound of heavy footfalls stop behind her and a strong male voice spoke.

            "You're Kim Possible, the captain of The Dauntless."

            "I am," Kim said in a neutral voice, "What can I do for you?"

            Ron stopped eating as the other two Imperial soldiers made their way to take positions behind him and Shego.  Shego filled her glass calmly.

            "You and your crew are wanted for crimes against the Emperor and the Empire of Man," the soldier declared.

            "This is a Free City," Kim said in the same neutral tone as before, "Your Empire has no jurisdiction here."

            Kim's hand slowly went to the hilt of her blade and the peacecord that tied it to the scabbard.  She cursed herself inwardly for not packing any of her pistols.  A strong hand grasped her shoulder, "We'll deal with the red tape later," the soldier said as he lifted her to her feet.

            Kim reacted.

            As he pulled her from the chair she kicked the chair out behind her.  It smashed into the soldier with enough force to release his hold of her and he staggered back.  Kim spun around and in the same movement untied her rapier as the other soldiers drew their swords.

            Shego and Ron performed the same move Kim did and Ron drew his sword in the same fashion that his captain did.  Shego spun around carefully; she was still holding her glass of port in her hand.

            The other patrons moved their tables and chairs out of the way as Kim, Ron, and Shego squared off against the Imperial soldiers.  "Wanted dead or alive," the lead soldier hissed, "Either way it's more money than we'll see in our lifetime."

            "Come take it," Shego growled, echoing Kim's unspoken sentiment.

            The soldiers attacked.

            The dark haired elf bartender watched as the events unfolded.  He pulled a cord that hung from the overhang to the bar and two connected planks of wood dropped from the overhang.  The sigh lit up in glowing red neon: No Spellcasting!  The dark haired woman had seen the sign and she gave an audible exclamation of disapproval.  He watched as the blond boy and the red head girl face off against the Imperial soldiers.  They had their swords peacecorded at the start as per 'The Rules', but the soldiers were under no such restrictions, such was the compromise.  But the girl and the boy were holding their own against them.  In truth, the bartender was impressed!  Broken Tusks, the troll bouncer leaned over the bar and asked, "You want me to take care of this, boss?"

            Then the bartender saw it: the basket hilt on the girl's rapier.  He recognized the crest and his eyes narrowed.  "No," he answered, his voice an angry growl, "Let's see how the Possible handles this."

            Kim ducked under the soldier's wide swing and rolled to the left.  She brought her rapier up in time to meet his next lunge, and her basket hilt caught his blade.  She spun around and lunged with an attack of her own but the soldier batted her blade away.  He came in again, the tip of his blade came from different angles and Kim was forced back a step as she parried his onslaught.

            Ron was facing similar circumstances as Kim.  He was no slouch with a blade but he wasn't a master either.  He went through the motions and backed up as he parried attack after attack.  The soldier was like the others: confident and arrogant, but Ron had a secret weapon.  Rufus popped his head out from Ron's breast pocket and then leaped onto the soldier's face claws first.  The soldier, surprised, backed away as Ron moved in on the attack.

            Shego dodged and ducked every attack that came her way.  It was more difficult as she held her wine glass but the soldier's attacks were clumsy and sorely lacking in finesse.  Shego spun around, avoiding the soldier’s latest attack and she kicked out with her boot, scoring a direct hit to the soldier's chest and sending him backward.  She completed her spin and with her free hand she extended her index finger, taunting him to come at her again.  With a growl of rage the soldier obliged.

            Kim dodged the soldier's overextended lunge and smashed her elbow into his face.  The soldier reeled back as Kim came in.  The soldier was on the defensive now and was hard pressed to parry Kim's lunges and feints.  Kim swung as hard as she could and scored a direct hit on his sword hand and sent his weapon flying into the bar.  He stared stupidly at his hand before the tip of Kim's rapier at his throat caught his attention.

            Ron pressed his attack to keep the soldier off balance.  He saw an opening but instead he dropped to the floor and sent his boot out with a leg sweep.  The soldier fell to the floor and landed hard on his back.  His sword dislodged from his hand and clanked away, out of his reach.  Ron flipped up to his feet in an instant and aimed the tip of his blade at the bridge of the soldier's nose.  The soldier raised his hands in surrender.

            Shego bobbed and weaved, being careful not to spill any of her expensive wine.  The soldier stepped back and swung out in a wide arc.  Shego was forced to duck and she threw her glass up high into the air.  A swift kick to his midsection and a knee to his face ended the battle just in time for her to catch her glass and she had to do a perfect leg split to catch every falling drop of wine back into her glass.

            "It's over," Kim declared to the soldier.

            "This time," the soldier replied grudgingly.

            Kim took a step back, but kept her rapier trained on the soldier, "Get your men and get out of here," she commanded.

            The soldier did so and the humbled Imperial soldiers left the Raven's Nest.  The other patrons smirked at them as they limped out.  Shego downed her glass in one gulp and placed the empty glass back on the table.  Kim and Ron sheathed their blades and peacecorded them again.  Kim felt the eyes of the entire Raven's Nest fall on her and she felt her cheeks burn in sudden embarrassment.  She turned toward the bar and walked over to it.

            "Sorry for the commotion," she said apologetically to the bartender, "I'll pay for whatever damages we caused; it wasn't my intention for us to be involved in a fight."

            "Yes, yes you will," the bartend said darkly, "But then...that's what I've come to expect from a Possible."

            Kim gave the bartender a quizzical look, "You...how did you know my name?"

            The bartender pointed a black gloved finger at her rapier, "Your sword.  I recognize the family crest, and if I'm not mistaken that's James Possible's rapier, isn't it?"

            "Yes, it's my father's sword."

            "Your...father?"

            Kim nodded.  Ron and Shego joined Kim at the bar as the bartender gestured toward them.  "They part of your crew?"

            "Yes, they serve on The Dauntless."

            "That piece of junk is still flying?"

            "She's a good ship," Kim countered, "She's just..."

            "Temperamental," the bartender finished.

            "Yeah," Kim said as she fixed her gaze on his eyes, "How do you know that?"

            The bartender shrugged, "I had the displeasure of serving on that rusty bucket for longer than I care to remember."

            Kim's eyes widened in shock, "Y-you're Zahn!"

            "That's my name," the bartender replied evenly.

            Both Ron's and Shego's eyes widened at the admittance but Shego was able to recover her composure before Ron.  "And you are," he asked.

            "Kim Possible."

            "You're his daughter?"

            Kim nodded.

            "I heard James and Anne had two sons, I didn't know they had a daughter."

            Zahn gestured to a female elf to take his place at the bar.  He turned back to Kim, "Follow me to the back; we can talk better in private."

            Kim, Ron, and Shego followed Zahn through the door to the kitchen and a long dark hallway to the left that was lined with closed doors on either side.  Zahn stopped at the furthest door on the left and opened it.  He gestured for Kim and the rest to go in, which they did, and he followed behind them.  He closed the door and locked it once everyone was inside.

            The room was lit with soft white light.  Cushioned chairs were placed next to a large, round, wooden table and two long, cushioned couches made up the rest of the furniture in the room.  The walls were padded with plush cushions in an effort to keep noise down to a minimum.  Kim and Ron each took a chair at the table while Shego stretched out on one of the very comfortable looking couches.  She smiled appreciatively as she made herself comfortable.  Once everyone was seated Zahn turned to them.

            "What are you doing in my city?"

            The harsh tone of his voice made Kim flinch.  "Actually, I was looking for you," she answered.

            "Me?  Why," he asked as he crossed his arms across his chest.

            Kim was finally able to see what he looked like.  He had the fair skin and the sharp, pointed ears of an elf.  He stood tall and his demeanor was all business, Kim guessed that he was about Drakken's height.  He wore the black garb of the Leather of Iron and his storied blade, Darksong, was sheathed at his side.  He was imposing in a quiet, deadly kind of way, which was how assassins were supposed to be, Kim mused to herself.

            Kim sighed deeply, "My family's gone missing and we've been following leads trying to find them, but so far we haven't had any luck."

            "So why come here?"

            "I have my parent's journals and they both talk of you," Kim started.

            Zahn's eyes narrowed, "Do they now?"

            "Y-yes," Kim stammered but quickly composed herself, "It wasn't anything bad, honest!  It's just that I'm running out of leads and I was hoping that since you served with them for a time you might have an idea of where they could've gone."

            Zahn frowned as his gloved hand went to scratch his chin, "I ceased any and all contact when I left The Dauntless almost two decades ago.  So I don't have any idea where they are now."

            Her heart sank at his words.  "I...see," she said dejectedly.

            "However," Zahn continued, "He was a friend of the Elven Nations, you may wish to broaden your search to include their lands."

            Kim noted his inflection of the word 'their'.  He was an elf himself but by his inflection he didn't align himself with the Elven Nations.  Shego picked up on it too, but she spoke Kim's unasked question aloud.  "You said their like you don't particularly care for the nations of your people, why is that?"

            "I have my reasons," he said flatly, and that ended that line of questioning.

            "We came across some other information that you might find useful," Kim said quickly in order to change the subject, "It concerns the Free Cities and the Empire."

            "I'm listening," he stated.

            Kim pulled out a long, sealed envelope from her leather pouch and handed it over to him.  He took it and asked, "What's this?"

            "It's a collection of Imperial memos detailing sleeper agents of the Empire already working in the Free Cities.  It details names, targets, and timetables.  The memos also list Imperial agents working in Rhendarin.  There's no telling how many other sleeper agents are already active and working in the smaller settlements.  The Empire's up to something, something big, and the Free Cities are the targets.  You can keep that, I had other copies made."

            Zahn opened the envelope and rummaged through the various documents.  Kim and the others remained silent as he read.  He scanned what he wanted and put the documents back in the envelope.  "Are you saying in Sal Sagev for a while?"

            "We have some repairs to do on The Dauntless, so, yeah.  But hopefully not more than a few days," Kim answered.

            "What's your crew compliment," he asked, "Are you running a full crew, or no?"

            "The ship's not fully crewed, no," Kim answered, "Why?"

            "How many?"

            "Off the top of my head, I'd say forty crewmen give or take a few that I might have missed."

            "Right, I have enough rooms.  When you get back to your ship tell your crew that they'll be staying at The Raven's Nest, the tab's on me."

            "What," Kim asked incredulously.

            "I need time to go over this and come up with a plan.  In the meantime you and your crew will be my guests.  Hell, if this works out like I hope it does, I'll even break open my private reserve.  I'll have everything set up within the hour."

            "But what about those Imperial soldiers," Ron asked, "They won't stay away for long."

            "Yeah, they'll be back stronger and with more numbers on their side," Shego added.

            Zahn gave him a baleful stare, "I'll handle the Empire.  I've suspected for some time now that Imperial agents infiltrated Sal Sagev, and these documents prove it.  There were reports of ships disappearing soon after leaving the docks, merchant ships, independents.  But they were wanted by the Empire for one reason or another.  This could explain why.  I have no love for the Empire and we had a long-standing but unspoken agreement.  The Empire stays out of our way and we don't mess with Imperial business.  It's seems that the agreement is no longer valid."

            Zahn turned his attention from Ron back to Kim.  "You and your crew will have to pair up to share rooms, but the meals will be for free.  Is this arrangement acceptable?"

            "Yes," Kim said.

            "Good.  I'll have some of my people shadow you throughout the city to make sure you don't encounter any more trouble.  I'd suggest that you get done what you need to get done today and tell your crew of their new arrangements.  Get some sleep tonight and tomorrow I should have a plan in place.  I may require some assistance if you're willing to help me with this."

            "Sure," Kim responded, "I'd be glad to help."

            "In return for your help I'll reactivate my old network and get them on the search for your parents."

            "Thank you," Kim said as she stood up from the chair and Ron did the same.

            "Come back later on today and all of the arrangements should be made," he said as he opened the door, "I'll have my people handle the rest."

            He led Kim, Ron, and Shego out and they left The Raven's Nest after Shego grabbed their wine.  Once they hit the street Shego turned to Kim, her face a darker shade of green than usual, "I...have a request to make of the captain if I may."

            "What is it?"

            "He said we have to share rooms...I call dibs on yours."

            Kim blushed despite herself.  "Y-you sure," she asked hesitantly.

            Shego blushed harder but nodded, "Yes, cupcake, I'm sure.  And I promise to be on my best behavior this time."

            Ron heard the conversation between his best friend and her arch rival but he wasn't listening, his mind was working a million miles a second going through the various ways how he would ask her to be his bunk mate.  The more he thought about it the more he convinced himself that she wouldn't reject his offer, because it wasn't like she'd rejected him before!  But this way they wouldn't have to be skulking about like they had to do on board The Dauntless.

            "You got an idea of who you want to pair up with," Kim asked.

            "I sure do," he exclaimed with a wide grin.

 

Later...

 

            They went back to The Dauntless and Kim made her report to Drakken who disseminated the information down so the rest of the crew would eventually find out.  Even Drakken, who rarely stepped foot off of the ship to begin with was ecstatic at the offer of free lodging and food at the Raven's Nest, an exclusive place despite its rough and tumble reputation.  Ron asked Kim if he could leave her and Shego to go look for Yori.  Kim smiled as Ron blushed when she asked him if she was who he had in mind for a bunk mate.  She knew of their late night trysts, but instead of being angry she was happy for them.  And at least this way they wouldn't have to sneak around her ship to find the perfect hiding place.  Kim let Ron go and turned to Shego.

            "You can go too if you want.  Here's your chance to see the sites of a Free City.  I have some shopping to do for Drakken but then I'll be coming back here to see if Motor Ed and his gadgeteers need help.  Depending on how things go we could be here late into the night."

            "I was thinking of wandering around for a while.  I've been to Stormhaven before but not Rhendarin or Sal Sagev.  I guess I'll do the tourist thing for a while until I get bored."

            Kim gave her a wary look and Shego raised her hands to placate her captain, "Don't worry!  I'll stay out of trouble, I swear!  I know better than to get on the bad side of our gracious host."

            "All right," Kim said, not entirely believing the raven-haired pirate.

            "Look, I'll do even better than that.  If you aren't at The Raven's Nest by Eight O'clock or Eight Thirty I'll come over and find you on The Dauntless.  That way I can drag the lot of ya off the ship for dinner at least.  How's that sound?"

            "Much better," Kim replied with a nod.

            "See you later then, cupcake."

            "Later."

            Shego walked off of the ship and Kim watched her until the raven haired pirate disappeared into the throngs of the crowd.  She headed inside and went to her cabin to change her clothes and pack her bag for The Raven's Nest.  After she finished she went back out to get the items Drakken needed for his experiments. 

            Shopping for Drakken was a chore and a pain.  She didn't understand what anything on his list was or what it was for, and it took her most of the day to track down the right stores and vendors to get what he needed.  By the time she found everything she had traversed the main market district and most of the lesser ones.  Throughout her trek she did notice elves clad in the same Leather of Iron that Zahn wore, and they only showed up on the periphery of her vision when a group of Imperials drew near to her.  Thanks to the elves she was unmolested throughout her shopping trip.

            Kim returned to The Dauntless and found Drakken in the hold.  He was bent over his lab table busily working on his latest experiments as she came in with all of the items he needed.

            "I got your things," she said as she walked into the lab.

            "Kim Possible?  I didn't expect you back so soon.  I thought night would have fallen before you found everything."

            "Give me a little credit, Number One, once I figured out what a trans-variance wave inducer was the rest was a piece of cake!"

            "Mmm...yes," Drakken said distractedly.

            "Where do you want this stuff?"

            Drakken didn't get up from his bent over position at his lab table.  He raised an arm and pointed to a mostly empty table.  "There will be fine.  Thank you for getting those things for me."

            "You're welcome," she grunted as she unloaded her arms of his things onto the table, "Are you going to stay here or are you going to go to The Raven's Nest?"

            He stood up and lifted the comically over-large set of goggles off of his face.  "I'll be at the Raven's Nest shortly as I am nearing a stopping point.  You?"

            "I'm going to check on Motor Ed and his gadgeteers first.  I want to see what progress they've made, if any."

            He nodded, "Very well, then I will see you either at The Raven's Nest or tomorrow morning when I come back to resume my experiments.  Sleep well, Kim Possible."

            "Good night," she said and then she left.

            Kim walked down the hallway towards the engine room.  The hallway shook violently as a loud explosion echoed throughout the ship.  The shaking was so violent that it knocked Kim against the wall but she regained her feet quickly and ran to the engine room.  Just as she was about to round the corner she heard Motor Ed's booming, scratchy voice.

            "Dude, seriously?  You drop that again an' I'll drop you, you hear me?"

            Kim ran in and yelled, "Is everyone all right?  What happened?"

            "Hey, captain, my captain," Motor Ed exclaimed with a grin.

            Engine parts and tools were strewn throughout the room.  Four of Motor Ed's gadgeteers stood on the four corners of a massive metal pipe that laid on the floor between them.  That must've been the sound, Kim thought as she took in the rest of the room.

            "Everythin's fine captain.  These posers got fingers made of butter is the problem.  Dude, I swear!  I'm totally reachin' my wits end with these guys!"

            "Sorry boss," all four of the gadgeteers said automatically and at the same time.

            "Dudes, pick that up and get it where it needs to go, we're on a timetable here an' the captain's watchin'!"

            "Is there anything I can do to help," Kim asked.

            "Seriously?  Awright, captain, oh-my-captain, if you're willin' to get your hands dirty I got jus' the thing for you!"

            Kim rolled up her sleeves, "What do you need me to do?"

 

Late Evening...

 

            Shego boarded The Dauntless and headed for the engine room.  Motor Ed and his gadgeteers were there cleaning the grease and soot from their tools.

            "Where's Kim?"

            "Hey, mean green," Motor Ed exclaimed with a grin and Shego rolled her eyes at his nickname for her, "The captain jus' finished up cleanin' out the main drive train.  She went to the loft to get cleaned up."

            "Fine.  You done here for the night?"

            "Yeah, we're gonna get cleaned up ourselves an' head on out.  We made some pretty good progress today, but we got a hell of a lot more to do to get this engine purrin' like it should be."

            "All right, I'll see you guys later."

            "Later, mean green!"

            Shego sighed and kept her mouth shut as she left the engine room and headed for the captain's cabin.  She didn't bother knocking when she got there she just allowed herself in.  To her disappointment Kim was already dressed in her captain's outfit, minus the hat, and she was drying her hair with a towel.

            "Oh, Shego.  Come in," Kim said dryly.

            "Hey, pumpkin, I'm taking you up on your offer after all," Shego said with a smirk.

            "I'll be ready in a minute, gods, I'm starving!"

            "You didn't eat anything?"

            "Not since breakfast.  I've been busy running errands for Drakken and then I got up close and intimate with The Dauntless's drive train.  I swear it's never been cleaned before, and this ship's over a hundred years old!  Motor Ed explained that none of his gadgeteers were thin enough to fit through the ducts to get to it so that's what he had me do and it was a tight squeeze even for me."

            "Sounds...absolutely disgusting."

            "It was," Kim said as she stuck out her tongue and shuddered.

            Kim grabbed a brush and quickly stroked out the tangles in her hair.  She grabbed her bag of extra clothes and threw the towel on to the bed.  She turned to Shego, "Ready?"

            Shego nodded and held the door open for her captain.  The result pleased her as Kim smiled and blushed as she exited.  Shego blew out the remaining candles and closed the door behind her.  Kim and Shego made their way off of the ship and on to The Raven's Nest.

 

The Raven's Nest - Very Late in the Evening...

 

            Kim and Shego arrived at The Raven's Nest without incident thanks to an escort of elves similarly clad like the ones Kim saw earlier in the day.  The main room was nearly empty except for the few diehard drunks and a handful of her crewmen enjoying a moment's peace and a good drink.  There was no one manning the bar and Zahn was nowhere to be found.  Kim waived at her crewmen when they raised their glasses to her in appreciation then she went up the stairs behind Shego who had taken the lead.  Shego went up to the fifth floor and down a long center hallway.  She stopped at the last room on the left and pulled out a key from her pocket.

            "This is it, the VIP suite."

            "VIP suite?"

            "Yeah, you are the captain, remember?  Therefore you get one of the best rooms in the Inn."

            Kim was too hungry and tired to argue.  She was famished, but the day's exertions had taken their toll.  Shego opened the door and held it open for Kim.  Kim blushed at the treatment and walked inside.  Shego followed and closed the door behind her.

            The suite was massive, easily taking the space of several normal sized rooms.  The room was immaculately furnished with ironwood chairs and sofas.  A large table, several nightstands, dressers, and several room dividers for privacy made up the rest of the fancy furniture.  At the far end of the room was an open doorway that led to a bathroom with a massive marble bathtub and wash basin.  Copper pipes pumped hot and cold water and there was plenty of towels laid out tastefully across the bathtub.  Kim walked over the large, ornate, plush carpet and marveled at the colorful drapes across the two windows.  The single bed was truly fit for royalty.  It was massive, easily supporting three normal-sized people comfortably.  The ends of the sheets were embroidered in gold and the patterns on the sheets were distinctly elven in nature.

            "Wow," Kim breathed.

            "It gets better, pumpkin," Shego said, "Wait here, I'll be right back."

            Kim nodded and Shego left the room.  Kim unpacked and spent the time waiting for Shego by refolding her clothes and putting them in the largest dresser.  She was going to use one of the smaller ones but Shego had already taken that one over and another for her clothes.  Kim sighed tiredly as her stomach groaned.  She sat down on the bed and started to remove her boots.  When she kicked the last one off the door opened and Shego came in with a silver tray that held a massive plate with different kinds of breads, cheeses and several kinds of poultry and fish.

            "What's that?"

            "Room service," Shego answered as she placed the tray down on the table," Eat up."

            Kim didn't need any further prompting.  She jumped up from the bed and ran to the chair Shego moved out for her.  Kim sat down and Shego pushed the chair in.

            "Please and thank you," Kim said with a smile.

            "Welcome, now eat."

            Kim stared at the different breads and cheeses but opted instead to tackle the cut steaks.  She ate with gusto and Shego smirked as she watched her captain eat.  She went to one of her dressers, opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle of wine and two glasses.  She returned to the table and sat opposite of Kim.  She put the glasses down, uncorked the bottle, and filled both glasses.  She placed one glass in front of Kim and moved the other closer to herself.

            "What's this for," Kim managed to ask with a mouthful of steak.

            "A nice, quiet dinner," Shego responded as she picked up her glass.

            Kim picked up hers and the glasses clinked together in toast.  They both drank and Kim went back to devouring her plate.  Shego watched her eat in silence but Kim was too busy devouring her plate to give her much notice.  Shego finished her glass of wine before Kim did and her next glass was half empty by the time Kim prompted her to refill her glass.  Shego did as Kim pulled away from the table and her empty plate.

            That really hit the spot," Kim exclaimed contentedly.

            "What?  No desert," Shego asked with a grin and a sparkle in her eyes.

            "Ugh...no.  I couldn't eat another bite!"

            Shego shrugged, "All right, I'll save it for tomorrow then."

            Kim leaned forward on the table and her expression went from contented to serious in an instant.  She struggled to keep her cheeks from warming up in embarrassment.  The woman that sat across from the table from her had that effect on her, Kim had to admit, and it was damn infuriating when she tried to have a serious conversation with the woman.  Shego read the sudden change in expression and her playful grin disappeared as well.

            "Look, I think I know what you're gonna ask, and I'm sure not helping matters for you here, am I?"

            Kim shook her head, "No, you're not," she said pointedly.

            "Again, my fault," Shego said, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

            Kim found it hard to stare into Shego's emerald eyes but she forced herself to keep the eye contact and this time it was Shego who turned away and blushed, the skin of her cheeks turned a darker shade of green that Kim found so adorable.  But matters had come to a head that night and Kim was bound and determined to settle matters once and for all.

            "Shego, I-"

            "Don't," Shego whispered quietly, her voice quavered slightly before she got it under control from her conflicting emotions.

            "What happened that night," Kim pressed.

            Shego felt caged with nowhere to run to.  She shirked back in her chair under Kim's insistent jade eyes.  "K-Kim, I...I can't talk about it, it's too painful a subject for me."

            "H-have you talked to anyone about..."

            Shego shook her head and cast her face to the table in shame.  Kim reached out and gently took her hand.  "I felt so...charged!  I never felt anything like that before."

            "And you never will unless your find yourself in the presence of a Blue Mage.  My...condition...pales in comparison to what they can do on a whim," Shego muttered darkly.

            Kim didn't know what she was talking about but she didn't ask because she wanted to keep the tenuous bridge between them intact.  She'd have to chose her words very carefully.  She squeezed Shego's hand reassuringly.  "You can tell me," Kim offered in a soft voice, "I'm more than willing to listen."

            "Kimmie," Shego sighed sadly and tiredly, "I...I don't know if I can do this...I-"

            Shego faltered so Kim tried a new tactic.  "Let me ask you this, then: are we still enemies?"

            Shego gave her a strange look, "No!  I mean, rivals?  Yes, but not enemies.  Hell, I wouldn't be taking your orders if that was still the case."

            Kim smiled inwardly at herself as Shego's voice regained its normal strength.  "That's a start, at least," she said as she blushed but made no attempts to hide it.  She smiled sweetly at Shego in an attempt to disarm her formidable guards further and for the moment it looked like it was working on her.  "But why do we still have to be rivals?  Can't we be friends?"

            "Because we need to be," Shego answered, "We're both too much alike in certain ways for us to be anything less."

            "I think there are enough differences between us for us to like about the other," Kim said diplomatically.

            Shego's eyes narrowed as she caught the change in tone of her voice.  "What are you getting at?"

            "I'm saying that despite what happened that night, and everything that happened earlier...I'd like for us to try again."

            Shego gave her a look of complete disbelief.  "You can't be serious!"

            "I am," Kim declared, "Look, you know my...feelings...for you.  I can't help it, I've tried to deny them, but they won't go away.  The other night, when you...changed...it sent my feelings into overdrive!  I haven't felt like that since-"

            Kim stopped and she forced herself to turn away from Shego as her eyes misted over.  She forced the painful memories of her first love from her mind, but the ordeal was difficult, just as it was every time she remembered.  Shego read the internal struggle on Kim's face as Kim turned away and knew instantly that Kim had just stopped herself from revealing something, no, someone, from her past. The raven-haired pirate couldn't resist herself, especially if it drew attention away from her.

            "Who was she?"

            Kim's face snapped back to look at her, her expression was a mixture of sadness and hurt, "How do you know it was a she?"

            "C'mon princess, it doesn't take a genius to know what you like, else you would've spurned me from the beginning.  So who was she?"

            "You don't know that," Kim argued, "I could say that my attraction to you was all because of you."

            "You could say that, but it'd be a lie," Shego countered, "You like women, there's nothing wrong with that, but I'll bet it'll shatter the hearts of many handsome dandies when they find out."

            "Just like you," Kim countered, "How many suitors have you had?  I'll bet you didn't let them down gently either."

            "You're right, there were more than a few," Shego nodded in admittance, "And you're also correct in the manner that I left them.  But you still haven't answered my question: who was she?"

            Kim sighed deeply, "What difference does it make anyway?  What's past is past, like how I want us to be.  Can't we start over and see where it takes us?  If it doesn't work out between us at least we gave it a chance.  That's all I'm asking for, just a chance."

            Shego's expression turned sullen, "You're asking for too much," Shego whispered.

            "Am I?"

            "Yes," Shego sighed with a nod, but Kim was undeterred.  Wordlessly she stood up from the table and walked around it to stand behind Shego.  "What're you doing," Shego asked in alarm.

            Her muscles tensed and her body stiffened as she felt Kim's hands on her shoulders.  Kim massaged the tense, cord-like muscles, and her lips curled into a smirk of satisfaction as Shego hissed from the pressure.  Shego relaxed visibly after a few moments passed.

            "You like that, don't you?"

            Shego mumbled something under her breath, but whatever it was it was unintelligible.  She closed her eyes and rolled her head from side to side as Kim continued to work on the tight muscles.  She moaned softly as Kim moved up to massage her temples and scalp.  Shego fell back in her chair surrendering completely to the attention Kim gave her.  Slowly Kim worked her way forward and down Shego's front, and found the soft mounds she was looking for.  Shego sighed in pleasure but it was a physical reaction to the sensations of Kim's hands and had nothing to do with her brain because it had shut down.  Kim leaned over, Shego's waiting mouth was directly below her.  Kim moved down and their lips met.  Kim's kiss was soft, sweet, and full of promise, unlike Shego's lust-charged inferno.  Shego's mouth was still the boiling furnace Kim remembered so well but there was no resistance to Kim's light assault.  The kiss awoke Shego's brain and her hands grasped Kim's and gently but firmly moved them away from her chest.  Kim broke contact and moved up slightly so they could breathe.

            "Kimmie," Shego breathed heavily, "...stop."

            "All I want is a chance," Kim whispered, "I don't care what you turn in to or what may happen, I still want a chance."

            Shego held her gaze for a brief moment and then leaned forward which made Kim move back.  Shego stood up and turned to face her red-headed captain.  Her hands clenched into fists and unclenched, her breathing came in short, sharp, breaths, and her eyes were closed shut tight.  Kim felt the palpable aura of heat coming off of Shego even from their distance apart.

            "Shego?  Are you okay?"

            Wisps of bright blue energy escaped from Shego's closed eyes and her appearance began to shift.  Shego turned around and a pair of bat-like wings sprouted from her back.  The wings flapped once violently then folded in a position of rest.  Shego hugged herself and doubled over as she changed.  Kim watched from behind in astonished fascination as Shego completed her transformation. 

            Silence deafened the VIP suite, broken up only by Kim's shallow breathing and Shego's deeper, stuttering breaths.

            "Sh-Shego...," Kim managed shakily.

            Shego stood up and turned around slowly to face her captain.  Her facial features were sharper and more defined, but just as beautiful as ever, even more so.  A pair of dark, curved, horns jutted out from her forehead.  Her eyes opened and the blue vestiges of light faded back to her normal emerald green color, but they still shimmered with light.

            In a deep voice mixed with power, supreme self-loathing and bottomless sadness, Shego spoke.

            "This is what I am, Kim.  This is me..."

Chapter Text

The Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern, VIP Suite, late evening

 

           Shego bravely tried to keep from breaking down into tears but she was losing the battle.  "C'mon Kim, say something, anything, please!"

            Her eyes welled up with tears as they pleaded to her captain.  Kim felt her knees get weaker and she knelt down to the floor, but her eyes never left Shego and what she had become.

            "Go ahead, say it!  Tell me how much of a monster I am," Shego exclaimed as her voice reached the breaking point.

            "Shego..." Kim breathed, her voice barely above a whisper, "...what...happened to you?"

            The being that was Shego shook her head dejectedly, "Nothing happened, Kimmie, this is me!"

            Kim found the strength to move her legs and she stood up shakily.  She took a tentative step toward Shego who backed away.  "Stay away from me," she cried in anguish, "You don't know what I'm capable of!"

            Shego turned away from Kim as she succumbed to her despair.  Hatred, shame, anger, and self-loathing burst forth as she sank to her knees, held her head in her hands, and cried.  Her wings twitched and flapped, mirroring Shego's agitated state.  She'd been down this road before, back when she was still a young upstart in the Adventurer's Guild.  She'd gotten close to another young explorer and it happened.  She was lucky to escape from there alive and ever since then she had made the decision to keep her past to herself.  No one had any idea how much willpower was needed to keep her true self in check, how it was a constant struggle to keep her emotions at an even keel.  Yet, this red-head, a rival and former enemy of all things, wormed her fucking way through her formidable defenses.  

            Kim was right, what's past was now past, there was no turning back now.  Her dark secret was out in the open, her past laid bare before the damning eyes of her captain.  Now, like before, she'd wait for the condemnations to come forth, and with it all of the horrible, but accurately descriptive names.  She was damned, damned to live a life of pain and shame from the simple act of her birth.  It would continue on, the cycle would repeat itself, perhaps for an eternity.  What kind of life was that?  How many more times would she have to go through this?  Would there ever be an ending to the pain?  The shame?  The hate?  The stoicism was gone.  The snarky front burned away, leaving the true monster within to come to the fore.  She waited dutifully for Kim's reaction, because she already knew what the reaction would be: fear.  She couldn't bear to see her reaction but she couldn't deny her captain that right anymore.

            Shego's body shuddered as she cried, she kept her face buried in her hands because she was to weak to see Kim's reaction. Long minutes passed as Shego continued to cry through a lifetime's worth of shame and anguish.  She felt a light touch at her shoulder and she flinched back.

            "Go ahead, say it," Shego sobbed quietly through the tears, "I want to hear you say it.  I'm used to it by now so get it over with so I can run away...again."

            Kim said nothing as she knelt next to the distraught woman.  The unnatural heat emanating from her body was oppressive but she fought through it.  She reached out with a shaky hand and placed it once again on Shego's shuddering shoulder.  This time Shego didn't shirk away.

            "I...I don't know what you want me to say," Kim whispered.

            Shego turned to Kim, her lips curled into a snarl, her eyes full of anger and hate.  "That I'm a fucking monster!"

            Shego lashed out and Kim was woefully unprepared for it.  Shego leaped at Kim and forced her to the floor as she held her now-former captain's arms tight.  "Look at me," she hissed in Kim's face, "Tell me what you see and don't hold back, or so help me I'll tear your heart out in front of you before I rip out everything else!"

            Kim didn't struggle against Shego's superior strength and clenched her teeth to keep from crying out from the combination of her painful grip and her intense heat.  "Sh-Shego," Kim stammered pleadingly, "Y-you don't want to do this!"

            For a moment Kim thought Shego was going to go through with her threat.  She had never seen such an evil expression on Shego's face before and it scared her, but she kept that fear inside lest Shego followed through.  Shego's eyes pulsed and flared with green light.  Her snarling lips curled back further, revealing pronounced and sharp canines.  Kim held Shego's stare and dared not to breathe.  An eternity seemed to pass then the pressure on her arms lessened and Shego slowly withdrew.  Kim refused to turn her gaze away from those glowing emerald eyes, so full of shame and hatred.  The hatred slowly subsided but the shame only increased.

            Shego backed away and sat in a kneeling position as she cast her face to the floor in abject shame and regret.  Her right wing twitched and flapped of its own volition, the other went through the same movements but independently from the other.  Shego let out a deep, sorrowful sigh and her body began to shudder, racked with conflicting emotions and adrenaline.  Her shaking hands went to her face and she began sobbing quietly in them.

            Kim sat up slowly, silently thanking whatever god or gods were watching over her.  For the first time Kim realized the depths of despair Shego suffered under, and the crushing weight of her terrible secret.  The endless depths of her eyes had cunningly hid that part from her under the deception of attitude and forced bravado.  At this point Kim realized that her plasma powers were unrelated to her...condition.  What other secrets did this powerful creature hide within her?  How strong must she truly be to be able to hold back the tide of overwhelming emotion and power for every second of every day?  Kim couldn't conceive the sheer amount of willpower needed to accomplish such a feat, and yet, the raven-haired pirate did it without complaint.  To add even more undue strain she threw to chance the possibility of changing into her true form when she continued her flirtations with Kim.  Kim couldn't understand why she would go to such lengths for something so trivial.  She had never thought of herself as the irresistible type, far from it, so why did Shego risk everything she was and continue?  Kim knew the answer to that.

            Shego was in the same boat as she was, but with a world's worth of baggage attached to it.

            'So the Drama' didn't even begin to describe this situation, but she had forced this upon Shego despite her warnings and now she was left with the fallout.  The sharp pangs of guilt struck hard in her stomach as she continued to gaze on the distraught being that Shego was.  Weakly, she reached out for the sobbing woman.

            "Shego...I...I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice heavy with regret.

            Shego shook her head in her hands and still refused to meet Kim's gaze.  "Y-you didn't know.  You couldn't know," she sobbed.

            "I've been selfish," Kim confessed with an unsteady sigh as tears welled up in her eyes.

            "No more selfish than I," Shego said as she attempted to wipe the tears from her face.

            "I...I thought...you wanted...us-"

            "Don't you think I do," Shego asked vehemently as she finally turned to face Kim, "Why else would I stay around?  The pay?  Please, I could make more selling trinkets on the side of the road in Sal Sagev.  But I can't.  We can't."

            Kim stroked Shego's cheek, wiping away the clump of wet hair that stuck to it.  "You really want to know what I see," Kim asked.

            Shego nodded wordlessly, not willing to trust her voice with her answer.

            Kim continued to stroke Shego's cheek and gathered her own formidable willpower to bolster her voice.  "I see someone who's lived through a world of pain, alone, hurt.  But that-"

            "I don't want nor need your pity," Shego growled, the anger rose dangerously in her voice.

            Kim withdrew her hand, their only tenuous connection, as her own tears began to flow freely, "That's not-"

            Shego jumped to her feet which cut off the rest of what Kim was going to say.  She hugged herself and paced back and forth around the room.  They way her wings flapped and the way she walked made her look like a caged animal that was ready to lash out at a moment's notice.  Kim didn't want that again.  "Shego," Kim called out to her, her voice desperate, "You didn't let me finish!"

            "You don't have to," Shego muttered darkly, "I can put together the rest."

            She turned on Kim suddenly and reared over her.  Shego's eyes pulsed bright green, "I'm still holding back, you know?  What you see before you still isn't me at my full power!  You've had the barest taste of it before, do you want to feel it again?  The arousal?  I could make you my willing slave, make you indulge in every whim I could think of, and there's absolutely nothing you could do about it!  Is that what you want?"

            Kim retreated from Shego's overwhelming presence, "Shego," she breathed, her voice almost broke under the strain of her own emotions, "Why are you doing this?"

            The snarl and the hatred was back on Shego's face.  "Because, "she hissed, "You're getting too close, and you took away my chance at peace!  I can forgive you for the first offense, but I'm never forgiving you for the second!"

            Shego slowly backed away.  The snarl disappeared from her face and the glow in her eyes faded.  She knelt down as silence filled the room.  Her body shook as it tried to force her to cry again for emotional release, but there were no more tears left.  Kim shuddered too as she tried to rein in her own emotions.  She wiped the tears from her face and sniffed loudly breaking the silence.

            "I...I h-had n-no idea," Kim stammered weakly.

            Shego turned to her ruefully and smiled mirthlessly, "Of course you didn't, how could you?"

            "There has to be a better way," Kim said emphatically as she sat up, "You shouldn't accept that as a way out!"

            "It doesn't matter much at this point now, does it?  I'm still here, you're still here, and I'd just threatened you with a fate worse than death even though you've done nothing but try to be everything I ever wanted you to be for me.  I'm doin' pretty good aren't I, pumpkin?"

            "Shego, stop this," Kim said as she wiped away another stubborn stream of tears, "If I knew I had this effect on you I never would've let you come aboard.  Why didn't you leave when I told you that you could?  I gave you more than enough chances to go."

            "I know you did," Shego said quietly, "And I have considered it from time to time, but in the end I couldn't.  You saved my life, Kimmie, that means I have to return the favor."

            "You don't owe me anything," Kim declared flatly.

            "And there's that little war you have going on against the Empire.  My sense of adventure overrides my common sense when it comes to things like that.  But perhaps it is for the best that I leave after all.  I can't let my...presence...put you at risk, especially when you have the might of the Empire bearing down your back."

            Shego stood up, closed her eyes, and took several deep breaths.  Her features shifted back to her human form and she opened her eyes when the transformation was complete.

            "What are you doing," Kim asked as Shego turned around.

            "I'm taking you up on that other offer of yours," Shego answered, her voice deep with sadness, "I'm going to see what Sal Sagev has to offer, or maybe Rhendarin."

            Shego took a step toward the door and Kim was on her feet in an instant, "Wait!  Don't go Shego!"

            "I have to Kim, trust me, it's for the best," she said as her hand reached for the door.

            She went to turn the doorknob but Kim's hand prevented that.  "No!  I'm not letting you run away like this," Kim exclaimed hotly.

            Shego wanted so much to do what Kim had done for her a few moments ago and wipe the mess of hair away from her pretty face but she sighed instead.  "Believe me Kimmie...Princess, this is what's best for both of us."

            "You don't know that, you can't say that," Kim retorted desperately, "You're not being fair!"

            "Life isn't fair, pumpkin, like me, like the Empire."

            Kim let go of her and she had to force her lower lip to stop quivering.  In that she succeeded but it didn't help her eyes from misting over.  She wiped the tears away and gamely stood in front of the door.  Shego stood in front of her, her face a sorrowful mirror of Kim's own.  "Move aside Kim."

            Kim hung her head in despair and did what Shego asked.  Shego walked past her and placed her hand on the doorknob.

            "W-wait," Kim said unsteadily, "B-before you go there's s-something I s-still need to s-say."

            Shego held her hand on the doorknob for a moment then moved her hand away and turned around.  "What is it?"

            Kim took a moment to compose herself and took in several deep breaths.  "You...you never gave me the chance to finish answering your question.  If you'll let me I'd like to tell you everything."

            Shego rolled her eyes, "Look I can put the pieces together, Kim.  You don't have to tell me what a monster I am, I already know the answer.  I've already hurt you enough, you don't need to reciprocate."

            Kim shook her head vehemently, "No, you're wrong...on all counts."  Kim reached out and took hold of Shego's hands.  She felt her cheeks turning red and she felt small and insignificant because of her disheveled appearance.  But she looked directly into Shego's sad emerald eyes as she spoke.

            "Let me start back at the beginning.  I won't say that your...change...didn't affect me, it did.  It scared me, it scares me still, but not in the way you think.  When I look at you I see strength and power.  Your 'Glow' is deadly, I know, I have the burns to prove it.  But this...this is...so much different.  What scares me isn't what you become when you change, it's the look on your face.  I've never seen eyes so full of hate.  That's what scares me.  And...I'm hurt that you kept this from me."

            Shego opened her mouth to protest but Kim raised a finger to silence her.  "Please, let me finish."

            Shego closed her mouth.

            "I understand why you kept this from me and everyone else, I'd probably do the same if I were you.  I can't imagine the pain and hurt you've gone through in your life, or the amount of will needed to keep yourself from changing.  But all of that doesn't matter.  None of it does."

            Shego gave Kim a quizzical look.  In return Kim squeezed her hands affectionately and offered a small smile despite her still-misting eyes.  "It doesn't matter because it doesn't change how I feel about you.  I don't care what you transform into or what you're capable of, it doesn't change my feelings or my desire for us to start over.  I'm the one who forced this on you, I'm the one that caused this breakdown between us.  And I'm...I'm the one...who's forcing you away..."

            Kim's voice broke and it took her several deep, stuttering breaths in order for her to get composed again.  "Shego...I never meant to hurt you and I never meant to drive you away.  I...I let my own selfish desires get in the way."

            "You weren't being selfish," Shego protested, "None of this would've happened if I didn't start flirting with you in the first place; I'm the one to blame.  But I told you that what you were asking for is too much."

            Kim's look turned quizzical and Shego shook her head sadly, "There's more to it than just my abilities, Kimmie."

            "Can you explain why?"

            "It has to do with the hunger.  When my emotions go completely out of control I get hungry," her face darkened as she continued, "It's another gift from my mother.  It's happened once before, back when I was in the Adventurer's Guild.  I grew close to another and things got...intimate."

            A wave of pain flashed across her face as she relived the memory.  "She was beautiful.  She hailed from the Elven Nations to the west, an outcast like me.  She commanded the element of fire and bent it to her will.  Ashira was her name."

            Kim listened intently to Shego's story.  Shego stopped for a moment and rubbed her arms distractedly.  She paced back and forth as she continued.  "Like you she was headstrong for an Elf.  Her personality matched the fires she was able to command so you could see why I was attracted to her.  We were part of a group of four.  Ashira was our magical support, Joruuk, the smartest Orc I've ever seen was our frontline warrior along with me, and Vis, a lithe and dashing human criminal from the Empire was our troubleshooting specialist."

            Kim cocked her head at her last words and Shego elaborated, "He was a thief."

            "Oh," Kim said.

            "Don't ask me how a human, an Elf, an Orc, and I got along.  There were personality conflicts galore but when the heat was on we had each other's backs.  We were all exiles or hunted in our own way, which is why I guess we got along.  We took a contract from the Guild to explore and clear out an island far to the southeast of Windmeet, you know where that is?"

            "Yeah," Kim answered, "Its a small trading post close to the South Lands.  We passed it when we delivered Lady Kestal to Amatsu Sangaku.  I didn't know there was anything beyond their lands."

            "There is.  The island was out there on its own and didn't have a name, but the map provided for us by the Guild was accurate.  The Guild loaned us a small cutter for the mission and we headed out..."

 

Years ago...

 

An unnamed island deep in the southeast

            The island was larger than Shego had first thought for it to not be on any official map.  The map given to them by the Guildmaster was a second-hand copy that was surprisingly accurate for the surrounding area.  Shego stepped off of the landing boat and looked around.  The beachhead was small in size and almost immediately turned into dense jungle.  Off in the distance loomed a large, snow-capped mountain that rose above the jungle canopy in majestic fashion.  Exotic, multi-colored songbirds sang as they flew off of the beach, warning the others in the forest of the arrival of the intruders.

            "Are you coming," Ashira asked with an alluring smile that made Shego's knees weak.

            The Elf was a classic beauty as far as Shego was concerned.  She wore her golden hair long and in a single ponytail.  She wore a flowing, dark green robe embroidered in runes and sigils that enhanced her magical prowess.  In her hands she bore a gnarled wooden staff capped with a brilliant orange jewel that constantly glowed with power.  On her forehead she wore a silver circlet adorned with a single ruby, the only thing she kept from her family's line as a sign of Elven nobility.  She turned to face Shego and her smile broadened appreciatively as Shego gawked.

            "We're waiting for you," Ashira cooed playfully at her.

            Shego shook her head and focused on her willpower to keep herself in check.  That was the only outward sign but inwardly Shego was a raging inferno of emotions that she struggled to maintain.  "I'm coming," she said.

            They met up with Joruuk and Vis at the edge of the jungle.  Joruuk shook his head in irritation while Vis just smiled that infuriating smile of his.  "So glad you could join us," Joruuk growled as he unhooked his massive double-bladed axe from his back and hefted it lovingly.

            Joruuk was average size for an Orc, but he still towered over the rest of the group.  He was heavily muscled and scarred from many battles, but his stout piecemeal plate and leather armor had let him survive every battle so far and his double-bladed axe was the great equalizer in most fights.  But his greatest strength was the power of his mind, he was smart for an Orc, even smarter than most humans.  He was used to being underestimated in all things and he played that to his advantage.

            Vis was just below average in height for a human.  He wore his sandy-brown hair cropped short and his mustache and goatee were immaculately trimmed.  His dark brown eyes twinkled with mirth which mirrored his personality.  At his sides were twin shortswords as well as a pair of clockwork pistols.  He was a crack shot, but he was no slouch when it came to swordplay either.  He was the trickster and joker of the little group and more than once he drew the ire of Joruuk.  He got on Shego's bad side once, but the activation of her Glow soon put him in his place. 

            "Don't worry about me," Shego snapped at Joruuk, "I'm good to go."

            They formed their line, Joruuk in front, Shego next, followed by Ashira and Vis brought up the rear.  Joruuk pulled a rolled piece of parchment from his side pouch and unfolded it.  He pointed toward an opening in the trees and the sandy trail that led into it.  "Everything has worked in our favor so far," he said aloud in his deep voice, "According to this map the trail should lead us directly to the ruins at the base of the mountain.  I estimate that we should reach it before nightfall or shortly thereafter.  We'll make camp and start exploring at first light.  We'll take our usual shifts at watch, any questions?"

            The rest of the group was silent.  "Good.  Stay alert and let's go."

            The foursome made their way through the dense jungle.  The trek was slow in the uneven and mucky terrain.  The path was overgrown with vegetation and Joruuk used his axe to clear away most of it while Shego used her Glow to burn away the rest.  The group had been together for a while now and they had gotten used to each other's quirks and abilities.  Shego was grateful because most warriors ran screaming when she called on the Glow.  Joruuk and the rest found her powers useful and had welcomed her from the very beginning so Shego stuck by them even when inter-party conflicts arose, which was often.

            It rained on and off again as they made their way deeper into the island.  They sighted various creatures both big and small but they kept their distance from the group.  Shego's powers and the arcane might of Ashira had most to do with it.  They trudged through the muck and waded across rivers.  It was well past nightfall by the time the group made it to the site of the ruins: a collection of crumbling stone structures built at the base of the mountain.  The largest structure was pyramid-like and still intact.  It appeared to the group that the back side of the structure melded into the mountain itself.

            Dark clouds loomed overhead and peals of thunder rolled across the sky.  Joruuk pointed to the large overhang that covered the entrance to the pyramid, "We'll set up camp there," he said.

            The group set up camp and got a fire going quickly.  Ashira and Vis shared cooking duties and it fell on Joruuk and Shego to clean up after.  They group ate mostly in silence as they knew they had a hard day of spelunking ahead of them.  Ashira sat next to Shego as they ate, which had become the custom that Shego welcomed while Joruuk and Vis sat by themselves.  After the meal was finished Joruuk and Shego cleaned up the camp right before the rain began to fall.

            Shego huddled in her tent and pulled the blanket closer for the warmth.  The rain had turned into a full blown storm outside and the wind howled which prevented any kind of rest when it combined with the explosive sounds of the incessant thunderclaps overhead.  She tossed and turned as she tried to get comfortable but it was a losing effort.  Then the flap of her tent opened and Ashira crawled in.

            "What're you doing," Shego asked as she turned around.

            "I couldn't sleep," the Elf responded, "You?"

            "No," Shego said as she moved aside to give the beautiful elf girl enough room to lay down.  She shivered from the chill fierce winds.  "Come here," Shego said as she flapped open her blankets.

            Ashira didn't need any prompting and she snuggled tightly against the green-skinned warrior as Shego closed the blankets around her.  "Thanks," she said gratefully.

            The scent of Ashira's lingering perfume awoke feelings inside Shego that she found hard to suppress.  "Y-you're welcome," she stammered as she felt herself blushing madly.

            Ashira's beautiful face lit up with a smile as she saw her blush.  "Why Shego," she said playfully, "I didn't know I had that kind of effect on you."

            "Cut the crap," Shego snapped irritably, "You know what you do to me, and no matter how many times I tell you to stop you don't."

            "Because I know you don't really want me to," Ashira whispered hotly in her ear.

            Shego closed her eyes tight, her head snapped back, and her mouth opened.  She sighed deeply in pleasure as Ashira's fingers slipped through her breeches and found the spot she was looking for.  Shego felt the power and the urges well up within her instantly and it was all she could do to keep her emotions at an even keel.  She knew she couldn't keep it up for long as she felt the initial wisps of power stir inside her.

            "Stop," she exclaimed breathlessly as she grabbed Ashira's offending hand to make her stop.

            "Why?  Because I've only just begun..."

            Ashira leaned over her and kissed her roughly and passionately.  Shego's mind swirled with conflicting emotions.  She had lived her life alone, as her mother warned her to before they caught her again.  But Ashira was so full of life and passion as well as being knowledgeable in the arcane arts.  A thought fought it way throw her chaotic emotions, a single word: Maybe.  Maybe she'd be able to use her magic of fire and passion to counter her condition.

            Right as Shego reached the breaking point Ashira pulled away for breath.  Shego didn't want her to stop, her eyes begged her not to stop, but Ashira withdrew to rest her head against Shego's furiously beating heart.

            "My little green nymph," Ashira sighed heavily, "I've wanted you ever since you rescued me from Arivaul and the King's goons.  I know you want me too; I can see it in your eyes and I can feel it when we kiss."

            Her hands started exploring again and Shego writhed under the attention.  "Ashira..." she breathed.

            "Once our business with the ruins is over with I will show you how much you mean to me.  Consider this a taste of things to come, my sweet."

            They kissed passionately and for a moment Shego was able to find a balance between her emotions and her passion.  It helped that Ashira's hands quit their explorations and went to stroke her cheeks.  Shego let herself go more than she ever had before and reveled in the woman's touch.  Deep in the pit of her stomach an undeniable hunger began to stir.  Dormant throughout her entire life, it felt strange, but the feeling passed as they continued to share their feelings for the other.  Ashira withdrew and went again to rest her head against Shego's chest.  She sighed contentedly and hugged the green warrior tight.  It took Shego a while to calm down and get her urges back under control, but the presence of the Elf resting against her made her feel something she had never felt before.

            Love.

            It was much easier to cope with her emotions with that feeling.  Her heart skipped a beat when Ashira spoke.

            "I love you, Shego."

            Shego tried to respond but the shock of hearing those words made her reply get stuck in her throat.  She looked down at Ashira and met her sparkling eyes.  Ashira smiled, the look on Shego's face was the only response she needed.  She turned her head back down and closed her eyes.

            "Good night, my sweet," she said, then added, "pleasant dreams."

            "Night," Shego breathed in response, but it took her much longer to fall asleep than Ashira did.

            The next morning the group broke camp and proceeded inside the pyramid-like structure.  The place was black as pitch, and musty.  Their torches and Shego's glow provided the light needed for them to press deeper inside.

            The day was eventful to say the least.  Vis found traps within traps, but he didn't find them all and both Shego and Joruuk accidentally set off more than a few as they made their way through the mazes of rooms and passageways.  The traps activated ancient and massive clockwork golem statues that guarded the place since before the great Sundering so many thousands of years ago.  At first they were no match for Joruuk's might axe and Shego's Glow, but more and more appeared.

            They came out of the walls.

            They came out of the ceiling.

            They even came out from the floor.

            Joruuk's axe, while strong, was no match for the sheer numbers of ancient clockwork horrors that came at them.  Ashira and Shego worked in tandem, Ashira used her staff and command of fire to cut through the hordes of golems that continued to press against them, and Shego used her Glow and her blade to destroy more as they retreated deeper into the ancient temple, for that's what the structure turned out to be.

            Vis helped where he could and if his blade couldn't cut deep enough he tried his wit.  But wit didn't do much to unthinking automatons and he took a vicious hit to his side that almost felled him.  Joruuk helped him as Shego and Ashira covered their way into the heart of the temple.

            Events culminated in a massive central chamber complete with a newly-awakened undead priest, wrapped in the lost trappings of antiquity.  One of the traps that they had set off earlier had to have awakened the undead beast and its army and the unfortunate foursome was all that stood between it, it's army of clockwork horrors, and eventual world domination or worse.

            The battle was long and fierce but the adventurers won out in the end.  Vis found three small stone tablets with arcane writing on them and Ashira was able to use her magic to read the tablets in order to destroy the temple and everything in it while Shego and Joruuk engaged the undead monster and its minions.  Joruuk managed to cut his way through the golems and dodged the dark arcane energies that the undead priest threw at him.  With a howl and a mighty swing, he cut the undead monster in two.  Shego followed through and blasted the remains into dust with her plasma.  With the priest destroyed the energies holding the golems together disappeared and they started falling apart.  It was then that Ashira finished her incantations and the temple started to crumble around them.

            It was a sprint for the temple entrance and the group made it out a second before the entire temple collapsed behind them.  Bruised and sore, they escaped with their lives and more.  Vis held the three stone tablets to his chest, artifacts from a bygone age and trophies of their victory.  The Adventurer's Guild would pay handsomely for their find and they would become rich once they made their way back to civilization and the Guild.

            The battle had taken all day and night had already fallen.  Bruised and injured like they were they decided to set up camp in the ruins and head back to their ship in the morning.  The last of the healing salves were passed out and they ate.  The rations and the healing salves sustained them but it didn't do anything for the soreness or the tiredness that they all felt from the day's events.

            Shego slumped in her bedroll and groaned from the soreness in her arms and legs.  A peal of thunder rolled overhead announcing the onset of another storm.  But the group found another structure with most of its roof intact so the torrent of rain wouldn't be a problem.  Shego moaned in pain as she turned over in her bedroll to get comfortable.  Most of her scars had healed prior to her using the healing salves but like the others she was just as sore as they were.  Her body was tired but her mind wasn't; the words of Ashira repeated themselves over and over in her brain and that kept the rest of her body from rest.  Shego tossed and turned but like the night before she couldn't find a comfortable spot inside her bedroll. 

            As if on cue, the flap of her tent opened and Ashira crawled in.

            "I wondered if you were going to show up," Shego said excitedly, all thoughts of how sore she felt was gone.

            "Our business here is concluded, my sweet," Ashira said deeply, "Now I can show you just how deeply my love for you is."

            "Come here," Shego said, her voice thick with lust.

            Ashira fell on top of her and they kissed passionately.  Shego completely gave over to her urges as the kissing grew more heated as did their passions.  Clothing disappeared.  Fingers explored and teased.  Passions escalated.

            Shego pulled Ashira to the bedroll and crawled on top of her, her tongue left trails on her flawless skin as she worked her way up to her waiting mouth.  Ashira squealed in pleasure but the squeal was cut off as their lips met.

            The surge of passion and emotion rose within Shego, but this time she didn't fight it.  She didn't feel the onset of the change come over her, nor did Ashira who was caught in the throes of her own passion and desire.  The only thing Shego felt was the hunger in the pit of her stomach and it grew stronger with every beat of her racing heart.  Shego drew back for air, her back arched as she changed.  Wings sprouted from her back, curved horns protruded from her forehead and when she opened her eyes they glowed bright blue.  Ashira opened her eyes and met Shego's and was instantly under her power.  The air shimmered around them from the power given off from Shego's body.  Her eyes closed halfway and flared with desire.  Ashira reached up to her face and pulled her down, kissing her roughly and passionately, completely lost to Shego's power.  The hunger within Shego grew exponentially as they writhed against each other.

            Then it happened.

            The hunger needed to be fed and it began to feed.  It wasn't slow and it wasn't subtle; it was all-encompassing.  In the small working part in the back of Shego's mind it issued a warning for her to stop.  Shego didn't listen to it.  Lost in the throes of her own power she didn't see Ashira's body glow with her very lifeforce.  They continued to kiss and writhe, their moans of pleasure merged into one as they reached the pinnacle of their exertions.  Shego drew back and screamed.  Ashira screamed.  Their bodies convulsed but the light of Ashira's lifeforce flowed into Shego as they screamed.  At the last moment before all of the light was extinquished Shego looked down and saw in horror what was going on.  The hunger, now sated, disappeared.  Shego jumped off of Ashira who stared blankly into space.

            "A-Ashira," Shego asked huskily.

            Ashira blinked but there was no other response.  Shego looked down at herself and in new rising horror, she screamed.

            "Ashira?  Wake up!"

            She brought her hands up to her face and felt her wings flap agitatedly behind her.  From outside the tent she heard Joruuk's alarmed voice.

            "Is everything okay in there, Shego?"

            Shego panicked.

            She called on the Glow and blew out the tent.  The tent hit Joruuk and Vis which knocked them over and covered them.  Shego reacted in her spare seconds of time and took to the air.  She flew hard and fast through the raging rainstorm.  She flew all throughout the night and well into morning.  She made it to Windmeet and landed in a dark alley.  Cold, naked, and alone Shego cried until there were no tears left.

 

The present, back in the VIP suite

 

            "I found enough rags to clothe myself once I transformed back.  I worked enough menial jobs to get some proper clothing and made enough money to book passage to the Imperial Lands.  I did mercenary work for a few years until I met Doctor D and you know most of the rest from there."

            Kim stood up from the chair where she sat to listen to Shego's tale and slowly walked toward her.  "Shego," she said quietly and sadly, "I...I don't know what to say.  D-did you ever find out what happened to your group?"

            Shego nodded but her voice was heavy with anguish and shame.  "Yeah, Joruuk used his cut of the money to establish himself as a powerful Warlord of his people.  Last I heard Joruuk lorded over a collection of islands far to the north."

            "And Vis?"

            "I heard he used his money to buy off his criminal past and set himself up as a minor noble in Runehold."

            Kim sniffed and wiped her nose.  She blinked away the mist from her eyes and asked, "And Ashira?"

            Shego lowered her head and her shoulders slumped.  She took in a deep shuddering breath, "The group used her cut and mine to send her back to the Elven Nations.  She wasn't a threat anymore to King Arivaul thanks to me so they took her in to care for her."

            "W-what happened t-to her?"

            "My hunger, Kim.  It almost killed her.  I stopped just in time before that happened...she's alive...b-but..."

            Her voice wavered and Kim put a reassuring hand on her shoulder to give her more strength.  It seemed to work as Shego continued, "...s-she's a shell of her former self.  All of her memories, her knowledge of the arcane arts, everything is gone."

            "Shego...I'm...I'm so sorry for your loss," Kim whispered sadly.

            Shego's voice hardened as she spoke, "I swore to myself that from that day on I'd never be in that position again, Kim."

            "It sounds lonely," Kim said very quietly.

            "It is," Shego admitted in a voice just as quiet as Kim's, but then hardened again, "And that's why we can't."

            "You loved her, didn't you?"

            Shego was prepared for another argument and not for Kim's question.  She cocked her head and looked at Kim quizzically.  She didn't respond at first, instead she tried to read Kim's eyes, and tried to figure out the red-head's angle for asking the question in the first place.  But her eyes were sad and innocent like they were before and there was no deception behind those jade eyes that she could detect.

            "I...I'm not...sure," she answered slowly.

            Kim's next question was quick, "Why not?"

            Shego shook her head incredulously.  "B-because, Kimmie."

            Kim's eyes were insistent and told Shego that her cop out of an answer was grossly insufficient.  Shego sighed in exasperation, "Look, it's true okay?  I don't know."

            Kim raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, but her face said "you still haven't answered my question."

            "Yes, okay?  I loved her!  But it wasn't as simple as that."

            "Why not?"

            Shego wished Kim would just passionately argue with her like before then she'd have the moral high ground to put her in her place but these questions were coming from nowhere.  "What difference does it make," Shego asked hotly.

            "It makes all the difference in the world," Kim replied emphatically.

            Shego frowned as she stared into Kim's eyes again, but there was still no deception behind them.  She back away from Kim, turned around, and walked away.  She threw her hands up in the air in frustration, "Fine.  I'll tell you, but trust me, you're not gonna like the answer."

            "I'm ready," Kim said simply.

            "Okay, I warned you.  I told the truth when I said I loved her because I did, with everything I had.  But she didn't.  I found this out when I absorbed most of her lifeforce.  Not only did I take her memories, but I also took her dreams, her emotions, and her desires.  She...she lied to me, Kim.  I was another conquest to her, one in a long line of conquests.  I had her thoughts and dreams going through my head almost constantly when I concentrated hard enough.  She was going to use me and my take of the pay until it was all used up and then she'd move on and repeat the cycle.  That's how I know, are you happy now?"

            "But you didn't know that at the time," Kim reasoned.

            "Of course not," Shego huffed angrily, "And she had me hook, line, and sinker."

            "I'm sorry that you had to suffer through that so soon after everything else," Kim said sincerely.  Her face became downcast and her voice gained the heavy weight of regret, "At least I know what a broken heart feels like," she said ruefully.

            Shego nodded almost imperceptibly, "Your first?  What was her name again?"

            "I didn't give it," Kim responded, "but you're right, it was her.  My tale pales in comparison to yours, and it's rather boring so I won't go into it right now, but let's just say that we were both wronged in the end but I was the one left with the scars."

            "I can tell," Shego said as she walked over to her.

            Kim raised her head and met Shego's sorrow-filled face which was a mirror of her own.  This time it was Shego who placed a warm hand on Kim's shoulder and squeezed it gently.  "See pumpkin," she said with a smile completely devoid of mirth, "that's another thing we seem to have in common."

            "I guess so," Kim admitted as she placed her own hand on top of Shego's and squeezed back, "I have one more question for you if I may?"

            Only one? "Sure, pumpkin, I don't think I've ever been this honest with anyone before or-"

            "Or feeling this miserable," Kim interrupted with her own question.

            Shego nodded and a bit of the snarkiness returned to her smile, "Yeah, so much for my idea of a nice quiet dinner, huh?"

            Kim looked down at the floor and noticed the slight scorch marks on the wood where Shego had her pinned down earlier.  "I'm ready for your question," Shego stated as she took her hand away from Kim's arm.

            "Okay, "Kim said as she gathered her strength and turned back to stare directly into Shego's emerald eyes, and spoke in an even voice, "You lied to me, you know that?"

            Shego flinched back and frowned at Kim, "What?  What do you mean?"

            "I said you lied to me," she answered.

            "Since when?"

            "A few moments ago."

            "How so?"

            Shego's anger rose with every response she gave, but Kim was unrelenting with her own responses.  "You lied when you told me that you swore you'd never put yourself in a position where your power, or your...condition...would hurt another."

            Shego's eyes narrowed dangerously, "I did say that and I meant it," she said acidly.

            Kim continued to press.  "Then explain what happened in my cabin back on The Dauntless.  If you swore to never allow yourself to be in that position again then please tell me what happened."

            "T-that was a...moment of w-weakness," Shego muttered.

            "By extension, "Kim continued evenly, "is it fair to say that since you swore off getting yourself in a compromising position then you swore off love as well?"

            Shego sighed heavily, "Yes, Kim, that's what I meant.  What does-"

            "So you lied," Kim said simply as if her three words explained Life, the Universe, and Everything.

            "I...don't follow," Shego said as she struggled to understand Kim's logic.

            "You lied to yourself," she replied and then her voice turned dispassionate as she continued, "and you lied to me."

            The sudden dispassionate change in Kim's voice scared Shego unlike anything had before.  She felt like Kim was backing her into a corner and she was, but with words, damning words.

            "I can't let you do this, Shego.  I can't let you continue to live this lie anymore."

            "K-Kimmie...Princess...talk to me, I-I don't understand what you mean, I..."

            Kim walked toward Shego and Shego retreated until her back was against the wall.  Kim closed in, so close that Shego's body heat surrounded her.  She slowly raised her face until her eyes locked on Shego's.  Shego flinched as Kim raised her hands.

            Kim's voice changed back to her normal tone and in a soothing voice she spoke as she gently held the sides of Shego's cheeks and smiled sweetly, "It's so simple, Shego.  You broke your oath by falling in love again."

            Shego didn't believe her ears at first.  Kim wasn't a damn lawyer and she sure as hell wasn't adept at twisting...the...words...

            Shego grinned wickedly as she backed away.  "Oh, Kim...you're good!  I see where you're going with this."

            Shego made a show by bowing down very low in front of her.  "I can't compete with that, Princess.  It's over, I surrender, you win."

            Kim blushed at Shego's overacting and her smile broadened.  "I knew it."

            Shego rose, her lip curled into an almost-snarl and she raised a warning finger at Kim, "Don't push your luck, Princess."

            "I won't," Kim said sincerely as she closed the distance between them.

            Shego held out a hand to stop her.  "Hold it right there.  Let me say this before you get any more bright ideas."

            Shego waited to see Kim's response but her captain didn't say or do anything.  "Good," Shego said, "First, and I'm only gonna say this once so pay attention.  Kim, I'm sorry about tonight.  You saw a side of me that I never wanted anyone to see.  I'm sorry for what I did and for scaring you.  There.  Remember, I'm not repeating myself so don't ever bring this up, you hear me?"

            Kim nodded enthusiastically, maybe a bit too enthusiastically, Shego thought.  "Second, and this is important.  Yes, I have feelings for you.  Is it love?  Hell, I don't know.  Is it lust?  You bet your gorgeous little ass it is, and that's very dangerous territory.  The second leads into the third and my most important point, Kim."

            Her voice softened and she placed her hands on Kim's arms and drew her so close that the tips of their noses almost touched.  "Third, I can't be the person you want me to be; it's too dangerous for you and for me.  But I'm willing to entertain the idea of an 'us' as long as we don't cross certain boundaries."

            Shego leaned closer and whispered hotly in her ear, "In the meantime I will continue to search for a way to counter my powers so there can truly be an 'us', do these terms and conditions suffice, Captain Possible?"

            Kim shivered from her heat and felt goosebumps form on the back of her neck when Shego breathed on her.  "Y-yes," Kim stammered weakly, "Y-your terms a-are acceptable."

            "Gooood," Shego whispered one last time in her ear and then withdrew.

            "S-so that means you're s-staying, right," Kim asked in a small voice as her ears burned hot.

            "Why Kim," Shego said demurely, "You know my terrible secret.  I'm not letting you out of my sight ever again."

            A wave of relief washed over her.  She exhaled audibly and all of her tension disappeared.  Shego yawned, "It's very late Kimmie.  I'm exhausted beyond belief and if we're to meet with Zahn in the morning we're going to need to get some sleep.  We don't have much dark time left."

            "There's something I want to say first," Kim declared after she stifled her own yawn.

            "What is it," Shego asked as she blew out the next to last candle and then flopped on the bed.

            Kim walked over to the bed and stopped next to it.  She thought she'd get embarrassed and turn red but it surprised her when it didn't happen.  She said one word and she surprised herself again at how strong her voice sounded.

            "Monique."

            Shego cocked her head to the side quizzically, "Huh?"

            "My first," Kim answered, "Her name was Monique."

            Shego opened her mouth to speak but then she closed it.  She gave Kim a small smile and a slight nod of thanks.  Trust and honesty were nigh alien concepts to Shego, because of what she was and how she lived.  But she was honest and forthright to Kim and in return Kim offered her a name from her past.  It was a small gesture, but all things start small.

            Shego reached over and pulled Kim to the bed.  Kim came willingly and buried herself in Shego's chest.  Shego felt Kim sigh deeply as she adjusted herself on top of the bed.  Shego waited until her captain was comfortable and soon after Shego could hear her steady breaths as she slept.  Shego raised her hand and extended her index finger.  She called just a tiny portion of the Glow and a beam of plasma instantly melted the last candle down to nothing.  Shego closed her eyes and joined her captain in sleep.  It was the best sleep either of them had for a long time.

Chapter Text

    

The VIP Suite, The Raven's Nest Inn and Tavern

 

            Shego awoke first to a pleasant sight and an even more pleasant feeling.  Kim slept contentedly in her arms, her face buried in Shego's chest.  Her captain was beautiful in the morning's light.  The feeling of her skin against hers and the contrast between her own body heat and Kim's made waking up to this a sheer delight.  Shego wasn't  used to this type of comfort and deep down it scared her.  The night before had been a disaster from every angle, and yet, this girl, her captain, slept contentedly on top of her. 

            Alive.

            That was a small miracle in itself.  She no longer considered her captain to be a  bitter enemy, and try as she might she couldn't exactly think of her as a rival anymore either.  Scaring her away hadn't worked, and Shego thought that forcing her away would do too much irreparable damage and probably wouldn't work either.  So what was she?  A lover?  That would suit her captain just fine but the hunger would destroy her before she ever knew what was happening, so that was out.  A friend?  The red-head had done everything in her power to make Shego and Doctor D feel welcomed on The Dauntless.  Enemies didn't do that, nor did they make you their First Mate or invite you to share a room with them with no malicious intent.  So what was she then?  Shego didn't know and the more she thought about it the more bewildering the whole situation became. 

            For the briefest moment back in the captain's cabin Shego had unwittingly touched Kim's mind and soul when her nature manifested itself.  The connection was too brief for her to do any damage but she caught a glimpse of Kim's emotions.  The world-weary pirate was surprised to find no malicious intent or anything resembling a hidden agenda, which was strange for any air pirate worth their salt.  She didn't tell her about that last night because she didn't think it proper to tell her anyway; the knowledge of that fact could indeed force her away and Shego didn't want that now.  But then she never knew what to expect when it came to Kim Possible.  Enemy.  Rival.  Potential friend.  Kim was all of these at different points in time and that made the whole situation...odd

            Kim stirred which halted any further thoughts Shego had on the matter at hand.  Sleepy jade eyes blinked several times and focused.  A warm smile spread across her face.

            "Morning," Kim purred contentedly.

            Shego had to will herself from blushing at her tone.  "M-morning, pumpkin," she replied distractedly, "Are you finally gettin' up or what?"

            "In a minute," Kim said as she nestled the upper center of Shego's chest with the side of her cheek, "I want to enjoy this for a moment longer."

            "You want to keep Zahn waiting?"

            Kim sighed in disappointment, "No," she answered as she pushed herself away from Shego and yawned.

            The light of day bathed into the room as Shego pulled open the curtains.  Kim got off of the bed and went to wash up and change.  Shego waited patiently for her to finish and averted her eyes when she needed to.  Kim chose a similar outfit to the one she wore the day before except that her shirt was bright white rather than the usual cream color.

            "That look suits you," Shego said appreciatively from the bathroom.

            Kim smiled and blushed at the compliment, "Thanks."

            "Of course your shirt covers too much for my taste and you could stand to find a pair of breeches that shapes around your figure better."

            "You would say that," Kim commented as she blushed harder, "There's more fabric in my hat than most of your clothes."

            "Thank you," Shego said with a smile and pulled the dividing wall of the bathroom closed, "I'll meet you downstairs with the others in a few minutes; I won't be long."

            "Okay, do you want me to order breakfast for you?"

            "Sure I'll have whatever you're having, just no wine," Shego said from behind the dividing wall.

            "All right," Kim said then she left the VIP suite and headed downstairs for breakfast.

 

     Ron and Yori were already seated at a table enjoying breakfast and deep in conversation when Kim reached the bottom of the stairs.  Dalaa, the servant girl, walked past her with a smile and a wink.  Kim sat down at an empty table and waited.  The Raven's Nest was buzzing with conversation from the other patrons.  The chief topic was how Kim, Ron, and Shego took down the Imperial soldiers the day before.  Apparently the number of Imperial sympathizers in Sal Sagev was low indeed because the patrons gave her appreciative nods and raised their mugs to her and Ron in salute.  Kim gave each a smile and a nod in return.  The sound of heavy boots behind her caused her to turn around and she saw Zahn standing there.

            "I have a room prepared in the back for your breakfast, Miss Possible.  If you would follow me," he said as he gestured toward the door.

            Kim stood up and followed Zahn to a backroom similar to the one she and her friends were in the day before but a large table took up most of the center of the room and a plethora of plates filled to the brim with food was arrayed before her.  He gestured for her to sit and he pushed the chair in for her when she sat down. 

            "Your friends will join you in a minute," he said, "In the meantime enjoy the best the Raven's Nest has to offer."

            "Thank you," Kim said in wide-eyed astonishment as she stared at the mountain of food.

            Zahn left and she took him up on his offer picking and choosing the nicest bits of flying fish, steak strips, and steamed vegetables.  She grabbed a filled wineglass to wash down her mouthful and it was absolutely delicious.

            Ron and Yori joined her a few minutes later and sat across from her.

            "You're both glowing," she commented after gulping down another mouthful.

            Her comment caused them to blush madly and she could see that they were holding hands.  "That's cute," she said with a smile.

            They smiled back, the door opened, and Shego walked in.  She wore the extravagant dress from the impromptu dinner date/apology back in the captain's cabin a few nights before and she wore her long hair down.  She looked stunning.

            "How's the food?"

            "Taste it and see, Shego," Ron answered with a smile, "It's what you'd expect from a high class place like this."

            "Ron-sama is correct," Yori said in her heavily accented voice, "I have not had fish prepared this way since my stay at Amatsu Sangaku."

            "That's all I need to hear," Shego declared then dove into her plate.

            The foursome ate until they were full then a slew of barmaids entered the room and cleared the table of the empty plates.  They left and Zahn entered.  He closed the door as the last barmaid left and turned to face the foursome.

            "That was delicious," Ron exclaimed contentedly as he leaned back comfortably in the chair.

            The other three nodded in agreement.  "I'm glad you enjoyed the meal and I trust you all slept well?"

            Ron and Yori blushed as they all nodded again.  "Good," he said as he folded his arms across his chest, "Now it's down to business."

            Kim and Shego leaned over the table to listen to Zahn speak.  He looked directly at Kim as he spoke.

            "A lot of things happened last night.  At first I didn't want to believe the information you gave me, Miss Possible, but sadly, all of it turned out to be true.  The guard had rounded up over thirty conspirators by first light.  Myself and a few others checked out their homes and we found explosives, dock work schedules, and a full listing of the members of the Sal Sagev Council.  These were people I thought I knew," he said as he shook his head sadly, "but I was wrong, dead wrong.  Thanks to the information you provided we have broken the ring of Imperial conspirators.  The Empire won't make that mistake ever again."

            Kim shuddered involuntarily at his words and she didn't want to ask her question, but she forced it out anyway.  "What's going to happen to the conspirators?"

            "There will be a trial.  The evidence will be presented against them but they will be given the opportunity to plead their case and declare their guilt or innocence.  The sentencing will commence after the trials are completed."

            He turned from facing Kim to look at the others seated at the table in turn.  "If the conspirators made their attacks a reality many good people would've been killed, not to mention the loss of the docks and most of our government.  As mayor of Sal Sagev I want to personally thank you for the information you gave me.  The people of Sal Sagev owe you their thanks as well."

            "Wow, now that's different," Shego commented with a wry smile at Kim.

            "You can say that again," Ron added with a grin of his own, "I can't remember the last time we were thanked by a city before.  Most of the time we end up leavin' long before we're scheduled to."

            "You can thank the Empire for that," Kim responded, "And it doesn't help that we spend most of our time floating around Imperial territory to start with."

            "I have already activated my old network of spies and informers," Zahn said, "My eyes and ears used to have a reach that extended from Arivaul and the other Elven Nations, to the Imperial Capital of Kaer Wayland, and from Bladeshield to the north all the way to Suzima down south."

            "Suzima," Shego repeated with a raised eyebrow, "They don't allow any contact with outsiders, even the other clans from the south.  How'd you do that?"

            "I don't reveal my sources," Zahn replied, "But it will take time for my network to get back up to speed and working again.  The whereabouts of your parents are a top priority, but don't expect anything soon.  These things take time."

            "I understand," Kim said, "And thank you for helping me."

            "I do have another motive behind my action, Kim.  With the presence of the Imperials increasing on all fronts I could use another set of eyes and ears.  I'd like to add you to my network.  In return I will feed you information as well as a number of contacts you could use as safe houses in hostile territory.  I trust these people with my life and they may be able to aid you on your quest.  What say you, Kim Possible?"

            Kim didn't even spend a second to think about it, "I accept," she declared with a smile.

            "Good," he answered and uncrossed his arms, "What will be your next destination?"

            "Once we get The Dauntless repaired we were going to head to either Stormhaven or Rhendarin," Kim answered, "We need to pass on the information to them so they can root out the Imperials in their cities.  And I need to find Dalron."

            "Dalron," Zahn repeated darkly then snorted, "He won't be hard to find, he works at The Destiny of Fate as a bouncer since his...retirement."

            Kim could tell by his tone of voice that there was some bad blood between them.  "I take it you two didn't get along?"

            "No," he answered flatly, "And for the most part, we still don't.  Do not underestimate him!  He comes across as a big, lumbering brute, but he's smart, a little too smart in my opinion.  Watch yourself around him and his friends, they are all dangerous but he's the worst of the lot."

            "Thanks for the warning," Kim said.

            "What do you hope to gain by talking to him anyway?"

            She shrugged, "I need to see if he knows anything about where my parents went.  I told you that I've been following my parent's journals but I'm running out of leads.  I hope that he knows something or at least knows who I need to talk to in order to find them."

            "Has it occurred to you that they may not wish to be found?"

            Kim swallowed hard, "Yes, it has.  But that's not gonna stop me."

            Kim held her gaze with Zahn until he turned away.  "As you wish," he said as he reached for the door, "But heed my warning Kim Possible: he is a dangerous man for a reason.  Watch yourself around him.  Give me a day's notice before you depart."

            "I will."

            He nodded to her, opened the door, and let himself out.

            Silence filled the room for a minute before Shego broke it.  "So which city do you want to hit first, captain?"

            Kim thought over the question for a minute.  She didn't want to head to Stormhaven anytime soon, the memories of the place were still too painful for her to bear, but she didn't want the others to know and she knew they'd have to go there eventually.  She took a deep breath before answering.

            "Rhendarin."

            "Sounds like a plan," Ron commented.

            "I have always wanted to visit the fabled city," Yori said.

            "So it's settled then" Shego said, "Rhendarin it is."

            Shego, Ron and Yori stood up from the table.  Yori took Ron's hand as they left.  Shego waited at the doorway for Kim.  Kim stood up and walked over to Shego.

            "You don't sound particularly excited about Stormhaven," Shego said.

            "I'm not," Kim muttered.

            "She's there, isn't she?"

            Kim nodded wordlessly and walked out.  Shego followed her captain without any further comment.

 

            It took Motor Ed and his gadgeteers a full week of back-breaking work to overhaul the ailing engine.  Kim kept herself busy by managing affairs aboard the ship, and she stepped in to help Motor Ed when she could.  She also spent time with Doctor Drakken and got herself caught up in helping him with his latest experiment that had something to do with electricity and magnets.  The end result was a surprise to Kim as he handed her two new pistols both were powered by electricity.  He went over the controls with her and showed her that the pistols had variable settings.  The low setting packed enough of a kick to knock a man out while the highest setting melted through steel.  The intensity of the blue lightning that shot out of the pistols was directly related to its settings.  Doctor D christened them lightning guns and then went to work on building a ship scale version.

            Kim had mixed feelings about the weapons and not only because of her aversion to killing.  The pistol's fire arc's were wide and unpredictable and there was no way to tell how many shots she had before they needed to be recharged. 

            She took them anyway.

            In that time she also picked up her new Leather of Iron from Tailor Made.  It was light, rigid, and yet supple enough to allow a great range of movement.  The outfit came in three pieces: dark earthy colored leggings, a skirt, and a large overcoat with several adjustable belts.  Everything hugged her figure, even the overcoat when it was fully closed and clasped.  But she still had her full range of movement that she thought was so important because in a fight aboard ship you needed to be mobile above all else. 

            Shego absolutely loved it because it showed off her midriff which was more skin than she had ever showed before.  Despite the impracticality of the design Kim liked the outfit as it gave her more protection than what she had before which was nothing.

            Kim discarded the tri-corn hat that was her father's until she found something else she liked.  Instead she went with a pair of infra-goggles that Doctor D gave to her.  She smiled at herself in the mirror of the captain's cabin as she appraised her new look.  It wasn't going to strike fear in the hearts of her enemies but it was a distinctive look nonetheless.  At least it gave the portrait artists something to do; she had already made a name for herself in Imperial lands and the wanted posters had to be upgraded.

            She spent the rest of the time in Sal Sagev as an observer.  The Imperial presence there had grown tense since the ring of saboteurs were caught and throughout the week they made as much noise as they could.  The populace, not really sympathizing with the Empire to start with, ignored them for the most part and the city's constabulary kept order.  Still Kim kept a wary eye over her shoulder whenever Imperial troops were around.  Thankfully, there were no incidents, and she suspected that the pair of elven soldiers that shadowed her and the rest of her crew when they were out and about had something to do with it.

            Zahn had graciously allowed Kim and her crew to continue to stay at The Raven's Nest until they were ready to leave.  Kim thanked him profusely for his generosity but he waived it off nonchalantly stating that it was the Elven Way of Hospitality.  Kim had met and worked with elves before but she knew next to nothing about their culture and various ways of life so she accepted his hospitality with a smile. 

            Shego kept her company at night and Kim was thankful for her companionship and her body heat.  She put off so much heat that Kim didn't need the bed sheets and Shego didn't seem to mind either.

            But that's as far as anything went on that front.  Shego was adamant against everything, while Kim was more than willing.  In the end Shego won; she still didn't trust herself enough to keep her nature under control despite what she had said earlier.  Frustrated and a bit put off, Kim reminded her of that fact, but Shego still won out in the end.  Kim contented herself with what Shego willingly gave, and she looked on the bright side: her nights were no longer lonely so that was a small victory in itself. 

            That didn't stop her dreams from getting wilder and wilder as the night's wore on, but that was something else she had to content herself with...for the time being.

            Shego noticed.

            It hurt her to do what she did, but she couldn't trust herself.  Kim didn't understand that she was a half-breed and charged by impulse and emotion.  In fact, emotion was the key to her existence as far as she knew.  Her mother, still bound somewhere in the Great Wall, had told her of the basics of survival for their kind.  They fed on emotion but it had to be intense for their kind to get any sustenance.  Negative emotions worked well but the best kind of emotions to get as well as the most intense were ones of intimacy.  Shego learned this first-hand, much to her regret and despair.  She resolved to never allow herself to go through that ordeal ever again.  Still, the effect was intoxicating even though she stopped herself before the worst happened.  It was like the most wondrous drug imaginable.

            She needed it.

            Her hunger demanded it.

            Only her will stopped her from taking what she wanted, what her nature needed.  Thus every moment both awake and not was a silent, private hell that was hers alone to endure.  How could she make Kim understand?  Hell, how could she explain it to her so she could understand?  She didn't have an answer and she suspected that there wasn't an answer to give anyway. 

            She knew Kim's frustration and shared it.  But she wouldn't allow herself to be weak for even a moment.  The results would be devastating for both of them.  She hadn't told Kim that she had looked into ways of circumventing her nature by talking to the Arcane Schools, but they were no help.  Dusty scholars with beards that stretched to the floor so much so that they tripped over them when they tried to walk, she'd lost faith in their processes and formulas.  That door was closed.  There were only a few left to try.

            She had considered breaking back into the Great Wall and talking to her mother again but that was something she didn't relish.  Her mother was a full-blooded succubus and didn't care about anything or anyone if it didn't have something to do about her own comfort.  She was a queen in a gilded cage, but the experiments, and the bodies, continued to come her way thanks to the Empire.  Shego was born from one such experiment.  She never knew her father, only that he was an Imperial and a volunteer.  Shego suspected that he didn't last long from her mother's 'tender' touch. 

            Thinking about her mother brought a deep scowl to her face.  How she hated that monster.

            "What's wrong?"

            "Huh?  I thought you were asleep."

            "I was resting," Kim said as she lifted her head to gaze at Shego face from her spot on her chest, "But I can't sleep.  So what's wrong?"

            "It's...nothing, Kimmie.  Just thinking about the past."

            "It can't be pleasant, judging from your face," Kim commented quietly as she laid her head back down and closed her eyes, "I'm not trying to pry so I'll leave you alone."

            Shego opened her mouth to respond but then she stopped.  There she goes being all nice again, she thought to herself.  What gives her the right to act so nice to me when only a year ago we were at each other's throats?  How could she have damn feelings for a monster like me?  If she only knew...

            She put her hand on Kim's head and ran her fingers through her hair.

            "Thanks, Princess," she said quietly.

            Kim responds by nuzzling her cheek on Shego's chest where her head rested and she squeezed the pirate affectionately.  Soon after all Shego heard was her steady and deep breathing.  Shego tried not to think about her past and succeeded for the moment.  She's trying so hard and I'm doing nothing to help, she thought to herself, well, I'm going to find a way to make this work!  She closed her eyes and joined Kim in fitful sleep.

            Shego's dreams were just as wild as Kim's but they ended badly.  She woke up with a start at the end of the worst one.  Kim wasn't on top of her anymore and laid at her side.  An arm was draped across her chest and even in sleep Kim reacted when Shego awoke.  Her arm adjusted itself to hold her and she pulled Shego closer.  It only took a few seconds for Shego to calm down from the nightmare but in that short span Kim adjusted so that she held Shego in a tender hug.

            Shego didn't know what to make of it but the feeling of warmth and protection that came from her sleeping captain was welcomed especially after that last horrible dream.  Shego adjusted herself slightly, turned her body towards Kim, and put her own arm around the sleeping red head.

            This...this is...nice.  I could get used to this, she thought sleepily.  With the presence of Kim all around her she closed her eyes again and drifted off into sleep.  The dreams returned but they didn't end badly this time.

 

The next morning

 

            Shego awoke to an unexpected sight: her captain changing clothes in front of her.  Kim's back was turned and she was bent over as she pulled up her leggings.

            "Now that's what I want to wake up to," Shego exclaimed with a wicked smile.

            Kim turned to her with a look of shock and horror on her face.

            "Shego!  Don't look at me!"

            "Uh uh, pumpkin, I've already got an eyeful and I like what I see!"

            Kim's face turned a deeper shade than her hair and crossed her arms across her chest protectively.  Shego's smile turned to a playful frown of disappointment and she turned over in the bed so Kim could finish getting dressed.  Shego waited for a time then turned back around.  Kim was fully clothed in her Leather of Iron and stood at the base of the bed with an angry look.

            "What?"

            Shego tried to make her expression as innocent and as shocked as she could, but she could tell by Kim's stoic face that it didn't work so the shocked expression fell and was replaced by that wicked grin again.

            "You were right there!  I couldn't help myself and please feel free to do so again in the future."

            Shego could tell that Kim was more embarrassed than angry.  "But isn't that crossing the line?  I mean, with what you have to deal with every day?  That can't be helping."

            "Trust me, pumpkin, I can stare all day!"

            Kim moved slowly to stand next to Shego's side of the bed and held her hands out to her.  Shego took them and nearly yelped in surprise at Kim's strength and speed as she pulled her from the bed to a standing position.  Kim pressed herself against the taller woman, her eyes half-closed with naked desire.  Shego stood in shock, transfixed by her captain's unrelenting gaze.

            "You'll have to tell me what I can do to help you find a way," Kim said in a deep, husky voice, "For us to find a way.  Then I can do this..."

            She pulled even closer and Shego opened her mouth to protest but that's what Kim was waiting for.  Her kiss was long, rough, and full of repressed desire.  Shego's mind reeled from the onslaught and she felt the early pangs of the hunger within begin to stir.  Kim pulled away quickly, sucking loudly on Shego's lower lip.  Her naked expression of desire didn't change as she leaned in closer and whispered hotly in Shego's ear.

            "...and so much more."

            Shego's body was rigid and tense.  Her words sent her mind spiraling and she had to use every ounce of willpower to keep herself under control.  Her eyes were shut tight from sheer concentration and she didn't relax until she felt Kim's presence slowly move away.

            "That...that was...dirty, underhanded, and fucking dangerous," Shego growled as her body heaved, her voice a mixture of raw anger and abject lust.

            "Pirate," Kim answered simply with a wicked half-smirk of her own and a raised eyebrow.

            The flash of anger faded from Shego's face replaced by an evil grin.

            "Good answer."

            Shego returned the favor with a burning, passionate kiss of her own.  She had found an even keel between her emotions and kept up the assault until her hapless captain went limp in her arms.  She pulled away and stared into her captain's eyes.

            "Trust me when I say that I want this, Princess," Shego said in a husky and vehement whisper, "I will find a way.  We will find a way."

            "G-good," Kim stammered breathlessly.

            Shego turned away to rummage through her belongings to find something to wear.  "I have some shopping to do, what're you going to do today?"

            "The Dauntless is finally airworthy," Kim replied as her voice came back under control, "I have to go through the checks and everything and once that's done we'll be heading out.  Oh, don't forget about tonight.  I'm throwing a party for Motor Ed and his crew for all of their hard work."

            "I don't know how long it'll take me to get everything I need, but I'll be there."

            Shego turned her back to her captain and started to undress in front of her.  Of course she did it on purpose since her captain did it to her she'd reciprocate.  She let her see just as much as Kim inadvertently did only she didn't let Kim see her smile.

            The red color returned to Kim's face and she turned away, at once embarrassed and mesmerized by the sheen of Shego's lightly tinted skin.

            "Um...I'm heading out, so I'll see you l-later," Kim stammered.

            "Okay, Princess, see you later."

            Kim hurried out before her mind took complete control of her body and she'd do something they'd both regret.  She went down the stairs and headed to the bar where Zahn was busy cleaning a mug behind the counter.

            "You told me to give you a day's notice before we left so here it is," she said.

            He nodded and put the mug down on the bar, "Good, that should give me enough time to get everything ready.  Do you need anything?"

            "No, I have a lot of checks to finish to make sure The Dauntless is ready to go."

            "Very well then.  Have you heard about the trial?  It's finished and the sentencing will be taking place in a few hours."

            "I hadn't heard," Kim said evenly.

            "Just thought you would want to know," he said in an equally neutral voice.

            "Thanks."

            "I'll be there to see you off tomorrow.  Thanks again for the information, you've done a great service to the people of Sal Sagev."

            "You're welcome," she said with a smile, "See you tomorrow then."

            The elf nodded and Kim left.

            Kim headed straight for The Dauntless and joined Doctor Drakken in the preflight inspection.  The inspection and the engine checks took up most of the day as both she and Drakken wanted everything done correctly and by the book.  The sun had set by the time they finished and it was time to start the celebration for Motor Ed and his gadgeteers.

            True to form Shego wasn't around by the time the festivities started.  Kim looked all over while the crew ate and drank but she was nowhere to be found.  Kim eventually spied her coming aboard when the party was in full swing.  She carried several wrapped packages under her arm and she headed to her room.  Kim followed after a time when she noticed that Shego didn't return to the deck.  She knocked at the door expectantly.

            "Yeah?  What do you want," Shego asked from the other side of the door.

            "It's me," Kim announced, "Can I come in?"

            Shego didn't respond but Kim heard the click of the door lock and the door opened.  Kim entered and closed the door behind her.  Shego busied herself by placing the wrapped packages in the trunk at the foot of her spacious bed.  It occurred to Kim that this was the first time she had stepped foot in Shego's room.

            "Did you find everything you need?"

            "Not really, but I'll make do," Shego replied casually as she placed the last wrapped package in the trunk and closed it.

            "The Dauntless is good to go so we'll be heading out in the morning."

            "I have to admit, "Shego said half-appreciatively and half-sarcastically, "that big lug can do some fine work when he puts his mind to it."

            Shego sat on the bed and motioned for her captain to sit down next to her.  Kim complied and rested her head against Shego.  Shego put an arm around her.  Kim welcomed Shego's body heat and sighed.

            "Kimmie," Shego started tentatively.

            "Yeah?"

            "I...I don't think I'm ready to move in to your cabin just yet.  It's hard for me to find a balance with my emotions right now and it's just not safe.  I hope you understand."

            "I do," Kim sighed in resignation, "But I have to say that I haven't slept better than I did this past week with you.  Thanks."

            "Don't mention it, pumpkin," Shego said with a small, rueful smile, "And I'll add that I agree with your assessment.  Just give me some time to center myself.  I'm just being cautious."

            "That's not like you at all," Kim jabbed playfully.

            "Well, there are things in this world that are worth doing right and I want this to be right."

            "Me too," Kim replied with a gentle and affectionate hug.

            "I'm still getting over your underhanded trick from earlier."

            "Sorry, but I couldn't resist."

            "I wish I had that luxury," Shego said as a heavy sadness creeped into her voice.

            "Don't get like that," Kim said as she stroked her luxurious hair, "It'll work out in the end, Shego.  Trust me."

            "Yes ma'am," Shego replied dutifully.

            "Have you given any thought about how we can go about...I don't know...blocking it, or something?"

            "I've researched the Arcane Schools and those dusty fools weren't any help.  There isn't anything I've found that can counteract what I do except for my mother or possibly a powerful Blue Mage.  Either option is dangerous for me and the rest of the crew.  You don't know my mother and hopefully you never will.  Just imagine a woman with my powers but without the restraint I have."

            Shego stopped to give Kim a moment to let her words sink in.  Kim shuddered after a while and shook her head.

            "See?  That's why she's locked up in the Great Wall.  Imagine the chaos that would ensue if she had free reign in this world."

            "I'd rather not," Kim said.

            "My point exactly.  And then there's the thing with Blue Mages."

            "What's the difference?  I thought magic was just...well...magic."

            "There's all kinds of different magic," Shego explained, "There's the standard kind of elemental magic that commands and controls the very elements of this world, but there's scores of different kinds that are less understood and practiced."

            "Like what?"

            "Take Blue Mages, for instance.  Blue magic is a special type of magic that is directly tied to life and nature.  Blue magic is the magic of fertility and growth.  With its proper use crops yield better harvests, people and animals are healthier, and they bear stronger young.  Used carefully blue magic can make a desolate island into a thriving paradise.  It's also the only other kind of magic than can heal wounds which gives divine magic a run for its money.  Fortunately for them the number of priest and clerics are far more numerous than Blue Mages."

            "Where did you find all of this out?"

            "Research.  I've been at this for a while, pumpkin.  But like any other kind of magic it can be perverted.  When used improperly it can cause great harm and pain.  That's why I'm not too fond of walking up to one and asking for help.  Their powers are similar to mine but I'm the opposite.  Where blue magic promotes growth my...nature...is all about taking."

            "The hunger?"

            Shego nods.  "Yes, Kim.  It devours from the inside out.  It kills just as well as fire magic only it leaves less collateral damage."

            Kim thought about it for a moment before she responded.  "Getting into the Great Wall will be a problem.  The aether is always clear for miles around the island and The Dauntless wouldn't stand a chance against their guns.  We'd need something smaller or somehow stowaway aboard an Imperial ship in order to get in.  Then there's the small problem of getting back out..."

            Shego looked at her incredulously, "Kim!  You can't be thinking-"

            "Already working on it," Kim interrupted, "Give me a little time and I'll think of something."

            "It too dangerous," Shego exclaimed as she shook her head adamantly, "We'd be killed for sure!"

            "But you escaped from there, didn't you?"

            "Well...yeah, but-"

            "So it can be done," Kim reasoned, cutting her off again, "The only question is how to do it."

            "No, Kim!  You're not listening to me!  Even if we did steal in there's a full battalion of armed, motivated, and well trained guards roaming the place.  We'd never stand a chance!"

            Kim's lips pursed in thought and she scratched her chin, "So we'd need a diversion..."

            Shego sighed in exasperation, stood up from the bed and began pacing back and forth.  "Drop it, Kimmie!  It's not gonna happen!"

            Kim sighed.  Then she stood up and walked in front of Shego to stop her pacing.  She tentatively put her hands on Shego's sides and Shego didn't shirk away.  "Then we'll find a Blue Mage," Kim said quietly as she stared into Shego's angry and sad eyes.

            "We already met one, remember?"

            Kim frowned, "No, when was that?"

            "That dark elf we rescued, Kestal was her name I think.  She's a Blue Mage, and so is the Daimyo of Amatsu Sangaku, if the stories are right."

            "Lady Dayspring is a Blue Mage?"

            "Like I said, if the stories I heard turn out to be true then yes."

            "We've been to Amatsu Sangaku before and Lady Dayspring was very happy that we rescued Lady Kestal...hey, you don't think...that Lady Dayspring and Lady Kestal are...involved, do you?"

            "I stayed onboard ship, remember?  I didn't want to chance their finding out about me, although I know Kestal suspects something judging how she looked at me several times while she was onboard."

            "We could try there then," Kim said excitedly, "Lady Dayspring said we'd be welcomed there anytime!  We can head there after our business is finished at Rhendarin."

            "What about Stormhaven?  You can't put that off forever you know."

            Kim deflated because she knew Shego was right.  "Yeah, you're right.  So well go there after Stormhaven then, sound good?"

            Shego looked leery and skeptical.  "You're the captain," she said neutrally.

            "I thought you'd be a little more enthusiastic than that."

            "Like I said, Blue Mages make me uncomfortable.  I don't relish the thought of dueling it out with a Blue Mage let alone two.  Mages in particular can be crafty and powerful foes.  My nature pales in comparison to the power of a Blue Mage, if even half of what I researched turns out to be true.  But I want this to work so I'll do whatever it takes to find a way."

            Kim leaned in and gave her a quick, passionate kiss.  She pulled away with a smile, "That's what I wanted to hear."

            Shego forced herself to smile back at her captain.  "Don't we have a party to go to?"

            "Yes we do," Kim answered and held out her hand expectantly to Shego.

            Shego took her hand and led her to the door.  She opened it for Kim and closed it after they exited.  They walked hand in hand back to the party.

 

Next Morning

 

            Kim awoke groggily in her own bed in the captain's cabin.  She slept fitfully the night before and it was going to take some time to get used to sleeping alone again.  She took a quick shower and changed into her Leather of Iron outfit.  She walked down the hallways toward the bridge and smiled and nodded at the sailors under her command as they passed her.  She entered the bridge and the Boatswain spoke.

            "Captain on deck!"

            "At ease," she said quickly and assumed her position next to her First Mate.  She looked across the bridge and smiled.  The sailors stared at her expectantly.  The helm was newly polished, the glass overlooking the deck below had been cleaned, and the banisters had all been cleaned and polished to a nice shine.  She turned to Doctor Drakken.

            "Is The Dauntless ready to depart?"

            "Screens are normal and green," Drakken answered stiffly as he stared at a readout console.

            Kim leaned over the brass speaking tube to the engine room.  "Engineering?  How's the engine holding up?"

            "Purrin' like a newborn kitten," Motor Ed's gruff voice replied back from the tube, "She ready to go at your word, captain!"

            "Good," Kim replied then turned back to Drakken, "Prepare to disembark."

            "Zahn and his entourage is waiting for you on the main deck, captain," Drakken said as he straightened himself, "I will get everything prepped and will await your return."

            "Very well, Number One, continue the countdown I'll be back shortly."

            He nodded and Kim left the bridge for the main deck.  She met Zahn and a group of elven 'guards' that she recognized as they shadowed her throughout her stay at Sal Sagev.  Zahn wore his black Leather of Iron outfit complete with his sword, Darksong, at his side.  He didn't smile at her but he nodded.

            "Kim Possible," he said formally.

            "Zahn," Kim said.

            He stepped forward and pulled out a golden pin from his pocket.  The pin was intricately woven and shaped with three leaves intertwining together.

            "This marks you as a friend to the elves," he explained as he placed the pin on her overcoat, "This way you should be able to avoid any unpleasant business if you do decide to travel to the Elven Nations."

            "Thank you," Kim said sincerely.

            "I have something else for you," he said and motioned to one of the other elves.

            Two elves picked up a large, heavy, ornate trunk and carried it over to the deck.  They dropped it at her feet and moved back to stand behind Zahn.  Kim motioned for two of her own sailors to take the trunk down to the hold.

            "That is eight cases of my finest spirits.  You may do with them as you wish but they will fetch a high price in Rhendarin, especially at The Destiny of Fate."

            "Thanks," Kim said again.

            He held his hand out to her.  She took it and shook it firmly.  "My network should be up and running by the time you reach Rhendarin.  They will recognize you by that pin I gave you and you should expect contact with an informant of mine a day or so after you arrive.  If my network finds any information they will have it ready for you.  Good luck in your travels, Kim Possible.  Stop by at the Raven's Nest when you feel the need.  A room will be waiting for you."

            He let go of her hand, turned, and left for the dock while his entourage followed quickly behind.  Kim made sure the trunk was safely stowed in the hold and then headed back to the bridge.  The Boatswain opened his mouth but a steely look from Kim silenced him on the spot.

            "All preparations are complete," Drakken announced as he clasped his hands behind his back, "We are ready to leave at your command."

            Kim walked over to stand beside her Number One and gave the command.

            "Clear all moorings.  Helmsman, take us out and prepare a heading for Rhendarin."

            "Aye aye, captain," he said as he executed her commands.

            For the first time in over a week The Dauntless moved.  Steam hissed out of the exhaust ports and the ship moved slowly away from the dock and the aether beyond.  The ship made its way past the arch that was the entrance and exit to the docks.  Kim's eyes widened as did everyone else on the bridge at the sight.  All saboteurs had been found guilty, Kim knew, but she didn't know what their sentences were.  She turned her back to the window, unable to stare at the sight any longer.

            All of the saboteurs hung limply from long ropes in a line tied to the archway of the docks.  A grim reminder to the Empire that Sal Sagev was Zahn's and the message was made plain to those who thought differently than he did.

            Kim would never forget the image of the dead hanging from the arch.  Nor would she forget the danger that Zahn and people like him represented.

 

Several nights later

 

 

            Kim didn't know how it happened but it was only because of Ron's sharp eye and shrill voice that The Dauntless avoided complete catastrophe.  A raging storm had dogged The Dauntless shortly after the city of Sal Sagev disappeared over the horizon and it never left.  The wind howled and rain pelted the ship from all angles.  Lightning flashed in the distance and then too close for comfort.  In an effort to reduce undue strain on the engine Kim ordered the sails to be reigned in and only to fly at half power.  The hatches were battened down and the crew hunkered down to weather the storm. 

            Ron refused to leave his post atop the Crow's Nest and dutifully kept watch despite the driving rain, fierce winds, and deadly lightning.  It got to the point where he had to be tied to the mast because of the wind.  Kim grudgingly allowed for him to be tied because she knew he'd never forgive her for making him abandon his post, but Yori volunteered to watch him just in case something bad happened.  Kim was surprised when Shego also volunteered to watch her best friend.

            The storm got worse and Kim joined Shego and Yori to watch after Ron against the protests of Dr. Drakken.  Then the storm got so bad that Kim was just about to order Ron down, but then just as it started the rain stopped and the wind died down to a safer level although thunder still rolled across the aether and lightning still streaked across the bow.

            That's when Ron saw it.

            He howled out a warning moments before an Imperial Light Cruiser rose from the dark clouds below, almost directly in front of The Dauntless.  The crew of The Dauntless leapt into action.  Yori cut Ron down and got him to safety as Kim barked orders for the ship to go to battlestations.  Alarm klaxons wailed as sailors ran to their stations.  The Light Cruiser was already loaded for bear and fired a shot from its 10-inch guns.  The shells went wide but exploded close enough to The Dauntless to rock the ship and knock several sailors off of their feet.  The Light Cruiser picked up speed and its turrets moved to compensate.

            Kim, Ron, Shego, and Yori burst onto the bridge.

            "Helm, get us out of here," Kim barked.

            He nodded and proceeded to do his best.

            Kim grabbed the speaking tube to the Engine Room, "Motor Ed?  I need everything she's got!  We got a Cruiser on our tail!"

            "Aye," he called back and a few seconds later the hum and whine of the engine at full power could be heard throughout the ship.

            There was a blinding flash followed by a terrific explosion just across the stern of the ship as another shell exploded.  The resulting shockwave rocked The Dauntless and the glass plate covering the readout console next to Drakken cracked and hissed as steam escaped.

            The Dauntless veered to its left and tilted on its axis as it gained speed quickly.  Glowing shells whizzed past the ship and exploded, pelting the ship in hot shrapnel.  Kim stared through the window and spied a large darker cloud than the rest to the right of the ship.  "Helm, change your heading and take us in there," she ordered as she pointed.

            "Are you sure that's wise, captain?  We're on one of the smaller trade routes and not all of the islands are mapped."

            "You heard the captain," Drakken barked.

            "No it's not wise," Kim added icily, "But we don't have much of a choice now, do we?"

            The helmsman did as ordered as more shells exploded around the ship.  The shells were getting closer and they all knew that their luck wouldn't hold out forever.  Kim turned toward the door where Shego, Ron and Yori stood.

            "Ron, Yori, get fitted for boarding and grab plenty of ammo," Kim commanded.

            Ron saluted, "Aye aye, KP!"

            Yori nodded and followed Ron out.

            "Where do you need me to be, Kim?  I don't really need weapons," she said as she flexed one hand into a fist and called the Glow to it, "I'm always armed."

            "I want you at my side," Kim replied, "Stay close to me no matter what, you hear?"

            Shego nodded, surprised at the commanding tone of her captain's voice.  She liked it!  "Aye aye, captain," she said.

            "Number One!"

            "Yes captain!"

            The Dauntless shook under the shockwave from another close call and her orders were drowned out by the loud explosion.  Kim took a deep breath and repeated.

            "I said I'm going outside!  Someone needs to keep an eye out for any wayward debris or worse.  Keep the window open and follow my orders as I call them out.  NO questions, Number One, just do it!"

            Drakken closed his mouth and nodded, "As you wish, captain."

            "Good, c'mon, Shego!"

            Shego jumped in step behind her captain as they left the bridge and walked out on to the main deck.  The speed of the ship caused the wind to howl and the whistling sounds of the shells as they sped by only made matters worse.  The dark cloud loomed before them then it swallowed Kim, Shego, and The Dauntless.

            "Change altitude!  Ten degrees," Kim yelled to the bridge window behind her.

            She felt the subtle shift in pitch of the deck so she knew the bridge heard her orders.  Kim grasped Shego's hand as the dark cloud stole her sight.  "Stay with me Shego, don't let go."

            "Your wish is my command," Shego said from the darkness next to her.

            "Call on your Glow and shed some light out here."

            Shego complied by raising her other fist and called the Glow.  Her fist glowed brightly enough for her to barely make out Kim in the dark haze of the thick storm cloud.  Kim slipped on her infra-goggles and stared out into the darkness beyond.

            "There!  Shego!  Fire fifteen degrees high at three O'clock!"

            Shego turned her glowing fist and fired a powerful beam of plasma at the area her captain indicated.  The beam shot out into the darkness and illuminated a small floating island that was about half the size of the ship.  She called more of the Glow to her fist and fired again, destroying the small island.  Shards of rock rained down on the deck, Kim, and Shego but the island was no longer a problem for the ship.

            "Good shot," Kim exclaimed.

            "Keep 'em comin', Kimmie, I'm ready!"

            "Helm!  Cut engines to twenty five percent!  Veer to starboard!"

            The ship moved at her orders and the darkness was pierced by blinding flashes of light as shells exploded around the ship but the dark cloud made hitting her a literal stab in the dark.  The dark cloud faded as the ship sailed into an open pocket of air that stretched for several miles.  The wind died down enough that Kim didn't have to scream out orders anymore.  "Helm!  Bring us around!  The Cruiser will be on us in a moment and I want to hit her when she hits this pocket!  Get the guns ready and open the gun ports!  Fifteen degree down angle!  When we come around come back up sharp!  We'll catch 'em on their blind side!  Boarders!"

            Her crew howled and yelled in response.

            "Get your worthless legs on deck and prepare for boarding!"

            Their hollering and hooting turned angry and animalistic.  This was what they wanted to hear!  Kim ran over to the rail at the side of the ship and watched the aether as The Dauntless moved into position.  Shego had to run to keep up with her fiery captain.  She agreed with the rest of the crew; this was Kim at her finest.

            This was Kim Possible, the Air Pirate.

            The sounds of the Light Cruiser's engine had a different pitch and whine than their Mark IV and everyone on the deck heard its engine close by, followed by the intermittent booming of its guns firing wildly in the cloud.  The dark cloud overtook them once again as the ship came around.  The pitch on the deck changed and both Kim and Shego had to hold on to the rail to keep from slipping on the wet deck along with the rest of the boarders.

            Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the silhouette of the Imperial Light Cruiser that was now in front of them, followed by a loud peal of thunder.  The ship veered and moved into position.  The wind returned for a moment...

            ...and then stopped.

            The dark haze of the cloud parted as The Dauntless reentered the open air pocket.  The Light Cruiser was close enough for Kim to see individual crew members scurrying about on their deck but her eagle eye trained to one crew member in particular: the ship's commander.  He was a young man with an efficient crew cut, and looked smart in the Imperial Officer's uniform.  But his look of shock and disbelief as he stared directly at her brought a smile to Kim's lips.

            Everything fell silent as the rest of the Imperial crew turned to follow their commander's eyes and they all gained similar looks like his.  The silence lasted for another heartbeat, then Kim issued the command that pierced the stillness.

            "FIRE!"

            The Dauntless shuddered and shook as both gun decks opened fire.  Streams of cannon fire struck the hull and deck of the Light Cruiser.  The medium cannon of The Dauntless did little damage to the hull but played havoc to the iron and steel deck and the hapless crew stuck there.  The heavy cannon was another story.  It tore through the hull in different places scoring hits to the Cruiser's engine room, rear thrusters and the command deck.  The turrets were slow to turn and return fire.  The Dauntless's  gun decks had enough time to reload and deliver another blistering volley of fire before the turrets were in place.  The heavy cannon took care of the Cruiser's guns and shredded the hull in more places.

            "Grapples," Kim called out.

            The boarders fired their grappling guns at the wounded Cruiser.  "Let's get 'em!"

            Her crew yelled and screamed their battle cries at her last order as they rode the lines to the Cruiser with pistols and swords bared.  Kim attached a hook to a line and rode the rope down to the deck of the enemy vessel and landed in front of the ship's commander.  She pulled her rapier from her scabbard but the commander already had his pistol out and he fired point-blank at her.

            Kim grunted in pain and staggered back as the bullet hit her in the shoulder but her Leather of Iron overcoat did its job and stopped the bullet from doing any major damage.  She regained her footing and with a quick swipe of her blade she knocked the pistol from the commander's hand.  The tip of her blade suddenly went to the man's neck and he raised his hands in surrender.

            The rest of the battle didn't last long, especially when Yori and Shego entered the fray.  In the span of less than five minutes the fight had gone out of the Imperial crew.  Kim kept the tip of her blade against the commander until Shego arrived and tied him up.

            "That was a nice little workout," Shego commented casually as she tied the commander's wrists behind his back.

            "I'd say it had more to do with luck and our scout's eagle eyes," Kim said as she sheathed her rapier and smiled at Ron who heard and beamed with pride at her.

            Shego shrugged and finished tying the commander's wrists, making him wince in pain.  "I can tell that this ship's dead in the aether.  Do you want to go through it and see what it has or do you want to scuttle it?"

            "Get the crew to gather the prisoners and put them on life boats.  I want to check out the command deck and the commander's quarters to see what information I can find."

            "Right," Shego said with a nod, "I'll meet you there shortly."

            "You'll never get away with this, Kim Possible," the commander hissed spitefully.

            "My dear commander," Shego cooed with an evil smile, "she already did!"

            The raven-haired pirate picked up the hapless commander roughly and shoved him over towards one of the life boats.  Kim climbed one of the short steel ladders and made her way to the command deck.  The bridge was in shambles from the cannon fire and it didn't take her long to realize that nothing of value could be salvaged from it.  She drew one of her new lightning guns and made sure it was on the lowest setting before she continued.  She opened the hatch door to the hallway of the command bridge and slowly made her way through the ship to the captain's quarters.

            She opened the door quickly and covered the entrance with her pistol.  The area was clear so she turned off her pistol and holstered it.  She entered the quarters and headed straight for the commander's desk.  On top of the desk were various maps and scattered notes.  She scanned the notes which at a glance were ship complements, task force notes, orders, and troop placements.  She grabbed what she could and stuffed the papers and maps into her bag.  Shego entered the room as Kim rummaged through the drawers of the desk.

            "Find anything?"

            "Some maps and notes but nothing that stands out just yet."

            "I'll help you look," Shego said as she started going through dresser drawers and filing cabinets.

            Kim found official Imperial seals in the drawers, more papers, correspondences, and more hand drawn maps.  She found the ship's log and the commander's log book and put them in her bag.

            "Now what do we have here," Shego exclaimed from behind her.

            "What?"

            Kim stood up and turned to see what Shego was talking about.  Shego grunted as she pulled a small, heavy, metal safe from underneath the bed.  It had a combination lock on it with strange symbols on it instead of numbers.  Shego raised her index finger and smiled.

            "Child's play!  I'll have this opened in a second."

            Kim backed away as Shego called the Glow to her finger  and began cutting open the safe.  True to her word it didn't take her long to get the safe open.  She pulled the door off of its hinges and threw it to the side.  Kim kneeled down to peer inside the safe along with Shego.  The safe was full of books and papers sealed with the Imperial seal of Wayland Arrakis, the Emperor himself.

            Kim reached in and pulled the papers out.  The wax seals were easily broken and she stood up to speed read through several of them.  Shego pulled the small, leather-bound books out of the safe and then she smiled.

            "Jackpot!"

            Kim looked down and watched as Shego pulled out two bars, one was pure silver while the other glistened like gold.

            "Not bad," Kim commented.

            "Finder's keepers," Shego said as she put the bars in her bag.

            Kim went back to looking at the papers.  She broke the seal on a carefully folded envelope and pulled two sheets of paper from it.  She unfolded it and read it.  Shego saw Kim's eyes go wide in shock and all of the color drained from her face.  She dropped the paper she was reading.

            "What is it, Kimmie?  What's wrong?"

            Shego bent down and picked up the papers Kim dropped.  She unfolded them and the first page was a wanted poster with a hand made drawing of a beautiful woman with the name 'BLACK MONICA' underneath in bold print.

            Shego turned to Kim with a quizzical expression as she read the shock on Kim's face.  It didn't take her long to put two and two together.

            "Kim?"

            "It's Monique, Shego," Kim said, her voice barely a whisper.

            "The Empire has Monique."

Chapter Text

On board the Imperial Light Cruiser

 

            "You don't know that," Shego said flatly, "All we have is a wanted poster and a few coordinates."

            Kim tossed the rest of the envelope to her and she caught it.  Another slip of paper slid out and Shego opened it while Kim rummaged through her pack to get out the ship's log.  Shego read the paper while Kim opened the log book. 

            "I don't get it, it's just a bunch of numbers and dashes.  I know it's code but I don't recognize it."

            "That's an Imperial Code from Internal Affairs," Kim answered as she flipped pages, "and specific coordinates."

            "Coordinates to what?"

            Kim didn't answer right away because she was too busy reading the last entry in the ship's log.  Her heart sank even deeper after reading the entry.

            "What?  What is it, Kim?"

            "This ship was answering a distress call from another ship that had engaged the Black Monica an hour before.  She only diverted our way because she caught sight of us.  The battle's over by now," Kim said heavily and tried hard to keep her voice even, but it was a losing battle.

            Shego stepped toward Kim and noted that the distress on her face was getting progressively worse.  "You don't know if any other ships came in to help," Shego offered, "Who knows? Maybe the Black Monica won the day like we did."

            "We need to go," Kim said resolutely as she stuffed the logbook back in her bag and headed out.

            Shego hurried to keep a few steps behind her.

            Kim slid down the ladder to the deck below and barked orders to the first crewman she saw.  "Pass the word: scuttle the ship.  I want us out of here in five minutes so get the charges set, you hear me?"

            The crewman nodded vigorously and ran off to his mates to tell them the captain's orders.  Kim reached the end of the shredded deck and grabbed a grapple line from The Dauntless.  She pulled on it, the line retracted and carried Kim back to her ship.

            "Hey!  Wait up," Shego called out and tugged on another line.

 

The Dauntless

 

            Kim headed for the bridge and ignored the Boatswain.  She placed her bag on the table that had a large colored map of the known world and pulled out the other ship's log book.  She flipped to the page with the coordinates, grabbed a colored pencil and started tracing a line.  Drakken walked over to her and looked over her shoulder.

            "Have you found something?"

            "I gave orders for a quick scuttle so everyone should be back on board in a few minutes," Kim said without looking up from the map, "There.  That's where we're going."

            Kim backed away from the map so Drakken could see.  "The Three Fingers?  That is an unstable region of islands with nothing but rock formations.  What could possibly be there?"

            "Get a course set and head out the moment the last crewman is onboard," Kim ordered, ignoring his question, "Best possible speed."

            "Aye, captain," he said dutifully.

            Kim left the bridge and almost ran into Shego as she was about to enter.

            "Slow down," Shego huffed, "What's the rush?"

            "I have to know," Kim said, "If there's any chance anyone's still alive...I...I need to be there."

            Kim turned back to Drakken, "Maintain battlestations, Number One.  There's no telling what we may find once we get there."

            "Aye-aye, captain," he said.

            Kim pushed her way past Shego.  "Where are you going now?"

            "To my cabin.  I need to go over these logs to see if I can glean anymore information."

            She turned and walked off with purpose.

            "Kim?"

            She stopped and turned back around.

            "Are you gonna be...okay?"

            "I don't know," Kim answered sadly then headed towards her cabin.

            Shego continued to enter the bridge and stopped next to Drakken who stooped over the map and shook his head.

            "That girl is insufferable," he said aloud, "There is absolutely nothing of value in The Three Fingers!  What possessed her to take us there?"

            "Trust me, Doctor D," Shego said as she looked at the map, "She's got a reason."

            "Perhaps you should talk to her.  Try to get her to see the folly in this undertaking."

            Shego shook her head, "Won't work in this case.  She's looking for someone."

            "Looking for someone?"

            "Hopefully an old friend.  What's eating at you anyway, Doctor D?  It's just a collection of islands."

            He turned to her and scowled.  "The captain does not keep abreast of current developments as well as she should.  A freighter was attacked in that area several weeks ago with the loss of the ship and all hands save one.  The survivor reported that the ship was attacked by none other than Azzir Klatch himself."

            Shego frowned at the name.  "Azzir's Bounty?  But that doesn't make sense.  His region of influence is beyond the Great Rift along with the other Undead Pirate Kings.  What is that monster doing way out here?  And even if it's true, there'd be an armada of ships patrolling the area, even the Empire."

            "I know not if the story is true but you know I like to err on the side of caution," he answered.

            Shego turned away from the table to gaze out of the widow.  "Did you tell Kim this?"

            "As usual I was unable to get a word in edgewise aside from my confirmation of her orders."

            "Then I'll go talk to her then.  She'll need to know."

            "Thank you Shego.  Perhaps coming from you she will listen.  She seems to take your words to heart over mine."

            Shego felt herself blush at his innocent remark and she turned away so he couldn't see it.  She strode off of the bridge and headed straight for Kim's cabin.  Drakken turned back to the window and watched as multiple explosions tore the Imperial Light Cruiser to pieces.

           

The Captain's Cabin

 

            Shego didn't bother to knock, opened the door and walked in.  Kim sat at her desk with several lit gas lamps to provide enough light for her to read the ship's log.  She was immersed in the book, her lips pursed in thought as she flipped the pages.

            "It's me, pumpkin," Shego announced as she closed the door behind her.

            Kim nodded and continued to flip the pages back and forth.

            "Did you find anything?"

            Kim's pursed lips turned into a frown and she threw the logbook down in frustration.  "No.  All I have is that Internal Affairs code, the coordinates, and what the commander wrote.  As far as I know Monique is no pirate.  The Black Monica is a free trading vessel just as old as The Dauntless, and I think she's the same class even.  Why would Imperial agents target her?"

            "How long has it been since you and her last saw each other?"

            Kim sighed and rubbed the tiredness out of her eyes, "Over two years ago," she answered with a hint of sadness and regret in her voice.

            Shego stopped behind Kim and put her hands on her captain's shoulders.  "A lot can happen in two years, princess.  Things change."

            "I know," Kim said as she leaned back in her chair so Shego's fingers could get to work massaging the tightness from her muscles, "and I know I should've kept up with things better, but..."

            She stopped and uttered a small groan as Shego's warm hands worked their magic.  She leaned her head back and closed her eyes as Shego ran her fingers through her long, red, hair. 

            "But..." Shego pressed as she stopped.

            "But...things happened.  A lot of things.  Words were said and that was the end of it...or so I thought."

            "Who said the words?"

            Kim sighed sadly, "I did."

            Shego resumed running her fingers through Kim's hair which prompted another groan from her captain.  She called just the barest portion of the Glow to her hands to add more warmth to her massage.  Kim's head rolled from side to side as Shego's finger's explored her scalp.  Shego found the action immensely enjoyable but there was still that other matter...

            "Doctor D said that he has intel that Azzir's Bounty was sighted in the area a few weeks ago.  He thought that you might want to know."

            Kim leaned forward and opened her eyes.  "Azzir's Bounty?  How did he get past the Great Rift?  What's he doing way out here?"

            "I asked Doctor D the same thing but he didn't know.  He heard of a report that a freighter was attacked and destroyed in the area with the loss of all hands except one, and the survivor's account is what Doctor D's going off.  You know how cautious he is."

            Kim sighed heavily, "I never gave him the chance to speak," she said ruefully, "I really need to work on that."

            Shego couldn't help but smile slightly at the comment and she added one of her own, "Yes.  Yes you do.  He is your Num-bah One, after all."

            "Duly noted," Kim said as she spun the chair around to face Shego.  Shego made sure the smile was gone from her face before Kim saw it.  "I know that you want me to explain more on what happened between me and Monique.  I'm not really comfortable talking about it, just like you and your past, but if you really must know I'll tell you."

            Shego shook her head, "In this instance I'm willing to listen but only when you're ready to talk and this isn't the best time or place for that."

            Some of the tension eased in Kim's face and she offered a small smile.  "Thanks."

            Shego moved toward the door and placed her hand on the knob then turned back to Kim.  "There is one question that I have and I'm dying to know the answer."

            "What is it?"

            "Tell the truth now," Shego warned with a raised finger and Kim nodded.

            "Did you love her?"

            Kim had expected the question from the beginning but it still didn't make it any easier for her to answer.  She gulped audibly and took a deep breath.  She made sure to meet Shego's gaze before she answered in a firm, measured voice.

            "Yes."

           

 

Several hours later

 

            The Dauntless sailed through the night sky treading just in front of the raging storm clouds behind it.  Before it loomed The Three Fingers.  The Three Fingers were a collection of floating islands of various sizes and shapes but they all had the same distinguishing feature:  three rock formations on every island that pointed up to the sky.  The smaller islands had smaller formations but the largest island that gave it the name had formations that were so high that they pierced through the upper wispy clouds of the High Aether.  Sickly green lightning danced between the formations and even in the darkness everyone on the bridge saw the wreckage of several ships that strayed too close.

            Kim paced impatiently back and forth on the bridge.  The helmsman turned to her.  "We've reached the coordinates, captain."

            "Good.  Ron, get up top with the strongest light you have and look for anything resembling Black Monica."

            "Right KP!  I remember what she looks like," he exclaimed with a salute then left the bridge.

            Shego leaned in closer to Kim.  "He remembers?  What, Ron knows Monique too?"

            Kim nodded, "Yes, we were all friends at one point.  He's just as anxious as I am to find her, Shego."

            Satisfied for the moment Shego stepped back.  Drakken monitored several readouts at a console nearby.  "The storm is biting at our backs," he warned, "We do not have much time."

            "Right," Kim said then turned to the helmsman, "Helm, take us in but be careful not to get too close.  Whatever's in the rock creates that lightning and we don't want any part of that."

            "Aye-aye," he said and complied with her order.

            The Dauntless sailed downward, closer to the largest island.  The massive rock spires loomed ominously before the tiny ship with streaks of green lightning dancing around them and then several arcs streaked between them.  "Be careful up there, Ron," Kim muttered to herself as the bridge flashed green with the lightning.

            Ron climbed up the ladder to the Crow's Nest.  He didn't have much trouble because the storm was still at their backs and the wind hadn't picked up enough for it to become a problem.  He hooked on the lanyard just in case and used his sharp sight to look for any signs of Black Monica.  The everbright torch in his hardhat sliced through the darkness and enabled him to see the ground easily.  Rufus popped out of his shirt pocket with a miniature version of his hat and helped him search.

            Back on the bridge Kim resumed her pacing while The Three Fingers loomed larger and larger in the window.  Kim tried hard to keep her face impassive but past memories and raw emotion threatened to burst forth at any moment.  Shego watched her as she paced and she could feel the tension that surrounded her captain.  She wanted to tell her something that would ease her worry but she had nothing to offer.  Out of the corner of her eye she caught Drakken's head jerk this way and that as he gazed out into the darkness.

            "What are you look for, Doctor D?"

            "Any sign of movement," he answered stiffly.

            "How's the crew," Kim asked him suddenly.

            He knew what she was referring to, and answered, "The crew stands ready captain, as per your orders."

            "Good," she said and resumed her pacing.

            To Shego the tension only seemed to increase throughout the bridge.  Everyone was on edge.  The streaks of green lightning that illuminated the bridge intermittently probably had something to do with it.  Kim stopped her pacing and said aloud," I'm going to check on Ron.  Number One, you have the bridge."

            Drakken nodded and folded his hands at his back.  Shego fell into step behind Kim.

            "Where are you going," Kim asked.

            "I'm going with you," Shego answered as she flexed her hands into fists, "If the lightning gets too close I can redirect it with my Glow."

            Kim raised an eyebrow in disbelief, "Really?"

            Shego nodded, "Sure," she lied.

            Kim gave her a skeptical look but nodded, "Okay, c'mon."

            "Right behind you."

            By the time they reached the main deck they were almost on top of The Three Fingers.  Lightning danced dangerously close to the ship but Kim paid it no mind as she looked up at the Crow's Nest.

            "You see anything yet," she called out.

            "Nothin' yet, KP," he yelled, "I think we need to get closer."

            "All right, I'll give the order.  Maybe if we hug the ground we'll be out of the lightning's reach.  You'd better come down from there, Ron."

            "Aye-aye, KP," he said as he unhooked the lanyard.

            "Drakken's not gonna like this," Shego said, stating the obvious.

            "I know, but I need to find out something, Shego, one way or the other."

            Shego nodded and in a way she could understand the emotions that had to be boiling underneath Kim's impassive demeanor.  Shego never had many friends, family, or anything resembling a normal life.  That all changed when Kim offered her a position onboard The Dauntless.  She still didn't have anyone she'd consider a friend except for Doctor D and Kim, but the crew was like a family.  They worked together, played together, and fought together so she could understand Kim's motivations even if she didn't exactly agree with them and she suspected that Doctor D felt the same.

            Kim waited for Ron and they went back to the bridge together while Shego took the rear.  Back on the bridge Kim gave the order and waited for Drakken to explode at her, but that never happened.  Instead he nodded and repeated her order to the helmsman.

            "That went easier than I expected," Shego whispered to Kim.

            "He was an Imperial Officer," Kim said, "He knows how to take orders."

            The Dauntless lowered to hover just above the ground of the large island and slowly made her way across the landscape.  Coils of green lightning danced above the ship bathing it in green light.  Ron leapt up the to the window and pressed his face against it as his eyes darted back and forth.  The Dauntless sailed over the wreckage of several ships but none bore the markings of Black Monica.  The ship cleared a large hill and came to the wreckage of an Imperial Destroyer.

            "Hey, KP," Ron said excitedly, "Did that ship's log give the name of the ship that sent the distress call?"

            "Yeah, it was the Crusader, why?"

            Ron smiled as his eyes caught the side of the battered hull with the name Crusader etched in the steel skin.  "I found it," he declared.

            "What?  What did you find," Kim asked excitedly as she ran to the window.

            "There's the Imperial ship that engaged Black Monica," he said as he pointed, "Our girl should be around here somewhere."

            "Good eye," Kim said as she gave him a pat on the back, "Keep looking."

            He nodded.  The remains of the Crusader came into view for the rest on the bridge to see.  The hull was battered and blown open in several places.  The rest of the ship didn't survive the impact with the unforgiving, rocky terrain.  Worry wormed it's way into Kim's heart as she realized that the same fate could have befallen Monique's ship.  She didn't have to wait long to find an answer but her heart sank when she saw the Black Monica come into view.

            The ship was in a bad way in all respects.  All three of her masts were broken and her hull was torn through by the powerful shells of the Imperial Destroyer.  The ship crash landed upright and was held precariously in place by the side of a cliff.

            "Ron, Shego, you're with me," Kim declared, "Number One, prep the sick bay and get ready to receive the injured."

            He nodded.  Ron and Shego stood at Kim's side and they left the bridge.  It didn't take Kim long to gather several armed boarding parties and they stood at the ready as The Dauntless pulled alongside Black Monica.  Kim, Shego, Ron, and Yori were the first group to leave the ship, followed quickly behind by the other boarding parties.

 

Onboard the Black Monica

 

            Kim's boots landed first on the deck with a dull thud followed by Ron, Shego, and the rest.  The wooden planks of the deck were splintered and shattered in many places which made walking a dangerous proposition.  Kim turned to her crew.

            "Be extra careful, men!  Our only task is to find survivors and get them back to the ship safely."

            Green lightning streaked above them.  "Keep your wits about you!  There's no telling if there are any Imperials onboard.  If you find any alive give them the opportunity to surrender, you hear me?"

            The assembled crew grumbled but nodded.  "Good, now head out."

            The crew had already divided themselves up into groups and they dispersed to search.  Shego looked at Kim and saw the worry on her face and then she looked at Ron and his face was a mirror of Kim's.  Yori carefully stepped behind Ron to assume a defensive position as Ron pulled out his pistol.  Kim pulled out one the lightning guns Drakken made for her and turned it on.  The barrel glowed bright blue and the gun had a faint hum that told her that it was ready for action.  Shego activated the Glow around her fists and she was ready.

            "Look," Yori said as she pointed to the exposed side of the ship's hull.

            They all turned to where she pointed and Kim felt her heart shudder as Yori stated what no one wanted to here.

            "The lifeboats are still moored.  They did not even have time to get to the lifeboats."

            "Let's go," Kim said after she swallowed a large lump of bile back down her throat.

            The others followed behind Kim as she carefully made her way across the deck.  The other groups made their way below deck, leaving Kim and her group to scour the bridge and the command deck.  Ron and Shego covered the door that led to the bridge but the door was splintered and off of its hinges due to the impact of the crash.  Kim used her gun to prop what was left of the door open and slowly made her way inside.  The hallway was littered with bodies both men in Imperial uniforms and not.  She stepped over several bodies and had to prop herself on the side of the wall to get over a large mound of bodies.  Her heart sank deeper in despair at the sight before her.  A great battle had taken place onboard the Black Monica and she arrived too late to help.  The men in Imperial uniforms were no mere sailors, they were members of the Imperial Army, by the look of their uniforms.  Men trained in the arts of death against a crew of free traders and merchants.

            They never stood a chance.

            Many soldiers bore the wounds of pistol fire with gaping holes in their foreheads.  Others were still run through with swords and some were skewered to the walls.  But for every dead body that wore an Imperial uniform there were two that didn't.  It was a simple game of numbers that only reinforced Kim's despair.

            They made their way to the bridge and the horror only continued to mount.  The bridge was a blasted mess from a direct hit from one of the Destroyer's shells.  Blood spattered parts of the walls that remained and most of the floor was simply gone.  They could see the deck below and it didn't fare any better.  Kim carefully made her way across the creaking beams that spanned the bridge and made her way to the open hallway that led to the captain's cabin.

            The hallway was less damaged than the rest but it was choked with dead bodies.  By the number of dead crewmen and Imperials Kim reasoned that a final stand took place here.  Most of the faces of the dead were contorted in horror and pain which spoke volumes of the desperate battle that took place.  Beyond the long hallway was the captain's cabin but the door was open and the body of a dead Imperial soldier on the floor kept it open.  Kim forced down her revulsion and despair as she climbed over the bodies of the dead.  She almost fell into the pile and it was only the quick reflexes of both Ron and Shego that saved her from more horror.  She steadied herself and continued down the hallway until she reached the captain's cabin.

            A loud groan issued from deep inside the ship and the echo rang in everyone's ears.  The ship began to tilt to its side for a moment and then it stopped.  Kim looked at the others and it was Yori who spoke the obvious.  "We are running out of time."

            Kim nodded grimly and turned to the others.  "You'd better head back," she said quietly, as she tried to keep her voice from breaking from the strain, "I need to see this myself."

            "You sure, KP?  She was my friend too."

            Kim nodded, "I know, Ron.  This way you won't have to see it.  Just...wait for me by the bridge, I may need help with the..."

            She couldn't finish because her voice finally broke.  The others nodded wordlessly and somberly made their way back to the bridge.

            Kim took a deep breath to steel herself despite the almost overwhelming stench of death in the air.  She stepped into the captain's cabin.

            The cabin was large and opulent, much larger than hers on The Dauntless.  There were signs of battle and two more dead Imperial soldiers.  One soldier still held a discharged pistol in his dead hand.  The captain's desk was overturned and the floor was littered with maps and broken glass. 

            And blood.

            Blood that still flowed.

            With surprising strength Kim shoved the desk aside.  She stepped over one body and pulled the other away.  Monique, the captain of Black Monica, laid underneath him her hand still gripping the dagger that she plunged into the soldier's chest as a final act of defiance.  Kim looked her over quickly.  Her right side was bloody from the pistol shot and she had many cuts on her arms and legs.  She wore the typical captain's garb with a loose-fitting shirt and breeches that was great for mobility but offered no protection from bullets or close quarters fighting.  Kim heart sank to the deepest depths it had been since she found out her parents were missing.  Then her heart skipped a beat.

            Monique still breathed but barely.  Kim carefully scooped her up into her arms and made her way to the door.

            "She...She's alive!"

 

Back on The Dauntless

 

            "Drakken," the helmsman's hollow voice said from the speaking tube.

            "Yes?  What is it?"

            "I think you need to see this," the helmsman responded.

            Drakken noted the concern in the helmsman's voice and ran from sick bay to the bridge still wearing his surgeon's apron.  He arrived on the bridge in short order and barked, "What is it?"

            The helmsman pointed out the window and Drakken's eyes widened in fear.  Outside and above the ship the streaks of lightning increased in frequency and brightness.  Stray lines of lightning moved this way and that but Drakken's technologically-minded mind saw the pattern amid the chaos.  Lightning didn't move like that unless compelled to do so.

            "Sound the alarm," he ordered, "Get everyone back here as quickly as possible!"

 

On the Black Monica

 

            Kim heard the alarm klaxon sound off as they made their way off of the bridge with an unconscious Monique in her arms.  The rest of her crew heard the alarm as well and were making their way back to The Dauntless.

            "Something's not right," Shego said as she trained her eyes to the gathering lightning above them.

            Kim and the rest turned their heads to see what Shego saw.  "I think you're right," Ron stated, "Shouldn't we be moving a little faster?"

            Shego didn't move from behind Kim and she helped her captain by keeping her steady on the weak deck.  They were the last to board The Dauntless and several crewmen pulled the boarding planks onboard.  The Black Monica groaned and slid more to the side against the cliff.  Everyone on deck heard the whine of The Dauntless's engines come to life.  Shego turned to Kim.

            "Get to the bridge and see what's going on, I'll take her to sick bay."

            Kim nodded and handed Monique over to Shego.  They ran inside along with the rest of the crew.  Kim burst onto the bridge and was shocked to see Drakken there.

            "Number One?  Why aren't you in sick bay?  We have a survivor!"

            "On my way, captain, but we do need to depart will all due haste!"

            Outside the lightning combined into a brilliant ball of green power.  The Dauntless was already underway and Kim had to move to the side window to see what was happening.

            Something was coming out of the green ball of lightning.

            An old ship woven together with rotten wood, sinew and bone came out of the portal.  The sails on its triple masts were nothing more than tattered rags.  Massive, ancient cannons adorned its broadsides and moving, ghostly figures dotted its decks.  The cold feeling of dread hit Kim in her stomach as she realized what was happening.  The ship, Azzir's Bounty, had come out of the lightning.  That was how the Undead Pirate King was able to circumvent The Great Rift.

            "Get us out of here," she yelled.

            The helmsman didn't need any prompting and turned the wheel hard as the ship sped away from The Three Fingers.  Kim watched in horror as the undead ship hovered over the wreckage of the Black Monica.  The same green lightning shot from the ship to the wreckage below and in moments ghostly figures rose up to join the crew of Azzir's Bounty.  Kim turned away from the sight as the hum of the engine told her that The Dauntless  was running away at full power.  She turned back to make sure the undead ship wasn't following but it was too busy making new crew members to notice.

            Once again, Kim and her crew were lucky.

            But luck, like everything else, eventually runs out.  How much longer would their luck hold?  Kim didn't dwell long on the answer.  Once she felt there were a safe enough distance away she ordered the helmsman to resume a heading for Rhendarin.  The tired, and scared helmsman nodded, thankful for the thought that they were heading back towards civilization.  Without another word Kim left the bridge and headed straight for sick bay.

 

Sick Bay

 

            The sick bay was a small modular room created in the hold for the most dire of medical emergencies.  Drakken as well as being the ship's first officer also was the closest thing to a surgeon the crew had.  The operating room had a waiting room on the other side of the wall and beyond that was the hallway that connected sick bay to the rest of the storage rooms that made up the hold.  Kim arrived to see Shego leaning against the wall next to the door of the waiting room with her arms folded across her chest.

            "She's inside the operating room and Doctor D is already at work," Shego said as Kim walked up.

            "D-did he give a prognosis?"

            Shego shook her head, "Blondie's inside with Yori.  They were waiting for you, I think."

            "Thanks, Shego," Kim said tiredly, "It's been a long, trying day.  Why don't you try and get some sleep?"

            "I will when I'm good and ready," Shego said.

            Kim nodded and entered the small waiting room.  Yori sat at a chair and stood up when Kim entered.  Ron paced back and forth nervously and Rufus did the same on a small circular table.

            "You are here," Yori said somberly as she threw her arms around Kim and gave her a long hug.

            Kim returned the affection with a hug of her own.  After a moment Yori pulled away and offered the chair to Kim.  The captain declined politely and Yori sat down.  Ron stopped his pacing back and forth as Kim came up to him and the childhood friends shared a long, wordless hug of their own.  They both held each other tightly.  Kim closed her eyes to try to keep them from misting over but it didn't help.  The adrenaline had worn off and was replaced by sheer exhaustion that was felt by all of them.  Ron and Kim released their embrace and each stared into the other's sad eyes.

            "S-she's strong, KP," Ron stammered weakly, "I-I'm sure she'll pull through."

            "Uh-huh," Rufus exclaimed from the table as even he had difficulty trying to sound confident.

            "I know that," Kim said, her voice a somber whisper, "Drakken's going to take good care of her."

            She tried to smile but failed.  She turned to Yori, "Yori?  Can...can Ron and I have a moment alone?"

            "As you wish," Yori said as she stood up then bowed respectfully, "Ron-sama knows where he can find me."

            Yori walked over to Kim and put a reassuring hand on the captain's shoulders, "Remember this, Kimmie-sama, you bear the burdens of this ship and crew but we are your friends and we are here for you as you have been for us.  The burdens do not have to be yours to carry alone.  Do not forget that."

            Kim reached out and hugged Yori again.  It was getting harder and harder not to cry.  "Thank you," she whispered vehemently.

            Yori pulled away and left, and she closed the door quietly behind her.  Ron and Rufus resumed their nervous pacing.  Kim's shoulders slumped forward and she suddenly realized the shoulder that took the pistol hit from the commander of the Imperial Light Cruiser started to throb painfully.

            She ignored it.

            Despite their being alone together there wasn't anything said between Kim and Ron.  Nothing needed to be said and both knew what the other was going to say anyway.  They both found comfort in each other presence and the silence helped.

            An hour passed and then another.  Kim made a cup of coffee for herself and she hand to hold it with both hands to keep her left hand from shaking.  Dark bags hung under both of their eyes from lack of sleep, but the coffee was hot and strong which fortified her from the day's events.  She had just finished the cup and put it down when Drakken opened the door and entered the waiting room.

            Kim stood up and looked at her first mate.  He was a sight.  His surgeon's apron was splattered in spots with blood and Kim feared the worst.  Drakken tiredly took off his operating gloves and turned to Kim and Ron.

            "She is stable and resting," he said and most of the tension deflated in the small room then and there, "She suffered from several gunshot wounds and cuts.  I was able to extricate all of the bullets and clean up the cuts.  I gave her a sedative as well as something for the pain.  She is a strong woman, but I have done all I can, the rest is up to her.  We are closer to Rhendarin than Sal Sagev by now so you may want to bring her to the attention of the Temple District for care."

            Kim barely resisted the urge to throw her arms around her first mate.  "Thank you Drakken!  Thank you!"  Her face lit up with a smile that was genuine and relieved.

            "Just doing my duty," he said stiffly and tiredly, "I trust one of you will come wake me if anything changes?"

            Both Kim and Ron nodded.

            He bowed regally, "Good, then by your leave, captain."

            Kim nodded and Drakken left.  Both Ron and Rufus let out a long exhale and relaxed.  "That was close," he said to her.

            "Too close," she replied ruefully, "Our luck's not going to hold out forever."

            "I don't see it gettin' any better anytime soon," Ron said.

            Kim took a breath to steady herself, but the weight of the past day's events were too much.  "I...I don't know what to do Ron.  First our parents disappear then the Imperials show up and destroy our homes.  They've been nipping at our heels ever since.  And then there's those problems we had with Shego and Drakken, and then more Imperials.  All the leads I've been following are turning into dead ends, and I'm running out of leads from my parent's journals.  Then there's Zahn and those saboteurs and...and more issues with Shego..."

            Shego still leaned against the wall outside and heard the conversation through the thin wall without even straining.

            "...and now this.  Monique never did anything to warrant this.  What has she gotten herself into, Ron?"

            "I don't know," he answered quietly as he walked over to her and put his arms around her, "I don't know, KP."

            His gentle nature and strong embrace was the final straw for her.  Kim shuddered as tears streamed down her face.  She buried her face in his chest and put her arms around him and hugged him back.  He held her as she cried and didn't say a word.  Eventually she pulled away enough to speak.

            "Our whole world's turned upside down and inside out," she sniffed, "If it wasn't for this ship there'd be nothing left."

            "We still have each other," Ron said softly, "We'll always have each other, Kim."

            "But not if the Empire gets their hands on us," Kim retorted, "What if...what if Zahn was right?  What if instead of our parents not wanting to be found, what if...what if they..."

            "Don't talk like that," Ron said sternly, "They're alive, you have to believe that!"

            Ron shook her shoulders gently for emphasis and she sniffed and finally nodded.  "Thanks, Ron.  You're the best."

            "I know," he answered and resumed their hug.  It took Kim a long time to compose herself and when she did she pulled away from Ron.  He turned to the door that led to the operating room.  "What should we do about Monique?  She doesn't have a ship anymore."

            "I don't know, I'm just glad she's still alive," Kim said.

            Ron turned back to her with eyes wide in shock.  "You...you still have feelings for her, don't you?  Even after what she did to you?"

            Kim shrugged helplessly, "I...I don't know anymore, Ron.  Honestly, I don't."

            "But, what about Shego?  I thought you and her were starting something."

            "Again, I don't know.  It's...complicated."

            Ron wasn't the type to butt in on private matters when it came to his short list of friends but Kim was altogether different than the rest.  "Kim, I hate to ask but...what the hell's going on?"

            Kim took in a deep breath to steady herself and gather her thoughts which were all jumbled in her head.  Outside Shego listened intently.  "I...I can't deny that I have feelings for Shego, Ron.  I have for a long time, ever since we started fighting each other.  The flirting between us didn't stop once we convinced her and Drakken to come onboard either, in fact, it got more intense.  Finally I had enough of the flirting and tried to take things to the next step.  But there are...complications...that I'm not going to get into for privacy reasons so I know you'll respect that.  But we're trying.  It's a start, at least."

            Ron nodded after Kim explained what she could and then turned back to the door of the operating room.  "And now that Monique's onboard?  Isn't that going to complicate things even more?"

            "What do you want me to do, Ron?  I'm not going to drop her off on the first island I see," she said hotly.

            He held his hands out in surrender, "Hey!  It's me, KP!  I didn't mean it that way, but it still concerns me."

            Kim lowered her head in shame and she felt her cheeks burn in embarrassment.  "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you like that."

            "It's okay, Kim.  I'm only worried that somehow, some way, I'll be stuck in the middle of a fight between Monique and Shego with you as the prize.  That's not something I want to think about."

            "C'mon Ron," she said as she blushed madly, "It's not going to get like that."

            He raised an eyebrow at her, "Are you sure?  I'm not getting myself in the middle of that again like I did before."

            "That was all my fault," Kim said regretfully, "I had no right to ask you to take sides like that and I'm never going to do that again."

            "You know I always have your back, KP.  It doesn't matter what situation you're in, but when it comes to relationships and stuff like that, well...that's something that you need to handle on your own.  I'll be more than happy to provide moral support but that's gonna be about it."

            "I won't ask for anything more or less," Kim answered sincerely.

            Ron tried unsuccessfully to stop a massive yawn.  "You know Yori is waiting for you," Kim said with a small smile, "You should go to her and get some rest."

            "What about you?"

            "I'm going to watch Monique for a bit and then it's bed for me.  So go on and get some sleep."

            "You sure?  If you need me you can find me at my bunk in the hold.  Good night, KP."

            "Good night Ron."

            He squeezed her tight one more time and kissed her forehead affectionately then left, leaving Kim alone in the waiting room.  He closed the door behind him and turned to leave and almost ran into Shego.

            "Sorry," he said tiredly.

            She shook her head and waved her hand dismissively.  "It's okay.  How's Kim holding up?"

            "She's barely holding it together but you know her, she doesn't let on how much everything affects her."

            He shook his head sadly and ran a hand through his blond hair, "To put things simply: she's a mess just like the rest of us," then his brow furrowed questioningly, "What are you still doing here anyway?"

            She shrugged, "Couldn't sleep.  How's the patient?"

            "Stable.  Drakken said she should pull through but you'd probably get more information from him when he wakes up."

            She nodded stiffly once.  "Thanks.  'Night, Blondie."

            "G'night Shego."

            He left for his bunk knowing that Yori was already there asleep but waiting for him nonetheless.  Shego resumed her silent vigil outside the waiting room and waited.

            Kim fought against the urge to open the door to the operating room for fear of waking Monique.  She reached for her coffee mug when she heard a faint groan from the operating room.  She carefully opened the door and entered.

            The patient laid on the bed next to the empty operating table.  Monique's head was bandaged as was her stomach and right leg.  A simply white gown protected her modesty as did the simple bed sheet that was pulled over her.  Her head moved slowly from one side to the other and she uttered another low, painful groan.  The pain medication and the sedative was wearing off.  Kim quickly was by her side and knelt down next to her.  She gently placed her hand on Monique's forehead.  Monique winced in pain for a moment then her eyes fluttered open revealing dark brown pupils.  She blinked quickly as Kim came into focus.  She frowned in disbelief from what her eyes told her and she closed them again for a moment then opened them again.  Kim was still there.

            "Hi," Kim whispered softly with a soft smile.

            "K-Kim..." she stammered weakly and hoarsely.

            "Don't talk," Kim cooed quietly as she stroked her forehead, "You were in a bad way but you're safe now.  You're onboard The Dauntless and among friends."

            "T-The Dauntless?  Wh...what happened...to my...s-ship?"

            "An Imperial Destroyer attacked you, don't you remember?"

            Her frown told her that she didn't.  "Try to get some rest, Mon, and gather your strength.  We're heading to Rhendarin and I'll get you to a temple so you can get proper care."

            "N-no," she said weakly as she tried to get up.

            Kim stood up quickly and placed her hands on her shoulders to stop her.  Monique didn't get very far as the pain stopped her.  "Don't do that Mon," Kim pleaded, "Please listen to me."

            Monique sighed heavily and painfully as she laid back down.  "M-my ship..." she breathed, "...my crew.  All dead."

            "Hush," Kim cooed as she resumed her position at the side of the bed and stroked her cheek, "Try and get some rest, Mon, I'm not leaving you alone.  I'm going to be right here."

            Monique painfully turned her head to look at her rescuer.  She slowly brought a hand up to Kim's cheek and brushed it affectionately.  Kim took Monique's hand in hers and squeezed it back gently.

            "Kim," Monique said weakly but with a smile, "my Vanima Lote."

            Kim smiled back and her heart pounded against her chest.  Monique had a fondness for the Elvish language and called her "Beautiful Flower" in that tongue and the nickname stuck with her among others.  Kim smiled at Monique and blinked away the tears that escaped.  Monique's smile slowly faded as she closed her eyes and drifted back into sleep.  Kim waited until she was sure Monique was asleep then she rested her head against the side of the bed and closed her eyes to join her former lover in sleep.

            She never let go of Monique's hand.

            Outside of the waiting room Shego saw the rays of sunlight poke through the small circular windows on the side of the hull.  Convinced that Kim wasn't leaving she pushed herself away from the wall and headed back to her room.  On the way she noticed that Doctor D's door was slightly open.  She walked past it and noticed that the room was lit.  She pushed the door open and expected Doctor D to be fast asleep but he sat at an enormously plush chair smoking a pipe and reading a book.  The rush of air when Shego opened the door made the candles flicker and he raised his head to see what the cause of that was.

            "Shego," he said pleasantly, "Come in."

            "I thought you'd be sleeping, Doctor D," she said apologetically, "I saw the light on and I was going to turn it off for you."

            "Thanks for that but I am all right.  I find the first hours of the morning to be the most stimulating for my mental exercises, but please, come in."

            Shego entered his room and he closed the book and placed it on the table.  He took a strong drag on his pipe as he regarded her.  "Something troubles you Shego.  What is it?"

            Shego found herself blushing despite herself.  "I...I don't know if I want to talk about it right now, Doctor D."

            "As you wish," he said with a nod, "But if you should so decide I will be here if you wish to talk."

            "All everyone wants to do on this ship is talk," she grumbled to herself.

            "What was that?"

            "Huh?  Oh, nothing, just thinking to myself.  Good, er, day, Doctor D."

            "Good day, Shego."

            She let herself out and headed back to her room, still blushing and lost in her own thoughts.

 

Later that day

 

            Kim awoke around mid-morning to Drakken coughing loudly and uncomfortably behind her.

            She groggily opened her eyes and tried to stand but her muscles were sore from the position she slept in and she had to stifle a groan to make sure she didn't wake Monique.

            "Pardon my frankness, captain, but you look like hell," he said.

            "Thanks," she said as she stretched the tiredness and soreness from her arms then she yawned.

            "I will take over here now captain.  Your...services...are no longer required."

            "Right," Kim said and rubbed the sleepiness from her eyes.

            "You can trust that I will take the best care of our patient here.  I have better sedatives and pain medicine with me so she should be comfortable until we reach Rhendarin in another day or so barring anything unforeseen."

            "Sounds like you have everything under control here, Number One.  I'll leave you to it then."

            Kim walked stiffly past Drakken as her legs and knees were numb but still tingling like pins and needles.  She stopped at his side, put a hand on his shoulder and turned to him.  "Thank you for doing such a wonderful job, Number One.  I'd be lost without you.  I know I haven't said it lately and I need to listen to you more often, which I'm going to try to do from now on.  But, thanks, for everything."

            He stiffened to his full regal bearing and his face was pleased by his captain's comments.  He bowed his head slightly, "Just doing my duty, captain.  But...you are welcome."

            She smiled tiredly at him and turned toward the door.  "Do you think you can get this rabble to run things quietly for a while?  I think I'm going to lose myself in a shower and a proper bed."

            "I will make sure that not even a 'peep' will encroach upon your quarters, captain."

            "Good," she sighed then turned back to the sleeping form of Monique, "Please wake me if her condition worsens."

            "I shall, now off with you, Kim Possible, so I can get to work."

            "Aye-aye," she said then left.

            Her feet dragged on the floor as she made her way to her cabin.  Her shoulder still throbbed and every muscle was stiff.  She acknowledged the stray crewman that moved aside so she could get by and she eventually made it to her cabin.  She opened the door and welcomed the familiar darkness.  She closed the door behind her and then she smelled it.

            That familiar but expensive perfume Shego loved to wear.

            "Hey, pumpkin," Shego said from the darkness.

            "Shego?"

            A green glow illuminated the darkness in front of her and that glow lit a single candle.  Shego placed the candle holder on the desk and slowly made her way around the table to stand in front of Kim.  In the dancing light of the single candle Kim saw that Shego wore that black and green dress she wore that night that started it all.

            "I thought I'd let myself in," Shego said with a wry smile, "Unless you don't want any company."

            "No, it's all right," Kim said, "Please stay."

            Her grin turned into a smile. "Good, I know it's been a trying past couple of days and I want to do what I can to help you relax."

            "Thanks for that, but first: shower."

            "Okay, let me get it ready for you," Shego exclaimed brightly and before Kim could answer she had bounded off to do just that.

            Kim shook her head and couldn't help but smile.  She had never seen Shego act this way before but it was a welcomed change given what had happened on their way to Rhendarin.  She heard the squeak of the valves turning followed by the sound of rushing water.  Kim walked over to the shower stall and watched as Shego placed a towel over one arm and held a bar of soap in the other.  She turned to Kim and frowned.

            "I thought you said you were gonna get a shower but you're not even undressed yet."

            Kim felt her cheeks burn as she blushed.  "Shego?  A-are you sure about this?  I mean, with your concentration and everything."

            "Trust me, captain, I'm well centered and balanced.  You have my word that I won't try anything dirty and underhanded.  Our truce is still on."

            "Okay," Kim said as she felt her ears burn as hotly as her cheeks. 

            She turned around and began taking off her Leather of Iron outfit.  She hissed in pain when she tried to shrug the top off of her shoulder.  The candlelight showed her and Shego a deep bruise where the commander of the Imperial Light Cruiser shot her with his pistol.  Still the Leather of Iron did it's job.

            "Here," Shego said suddenly behind her, "let me help you with that."

            Kim stiffened involuntarily as Shego's warm fingers danced over the exposed skin of her shoulders and arms.  She gently pulled the rest of the top off and then started on the lower half of the outfit.  Kim closed her eyes, threw her head back, and sighed in pleasure as Shego's fingernails danced up the sides of her exposed thighs.

            "Sh-Shego..." Kim whispered breathlessly.

            "Don't worry, princess," Shego whispered hotly and huskily in her ear, "I'm fine."

            Warm arms wrapped around Kim's stomach and gently coaxed her toward the shower.  Kim complied and hissed at the cascading hot water but she quickly acclimated herself to it.

            "Shego?  Your dress!  It's going to get ruined," Kim protested as Shego's hand left her stomach.

            "Not it's not," Shego whispered behind her.

            Kim stiffened and inhaled sharply as she felt the soft skin of Shego's chest press against her back.  The shock of her touch and stronger warmth than the water sent her mind spiraling wildly.  Warm hands grasped her arms gently and in a low, drawn-out voice Shego said, "Relax, pumpkin and let me get to work."

            Kim had no other recourse but to comply with Shego's wishes.  She had Kim right where she wanted her and there wasn't anything Kim could do about it so she tried to force herself to relax and succeeded somewhat.  Shego was true to her word and despite Kim's initial misgivings, Shego didn't do anything that would set her off and release her Hunger.  Her actions affected Kim more than Shego as Kim hadn't been touched in places like that since...

            She forced that thought from her mind and refused to let past memories mar what was turning out to be a very pleasant experience.  Her head rolled from side to side as Shego made a line of gentle kisses across the back of her neck.  Her hands were completely lathered with soap and she began the cleaning in earnest.

            Shego knew that what she was doing was driving her captain absolutely wild and she tried to keep things as chaste and simple as she could but there were times when Kim stiffened, squealed, or let out a sigh when she reached her most sensitive spots.  To her credit, Kim gave Shego complete access to do what she wanted and Shego took her time, she wanted to do a thorough job, after all.

            Shego detached the movable showerhead and rinsed her off after she was done.  Then she dried her captain off with her towel and wrapped her up in it.  She led Kim to her bed and pulled the sheets back.  She coaxed Kim to lay down and the tired captain didn't need much further prompting.  Shego pulled the sheets over her and then laid down on top of the sheets herself.

            Kim snuggled against the pirate and sighed contentedly.  "That was...nice," she breathed into Shego's neck.

            "Yes it was," Shego admitted with a grin, "As long as I'm not touched I think I can keep the hunger at bay."

            "That's not fair," Kim commented as she snuggled closer.

            "We'll take it in steps," Shego said, "Like I said earlier, I want to do this right."

            Kim sighed and closed her eyes, "Whatever you say Shego."

            Shego stroked her captain's hair affectionately until she was sure she was asleep.  Then she closed her eyes and joined her captain in a deep sleep.

 

Next: Rhendarin and the Destiny of Fate.

Chapter Text

            Shego pulled away from Kim gasping for breath but her captain needed more.  Her fingers ran through her raven hair tenderly and locked behind her head and pulled her back down to her waiting lips.  The pirate half-heartedly resisted for but a moment but her own eager lips refused to be denied.  Their passions locked and drove the other to even greater heights of urgency.  Fingers and tongues tickled, explored, and massaged in areas that caused them to moan in pleasure.  The need was getting too great for either of them to ignore.  Caution was thrown to the wind and their passions intertwined in earnest.

            The moans and groans of her captain was music to Shego's ears.  She had waited for this moment for so long and now what was only once a dream had become a reality.  But with the escalating urgency came the damning Hunger.  It was on her with the force of a hurricane and there was no way to stop it.  Lost in the throes of desire she felt the power build up within her, a gnawing, endless hunger that demanded to be satiated.  She felt her body change, she felt her wings sprout from her back.  Her eyes locked with her captain's and Kim's eyes turned glossy and dilated with lust.  The connection was made, their souls and minds joined in the act of complete intimacy.  Unable to stop herself Shego could only continue.  Her captain glowed with the pure, vibrant life force that resided in all living creatures. 

            Then Shego began to glow as they reached the apex of their intimacy.  Shego cried out as the glow around her captain faded, consumed by the Hunger.  Satisfied, the Hunger retreated back into the depths. 

            Shego blinked and at once realized what happened.  She recoiled in horror at the sight of the empty, dead husk underneath her.  She tried to cry out in disbelief and despair at what she had done but no voice came forth.  She stumbled off of the bed and she found her voice.

            "No!"

 

            "No!"

            Shego nearly jumped out of the bed, her eyes wide in shock and horror from the vivid images of the terrible nightmare.  Sweat dripped from her forehead and her body heaved from breathing heavily.

            "Shego?  It's okay, it was just a bad dream," a gentle voice cooed from the darkness.

            "K-Kim?"

            "I'm right here," her captain replied using the same gentle voice.

            Shego's eyes focused.  She was in the captain's cabin, in Kim's bed.  The incessant tick-tocking of her impressive collection of time pieces wormed their way into her ears.  Her head turned toward the sound of Kim's voice and a massive wave of relief washed over her when she saw her unharmed.

            Kim was up and had a blanket wrapped around herself to protect her modesty.  She stood next to the bed on Shego's side and gave the raven-haired pirate a look of concern.      Shego's body shuddered as the emotions within her threatened to burst forth.  For a moment Shego looked vulnerable and scared which was unlike her.  Shego quickly found herself and the masks were put back into place.  Kim noticed her vulnerability and silently marveled at the pirate as she got her guards up just as quickly.

            "It was only a dream," Kim reiterated as she placed a hard reassuringly on her shoulder, "It's over now."

            "Thank the gods for small miracles," Shego muttered darkly as she got out of the bed.

            Kim averted her eyes and turned around.  She grabbed a long blue robe and handed it to her.  Shego mumbled her thanks as she took it and slipped inside the bathroom to put it on.  Kim took the time alone to change into her captain's outfit choosing a white, frilly shirt instead of the usual cream colored one.  Shego stepped out of the bathroom wearing Kim's blue robe.  Kim turned to her and offered a sweet smile.

            "That color looks good on you."

            "It's not green or black," Shego replied as she made a face and stuck out her tongue.

            "Sorry, I don't have anything in those colors."

            "It'll do," Shego said dismissively then focused her gaze on Kim, "What's the plan for today?"

            Kim slid her rapier into its sheath on her side.  "Let's see...avoid the Imperials, run through a few drills with the crew and hopefully get to Rhendarin in one piece."

            Shego sat down at the table and was surprised to see a cup of piping hot coffee already there for her.  Kim grinned, "Black and strong, right?"

            Shego took hold of the cup and took a sip.  She nodded and offered her captain a hint of a smile, "With a pinch of maple sugar.  Good job, pumpkin, you got it just right."

            Kim beamed at the compliment.  Then her cheeks blushed as she walked up to Shego.  Impulsively she gave the pirate a quick soft kiss on the cheek.  Shego eyes widened in surprise at the gesture and almost dropped her cup.

            "Thank you for last night," Kim breathed in her ear, "I slept like a baby."

            Shego coughed and fidgeted in the chair uncomfortably, "Y-you're w-welcome," she stammered.

            Kim turned away quickly and headed for the door.

            "Where are you going?"

            "I'm going to check on Monique and see how she's doing," Kim answered, but Shego noticed the way her voice wavered when she said her former lover's name, "I'll see you on the bridge later."

            Shego put the cup up to her mouth and nodded.  With that Kim left closing the door quietly behind her.  Shego took another sip of her coffee but her mind was busy replaying the simple kiss on her cheek over and over again.

            She put the cup down and stood up.  She looked around the room and her eyes fell onto the shelves displaying the various time pieces that Kim's mother collected.

            Time.

            To a half-succubus time almost had no meaning.  Then again, not much had meaning for Shego.  Her thoughts turned back to last night.  Despite everything that had happened and her overhearing Kim breaking down in Ron's arms as they waited for Doctor D to finish saving the life of Monique, Kim seemed to have rebounded well.  Shego took some small solace in the fact that perhaps she was able to help, not as much as she would've liked, but she liked to think that it did in some way.

            Maybe that's why she was so...willing...last night.  Shego never had a good mood, and there was good reason for that.  Every day was a non-stop battle for control of herself, the slightest slip-up would result in disaster to everyone around her, as her constant nightmares so vividly illustrated almost every night.  She couldn't accept the fact that she felt sorry for Kim, she just couldn't.  So why did she act the way she did last night?

            Shego knew the answer as only one word came to mind.

            Monique.

            Shego heard the pain behind Kim's voice when she said her name.  She tried so hard to hide it but Shego had suffered heartbreak too and she could tell the telltale signs.  There was no doubt about it, Kim hadn't gotten over the breakup.

            And she still loved her.

            Shego didn't detect any falsehood when Kim told her that it was over but that was before they rescued her captain's former lover.  That's why she acted the way she did last night.

            Shego was jealous, it was just that simple.

            The dark part of her mind told her that a real relationship with Kim wouldn't work based on the fact that if they ever became intimately involved Kim would die.  That was a fact.  But it wasn't like Shego could just find a cave and hide away forever.  Succubi were extremely social creatures, compelled more out of a need for sustenance than a need for companionship.  But Shego was only half, the other half was mortal, flawed, and terribly human.

            The other part of Shego's mind yearned for companionship and all of the trappings and foibles that came along with it.  She had resigned to herself long ago that a normal life was never going to be possible but she tried to present a reasonable facsimile of one.  The only thing that was missing was...

            She sat back down at the table and took another sip of coffee.  It was good, damn good.  She didn't ask for it but Kim made it for her, knowing that she was not a morning person and the only cure for that was hot, strong coffee.  She sighed.

            The whole relationship thing was a grand experiment that had a lot going against it.  They were rivals and former enemies.  Kim still infuriated her at times with her decisions and her mannerisms.  But Shego couldn't deny the fact that those decisions had kept them alive and had turned a tidy profit.  Shego attributed that more to luck than skill although skill played a part.  Back when she worked for Doctor D when he was doing his evil mastermind thing Kim and Ron were always around to stop them.  It would've been easy for Shego to hate Kim for defeating her time and time again, but that never happened, not even when Kim finally defeated her in their last epic battle.

            Shego thought that she would be left for dead and her desire for oblivion would finally be fulfilled, but that wasn't the case.  Kim and Ron had somehow rescued her before the lair self-destructed.  She fled to lick her wounds and brood.

            She was angry at the time, hell, it still made her angry when she focused on it now, but in the end she couldn't fault Kim for making that decision no matter what she might say aloud for anyone listening to hear.

            In fact, Shego was grateful.  She'd never admit it to anyone, least of all Kim, but that didn't change the fact.  By all rights the red-haired hero and her companion should have left but they didn't.  The choice was perplexing and made no sense to Shego's mind, but that was what heroes do.  Score one for Kim.

            In their intervening time together Shego had to come to terms with her feelings for the red-haired pirate.  In truth she still hadn't come to grips with everything but it was a shock that Kim herself wanted to try a relationship without any knowledge of what Shego really was.  In the end it didn't matter to her, all she wanted was a chance.

            For all the pain and hurt Shego caused to her in their battles, this girl, this hero, offered to open herself up in a way that she never expected.  Score two for Kim.

            How could she resist such an offer?

            It wasn't easy and not for the obvious reasons of the Hunger or anything.  Rather she had to search down deep inside that part of her that she thought was dead.  To her own surprise she found that when she was truthful to herself she had feelings for the girl.  The lust had been there from the very beginning and ribald dreams helped to keep her warm at night, but the feelings were there.  It wasn't like she was in love or anything, but...aside from Doctor D Kim was the only other person to show her any kind of kindness and now that kindness was replaced with something even better: genuine affection. 

            But could she reciprocate?  Should she?  The most correct answer was an emphatic HELL NO, but the opportunity was too tempting to pass up.  Shego was careful not to go too far the night before because she didn't want Kim to go off the deep end, her emotions were already jumbled with what happened earlier.  It took Shego some time to center herself and to keep the Hunger at bay, and as long as Kim kept her hands to herself everything went fine.

            In that respect this grand experiment was showing promise.  She proved to herself that she could control the Hunger after a fashion.  It was a tiny step, but at least it was a step in the right direction.

            But with Kim's former lover now in the picture the dynamic between her and her captain could change and there wasn't anything Shego could do about it without bringing more harm and pain to everyone involved.  And anything she might try could drive a wedge between her and Kim and that was something she didn't want.  She found herself in the unfamiliar territory of being caught in events that she had little control over.  All she could do was wait and hope for the best.

            That was what Kim and this grand experiment represented to her.  That was what she had thought she lost years ago.

            Hope.

            With that thought fresh in her mind she finished the coffee Kim made for her, made the bed, got dressed, and went to work.

 

Sick Bay

            Kim opened the door to the surgery room and to her surprise she saw that Monique was awake.  Drakken was there doing last checks on the patient and then he turned to Kim when she entered.

            "Captain," he said formally.

            "Number One," she replied with a nod then turned to look down at Monique, "How's she doing?"

            "I can answer for myself," Monique said hoarsely and weakly as she struggled to sit up.

            "Please be still," Drakken said as he put his hands on her shoulders to restrain her.

            She relented reluctantly and winced in pain as as she laid back down.  His job done he turned back to Kim.

            "I am done here for the time being.  I will be on the bridge but do not hesitate to call me if her condition changes."

            "I will."

            He bowed," By your leave."

            She returned the bow and Drakken left.  Kim moved to sit on the edge of the bed and stared down at Monique.  She ran her fingers through the girl's dark locks to keep the clumps away from her face.  The dusky skin of Monique's cheeks blushed beautifully and her pained expression changed for a moment.

            "How are you feeling today?"

            The pained expression returned.  "Sore all over, my Vanima Lote, but at least I'm alive."

            Kim felt her own cheeks burn at the Elven nickname, but she didn't draw attention to it.  Her tone turned grave as she spoke, "You were up to your hair in Imperials, Mon.  The Black Monica is gone and the souls of your crew were taken by Azzir Klatch, one of the Undead Pirate Lords shortly after we arrive to rescue you.  You're no Air Pirate, Mon, so why are the Imperials after you?"

            "I-I don't know," she lied.

            Kim held her gaze for a moment then turned away.  Kim could tell that the injured pirate was lying through her teeth and it hurt her that her former friend could lie to her in such a way.  But then a thought entered her mind, perhaps she kept the information from her for a reason.  She sighed inwardly as she came to the decision not to confront her about it...yet.

            "What do you remember?"

            The pain on her face increased.  "We were making a cargo run for Sardal Goldthorn, a wealthy elf merchant based out of Stormhaven.  The cargo wasn't anything special but it was expensive.  Elven spices, silks, and trinkets mostly.  There wasn't anything illegal about our cargo so I still don't know why we were attacked."

            "Where were you going?"

            "The Isle of Rain in the south.  The trade routes went around The Three Fingers but we'd get a bonus if we delivered early so I made the decision to go through the Fingers."

            Her face fell, "And here I thought I'd be doing the crew a favor with going for that bonus.  Our normal routes paid well but this was an opportunity to make some real money.  I guess it's all moot now."

            "Mon," Kim said quietly, sharing her former lover's sorrow at the loss of her ship and crew.

            "I-I still can't believe they're all dead," she said as she shut her eyes tight to keep herself from crying.

            "Please, Mon, be still," Kim said quietly, "You don't want to injure yourself more than you already are."

            "What's the point, Kim?  I have no ship, no crew!  I-"

            She stopped as her body spasmed in from the trauma of her injuries.  Kim was on her feet in an instant and gently held her shoulders down on the bed until the spell passed.  Monique breathed heavily and in obvious pain.  "I told you not to strain yourself," Kim admonished hotly, "You're under my care here, Mon.  As such you're a guest on my ship but here I'm still the captain and I will have my orders obeyed!"

            The tension in Monique's face lessened somewhat and she nodded, "Aye-aye...captain," she replied huskily.

            "Good," Kim said, her voice softening as she spoke, "You get some more rest and I'll make sure we get some food down here for you later on."

            "I-is that an o-order?"

            "Affirmative."

            Despite the pain Monique smiled, "Aye-aye."

            Kim couldn't help herself as repressed feelings resurfaced.  She stroked Monique's cheek with the back of a finger and Monique's smile widened.  Her face moved slightly to get more contact with Kim's finger.  Kim retracted it as Monique settled into a more comfortable position and drifted off into sleep.  Kim got up and left for the bridge, her mind still reminiscing about happier times with their sleeping "guest".

 

The Bridge

            Kim arrived on the bridge in a sour mood.  Shego and Drakken were pouring over the shift rosters and the duty lists while everyone else was at their station.  The Boatswain whistled and called the bridge to attention.  Kim waived him off and took position next to Drakken.

            "What's the 'sitch, Number One?"

            He passed the rosters and duty lists to Shego and turned to his captain.  "There is no 'sitch' to report, captain," he said evenly, "We are on course for Rhendarin, but we are sticking to lesser used routes to avoid Imperial contact.  Therefore our estimated time of arrival is at or just after daybreak tomorrow."

            "I hate dragging our feet," she grumbled.

            "It is necessary," Drakken said, "Especially since we have a patient with extensive injuries."

            "I know," Kim replied, her mood still dark, "Anything else to report?"

            "Doctor D gave me the shift rosters and the duty lists, I'll be handling those," Shego said.

            Kim nodded at her then turned back toward Drakken, "Good.  I want Ron to run the fist set of drills with the second shift, Shego can do the other sets.  Drakken, you'll handle first shift and I'll handle third."

            He nodded, "Yes, captain."

            Shego walked behind her and quietly asked," How's the patient doing?"

            "She's still in a lot of pain," Kim answered as she turned towards Drakken and nodded, "But thanks to the good doctor here she should make a full recovery in time."

            Drakken heard the compliment and nodded back.

            The strain and worry in Kim's voice was unmistakable but Shego didn't say anything and went about her duties.  Kim busied herself with the command of The Dauntless but her mood didn't change.

 

On the way to Sick Bay, hours later

            Kim held the closed tray of food carefully; she knew that Monique had to be starving since no one knew the last time she ate.  She saw the door open and Ron exit.  He held the door open for her and closed it after she entered.

            Kim smiled warmly," Hungry?"

            "Yes," Monique exclaimed emphatically.

            Monique was already sitting up and smiled back at Kim.  She placed the tray on a table next to the bed and removed the cover revealing a select menu of food prepared by the cook.  Monique's eyes glittered when she saw it.

            Kim pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down.  She placed a plate full of food on her lap and fed Monique.  Her sour mood had softened somewhat as she watched Monique eat.  The color returned to her face and the drugged look was gone from her eyes.  Monique ate what Kim gave her slowly and carefully swallowed each bite.

            "I saw that Ron came by to visit you," Kim said conversationally.

            Monique nodded and blushed.  "Yeah, I...I missed him."

            "He missed you too," Kim said.

            Monique declined the next bite and turned to stare directly into Kim's eyes.  "Kim...I...I wanted to say-"

            "Don't," Kim interrupted, "You don't have to say anything, Mon.  You need to get your strength back before anything else."

            "N-no," Monique said adamantly, "I...I need to say it.  Kim, I'm...I'm sorry...for everything."

            Kim forced the mist from her eyes and smiled sadly at the former captain.  "I...I don't expect you to believe me," Monique said in a small voice, "But it's true.  I...I remember what you said and you were right; I was everything you said I was.  I..."

            She took a shuddering breath to steady herself and her resolve.  "...I can't ask for your forgiveness, I don't have the right to ask that for what I've done, but you should know that I am truly, deeply, sorry for what I did to you and...to us."

            To Kim it looked like Monique was almost to the point of tears.  Gingerly she placed a hand on her cheek and brushed away a few stray hairs.  "Mon," Kim said quietly, but her voice was full of emotion, "Don't do this to yourself.  That was all in the past, it's over now.  I..."

            The alarm klaxon cut off the rest of her words.  Kim placed the plate on the table and stood up.

            "What's wrong?"

            "We've got company," Kim replied then turned to look down at Monique, "You stay here and eat," she ordered, "I'll be back when I can."

            Monique nodded and Kim left.

 

The Bridge

            "What's the sitch," Kim asked as she stormed onto the bridge, completely ignoring the Boatswain as he announced her entrance.

            Drakken turned toward her, "We have company," he said in alarm as he pointed out the window.

            Kim walked up to him and stared out the main window.  "Who is it?"

            Outside a large tri-mast ship approached on an attack vector.  The hull was battered and patched in various places, showing the many battles the ship had survived through.  The wooden hull was painted in deep red and the outlines of its triple gun decks were outlined in black.  A black flag was raised on the main mast and it displayed the typical skull and crossbones motif that was all the rage among air pirates.

            "It's the Blackjack," Drakken answered evenly.

            Kim exhaled in annoyance, "Oh no," she groaned, "Not him!"

            Drakken gave his captain a rueful look, "I'm afraid so."

            "What the hell's he doing here?"

            "I don't know, Shego," Drakken answered, "But it seems that he has been following us for some time."

            "Battlestations," Kim commanded and headed for the door.

            Shego ran up behind her, "Where are you going?"

            "To the deck," Kim answered, "I need to see what this is about."

            "I'm coming with you," Shego said.

            Kim didn't argue so Shego fell into step behind her and they left the bridge.

 

Outside

            The Blackjack veered off its attack vector enough to come alongside The Dauntless.  Kim and Shego met up with Ron and the rest of the crew as they stared at the ship their hand close to their weapons.  The crew on the Blackjack faced them and waved their cutlasses menacingly and jeered at them.  Before them stood Blackjack himself, a tall, stock man, he was broad shouldered, his hair and beard long and unkempt.  He had slow burning matches tied to the end of his beard in an effort to look intimidating, and it would be intimidating on just about everyone else except him.  His right eye was lazy and stared off in the other direction and he insisted on wearing baggy leggings that were several sizes larger than his frame.

            He pulled a massive cutlass from his scabbard and thrust it towards The Dauntless.  "Kim Possible," he roared, "I told you I'd be back!  No one escapes from Blackjack!"

            Shego turned to Kim and asked, "What's he talking about?"

            She sighed, "Right before you and Drakken joined us we ran into this...man.  He took us for a prize ship and attacked.  He wasn't expecting us to fight back."

            A wicked smirk appeared on Shego's face, "I'll bet."

            "We beat them back and tore up their ship pretty bad in the process.  It looks like he got her patched up though."

            She turned back to Blackjack.  "Go about your business, Blackjack!  You know what happened last time you tried to attack us!"

            Her crew roared in agreement, even Ron waved his sword above his head.  Shego looked around and was impressed.  The crew was ready for a fight!

            In response the gun decks on the Blackjack opened.  Kim didn't have to give the order because her Number One already knew what to do.  The Dauntless's gun decks also opened.  Kim frowned in annoyance and cursed herself inwardly, she didn't want to fight, not with the injured woman on board and them so close to Rhendarin.  There was also no telling if there were any Imperial ships around the area either.

            Blackjack roared a challenge and his ship veered off, gaining speed.  Kim grabbed the railing as The Dauntless gained speed and yawed in the other direction.  Both ships circled about and came at each other head on.  Kim guessed correctly that the pirate wanted to take The Dauntless the hard way.  Grapples fired from the Blackjack and latched onto the deck of her ship.

            "Prepare to repel boarders," Kim barked as she drew her rapier.

            The Blackjack stopped alongside of The Dauntless and its crew swung over onto the deck.  Kim's crew met the attackers with their weapons and the battle began in earnest.  Kim blocked a clumsy lunge from one attacker and ducked under another.  Shego pulled out her blade and engaged three pirates simultaneously.  Ron fended off two attackers with his sword as more pirates swung over.

            Kim lashed out and caught one pirate in the shoulder with the tip of her rapier.  He yelled in pain and dropped his cutlass.  She kicked it away from him and followed through smashing her basket hilt into his ugly face.  The pirate reeled from the blow and fell to the deck but Kim didn't have time to celebrate as two more pirates closed in on her.

            Shego ducked and weaved through the clumsy assaults of the three pirates on her.  Her weapon was a longsword which was heavier than a rapier and a bit slower but she knew how to use it for deadly effect.  The three pirates came at her all at once and she was ready for it.  She brought her blade up at a slight angle and caught all three of the pirate's blades.  She screamed as she heaved outward, her strength surprised the pirates as she flung their weapons clean out of their hands.  She spun around as they stared stupidly at their open hands and sent out her boot.  The boot smashed into their faces one by one, sending them spiraling across the deck.

            Ron and the rest of the crew held their own against the invading pirates and covered the doors to the bridge and below deck.  But more pirates were swinging over from the Blackjack, how many crewmen did he have anyway?

            Kim tumbled out of the way of the first pirate's lunged and flipped up to her feet and was barely able to get her rapier in place to block the attack from the other pirate.  She heard an angry growl behind her and she ducked and felt the air swish past above her as she dodged a swing from a heavy cutlass.  She flipped backwards to dodge two more swings from her front and sailed over the assailant at her back.  She landed on her feet, her rapier out defensively.  Her attacker from the back was Blackjack himself and he roared and came at her again.

            Shego found herself losing ground as more and more pirates came at her.  None of the pirates against her were particularly talented with their weapons but their sheer force of numbers more than made up for any martial deficiency.  She found herself fighting back to back with Ron and he was having a hard time like she was.  Wordlessly, they switched positions.  Ron jumped over a low lunge and swung down himself, knocking back one pirate.  Shego pressed her attack and forced the other pirates back as more members of the crew came to their aid. 

            Kim grunted as pain shot through her sword arm from the shock of Blackjack's cutlass as she blocked it.  He came at her again, roaring and swinging wildly.  She ducked and spun around the large pirate.  She planted a boot in his rear end causing him to lose his balance and he fell into the pirates in front of him.  He threw them away roughly and turned around to face her.  She was crouched low in a defensive position, her rapier at the ready.  He ran toward her, his cutlass out wide.  Kim leapt at him before he could bring his cutlass down on her and smashed his face with her knee.  He staggered back and she lashed out with her rapier, cutting off the belt that held his leggings together.  They dropped exposing the pink and white striped underwear he wore.

            The pirates were starting to gain ground against the crew of The Dauntless.  Shego and Ron backed up a step as more pirates came over from the other ship.  "This isn't looking good," Ron remarked grimly.

            Shego wasn't as worried, she could call on the Glow and end this before it got worse but there was a chance that her plasma could ignite the ship and there was only one place to go after that.

            Straight down.

            Suddenly the sky darkened overhead and thunder rumbled ominously across the clouding sky.  Everyone stopped and looked up at the gathering swirl of dark clouds.  Lightning flashed followed by more thunder.  Kim and Blackjack disengaged as they looked up in wonder.  The clouds swirled into a massive funnel as the wind picked up.  The funnel came down as the wind grew stronger and stronger.  Kim sheathed her weapon quickly and dashed for the railing that lined the deck and held on for dear life as the wind continued to howl and grow.  The rest of her crew did the same, grabbing on to anything that was tethered to the deck.  The funnel lowered more and several miniature funnels appeared on the deck, sweeping over the attacking pirates.

            The pirates screamed and howled in fright as the swirling funnels gathered them up and carried them back over to the Blackjack.  Blackjack himself gamely stood his ground, comically holding his leggings up with one hand.  It took two funnels to lift him off of the deck and carry him over to his ship.  The large funnel continued to lower and when the last pirate was carried over the dark funnel engulfed the Blackjack

            Kim could barely make out the ship swirling out of control and at the complete mercy of the maelstrom.  The funnel raised back up to the clouds carrying the ship and crew with it.  Flashes of lightning pulsed inside the dark cloud and Kim could see secondary explosions on the Blackjack caused by the lightning.  The dark cloud moved away and began to dissipate.  Another small funnel of swirling dark air came down from the cloud and made its way towards The Dauntless.  The dark clouds overhead disappeared completely and there was no sign of the Blackjack.  The wind died down as the funnel touched down on the deck near where Kim held onto the railing. 

            The small funnel dissipated revealing Monique floating in mid-air, her eyes shut tight in concentration and her arms out.  Her eyes opened as her feet gently touched the deck.

            Kim was up in an instant and ran over to Monique.

            "An Air Mage," Shego breathed in wide-eyed awe.

            "I prefer the term...Wind Witch myself," Monique said huskily then her eyes closed and she collapsed in Kim's arms.

            "Monique," Kim cried angrily, "I told you to rest!  You could've hurt yourself even more than you already are!"

            "S-sorry, captain," she said weakly, "B-but it looked...like you...needed some help."

            Kim lifted her into her arms and made her way to the door that led below deck.  One crewman opened the door for her and Kim took the now unconscious Wind Witch back to Sick Bay.

 

Back in Sick Bay

            Kim put the damp compress on Monique's forehead and stroked her cheek with a knuckle.  Her eyes fluttered open and focused on Kim.  The Wind Witch noted the look of concern the red-haired captain gave her.

            "D-don't fret over me, c-captain," she said weakly, "I'm f-feeling better."

            "Sure you are," Kim replied angrily, "It's not your fault that you can't follow orders from the captain.  Only fellow captains feel the need to disregard orders."

            Monique couldn't help but smile at the sharp remark, "Guilty as charged," she said.

            Kim sighed heavily and shook her head, "Mon, what am I going to do with you?"

            "I'm sure you'll think of something," she replied coyly.

            Kim blushed at her words and opened her mouth to reply but a loud, sharp cough behind her prevented that.  Kim turned to see Shego and Ron standing behind her.

            "Just checking on the one who saved our collective asses," Shego said as she stepped up to stand next to Kim and knelt down next to her while Ron stood behind his captain.

            "Thanks for the assist, Mon," Ron said gravely with a nod.

            "Don't encourage her," Kim admonished to both of them, "She could've really hurt herself out there!"

            "Glad to help," Monique said with a weak smile.

            "Look, pumpkin," Shego said in a reasonable voice, "Yeah, we probably could've beaten them back but they had numbers on their side.  Doctor D did a head count and we didn't lose a single crew member.  If she didn't help things would've been much worse."

            "I know, but-"

            "But what?  So she has a tough time following orders.  So what?  She's not even a member of the crew."

            Kim sighed.  "I just don't want her to get hurt again," she said, her voice full of  emotion.

            "I'm tougher than I look," Monique said quietly as she grabbed Kim's hand and squeezed it tenderly, "But you're right, I'm your guest and I'm sorry for disobeying your orders.  It won't happen again...unless you get into more trouble."

            Kim gave her a look of mild disapproval but she couldn't hold it for long because of the way her former lover smiled at her.  Kim's voice softened and she ran her fingers through her hair.  Monique let go of her hand and closed her eyes.  Kim bent down and gave her a light kiss on her cheek.  "Rest easy, Mon," she whispered then she stood up.

            Ron and Shego followed Kim out.

            "She'll be okay, KP," Ron said in a reassuring voice.

            "Ron, once we make port in Rhendarin I want you to accompany me and Monique to the Temple District.  There at least I can be sure she'll get the help she needs."

            "Of course, KP," he answered with a nod.

            Kim turned to Shego next, "Shego?  I'll give you some funds and I'd like you to get our rooms at The Destiny of Fate.  Once we're done in the Temple District we'll meet you there."

            "Okay, pumpkin," she said.

            "Good.  Now back to business; I'm heading back to the bridge.  Shego, I want you to work with Number One on a damage assessment.  Have him give me the report in an hour or so.  Ron?  Go through the sails and the rigging and make sure everything's okay."

            "Right, KP."

            Ron split off from the pair to complete Kim's orders.  Shego chanced a glance at Kim from the side and she noted the depressed look on Kim's face.  She wanted to say something to her to get that face off of her but she couldn't think of anything. 

            "Yes, I'm bothered," Kim said aloud.

            Shego blushed, "Sorry, but when you look like that I tend to worry."

            Kim stopped and turned toward her.  "It's nothing, Shego.  I know the ship and the crew are fine, and they did great against Blackjack and his goons."

            "So why the long face then?"

            Kim looked away from her on purpose.  "I...I don't want to talk about it right now, maybe later, okay?"

            Shego nodded and they made their way back to the bridge.  Luckily for Kim the rest of the day passed without any further incidents.

 

The Captain's Cabin, late evening

            Kim had already showered and changed into one of her silk robes by the time Shego entered the cabin.  Kim sat at the table and was going through her father's journal when Shego came in quietly and carefully closed the door behind her.  She turned around and gave Kim a look of surprise.

            "You're still up?  I figured you'd be asleep long before I came in."

            Kim yawned and closed the journal.  "Couldn't sleep," she said tiredly.

            Shego walked over to her and stopped a few feet away.  Kim suddenly felt very self-conscious as she knew Shego was staring at her.

            "What is it?"

            "You've worn that sad face ever since we beat Blackjack," Shego said with a worried look of her own, "Are...are you okay, pumpkin?"

            Kim tried to wave it off, "Just stressed, I guess," she replied nonchalantly.

            Shego didn't buy it, but she didn't voice her concerns...yet.

            "The water's nice and hot and the towels are clean and fresh if you want to shower," Kim said as she placed her father's journal on top of her mother's.

            "Thanks," Shego said and walked off to clean herself up and get ready for bed.                

            Kim spent the time staring at the burning candle on the table.  She felt depressed...no, depressed wasn't the right word.  She felt betrayedShe knew better than that, Kim thought to herself, If things went badly she...she could've...

            In a surprising fit of anger she suddenly slammed her clenched fist on to the table, knocking over the candle.  Kim reacted quickly and righted the candle before it burnt any of the valuable maps that was the lifeblood of The Dauntless.

            Shego had finished her shower and tied her green and black robe together and watched in surprise at her captain's short outburst from the bathroom.  She hadn't seen Kim depressed before and this made her feel...odd.  The feeling was strange only because it arose a need in her to make her captain stop feeling that way.  Shego never had that kind of feeling for anyone before, and she wasn't sure what to do about it.

            "Kim?  Is...is everything alright?"

            Kim sighed heavily, she felt the weight of the sundered world on her shoulders.  The weight was magnified with each setback and false lead in her quest to find her parents.  The burdens only increased now that her former lover had entered the picture.  Shego had enough problems of her own, a self-endured private hell that prevented any kind of intimate contact because the alternative was a hollow death for the victim of Shego's affections.  Kim couldn't lie to herself and deep down she knew she still had deep feelings for Monique even despite how things ended.  How could she make Shego understand?

            "I...I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk to you about it," Kim said with an edge of bitterness and sadness in her voice.

            "Well you can," Shego offered as she walked over to stand behind Kim.

            Gently she placed her hands on Kim's shoulders and she felt just how taut her muscles were.  "Why don't you come to bed and we can talk."

            Kim nodded and Shego backed away so Kim could get up from the chair.  Shego blew out the other candles as Kim made her way to the bed.  Shego blew out the last candle and felt her way to the bed.  Kim scooted over and Shego slid between the cool sheets.  Shego got comfortable and was surprised when Kim threw her arms around her and hugged her so tightly that Shego had trouble breathing and then Kim buried her face in Shego's chest.  Shego gingerly put her arms around her captain and held her.  Shego felt Kim's body shudder and that was followed by muted whimpers.  Shego held her until she stopped crying and Kim eventually pulled away.

            "S-sorry," Kim said miserably.

            "It's okay, pumpkin" Shego said in a soothing voice.

            Kim sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks.  "You really want to know what's bothering me?"

            "Yes."

            "Fine, I'll tell you.  It's Monique, but it's not what you think."

            Shego thought she had already prepared herself for this conversation but the cold feeling that wormed it's way in the pit of her stomach told her just how unprepared she was.

            "What do you mean?"

            "Yes, she and I were close, very close, once.  But I want you to understand that all of that is in the past, Shego.  Please believe me when I say that."

            "Oookay," Shego replied in a questioning voice.

            "I still love her and...and I think I always will.  But I'm not going to let my feelings for her come between us.  I still want there to be an 'us'.  I don't want you worrying about what Mon and I had, nor do I want you worrying about her trying to steal me away from you because its sooo not gonna happen."

            "Are you sure?  I mean, you know what I am and what we can't do.  Have you thought this out yet?"

            Shego's answer was a sudden, deep, passionate kiss that went a long way toward allaying her fears and inner doubts.  Kim pulled away quickly for fear of igniting the Hunger.

            "Sorry," Kim said breathlessly, "Are you alright?  I shouldn't have done that."

            It took Shego a moment to compose herself and find her center to keep the Hunger at bay.  "I-I'm okay," she replied in a faltering voice.

            Kim leaned in to snuggle close to the raven-haired pirate.  Her body heat enveloped Kim like another blanket.  "I haven't forgot about visiting the South Lands," Kim said quietly as she nestled her cheek against Shego's chest, "We will find a way to get around this, I promise, Shego."

            Shego hugged her in response then spoke, "Thanks, pumpkin.  That...that means a lot to me."

            They held each other for a long time then Kim readjusted herself so that her back was against Shego's front and the pirate's arms were wrapped around her protectively.  Shego could tell that Kim was feeling a bit better but she was still depressed.

            "Kimmie?"

            "Hmm?"

            "What did you mean when you said that you were bothered by Monique but it wasn't what I thought?"

            Kim sighed heavily.  There was a noticeable moment of silence between them before Kim answered.

            "She lied to me, Shego...again.  I asked her why the Imperials were after her and she lied directly to my face.  I...I can't just let her go by herself, I just can't.  But having her around could put the crew in even more danger than it's already in.  I don't know if I'm making the right choice as far as my crew is concerned."

            "Well, we're already wanted by the Empire so I'm not too worried about that," Shego said, "Maybe you should confront her about it once she's fully healed."

            "I'm going to," Kim said sadly, "But either way I don't think it's going to be pleasant."

            Shego hugged her captain tight, "That's something for another time.  We should both get some rest, we'll be at Rhendarin soon."

            "Good night, Shego."

            "Sleep well, pumpkin."

            Shego didn't close her eyes until Kim's breathing became slow and deep indicating that her captain had finally fallen asleep.  She snuggled against her captain and buried her face in Kim's red hair and slept.

 

The Free City of Rhendarin, early morning

 

            The Free City of Rhendarin was large and majestic in scope, larger by far than Sal Sagev and even many of the Empire's largest cities save for the capital.  The island itself was massive and the singular dominating feature was the tall single mountain that encompassed virtually all of the space.  The city itself was carved from the very mountain with towering, majestic spires, two thick rings of walls that encompassed the city, and a modern street system that allowed the city's populace to go about their day with a minimum of difficulty.  Like other cities Rhendarin was divided into districts with walls separating them from each other.  The city had four active ports with three of them able to accommodate the largest of cargo vessels and military ships.

            Rhendarin had a strong and well-trained navy with many fast sloops, cutters, and a number of heavily armed frigates.  Rhendarin included two steel-clad vessels in its inventory, a medium cruiser, and a heavy destroyer.  These two ships alone were a match for most ships, including many of the ships commissioned in the Empire.  To complement Rhendarin's navy each ship had two mages assigned to them and they all specialized in fire magic making the ships they served on even more dangerous.

            The Free City of Rhendarin was in a prime location as it was a central hub of commerce.  Three major trade routes liked the city to the Empire, the Elven Lands, the South, and to the north several smaller trade routes connected the city to several Orc tribes that were somewhat friendlier than the rest.  Gold, spices, and silks flowed freely into the city and out at all hours of the day making the heads of the trading companies richer by the day.

            Aside from commerce there was a heavy adventurer presence.  Being the hub of major trade routes Rhendarin was a great place to meet and hire adventurers and mercenaries for any job.  The Adventurer's Guild has a presence in the city and is a major patron for adventurers of all types.  The Guild is the major backer for Rhendarin's sole center of learning, Bastion University, called a bastion of knowledge and a bastion against ignorance.  But Bastion University had a deserved reputation for being a launching point for ruins exploration and anything else that the Adventurer's Guild required than an institute of higher learning.

            Where the architecture of Sal Sagev was a throwback to an earlier era Rhendarin was far more modern.  All of the buildings were cut and shaped from the mountain itself and the towering smokestacks reached into the aether and competed with the spires for domination.  A labyrinth of pipes connected all of the buildings, providing them with running water and other amenities that Sal Sagev didn't have. 

            Rhendarin was a metropolis on par with the Empire's largest cities and aside from being a hub of commerce the city was an industrial power, making its own ships and weapons as needed.  Lucrative contracts with other free cities and the Elven Lands made Rhendarin a comfortable buffer zone between the other free lands and the Empire.  A popular saying in Rhendarin was "if it can be thought, it can be bought", and the Council of Elders ensured the city ran smoothly so that gold flowed easily.  Slaves were the only thing outlawed by the Council, but everything else was fair game with restrictions for public safety.  But drugs, hardware, and weapons outlawed in other nations could easily be found and purchased with little or no risk to the buyer if he or she was smart.

            Rhendarin was an adventurer's paradise and many a lucrative career was launched from the bowels of the city.  Like Sal Sagev Rhendarin had an inn and tavern that rivaled The Raven's Nest in fame, the Destiny of Fate Inn and Tavern, but most just shortened the name to The Destiny.  Like the Raven's Nest it was a meeting place to wind down, meet contacts, hire mercenaries, and gather information, because everybody knows that bartenders know everything about everything and if they didn't they knew where to point to find the answer.  The Destiny was the second largest spire in Rhendarin, only the fortress that housed the Council and the guard was larger.  The Destiny was famous for its bouncers, great food, and the competitive area housed inside.  Anyone could enter the ring and fight, and betting was encouraged.  Fortunes were made and lost every night and a portion of the bets went to the staff of clerics that made sure no permanent injuries marred the combatants.  The arena had become so popular that The Destiny sponsored a yearly event where warriors from all around would show up and compete for the title of top warrior.  The object was to be the last one standing and that one was the winner.  The purse for the winner was huge, and The Destiny Games, as it came to be called, drew more and more spectators every year.

            All of this made Rhendarin an interesting place to visit and Kim Possible felt a wave of relief fall over her as the city came into view from the top deck of The Dauntless.  The first rays of the sun pierced through the darkness as The Dauntless pulled into the western port.  Kim wore her leather of iron outfit as she regarded her assembled crew.  They stood in rows on the deck and stared at her expectantly.  Kim turned to Drakken who was impeccably dressed in one of his old Imperial uniforms, but he had torn out the chevrons that showed his rank long ago.  He nodded at her and stiffened as she turned back to her crew.

            "Men, we made it; welcome to Rhendarin.  Now, I want everyone on the best behavior like you all did at Sal Sagev.  The guards here are very good at their jobs and I don't need word coming back to me that someone from my crew did something they shouldn't, you hear me?"

            The crew grumbled their assent.

            "Good.  I know you all are tired so I want you to relax and enjoy yourselves while we're here.  So, the sooner our cargo is offloaded the quicker you all can enjoy your R & R.  Number One?  You have anything to say to the men?"

            He shook his head, "No, captain, I do not."

            "Very well.  Men?  Get to it.  Dismissed."

            Her assembled crew dispersed and went about getting their cargo offloaded quickly.  Kim leaned back from the banister and turned towards Drakken.  "I'd like you to accompany me to the Temple District so we can get Monique healed.  The clerics might be interested in what you did to save her life."

            He bowed regally, "Yes, captain.  It is appropriate for me to come along anyway since I do need to brush up on my surgical skills and this provides the perfect opportunity.  I will be ready when you are ready to leave."

            Ron and Yori climbed the steps to the higher deck where Kim and Drakken were talking.  Drakken turned to leave as Ron stepped up to Kim with a small smile.

            "Are you sure you don't want me to come along with you, KP?  I mean, she's my friend too."

            "No, I want you and Yori to go with Shego to The Destiny and help get us set up with rooms.  We'll be staying for a few days at least and I want everything in place for us after our business in the Temple District is over.  I already gave Shego the money for the rooms but I want you both there in case things get hot."

            "Right," he said but Kim could feel the disappointment in his voice.

            "Look, this is something I want to do by myself, okay?  I know I wanted you to come along, but this is something I need to do.  I hope you understand.  Hopefully it won't take long and we'll meet up with everyone at The Destiny."

            Both Ron and Yori nodded.  Shego appeared on the upper deck clad in a set of black high boots, tight, black pants, and a dark green shirt.  She turned to Ron with a smirk, "You ready Blondie?"

            "Give me a few minutes to gather some things," he said.

            Shego nodded, "I'll wait here for you."

            Ron and Yori left.  Shego turned to Kim, "Don't worry about the rooms, I'll have everything ready by the time you get there."

            "Thanks, Shego," Kim said with a smile.

            Shego smiled back, "From all of the things I hear about The Destiny I should fit right in."

            "I've never been there but I agree; from what I heard The Destiny sounds like your kind of place."

            "So why are you sending blondie and his girlfriend to babysit me?"

            "It's not like that and you know it," Kim replied, "I'm just doing what I can to make sure everyone's safe."

            Shego humphed but her voice had a note of resignation in it as she spoke, "I'll stay out of trouble, pumpkin.  And I'll make sure the others stay out of it too."

            "I appreciate that," Kim said then her cheeks blushed noticeably, "Have you given any thoughts about sleeping arrangements?"

            "There's no way you're not being my roomie, pumpkin," Shego answered with a wry grin.

            Kim's blush deepened, "Good, I'd like that."

            "I knew you would, besides, I'd probably barbecue anyone else, well, maybe not Doctor D," Shego mused.

            "Thank you for being a real trooper and looking out for the well being of the rest of my crew," Kim said in a playful, sarcastic voice.

            "I do what I can," she deadpanned, not missing a beat.

            Ron and Yori arrived a moment later and Shego left the ship with them.  Kim went to sickbay and was surprised to see Monique standing on her own.  Drakken was already there to give her assistance if she needed it.

            "I'm ready," Monique said to her with a warm smile as she watched her enter.

            "Are you sure you're able to walk?  We can wheel you to the temples you know."

            Monique waved her off, "No, Kim, I'm good.  In fact, the good doctor here did a fine job patching me up.  I could probably make it on my own."

            "That is not an option," Drakken declared.

            "I know," Monique said as she sighed in resignation.

            Kim and Drakken helped their injured guest off the ship and slowly made their way to the Temple District.

 

The Destiny of Fate Inn and Tavern

            Shego was surprised to find out that not only was Ron and Yori tagging along with her to The Destiny but that almost a quarter of the crew came along as well.  Motor Ed was among them and she tapped him to help her keep the rabble in line and she had to admit that the burly engineer did a good job at it.  It didn't take them long to reach the Destiny nor was it hard to spot the second largest building in all of Rhendarin. 

            The Destiny of Fate Inn and Tavern was located at an intersection of the wall that connected the Mercantile District and the South Docks District.  The wall went around the massive stone building and the guard presence here was lighter than Shego would have at first suspected.  She craned her neck up to take in The Destiny in it's entirety, all fourteen floors.  A pair of burly, human bouncers guarded the equally massive double doors that served as the entrance to the establishment.  They were all checked for weapons which they left on the ship and one of the bouncers opened the doors for them.  Being an engineer, Motor Ed was allowed to keep his massive wrench, but he was given a stern warning.

            The Destiny was equally massive and imposing on the inside.  Like the city The Destiny was sectioned off into separate areas.  Shego walked down a few steps to enter the inn proper and came to the first section: the arena.  A huge stone pit was dug out of the floor and it reached down two flights to where the ring actually was.  Above it were crowded spectators watching the fight between a heavily armored minotaur and a tall, bald, massively muscle human covered head to foot in stylized tribal tattoos.  Shego peered down to watch as the human went fist to fist with the massive minotaur.  Then she was roughly shoved aside by Motor Ed.

            "What it you big oaf," she said angrily.

            Motor Ed acted like he didn't hear her.  Shego opened her mouth to admonish him again but the engineer promptly leaped down to the ring below.  All Shego could do was watch in shock as his feel landed on the turnbuckle.

            The fight wasn't going well for the tattooed human.  The armored minotaur was strong, he'd give him that, and fast for a two legged bull.  His silent ruminations were interrupted by a massive stone-like fist to the face from the minotaur.  The man staggered back and leaned against the turnbuckle right as Motor Ed landed on the ropes.  The man looked up in astonishment.

            "Dalron!  Fastball Special," Motor Ed yelled.

            Without missing a beat the man grabbed Motor Ed and unceremoniously threw him at the minotaur.  Motor Ed drew his wrench and extended his arms as he held it.  The minotaur didn't react fast enough and Motor Ed slammed into the minotaur, his wrench striking the creature in the stomach, making a loud clang that echoed sharply above the crowd's cheers and jeers.  The minotaur doubled over from the impact and fell heavily to the stone floor and stopped moving.  Motor Ed roared in triumph and heaved his wrench above his head then he lowered it and kissed the head of his wrench and turned to the tattooed warrior with a wide grin.

            "The Gutwrench!  Works every time!"

            The crowd cheered and Shego turned away shaking her head.  "Idiot," she muttered under her breath and continued on.

            The next area was more of what Shego was used to for an inn.  The rest of the area was an inn proper with rows of tables and chairs for eating and drinking.  Booths lined the walls for a quieter atmosphere and even though it was still morning Shego was surprised to note that The Destiny was full of patrons.  With The Raven's Nest the atmosphere and tone was subdued and generally quiet, whereas The Destiny was loud, boisterous, and in your face.

            Shego liked it.

            She made her way to the bar which stretched across the back wall.  She stopped at the bar and tapped her finger on the bar.  A human bartender who was too muscled to be a wimpy bartender put down the mug he was cleaning and looked at her.

            "What can I get you," he asked in a deep voice.

            "Rooms," she answered, "For a party of forty or so."

            He nodded, "The lower floors are booked.  I'll have to split the group between floors eleven and twelve, is that acceptable?"

            Shego nodded.

            "Payment is by the day unless your group is staying for a week then the payment is due at checkout."

            "We'll be staying for a week, I think," Shego said.

            The bartender nodded and Shego pulled out a pouch of gold to complete the transaction.  It took a while to get the sleeping arrangements sorted out but in the end everything was set.  Now all she had to do was wait for Kim to arrive.

 

Several hours later

            Kim, Drakken, and Monique entered The Destiny after a surprisingly short stint in the Temple District.  The Temple District was lined with various temples of different religions and both Kim and Drakken chose the Temple of Light, which was dedicated solely to healing and health and not religious affiliation.  The high priest was an elderly bald man with a long white beard, but he was friendly and his eyes sparkled with kindness.  The payment for the treatment was less than what Kim expected, and a simple heal spell later, Monique was almost as good as new.  The rest of the money that she was going to use for Monique's treatment went to books and journals on anatomy for Drakken. 

            Kim stared wide-eyed at the majesty of The Destiny.  She led Drakken and Monique past the arena and on toward the bar.  There she spied Ron and Yori who waved at them from a long table.

            "Over here, KP," Ron exclaimed.

            Kim, Drakken, and Monique made their way toward the table and sat down.  Rufus popped out of his breast pocket and jumped down on to the table.  He carried a small silver key in his hands and he scurried over to Kim and dropped the key in front of her. 

            "It's your room key," Ron said, "It's on floor twelve."

            "Thank you," she said to Rufus with a smile and she scratched underneath his chin with a finger.  Rufus enjoyed the attention immensely then he went back to Ron's pocked when she finished.

            Ron turned to Monique, "How are you feeling, Mon?"

            "Much better, thanks," she said with a smile.

            Kim looked around the tables but the raven-haired pirate she was looking for was nowhere to be found.  "Where's Shego?"

            Both Ron and Yori shrugged.  "I don't know," Ron said as he turned around to look, "She's around here someplace, but the bartender wanted to see you once you got here.  His name's Slade and he said he wanted to talk to you.  I think it's about your parents."

            "Thanks Ron," she said as she got up and headed over to the bar.

            The burly human behind the counter spied her as she walked over and he put the mug down that he was cleaning.  Kim sat at a stool and regarded the bartender.

            "Hello," she said pleasantly.

            "Nice to meet you," he replied in a deep voice, "Name's Slade, I'm the owner of the Destiny of Fate Inn and Tavern."

            "Kim Possible," she said.

            "I know who you are," he said in a neutral voice, "Back in my adventuring days I heard a lot about your mother and father.  A bouncer under my employ served with him for a time and it comes to my understanding that you are looking for them."

            "I am."

            "Well, they were both here almost six months ago.  They were heading out towards the Rift to the north."

            "The Rift?  What for?"

            Slade leaned over the bar, "From what I hear you're following in their footsteps.  You've cause quite a bit of trouble yourself for the Empire."

            "They keep getting in my way," she said in a dark tone.

            He leaned back, "I have no love for the Empire nor do I want to raise the ire of anyone from the Possible Family.  Your parents came here looking to talk to Dalron, one of my bouncers.  He was the one who served with them for a time but I don't quite remember what they talked about."

            "Is Dalron here?  Can I speak to him?"

            Slade nodded.  "I'll get one of the private rooms set up for you out back."

            He motioned for one of the waitresses to come over to the bar and one did.  "Take Miss Possible to meeting room three and make sure she is comfortable."

            She nodded, "Follow me, Miss," she said.

            Kim followed the waitress to a door on the wall next to the bar and down a hallway.  The waitress stopped at a door and opened it.  She motioned for Kim to enter.  Kim did and noticed how similar The Destiny's back rooms were to The Raven's Nest.  She sat down on a comfortable couch as the waitress entered behind her.

            "Can I get you anything while you wait?"

            "Some coffee please and thank you."

            The waitress nodded, "I'll be right back."

            She closed the door behind her leaving Kim to herself.  She took a moment to take in the posh furniture and the tasteful paintings on the wall.  She didn't have to wait long before there was a loud succession of knocks on the door.  The door opened a moment later but instead of the waitress a towering man, overly muscled, and covered from bald head to foot in tattoos stooped down and wormed his way in to the room.  In one large hand was a mug of steaming coffee.  He wore fatigues, black boots and a black muscle t-shirt.  He stood over seven feet tall and with his free hand he closed the door behind him.  He turned to face Kim and she was taken aback by his steel gray eyes.

            "You ordered the coffee," he asked in a deep, rumbling voice.

            "Y-yes," she said meekly.

            He walked over to her and handed her the mug then he backed away from her and folded his massive arms across his huge chest.

            "Name's Dalron.  Slade told me you're lookin' for James an' Anne Possible.  What for?"

            Kim placed the piping hot mug of coffee on an end table next to the couch then had to crane her neck to look up at the imposing figure.  "M-my name is Kim Possible; they're my p-parents."

            The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she felt his gaze pierce through her.  An uncomfortable moment of silence passed then he spoke.

            "I thought it was weird when Ed showed up all of a sudden.  But I guess he was speakin' the truth an' The Dauntless still floats."

            "It does," Kim said more forcefully, "I'm her captain."

            Dalron raised a hairless eyebrow, "Captain?  Wow, that's rich."

            He unfolded his arms and sat down heavily across from her.  "Okay Kim, what did you want to talk to me about?"

            "Slade told me that they were here a little under six months ago and that they came here to speak to you before heading north towards the Rift.  They've been gone for longer than six months now and me and my crew are looking for them.  If you have any information as to where they are I'd be forever grateful for it."

            His gaze fixed on the small golden pin attached to her collar.  "I've seen that pin before, where did you get it?"

            "From the owner of the Raven's Nest," she answered.

            "Zahn," he said darkly.

            Kim gulped and nodded.  "He served with them for a while as I did, but he parted ways under...difficult circumstances.  I left a short time later but our parting was nowhere near as ugly.  Your parents came here to find me to ask me about the Lost Orrerys."

            "Lost Orrerys?"

            "Yes, there are four of 'em if memory serves, an' I've even been to one before.  It's beyond the Rift to the north which is exactly what I told your parents.  I asked 'em why they wanted to look for the things but all I got was some claptrap about some lost prophecy or another; as if this world isn't full of 'em to start with."

            "Do...do you have directions on how to get there?  I've never been through one of the Rifts."

            "It sucks," Dalron said, "But I should have a map or two in my trunk of old stuff; I'll go through it and see what I can find."

            "Please and thank you," Kim said vehemently.  At long last here was a lead that pointed in a definite direction.

            "You know," Dalron said in a musing tone, "I got plenty of vacation time coming my way.  I could just guide you there, this place is getting kinda boring if you ask me."

            "We're sorta tight on funds so I don't know how much we can pay you to guide us."

            He waved his hand dismissively, "I ain't in it for the money, 'sides, I got enough stashed away to live comfortably for a while.  It'd be nice to be on board the old girl again though.  An' I see that Ed is still servin' his girl.  I'll bet he's still havin' problems keepin' that engine runnin'."

            "It's a handful," Kim admitted, "But he's got a dedicated crew of gadgeteers working for him and they keep everything running smoothly for the most part."

            "Good.  All I ask is a full plate or two at meal time and the chance to knock some heads together once in a while."

            "No problems there," Kim muttered aloud but more to herself.

            "Yeah, that's right.  Word's come down that you an' your crew are causing all sorts of problems for the Empire.  That I like.  They're growing too big for their borders an' it'll be only a matter of time before they start expandin'."

            He regarded her under a new light and if half of what he heard was true this little slip of a girl was definitely trouble.  He always liked trouble.  He grinned at her.  "I'll smooth things over with Boss Slade so that shouldn't be a problem."

            "Sounds good to me," Kim said with a smile.

            They both stood up and Dalron extended his huge hand to her.  She took what she could of it and shook it.  "I'll be seein' ya around, Kim Possible," he said then he turned toward the door, opened it, and left.

            Kim sat back down on the couch and grabbed the mug of coffee.  She took a sip and it was strong, bitter, and hot.  She spent some time alone in the room until she finished her coffee and then she left.

            She made her way back to the table where Ron, Yori, Drakken, and Monique sat.  She looked around for Shego but she still was nowhere to be found.  She looked at the others and Ron was the one who shook his head at Kim's unspoken question.  Suddenly there was a loud eruption of noise from the spectators over the area followed by the sound of a thunderous impact.  Kim walked over to see what the ruckus was about and the others got up from the table to see as well.  There was the sound of another thunderous impact followed by a low groan of astonishment from the crowd.  Kim made it to the rail and peered down to see what had happened and her eyes went wide in shock.

            In the center of the area stood Shego, crouched defensively, her hands clenched into fists.  She was breathing heavily and a small trickle of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.  The crowd of spectators had gone silent from the scene before them.  A large ogre and a misshapen troll both lay at her feet, unconscious.  She looked up toward the crowd and raised her fist in victory.  The crowd cheered and applauded at the spectacle while Kim could only watch on in amazement.  Shego ate up the adoration until her eyes met Kim's.  Kim saw the raven-haired pirate smile at her and blush.  Kim returned the smile and shook her head in astonishment.  Then Kim felt a massive presence behind her and as she turned she was uncomfortably close to the tattooed warrior, Dalron.

            "That was some fight," he said appreciatively, "Is she yours?"

            Kim couldn't help but smile at the unintentional double-meaning behind his words and she blushed a little before she answered.

            "Yes, yes she is."

Chapter Text

Rhendarin

            The following day went by quickly for Kim.  At the start of the day she made an appointment to see the Council of Elders and to her surprise she was seen quickly.  She surmised that someone pulled some strings to get her an audience and that she would have to thank Zahn when she saw him again.  The meeting went off without a hitch and she gave them all of the information she had on the Imperial saboteurs.  A consensus was reached quickly and the Council thanked Kim for her information and shuttered her through the door.  Her meeting lasted less than ten minutes and it was still mid-morning but it didn't take her long to notice the guard at work.

            Before noon the leaders of the saboteurs were arrested.  By midday most of the cells had been rounded up.  By evening everyone involved in the various plots were in jail and awaiting their court date.  Kim was having a relaxing meal with Drakken and Monique in The Destiny when a courier arrived with a scroll bearing the seal of the Council of Elders.  He presented the scroll to her and left.  Perplexed, she opened the scroll.  Both Drakken and Monique leaned in to read it with her.  The scroll was a letter of appreciation with personal correspondences from each individual Elder thanking her for her information and congratulating her on a job well done.  Kim blushed and beamed simultaneously as she read the scroll aloud to Drakken and Monique.  To Kim the meal tasted better after reading the scroll.

            It was late in the evening when Kim decided to turn in for bed.  Throughout the day she bumped into most of her crew as she ran errands, but Shego was nowhere to be found.  When she got to her room it was still empty.  Shego's clothes were where she placed them all neatly folded.  Her elegant dresses were laid out on the large dresser untouched.  Kim threw off her clothes and showered, Shego had gone out of her way to get them the VIP suite on the twelfth floor but the made bed was empty.  Kim put on one of her robes and resolved to stay up and wait for Shego to return, but the raven-haired pirate was a no show.  Kim was starting to feel worried but she also knew what Shego was capable of.  If she got into trouble she'd know about it because whatever district she was in would be exploding in plasma fire or worse.  Kim sighed in resignation and tossed and turned as she tried to get comfortable.  She turned her body toward the door and watched it in the darkness with the fleeting hope that she would arrive any moment now.  No one came however and a fitful sleep eventually overtook her.

            Kim awoke the next morning still to an empty bed.  Now she was getting worried.  She washed up and got dressed quickly, choosing her Leather of Iron outfit just in case it was needed.  She went downstairs where Drakken, Ron, and Monique were having breakfast with several other crewmen.  She asked them all if they had seen Shego but they all gave the same frustrating answer.

            No.

            She sat with them and ate quickly, intent on scouring the city to find her.  But, like the night before, a courier arrived with a letter for Kim.  She opened the letter and read it.

            It's me, pumpkin.  By the time you read this I should have everything in place.  Don't come looking for me because you won't find me.  Instead I'll be waiting for you at the Rooftop Restaurant at the Destiny tonight at Nine o'clock sharp.  You won't need to go out and buy a dress, I've taken care of everything and it should arrive shortly after you get this letter.

            In case you've been wondering where I've scampered off to I'm at the University doing some research.  Stop worrying!  I'm fine, really.  Well, okay, maybe not, but you get my meaning.  Anywho, I made a killing in the arena and I'm using the extra cash at the University's library.  Their library has a sizable collection of literature on monsters cursed people unfortunates like me.  I haven't come across anything new yet, but I have one last stack of tomes to go through still.  Trust me, I'm being extremely thorough.  I mean, I'm taking notes and everything.

            Anyway, like I said, I've taken care of everything so all you have to do is follow my simple instructions and show up at Nine o'clock.  Oh, and don't forget the dress.  I can't wait to see you in it.

            See you soon, princess.

            S.

            Her nose caught a whiff of Shego's expensive perfume on the paper and she looked down at the bottom of it and there was a kiss mark in her trademark black lipstick.  She folded the letter and carefully placed it in her side pocket.  Her heart fluttered with excitement.

            "What did the letter say, KP?  Who sent it?"

            Kim turned to Ron and she felt her cheeks burn as she blushed.  "I...it was from Sh-Shego, "she stammered, "I-I've got a date tonight!"

            "A date?  With whom," Drakken asked innocently after taking a sip of his coffee.

            Everyone at the table looked at him incredulously.  His sincere expression stunned everyone at the table except for Kim.  "What," he pressed, but no one answered him.  He shrugged and went back to his meal.

            Yori, Ron and Monique all hovered around Kim and pelted her with questions.  For some reason Kim felt concerned about how Monique may feel about the situation but if she was upset she didn't show it.  Kim was forced to quiet down her little entourage because their questions ran over each other.  Thankfully their questions were killed abruptly when a young runner came over to their table with a wrapped red and white package.

            "This is for you ma'am," the youth said as he handed her the package, " Complements of a Miss S."

            "Please and thank you," Kim responded with a smile.

            The youth smiled back and then ran off to make another delivery.

            "If you'll excuse me," Kim said to the table as she stood with the package under her arm, "I have things to do."

           

 

The VIP suite, a few minutes later 

            Kim hurried back upstairs to her room and locked the door behind her.

            She placed the package on the bed and carefully opened it.  Inside the wrapping was a velvet box as black as night, a small white box, and another folded sheet of paper.  She unfolded the paper and sat down next to the boxes on the edge of the bed and read the letter.

            I hope you're feeling excited, princess, because I'm nervous as hell over this.  Oh, and if you tell ANYONE about this note, all bets are off and it's plasma to the face time, got it?  Good.

            The dress is in the big black box.  The small white box is a little surprise from me that I think you'll enjoy.  Go ahead and open it.

            Kim picked up the small box and did as instructed.  Inside was a delicate crystal bottle with a gold -plated stopper.  The bottle was filled with a clear liquid of some sort.  She placed the crystal bottle back in the box and resumed reading the letter.

            I know you like the perfume I wear.  This particular concoction is made by the same alchemist but it's a different scent.  Don't fret about the cost, pumpkin.  I got it.  Consider it a gift.  Now, when you open the black box aside from the dress you'll find another sheet of paper.  That's your itinerary for the day.  Like I said in the other letter I've taken care of everything.  Just be sure to bring that itinerary with you and when asked tell them that Miss S sent you, they'll take care of the rest. 

            We've all been under a lot of stress here lately, but you most of all.  So I set this up so you can relax.  Enjoy it.  You never know when you'll have another opportunity like this so take advantage of it.  Besides, I'm sure you'll love it.  You can thank me later, pumpkin, after dinner.

            You're probably wondering why I'm doing all of this, hell, I'm kinda wondering myself.  But I want to do this right.  One step at a time.  Despite everything that's happened lately I've been thinking about what you said.  Specifically when you said you didn't care about what I was, even after I showed you.  It...it means a lot to me, princess.  I can't think of anyone who would do that for someone like me.  So this is my way of reciprocating.  A real date, with food, wine and song.  And I'll try to be on my best behavior; I know it's bad form to burn down the restaurant on a first date.

            I'm dreading this, pumpkin.  I want everything to go smoothly but most importantly I want you there.  Enjoy your day and I'll see you tonight, princess.

            S.

            Kim folded the letter and stared at the black box for a time, her mind swirled with conflicting thoughts and her heart fluttered again.  She's serious, she thought to herself with a smile, she really wants to do this!

            She finally opened the black box and carefully took out the dress.  She stood up from the bed, walked over to the mirror, and unfolded the dress.  Her cheeks blushed in embarrassment.  True to form, the dress was something Shego would wear.  It was black, fine silk, low cut, and showed off way more skin than she liked.  Still, Shego had gone all out and Kim resolved not to disappoint her.  She placed the dress carefully on the dresser and went back to the bed.  She found her itinerary and read it.  She shook her head in astonishment.  Shego had planned out her day to a tee.  There was a masseuse, manicure, hair wash, the whole works and then some.  She looked at the times of her appointments and then at the clock on the wall.

            She'd be late for her first appointment if she didn't hurry.

            Elated, Kim left her room, ran down the stairs and on out of The Destiny.  A day of relaxation awaited and the night promised to be so much better.

 

 

The Rooftop Restaurant, a few minutes before Nine o'clock

            Kim arrived at the Rooftop Restaurant with time to spare.  She took a ride up the only elevator that led to the restaurant and as it rose she stared out of the glass to admire the view of the city.  She stepped in line and waited to enter.  The line wasn't particularly long but it did give her a few moments to reminisce about the day she's had so far.

            And what a day it was.

            The masseuse was heavenly.  The manicure and hair wash was to die for.  For this occasion she had her hair done up in a courtly style with a long curl that came over her left eye.  Kim liked it, she felt...sexy despite not having a body to die for like Shego or even Monique had.  Hers was toned and athletic, definitely not buxom.  The perfume Shego chose for her had a wonderful scent.  It didn't smell anything like what Shego wore but Kim guessed that that was the point. 

            And the dress.

            Kim liked brighter colors, but the silk was comfortable against her skin, just like her robes only with a lot less fabric.  She knew the others around her who waited to get in the restaurant stared at her and for a moment she became very self conscious.  But that feeling passed the closer she got to the entrance.  The self conscious feeling was being replaced by a growing sense of excitement and anticipation.  Then her stomach grumbled and she realized that she hadn't eaten since breakfast because she was too busy enjoying her appointments and relaxing.  It took her a moment to  get over her embarrassment from her growling stomach and by the time that was done her names was checked on the reservation list and she was shuttled into the Restaurant.

            Kim stared in wonder at the sight before her.  The Rooftop Restaurant was aptly named.  The top of the spire was leveled and capped with a massive crystal dome.  There was a raised platform where an orchestra played music for the delight of the customers.  Booths had red divider curtains that could be closed for privacy.  There were plenty of round tables and comfortable-looking chairs, and the dance floor was already populated with dancing couples next to the orchestra.  Kim stopped in front of a podium and a well-dressed middle-aged man.

            "Name and party?"

            "Kim Possible," she answered, "with Miss Shego."

            He looked over his reservation list and then back at Kim.  "Ah, yes.  Table sixty three.  If you would follow me, please?"

            He stepped out from behind the podium and headed out for the floor with Kim a few steps behind him.  The table was an actual booth with a divider curtain that was close to the dance floor.  The curtain was closed as Kim and the well-dressed man walked up to it.  The man slowly pulled the curtain aside and there sitting at the table was Shego.

            Shego stood so she could see Kim in her new dress while giving Kim a view of the same.  Shego's dress was black on top and green on the bottom and was of a similar design to the one Kim wore, but to Kim's surprise, it covered more skin than it showed.  A set of sparkling pearl earrings hung from her ears and her hair was done up in the same style as Kim's only a little more curly.  Her lips were painted black as jet in stark contrast to her Creme de Mint skin.  She looked stunning.

            "Wow, pumpkin, I should pick out your clothes more often!  You look fabulous!"

            The man closed the curtain and left.  Kim blushed at Shego's complement and she twirled around slowly to give Shego a view of the rest of the dress.  She didn't know if she could admit it aloud, but despite feeling embarrassed she did feel...sexy.  By the time she was finished turning around, Shego noticed that her cheeks were the same color as her hair, but at least she was smiling.

            "And you're gorgeous," Kim exclaimed.

            "I know," Shego replied with a wry smile and she motioned to a chair at the table.

            Kim sat down and Shego pushed the chair closer to the table.  She glided over to the other side and sat down across from her.  A trio of candles were lit in the center of the table which provided soft light.  "I've taken the liberty of ordering our meal tonight," Shego said, "the appetizers will be along shortly."

            "Sounds great," Kim replied as her stomach grumbled once again which made her blush furiously.

            Shego chuckled softly to herself, "Didn't you eat anything today?"

            "Not since breakfast and even then it wasn't much once your letter arrived."

            Shego smiled and shook her head.  Kim smiled back but she still blushed which made her look absolutely delicious.  Kim saw the way Shego looked at her and it only made her blush even harder.

            "That dress really looks good on you, pumpkin," Shego exclaimed.

            "Th-thank you," Kim said meekly.

            Shego opened a bottle of sparkling wine and filled Kim's glass and then her own.  She raised her glass and Kim did the same.  "What should we toast for," Shego asked.

            Kim thought for a moment then she responded, "To a pleasant evening."

            "To a pleasant evening," Shego said and their glasses tinked together in a shared toast.

            They drank and Shego refilled the glasses.  The wine was good, but it didn't compare to anything from Zahn's Vineyards.  "So," Shego said as she settled back into her comfortable chair, "How was your day?"

            "Mmmm," Kim purred as she closed her eyes and stretched her arms out over the table comfortably, "It was heavenly!"

            Shego smiled with justified pride as Kim recounted her day.  Then the appetizers arrived and they started to eat.  The conversation was light and pleasant but then it stopped altogether when the orchestra finished its song and began another.  Kim recognized it instantly and she was surprised that Shego did as well.

            "Hey, I've heard that song before," Shego said as she put her fork down.

            Kim nodded.  It was the song that played on her mother's Victrola when Shego came in and eventually rebuffed Kim's first offer at dinner.  The woman's voice that sang was deep and more sorrowful than what she had heard before but her rendition was beautiful.

            Shego's eyes lit up, "I remember now!  That song was playing on your Victrola, wasn't it?"

            Kim nodded again as she listened and Shego smiled broadly in triumph.  They listened in silence until the performance was done.  They heard the echoing sound of people clapping and whistling and they joined in.

            "I don't remember the song being that sad," Shego commented when the adoration died down.

            "Her voice was deeper too," Kim said, "But I liked it."

            "Oh, I did too, princess, don't get me wrong, but I remembered the song being a bit happier."

            "It's one of my mom's favorites," Kim said with a wistful smile, "She used to play it all the time and I hated it at first, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me."

            "Your mom has an ear for music," Shego said with a small smile.

            "Yes she does," Kim agreed.

            The main course arrived consisting of two plates of baked airfish and chicken in various sauces and two more plates full of assorted steamed, and homegrown vegetables.  Shego smirked playfully at Kim when her eyes went wide with the sheer amount of food and said, "I hope you're still hungry, pumpkin.  You need to put more meat on your bones anyway."

            "Really," Kim asked, giving Shego a mock horrified look  as she played along.

            Shego snickered, "You're barely skin and bones!  Although," Shego said as she drew her voice out seductively, "you do present the athletic body very well I must say."

            The look of horror disappeared from Kim's face.  She blushed and smiled as she cast her gaze down to the plate in front of her, "Thanks."

            Her captain looked so adorable when she got embarrassed like that, and it was so easy to do.  Shego was quite content on how the night was progressing and she was glad she went through all of the trouble to set the date up in the first place.  Kim looked up from her plate demurely and met Shego's gaze.  Her eyes sparkled, and her gentle smile told Shego that she was enjoying herself as well.

            Shego sighed, still playful, "You know, it's probably best that you stay trim and thin; I don't need the competition anyway."

            "What competition?"

            "There's only enough room on The Dauntless for one buxom beauty and that's me.  And before you even say it, I would deny your claim of Monique as she was never a member of the crew in the first place."

            Kim closed her mouth and the corner of her lip curled into a smirk, "Wow, someone's jealous!"

            "You're damn right I am," Shego exclaimed proudly, "It took a lot of hard work to get this body to look how it does now," she said as she gestured unabashedly to her full figure.

            Kim chuckled, "I'll start dieting tomorrow if that'll make you feel better."

            "Just don't take it too far," Shego deadpanned, "or else there'll be nothing left of you."

            "Duly noted," Kim said dryly as she shook her head.

            The conversation died down so they could eat.  The food was delicious if a bit rich, Kim decided, but she wasn't going to complain as the night was going along perfectly. 

            "So what else did you do while I was away," Shego asked.

            Kim gulped down a mouthful of airfish and took a sip of wine.  "Well, yesterday I met with the Council of Elders and passed on the information Zahn gave us.  It was a quick meeting and I thought they were just going to blow me off."

            "So what happened?"

            "By the end of the day all of the saboteurs were caught and imprisoned.  I was eating dinner at The Destiny when the Council sent a courier with a message for me."

            "What did it say?"

            Kim beamed with pride.  "It was a letter of accommodation, and they were going to send word to all of the other free cities and villages to be on the lookout."

            "That means we don't have to go to Stormhaven then?"

            Kim shook her head, "Nope, it's off the list for the time being.  Which is good 'cause Stormhaven is way off the path where we're going next."

            "Where are we going?"

            Kim took another drink before responding.  "I met with a bouncer who used to serve with Mom and Dad, his name's Dalron.  He's the bald guy covered in tattoos.  Anyway he told me that Mom and Dad were here looking for information concerning the Lost Orrerys.  There's supposed to be four of them and Dalron had been to one before.  He gave Mom and Dad the information and they left.  Now I've hired Dalron to be our guide to this Lost Orrery."

            Shego raised an eyebrow, "Really?  What brought this on?"

            "I'm retracing their footsteps," Kim replied, "Since I'm running out of leads this seemed to be the best way to go."

            Shego nodded, the idea was sound.  She watched Kim as she ran her finger around the edge of her wine glass.  Her happy demeanor was turning sad and reflective and Shego didn't want her feeling morose on their first date.  As if on queue the orchestra finished their song and began another.  The music was slow, sad, and romantic; it was the perfect music to what Shego had in mind.  She stood up from the table and her movement awoke Kim from her funk.  Shego slowly stepped over to her and extended her hand to her.

            "Would you care to dance?"

            Kim blushed and a small smile returned to her face, "I'd be delighted," she answered and took Shego's hand.

            The curtain opened and they made their way to the dance floor.  Their hands clasped together and Kim let Shego lead.  Her warmth surrounded Kim and the wonderful smell of her perfume was almost as intoxicating as the wine.  They moved and swayed slowly to the beat of the music.  Kim laid her cheek against Shego's shoulder as they danced.  Kim let go of Shego's hands and wrapped them around her back.  Shego did the same and they both lost themselves in the music and each other.  The song was long and slow but it eventually ended.  Shego moved to let go of Kim but her captain moaned softly in displeasure.

            "Not yet, just one more song," Kim whispered loud enough for Shego to hear.

            Shego put her arms back around her and Kim nuzzled against the pirate.  The orchestra started another slow musical number that was more cheerful than the last.  The pair swayed back and forth to the tempo of the music and Shego leaned her head down to rest on Kim's.  She felt Kim sigh in contentment.  The raven-haired pirate was thoroughly enjoying the experience as well.  If felt so good to be in Kim's arms.  She had picked out the perfect perfume for her and the scent was wondrous.  It felt so good to be...desired.  Without a care.  Without repercussions.  Her heart fluttered with feelings long thought forgotten and alien to her nature.  But with those feelings came fear, fear of the Hunger.  One step at a time, she thought to herself, just enjoy this moment and savor the memory.  Keep this up and you'll have plenty of pleasant memories to remember.  For once her mind wasn't her enemy and she was able to beat back the fear.  She hugged her captain tighter and lost herself in the girl's presence while the orchestra played.

            Kim, like Shego, was enjoying every moment on the dance floor.  She was surrounded by Shego's body heat, a thing she was becoming quite accustomed to.  Her senses were assaulted by Shego's own scent combined with her perfume that usually sent her mind reeling.  The only barrier Kim saw was the Hunger but that was something to be taken very seriously.  Shego herself referred to the hunger with fear in her voice and Kim knew that there wasn't much that frightened the plasma powered air pirate-demoness.  Therefore she wouldn't treat the Hunger lightly and she had showed restraint before when she thought her advances had gone too far.  It was a tricky problem but she was good at solving problems...well, most of them anyway.  Her mind had started down the track of melancholy earlier when she started to think about her parents and her frustrated attempts at finding them, but Shego had gone out of her way to make this night something to remember so she pushed those negative thoughts away.  This night was for her and Shego, all other thoughts and cares were shoved aside for there was always tomorrow.  She felt Shego's arms hug her tighter and she returned the affectionate gesture with her own.  Then the music ended and Kim gently pushed herself away from Shego.  Jade eyes stared into emerald and Kim leaned in to kiss her.  Shego didn't back away, in fact she leaned closer and their lips met in a lingering, tender kiss.

            Feelings of excitement coursed through Kim as her heart thumped in her chest.  Her body tingled with desire but she knew better.  She pulled away, sucking on Shego's bottom lip as she did so.  When Kim opened her eyes she saw that Shego's face was flushed and her eyes were shut tight in concentration.

            "S-sorry," Kim whispered quietly in a husky voice, "Went too far again."

            Shego opened her eyes slowly, smiled, and shook her head, "N-no pumpkin, you didn't.  I was...enjoying the moment."

            Kim could tell that Shego wasn't telling the whole truth but when their eyes met again she let it go.  They walked hand in hand back to their booth where the table was cleaned of their dirty plates and were replaced with plates of cakes, sweet breads, and a tray of other tasty treats.  Shego let Kim sit first and she pushed the chair in for her.

            "Thank you," Kim said sweetly, obviously enjoying the attention.

            "You're welcome," Shego replied pleasantly as she sat down.

            Kim looked over the plates and trays with wide eyes. "What's the matter, pumpkin," Shego asked with a smirk.

            "I'm having trouble deciding what to have first," Kim said.

            "Then let me do it," Shego said as she grabbed a small plate and began filling it with bits and pieces from the plates and the tray.

            Kim took a bite of the cake and was surprised at the taste.  The cake itself was bitter but the frosting was sweet which made an interesting combination.  She smiled and shook her head appreciatively then Shego made a plate for herself and loaded up on small cakes and treats.

            "So," Kim said after she gulped down another mouthful, "how is your research coming?"

            Shego took a bite out of a fruit-topped crumpet then put it back down on her plate.  "Not as well as I've hoped," she replied, "Nearly all of the literature I found is sheer fantasy and outright speculation with no hard evidence to back up their theories.  In fact, I've found very little information on what I am, but I did find something that corroborated what my mother told me long ago."

            "What was that," Kim asked as she wiped her mouth with a napkin.

            "That our kind is very rare and didn't originate from here.  Apparently my mother came from another world or something like that.  I grew up in The Great Wall with her.  Since my father was human I'm only half of what my mother is: a true succubus."

            Shego stopped and waited for a reaction from Kim.  Kim placed her napkin down on the table, "I've heard tales and legends from hanging out in the ports while growing up but I can't believe that everything I heard is true."

            "That's reasonable, but the tales of what a succubus can do is fairly accurate.  They seduce the weak-willed and feed off their life-force, I can attest to that.  But besides our main feeding habits is an overriding need to control others.  Be thankful, pumpkin, that I don't have that compunction."

            Kim gulped involuntarily and took a sip from her glass of wine to help wash down the lump in her throat.  She knew that Shego meant every word she said and she took those words to heart.  "I am," Kim said finally, "But did you find anything that could block the Hunger?"

            Shego bit into a cream-filled cupcake before she answered cryptically, "Possibly."

            "Well?"

            Shego ate the rest of the cupcake in one gulp and she wiped her mouth with a napkin.  "I haven't been able to find a spell or potion that can suppress it yet, but I was thinking of going a different route."

            "And what's that?"

            "Succubi are creatures of magic, inherently," Shego replied, "So I was thinking of finding an item or commissioning the Mage College to create an item that suppresses magic.  To me that sounds like the most cost effective way to go."

            "Do you think that could work?"

            Shego shrugged, "Honestly?  I don't know.  I've researched items that create some kind of field of anti-magic that cancels the powers of magical items in their presence and I don't see why that won't work in principle in my case."

            Kim nodded in understanding, Shego's reasoning was sound, plus it had the chance of working and opening up all sorts of...possibilities.  Shego saw the glimmer of hope sparkle in Kim's eyes and she could easily read what Kim was thinking by her look.  "Remember, Kim," she said in a cautionary tone, "Magic is a fickle thing; there's no guarantee that my idea will work."

            "Yeah," Kim responded as she tried to keep the excitement from her voice, "but your idea makes sense.  I don't know a thing about magic other than it's dangerous, but I'm all for it if it can bring us...closer."

            Shego blushed despite herself; she knew full well the double-meaning behind Kim's carefully chosen last word and she shared the sentiment.  She felt Kim's fingers wrap around her hand and her captain squeezed it slightly in affection.  Shego looked up and met Kim's still sparkling eyes.  She found herself blushing more and she opened her mouth to speak but for some reason no words came out.  Kim cocked her head to the side slightly and looked at Shego questioningly but Shego found the look too gorgeous for words.

            "Are you okay," Kim asked quietly as her cheeks reddened, "Was it something I said?"

            "It's nothing," Shego replied casually.

            Kim pushed her plate away as did Shego.  "I'm stuffed," Kim said contentedly.

            "Me too," Shego said then their eyes met again.  Shego smiled playfully and mischievously, "So...do you want to go back to your place, or mine?"

            Kim returned the playfulness, "Let's try your place; mine's a bit of a mess right now."

            "Really?  How so?"

            "I have clothes thrown everywhere and you can't make a step without tripping over a shirt or a stray pair of socks."

            Shego stood up and offered Kim her hand, "Shall we go?"

            Kim smiled demurely as she took her hand and they left the restaurant.

 

 

The VIP Suite, a few minutes later

            "Wow, pumpkin, you weren't kidding," Shego exclaimed as she looked over the disaster of a room, "What happened?"

            Kim shut the door behind her.  "I tried on the dress but I couldn't find anything that was comfortable enough to wear underneath, so I raided my packs until I found something that worked.  But I was late for my appointments you made for me so I didn't have time to clean up."

            "And here I thought I was doing something to help you relax, but all I did was stress you out," Shego said ruefully.

            Kim moved to stand behind the taller woman and slid her arms around Shego's waist.  "No you didn't," she purred into Shego's almost bare back, "I had a wonderful time, Shego, thank you very much."

            Kim hugged her to show her how much she enjoyed herself.  Shego surprised herself when she felt a surge of pride at Kim's words.  It took a lot of planning and coin on her part and the end result was satisfying to say the least.  Another step forward, she thought to herself as Kim released her from the hug.  Shego turned around slowly and met Kim's soft, waiting lips.  It was a simple kiss, much more chaste than the one on the dance floor, but Shego still found it hard to concentrate and keep her inner emotions balanced.  Kim felt Shego's body temperature rise as it surrounded her when they kissed.  Despite the heat it was a comfortable feeling that she was starting to relish.  She felt the powerful woman's arms fold around her back and hug her back properly.  Like the kiss Shego's hug was simple and oh so short as she released her from the hug and kiss at the same time by pulling away.  Shego sighed deeply as a slight tremor of excitement ran through her and it took her a long moment to center herself.

            Kim saw how the act affected her and she instantly felt terrible for causing her this silent distress...again.  She put her hands on Shego's arms and rubbed them gently in an effort to help.  Eventually Shego nodded to Kim in thanks and opened her eyes.  Kim stared deeply into Shego's emerald eyes and deep within she could see small motes of blue light swirling inside.

            "I-It's the wine," Shego said apologetically, "It's making it hard for me to concentrate."

            "Sure it is," Kim said with a wry grin, "It has absolutely nothing to do with me and this dress," she finished as her hands sinuously danced down the sides of her dress.

            Shego half-stifled an uncomfortable cough and stepped back, "Okay, you may be playing a small part in my inability to concentrate, but trust me, I'm getting over it."

            Kim smiled warmly, "Good, I really like this dress, by the way.  I feel..."

            "Sexy?"

            Kim's smile broadened and she nodded, "Yeah,  I do."

            "Well, you are," Shego said as if stating a fact as she stepped toward her captain and placed her hands on her bare shoulders, "And anyone who says different is wrong and deserving of a full wave of plasma to the face."

            The closeness of Shego's presence made Kim blush with thoughts that she knew she couldn't act on, and to make matters worse Shego wasn't done talking yet.

            "I thought you were sexy the first time we met."

            "R-really?"

            Shego nodded and smiled at Kim's shocked expression at her admission, "Yeah, and it got even more interesting once we started fighting.  You have the looks and the skills to back it up; it's a perfect combination."

            Shego drew nearer still, close enough for their bodies to touch again.  Kim was unsure if she should move away to keep Shego at an even keel but the look of raw lust in Shego's eyes rooted her to the spot.  Shego's voice turned deeper, charged with base emotion as she continued to speak.  "I wanted you ever since you first defeated Doctor D," she said huskily, "And it's only gotten worse as time moved on."

            She leaned around to Kim's ear and her voice became a whisper, "I could tell you everything that I want to do to you but that would be spoiling the fun.  Instead here's a small sample."

            She whispered and Kim's eyes widened in shock and her face burned more furiously than it ever had before.  When Shego finished she drew away from Kim who was flustered beyond belief.

            "Sh-Shego," Kim stammered breathlessly.

            "I just thought you'd might like to know," Shego said in a conversational but mischievous voice.

            "Th-that's not fair," Kim declared as she caught her breath.

            Shego shrugged, "Just something to look forward to once I...we...find a way to block my Hunger."

            Shego stretched languidly and yawned.  Kim was still getting over what Shego had told her and on top of that she was shocked at how Shego's demeanor had changed from downright lusty to normal again.  "At least all of the clothes are on the floor and not on the bed," Shego commented after stretching, "It's been a long day.  I think I'm going to turn in, how about you?"

            "S-sounds good," Kim stammered but her feet were still rooted to the spot.

            Shego snickered at what she had done to her poor captain, but turnabout was fair play and she hadn't been able to affect Kim like Kim did to her on an almost daily basis, plus she didn't have to deal with the constant presence of the Hunger, so Shego didn't really feel too bad for the girl.  She took hold of Kim's hand and drew her flustered captain close and sighed.  "Look, sorry about that, pumpkin.  I guess I went a little overboard; I'll try not to do that again."

            "N-no," Kim responded vehemently, "Don't s-stop on my account.  I-I can empathize with what you're going through, and that's something else we can share until we find a solution to your Hunger."

            Shego stared at her, stunned.  She didn't realize that Kim would want to go through the same frustrations that she did but in a way she was right, it was something else they could share together, still...

            "That's...just crazy," Shego commented.

            "I know," Kim said with a sigh, "It's just that I see you suffering so much and I want to make it stop."

            Kim cast her gaze to the cluttered floor.  "And since I can't stop it I at least want to share the pain with you."

            Shego shook her head incredulously, the red-head never ceased to amaze her.  No one was that selfless, no one.  "Again, I appreciate the offer, but no, pumpkin, I wouldn't wish how I feel on my worst enemy."

            "Is there anything I can do to help?  Anything at all?"

            Shego turned back towards the bed and folded back the blankets.  "Physically?  No.  But you can keep doing what you've already done: just be around so we can hold each other.  I...I like being in your arms, it makes me feel...wanted."

            Shego rolled her eyes inwardly at yet another admission she let go.  "You are," Kim said from behind her, "And I feel the same when you hold me.  I feel safe...protected."

            Shego felt Kim's presence approach her from behind and she turned around.  Kim stood there but her arms were slumped forward, her hands at her sides.  The charismatic veneer of the ship's captain was gone as Kim's face was still downcast towards the floor, in it's stead shined Kim's true presence, a presence at once showing her vulnerability and a normalcy that Shego found just as compelling as the face that she showed to the rest of her friends and crew.  She looked like a girl that needed the same things that Shego wanted.

            It's like looking in a mirror, she thought to herself in disbelief that her captain was suffering under some of the same emotional weight that she was.  Then another thought popped into her mind that gave her pause, maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all.  She shook her head sharply to clear that thought from her mind, No!  This can work, it will work!

            Kim looked up and saw Shego shake her head.  "You okay," she asked in an uncharacteristically small voice.

            "Huh?  Y-yeah, just clearing my head," Shego answered as she saw the look of concern on Kim's face, "Hey, why don't you shower first and I'll see what I can do to clean up around here."

            "O-okay," Kim said.

            Shego looked around and found a light blue robe lying on the floor.  She picked it up and it was still clean.  She handed it to Kim, "Here, when you're done I'll take my shower and we can go to bed."

            Kim took the robe and gingerly made her way to the bathroom.  Shego busied herself by picking up Kim's clothes and separating them into clean and dirty piles.  She had to concentrate harder once she heard the water being turned on because her mind flashed with images of Kim taking off that dress, and she didn't need that kind of emotional complication at the moment.  Kim didn't take long with her shower and she walked back into the bedroom wearing the robe Shego gave her.

            "It's ready for you," Kim said in a voice that was a little brighter than before.

            Shego had cleared a path from the bathroom to the bed and to the door.  She had already gone through one of her own packs and took out a black and green robe for herself.  She went into the bathroom and showered.  The water was hot and went a long way towards tempering her emotions.  She spent some time reflecting on the days events and concluded that the night and the effort to make it had been a success.  There was no violence, for once, and the evening had been beyond pleasant.  It was nice to put aside the cares and wants of the day and enjoy a night out.  We'll definitely have to do this again, she thought to herself as she finished.  She dried herself off, put on her robe, and walked out of the shower.  She made her way to the bedroom proper and Kim left one candle on next to her side of the bed so she could see.  She walked over to the bed, blew out the candle and slid in between the sheets.  Less than a hearbeat passed before she felt Kim's arms envelop her.

            "I missed you," Kim sighed quietly as she nuzzled her cheek in the space between Shego's neck and chest.

            "Did you?  I wasn't that far away," Shego said in a pleased voice as she put her own arms around Kim and hugged her.

            "But I didn't know where you went.  I was worried there for a while."

            "Sorry about that, I'll let someone know next time."

            Kim nuzzled deeper, "I had an absolutely wonderful night, Shego.  Thank you for everything."

            Shego chose that moment to give her captain a quick, light kiss on the top of her scalp, "You're welcome."

            Kim sighed again in pleasure.  There was so much more she wanted to say but the feeling of being in her arms combined with her body heat was so comfortable that she closed her eyes and drifted off into sleep.  Shego stroked her scalp as she listened to Kim's slow, steady breathing.  She felt happier than she had been in a long while and a huge measure of pride at what she was able to accomplish.  Another milestone was reached in their relationship.  They had a pleasant evening together and the night didn't devolve into a big argument or a fight.  That was proof positive that this grand experiment could work.

            Baby steps, Shego thought to herself as she closed her eyes and joined Kim in sleep.  Perhaps it was because of how the day went, but the nightmares that usually accompanied Shego's nights didn't return.  Her dreams were filled with the possibilities that could happen once her Hunger was vanquished once and for all.

 

 

Meanwhile...

Kaer Wayland, the crown jewel of the Empire, inside the Imperial Palace

            Alexis Van Saint paced back and forth impatiently in one of the many small waiting rooms in the Imperial Palace.  She wore her black hair long and wore the skin-tight black and maroon officer's uniform with her father's broadsword, Peacekeeper, peace-corded to its scabbard.  The weapon was famous throughout the Empire as was the Van Saint name.  Her father, Agenor Van Saint, was the Empire's greatest warrior by virtue of his keen intellect and his mastery with almost all weapons.  His sword and his mind protected the Empire from many threats throughout his life, until that day that he left for a mission and never returned.  Her father's best friend was the Emperor, Arrakis Wayland, and because of their friendship and what her father had done for the Empire the Emperor awarded the family with a noble title with all the rights and privileges that went along with it.  Alexis was the only child of her father and he doted on her when she was young, but as she grew older he instilled in her the same sense of honor and duty that consumed nearly every facet of his life.

            She could've lived a life of leisure and excess that so dominated the lifestyle of the other nobles, but she followed in her father's footsteps and she was unafraid.  The Empire was a male dominated society with women relegated to singular roles, namely rearing children and looking beautiful.  Alexis strove to break that mold and with her father's connections she was able to join the Imperial Military, but not under a combatant role because that was not allowed by Imperial decree.  Her sharp, analytical mind allowed her to become an Intelligence Officer in the Internal Affairs Division of the Intelligence Bureau and she had done nothing but excel in that role.

            Still, she wanted more.

            But the social mores of the Empire forbid any such advancement.  She was frustrated, and not only because of her apparent ineligibility for advancement but because of her current mission.

            The Air Pirate Kim Possible and the whole Possible family in general.

            Despite pouring through mountains of records, books, and loose-leaf sheets of paper there was almost next to nothing that she or her small hand-picked team of dedicated archivists could dig up about that damned family.  It was as if all of the records were erased or had never existed in the first place which was impossible.  What was known was that the Possibles were an Imperial family and the military records of James Possible were mostly complete.  His wife, Anne, was more of an enigma.  Little was known of her family aside from them too coming from Imperial stock.  Their children were even worse.  She was only able to glean what she did from Kim from after action reports and interviewing the survivors of her attacks.  The rest was an educated guess.  The twin sons of James and Anne were even more of an issue as she had absolutely nothing on them except possible birth dates.  In all the Possibles were the perfect puzzle and she was hell bent on solving it no matter how long it took.

            Alexis continued to pace back and forth as she went over the latest news in her mind.  By chance an Imperial Cruiser had nearly stumbled on The Dauntless but the commander was young and inexperienced.  Kim and her crew of pirates were able to disable and scuttle the ship while shipping off the surviving crew in escape pods, including the unfortunate commander.  Alexis already understood that Kim had a high regard for life which she saw as a weakness given the red-head's line of work.  Piracy was a lucrative but cut throat business, with most pirates stumbling over themselves to stab their fellow pirates in the back for the slightest edge.  At the rate Kim ran things her storied career as an Air Pirate would be short-lived.  Still, from what she had learned from researching most of the members of her crew she knew that they were a tough, dedicated bunch.

            Like the Possibles, not much was known about the Stoppable family.  But, like Kim, Ron Stoppable seemed out to make a name for himself at the Empire's expense and she had stacks of papers and reports about him that she still had to go over.  By all accounts he was an accomplished scout and fair hand to hand combatant.  Being a scout with a sharp eye she surmised that he had to have a sharp mind as well because you needed to think quickly on your feet when events changed in the span of a heartbeat.

            Yori and Shego were both enigmas with nothing known.  Yori obviously came from the South Lands a xenophobic land dominated by a number of close-knit clans.  Shego was a completely unknown entity with absolutely nothing in the archives referencing her name or anything close to it.

            Alexis didn't like that.

            But in the end the others were inconsequential.  What mattered was Kim Possible.  Find Kim Possible and you find her parents.  Kim was the perfect bargaining chip and more and more resources were being devoted to fishing out her background and eventual capture with Alexis at the forefront of everything.  It was a daunting responsibility, but she accepted it wholeheartedly.  She knew that if her father was alive he would've smiled in approval.

            Alexis knew her duty to the Empire and she knew that the fame of her father cast a long shadow but in this too she was unafraid.  She resolved long ago to make a name fer herself in the Empire but to do something that her father would be proud of and add to the legacy of her family's name.  Kim Possible was that opportunity and she would not fail herself, the memory of her father, or the Empire with what she was tasked to do.

            All of that was put on hold once she got the summons to see the Emperor in person a week ago.  It took her a week of traveling by various ships to get to the capital as her office was located in a remote part of the Empire and because of her location fast ships were scarce.  She had no idea why the Emperor wanted to see her because the missive was formal and direct, business-like.  She had know the Emperor since she was a little girl, and knew him before he became Emperor.  She used to call him Uncle as a term of affection and she remembered how he smiled with pride when she called him that.  They had always remained close and after the death of her father the Emperor did what he could behind the scenes to help further her career even though it was obvious that she didn't need it.  She knew he kept a close eye on her and his treasured but sporadic correspondences with her were always full of praise.

            But this summons was different; she had never been summoned to the palace before and she had no idea what she was being summoned for.  She arrived just before daybreak and was shuttled into this small waiting room by a bored bureaucrat and a pair of faceless guards.

            That was hours ago.

            She continued to pace back and forth in the small room.  Another hour passed and then another.  Finally the door opened and the bored bureaucrat that showed her to this room appeared.

            "The Emperor will see you now.  Follow me," he said in a dead, neutral voice.

            She kept her dark thoughts to herself as she fell in step behind the small man.  He led her down white marble hallways and through gold-lined double doors.  Large paintings of past emperors painted by masters of their craft adorned both sides of the white walls.  Statues and bas relief sculptures were tastefully arranged throughout the hallways and rooms, depicting famous heroes of the Empire and other notable figures of the Empire's past.  Alexis felt her anger rise as she noticed that her father was not among them, but still she held her tongue.  The bureaucrat was doing his job and he had done nothing to incur the wrath of the van Saint's.

            He led her up a gloriously adorned staircase to the second floor.  More statues, sculptures, and paintings greeted them, depicting pivotal scenes of the Empire's past.  The royal guard was ever present but silent, each guard personally hand picked either by the Emperor himself or one of his military advisors.  This was no political appointment because the nature of their duty was so serious.  Military records were heavily scrutinized and applicants were picked based on service and merit.  It was one of the few positions open to the commoners and was also one of the very rare paths for a person of low breeding to ascend to the upper echelons of society.

            Sadly that option was still closed to women.

            Small scale models of the Empire's greatest ships appeared on marble pedestals as they continued to walk through the Palace.  They ascended another grand staircase and walked past the open throne room.  Alexis gave her guide a quizzical look but his face remained impassive.  He led her past the throne room to a small side hallway that ended at an iron-wrought spiral staircase. 

            Why couldn't we just use the elevator, she asked herself as she followed the silent bureaucrat down the spiral staircase.  The went down flight after flight, deep into the bowels of the Palace.  They finally reached the bottom and the bureaucrat led her down several darker hallways and past many closed doors until he stopped at a single large wooden door with gold inlay.  He knocked once and a deep, muffled voice on the other side of the door responded.

            "Enter."

            The bureaucrat dutifully opened the door but did not step inside.  He waited expectantly for Alexis to enter and when she did he closed the door behind her.

            Alexis stared in amazement at the large room.  The room was massive in size with a curved ceiling that was very high.  The room itself was adorned with regal carpets, paintings, and many glass display cases showing off the wealth and unique treasures of the Empire.  Larger than life marble statues adorned the center of the room, each depicting a former Emperor with a brass plaque at the base of each statue stating the high points of that Emperor's career.  The room was a museum, proudly displaying the Empire's greatest achievements.

            Alexis stopped at one statue that filled her with pride.  The statue depicted a man she knew well, her father, clad in his unique steel armor, with his sword out, pointing at an unseen enemy and his face turned to an imaginary army behind him, barking orders.

            "An impressive likeness, don't you think?"

            The deep voice came from the other side of the statue.  Alexis knew the voice and she sank to her knees making sure her gaze was cast to the marble floor, as was the proper custom when in the presence of the Emperor.

            "Yes, my Emperor, they did well to capture my father's features."

            She heard the Emperor step out from behind the statue.  The echoing of his heavy footfalls seemed to stretch on endlessly and got louder as he approached her.  The echoing finally stopped.

            "Rise and look at me, Alexis Van Saint," he commanded in a deep, powerful voice.

            She stood up to her full height of five feet and eleven inches and slowly rose her head to meet the Emperor's gaze.  He was tall and broad shouldered.  He was well in his fifth decade of life and the age showed in his trimmed beard with streaks of silver in it as well as his mostly dark, wavy hair.  In fact, the streaks of silver were even more pronounced in his hair than in his beard.  His nose came to a sharp point, his brown eyes gleamed with intelligence and a vibrancy that showed in men less than half of his age.  His cheekbones were more pronounced but mostly hid by his beard.  The overall appearance was hawkish and regal, the embodiment of what an Emperor should like like.  He wore the regalia of his office which consisted of form-fitting armor in the maroon and black colors of the Wayland family and a long, flowing cape in the same color.  He disdained the use of shoes instead he wore the black boots that Imperial Officers wore.

            "My Emperor," Alexis said formally and forcefully.  Instead of bowing like a proper noble would she instead clenched her fist and placed it across her chest in a military salute.

            He nodded slightly, acknowledging the salute.  His intense brown eyes bored into her.  "I am glad you came so quickly; we have much to talk about.  Follow me."

            She fell into step behind being careful to stay a few steps behind so as not to step on his long cape.  He led her out of the display room and into another room lined with more statues.  A large, marble waterfountain dominated the center of the room.  He stopped at the fountain and turned to Alexis.

            "Do you recognize these?"

            He gestured to the surrounding statues.  She looked at each one in turn and spoke.  "They are the past Emperors of the Empire," she answered.

            "That is correct," he said and then he pointed to one particular statue placed in the back end of the room, "And that one?"

            "That's my father," she said.

            The statue the Emperor indicated was similar to the one she saw earlier only that the sword was in his other hand.  The commoners of the Empire, almost to a man, revered her father, but they were also strangely superstitious.  Left handers were considered bad luck so all commissioned statues of the Emperors and heroes of the Empire were always depicted as being right handed.  It didn't bother Alexis much, besides, she knew her father was ambidextrous and that was one of the things she had gained from his blood.

            "Yes," he said with a nod, "Agenor was the Empire's finest warrior...and my best friend."

            The Emperor cast his face down in sorrow for a moment then he looked back up at Alexis.  To Alexis he had lost some of the fierceness in his face.  It was replaced by sadness mixed with tenderness.  He smiled at her and that was the look she remembered from when she was young.  "You are definitely your father's daughter," he exclaimed with emotion, "I am sorry that our correspondences have thinned lately but affairs of state have consumed much of my time.  I so enjoy reading your letters!"

            "As do I," she said, her voice even and guarded.

            "I have missed you," he said tenderly as he sat on the edge of the waterfountain.

            Alexis didn't know what to make of the change in his demeanor; he was the Emperor after all.  She wasn't sure if she was even allowed to let her guard down in his presence.  Emperor Arrakis saw the indecision in her eyes and his smile broadened.

            "There are no advisors or sniveling nobles around, Alexis, you may be yourself here."

            He accentuated his point by tapping the space next to him on the waterfountain.  Alexis took him up on his offer and sat down.

            "There.  That isn't so bad now, is it?"

            "No," Alexis said, and her defenses were breached from his disarming smile and she smiled back.

            He turned to look around the room appreciatively.  "This is one of the few places in the palace that is truly quiet.  I come here to find peace when I can, and to gaze on the history that is on display here.  Also, I come here to talk to old friends," he said as his gaze fell on the statue of Alexis's father.

            "They don't talk back, do they," she asked sarcastically then immediately regretted it for fear of the Emperor's explosive anger.

            Instead he smiled and chuckled to himself, "No, no they do not, but I will keep an ear out just in case."

            She blushed in embarrassment; she felt like a child again.  "That sounded more like the Alexis that I have known since you came up to my knees!  How old are you now?  Twenty...five?  Six?"

            "Twenty one," she answered with more than a hint of pride in her voice.

            "That's right," he said beaming with pride, "You are the youngest captain in the army, with a record that speaks nothing but merit."

            "Th-thank you," she said somewhat at a loss.

            He stood and turned to face her.  "It is partly because of your record that I invited you here.  But I must confess that this meeting isn't all about business."

            He spread his arms wide and smiled warmly.  "Now come here and give your uncle a big hug."

            Alexis stood up and did just that.  His powerful arms wrapped around her and for a moment she forgot that he was the Emperor.  He wasn't really her uncle but she gave him that moniker when she was little and he always smiled with pride when she said it so it stuck.  She put her arms around him and hugged back.  They held each other for a long time and for that time Alexis was able to forget that she was hugging the most powerful man in the world, rather, she was hugging a loved one.  Eventually he pulled away but the smile never left his face.

            "Words can't express how proud I am of you," he said sincerely, "You are a paragon of the Van Saint family just like your father."

            "Thank you," she said.

            The Emperor stood up and offered her his hand, "Come, and let us talk more."

            She took his hand and he led her out of the room and down a long, winding hallway.  The Emperor talked generally about courtly gossip and several new events that took place at court to pass the time.  Alexis listened intently for even when the Emperor spoke of rumors and idle gossip it was important.  The walked down another spiral staircase and entered a massive circular room.  The floor was white marble with a huge mosaic of the Imperial crest that dominated the room.  Several small gas lamps were lined around the walls and they were lit casting flickering shadows on the wall and floor.  The Emperor stopped in the middle of the room and turned around to face her.

            "This is an even older part of the palace," he explained, "Not many come here and I like the silence, it helps me think."

            "Why are we here," she asked.

            He sighed, "This is the other reason why I brought you here.  We will soon be facing a crisis point and I need your help in protecting the Empire."

            She knelt down automatically, "I live to serve," she declared.

            "Stand, please," he said as he waved off the formality and she did.  "I've stayed current with your reports but I'd like to hear your thoughts on Kim Possible."

            She knew that the air pirate would enter the conversation somehow and the Emperor was nothing if not direct.  "I haven't been able to glean any more information than what I already stated in my reports," she said with a hint of frustration in her voice, "She seems obsessed with finding her parents, that much is a given."

            The Emperor nodded, "True and I have come across some information that may help you."

            She raised an eyebrow questioningly and all he did was nod in response.  "Yes, while you were on your way here I received some intelligence from our embedded agents in Sal Sagev and Rhendarin stating that she has been there."

            "I knew she was in Sal Sagev, and she rooted out our agents there."

            "And Rhendarin as well, but that is of little importance now.  She is in Rhendarin as we speak and she is tracking down former crewmates that served under her father, James Possible.  Our contact has seen her with Dalron Mulimar, the former pirate that caused us much trouble in the past.  Word has come back that Miss Possible has hired him on as a guide."

            "A guide?  For what?"

            The Emperor's eyes sparkled, "She is retracing the steps of her parents in order to find them.  I already know where she will be heading next."

            "Where?"

            He smiled mischievously, "In a moment, but first I need to know how far you are willing to go to catch her."

            "It has been my mission since James Possible disappeared," she replied.

            He took several steps back, "Yes, but all you have been doing is research.  I mean, how far are you personally willing to go to apprehend her and her crew?"

            "Whatever it takes," she said flatly and with a tone of finality.

            "That's what I wanted to hear," he said as he suddenly drew his sword.

            Alexis took an involuntary step back.  "Wh-what are y-"

            "Tell me," he interrupted as he brought the flat of the blade to his face, "What has your father taught you?"

            "M-my Emperor, it is against the law for a woman to be trained in swordplay," she stammered quickly.

            He smiled wickedly, "I know that, but you still haven't answered my question.  Agenor would not do anything I did not approve of first."

            She was silent while she decided on how to answer the Emperor's question without getting into trouble.  Finally she settled on the truth, "He...he has taught me."

            "Good, just like I asked him to," the Emperor said in a conversational voice, "How much did he teach you?"

            "Everything," she answered in a small voice.

            "Everything?"

            She nodded, "I know all of the circles and tiers."

            "Prove it."

            "Emperor...it is high treason to draw a blade in your presence.  The penalty is death."

            "Overruled, now draw Peacekeeper and show me what you know."

            He bent his knees into a defensive stance.  Alexis was unsure how to continue but she wouldn't disobey her Emperor's order so she untied the peace cord and slowly drew her blade.  The Emperor didn't wait for her to get ready and he lunged, using the first tier of movements which were the basic moves.  She overcame her surprise quickly and blocked the attack, the sound of metal striking metal echoed throughout the room.  He came at her again with a series of quick thrusts but still used the first tier.  She blocked and sidestepped the series and he noted her quick footwork.  She backed away and assumed a defensive stance of her own.  Her form was flawless, her stance, perfect.  It was time to take it to the next level...or two.

            He attacked using a combination of techniques from the third and fourth tiers.  The fury of his attack sent her back on her feet as she parried each attack as it came, from every angle.  He finished his attack with a powerful forward swing which she blocked expertly.

            "Very good," he said appreciatively, "I see Agenor had found a capable student."

            "I was a swift learner," Alexis replied through gritted teeth as she strained against the strength of the Emperor.

            He disengaged and immediately followed through with a series of spinning attacks and feints from the sixth tier.  Undaunted, she moved in, blocked the attacks, and slashed out with an attack of her own using the eighth tier.  The Emperor smiled inwardly as he blocked her flashing strike.  She was very good, possibly as good as her father, but he needed to know just how far her training went.  He was forced back several steps as all he could do was parry and block attack after attack as she used an imaginative combination of techniques that ranged from tier three up to tier nine.  He was sweating from the workout and enjoyed every moment of it.  He back-flipped out of the way of the next series, which was no small feat considering the weight and bulk of his armor.  She came at him swinging.  He spun around and slashed out using the tenth and final tier technique.  He knew that there was only one way to counter his attack.

            Alexis saw it coming and she closed her eyes and concentrated.  It a flash of black smoke she was gone and his sword swung effortlessly through the air.  He spun around quickly and brought his blade up to his face which blocked Alexis's attack that came out of nowhere.  She hovered in mid-air for a second then she landed effortlessly on her feet.  The Emperor disengaged and sheathed his sword.

            "Excellent!  Your knowledge of the form is flawless, and you have inherited your father's legacy of stepping into the shadows."

            She sheathed her blade and she was breathing heavily.  "No one knows of that," she huffed.

            "The Van Saint blood is strong in you," he exclaimed in genuine awe, "Truly, you are your father's heir."

            "Is that it," she snapped suddenly, "Did I pass your test?"

            "Absolutely!  Damn these social constraints for keeping you behind a desk!  It's time to break you out of those chains and unleash you!"

            "What do you mean?"

            "You have the skills to do what is needed, and you have the mindset.  The Empire needs a new champion and what better champion than the daughter of the old?"

            She dropped down to one knee, "I live to serve, my Emperor, in whatever capacity you deem worthy."

            "Excellent.  Effective immediately you are transferred out of the Army and reinstated in the Navy."

            "The Navy?"

            He nodded, "Yes.  You are going to need a ship in order to track down Kim Possible and her crew.  You will have your pick out of the finest the Empire has to offer.  Train them well, for you will need to rely on their talents and abilities.  Come with me, Commander, and I will show you the ship I have in mind."