I apologise a thousand times over for the length of time that it took me to post this, and for the low quality of it now it's here. I realised the other day, when I started re-reading the story to try and get back into it to finish it, that I really just didn't like it all that much. It was the realisation that there were so many cliches, particularly ones that put me off a story, in the first few paragraphs, and the quality of my writing has not been satisfactory... still, I've done what I can with this last chapter; honest reviews are welcome as this is not only unbetaed but I will probably also be re-posting a better ending. I tried to tie up the loose ends but... i couldn't remember half of them. sigh
I hope you enjoy nonetheless, and thank you to all the poeple who have reviewed. I'm sorry to disappoint you all but... I just couldn't do it justice in the many versions of this chapter I tried. This is the best of a bad bunch. Of course, watching all 9 seasons of the x-files in the space of about 2 months probably didn't help...
Jack awoke slowly, surging up from his injury-induced sleep and breaking into wakefulness with a groan. Keeping his eyes closed against the brightness he could already feel stabbing deep into his brain he silently took stock of his surroundings.
There were voices a short way off; a muffled murmur that rose and fell as the owners argued. He couldn't make out what they were saying but he guessed that had been what had woken him.
A twitching of his limbs not only assured him that they were all still attached, but also alerted him to the fact that sudden movement would not be a good idea. His eyes had begun to adjust to the brightness and he decided to risk cracking them slowly open, turning his face away from the source of the light. A moment later he was able to cautiously raise himself and survey his surroundings from his position propped up in the bed. A cursory inspection of the room informed him that he had been returned to Cair Paravel; the portrait of Aslan gazed back at him, solemn and knowing.
The soft click of the door opening broke him from his stare-off with the painting and he turned to see the owners of the arguing voices enter.
"You are awake!" Corrin looked surprised, and slightly guilty, to see Jack staring at him from the four-poster.
Karrena stepped back outside for a moment and muttered something to someone unseen before entering the room properly and shutting the door behind her. "How do you feel?" she questioned as she moved to his bedside.
Jack tried to croak out an answer but managed only a squeak until he cleared his voice and tried again. "Like I had three kinds of crap kicked out of me. How are you?"
"I am well, thank you." Karrena replied with a small smile.
Corrin had the good grace to look a little sheepish when Jack transferred his gaze to him, an eyebrow raised slightly. "I, too, am well, thanks be to you and Karrena. Narnia would be lost without you."
Wary of the punishment his body was threatening to deal out if he moved too much Jack gave the barest of shrugs. "Next time make sure you listen to the right people."
Corrin's face was grim as he accepted the admonishment, nodding his agreement.
"And…" Jack continued, his lips quirking in a slight grin, "try not to let people put the mind-control whammy on you either."
Corrin relaxed slightly, his own lips twitching wryly in reply. "I will certainly bear that in mind; however, I hope that it will never come to that again."
Jack grunted in agreement. "So what had Sinere promised the- her army to get them to fight, then?"
"The men she promised sole occupation and human rule of Narnia for the rest of eternity." Corrin's face was grave.
"Ethnic cleansing and despotism seem to go hand in hand whatever alternate universe I end up in."
"It horrifies me to realise how many followed her so willingly. I had thought the philosophies of King Miraz and the men of Telmar were far behind us."
"My lord," Karenna cut in, "We were all mistaken in that respect; it was not your fault."
Corrin's mouth twisted in a grimace, "I am their King; I am responsible for their welfare and I let them down."
Jack nodded, understanding Karrena's desire to relieve Corrin of some of his guilt but also understanding that, as a leader, he had to take responsibility for the people under his command. "He's right Karrena. He is their King, and he has a responsibility to the people he rules."
Karrena scowled at him, "He is only one man, how can he be held responsible for the actions of all the beings in Narnia?"
Jack shook his head slightly, "He's not only one man; he's the king. He can be held responsible for all those people because he accepted that responsibility when he accepted the crown." He glanced at Corrin, noting the grim expression on his face. "And you know it, don't you." It wasn't a question but Corrin nodded nonetheless. "Still," Jack turned to face Karrena with a brighter smile. "He's not completely alone; he's got us."
Karrena flushed pink and studiously refused to meet the eyes of Corrin, who had gone a similar shade of suddenly-self-conscious.
Jack rolled his eyes, and quashed the slight feeling that rose in him unbidden, not even admitting to himself that he could be feeling slightly jealous that they had found some kind of happiness with each other while he was struggling even to find himself, recently. "So what about the rest of the army then?"
Corrin cleared his throat, "the rest of the evil and dark creatures were compelled to be there through magic."
"When Sinere was distracted and had to divert some of her concentration and energy they were released from the magic and fled."
Jack nodded, fitting the pieces into his disjointed and hazy memories. "What about- " His question was answered as a small grey form pushed its way in through the door and scurried towards him, shortly followed by the lithe form of Ivy, who smiled as she met Jack's eyes.
She must have seen the pinched look of fear in Jack's eyes, his face otherwise unreadable, as she reassured him. "There are many more of our group who await a time when they will be able to visit you without draining your energy."
Some of the tension drained out of Jack's shoulders as he turned to face Fleetpaw, who now stood patiently by his bedside. "Hey buddy, how you doing?"
The squirrel stepped forward, "I am well, thank you. Thanks to you, and to Karrena."
Karrena shifted uncomfortably, wrapping her arms around her chest as she forced a smile. It was clear to Jack that she was not comfortable with her role in the events at the battle, though he had no doubt that she would do the same again, if she had to. He himself knew that it was not easy to take the life of another being.
He turned his attention back to Fleetpaw, "Oh I don't know about that. I heard that it was you who saved the day; living up to your name and getting me the message in time." The young animal's chest swelled with pride at the praise from his hero, chattering away and filling Jack in on all of the details that he had not yet heard, and confirming many of Jack's suspicions. He only left when Ivy, self-appointed nurse and guardian, insisted that he allow Jack to get some rest.
Jack paused in his wanderings, turning to look at the fountain in the King's gardens and smiling as he remembered the first time that he had seen it. He had come here many times since he had recovered enough to get out and about. As much as he was now enjoying his time in Narnia he longed for the world of the familiar.
He now understood that the statue of the woman pouring water from her hands that made the fountain was a Naiad; a water-nymph. When he had been given the option of leaving his room for the first time he had asked to come here, secretly hoping that he would find the door re-opened and be able to return home. As his body had healed he had come here more and more often, content to simply sit and enjoy the peacefulness as he had used to do when fishing at his cabin.
He'd had a lot of time to think during his convalescence and had made peace with many of inner demons he had harboured, ignoring them to his own detriment.
"It is good to see that you have found yourself again, young one."
Jack whirled around as the deep voice rumbled behind him, wincing as the quick movement put a little bit too much stress on his almost-healed body. Aslan was sitting beside a door that led to nothing, Jack's backpack on the ground beside him. "What's that supposed to mean?" Jack queried an eyebrow raised as he shifted his weight. Nervous excitement mixed with a kind of sadness as he realised that this could mean that he could go home.
The Great Lion said nothing, but fixed Jack with a penetrating stare, making him shift uncomfortably; he got the overwhelming feeling that Aslan knew that he'd understood the comment. However, true to his old self, Jack would continue to feign ignorance even when it was obvious that he understood.
"It is time for you to return."
"What, no long sweet goodbyes?"
"Your clothes and possessions will return, however, your scars will remain. A reminder of the cost of losing faith."
Aslan stood and padded forward, his giant paws making no noise on the springy grass. Stopping in front of Jack, he bent his neck down and delivered a rasping kiss to Jack's forehead, filling Jack with a sense of comfort before he stepped back out of the way and gestured toward the waiting door. "Go, Son of Adam. They will understand your absence."
Jack opened his mouth, a smart reply on the tip of his tongue but instead he contented himself with closing it, a small smile twisting at his lips as he shook his head and started forwards, snatching his backpack off of the ground as he reached for the handle of the door.
Pausing and looking back, he caught sight of King Corrin and Karrena, stood close together in the gateway to the garden, staring dumbstruck at Aslan, Jack, and the doorway. Flashing them a grin and a loose salute he took a breath and braced himself to explain the weeks of absence.
He stopped suddenly, surprised, as Miss Kandinsky looked up from her desk with a querying look. Still holding the doorknob, Jack turned and looked out of the doorway and into the corridor, seeing students streaming out of classes towards their long awaited lunch break.
"Can I help you, Jack?" The English teacher asked, sounding almost as puzzled as Jack.
"Did I- Were you- What date is it?" He finally settled on the final question only to be interrupted before he could get an answer by the sudden arrival of Mr Shore, who practically ran into Jack as he came storming into the class room.
"Mister O'Neill!" The older teacher exclaimed with glee at finding Jack so easily. "I do believe that you owe me a physics assignment!"
Jack stared, dumbfounded for a moment before finally asking, "I do?"
"Yes. In fact, it was due second period, which you failed to attend."
"Oh crap. I uh- I'm afraid I don't have it, Sir."
"I suspected as much. Your mark for this assignment will be zero and you will have detention with me after school for the rest of this week."
Jack groaned but nodded. "What if I finish the assignment and hand it in to you tomorrow, can I at least get a grade that way?"
The gleeful look on Mr Shore's face faded a little as he realised that Jack was not all that cut up about the punishment and he opened his mouth to deny him the chance to rescue his grade average only to be cut off by Miss Kandinsky, who had risen from her chair and joined them in the doorway.
"If Jack's willing to do the work tonight, then I'm sure that a penalty of, say, 10 marks is a suitable punishment for his tardiness."
Jack shot her a grateful look. "I'll actually do the work this time, Mr Shore. Scout's honour." He saluted with three fingers and gave his best innocent grin.
He could see Mr Shore's jaw working for a long moment before he gave in, obviously unable to find a legitimate reason to penalise Jack any further. "Have it on my desk first thing in the morning." He nodded tensely to Miss Kandinsky before turning smartly on his heel and leaving.
Jack waited until he had left before turning to the other teacher. "Not that I'm not grateful, but why'd you stand up for me? I haven't exactly been the poster child for good behaviour at school."
Miss Kandinsky shrugged, "I believe in second chances… well, fourth or fifth chances." She smiled innocently as she moved back to sit behind her desk again, "Plus, Greg Gibbins won't hold the team together nearly well enough to win the game next week."
Jack gave a sharp snort of laughter. "Well… thanks." He said. "I know I can be a pain in the ass."
Miss Kandinsky frowned at him obviously perplexed by his sudden change in attitude. For her it had been just hours before that he'd disrupting the class with snide and often hurtful comments, following the opinions of the crowd and ignoring anyone who wasn't a jock or cheerleader. Turning to leave he ran into the tall, gangly frame of Lee Longman, nearly sending the other boy flying.
"Woah, watch it, there." Jack exclaimed and Miss Kandinsky let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. Obviously the teenager hadn't changed much after all. Her eyebrows shot up once again as she realised that rather than starting a fight with the scrawny younger boy, Jack had steadied him, catching the pile of books Lee had nearly dropped in fright. He handed the stack back, "They'll give you a hernia if you're not careful." Leaving him with a friendly pat on the arm, Jack shot off down the corridor, leaving Lee and Miss Kandinsky to stare at one another in puzzlement.
"Was he just… nice to me?" Lee eventually asked, his voice wavering slightly.
"I do believe so."
"But… I'm a geek."
Miss Kandinsky nodded. "I think I just got an apology out of him." She added, bemused.
"A sincere one?" Lee asked, dropping his books on the desk with a loud thump.
Miss Kandinsky nodded silently before gathering herself together; "Anyway, what can I do for you, Lee?"
Only time would show that the changes in Jack's character were both real, and permanent. Sure, he was still always ready with a quip or a smart comment, but they were no longer barbed and hurtful, and he began to actually pay attention and do his work.
No one was ever really able to say what had caused the sudden change in the odd, but likeable, teenager. Even the councillor who insisted on seeing Jack when the coach spotted the strange scars that had appeared on him overnight couldn't puzzle him out. Jack insisted that the scars had always been there; the result of the car accident that had killed his parents, although no-one ever remembered seeing them there before.
The facts fit, and so the subject was mostly dropped. Every now and then, though, someone would mention it but Jack's only response would leave them even more puzzled; they could never figure out the reasons for his frequent inscrutable smile.
Please be honest, so that I can work to make it better. :)