Bonnie stood just inside the archway, partially concealed by the shadows. Ron and Yori stood in the center of the small courtyard facing each other, unmoving, right hands touching at the palms. They seemed almost casual but Bonnie was able to pick up the clues of the battle that raged between them. A bead of sweat rolled down Ron’s cheek. Yori’s big toe twitched rhythmically. She focused on a point past the two combatants and tried to let her peripheral vision take in their essence like Sensei was teaching her.
Life was hard in the remote school, but it was also very rewarding to those who put forth the effort. As she studied the ways of Yamanuchi, she found inside of herself the strength to eschew the opinions of others and rely on her own judgment. Over time she had been able to accept Ron’s connection to Yori and to understand that her need for him had been rooted in her own self doubt. Ron had been the first person to ever put her welfare above his own, without obligation and without compensation. She understood now, that it was a part of him to be selfless and now she understood her own motivations well enough to let him go.
She searched her feelings for some remnant of jealousy about Ron and Yori, and she found a twinge, just on the edge of her conscious mind. Relaxing her body and mind, she focused, as Sensei had taught her, and chased the emotion down, grasping it and bringing it out into the light of her conscious mind so she could truly examine it. She yearned for a bond like the one shared by Ron and Yori, like the one Ron had shared with Kim, but she knew she would never be able to forge one with him. Desiring such a bond was not harmful, as long as she understood it would have to be with someone else. Maybe that cute Takahiro would be interested in one.
Her first year would be over soon, and she would be allowed a week away from the school. Ron had invited her to nearby Sapporo, where his family now lived. He had invited her to spend a week with them and catch up with the news of the world. She laughed at herself, if anyone had told her that she could go a year without television or e-mail, she would have said they were insane. Looking back on the past year, it seemed so natural to ignore the outside world and concentrate only on developing her self. She briefly wondered about what was going on back home, wondering how Kim’s family was dealing with their loss, perhaps she would try to find them and offer her condolences when she was in Sapporo.
She let the feeling of sadness go and just then, caught a glimpse of the aura surrounding the two combatants. It came into focus so suddenly and surprisingly that she lost her concentration and gasped out loud. She was somewhat amused to realize that she had drawn attention to herself, not from Ron and Yori, but from other students who had taken up unobtrusive observation points around the courtyard. She concentrated, on blending back in with her surroundings, not hiding, but relaxing and becoming an essential part of the shadows in the archway.
“Very good, Lockwallah-san” Sensei’s voice came from behind her right ear. She levitated about a foot into the air and let out a little scream. “Tsk-tsk-tsk, you still have much to learn about paying attention. Truly, it is said that the harmonious mind is a boon to the horn section of the soul.”
In the courtyard, Ron burst out laughing and bowed in concession to Yori. Whereupon Rufus popped out of his pocket and chittered, “brekfiss!”
Jim Thomas walked slowly down the street thinking that Heinlein was right; Christchurch was one of the loveliest cities on the planet. He finished his errands and met Wade in the Apollo’s Coffee House downtown. Life in the southern hemisphere had been good for the boy. He was still pretty short and stocky but now most of the bulk was obviously muscle.
“Good to see you, Wade.”
“You too, Mr. Thomas. Have you heard from Dr. Grain?”
“Yeah, she says that she’s almost done cleaning house, and she feels like she’ll be ready to hand control back over to the President and Congress in a few months.” He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“That’s what she said a few months ago, isn’t it?” Wade asked, “And a few months before that, I don’t think she’s ever going to give it up.”
“You’re probably right. I think that once a person finds themselves with that kind of power, it takes a super-human effort to let it go. Still, as dictators go, she’s not a bad one.”
“She tried to kill you.”
“Yeah, but not very hard.” Wade chuckled at that, and Thomas continued, “She put an end to that crap that Sheldon and Betty Director cooked up--Fifteen clones she had running around--and busted everyone involved.”
“I hear you’re still keeping your hand in.”
“People stop by from time to time, and I tell ‘em what I know. They seem to find it helpful, and who am I to argue?” He rummaged around in his coat for a few moments for a smoke. “Mr. Du stopped by last week, has some new scheme to overthrow the system and restore the people’s rights.” His voice trailed off
“You don’t think it will work?”
“Nah, people aren’t unhappy enough. They’ve still got their ‘Endurer’ and their ‘American Icon,’ who needs freedom?” There was a wistful note in his voice. “What about you? How’s your friend, Kim?”
“Haven’t talked to her in a while, she’s doing alright though, changed her name and joined the British Civil Defense’s International Search and Rescue Team. She’s actually running her own crew.”
“Sounds like a good gig for her. How’s cyberspace?”
Wade grinned, “Haven’t spent much time there lately, I’m getting into anthropology, I’ve discovered a whole new species… girls!”
Thomas laughed and picked up his cup, “To a lifetime of study.” He toasted.
“I’ll drink to that.”
It was an ordinary hotel room. Two double beds, a TV, a couple of comfortable chairs and a few crappy paintings. The setting sun elongated the shadows and eventually they took over the room. The air conditioner hummed, occasionally clicking off for a while, then coming back on with a buzz and a loud clunk. During one of these cycles there was an extra noise, a soft noise, like the sound of a small kitten jumping off of a chair onto a thick pile carpet. A few moments later, one of the shadows flowed across the room and blended into the curtains.
“It’s no use hiding, Kitten. I’m already here.”
“Damn!” but the reply was filled with laughter. Kim turned on the lamp near her and looked over at Shego lounging on the bed. “I know you weren’t there when I came in…” She glanced around the room, trying to figure out where the pale thief had been hiding.
“Trade secret my dear, I’ll never tell.” She got up as Kim came over and they embraced. “Hmmm, you feel good, Kitten.”
“So do you.” They held the embrace for a few minutes and released each other in stages. Finally they stood close to each other hands on the other’s elbows and gazed at each other as if they hadn’t seen one another for months, mostly because they hadn’t. It was Shego who broke the embrace this time.
“Champagne’s not getting any colder…” she said impishly, tilting her head at the bucket. “Missed you in Nome.”
Kim laid a hand on the pale woman’s arm, “I’m sorry hon. I was caught up in Yugoslavia and I couldn’t get away in time to make our rendezvous.”
“You think I don’t know about that, Ms. Domitable? Really, Kitten… Jen Domitable…? Can’t you come up with a simple name?”
“Me Jane.” Kim grunted.
“Chya! Jane... D’oh!” Shego teased. “And, you really should be charging these people…”
“Hey! They gave me a car… you think I should be a cut-throat, cold-blooded snake?”
“Yes...” Shego drew out the word, letting the ‘s’ fade out gradually.
“Like the way you moved all of that art from the Security Czar’s private collection to the public display at the Louvre?”
“I’ll have you know I made a lot of money on that deal…”
“I also know you turned down about ten times what you made…”
“I guess you’re a bad influence on me, Kitten.”
They moved to the balcony and sat down together, looking out over the Singapore skyline. Conversation was easy and comfortable, full of light touches and friendly banter. Each of them smiling easily and laughing effortlessly. The transition from conversation to loving was natural and unforced; they enjoyed each other for the rest of the night, interspersing catching up and heating up as the mood took them. As dawn began to penetrate their idyll, Shego and Kim rested, enjoying the tactile bliss of skin on skin and the scent of a recent lover.
Kim broke their reverie, “Do you think we’ll ever be able to have a normal relationship?”
Shego snorted, “Define normal, Princess.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure, hon. Neither one of us is normal. You’re an international search and rescue team leader and I’m an infamous art smuggler, why should we have a normal relationship?” She cupped Kim’s face in her hand. “We both agreed, I’m not going to stop stealing and you’re not going to start—let me finish.” She held up a hand. “I have never met anyone who completes me the way you do, and without being egotistical I can claim the same for you. But we’ll never be happy under the same roof. For right now, we can just love each other and go our separate ways, until the next time we meet.”
“What if you meet someone else?”
“How many people have you met over the past year?”
“About a thousand, or so.”
“Any of them compare to me?”
Kim blushed, “None of them even came close.”
“It’s the same for me, Kitten. I don’t think there’s anyone else out there that can come close to you. And if the only way I can have a piece of you is to wait a few months between visits, then that’s the way it’s gotta be.” She got up and walked over to her pouch. “Who knows, Maybe one day I’ll wake up and decide I want to be a hero…” She pulled a small envelope out and turned back to Kim with a mischievous grin, “Of course, maybe you’ll decide to come over to the dark side.”
Kim shook her head, “I don’t think so.”
“I have something special for you.” Shego had a tinge of uncertainty in her voice. “Please don’t be mad at me for not giving you this last night.”
“What is it?”
Kim folded her arms and dropped her face into the dreaded puppy dog pout. But as soon as she started, Shego closed her eyes and ran to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Even though her victim was out of sight, Kim didn’t let up.
“How in the hell do you do that?”
“Do what?” Kim pouted.
“Project that… thing… into a closed room? Nevermind!” Shego threw open the door and with one hand covering her eyes, held out the envelope to Kim, who snatched it and ran over to the bed to open it. Two photographs of a handsome blonde man with a goofy grin fell out onto the bed.
Kim held them like they were going to shatter under the slightest pressure. “Wh… W… When were these taken?” she stuttered in a whisper.
“About a month ago,” Shego said quietly. “and only about a thousand kilometers from where your parents live now.”
“Why did you wait until…?”
“Because you’re going to rush out and go find him right now. I’m willing to cut our tryst short so you can go find your boyfriend, but I’m selfish enough to want at least one whole night with you.”
Kim caught Shego’s face and brought it close for a soft kiss. “Thank you.”
“Uh, Kitten…?” Shego said as Kim opened the door.
“You might want to get dressed first.”