Kris’s Note: Yay! We did it! The finale of the Descent… “movement?” Would one call it a movement? At any rate, we’ve made pretty good progress. Hey, trust me, this is fast – look at the start and finish dates of the rest of my stuff! Thanks again and always to everyone who’s read this story. And, thanks to Cybra for giving us an added idea for the series (we will get to it yet, Cybra) and Sage’s friend who pointed out a little plot hole that will be worked out in a later portion of the series. And, of course, thanks to Sageums. ::BIIIIG hug!::
Sage SK’s Note: The final chapter of “They That Walk in Darkness!” Wow! A whole series completed in five months! For my part, I really enjoyed writing and expressing the emotions that we felt both Jake and Chance were experiencing. This story isn’t finished, however. This is the end of their descent. Now, it’s their time to relive again… And, once again, many thanks to our readers at FF.N and for the great reviews! They were really appreciated!! ? And, yes, once again, my many thanks to my co-author Kristen. Without her, I wouldn’t have gotten this far! ::HUUUUG Kris!!::
My dreams still come to haunt me every night. Dreams. Memories. Echos.
I’m even thinner than I was a month ago. A month ago when I consciously realized what I was doing to myself. But, it doesn’t matter. Not then. Not now.
I shuffle along, eyes on my feet, as the guards guide my cellblock out to the yard. Best if I go unnoticed. I know I haven’t the strength to fight now.
I plod out into the yard and blink at the light of day. The sun is shining brightly. A breeze blows tangy air off the sea into my face. I step to the side to avoid the other prisoners and lift my head a bit to take it in. To enjoy it.
Even numbed I can’t completely ignore life.
As I start to close my eyes and enjoy the warmth on my face, something makes me turn.
I glance to my left and gasp. T-Bone. No, Chance. Or what’s left of both of them.
His once-brilliant green eyes are dead. Lifeless. Even the anger is gone.
Realization comes slowly. He’s lost it too. The fury that drove him is gone. And, all that’s left is a void. An empty shell of a kat.
I watch him make his way to a corner and just stare into the distance of fences and barbed wire. His gaze is empty. He doesn’t really see it at all.
And, something inside me flutters. I feel it, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t remember what it is.
But, I obey it. I let it guide me to him. As I draw near, it builds. It gains strength. Then, it’s alive. A spark. And, its fire gives me words to speak.
I try to avoid them as I make my way across the yard. Clearly, they’re terrified of me… afraid that I’ll grab them again and nail them in the face like I have in the last few weeks.
I sigh as a few of the weaker prisoners scurry away from me… as if my presence is that of a ruler or something.
So, maybe I am a ruler…
I’m a ruler of my own fate… I’m a ruler of my own destiny.
But, that’s now. Years ago I was just a pawn… a pawn on Dark Kat’s chess board of city domination.
But, all that’s no more. I’m safe from that demon. However, I’m not safe from my conscience. He’s been yelling at me since I got here… and he won’t leave me alone.
I finally make my way to a far corner of the prison yard, hopping onto a crate and leaning against the wall to stare out towards the city from the prison wall. My eyes searching across the vast sea as it whips against the wind…
Man, have I become poetic.
Abruptly, I perk my ears toward a voice… A rather distant voice… one I may only hear in my dreams.
It’s quiet, meek, like it’s afraid to speak to me.
Ever so slowly, I turn to look at the owner of that voice, my eyes tired, my face weary.
Then, I see him staring at me, tired eyes trying to light as he smiles weakly. I don’t believe it.
I can’t believe it. He looks terrible! The kat that was my best friend is standing right there looking up at me, and he’s thinner than a stick.
Like I’m one to talk. I haven’t seen myself in a mirror in ages, but I can tell how horrible *I* look.
But, turning back to Jake… I haven’t seen him since the trial…
Rubbing my eyes, I finally leap off the crate. The landing, however, isn’t as graceful as I’d hoped. I’ve lost all my agility to land on both legs since I was taken to Alkatraz. With a trip, I stumble a tad, landing on both knees.
Sighing, I shakily make myself stand, not catching the wince on Jake’s face.
“Are you alright?” he asks.
Am I alright? Am *I* alright?! For Pete’s sake, he couldn’t ask me a better question, could he?
No… wait a minute. What am I doing? Why am I even upset with him? I’m just as guilty. No point in blaming Jake for all this.
Gulping back the knot in my throat, I answer with a quiver in my tone.
“I’ve been better.”
————————————— I nod. Inside, I can sense that feeling growing. And, I slowly realize just how numb I’ve been for months now. Numb. Dead. Emotionless. But, I’m feeling an emotion now.
Fear for my old friend.
The big kat recovers and looks at me. “What… brings you to this side of the Yard?” he asks with a phantom of a grin.
“Saw you…,” I return simply, meeting his gaze.
He nods. And, I look away.
An uneasy silence settles in.
I’m about to speak. To say something. Anything. When Chance does it for me.
“So… how’ve you been?”
Just as though we’d met on the street or in a fast food place. As though we were normal kats.
I shrug, feeling my prison uniform falling loosely around my shoulders as I do so. I really have let myself go. Chance notices it too. “Well, for one, you’ve lost weight…”
Thanks. I think the SlimFast plan is working for me. What *can* I say? We both look like the walking dead and we both know why. But, neither of us can bear to bring it up.
“Food stinks….,” I return simply.
It does, but that’s not why I’ve stopped eating.
And, Chance knows it.
But, all he says is, “You noticed that too, huh?”
I nod. But, I can’t take it anymore. It has to be said. And, I suddenly choke it out.
“Actually…. I just don’t want to eat… I haven’t cared anymore….” I tell him, not daring to meet his eyes.
His ragged ears perk at that. “Haven’t cared…?” he asks hesitantly.
My gaze drops to the ground. “It’s felt like… like… my life was over….”
I sense rather than see Chance shaking his head in disbelief as he whispers, “Jake… you of all kats…”
Yes, me, Chance. The kat who couldn’t bear to hurt a fly. The kat who gave in when he knew better. The kat that made a bargain with the closest to the Devil he ever hopes to see. The kat who struck his girlfriend when she tried to save him from this. The kat who let himself start hating his best friend. The kat who murdered two innocents. Two heroes. Just because one of them was someone he could have been.
I continue to stare at the ground, scuffing my dingy shoes in the dirt.
“I’ve just been… empty… I’m here for life… Drove away everyone who tried to see me….”
My eyes never leave the ground after that sentence.
“I thought… you’d do the opposite… I’ve been driving people away myself…”
It’s true. I haven’t let anyone near my prison door since I’ve gotten here. Either that, or I’ve kept my back towards them, no matter how much they tried to get my attention.
“The opposite?” Jake asks, confused by my statement.
“I thought you’d be willing to see people again…”
“I…” He suddenly pauses, realizing that something’s changed as we’ve last spoken… Is he seeing things that way I’ve come to? “I am now…” he finally says, then sighs. “But, I’m months too late…”
Does he really believe that?
“Jake, it’s never too late…” I murmur.
Jake looks up at me, almost curious. Then, it’s the same question I ask myself. Do *I* really believe that for myself? Do I really believe that it’s never to late? That there is a solution to every problem except death?
I sigh, and lean against the crate to later slide to the ground weakly. I’m tired. Sincerely, I haven’t eaten, and I haven’t slept for many nights. Goodness knows how much my scattered mind screamed for rest and I didn’t allow it, letting “what ifs” leap into my head one after the other.
“It’s never too late…” I murmur again, this time in a dazed state… one that scares Jake.
“Chance?” He quickly bends by me, grabbing my shoulders to shake me a little.
I feel it, but I continue to stare out.
“Jake… Why didn’t I listen to that years ago?” I ask finally. I need an answer. Tears are filling into my eyes as my voice becomes hoarse.
Jake sits beside me quickly. “Because… we couldn’t see that then… I… I’m not sure I believe it for me now, but…”
I blink to look at him. “Why shouldn’t you?” I ask, interrupting his stammers. Why? Why can’t he believe that it’s never too late? Where’s the kat that was always the optimist? Who always believed that the glass was half full?
Deep down, I’m crying. He lost himself years ago after that bargain… After our deal with Dark Kat drove him into terror and fear… After his dreams were shattered to bits and his way of thinking was driven permanently into a negative state. And, I could just scream at his next words, but I can’t.
“No one will want anything to do with me… And, even if they did… I’ll be here ’til I’m old and gray…”
He’s lost his optimism. He needs to get it back.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
Jake shakes his head. “I’m… even surprised you’re talking to me… after what I said after the trial…”
His words pierce through my soul like knives. How can I forget what he said to me after we were taken from that courtroom? His outburst? The time I was fully convinced that it would be the last time I’d see him for the rest of my life?
I shake my head, and sigh.
“Think nothing of it…” I say, almost wishing I could just say, ‘It’s okay, Jake. Don’t worry. I know you didn’t mean it…’ But the words don’t come out. It’s my turn to be a pessimist. If he apologizes, how much will he mean it? How long will the pardon last until he snaps back into his old mode and become the sneering kat I worked with two years ago?
And yet… Look at him, Furlong! He’s sitting right beside you, practically skin and bones, his eyes are no longer filled with life, and you’re worried about the past?
Snap outta it, moron!
Finally, I tell him the news that’s been dwelling on my mind. How he’ll take it, I’ll have to wait until I tell him.
“Jake…” I begin with a stammer, forcing out the names. “I didn’t see them… But Jase and Trina… wrote not too long ago…”
I can’t help but wince at the mention of Trina’s name.
No, I can’t think of her right now. I try to ignore the comment and continue. Try to apologize for those last words I said to Chance. My last words before a year of silence.
“What I said…. I didn’t mean it…,” I begin, stammering. “I just… I thought I had to drive you away…” I look down. “I… No one needs to be near a murderer….. And, though they couldn’t find a way to get me for it….” I feel my whole body shake as I start to say it. But, I’m sure it’s true. “I did kill those other SWAT Kats….”
Chance is already shaking his head even as I finish. “Jake… No, you didn’t kill them… I don’t think you did.. I won’t believe you did…”
But, I believe I did.
“I fired on them!” I insist. “There was no sign of the jet!”
“What if they made it back to their dimension?” Chance persists stubbornly.
I look up at him with my tired eyes.
“Do you really believe that?”
Chance only shrugs. I’m breaking even his resolve.
“It… coulda’ happened…”
“I hope… I hope they did…. They didn’t deserve that…” The events of that fateful day play across my mind. “They coulda moved you know… They coulda evaded…. But, they held position to stop us….”
Yes, they certainly could have evaded. But, they chose not to. And, I can only drop my head onto my raised knees in shame. It’s not something I would have done then. Not something I think I could do now. Willingly sacrifice myself for a bunch of strangers.
The big kat sighs, laying a hand on my shoulder. I quiver under his touch. Then, I feel him slip something into the side pocket of my prison suit as he whispers, “Jake… I’m sure they did…. And, you’re not a murderer…” I look up to see his lower lip tremble. “You’re not, Jake…”
Eyes watering, I manage a hoarse, “Thanks, Chance…..”
I take in a deep breath, then look at him anew, giving him a watery smile. Just looking at him makes me want to cry, but I’m fighting back my tears. Out here, right now, is not the time to let my emotions take over. No matter how much I want to hug my friend to let him know I’m there, something is pulling me back… and I don’t know what it is. Whatever that something could be, I don’t like it.
But, pushing that aside, I finally manage to gulp down the knot in my throat.
“S’good ta’ see you again, Jake,” I say, almost quietly. It’s true. It *is* good to see that familiar face again. And, he’s been fighting for change, I can tell. Only he’s been losing the battle.
“You too,” he returns with a smile back. “By the way… You haven’t been eating either… That, or you’ve got a tapeworm.”
I have to crack up at that one. “I hate the food.” I pause, later to toss in a small joke just for old times sake. “Actually, it’s both. The food… gave me a tapeworm…”
Okay. I’ll admit *that* comment was beyond stupid, and I don’t blame Jake for the face he puts on upon hearing my words, hoping I’m actually yanking his tail.
“Eww… And, you want me to start eating it?”
I can only laugh a bit. “I’m kidding, Bud.”
Bud. The word slipped out. But, I can’t help it. Years before we’d made that bargain I’d always referred to Jake as “bud” or “pal.” Exactly when did I stop calling him that? When did the insults leap out…?
The past, Furlong. Leave it behind, already. Now’s the time to start mending wounds. Start to show that you *can* change… that you *have* changed.
“You’d better be,” Jake returns after my horrid joke. My best guess is that he’s either trying to ignore the fact that I *did* call him “Bud,” or he just didn’t catch it. He pauses to cock his head as he looks at me. “Look… You… take care of yourself and I’ll do likewise.”
He’s that willing to make that commitment? What do I have to lose?
“I will,…” I return, then pause, looking at him seriously in the eye. I have to make sure he keeps his half of the deal. “If you promise to do the same.”
As though reading my thoughts, Jake offers me his hand, his voice solemn. “I promise.”
Those were the words I wanted to hear. I take his hand, shaking it as I say, “Then, we’re mutual.” Suddenly, I feel rather odd. Here is my long lost partner, the kat that used to be my best friend. And, after a year of absence, I’m shaking his hand. As if we’d said good-bye after a college graduation and were meeting each other again.
Nodding, Jake finally stands, then sighs as the prison guards show up. “Time to head back.”
“Yeah,…” I return, almost wishing this moment not to end. Then, I turn to him again. “I’ll… be seeing you around, okay? Don’t be a stranger.”
Jake looks at me, a warm smile actually trailing across his face this time. “I won’t.”
That said, he walks off to be taken back to his cell block. I watch his thin self go before I’m called. Now, just watching the smaller kat walk away, I’m almost impatient to actually receive dinner. If I’m going to keep my promise, then I’ve got to start today.
I look up at the ceiling from my cot after forcing the food down my throat upon receiving dinner. I’m determined to keep my end of the promise.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been that impatient. The gruel tastes the same. But, I promised Jake. I *will* start taking care of myself.
Suddenly, my thoughts swing back to earlier this evening, while I talked to Jake and slipped that small envelope into the side pocket of his prison suit. I really don’t know what his reaction will be. I can only pray I did the right thing.
Back in my cell, I attack dinner. It’s the usual swill, but, for once, I *want* to eat it. Want to get back on my feet.
Because I promised Chance.
I haven’t eaten in so long this almost tastes good. And, my body can’t seem to get enough. Having started to eat, I can’t stop. But, at last I find myself full after what feels like only a few bites.
I can’t eat it all. I couldn’t eat another bite in fact. My stomach feels swollen and I have the sensation that, if I don’t move carefully, it might explode.
My stomach’s shrunk over the months I haven’t been eating.
Hoping I won’t be sick, I set the tray of food aside and dig out the letter Chance gave me. Then, I just stare at it. I knew what it was all along. But, now it’s in my hand. A small, unopened letter, likely sent inside a package. There’s no address. Only my name across the middle in neat handwriting.
Trina’s handwriting. It has to be.
I need to face this. Need to hear what she said.
But, not yet. Not yet.
About a week has gone by since I’ve last seen Jake, but our schedules have now coincided again. I’m lucky. There has been an effort by the prison administration to keep us apart for a long time.
I’m sitting on the same crate when Jake clumsily leaps on beside me.
I turn to look at him, a small smile on my face.
“Well, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” I tell him.
Jake catches his balance and plops down with a grin before replying.
“Did you know that if you don’t eat for months, when you start again, just that tiny amount of extra energy makes you think you’re invincible?”
At that, I have to chuckle. He seems rather happy, which means he’s been keeping his end of our deal.
“I take it you’ve been eating the gruel again, huh?”
“Yep. Absolutely disgusting.” He shrugs at that. “But, oh well…”
I can’t say I’m not happy to see him, because I am. And, I do wish I could share his moment of cheeriness right now, but something’s keeping me back.
The “what-ifs” have been attacking me again, and they haven’t been letting me sleep. Somehow, I do wish they could go away, but my conscience isn’t giving me that satisfaction.
With a sigh, I look out again.
Jake blinks at that. “Now, you’re bummed? We gotta stop meeting like this.”
I shake my head.
“I’m not bummed.” Okay, so I lied, but I’m not about to tell Jake that. “I’m just… relieved, I guess… Though I still wish…”
I sigh again, and Jake can see that there’s still no light in my eyes. The darkness is still there.
Jake, on the other hand, isn’t sure whether to keep bouncing around to cheer me up or be quiet. My guess is he opts for quiet. I can tell he doesn’t have *that* much energy, and the melancholy overtakes him quickly enough.
Great going, Furlong. You’re pulling him down with you again. Stop it!!
“A few too many regrets?” he asks me in a soft tone.
Ever so slowly, I nod. “Way too many…”
“Yeah….” Jake sighs heavily, looking down once again. Now I’ve really pulled him down.
Then, something stops me. Something that I’ve been meaning to ask him since I saw him the last time.
“Jake….” I stutter, as I turn to look at him. “Tell me something…”
I gulp back the knot in my throat.
“How much… I… that is…”
Crud. It won’t come out.
C’mon, Furlong. You have to know!
I rub back my matted headfur tiredly.
“Why do you keep coming out looking for me?”
I look into my friend’s eyes seriously. I have to tell him this. It’s as true now as it was three years ago. As true as it was when we both tried to deny it.
“Because you’re still….,” I start.
Before I can finish, I sense something abruptly and break off. Then, dodge just in time to miss getting nailed with a metal pole as someone jumps up, swinging for my head. I catch a glimpse of my attacker as his momentum carries him past me. Another prisoner?!
Beyond him, I see Chance blink and turn. Just in time to get nailed in the jaw with a punch as someone else follows the first guy. Stunned, he topples off the crate.
I growl and lunge to my feet, kicking out at the first guy. I’ve sent him tumbling before I think of my actions. I swore not to fight again.
No more fights.
No more Razor.
Then, I squall a gasp of pain as the air is knocked from me by a pole slamming into my side.
<Crud! They’re everywhere!>
That thought explodes across my reeling mind as I double over with the blow.
“Jake!” I hear Chance scream. My eyes track the sound to find him picking himself up. His eyes are wide. Then, they narrow and my attacker finds two hundred pounds of angry tabby descending on him.
Chance… Still protecting me…
<Now’s not the time for nostalgia, Clawson.
Recovering with the time Chance bought me, I find another guy coming up from behind. Before I can move, he grabs me around the waist. I don’t wait to see what he has in mind. I ram my elbow back to catch the guy in the stomach. And, hear the satisfying sound of air rushing from *his* lungs.
The thug I have is knocked out on impact… the minute my fist travels through the space between us to hit him right below the eye.
I can already figure out what this is all about.
They’re out to get me back for the past times I’ve polished the floor with them. And, since they’ve seen Jake with me, they figure he’s worth being beaten senseless too.
With a growl, I plant my foot against the thug’s stomach, hard enough to keep him pinned on the ground.
“Decided to cause trouble?!” I snarl.
“You caused it first, Furlong!” Another scream reaches my ears. Then, I dodge just in time to avoid a swing directed towards my face. I sidesweep the offender, letting him fall.
I look up seconds later.
I’m surrounded… by really ticked off prisoners. I recognize some of them. The rest probably came along to either enjoy the show or take an opportunity to hit me anyway.
With an arched brow, I try to add a bit of humor into the situation, but it’s not helping me.
“Oooo-kay. I think there’s a liiiittle too many of you…” I growl.
My sentence finished, two of the thugs surrounding me are taken down by Jake as he dives from above to land on them.
Great distraction, Jake. Thanks a bunch!
With the advantage given, I take a few swings to the nearest two in the group, beating them back a bit.
I only have a few seconds to savor this triumph, before I’m grabbed from behind in a painful headlock.
Crud. I forgot about the bigger bully. There’s always one of those. I’ve seen them in the movies. They’re the butler/bodyguards that stand about a foot in height above your head to later knock you senseless if you threaten their master.
And, that’s exactly what this guy is. Former Megakat Gladiator without a doubt. And, he’s taking away all my ability to breathe.
“Gah!! Leggo!” I manage to scream, trying to nail him in the gut so he can let me go. However, my strength has diminished in the last few blows I gave the others. With another attempt, I try to kick him off.
The thug doesn’t dare to let me go… not until I hear a scream emitting from Jake.
“Chance!” My smaller partner jumps on the guy, knocking them both down, his grip releasing my neck only nanoseconds later.
I turn to help Jake up, watching the offending thug try to pull himself back to his feet.
“Thanks,” Jake says as he looks around.
I don’t see the guards coming as the thugs attempt to scatter. Instead, I grab the nearest one I’ve never seen before.
Clearly, I’ve lost my temper. Big time. And, I don’t know if I can strike terror into this guy’s heart, but I’m still upset.
Upset because he hit me.
And, upset because he hit Jake.
From there, my mind shifts to the question I bark out.
“What was *that* for?!”
I know that tone in my partner’s voice. It’s always meant trouble. Even before… His temper has been pushed to its limits. And, this time, it’s justifiable. Chance’s righteous indignation is far more intimidating than his unreasonable fury.
It tore my ears to shreds.
“Chance…,” I begin softly, stepping closer to him, “not now…”
The guards are coming. I can see them entering the other end of the yard. The scruffy kat in Chance’s hands glowers at him, trying to look threatening. I can see the fear in his eyes. Chance may have lost weight and strength. He hasn’t lost the power to intimidate.
But, now… like years ago… he listens to me.
The big tabby breathes in, drops the kat, then slowly breathes out.
The kat scampers away. I don’t see if the guards catch him or not. My vision is starting to swim. Must have taken a harder blow to the head than I thought back there. Should have made sure no one else picked that pole up.
“Oh, crud…,” I mutter as the world seems to shift beneath my feet.
Beside me, Chance falls to his knees. His breathing is so loud I can hear it over the roar of blood pounding in my ears.
I try to kneel by him. Try to see if he’s okay. Just so I know before I pass out. Because I’m definitely going to pass out. The world is growing dark around me.
But, by the time I half-fall to the ground, trying to catch myself, Chance has slumped over. Unconscious. I hope. The last sound I hear before I collapse against my fallen friend is a guard screaming, “SOMEONE get a medic!!!”
I wake up sometime later, slowly realizing that I really hurt. It feels like the room is spinning, but I keep my eyes shut. I feel myself on a soft surface. It’s not my cell. The smell of chemicals and medical supplies reach my nostrils. I’m in an infirmary. Good. They can mend my bones before they toss me back into my cell. How considerate of them.
Then, I suddenly remember.
What happened to him?
A pained voice on my right reaches my ears.
“Ooooooo…. bad idea.”
“Jake?” I whisper as I finally open my eyes… and get a nagging sense of deja vu. Why is this so familiar?
I turn my head as he looks at me. “Jake…”
“Alive…” he replies before closing his eyes again. “Oooo… almost.”
I have to tell him. His helping me back in the yard… it was like the old times.
“Jake…” I stammer. “T-thanks.”
The smaller kat beside me opens his eyes again to look into mine.
“Same to ya’…. bud.”
“Hey, see they got you all patched up too,” I mutter.
Then, I pause abruptly, my ears perked, my mind rewinding back to what Jake said.
Those amber eyes just keep boring into my own. Can he see?
He called me “bud.”
Once I realize, my emotions go insane. A knot is building up in my throat. I can’t take it anymore. Gazing up at the ceiling, I let my tears go finally.
Jake hears me.
I say nothing for a while, just letting it go, crying openly. I don’t care who sees me right now. I’ve held back my tears for too long. One year of keeping them back has been enough. It’s my turn to release everything.
Jake wordlessly reaches a hand out to lay it on my arm… the closest thing he can reach. It’s a small infirmary anyway.
Finally, I seem to have the strength to sit up in my bed and look at Jake. I find him all bandaged up, mainly over a big gash just above his right eye. His ribs are debatedly bruised, I’m sure, after the blow he received by that thug with the iron pole.
Just looking at him has somehow given me a new light, a new hope. The fact that he helped me fight off those creeps has been proof.
At that thought, I smile a hair as I continue to look at him.
I look back at my friend. I’m not sure why Chance is so pleased, but I return the grin anyway, glad to see him happy and okay.
Chance finally speaks. “Where’s that guy I’ve been working with for the last two years,” he asks at last, softly.
I know what he means.
“That was another Jake. An evil Jake. But, I killed him,” I return flippantly, trying to smile. I mean it, of course, but I can’t seem to find an appropriately serious way to say it.
It doesn’t matter. I see in his eyes that he understands. I wait. Wait for his reaction.
Instead of words, his eyes fill. His mouth hangs open a bit. His ears twitch upward, questioning what they heard, then lower, drooping. I can see the old emotion overcoming him. The tough guy act that has always been just that – an act. Even the last few years. He’s just been channeling all emotion into fury. But, it’s gone now.
And, he’s trying not to cry to my face.
I know what’s coming.
Any second now.
I’m engulfed in a suffocating bearhug. I start to mutter something about needing to breath as my nose is buried in his shirt. But, I refuse to kill the moment.
Then, he lets me go and pulls away to scrutinize me again. I’m surprised. He’s crying. Openly crying.
I feel my now-teetering wall crumbling. If Chance Furlong can let himself go enough to cry…
A hot tear tumbles down my cheek, curling through my fur. And, I hug him back, choking out, “By the way,…. I keep looking for you cuz ….you’re my best friend, you nut….”
I hear what sounds like a sob from my friend. Then….
“Tell me it’s over, Jake,” Chance asks quietly. “Please, tell me it’s over…
Jake. I’m Jake again. Razor is dead and I can’t find even a trace of the vengeful madness that created him. Thank Heaven.
I just nod before choking out, “It’s over… It’s over.” Chance says nothing, just hugs me again.
Those kats that attacked us were armed by someone.
I know it.
So, Dark Kat’s not through with whatever he has in mind for us. But, it’s over where it matters. Inside us. Dark Kat’s SWAT Kats are gone. And, the souls they tormented – the tortured souls they were – are on the road to finding peace.
My injuries are healing. The ones I received in the riot *and* the older ones. The wounds I thought I’d never be rid of are at last scabbing over.
And, now I’m looking at the letter that could reopen one of them. The deepest one.
But, I have to know.
I have to.
So, I pull the letter back out and turn it over and over in my hands… before I finally open it slowly with one claw.
<You keep forgetting what curiosity did to the kat, don’t you, Clawson?>
Maybe I do. But, this kat needs to face whatever is coming.
With shaking hands, I unfold the letter and begin to read. The handwriting is a neat cursive. I pause. I’ve never really seen Trina’s handwriting before. Neither of us ever was the love letter type.
I shake my head quickly. No time for musing. I need to do this.
Taking a deep breath, I start reading.
“I know you don’t accept visitors, and… I guess if you don’t read this, well, all form of communication is cut off.”
<Trina….> I close my eyes and steady myself. It’s almost like hearing her voice again. It’s been three years since I heard that voice….
But, I have to keep reading….
“Jake, it isn’t easy for me to sit here and write anything that comes to mind, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s already been a year, and I thought I’d try. There’s been a lot going on since the trial… For one, a few of those who still believe you and Chance wouldn’t have been capable of doing what you did are actually outside Enforcer HQ demanding to give you a shorter sentence.”
I can only sigh. <Dark Kat… They must think he…. brainwashed us or something…. Oh… He manipulated us… But, not like that… We chose…>
Oh, we chose. There are kats who might have made that pact out of necessity. The need to support a starving family. The fear of Dark Kat. But, not Chance and I. We could have walked away. Oh, we could have. Dark Kat would have let us go. He wanted us to give ourselves to him. He wouldn’t have forced us. That’s not how he likes to play his games. He waits for you to invite him in. Then, traps you in a cage you build yourself. And, it’s stronger than anything he could do.
We chose so poorly when we made a deal with that demon.
“All of us here, well… We’re praying. Praying that they *will* give you a shorter sentence. Feral, on the other hand, just seems to ignore the protests…. What else is there to say? Well… Yes, I’ll admit it. I went to visit your parents just a couple days ago. I know it’s not the best time to tell you this, but I needed to see them, to assure you they’re okay. And, they are, but are still waiting for your safe return. They still believe in you, Jake. They always have.”
I start to cry softly. It’s been fully three years since I saw my parents. I never thought of what all this would do to them. I never let myself. What can it possibly be like for Mom and Dad? Knowing their son made a deal with a creature like Dark Kat? Knowing their son fought against everything he used to stand for? Knowing their son is a common criminal?
I can’t follow that line of thought right now. Shaking, I focus back on Trina’s letter.
“I just don’t know how long it’ll be until I try again to see you. My work’s backed me up. Dark Kat’s got us on the ball 24/7 with all his feeble attempts to take over the city. Until then, all I can rely on is a sheet of paper and a pen… that is, if you want me to… And, I wouldn’t mind hearing a few words from you sometime… But, that is all up to you, Jake.”
I would love to write to you, Trina… if you truly want to hear from me.
I wipe at my face before reading further. My fur is soaked.
“I wish I could say more, but all I can do is fill you in on the latest. We still believe that half the stuff “you” did was done by Dark Kat himself… There’s still an investigation going on. All I can say is that we’ve come up with a few facts, but Feral’s not one at the moment to even listen to us “rookie investigators.” What a hypocrite, huh?” I pause. Investigation? What’s there to investigate? I read on. Surely anything they’ve found was really done by Chance and I. We did everything Dark Kat asked. Blindly. We did it all.
We did it all.
“For one, as far as we can tell, those incidents at Puma-Dyne at least weeks before your ejection from the jet were caused by creeplings… We found a few hair and skin samples that were definitely not feline…”
I blink. <Two weeks? We weren’t at Puma-Dyne two weeks before… Well, *that* one wasn’t us…>
Why would Dark Kat have framed us? The Enforcers have a mile-long rap sheet for the both of us as it is.
“Another example we found was that “break in” at City Hall… That was caused by common burglars… the finger prints weren’t yours or Chance’s, even if they *did* find a few missile parts coming from your weapons. You were set up on that one…” I can only blink. <Dark Kat…. He was already hoping to doublecross us….>
It was what I sensed that night before we tried to drop the bomb on Enforcer Headquarters. I just never knew how elaborate his plans were.
He planned everything. He planned how the game would end before it even began.
“That’s about all I can tell you. We still have a few more facts here to “conclude” with. For right now, here is where I sign off. Jake, if you’ve gotten this letter, then I know you somehow must have talked to Chance. You two are in mine and every body else’s prayers constantly. You’re not alone. Keep that in mind. –Trina” I cry as I finish. I’m not sure what to do now. Where to go with my life. But, I do know that I at least have a reason to live now… several.
“Mom’s sending cookies.”
I look up as Jake joins me on our usual crate.
I blink at Jake, and let my lips curl into a grin. “Your Mom wrote?”
Jake nods. “Wrote her last week after reading the letter…” He pauses to frown in thought. “Still… thinking of how to write Trina back…”
That’s where I start to wonder again if I’d done the right thing in giving him that letter. “Are… you okay? After reading that whole letter? That is…”
Jake cuts me off. “Whadya mean? Trina….?”
“I didn’t read it, Jake… Did she… I mean… Well, what’d she say?” I’m curious. For my part, I wonder if she’s told him the same thing Jason told me in his letter, or if she just mentioned what had happened that night.
Jake takes in a deep breath.
“Oh…. She….. They’re trying to get our sentence lightened… Dark Kat framed us for a couple things…. Things we really *didn’t* do…”
I nod. “Jase told me about those…”
And, I’m still upset. Upset over what Dark Kat did… how he did manage to doublecross us after all. I never told Jake about the added explosives to the Turbokat. I figured he didn’t need to know that detail after all he went through.
And, I decide not to bring it up now.
“Did she… say anything else?”
I know it still bothers Jake somewhat. What ‘it’ is exactly, I’m not too sure.
Jake smiles a hair, then stammers out his answers.
“She… talked to Mom and Dad…. And,… they’re all praying for us… I… I’m not sure what that means about…. her and….. that night…. But, I guess I’ll find a way to ask eventually….”
I have to smile at that. To reassure him that I’ll be there once he finds a way. Maybe not nearby, but he’ll have my support.
“I’m sure you will, Bud…” I reach over to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Until then… well, we’re together again…”
Jake nods assent, his lips curling into a full grin this time.
“Yeah… Neither of us is alone anymore.”
“Nope. Not at all.” I throw an arm around his neck, feeling like I’ve recovered something I lost years ago. “Not by a long stretch, Bud.”
I say this as I watch the sun begin to set. And, strangely, I view this as a sign… a sign that our past has finally left us.
Yes. The past is gone. The future is what counts now. Tomorrow’s sunrise… is the sunrise of our new lives.
The End… For Now
Kris’ Note: But, we’ll be back! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Sage’s Note: Alright, they heard you… ::drags Kris away::
The Echoing Green — “Heart with a View” “The Science Fiction”
Creed — “My Own Prison” “Pity for a Dime”
Loreena McKennitt– “All Souls Night”
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