(Author's note: Finally, I have for you a completely new chapter. But, before we get to that, I'd like to thank GoldAngel2 for betaing and Kris Ice for her contributions to the finished product. I'd also like to thank those who reviewed the new and improved chapter 18: WolfDaughter and Lyless and lockesilver. Thank you! And, to answer the former's question, you get Chapter 19 now >smile> )





Cathy made her way into the livingroom, not entirely certain what she was going to say but secure in the knowledge that, if she didn't take care of this now, things would just get more complicated. She couldn't deny that she had a certain number of misgivings about her plan and not only because she would basically be pretending that she wasn't angry when she was and that Jet was right when he wasn't. While she had argued with Jet in the past, she didn't really know how long it took him to calm down afterwards and he hadn't seemed all that calm when she'd left.

She wasn't interested in getting into another shouting match with the boy; this would be hard enough for her without Jet being in a snit.

Jet was watching TV and he didn't seem to notice her until she was standing right in front of him. Once he noticed her presence, he stared at her warily, as if he thought she was going to start tearing into him at any moment. "Hey, Cathy."

Either he wasn't mad anymore or he was very good at hiding it. Either way, maybe there wouldn't be any shouting after all. "Jet," she greeted coolly, trying to ignore her own anger. Before she had a chance to change her mind, she forged on. "Look, I know that you only did what you thought was right so, I . . . I forgive you."God, how she hated saying that! But at least it was done now.

Or was it? He was frowning at her, his eyes narrowed, and he sounded a bit sarcastic when he spoke. "Really? Because you still look upset to me."

Why'd he have to choose now to be observant! Cathy's lips quirked up at the corners in an approximation of a reassuring smile. "I'm fine," she lied.

Jet didn't look at all convinced but he only shook his head and shrugged. "Well, glad to hear it because we've got to set a few things straight."

"Oh?" She fought back the urge to sigh with difficultly. Should have known that he wouldn't make this easy for her. Frankly, she wasn't all that interested in hearing what he had to say but she felt committed because she'd already said that she'd forgiven him. He didn't look like he believed her as it was; she didn't want to take the chance of having to say it again. "What?"

She had a couple of ideas about what topic he might want to discuss but Jet, as usual it seemed, managed to surprise her again.

"We've got to talk about Jimmy."

"Jimmy?" she repeated after a second's pause. What in the world could this be about? Was Jet going to try and defend his actions? If so, why? She'd already forgiven him; what was the point? Unless he just wanted to call her a bad mother again. Her jaw tightened and she struggled not to say anything besides: "What about Jimmy?"

"You've got it all wrong," he said firmly, "about Jimmy, I mean." He held out his hands in a placating gesture. "I know that you probably don't want to talk about this but all I ask is that you hear me out. All right?"

Cathy crossed her arms, letting her growing irritation show. Didn't they already 'talk' about this? But the alternative was to have another argument and she figured that letting Jet ramble would probably be quicker. "Fine."

He looked almost surprised - he had expected more resistance - before nodding. "All right. You remember that fight that Jimmy got into yesterday?" Without giving her a chance to answer, he pressed on. "Yesterday, he took on three older kids he saw on the way to the Sweet Pot. They pushed him into the dirt," he said, demonstrating with his hands, "but Jimmy didn't back off. Even though he was outnumbered and outmatched, he still didn't run away." His gaze turned into a hard, challenging stare. "Did Jimmy tell you why he got into that fight in the first place?"

She shook her head. It wasn't a lie: Jimmy hadn't told her. It also wasn't completely honest: Jimmy hadn't told her because she hadn't given him the chance to explain. She'd been too busy lecturing to listen to what he had to say. For a brief moment, she felt a pang of shame -

Why was she feeling guilty? It was still Jet's fault that Jimmy had gotten into that fight at all - from the sound of things, Jet had been there and had stepped back and done nothing. What was wrong with that boy! Didn't he care about Jimmy at all? Before she could rail at him, not getting into another argument be damned, Jet had started speaking again.

"Well, I'll tell you. He got into that fight because those older kids had ganged up on a boy younger than Jimmy - stole his doll or something. So, you see, Jimmy got into that fight because he'd wanted to help someone who couldn't help himself." He looked at her meaningfully. "He got into that fight because he his sense of justice wouldn't let him just walk by.

"And tonight, when Jimmy was talking about the ol' 1, 2, 3, he'd used it on some kid who was picking on a first grader." Jet's hands settled back down onto his lap and he shook his head again. "You can't tell me that you aren't proud that he actually cares about people. You should be happy that he's brave enough to do what's right even if there is a chance he could get hurt."

Cathy was almost as stunned by the depth of emotion in Jet's voice as she was by what Jet had said. Prior to this point, she'd believed that she had been completely right and that Jet hadn't had a leg to stand on. She'd thought that violence never solved anything and there was no good reason to get into fights. She'd thought that mindless heroics were the worst kind of garbage and that you had to look out for yourself because no one else would.

And a part of her still believed it, holding on to it tightly, like it was a piece of drift wood in the middle of a turbulent sea. However, there was a growing part of her that was leaning towards the idea that maybe she'd been wrong; that it wasn't quite as black and white as she wanted to believe. After all, hadn't she benefitted from mindless heroics? Wasn't that the reason why she was standing here right now? And if she didn't want to think about that, maybe she ought to think about why she'd been stuck in the hotel in the first place. She'd had every opportunity to leave and save herself but she hadn't.

Hadn't she been trying to perform some mindless heroics of her own? Hadn't she put herself in danger to try and save someone else? How was that any different that what Jimmy was doing?

She was still upset that Jet had gone behind her back and rightfully so. She still didn't want Jimmy to get hurt. She still thought that his best bet to become someone was to focus on his school work and go to college someday.

But she couldn't deny that, in the end and despite her misgivings, she did feel a little proud of her son for caring so much about other people. Proud that she had managed to raise such a good person.

She still had a lot of things to think about and Jet appeared tired of waiting for her to figure it out. "He's a good kid," he said with a hint of desperation, as though he was trying, one last time, to convince her. "I haven't known him very long but I do know that much." He turned his gaze away from her, looking almost embarrassed. "And, even though she has some very weird ideas, he's got a good mom too."

He turned his attention back to Cathy, his expression as earnest as she'd ever seen it. "He's not very good at picking his opponents yet and he doesn't know more than a couple punches but he already knows the most important thing about being a real fighter and a real man: honor." Jet half smiled and looked away again. "Something that took me a long time to learn."

Shaking his head, he crossed his arms, looking uncomfortable and annoyed. "Anyway," he said brusquely, "the point is that Jimmy's a good kid and no amount of street fighting's gonna change that."

Cathy had known before now that Jet liked her son. She'd known before now that he cared about her son. But she hadn't quite realized before now just how fond of her little boy he really was. And, as she absorbed this somewhat shocking revelation, she realized something else: Jet hadn't defended his own actions. With everything he'd said, he hadn't mentioned himself at all. All he'd cared about was getting her to see where Jimmy was coming from with all the fighting.

And that Jimmy wouldn't become a bad person because of it.

"You really care about him, don't you?"

Jet looked startled and even more uncomfortable than he had before. Then he shrugged, his face shifting into that nonchalant expression that he seemed so fond of. "He's a good kid," he stated, sounding strangely noncommital for a man who'd just spent so much time trying to convince her of this same fact.

Part of her wanted to press and get him to admit what his true feelings were. Maybe it was a mite hypocritical of her, but she couldn't see why he couldn't just say what he felt like a normal person. Why did he have to be so difficult!

But she knew, as possibly rewarding as that exercise might be, there were other things that she needed to say first.

"You weren't wrong about everything though," Jet sighed, beating her to it. "I would have taught him anyway but I should have come to you first." He snorted. "Even though you probably wouldn't have listened considering how much you hated me."

Cathy had to admit that he was probably right about that - that she wouldn't have listened. However, he was wrong about one thing. "I never actually hated you, you know."

He titled his head. "You could have fooled me."

She offered him a smile. "Oh, I wasn't very fond of you and you annoyed me a great deal but I never hated you. I just thought you needed to grow up."

Jet raised his eyebrows. "You shouldn't talk about your elders that way."

Chuckling, she shook her head. "Maybe not, but it's what I thought." Then she sobered. "I meant what I said before, about Jimmy. I don't want him to fight and I don't want him to get hurt. I understand that you've probably had to fight to survive but Jimmy doesn't."

Since they were being so honest with each other, she decided to try and explain like a rational person her position. Maybe she wouldn't be able to make Jet understand but at least she could say that she'd tried. "I don't want Jimmy to be a coward but not fighting doesn't make him one. There are other ways to stand up for what you believe in and I want Jimmy to be able to do that - stand up for himself without hitting people." She shook her head. "Because, in the end, fighting never really solves anything. You hit them; they hit you and it never ends."

Jet considered it for a few moments. "You've got a point," he admitted, "but there are a lot of people out there who won't give you that choice. You either fight back or they pound you into the ground like you're nothing." He uncrossed his arms. "There are people out there who'll kill you as soon as look at you and you need to be prepared. You might not win but you can make sure that they have to work for it and maybe take a few of them with -"

He stopped abruptly and seemed to realize that he was talking a bit louder than he needed to. "Well, you see what I mean," he said awkwardly. "I just want to make sure Jimmy's prepared."

Cathy did her best to hide her pity because she knew that Jet would not appreciate it. It was just so sad that Jet honestly believed that being able to fight was the only way to stay alive. And, judging from what she guessed about his past and whatever he and his friends needed to do to escape Black Ghost, it was clear that life had given him little reason to believe otherwise.

"Jet," she said once she trusted herself not to sound as sad as she felt, "I still don't believe that fighting is the way to solve your problems and, like I said, I don't like Jimmy getting into fights. But I," how to put this, "I misjudged your motives."

At his puzzled expression, she elaborated. "I had thought that you didn't care whether or not Jimmy got hurt and that you were just encouraging him to hurt other people." She managed a half smile, "I don't agree with everything you've said and I don't think that Jimmy will have to worry about half the things you think he needs to worry about but you are right: he is a good boy and I should be proud of him."

She leaned forward and placed her hand on Jet's shoulder. "I'm sorry I snapped at you before."

He smiled, shaking his head. "You don't have to do that." Then he got a sort of pained look on his face as he covered her hand with his own. "I guess I'm sorry too - I shouldn't have called you a bad mother. And I shouldn't have taught Jimmy without trying to tell you."

Cathy's smile became wide and genuine as she realized what she'd heard. Despite how often she'd forgiven Daniel, she wasn't one who easily let go of her grudges. She tended to want people who made her suffer suffer too. This time, she was more than willing to make an exception. "Okay."


"I forgive you." It really was different when someone apologized first! Then she pulled her hand away and waggled her finger at him, partly so he knew he wouldn't be getting off so easily and partly to try and lighten this emotional mood they'd found themselves in. "Just make sure you don't try pulling something like this again."

"I won't." Was it just her imagination or did Jet's smile look a little sad? "You can count on it."





To be continued . . .