Title: T-Bone Too
To the Dawn's Earliest Light
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: March 9, 2000
Updated September 8, 2003
Warnings: May contain slightly more than average violence for a children's cartoon.
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
For the curious, "T-Bone Too" is intended to be a four-part series. Welcome to book two.
This one was a while in coming and it's been repeatedly delayed by writer's block. Thanks goes to Sage for her encouragement and suggestions there and throughout the project. Thanks also to Beth for her invaluable contributions to my early brainstorming sessions on the series. An added thanks goes to Matt Fiske for writing "Timeless" and thereby showing me where some sequences of my own story were empty and heartless rather than dramatic so that I could try to fix them. And, always, thanks to everyone who has read/is reading this story and its predecessor and all the wonderful people on FFN that have offered feedback.
Dawn found Callie Briggs still staring moodily into the fire's embers. Her blonde hair reeked of woodsmoke. Her glasses wobbled on her delicate nose askance.
"He'll be back."
Starting from her half-awake doze, Callie swivelled to find Felina bending over her with a cup of coffee.
"Thanks," the petite blonde murmured, taking the proffered cup. She paused with it midway to her lips. "Doesn't Camp C need you back?" she asked.
"They'll be okay for a day or two," Felina returned. "My second, McFurland, can handle it. We weren't just attacked."
Callie simply nodded.
Felina reached out to gently shake her shoulder.
"He will be back. He's a SWAT Kat," she assured.
"It's been two days..."
"It could take that long to get there and back." That said, Felina paused, eyeing Callie. Somehow, she sensed there was more to Callie's worry. "Callie,... you and T-Bone...," she started.
"They're back!" The joyful squeal echoed in the clearing as a twelve year old kitt tore out of the jungle growth with a grin on his face.
Felina and Callie spun as one, eyes wide. The kitt beamed even more and clarified. "The SWAT Kats are back!"
"Uhm... I'm fine, really," Razor assured the curious kat looking him over.
The black kat who claimed - for that matter, so did Feral - that he was a doctor was not to be deterred.
"I'll be the judge of that," the tomkat returned, adjusting his glasses and bending close for a fresh look at the symbiotic growth on Razor's chest.
Idly, T-Bone thought the tall doctor would look far less comical if his glasses weren't held together with masking tape. Razor caught his grin and gave him a reproachful glare over the doctor's head. T-Bone returned in kind, giving Razor his finest smirk. But, it was an expression of joy.
He was deliriously overjoyed to be reunited with his friend... and the only way he knew to show it was through playful bickering and smart remarks. Razor grinned at him as though reading his mind. Razor knew; Razor always knew.
Feral shook his head as he watched the two. Now knowing their identities, it seemed so obvious. Such was the magic of a mask.
Leaf dappled light played over the three kats as the doctor continued his examination. They stood on a mossy hummock that rose from the surrounding swamp. The remainder of the medical camp were some distance away on a plateau, treating the wounded from the last attack.
Slow and methodical as he had been in examining T-Bone's mutation, the doctor prodded Razor's symbiote some more. It was the only one left. The PastMaster's magic had made the other on his head vanish, unneeded.
"The mutation seems to do as he suspects," the doctor murmured to Feral, eyes wide in amazement as he placed the stethoscope on Razor's symbiote for a second time. A steady heartbeat was evident, throbbing more from the growth than Razor's chest itself.
The doctor removed the stethoscope. Sliding the instrument into its case, he turned to face Feral. At first, all he could manage was a nod, then he found words.
"I'd need... more than we have here to give you a definite, Commander," he began, "but, he seems fit."
It was a diagnosis both SWAT Kats expected. T-Bone had mentioned no more of Razor's former brain damage than he had his own former rabid state. Both were gone without a trace, and the big kat was more than glad no one else knew they had ever existed. As far as he was concerned, Razor needed no test beyond a study of the clarity in his amber eyes.
He spun at the voice to find Callie Briggs clambering up the slippery hill, Felina, for once, tailing behind. Or had the once deputy mayor run ahead? Her face was flushed, her glasses tilted at a wild angle.
And, she found two SWAT Kats there to greet her.
"You're alive!" Callie was radiant, embracing each kat in turn.
T-Bone could do nothing but smile. It was more of a glow than a smile, but he couldn't contain it. He was deliriously happy and he had a right to be.
Watching the happy reunion, Feral murmured to the doctor. "I think it's time we met at the cavern again..."
By evening, ten and twelve year old messengers had spread the word, their bare feet racing the swamp trails others couldn't even find. The message they brought was met with mixed elation and doubt. Still, it came from Feral himself.
The SWAT Kats were alive and everyone was to gather at Sanctuary.
"Wow..." It was a gasp of awe and surprise. It was the only fitting response T-Bone could find. Beside him, Razor nodded agreement.
The cavern they called Sanctuary was immense, sixty feet high and over a hundred in diameter. It was several miles from the swamp, where the subtropical jungle began to give way to a stand of ancient hardwoods. And, a half-mile below those hardwoods was Sanctuary, the refuge Callie Briggs had discovered in the wake of the Enforcers' disastrous attack on the Metallikats' Central Control Matrix. In that dark hour it had sheltered all who could be crowded into its subterranean caverns. Until wisdom eventually prevailed over fear. If the kats were ever found, hundreds in one place, the result would be slaughter. So, they left Sanctuary to disperse into the camps, and the great cavern stood as they had found it, abandoned for over a year.
Until now. Once again, all the refugees had regrouped. Two years ago they came to hide together, now, to celebrate... and, hopefully, sow the seeds of the Metallikats' defeat.
T-Bone's green eyes were huge. Their forms dimly illumined by a myriad of traditional torches and countless battery or gas-powered lamps, kats filled the magnificent room. They crowded in until they were packed tight against the damp, rock walls. Voices echoing from the stone, they created an eerie clamor. Hollow and countless, the voices seemed hushed. Phantom voices. None seeming to belong to a specific flesh and blood kat. As though the ghosts of all who had been lost were here as well.
T-Bone shivered with that thought.
And, he had to stand high on a natural platform facing the masses. He and Razor were the kats of the hour. The big tabby was suddenly, uncharacteristically, filled with stage fright. His mutation he guessed. His grotesque face. Or was he afraid someone would want the whole story of his survival and sudden reappearance?
A light nudge at his back assured the larger SWAT Kat that Razor had noticed his discomfort. The failings of a nervous tail and a perceptive friend.
Turning to face Razor, T-Bone met Feral instead. Rather than speaking, the broad-shouldered kat motioned them aside beneath an outcropping of limestone where they were less visible.
"Sir?" Razor queried, curious. He looked at Feral puzzled, pointedly averting his eyes from T-Bone, who was mouthing, "Kiss up," with a typical smirk.
Feral was no less attentive than Razor.
"I take it you're mouthier with an appreciative audience, T-Bone?" he asked. A single, bushy brow quirked simultaneously with a corner of the old Commander's mouth.
Again, T-Bone was surprised. The old disciplinarian had lost everything and gained a sense of humor.
"Sorry, Sir," he returned. "I was..."
"Nervous and still overexcited," Feral filled in.
Crud! Did his lousy mutation have to destroy all his careful checks on his emotions? One thing for Razor to see it, but anyone else...
If Feral saw his frustration, he made no comment. Instead, he stretched a hand out in the direction of the crowd, the sweeping gesture taking in the masses.
"Not quite all that remains of MegaKat City, but the majority," he murmured, his gaze travelling upward.
Following it, T-Bone truly saw the magnitude of those before him for the first time. Not only did kats fill the cave floor but, as the cavern rose to its rocky vault, tier upon tier of rock, some accessible by tunnels, others by a difficult climb, held more kats. Farther and farther, higher and higher, T-Bone tilted his head back to see them all. It was impossible. So many. And, all here because they'd been told that the SWAT Kats were alive.
A hush fell on the room abruptly. T-Bone tore his eyes from the breathtaking scene to find Feral stepping forward with his hands raised high for attention. Callie appeared at his side, entering discreetly from the narrow crevice that opened on the platform. She turned to smile at both SWAT Kats and then faced the assembled masses.
"Exiles of MegaKat," she began, her voice clear and strong. Loud enough to need no microphone.
At his side, T-Bone could sense Razor processing that information. That the cavern naturally had superb acoustics was clear. Likely, Razor would be able to explain it all in detail by the end of Callie's first paragraph,... which he should be listening to. Tail twitching, he forced himself to put his thoughts aside and focus.
"The rumors you have heard are true. The SWAT Kats are alive," Callie continued, motioning the twosome forward. "They've been prisoners of Dr. Viper... and subjected to his experiments," she explained, voice softening.
T-Bone was sure they could all hear the sound of his heart hitting the floor. Surely the shame of his lie burned on his face. Then, he was facing the remaining free citizens of MegaKat again. And, his mask was back. Not the black mask he always wore as a SWAT Kat, but the mask he had worn only five days ago. The mask of real emotion they would read and never realize the extent of all that it hid. An alliance with the creature who created this world, a being who might be a demon for all the SWAT Kat knew. His allowing Callie to believe her theory, errant as it was. His posing as a dead hero whose grave would never be honored.
Callie was still speaking.
"And, now they've returned to help us fight. Fight to survive... and fight to free our city!" Callie finished her speech, voice rising with excited fervor as her face took on the joyous glow it had held when she greeted the twosome, together again, back in the swamp.
T-Bone stood numb, a single tear sliding from beneath his mask. Lost as the crowd roared approval. Hurting with every cheer. Burdened with every hope laid on him.
"It's the story they want. It's the story he would have wanted them to hear."
Again, Razor's soft voice found his ears, over the outer and the inner tumults. How, T-Bone would never know. It didn't matter. The smaller SWAT Kat had pieced together the story T-Bone had told him - the true, the whole story - with his friend's actions and attitudes and said exactly what the big kat needed to hear. Razor too bore the weight of the PastMaster's secret now, as well as the hopes of the people. They shared both. As Razor had already reminded him, those few days ago, he wasn't alone anymore. Razor bore those two burdens with him.
And, the roar of exultant sound that rushed into the void of T-Bone's mind on the heels of Razor's words washed away the other two griefs.
"So, are they just morale-boasters or fighters?"
The heavyset kat's words rang in the sudden quiet of the deep cavern, the council cavern. It was the question they all wanted answered, and the one only he dared ask.
"Fighters," T-Bone returned levelly, ignoring the skepticism in the other's eyes. Just how did these assembled leaders of the people view the SWAT Kats? Curious, he searched the room, eyeing faces lit by flickering torches. A single, battery-powered lamp at the room's center gave him a starting point, but, beyond its sphere, all was veiled in darkness. Dim figures lined the walls. Some stood. Some crouched uncomfortably amid the rock walls. Others sat simply on the floor. Each was here because they held respect for one reason or another.
"Really?" the speaker queried, drawing T-Bone's attention back to him. "I thought you were a morale scheme of Briggs'. As everyone knows that the real SWAT Kats..."
Razor cut him off, finishing the sentence. "...are alive."
T-Bone glanced from Callie to his partner. Callie, at the head of the room, was irked, but quiet. At his side, Razor was another matter. The normally gentle amber eyes were burning with fury. The slim SWAT Kat's tortured face was the only replay of the crash T-Bone needed. Quickly, trying to save Razor more pain, he leapt in.
"What would prove it to you?"
"I don't need proof." Feral's deep voice brought all eyes to him. He stepped forward from his position against the wall by the SWAT Kats. "T-Bone more than proved himself saving Callie's camp, councilman. Not a kat was lost. And, I was there," he added, looking pointedly at the doubter.
T-Bone eyed the kat himself. A former city councilman? And, those beside him... They bore the same look. The way they carried themselves, their neat appearance... They had commanded power and likely still did. Though how much was
"Fine," the heavyset councilman snapped to Feral. "Let them fight under you, Commander, and boost morale. As far as everyone here is concerned, they're the SWAT Kats - we'll tell no one otherwise. Now, they can be excused so we can conti--"
"They will not leave!" Callie shrilled, stepping to the center of the room.
The councilman straightened to glare at her across the room. "They hardly belong in a meeting of this magnitude!" The two beside him nodded in agreement. "They're your crowd-pleasers and part of Feral's troops... and they'll take orders like the rest of his kats."
Feral's snort of amusement ended the tirade.
"The day the SWAT Kats take orders from me like the rest of my kats..." He shook his head.
"Commander,...!" the heavy one began, irritated by Feral's levity.
"Ach! What is this fighting?!"
Every head twisted to find the stooped kat silhouetted in the entrance.
Slowly, Professor Hackle picked his way into the room. The old professor was grayer than ever, his stooped form leaning heavily into his walking stick. His tired eyes squinted painfully with the effort of finding faces in the dim cavern.
"Consider it a lively debate... that just ended," Feral assured Hackle, launching a piercing glare at the once councilman and his companions.
Snorting in wounded pride and pure disgust, the other kat held his peace... on the SWAT Kat subject at any rate. Instead, he fixed his sneer on Hackle.
"We're meeting yet again," he began. "I don't suppose you've yet found a way to stop your robots?"
The blame, the condemnation in his voice was clear.
Razor hissed softly.
Hackle sighed, either too old and tired or too past caring to rise to the accusation. But, he didn't need to; half the room was already defending him, calling the councilman down loudly.
"The people decided the Professor was innocent at his trial!"
"He's the only one left who knows about these things!"
In the clamor, a slim kat in a far corner stood up.
"My people need food and clean water - not your fat mouth!" he shrieked. "What did we come here for?! To listen to you try to dredge up the last shreds of the power you had back before the Fall?!"
"The Fall?" T-Bone whispered.
"...of Katkind," Feral returned softly, eyes never leaving the building spectacle.
It left T-Bone perplexed. "Of Katkind?" Not just "of MegaKat City?" The slim kat's voice rising to fever pitch brought his attention back to the speaker.
"It's over for you and your kind!" he was screaming, his thin frame shaking. "There is no city anymore!" His eyes narrowed, dark slits in the dim lighting. "You ask why the SWAT Kats are here - why are you here? I'd rather have these SWAT Kats... or any of our fighters. They actually help us!"
A profound silence settled in the wake of his words. Every eye was darting madly between the former councilmen and the slim camp leader.
The two SWAT Kats exchanged a glance, sensing the tension. This was not a new fight; it was a new development in an old one. That much was clear. Otherwise, they found themselves uncomfortably out of the loop.
Meanwhile, the camp leader was warming to this battle, stepping into the center of the room.
"We're keeping these people alive!" he spat. "Those of us who manage the camps and guard them. We don't need politicians anymore." He smiled faintly. "Maybe we never did."
That brought a chuckle or three.
"Briggs is the only one of you worth anything - she fights like a soldier and works as hard as anyone to find food. What do you three do?!" He levelled a forefinger on the trio of stone-faced councilmen, the shuddering half-light tossing his dancing shadow over them. "You sit on your tails, giving these nice speeches..." He broke off, quaking with anger, before snarling, "It's not helping us! Those days when you had the power and might have needed it are over!"
The slim kat held his furious glower on the councilmen, staring them down. And, it worked. Slowly, one by one, huffing indignantly, they left. They shouldered their way out and vanished in the darkness beyond the lit room. It was the final blow in a long campaign.
The heavy, outspoken councilman was the last to leave. He rose carefully, slit Siamese blue eyes locking on the camp leader. "This is not over," he hissed. His own shadow loomed over the other kat. Then, he was gone.
Utter silence enveloped the chamber. T-Bone and Razor exchanged glances anew. Later. Later, they would pry from someone the entirety of all that had transpired. That decision made, they stared uncertainly into the silence that had settled over the cavern.
"I suggest we adjourn until everyone's calmed down," Feral rumbled into the stillness.
Heads nodded in agreement. The unanimous silent decision was scarcely made before the camp leaders erupted in cheering. Several leapt up to pat the slim one on the back and whisper excitedly in his ear. Even Callie slumped against the wall in relief.
But, Feral was not happy. T-Bone could see it in his face. The shadow of the old glower was back. And, when the clamor began to die, he opened his mouth to speak, his voice a rumble.
"That was quite a speech, Pawlik."
Then, he left, striding past the SWAT Kats and motioning for them to follow.
The twosome locked eyes for an instant before falling into step behind Feral.
It was a lengthy and silent journey.
Feral said nothing for a long time, leading them from the bowels of the cave system. That they were heading upward was evident only in a slight rise in the stone floor under their feet. There was next to no light as the old Commander guided them only with a tiny flashlight. Its bobbing glow bounced off multi-colored rock walls glistening with beads of moisture. The graying kat's steps were sure, but he faltered around irregularities in the floor periodically.
The SWAT Kats had no such troubles. Their eyes needed only the tiniest fraction of light. Razor's were more accustomed to gloom than daylight after his years as Viper's prisoner, and T-Bone relied on his mutation's heightened senses. Politely, they let the Commander take his time, waiting soundlessly.
Warm air flowed down the tunnel past them, bringing a thousand myriad scents - to T-Bone at least. They were nearing the outside. Leaving the cool cavern and its damp, musky odors.
Then, they were free of the cavern. Shrubs crouched low over the door-sized opening in the rock, surrounding the trio.
T-Bone blinked, eyes adjusting to the change in light in that instant. It was night outside, a lighter night than that found inside the caves. The sound of frogs was dimmer here in the forest, but a thousand insects more than filled the void, their voices bringing the night to life.
Razor adjusted as quickly as T-Bone, turning to study the doorway. A second entrance apparently. The "front door" was much more narrow.
"This way." Feral spoke for the first time, indicating a jagged series of rocks to their right. With a grunt, he heaved himself upward and disappeared in the thick foliage over the crevice. Clearly, he knew they wouldn't need his light to follow.
Trading a glance, T-Bone and Razor scrabbled after him. They found the graying kat on a small plateau veiled in brush.
"We can talk here without being heard," the Commander explained, lowering himself onto a rocky outcropping. "The mess you just saw means nothing to you, I know. But, you should hear what I have to say on it." He paused to look at each in turn.
Razor nodded first, settling himself onto the damp ground before reaching to tug off his battered helmet. The black mask that had replaced his old, tattered scrap was the next to go. Freed of his disguise, he ran a hand through the thatch of fur on his head.
Watching him, T-Bone realized that he hadn't removed any of his SWAT Kat accouterments in days. Keeping the mask on somehow seemed to keep him T-Bone. He was deathly afraid of being recognized without it.
A chill stalked its way down his spine. Did he really want to spend the rest of his life as T-Bone?
"T-Bone?" Razor and Feral asked one on top of the other.
"Hmph?" T-Bone shook off the chill. "We're all ears," he rumbled, dropping down to a crouch. He was too restless to sit.
Feral nodded. Taking a deep breath, he began.
"Furrer - the councilman - is dangerous. He wants power again. The Fall broke Manx and a few like him who couldn't accept losing all they'd had. But, Furrer..." Feral shook his head. "What he'll do about tonight's events I can't imagine. But, he's patient - he'll wait."
T-Bone started to ask about this "Fall" again, curious, when Razor interrupted him.
"What about the other guy?" The slim kat arched a brow. "Is he...?"
"Pawlik," Feral rumbled. "He's a firecracker. He's just as dangerous in his own way. He's led eight successful raids... with no casualties. I'd thought he was going to rival you two's fame there for a while." Feral smiled slightly, looking at both kats. Then, his scowl was reborn.
"And, now he's defending you... and it gave him the support to call Furrer down." His level stare met both sets of eyes before him, each glowing with an unnatural light Feral had already chosen to ignore. Who was he to call them freaks? Everyone bore the scars, inwardly if not outwardly. That in mind, he knew they could withstand what he must tell them.
"Pawlik will use you. He's young. He's brash. He's become a hero... and it went to his head. If MegaKat's legends follow him..."
"He has all the power," Razor finished.
T-Bone sighed heavily, rocking back on his haunches and staring up at the night sky. A few stars rewarded his gaze, shimmering in the cloudy sky.
"Enemies without...," Razor started to murmur.
T-Bone's eyes never left the stars as he finished the thought. "And, enemies within..." He flashed the closest facsimile of his trademark cocky grin his twisted face would allow. "But, we'd be bored otherwise."
"That's crazy!" Molly Mange uttered a metallic snort of derision as she removed the control matrix headpiece that held her empire together.
"What?" her husband, Mac, asked boredly. His visual sensors, a poor trade for real eyes despite their telescopic, thermal, and infrared capabilities, weren't reading color properly. Or was the TV monitor off? No, the computer systems wouldn't allow it. So, it was him. Well, that was just...
"Mac, are you listenin'?"
The ringing clang of Molly's metal hand connecting with Mac's head got his attention... at least until he realized that the beating had inadvertently repaired his optics. He swivelled his head to see around Molly. The computers he had set up to run his entertainment complex had finally cycled around to an episode of "Scaredy Kat" he hadn't seen.
Molly was less gentle this time. Skipping mere bludgeoning, she slapped the side of Mac's titanium alloy head with an electric prod. Every sensor and optic in Mac's cranium overloaded for an instant, provoking a metallic shriek of pure agony. The robotic equivalent of numbness set in instants later, leaving Mac quivering.
When sensation returned, Mac looked up at his wife and meekly asked, "Yes, Dear?"
Molly fought off her chuckles of amusement long enough to snort, "They's sayin' the SWAT Kats are back!"
"The SWAT Kats?!" Mac chortled. "Those clowns and their jet're a smear all over the side of City Hall!"
"Mac... This is City Hall."
Mac paused. "Oh. Well, what did we do with them?"
"Left them to rot out by the swamp," Molly snapped. "They're long gone." She paused, metal fingers drumming against a control panel. "SWAT Kat rumors..." Something nasty glinted in her ruby red eyes. The spark of a new, cruel idea. Her metal face abruptly twisted in an even more garish mockery of a smile than usual. "Well, why don't we give 'em what they want?"
Mac levelled a puzzled stare on her, uncomprehending. This was that odd mood of hers, which he'd been seeing more and more lately.
And, Molly laughed again, her vocal synthesizers converting the sound to a shriek.
From his crowded corner of the command center, the battered, drawn face of the kat who called himself Hard Drive peered out of a morass of technological clutter.
' I never should have dared tamper with their minds,' he thought, quaking. 'It made Mac complacent enough, but Molly...'
Molly's twisted laughter went on and on, the grotesque howl ringing hollowly from the metal walls. The cry of the tortured. The mark of the insane.
Hard Drive alone knew it for what it was... and knew all living creatures should fear it. But, there were none but himself to hear it. For nothing living ever came near the dark steel citadel at the heart of Metallikat City.
Molly paused her fit suddenly, barking, "Hard Drive!" Her wicked smile leered at him as he shuffled from his hovel, his legs shackled, eyes downcast so she couldn't see his fear. "Good news, Geek." Molly's eyes blazed. "I gotta new job for youse."
"I'm going to go see the Professor," Razor announced, hopping down by the entrance to the cave. "Want to come?" he offered as T-Bone joined him and led the way back into the tunnel beyond the entrance. They had left Feral back on the hill. He seemed to want some time alone with his own thoughts.
T-Bone shook his head in response to the question. "I think I'm gonna go crash."
Razor nodded, understanding. T-Bone had only slept once in all the time he had known him - all the time he'd known this T-Bone. He shrugged off the thought quickly as his friend turned and, giving him a light thump on the back, ambled away down the tunnel. This was T-Bone. A few years younger. Mutated... Razor frowned. Chance had told him everything. There were still things he had to tell Chance. Several things.
Padding back to the tiny cavern he shared with Razor, the privacy purely to save the two heroes from the masses, T-Bone wondered idly what Razor wanted to speak with the Professor about. Likely something techy. He chuckled softly. Two years away from gadgets... Razor probably just wanted to hug the Professor's toolbox or something. The big kat smiled tiredly. At least some things never changed.
A glimmer on the stone walls ahead made him pause suddenly. Narrowing his eyes, he watched as a splash of light played across the limestone wall on his left. Curious, the tabby followed the light to its source, a tiny opening in the cave wall on his right. Light spilled through the hole in twinkling bursts. Brow furrowed, T-Bone knelt to peer through the opening. He pressed his face to the cool rock.
He saw kats everywhere, their forms dark and fuzzy against the intermittent, flickering torchlight. The room beyond was so vast it could only be the great cavern. And, it was again filled with kats. Though not quite so many as before.
T-Bone's green eyes widened as the figures suddenly began to whirl in a dance, the rhythmic thrum of stringed instruments filling the cavern. As he stared, something brushed his shoulder lightly. T-Bone leapt from his crouch instantly, spinning around and assuming a ready stance.
Her lantern swinging loosely in one hand, Callie Briggs slowly let out a breath before smiling. "We have to stop meeting like this."
T-Bone relaxed his stance, embarrassed, his hands dropping to his sides. "Yeah... Sorry about that," he rumbled, arching his back in an effort to ease the tense muscles.
Callie looked from the big SWAT Kat to the crevice in the wall. "Watching the party?"
"Yeah..." Great broken record conversation he had going. "What are they doing?"
"A victory dance for some, just a nice chance to socialize for the others," Callie replied simply. "We don't intermingle between the camps too often." She darted away from the more depressing subject quickly. "I was just going to stop by and see everyone before turning in." The petite she-kat paused, that gleaming smile lighting her face. "Care to join me?"
Who could resist that invitation?
"Sure." T-Bone nodded to reinforce his willingness.
Callie's smile grew as she stepped around him and again took his hand to lead the way. Again, it was his green-skinned right.
'You shouldn't torture yourself like this,' a voice in T-Bone's head chided as Callie drew him forward.
Shouldn't, however, wasn't couldn't. Besides, the torture of knowing there could be nothing between them was worth enduring in order to simply be near her.
At Callie's voice his eyes traveled to her face... and then to the cavern before them. Again, the figures danced across his vision in the dim light, in time to the strains of some melody. And, shadows danced with them, flickering on the walls, playing over faces.
It was a party, but something somber hung over it. Something dark.
"It's hard to get into a party mood sometimes," Callie stated softly, sensing his feelings. Her voice was barely audible over the din of music and voices. Then, it was louder, her green eyes drawing his own to them as they flashed defiantly. "But, we can try."
With that, she tugged him into the throng.
Razor cautiously stuck his head in the opening to the cavern Feral had described. There was no light, and his amber eyes glowed softly in the darkness. A gasp sounded to his left, and Razor twisted his head to find the wide eyes of Sanctuary's only permanent resident. And, perhaps the one who needed sanctuary the most.
The slim SWAT Kat raised a hand and waved it slowly. "It's Razor..."
Lights clicked on abruptly - real overhead fluorescent lighting, albeit a clearly homemade variety complete with some lose wires and a damaged tube that flickered intermittently. With the light, Razor could see just how badly he'd scared Hackle. The old kat's eyes were huge, magnified all the more behind his spectacles.
"I'm sorry," Razor stammered, embarrassed. "Feral said you'd be up, and I..."
Hackle reached out to lay a hand on the orange-furred kat's arm and stop further apologies.
"It's alright, my boy." The graying kat smiled up at Razor reassuringly. "I was expecting you."
Razor returned the smile and reached up to slide off his helmet. The mask followed it a second later.
"Good to see you again, Gran'pa."
T-Bone wasn't sure how he had come to be amid the dancers. Callie was nearby, talking animatedly with a cluster of kats. And, in front of him was a trio of she-kats roughly his age asking him to dance.
"Me?" he slurred, looking for a way out. Any way out. "I ca--"
"Of course you can!" the grinning brunette on his left assured, taking his two huge hands in hers.
He dwarfed her by two feet and an exceptionally bulked frame. Surely he stood out like a beacon as hesitantly matched her steps. T-Bone looked around. Figures danced and chatted in the flickering torchlight. None were gawking in anticipation of the "Dance of the Half-Frog SWAT Kat."
Relaxing, T-Bone joined the dance. He was considerably uncoordinated at first as he fished for the natural sense of rhythm he had so prized at his infrequent visits to parties. It was there, somewhat hindered by his single webbed foot, but serviceable.
"See? You can dance!" the brunette declared.
"Dance?" The cocky grin it knew so well blossomed on T-Bone's face. "You ain't seen dancing yet!"
The big SWAT Kat was only able to escape the "dance floor" an hour later. Tired, but happy, he slumped against an outcropping on the closest wall. For the first time since the PastMaster had restored his mind, he truly felt like himself again. And, it felt good.
The mutant tabby's head had started to dip toward his chest with exhaustion when he sensed someone approaching. T-Bone looked up to find Callie stepping to his side. He quickly straightened, ready to escort her wherever she was going. Nevermind that she was the one who knew her way around.
Callie smiled at the content expression on the SWAT Kat's face. It was the first time she had seen him simply at ease. He had been giddy with joy and relief when he returned with Razor, but never relaxed. In fact, he had been perpetually on edge since that night she'd found him in the swamp. Biting her lip the slender she-kat wondered if she should bring up the question she had been considering. No. This was a bad time.
But, she realized too late. He had already seen her face, his mouth already parting in a question. With a sigh, the once Deputy Mayor placed a finger to T-Bone's lips and angled them to a secluded corner just to the side of T-Bone's outcropping. Reaching it, she turned to face the big kat, uncertain.
"What is it?" the tabby asked hoarsely, worried for her.
"T-Bone," Callie's voice was soft, "is there anyone we can try to find for you? Any family? Anyone but...?"
T-Bone shook his head. "No. Just Razor."
Callie's green eyes searched his own. "Are you sure? It's not a special privilege. Our scouts look for everyone."
Again, the mutant shook his head. "Only a few acquaintances. I was raised in foster homes."
For an instant, he thought he had said something horribly wrong as Callie's eyes widened and she searched his face anew. In her emerald orbs a sudden light seemed to burn even as her brow puckered and her lips parted in confusion.
Worried, T-Bone reached out to her. "Miss Briggs?"
It broke the spell.
The blonde drew away, looking down and shaking her head. "I'm alright." She bit her lip and glanced up at him, trying to banish the rush of memories that had spilled over her and smile. It was a weak effort at best. The radiant glow had drained from her face.
T-Bone fought the urge to enfold her in a hug. "I'm sorry... If I...," he stammered, his slur worsening with each word.
"No, no," Callie hurriedly assured, embarrassed. "I... You just reminded me of someone," she murmured quietly. "Someone I miss..."
"And, can't find?" T-Bone whispered gruffly.
The petite she-kat nodded.
This time T-Bone did hug her, holding her close. And, over her shoulder, watched a newly familiar figure furtively bend to whisper in another's ear before the two vanished, becoming one with the dim room's shadows.
Inspirations and Notes:
McFurland is the name of a character in my regular series, and, yes, this is the same character. However, if he even has an appearance in this series at all, (which is unlikely) it will be minor.
I have to give DJ Clawson all the credit for Hackle appearing as Razor's grandfather in this story. I had never noticed their resemblance until she pointed it out in her series, where the professor appears as Razor's father.
"Night Ride Across the Caucasus" by Loreena McKennitt