Title: The Light Shines in the Darkness
Rebirth: Sanctuary
Authors: Kristen Sharpe and Sage SK
E-Mail: kristensk@fyresight.com and sagesk@hotmail.com
Date: February 17, 2001 - original RPG
June, 15 2001 - writing started
Finished: September 9, 2002

Kris's Note: Eh heh... Eh... Yeah, I know I said this one would be out soon... and now it's over a year later. Uhm... It really wasn't a lie! I just... had forgotten how long this part was and that it had a hitch or two involved in transcribing it from the original role-playing log. We weren't happy with our first RP version of this piece, so we re-played it. This is a compilation of the best of the two RPs. And, as such, it required a lot of editing for continuity errors. We hope most of them are gone, but please, please tell us if you find any!
And, as always, thanks to those of you that have been following this series and giving us feedback, to any who will remember this series and read it after its long hiatus, and to my awesome co-author!

Sage's Note: Ah. One and a half years to complete *this* little segment. Yes, I realized at one point that this chapter was going to be longer, if not _the_ longest, of all the chapters in the series. We'll have to see until the next set of chapters, no? ;) At any rate, once again. Thank you. Thank you to our readers, for the encouragement to continue our series. Also, my personal thanks to James King for giving me the opportunity to help him write an alternate ending to this chapter. Stix for you, Jim! ;)
And, yes, thank you, thank you to Kristen, my fiend and infidel, that put up with me and my additions. XD Hugs and Stix for Kris!



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Cautiously, I lead Jake down the alleyway. He drags behind me. I know he hates this. But, it's all I can think of. We have to rest. Jake has to rest.

I twist my head to study him. He's leaning against the wall and even as he does so I can see his legs shaking. He's so thin his dingy fur is all but hanging off his bony little body.

I guess I'm pretty thin myself. But, I started out with more weight to lose.

A pain shoots through my gut, and I wince. I turn away from Jake before he sees. I'll be alright. The blaster bolt didn't go far beneath the skin. A second stab of pain nearly causes me to double over. At least, I hope it didn't go far.

Can't think of that. Not now. Now's the time to find us a place to stay. A place we can rest. Rest and not jump every time a siren wails in the distance.

Reminded of that, I bend over to study the basement windows of the building I'm interested in. I test one after the other carefully. No luck. They're all locked tight.

"C'mon," I murmur, moving to the last window at the back of the alley.

It's half covered by a dumpster. I look behind it to see that half of the glass is missing.

Yes!

Carefully, I lean into the overflowing dumpster. It doesn't budge. I press harder. This is tougher than it should be. Just how weak am I?

At last, the dumpster gives and moves with a squeal I'd hoped to avoid. A trash bag tumbles from its pile and lands by my foot. But, I didn't make too much noise. I hope.

I turn and motion to Jake.

He sighs. "Chance, isn't there....?"

I look him in the eye, pleading. I know how badly this could hurt him.

"Jake, we gotta rest for a while..." I pause and fumble. "And, y... we need food. Jason may hear us out about the jailbreak."

And, maybe I can talk him into not... not telling... her.

Trina.

That's what he's afraid of. Seeing her again. Facing her after all he's done. Scared despite the kind words she's written to him.

But, Jake finally sighs and nods, giving in.

I motion him to the window. The broken basement window of the MBI building. Seeking shelter with some of the very kats who should be hunting us down. Talk about irony. But, we're both more afraid of the demons inside us... and the demon hunting us... than the law.

Jake steps over and examines the opening. I see him fiddle with something. Thirty seconds of his well-practiced work and what little of the security system's wiring was still in place is gone. That done, he turns and nods to me before disappearing through the opening.

I follow him, my shoulders just clearing the opening. Maybe it's a good thing I lost most of my bulk after all.

Inside, it's dark and musty. I see Jake already picking his way around the clutter. I head after him, trying to follow his path.

The place looks like a flea market. Old office furniture has been pushed against the walls. Stacks of folders are all over the floor, along with other odds and ends. Lamps with shredded shades, a toaster, an old coffee maker, boxes upon boxes filled with even more junk.

We're aiming for the far wall when I bump one of the loose stacks. A thousand manila folders topple to the floor like a line of dominoes.

Jake spins to look at me even as the folder flood knocks an old lamp to the floor. At the sound, we both run for cover like scared mice.

-----------------------

I haven't asked for backup tonight. Heaven knows what it is that stopped me before I started down here, actually. I know there was a jail break out on Alkatraz just a few hours ago. I was given the report not ten minutes ago. I know fugitives are out loose on the streets. However, they aren't stupid enough to seek refuge in a law enforcement agency.... Are they?

Anyways, I figure the usual rats have decided to make their presence known in our basement. That's what it's always been. It's either a rat or some other random critter that mistakes the lower part of our building for a home. Something I've never figured out; it's always cold down there. With a small sigh, I look around, shining the flashlight around. What am I going to catch *this* time? A raccoon? A possum?

My thoughts are cut off as my ears perk suddenly to the radio coming from my belt. With a short laugh, I roll my eyes at the words emitting from our only form of communication, this time from our Bureau's doctor. He's a good kid, but at times he can prove to be odd.

"Now, be careful, Cap'n," he hisses in a slithery tone of voice. "I've heard of giant mutant rats turning kats into..."

"Put a sock in it, Furklaw." I laugh. "You've been reading too many comic books."

"Well, this *is* MegaKat City. It could happen." Agent Furklaw's voice is determined to freak me out, but his laughter isn't helping his case any.

"Just do me a favor and order more coffee. I'm gonna need it."

The connection is cut off at his "Roger." Once again, I look around. There isn't much for me to find... other than the rat that scurries unexpectedly at the light from my flashlight. Out it goes, making its way beneath my raised foot and into the dark corner beneath the staircase.

"Rats," I murmur. "First thing tomorrow I'm calling the exterminator."

My musings once again are sharply cut off, this time by a squall... a rather feline-like squall at that. I don't have time to turn around when a large figure suddenly rolls out from beneath the stairway. Blinking, I shine my flashlight in that direction... and gape as I recognize the figure. Whether it's surprise or even shock at the moment, I really don't know.

Finally, I at least manage a name.

"Ch... Chance?!"

-----------------------------------------

I've only just managed to squeeze my large frame as far under the stairs as possible, grateful for Jake's sharp ears. Above us, we can hear the clunk of large shoes on the concrete steps. I listen closely, trying to follow their path... and see if I know the kat coming down the stairs. And, if I can find out what he's coming down here for.

A radio suddenly squawks, stopping the steps.

"Now, be careful, Cap'n, I've heard of giant mutant rats turning kats into...," a staticy voice hisses.

A *very* familiar voice answers the first. Familiar. For all that I haven't heard it in nearly three years.

"Put a sock in it, Furklaw." I hear his old laugh. "You've been readin' too many comic books..."

Yes, I know this kat. I twist to Jake and mouth, "Jason..."

My cousin Jason. Trina's brother.

Jake knows. His eyes are wide. He gulps a tad and mouths back, "Right..."

"Just do me a favor and order more coffee. I'm gonna need it," Jason says above us.

I hear a distant, "Roger," from the radio, then a click, and the static stops. It's just us and Jason again. And, huddled there in the dark, listening, I wonder if I should show myself or just stay hidden.

Jason might listen to me. Jake does need help. The pain in my stomach says I need help too.

But, what would I say to Jase? What *could* I say?

Now behind me at the base of the stairs, I hear Jason grumble. "Rats... First thing tomorrow I'm calling the exterminator."

Suddenly, some*thing* runs up my pantleg. What is...?!

I can't help it. I squall. *Something* is *in* my pants! What. Is. It?!

I drop to the floor and roll, trying to either kill it or get it out. I don't care which. I want it out!

It finally wriggles its way to freedom.

And, I find myself pinned in a beam of light. Like a floodlight. Outside the prison.

I freeze, waiting for someone to at least fire a warning shot. If not the one that ends it all.

But, this isn't Alkatraz.

The realization of what it *is* finally hits me.

Jason's flashlight.

I can't see my cousin for the light shining in my face, but know he's there. I sigh and hold my hands up, ears drooping. I pray Jake stays put. Maybe I can take the heat here. Alone.

---------------------------------------

I repeat my flabbergasted, one word sentence, my eyes as wide as saucers. "Chance?!"

"Hey, Jase," he returns, smiling a little weakly.

At the moment, I just don't know what to think, how to react... My reflexes take over as I feel my free hand fly to grab the handgun from my shoulder holster. Not the right approach, but they *are* fugitives.

Aren't they?

"How... How did you...?"

Chance keeps his hands up where I can see them. "Haven't you seen the news?" Then, he sighs. "Look, Jase, all I could ask is that you'd believe that neither I nor Jake masterminded the breakout."

I stand there, frozen, my hand ready to pull out my weapon. What am I thinking?! Surely Chance wouldn't attack his own cousin! Granted, back when he and Jake were still the SWAT Kats, that notion disappeared along with the side of our bureau's building when one of their missiles struck.

"I heard about the jailbreak," I say, my muscles tensed. "I just thought you'd be smart enough to stay put..." I start to relax just a hair, but my reflexes are willing to take over at any time. "Look, I don't care what Feral says... Whether or not you guys masterminded that whole breakout is not my concern."

Chance nods. "Right, right. Your business is getting me back. Well, come on. I'm not fighting you."

I can't believe my ears. He's that willing to turn himself in? I abruptly stop, my eyes narrowing at the sight of a second figure emerging from beneath the staircase. Oh, it doesn't take me long to realize who it is.

"It'll have to be the both of us...," he says, holding his hands up.

Chance sighs at his partner but waits for him to join him.

My eyes remain narrowed, bad memories creeping back. I haven't forgotten what happened to my sister over three years ago.

"And you, Clawson," I mutter through clenched teeth, "give me a good reason why I shouldn't break your face."

---------------------------------------

I can't help but wince inside at that. But, I deserve it. I'd deserve the pounding he's threatening too.

"I... wouldn't blame you if you did....," I murmur.

Just then, Chance steps protectively in front of me without a word. Just like he did that night three years ago.

He's protecting me again. And, it makes my eyes start to water.

---------------------------------------

I sigh, removing my hand from my handgun as I watch my cousin place himself between me and his friend. There's no way I'd attack now.

"Of all the places you could've picked to hide, why here?"

Chance shrugs. "I knew a way in... And, it was close. Figured we should get away from the guys who ordered us out of Alkatraz at gunpoint as fast as we could."

My eyes narrow once again. Forced out of Alkatraz? They had no choice? It fits some of the information I've been gathering over the last few months, but still....

"How do I know you weren't sent here by Dark Kat?"

With the help of the light, I see Jake give out a visible shudder.

"I can't give you any hard evidence, Jase," Chance continues. "But, he tried to kill us a few weeks ago. You can verify we were in the medical wing for a week after a so-called 'riot.'"

I sigh. "Still, I can't let you stay here... Not hiding from the law..."

But, can I just turn them out?

"We understand...," Jake starts.

Chance continues for him. "Jase...," he says, softly, "that's not what I'm asking. I'm not asking anything... Beyond that you won't break Jake's face... Just... send us back."

Sincerely, this is the first time I've ever heard a shred of honesty in any criminal. Not that Chance has never been honest before. But, just the way he's saying it... His eyes are large even in the bright light, and his voice is quiet. My cousin is a washed out version of what Chance Furlong once sounded like, but it's clear even to me that he's 'come back' a bit in the last few weeks.

Behind him, I see Jake lay a hand on his partner's shoulder, and in the bright light I can see his eyes water up.

With another sigh, I switch on the basement light, mentally kicking myself as soon as my words come out. But, I've made my decision. Changed my mind. Now, if my agents will just support it... "I can't do that."

Chance turns from giving his partner a brief smile, blinking at the light. "You can't?" He sounds confused, lost.

Sure I'll be facing a severe penalty later, but for right now...

I shake my head at his words. "As much as I want to stick to my duty, no way. I don't know about the riot business, but word on the street has been saying Dark Kat was after you."

Jake shudders, leaning against the wall and sliding down to the floor.

Chance nods, raising his head a little at last. "So, what do you mean to do?"

"I can't let this creep lay another finger on you two." I rub my eyes. "Listen, Chance... Cous'... It's gonna take me a while to know how much you've changed. The longest time if it's possible. During that time, you two are staying here."

Chance looks at me curiously, and Jake's eyes are almost pleading when he finally looks up.

"You really believe we might have changed?"

I sigh. "I wish I knew... I guess... it all depends."

"Alright. Where do you want us?"

"I can have them make room for you down here... And, I'm sorry. I'm gonna hafta' tell the others what is going on. I can't keep any secrets from my men... much less when their Captain is hiding two 'fugitives' in their bureau's basement."

Chance is looking back at Jake even as I speak. "I understand," he whispers. His eyes are begging Jake to understand too.

Jake just shudders, burying his head into his arms. "You can't be doing this...," he murmurs. "I'd understand Chance... Why me?"

And, I answer back with an obvious answer. "Because I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't..."

---------------------------------------

I get down and hug Jake quickly. I just know that our staying here will affect him a whole lot worse. I look up at Jason. "Couldn't you send him somewhere else? Even Enforcer HQ?"

I'm not afraid of the justice system anymore, as Jake and I are our own personal nightmares. The justice system doesn't know the whole truth. No one could ever even verify what destroyed the other Turbokat. And, there was no proof that we meant to bomb Enforcer HQ, so we weren't prosecuted for it.

Jason crosses his arms. "I can't do that. Feral's already got a cell waiting for when he finds you. Despite the fact that Dark Kat's after you, he's gonna add more to your jail term. And, he's convinced that you two masterminded the jailbreak... Besides, why would you even want to be separated?"

I don't want to be separated to be sure. Jake is the only one who believes me, who believes *in* me, but.... "Because it would hurt him," I whisper as I continue to hold Jake. "Besides, the jail term doesn't mean anything... There's nothing left for us out here."

"Jason, please...," Jake whispers, standing. "Just help Chance... get him a doctor. It's all I'm asking for. Do what you want with me."

"Look... Jake..." Jason rubs his eyes. "I can't speak for what happened three years ago... I wasn't there to witness it..."

Then, we hear a voice that's been haunting Jake's nightmares since the very beginning. One that I'm sure he's not ready to face.

"Hey, Jase. You still a kat, big brother? Furklaw won't shut up about giant rats."

Trina.

Jake gasps, pulling away and scooting back against the wall.

"Still alive, dear," Jason returns, his voice in a cartoon-like tone, trying to lighten the situation.

"So, what's taking you so long?" she asks as she jogs downstairs with a flashlight. "You got them cornered or something?"

I put myself between Jake and Trina the minute she gets down there. Whether or not she'll maim him, I wouldn't know. Granted, she's never really hurt anybody.

She gapes. Not a single word escapes her lips for what feels like endless seconds. I feel like we're at gunpoint for some reason. Finally, she says the unexpected. "How did they get in here?"

"Far window back there...," I say, pointing. "You should have it looked at."

"It's... a long story I'll have to explain to the others eventually," Jason adds. "In the meantime, they're staying here."

I say nothing. I just hold my ground and wait, probably looking a little less passive now that I've shifted to full protective mode.

"Because of Dark Kat, huh?" she asks.

Jason nods. "Affirmative."

I wince at her tone, waiting and waiting. I want this over. The faster the better. I can feel myself fraying around the edges. For the first time since I 'woke up' I wish I could hide what I'm feeling. But, ever since I've been able to feel again, it's been boiling over at every turn.

Finally, Trina nods. "I'll call up a meeting."

As he watches her go, Jason nods to her. "I'll be there in a while."

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As Trina leaves, I find that I haven't been breathing. I haven't dared to. Now, I suck in breath after breath. Trying to breathe. Trying to make the knot in my throat go down. But, it won't. I feel like I'm suffocating.

Seeing me, Chance hurries over, glancing back at Jason.

"Jase... Can you... set up whatever you need and let us be for a few?" he asks.

He knows I'm falling apart.

Jason nods. "Okay. I'll have them bring down whatever you need in a short while."

I watch as Chance's eyes widen.

"The window's still open... Don't you need to handcuff us or something?" His voice is confused.

I know the feeling.

Jason starts to answer, then just looks at me and shakes his head. "Chance... I think you need to break out of a few tight chains before I even consider doing that...." He turns and goes to the staircase. "Either me or someone else'll be back down in a few..."

Then, he's gone.

Chance smiles a little. I know what he's thinking - at least Jason doesn't seem to think we're as much criminals as Feral does.

For my part, I don't know what to think. Feeling my legs trembling beneath me, I sink to the floor again. My eyes are watering up. I don't know how to deal with this. With Trina. I don't know what to do! I dig my hands into my headfur, curling into myself.

"Jake?" Chance asks softly.

He moves to sit by me. I can feel him just a few feet away. Sense the occupied space. Just like I can sense the questions he wants to ask... but won't.

And, I can't help but tell him what's bothering me the most.

"She.... didn't even look at me...," I whisper.

I had so hoped...

"Chance... everything's a mess...."

Then, I start sobbing. And, I can't stop.

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I'm leaning against the table, hand to my face, ears back as I listen to the commotion in our conference room. Not once have I sat down. My idea was to discuss this calmly with my agents.

However, seeing as our conference table is a battleground, I might as well nuke that idea. Shouts are being thrown left and right. Never in my life have I seen them so... aggravated.

Interestingly, most of the shouts are now aimed at each other rather me. I'd rather they aimed it at me though.

As I survey the mess and wonder how to handle this, my eyes fall on the only quiet member present.

Trina is sitting at the far end of the table quietly, staring into space. I wonder what she's thinking.

I sigh internally. Might as well get this over with before they start lobbing blunt objects at each other. I mean... those pencils they're waving around look sharpened enough to kill a charging rhino. Note to self - keeping the conference room pencils well-sharpened was a bad idea.

"Um... guys?" I start gently, hoping to get *somebody's* attention.

No response.

Time to be all... 'captainly.'

"THAT'S ENOUGH!"

Well, that worked... They're all staring at me in shock now. I think I even woke Trina up. Heck, I think I even woke *myself* up.

"Thank you," I say, my tone of voice turning down just a hair. "Since you're all done yelling at each other, you think we can discuss this inna calm manner?"

I see a few nods and take that as a sign to continue.

"While not all of you may be aware of this, Trina and I have been collecting information on Dark Kat's movements of late." I look around. Good. Still got their attention.

I take in a deep breath.

"And, yes, as you're all aware, the former SWAT Kats have found themselves in our basement. Now, I'm open to opinions. At this very moment, I'm offering them sanctuary. Dark Kat's probably looking for them as we speak."

"Wouldn't they be safer back in Alkatraz?" asks Agent Morrison, our computer specialist. He has a confused look on his face. "I mean, why should we be the ones keeping them from teaming back up with Dark Kat? We're not exactly equipped...."

I sigh. This is going to be hard to explain... Especially since my only proof is a gut feeling and my cousin's word.

"It's not a matter of keeping them from teaming up with him again... It's keeping him from killing them." I hold up a hand, knowing someone's going to comment on how he hasn't tried to kill them yet. "Trina and I have done some checking in to Alkatraz lately. I just checked again before I came in here. Chance says there was a 'riot' a few weeks ago in which he and Jake were attacked. The prison records don't say anything about it. However, the infirmary records report treating multiple injuries, including Chance and Jake's, at roughly the same time Chance described."

I pause to let that sink in.

"It's still putting us at risk, Cap'n," Agent McKlaw declares after some silence. "Morrison's right. We don't have the budget or the equipment to stop Dark Kat. What if he comes looking for them? It won't take him long to think they might hide out with us as you *are* Furlong's cousin. Dark Kat'll blow us sky high without any remorse!"

"Which is why we've gotta be prepared for 'im!" Agent Kougar snaps back. "We've fought him in the past. How could this be any different?"

"We're at risk of being stabbed in the back!"

I bury my head into my arms as another argument breaks out. Should I ever get an ulcer, I'm naming it after the conference room meetings.

Finally, I look up. "Would you guys like to get a look at them? I honestly don't think they're even capable of stabbing anyone!"

Blast! I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't be angry with them. I have no right to put their lives in danger.

The room is dead silent save apologies being murmured to and fro. All eyes cast upon me once more.

Morrison sighs. "For how long, Captain?"

I'm about to say it when Trina does it for me. Her voice is soft, passive, trying to hide the hurt and the anger in it.

"For as long as we can. Keep them from getting hurt again. Make sure Dark Kat doesn't even think of putting his shadow in this building."

I try to hide my surprise as I search the faces in the room. Of course, I knew Trina agreed with me... despite the hurt she's feeling. But, there was a certain determined edge to her voice....

Still, what about the others? I can't do this without their consent. I'm their captain, their leader. I'm supposed to take them out of danger, not welcome them into it. Finally, I give them my tired look of defeat.

"What do all of you want me to do with them?"

Okay, now they're not looking at me. Everyone's looking everywhere *but* at me. Fidgeting. They don't know what to say.

I give them a calm look. I know they're tired. I called them all in just a few hours ago. Called some of them away from their homes when they were supposed to be off-duty. And, we've been running around like mad parents at a kids' carnival ever since we got news of the jailbreak. I sigh heavily and am about to call the meeting off so they can think this over when Furklaw walks in, various sheets of paper in his hands.

Every eye turns to look at him. The young medic blinks, but edges his way towards me, holding the papers out.

"Just looked them over, Cap'n," he says gently. "It wasn't a complete physical, but I can say they're practically starved, weak."

I look over his notes, then look up at my agents. "Do you still need proof?" I ask quietly as I pass the sheets forward.

There's silence for a few minutes. The only sounds are the rustle of papers as the agents pass them around.

Morrison just takes a moment to glance at them, then looks up at me and nods.

I watch for a few more minutes in silence, then smile as two, three, then all ten agents look up and nod assent. All of them, that is, except Trina. Granted, from her little ball of silence in the back, I already know what she thinks.

From there, I just wave them off.

"Meeting adjourned. I'll let you know what's up once there's something to tell."

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I'm through my few, though sincerely meant, protests over being checked up. Now, I'm sitting patiently on the examining table in the MBI's infirmary, watching as Agent Furklaw looks over Jake.

My friend sits quietly, patiently, staring down at the floor. His eyes are still red from sobbing earlier. And, his rail thin body is tiredly trying to remain still. I can tell that Jake might fall asleep at any minute.

"Just out of curiosity...," Agent Furklaw queries, "When was the last time you two ate anything?"

At that, I can only shrug. "Prison food's kinda lousy...."

The young officer shakes his head at my poor excuse. "Lousy enough not to even touch it? You two are practically skin and bones..." He pauses to place the cold stethoscope on Jake's back to listen for breathing.

At that, Jake starts trembling, his teeth beginning to chatter. But, he's fighting to remain still.

Beside us, leaning against the doorway, Jason rubs his eyes, shaking his head at my words as well.

Softly, I try my hardest to rephrase what I said. "It didn't seem worth bothering there for a while..."

It didn't make any difference. Yet, I can't help going back to our days in the prison. To this day, I still wish I'd had the opportunity to get Jake to eat sooner, but, aside from in the common yard, we'd been kept apart.

"That's understandable," states Furklaw, "but it's really affected your health..." He frowns a tad as he looks at Jake, wincing at the cuts and missing bits on Jake's ears.

At that, I twitch one of my own tattered ears in sympathy, curious. Then, I eye my arm. Sighing, I find that the fur is indeed dull and matted, completely lusterless.

Furklaw twitches one of Jake's ears, looking it over. "Hrm... I really don't know if the tissue'll grow back. Surgery outta help, but I'd have to look into that."

Assuming that the checkup's technically over, Jason finally speaks up. "So... what's the deal here?"

The young white kat sighs, laying a hand sympathetically on Jake's shoulder as he gives his conclusions.

"Malnutrition. And, those beatings they must've gotten back at the prison really brought down their health. I don't know what the infirmary did other than stop them from bleeding."

"It was just one beating...," I suddenly start to protest, but by the look on Furklaw's face, I decide I better keep quiet and listen.

"My pardons. That 'one beating' resulted in a good amount of internal bruises."

As he says this, Jake sighs, then lies down on the table. Slowly, he closes his eyes, as though starting to drift off.

I blink. "That bad?" I never really thought of sustaining serious injuries from the beating. I saw it more as when our most serious "injuries" started healing.

"Well, either those guys had iron bats or they consumed a lotta iron as infants," Furklaw continues. "The bruising should go away inna period of time, though."

"They did have iron poles," I murmur, then look over at Jake. "Is he okay?" Worry fills my voice.

"He's exhausted." Furklaw feels for any signs of a fever on Jake's forehead. "I think the whole prison deal has worn him out physically."

Jake's about to fall asleep. If he hasn't already.

I suddenly hear Jason murmur something along the lines of, "And, emotionally."

I turn around in time to watch Trina walk by, carrying what appears to be stacks of manila folders, not even bothering to look inside the infirmary.

It's true what my cousin said. I was thinking something similar. Sighing, I look up at Jason, wordlessly asking a single question.

What now?

---------------------------------------

I look at Chance and Jake, then back to Furklaw. "Are they good to go?"

Furklaw nods. "Yeah. Give them a good shower and a good meal, and that's a starter to boost up their health again."

Grinning, I turn to Jake and Chance. "Alright, you two. Into the showers. I'll get ya' a couple uniforms in the meantime."

Jake blinks, lifting himself up. Chance mimics his confusion. Clearly, they're puzzled at this type of treatment. I catch their looks, then just shake my head. "Just go. I gotta get this into the records anyway... and get Feral off our backs should he come ringing."

At that, Chance leaves, going wherever he's directed, Jake trailing close behind.

Furklaw shifts his gaze towards me as the two leave. "You think... we'll be able to hold them away from Dark Kat long enough, Cap'n?"

I sigh heavily at the inquiry. "Let's just pray he doesn't even think about searching here...."

Some minutes later, I watch Jake and Chance shuffle for the shower. I turn to find Furklaw beginning his tests to see if anything else comes up. Satisfied, I go out to find my sister.

Her way of handling anger is one of those cases where you just can't weasel a direct answer from her. You have to watch her fume or take her anger out on something else for a few minutes before she feels like talking. I know. It's a Furlong trait.

That point in mind, I make my way to the gym. If my hunch is right...

And, it is.

There's the she-kat that entered the Bureau with me at an earlier age, kicking and hitting away at the punching bag like there's no tomorrow. No wonder the gym is so empty.

I watch her for a few, listening to her cries of attack, watching her hit that bag, punch after punch, kick after kick. I'm almost afraid to see if there's a picture glued to it.

Finally, I clear my throat to catch her attention.

Still breathing fiercely, she stops when she sees me. Good. Most of her energy's been taken out on the bag. She seems civil enough to talk now.

She then proceeds to give the bag a final roundhouse kick before leaning against it.

Okay. I guess she's civil enough to talk to *now*.

"You wanna talk about it?"

"About what?" she demands, breathing heavily as she steps back to hit the bag again. "About the fact that they're outta jail?"

Punch.

Alright, so I was wrong.

"About the fact that they look like the living dead?"

Punch again.

"About the fact that Dark Kat's on my "To Maim" list at the moment?"

The bag itself is getting maimed.

Watching her, I shrug. "Start where you'd like...."

She stops, finally exhausted, blowing the loose hair that has managed to escape the clutches of her pony tail out of her eyes.

"Where did we go wrong?"

I sigh at her words. She knows all too well what we did wrong, but I say it anyway.

"When we didn't come up with a plan faster..."

She leans against the wall as if she can't take that as an excuse.

"We should've sent the SWAT Team after Dark Kat before it got any worse... We knew where they were... We knew Dark Crud was watching their every move..."

"Which is why we didn't send the SWAT Team... If he thought we cared... He *knew* we cared... He'd have killed them just to get to us..."

That was the reason all along. The reason why we never arrested Jake or Chance. The reason why Trina and I were the only two in the Bureau who knew who the SWAT Kats were. The reason we never told anybody until now. I had to make sure the Bureau kept this under the rug, to make sure nobody would spill the word to either the media or the Enforcers. To make sure Dark Kat had no outside reason to kill Chance and Jake.

My sister leans her back against the wall, beating her head lightly against it.

"Of course... there's always a catch."

"I know." I sigh. "I... I wish we could have got them out... Even... Even if they'd gone to Alkatraz then... Maybe less damage would have been done..."

Trina shakes her head. "Then it wouldn't have been Alkatraz. They could've been sentenced for a few years at Megakat Maximum Security. You know Alkatraz is a point of no return."

That's the reason why I don't want them back there. Why I don't want them to go back to that point of no return and suffer the way they did.

She brushes back her loose bangs.

"What now, Jase? I know we're keeping them here.... How long are they gonna be safe? Dark Kat's probably already searched through every nook and cranny...."

I wonder about that.

"Do you think he wants them that bad? Two kats he has to know are already half-dead?"

"They probably know information he doesn't want spilled," she points out.

I sigh at that. "Well... We'll have to face that when it comes..."

"Right. Got the riot gear set?"

I nod. "Better believe it."

She gives me a half smirk. "Good." That said, she rubs the back of her neck with a towel, unsure of what to say. However, I can tell what she's going through, and it's shown on her face. Deep down, she just doesn't know what her feelings are at the moment. All she has now are a bunch of mixed emotions - hurt, anger, concern, betrayal, love... Who knows?

"We went over it," I say gently, laying a hand on her shoulder. "What with Dark Kat... and that crime syndicate... Our hands were tied."

I want *her* to feel better, but that doesn't mean I don't blame myself. Ever since Mark Jones handed me the scepter to run the Bureau, I've made sure I handled it not only with a tight fist, but also so that our members know that I care about what they are feeling... what they are thinking. Mark may've acted like a father figure in the past, but I stick to the classic older brother act. The parental treatment can make others feel a lot more intimidated, and I don't want that. And, Trina knows it.

"I know..." She sighs heavily. "Still...."

I can tell what she's trying to get across. She wants to say we could have done more. We could have warned the Enforcers. Anything. Yet, she can't bring up the courage to say it.

"I know... I know...," I repeat the words, finally locking my arms around her in a hug. There are times like this when I can only offer the fact that I'm here for her. For years I've been my sister's guardian, even if I do act like the older brother I'm supposed to be and not a parent.

Trina practically clings to me. As much as she wants to, she can't bring herself to cry. And, I just hold her. I can tell she's upset over what happened just a few hours ago.

"Tell me something," she murmurs, "and please be sincere. That wasn't really me down there, was it?"

She means the basement. She's referring to her way of reacting to the fact that Jake and Chance actually found themselves inside our building despite our security system. I've seen her act emotionless before, but never have I seen her that *cold*.

"It... was an odd sort of situation...," I retort, trying to find the right answer.

"You think I coulda been more caring," she murmurs. "For crying out loud... everything's a mess..."

"Hey.... Easy...," I return, stroking her hair. "You know he fought us.. Just a year ago."

"I know... But..."

"C'mon," I tell her. "I don't know quite how to react to my own cousin again yet either... He was a totally different person for two years, and, now, he's... at least half the kat he was before."

She pulls away from my embrace finally and nods assent.

"Yeah... I just never thought it would take a few words to change the kat we grew up with since Mom and Dad left."

"It wasn't just a few words...," I remind her.

"I actually meant from Dark Kat's part," she murmurs anew. "But yeah... It wasn't just a few words..."

"Yeah..."

Then comes the question I know she's been dying to ask.

"Furklaw look them over?"

She wants to know if they're okay.

"Yeah. They just need food and rest mainly."

She nods. "Alright. That's one load of worry off my back..." She pats me on the arm.

I repeat the gesture. "They're getting cleaned up now."


"Something I outta do," she says as she rubs her face with the towel. "I think I've maimed that bag enough as it is..."

"Yeah..." I take a glance at the bag, then let my mouth curl into a small grin. "I think it's dead, Jim."

Trina cracks up a tad.

"You've been dying to toss that in, haven't you?"

"Been waiting weeks."

"You know what? Toss this."

In no time, she headlocks me. The next thing I know, I'm flipped over her shoulder.

With a squall, I go flying, landing on my tail. Looking up from my upside-down position, I watch a smirking Trina walk up to me. Good. I've managed to cheer her up a bit.

"I hope you know tossing your superior is grounds for... terrible and horrible punishment!"

She doesn't let the smirk leave her face.

"Yeah, yeah. Like what?" she demands, sitting on my stomach. "You're gonna break my Barbie dolls in two like you did the first time I ever got one?"

"I'll... make you scrub the latrine with a toothbrush!" I manage.

"Ain't happening, Captain Punishment."

"Was worth a shot," I murmur with a sigh. After a short pause, I look at her again. "I get no respect. Ya' know that?"

"And, whose fault is that?"

"Yours!"

She puts on the innocent act that saved her from Mom's nagging back when we were kittens... the cheater. "Mine?" She stands up and offers me a hand.

I accept it... warily.

"Yes, you," I retort with a grin on my face. "The disrespect started with you and gave everyone else ideas."

Trina is grinning back at me. I can tell she's reached the point where she can't frown.

"C'mon, I was six years old at the time and my Ballerina Barbie was without hair thanks to your 'Let's play barber and send Barbie to the military.' Took me at least a few years of trauma therapy to get over the fact that my doll went from dancing queen to Rambo."

"Maybe I'd have had something better to play with if *someone* hadn't put my action figures in the microwave..."

"They were in the Sahara already! Was it my fault they had sensitive skin?"

I open my mouth to say something, to make a comeback, my finger poised to make a dramatic gesture... then I pause.

"I... am not having this debate on an empty stomach. Want to call for lunch?"

Trina nods. "Sure... mind if I make myself look halfway decent first?"

"Yeah... You better. Might scare people away with the smell otherwise..."

I move before any blunt objects come my way, making my escape out the door. I let the towel she's balled up and tossed at me hit the door behind me.

At least she's in a better mood.

---------------------------------------

I'm staring up at the ceiling, one hand behind my head. The bed in the MBI's infirmary is soft... so soft... nothing compared to that fold-out cot I used to sleep on back at Alkatraz.

Yes, I've woken up again finally. I managed to stay up long enough for my shower. Long enough to carry Jake to his bed when he finally passed out on a couch after his shower. I don't remember anything after that. I must have been out for so long. An I.V. pole is beside me, a thin tube feeding nutrients into my arm. Crud. I hadn't realized how much weight I'd lost... how much I'd let my body suffer by not feeding it anything.

Beside me, just a few feet away, Jake is sleeping, all curled into himself. He still has an I.V. pole next to him too. Good. He needs the nutrients more than I do.

I watch as he shivers in his sleep. Up until now, I hadn't even realized how small and thin he was... how he was slowly fading away. I can tell now, even in the dark.

He's probably dreaming again. The same dream has probably come back to haunt him, even if we're out of Alkatraz now. Even if we're safe for the moment.

Either that... or it's just too cold.

I pull the sheet of the bed toward me closer and look at him with a sigh.

I'm sorry, Bud... I shouldn'tve brought us here if it was gonna be so hard on you... But, it was either this, or sitting in another prison cell at Enforcer HQ.

Curling up, I force my eyes shut. I should be asleep again in no time.

Just as I'm about to drift off, I let my ears perk in the direction of someone coming into the infirmary. Probably Agent Furklaw to check up on our status.

I stay awake deliberately to see who it is, my eyes in thin slits to make it like I'm actually asleep. Then, I see a thin figure walking towards me with a blanket in hand. It tosses the blanket over me, smoothing it out to make sure the cold air of the room doesn't reach me. I'm grateful. I'm not that cold, but the blanket is welcome at any time.

Finally, I make her out with a bit more effort.

Trina.

What is she...? No, wait. It makes sense.

It's just like her to come in here to give us extra blankets. She's always had that... 'maternal instinct' about her. No one is safe until she's made sure they are.

She makes her way around my bed after placing the blanket on me, then heads towards Jake's.

I can see him a tad better now. He's still dead to the world. He's still shivering. And, it's become more a series of violent shivers... those that look like when someone's being forced to twitch in their sleep. Especially now that he's fully asleep and not worried about me seeing it. But, I do.

Trina notices herself, and a small sigh escapes her lips as she places the blanket around Jake. Smoothing it out as she did mine, she watches silently as Jake pulls the blanket close around himself, his shivers slowing after a few minutes.

She shakes her head and sighs anew, and I can hear what she's saying, even if she's trying not to say it out loud.

"How could you let yourself get into this, Jake?" she murmurs, then glances in my direction. "The two of you?"

Wish I knew the answer, Trina, I reply to myself. Wish I knew the answer.

I'm repeating that answer to myself as she turns and leaves.

---------------------------------------

I'm in the MBI kitchen again, just like it looked three years ago, eating takeout Chinese across the table from Trina.

Trina. The corners of her mouth are turned up in a small smile. Her eyes are bright, laughing in silence. She's beautiful. I could just sit here forever, just to watch her eat with that happy, smiling face.

Is this a dream? A memory?

"So, Chance nailed you with the G's again, huh?" she asks as she uses her chopsticks to fish around in her carton of chop suey. I'm amazed she can actually get food to her mouth with those things.

"Yeah...," I answer involuntarily. I'm not sure what to say. Not sure what's going on. I'm not even sure why I said, "Yeah." Chance? G's?

Trina smiles. "Well, hey... It's only your second week of flight..."

Second week.... I'm still an Enforcer? Is this real? Was everything else... a dream? A nightmare?

Trina suddenly cocks her head, studying my face. "Something bothering you, Jake?"

"No," I answer quickly, "Just... nervous I guess." I pretend to focus on my food, poking a cold piece of sesame chicken with my fork.

"Hey...," Trina reaches over to lay a hand on my arm gently, "You'll pull through."

I can only smile back at her, feeling that old, familiar heat in my cheeks.

[Trina...]

She grins back at me.

Oh, please let this be real....

"How touching."

I freeze. I can feel a cold chill running up my spine. No. It can't be *him*. Not here. Not anywhere. He's gone. He's gone!

I lower my eyes to my own carton of takeout, not daring to look at Trina, not daring to look toward the voice. But, Trina saw the shock on my face.

"Jake? Are you okay?"

"I'm... fine." I'm fighting for words now. I can feel him watching me. I look up at Trina.

In front of me, she arches a brow. "I know that face, Jake... Is something bothering you?"

"No. It's just nervousness."

"Ha! C'mon, Jake," the voice is a nasty taunt now, "Tell her what it is. Tell her the truth. Will she buy THAT?"

[Don't talk about truth! *You're* nothing but a lie!]

Trina looks me in the eyes. She knows I'm lying. "Are you sure?"

"I just had a bad dream... last night."

My tormentor laughs hoarsely. "You wish I was a nightmare. But, I *am* real... more than you think...."

I finally look up to see him, sitting on the counter behind Trina. His eyes are narrowed.

"Give it up, Clawson. This ain't no dream."

"About what?" Trina asks quietly, her voice interrupting his.

I can only shake my head to her. Inside, I remind myself that she can't see him... So, he's not really there. Just my mind playing tricks. Torturing me.

He seems to hear my thoughts... again. "You want her to see me? Well, *that* can be arranged..."

No, no, no, no, no... NO!

He stands and walks toward me. His eyes are dark behind his mask. Evil. I pull back, trying to get away from him. I want to stand up and run. But, I don't want to scare Trina. Besides, it's not like he's real. He's not....

The apparition walks right into me... and through me. I gasp suddenly, dropping my fork. I feel cold all over.

[What's... happening... to me?!]

[Accept the fact that you can't run away from yourself, Jake...,] the dark voice answers, this time coming from within me.

"What?!"

"Jake?!" Trina shoves her chair back and stands. "Jake, are you alright?"

Crud! Now, I've scared her. But, I can't help it. He's *inside* me?! No... Not again. Not again!

I can feel myself changing suddenly. I look down, afraid of what I'll see.

I'm in that... suit again.

I look up, my eyes meeting Trina's startled ones.

"Jake?" she asks, hesitant as she steps back.

No. Please don't leave me. I won't hurt you. Not again. Never.

"Trina...," I whisper softly, pleadingly, as I struggle to my feet. I need to leave. Before he can try anything else.

"What is it?" Trina suddenly reaches a hand out to me. "What... happened to you?"

I stop. I need to leave, but... I desperately need her to understand. I reach out my own hand to meet hers. "I... I don't know... Help me..."

As our hands meet, something suddenly seems to take control of mine. It balls into a fist.

No! I try to force my fingers apart. They ignore me. It's like it's not even my hand. Like it's someone else's hand there on my arm. And, I can't stop it.

Then, it spreads to the rest of my body. That feeling of being controlled by something else. What's going on?!

I feel myself lunge forward.

NO!

It's him! He....!

My fist pulls back and then lances out, punching Trina in the stomach so hard she doubles over in pain and stumbles back into the wall.

"NO!"

I scream, both aloud and inside my mind.

Nonononononooooooooo! Not again! NO!

In front of me, Trina slowly slides down to the floor.

I try to scream her name. Try to beg for her forgiveness. But, I can't.

Something is stopping me. Won't let me. *He* won't let me.

On the floor, curled into a ball to protect herself, Trina looks up at me. She doesn't say a word. Her eyes are wide and hurt.


Trina....

All my words are stuck in my throat. For an instant, I see myself from outside my body. Standing there. Looking at her with huge eyes. My mouth moving soundlessly.

[What is happening?!]

He answers me. His voice is cold and emotionless. [Face reality. This is what you are and what you'll *always* be.]

[No! This is NOT me! I don't want to do this!]

[Sorry.] The voice is disinterested, empty. [But, you have no option.] My right arm rises into a familiar position. For the first time, I realize that I'm wearing a glovatrix. [It'll be one less Meg you'll have to face...]

[NOOOOOOOOO!! STOP!!!!!]

Trina turns her head away. Her teeth are clenched, her arms wrapped around her body protectively. Why isn't she running? Fighting?!

[RUN, TRINA!]

I try to will her to run since I can't speak. I throw every fiber of my being into it.

[Trina, by all that's holy, RUN!]

[Don't worry, Jake,] he purrs. [You won't remember her after a while....]

Tears are streaming down my face, somehow escaping his control. [No... no.....]

[Now what?] he demands, his voice sounding annoyed. [You forgot about 'er for three years, why should this be any different?]

[I never forgot her... NEVER!]

Briefly, I free my arm and force it to aim the monstrosity strapped to it at the wall.

He fights to regain control of my arm, growling at me. [Then, what did you call those three years?! Nostalgia?]

[I never forgot her... I forgot... myself...]

I can almost *feel* him rolling his eyes. [You're sucha pain in the neck...] He breaks my weak control and aims the glovatrix at Trina again. [I'll deal with you eventually...]

Still crying, I finally manage to force words out. Finally manage to say *something* to her. "I'm sorry..."

Trina looks up from her huddle, her eyes filled with tears. "I think I understand....," she whispers.

[Trina... TRINA!]

Sobbing, I'm forced to fire.

---------------------------------------

"Working late again, huh, lieutenant?"

I smile weakly as I sit at my desk, gladly accepting the styrofoam cup of coffee I'm given. I stifle a yawn, then turn my attention back towards Furklaw.

"Another graveyard shift," I return. "I take it you're one of the unlucky ones, too?"

"Merely volunteered." Furklaw smiles. "Just making sure our patients are alright."

I nod. "How are they doing? They've been asleep for two days..."

"I kinda expected it." The young medic sits across from me. "I mean... with their injuries and whatnot..." He pauses, catching the concerned look on my face. Now, he's in serious mode. Something's bothering me and he wants to know what it is.

"You okay, Trina?"

I shrug. "With everything that's happened these past couple days, I just wonder..."

"Wonder what?"

"If... I dunno. If they really... changed?"

Furklaw's about to reply, but he's sharply cut off by a scream. One coming from the infirmary.

Eyes wide, I stand up, reaching for my handgun as I do. Deep down, I'm thinking it's Dark Kat. "He couldn'tve found them already?!"

With that, I run towards the infirmary, yelling at Furklaw to provide back-up at my signal. I kick the door open, handgun aimed, expecting to see Dark Kat, his creeplings, his henchmen... anybody who's out to hurt either Jake or Chance.

But, I see nobody.

Instead, my eyes shift to a frightened Jake, sitting up, breathing heavily and crying, tears running down his cheeks. After a final check, I reholster my handgun and go to sit beside him.

"Jake?" I whisper, holding him by the shoulders. "Jake, wake up."

He catches his breath for a few, apparently not even aware that I'm there, or he thinks it's someone else. Then, he starts to realize as he recovers, turning his head ever so slowly to see me.

"It's only me," I whisper again, fighting the sudden urge to hug him tight. "It's okay."

---------------------------------------

Staring at her numbly, I feel myself quivering.

"T... Tri...," I stammer. I can't seem to manage her name.

"Are you okay?" she asks. Is that worry I see in her eyes?

"I... I..." I try desperately to calm down. She seems almost... concerned. Why is she here? Is this another dream? Will *he* come back again? I shiver, but manage to force out, "Had a bad dream...."

Trina sighs a little and wraps a blanket around my shoulders. "You've been going through a lot...."

I don't need to see them to know that my eyes are huge. "Trina.... What are you doing here?"

This has to be a dream.

"Well, we're in one of our odd cold winters," Trina explains softly. "This place can get pretty cold. I thought you two might need a couple extra blankets...."

Halfheartedly, I tug the blanket a little closer. It feels so real. "Oh.. Uhm.. Thanks." I'm drawing away from her, pulling back into myself. This is a dream. It has to be. Maybe if I don't get my hopes up... Maybe then he'll stay away. Down in whatever hole in my mind he calls home.

"Jake, are you sure you're okay?" I hear Trina's voice as though it's coming from another room. "These past few days you've been worn out..."

Unwillingly, I re-focus. I just can't ignore her. Can't deny myself the chance to talk to her... even if it is a cruel trick of my mind.

My eyes meet hers. She seems so real.

"I've actually been better the last few days...," I whisper back at last. "Before that..." I can't hold in the bitterness that escapes with my next words. "Well, why shouldn't I look sick? I've *been* sick. Just nothing a doctor could diagnose...."

Yes, I've been sick. Sick in mind. Sick in heart. That I'm now sick in body too isn't a major concern considering.

My words silence Trina. She drops her eyes to look down at the floor. Crud! I shoulda kept my mouth shut.

"If you don't mind my asking...," she starts suddenly, "what would that be? I know you and Chance....," she pauses to take a look at the sleeping Chance, "...were attacked before the breakout...."

---------------------------------------

I actually *am* awake. Though Jake and Trina don't notice. I don't want to be an eavesdropper, but I just have to be sure my partner's okay.

At Trina's question, I can already picture Jake blinking quizzically. It's his answer that has me wincing.

"You of all people should know what's wrong with me..."

With an inward sigh, I murmur softly enough for neither of them to hear. "Don't blow it, Bud..."


No, Jake. Don't blow this opportunity.

I can tell Trina's concerned. The unmistakable tone in her voice when she's worried. That quiver she's trying to hide. She wants to know if he's okay. She wants to know if he's changed. She hasn't put up any attempt to speak to him other than the first and last letter she sent when we were in Alkatraz. Now... she's here.

Jake, listen to her! Answer her questions carefully!

---------------------------------------

I narrow my eyes a bit at Jake's reply.

"It's been three years, Jake...," I say softly. "It could be a number of things..."

Jake, for his part, doesn't seem to think that I'm actually talking to him, like he's still dreaming. But, he answers anyway.

"I... I turned my back on everything I ever believed in. I let everyone who ever believed in me down. I let my anger and hatred choose my every action..."

He stops to look down.

"And, it ate me alive... I guess..." He pauses once more and looks down at his thin self. His coat is clean now, but still dulled. Not quite the caramel color that he used to have. "...this is all that's left."

I sigh a tad at that.

"I can't place myself in your shoes, Jake... I just wish I could do something to patch things up... To get that creep behind bars." I shake my head, turning my eyes from his dull fur to look at his eyes once more. "I still know there's good within you, Jake... Just like there was three years ago... Before you... struck that deal..."

He looks up at me again, uncertain of what's happening, quivering a little. His physical looks aside, the look in his eyes, though haunted, is very much that of the Jake I used to know... only as though he's been put through a wringer and had all his zest for life squeezed out.

I almost can't help myself. Hesitantly, I place a hand on his cheek to wipe away his tears, and I ask the question that's been dwelling in my mind since he and Chance stumbled into our basement.

"How much have you changed, Jake?"

"When?" he returns softly.

"After you ejected from that jet... After Dark Kat left you for dead?"

There's an edge in my voice as I mention the demon's name... the demon that took their dreams and their lives and toyed with them until there was nothing left to fix.

Jake stumbles on his words, almost as if he doesn't understand it.

"I.... I don't know," he says, trying to choose his words carefully. Instead, he stammers them out. "All the anger went away... and I was just... dead... I regretted everything... I didn't want to live... Stopped eating... Just... waited..."

My ears perk at that. All the time he'd been in Alkatraz... What he just told me is that he'd turned to near suicidal tendencies. It wasn't a form of killing himself directly, but he let himself suffer in such a manner that even I can't imagine.

He continues, unfazed by the concerned look on my face.

"Then... I... I saw Chance in the yard... the day those guys jumped us... I guess he didn't look any worse than I did, but I didn't know what I looked like. It just hit me how horrible he looked, and I had to go talk to him... For... For the first time in a year, I guess... I... While we talked, something just... came to life again... Then, we fought off those guys together... and woke up in the infirmary..." He stops there, shaking his head. He just doesn't understand it.

Aww, Jake. I sigh, looking down at the floor.

Frankly, I just don't know what to say, and I'm sure he's in the same boat. He just sits there, looking down, waiting for me to say something.

However, I can't find the words. I feel my eyes fill with tears and try and blink them back.

Looking up, Jake catches that.

"Trina... are you okay?"

I'm thinking he's realizing that this is real. Why does he still think I'm a dream? Is he really that terrified? Still reliving what happened that night?

"I should've done more, Jake... Should've done more to get you and Chance out of that horrible mess... Should've done more to save you from Dark Kat..."

I'm blinking back my tears again, trying to tell myself to stop crying, but I can't. The memory is just too painful, and my emotions have been bottled up too long.

"I... forgot over the years what happened that night... I... I took it as a thing of the past... Did my best to forget everything..."

Still, the events that led to the night we fought tug at my inner voice, like it's reminding me that it can't be that easy to forget. I *did* forgive him, but I never managed to overcome the pain. It wasn't because it was a slap in the face - I've gotten worse in the line of duty, be it a bullet graze on the arm or a stab in the ribcage. It was because it came from *him*, from Jake Clawson, the kat I thought would never lay a finger on anybody.

It doesn't mean that I blame him. I did call him the wrong choice of words when all he wanted was my support. Nowadays, I really don't know who was wrong. Me, or him. And, look what came out of all that.

"But, that's good!" he says suddenly. However, that's not a tone of relief I hear in his voice. "I... I wouldn't have wanted you to remember it... And..." He pauses to scoot near me, acting as if he's afraid to touch me, "...it's not your fault. Nothing you could have done would have changed it then."

"I could've tried harder." I look at him, my voice cracking.

Jake shakes his head vigorously. "I didn't want you to. I didn't want you near it... Didn't want you to see... what I became."

"Well, I don't see it now..."

Jake blinks at my words. "You don't?"

For crying out loud, Jake! Am I that hard to believe?!

But, I don't tell him that.

I lean over to hug him gently instead.

Jake just hangs in my hug limply for a few seconds in disbelief, almost as if he's telling himself this is no dream he's facing. It's no dream, Jake. It's real. As real as I believe you want it to be.

"I believe in you, Jake."

He wraps his arms around me once he realizes... and I can already feel him starting to cry again.

---------------------------------------

I turn around to take a look at them, my eyes in small slits to look like I'm actually sleeping. For an instant, I'm relieved. Trina *had* forgiven Jake, then.

Suddenly, I'm worried.

Trina's trying to blink back her tears again, but only succeeds in letting them fall, her face burying itself into Jake's shoulder as she clings to him.

Jake is just crying himself, sobbing harder than before... harder than when we encountered Jase and Trina for the first time in the basement two nights ago... holding Trina like she'll disappear if he even dares let go.

I wonder if this is a good thing... wonder if finding them both just crying in each other's arms is a good sign.

Then, I hear a whisper coming from Trina, something that surprises me. Something so unexpected.

"I'm so sorry, Jake."

---------------------------------------

Sorry?!

*Trina* is apologizing?! She has nothing to apologize for! Nothing!

I try to say that. To tell her it's all my fault. But, I can't get the words out for all the sobbing.

She forgave me?!

I don't deserve this. But, I can't escape her hug. I can't escape accepting it. Because it's what she wants. And, seeing her again, I know I'd do anything she wanted. Anything to see that face smile in my presence. Just once.

After several long minutes, I finally pull myself together again. As I look up at Trina, alternately trying to meet her eyes and at the same time afraid to do so, I know I'm a mess. My facial fur is soaked and part of my matted headfur is falling in my eyes.

She pulls away from me gently, voice soft. "Don't worry. It's all in the past."

Is it written so clearly on my face? The guilt? The wish to somehow make up for it all?


"And.... Dark Kat's not gonna get his paws in here if we can help it."

I hurt you and now you're protecting me. Trina, I don't even deserve your pity.

But, I can't say anything aloud, so I just nod silently. The lump in my throat is suffocating, yet some part of me feels oddly whole again. I don't deserve this chance, but here it is. The hole inside me that I thought could never be filled is already sealing.

And, Trina finally smiles. Oh, it's not her joyful smile, but it's enough to warm the room from where I'm sitting.

"Try to get some sleep, okay?" she asks.

I nod again. "I... I think I can now." I try to return the smile, try to show her how very grateful I am.

"Then relax, Jake," Trina soothes before smiling again. "You'll be okay."

I don't want her to leave, but my exhausted body won't let me protest. I do as she says and lay back on my cot. I'll be asleep in just a minute. And, this time, I know there will be no nightmares. Trina forgave me. Chance forgave me. I think maybe even God forgave me. And, the nightmares have no more power.

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I wait a few more minutes for Trina to watch over my friend, smoothing out the blanket for him. I peek over at Jake once she's gone and smile. As far as I can tell, he's okay. He's sleeping peacefully.

I remain awake for a while just to make sure. But, after what I calculate are fifteen minutes, there's not a peep out of him.

Good. He's okay. The nightmares aren't attacking anymore tonight.

I can rest now.

We're safe.

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To Be Continued...


Inspirational Music:

"Sweet Child of Mine" - version by Sheryl Crow

"Livin' on a Prayer" - slower version, Bon Jovi

"Save Me" - Remy Zero

"Crash and Burn" - Savage Garden