SECOND CHANCES

Author's Note: Just a little short story that came to me this morning as I was dropping my daughter off to school. The senseless violence that occurs every minute somewhere in the world inspired this piece. Even the very skilled and normally lucky can fall prey to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was late and he'd just stopped to pick up something from the little store he'd seen on his way home from work. It wasn't in the nicest neighborhood but he was well able to take care of himself or so he thought.

Pulling his keys out, one arm holding a bag of groceries and his mind elsewhere was when the stranger came out of the shadows and struck.

His early warning system went off too late for the first time in his life when the knife plunged into his back. Shocked, he dropped his groceries and turned, despite the pain, to take down the offender but whoever it was clearly knew he was not the equal of his victim and proceeded to stab repeatedly until the huge tom fell to the ground.

Staring around with eyes of panic and fear, the stranger quickly ransacked his victim, taking anything of value, then raced off into the night.

Laying in a pool of his own blood, the victim was in a state of shock. He had survived countless encounters with the worst enemies of the city only to be taken down by a petty thief looking for a quick buck. He had a hard time believing it but the pain clearly told him it had happened.

He tried to move but nothing would respond to his brain's command. His body was cold and a darkness was beginning to close in around his sight. Panic set in!

'I don't want to die!' His mind screamed helplessly. Would anyone find him before his life's blood poured all out?

He didn't know how much time had passed as he struggled to stay alert but suddenly a face was looming above him.

"Lay still! Don't move! I've called an ambulance. Did you see who did this?" A gruff, young voice asked him urgently while using something he couldn't see, to staunch the wounds.

"No.....too fast...." the victim managed to rasp out. 'Was that my voice?' He thought in dismay.

"Easy.....okay it must have been some punk since your wallet and everything else seems to have been taken. Were you wearing your gun?" The rescuer asked worriedly.

'How did he know I carried one? Who is this?' He wondered in surprised confusion. "Yes...I....was....armed..." he managed to croak out.

"Crud! That's no kind of piece for a punk to be carrying around! Damn it! Hope it turns up before it's used on an innocent," the rescuer hissed unhappily as he continued his efforts to stop the massive hemorrhaging from the many knife wounds in the victim.

Suddenly the air filled with sirens and within seconds, the parking lot was filled with lights and people.

In minutes, the victim was being asked lots of question while gentle paws worked over him, then he was lifted onto a gurney which made the pain roar through him taking his mind away at last.

When next he awakened, he felt very weak and in pain, though that was greatly muted, finally. Working his eyes open, he saw dim sunlight pouring into the room which revealed he was alive and in the hospital. He sighed in relief, truly grateful to the stranger for getting him help in time. Then exhaustion and whatever drug they had used drew him away into slumber for a time.

A few hours later, a familiar voice called to him gently, worry and relief could be heard in it. "Uncle, how are you feeling? I was so shocked to hear what had happened."

"Felina...." he rasped, his throat and mouth too dry for speech yet.

"Here, take a sip.....it's just water," she coaxed, holding a straw to his mouth. He drank gratefully then pulled away to blink sleepy eyes up at her face which was shadowed by lack of sleep and worry.

"Thank you. I'm alive at least. As for feeling alright.....I'm sure I will be soon enough. Right now, though, I feel like Dark Kat had dragged me by my tail over half the city."

"Oh Uncle, I couldn't believe what I'd heard when dispatch called me to say you'd been stabbed. If Furlong hadn't found you.....I....you had lost soo much blood......it was horrible. The doctors were afraid you wouldn't make it. I just can't believe you were the victim of a robbery but I guess it can truly happen to anyone even us," she said, still shaken with disbelief that her big, strong Uncle had been struck down so easily.

"I have an A.P.B. out on your weapon and the perp. Your wallet was found just a few blocks from where he took you down. It's being checked for prints now. Did you get a look at your assailant?"

"Unfortunately, no. The little bastard struck me from behind and when I turned he just kept stabbing me until I was down. All I know is, he's thin....maybe only a hundred pounds and about five foot four.....I was unable to see him well enough to get any features but he was young."

"Well, that's more than we had to go on," she sighed, writing the information down.

Feral lay still, going over what Felina had said a moment ago and freezing in shock when he realized what name she had given for his rescuer.

"Did you say Furlong?"

Felina gave him a small smile. "Yes I did. He apparently is from that neighborhood and was going by when he heard your groan from the dark. He raced to your side and called for help, doing his best to stop your bleeding with his own shirt off his back."

"That's why he seemed to know me enough to ask about my gun," he murmured in stunned surprise.

"You owe him your life, Uncle," she said quietly.

"Yes, I know. Thank you, Felina....sorry you were worried about me but I'm on the mend. Right now though, I'd like to take a nap."

"Of course, I'll just leave you be then. I'll let you know when I find anything more about your assailant. You just get better." She gave him a brief kiss on the cheek and left him alone.

Feral lay there in stunned disbelief. Who would have thought it? That hot headed failure had saved his life. He felt a little humbled by that, though, if he was being honest with himself, despite the clashes he and Furlong had while the young tom was under his command, the tabby was always one for the underdogs. He had a hero complex a mile wide but that was because he really cared about those he protected, even those he didn't like.

Sleep caught him before he could ruminate on the subject any further. In his dreams, he felt the attack all over again. It was the first time he had felt truly helpless and afraid for his life. Even those times when he was at the mercy of omegas, it hadn't felt the way it did when that punk had stabbed him and left him for dead.

As he tried to claw his way out of his nightmare, suddenly a familiar face intruded and promised he would be okay. The gruff voice was just as clear as if the tom was standing right beside him now. That voice was soo familiar. In the next second he was very much awake and staring around his room in a panic.

The room was silent except for his loud panting. When he was able to calm down again, he replayed that voice in his mind. It had been years since he'd encountered Furlong. Three to be exact, when he'd briefly visited the salvage yard and yet that voice sang through his mind with far too much familiarity as if he'd heard it more often than just yesterday then it struck him.

Immediately the image of a swaggering and powerful tom dressed in a brightly colored G-suit came into his mind and he heard that same voice emanating from the masked tabby as the tom sneered some insult at him.

"Kat's Alive! How did I miss that?" He blurted to himself, aloud. 'Crud! He was right in front of me all the time and yet I never realized.......I could just kick myself.....a salvage yard.....a new jet....a brilliant engineer and inventor.......a top notch pilot......the SWAT Kats reborn from their humiliation of being kicked from the force. I have been stupid!' He thought angrily.

His mind raced over all those times they had clashed and he realized they were the same type of clashes he'd had with them when they had been active enforcers. 'Okay, so they were now the SWAT Kats.....what am I going to do about this knowledge?' He asked himself.

For the rest of the day, he simply lay there thinking. Not even the visits by nurses and the doctor distracted him from his thoughts for more than a moment.

When dusk had fallen he had come to a decision.

More than two weeks later, Feral was finally released from the hospital. He would need some physical therapy for a month but in general he was completely recovered and, what was more important, he was alive.

Felina picked him up from the hospital. "I'm glad you're looking so well, Uncle. Where would you like to go since you're not allowed to go back to work yet?"

"Take me home, please."

"Oh, sure." The drive was spent in discussing what was going on at headquarters and the, still unsuccessful, search for his assailant. She dropped him off and wished him a good day before returning to work.

Since he was on a week's medical leave, he'd use this opportunity to speak with two special mechanics. His hummer had been returned to his apartment building parking lot and Felina had gotten new keys made for it and his apartment door since his originals had never been found. The lock on his apartment had been changed for his safety and piece of mind. He was very grateful to her for getting that done.

It was going on ten o'clock when he pulled out of his parking garage and drove off toward the salvage yard. It was a thirty minute drive from his home to his destination and he used the time to rehearse what he planned to say when he arrived.

When he pulled into the yard, it was quiet except for a radio going and the sounds of working being done in the garage. He pulled up and turned off his engine. Climbing out, he walked toward the open door and peered into the interior.

Nearest the door, Clawson had his head under the hood of a sedan and was ratcheting something down. Looking past the smaller tom, Feral saw the back of Furlong who was lowering an engine into a van. He watched them for several minutes before making his presence known.

"Clawson......Furlong.....I want a word with you two!" He barked commandingly.

Both toms jerked around to stare at him in unhappy surprise. They stopped what they were doing, reluctantly, then walked toward their waiting area where Feral had gone. Giving each other a worried frown, they stepped into the waiting area and confronted the Commander.

He stared at them for a long moment then glanced outside, checking to see if anyone had come into the yard, it was empty, so he turned back to the waiting pair.

"I came to a revelation while in the hospital which is why I'm here. What I have to say will upset you but I'd appreciate it if you would keep silent until I'm finished.....understood?" He asked sternly.

Both tom's eyes narrowed in puzzled anger and confusion but nodded their agreement, in unison.

"Good. First, before I talk about the upsetting news, I wanted to convey my sincere thanks to you Furlong for coming to my aid and saving my life. I can safely say, I have never been so terrified of dying before until that moment when it seemed no one would find me in time. I still have nightmares about the incident and am shocked that a punk like that got the better of me so easily. I doubt any of us likes to think something like that could take us out after dealing with big time threats on a regular basis......to have it happen, shakes your confidence terribly and makes one afraid that it could happen again. It will take me some time to be at ease going out at night again but at least I'm alive to be out and about and I have you to thank for that."

Though he was told to keep silent, Chance felt a strong desire to comfort the Commander, much to his surprise. "It's okay, you'll get past it with time and you're welcome. I'm just really glad I'd decided to go visit some friends in the neighborhood that night."

He was stunned Feral was actually thanking him but considering what had happened to the tom, he could relate to what Feral must have felt. No one expects such violence to happen to them. That's exactly why he'd been so freaked out when he found Feral stabbed and robbed. It could have soo easily been him laying there if he'd passed that way only forty minutes earlier.

"Believe me, I am truly grateful you were too. Anyway, to continue.......as I lay dying on that cold pavement, I heard your voice but couldn't see your face very well. It was that voice that stayed with me and chased away the nightmares for nights afterward as I lay recovering in the hospital. Though grateful, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd heard that voice just recently before the attack. That seemed impossible since I hadn't talked to either of you for more than three years. That started to bug me and being completely bed ridden, I had nothing else to occupy my mind so worked on the puzzle.

I could kick myself for being so blind when your voice and where I'd heard it last finally clicked. You really didn't disguise your voices that well but I guess I just didn't want to see past the masks nor could I believe you two could have come up with such a harebrained idea. However, when I compared your physiques, voices, skills, talents, and, the clincher, our verbal clashes, I was angry at myself for my blindness. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that you two were my two constant headaches."

Chance and Jake went deathly pale, their fists clenched in angry frustration while fear beat a tattoo within their chests. Now what would happen to them?

Feral went on, though he wasn't oblivious to their sudden tension. "So, now that I knew, what was I going to do about it? Well, you'd be surprised that it actually took me an entire day to ponder my choices. But, in truth, there was only one decision I could make that would insure our city didn't end up being blown up or altered beyond recognition." He paused and stared at them again.

Chance squirmed with fear and frustration when Feral didn't go on immediately. He hissed angrily, "....and what decision would that be?"

Faking an innocent look, Feral almost couldn't contain his glee at shaking up the pair.....pay back for all those times they harassed him.

"Why, letting you continue as you are, of course. The only difference is, I will know who you are but won't say anything about it to anyone nor really make any actual attempts to capture you. Things will just go on as before," he said smugly. The look on the pair of faces before him was priceless.

Chance and Jake were gaping like landed fish.....shock and amazement holding their tongues for what seemed like a ridiculously long time before Jake was the first to find his voice.

"You want us to continue being the SWAT Kats?" He blurted, still unable to believe what he'd heard.

"....And you don't intend to arrest us for it?" Chance added, totally taken aback.

"That's what I said. I'm fully aware it's your tech and skills that have kept this city safe just as I'm painfully aware that with the constant budget cuts Manx imposes on me, I can never close the gap between us in the tech arena. I wish we could take the omegas out permanently but we just haven't found a way to do that yet. Until we do, I have to use all the resources at my disposal to protect the city and if that means accepting two vigilantes as my back up then that's what I'll have to do. But, just as said I would tell no one of this arrangement......the same goes for you! Understood?"

"That's a given! A secret can't be kept if too many know it," Jake snorted, insulted Feral would think they'd break the agreement.

"Hey, we're the ones who have more to lose, Feral. Of course, we're not going to blab it about," Chance said, his swagger restored now that he knew they were safe. "However, I won't deny this 'arrangement', as you call it, freaks me out just a bit."

"You aren't the only one," Feral snorted, feeling equally odd about it. "There is one other thing, though....I need you to, please, try to keep down the property damages from now on. I know you think it's not important, by your callous attitude toward my complaints, but I have a legitimate reason for harping on it. You don't realize the damage the omegas cause and the collateral damage you add to it comes out of yours and my taxes. This affects your business, your personal life, and, in larger measure, the enforcer budget which stays in the red constantly because Manx must pour that money into making those repairs. This means I can never break the cycle of chronic inadequacies within the enforcers," he explained, trying to get them to see the true seriousness of his problem.

"Crud! We're sorry! You're right we had no clue and, to be honest, no desire to learn why you were so upset all the time. You're right, we need to be more observant of where we are when we're fighting. I promise, if its possible, we'll try and lure the omegas toward less populated areas where the damages will be minimal and less expensive. However, you know as well as I do, the omegas are not always so willing to leave their targets to follow someone they hate. But we'll do what we can," Jake promised, ashamed they had never considered what the consequences of their war on the omegas actually cost everyone around them as well as themselves.

"That's all I ask. Don't worry, I won't hold it against you if you don't succeed all the time. After all, it isn't as if you alone were causing the damage. My crashing choppers and jets do nearly as much harm as you do," Feral grimaced, commiserating with their similar difficulties in this area.

"That's certainly true," Chance agreed, smiling wryly.

He felt the same way as Jake, he could kick himself for not bothering to realize how much harm he was doing to the city by his single minded passion to protect it. 'Do no harm and protect the innocent' had been his mottos but he realized the property damages were indeed 'doing harm' so he needed to rethink his attitude and methods.

Staring at Feral with new eyes, he found himself surprised at their civilized conversation. He realized, to his embarrassment, that he always thought of Feral as somewhat stupid as well as stubborn. Well it was obvious now, the tom was definitely not stupid but he was still very stubborn.....that made him smile mentally at that realization. This new understanding with Feral felt weird and nice at the same time. Perhaps things would be more relaxed between them from now on...wouldn't that be something?

"So, if we're clear on this, I'll be going home. I'm on medical leave for another week and if Felina catches me not resting at home, she will be vexed with me." A rueful smile tugging at Feral's lips as he walked out of the waiting area and made for his hummer.

As the pair followed him out, Chance noticed the big tom still moved with some stiffness. He shook his head. "I'm really amazed you survived, big guy. That punk had tried to make you look like Swiss cheese and I'm not ashamed to say I thought I was going to lose you before the ambulance arrived. It was a very scary moment for me too," he admitted quietly when they reached Feral's vehicle.

"Yeah, I've never seen Chance soo shaken before and it gave me quite the scare when I saw all that blood on him when he came home," Jake added soberly.

Feral shivered. "They told me I was in surgery for some four hours as they patched me up.....took two liters of blood as well. Glad I was out of it for a couple of days because when I woke up it felt like I'd done several rounds with Dark Kat and Viper. I'm still rather stiff at the moment."

"Yeah, I could see that....." Chance began to say before he stopped as a sudden memory popped in, "......oh, I nearly forgot, the next day after your attack, I went back and did some digging and managed to get a line on where to find that punk. Unfortunately, by the time I located him, some two days later, he had met up with a local gang. Apparently, they didn't like him so well because he was already dead. I managed to take the four gang members out quickly then handed them over to the neighborhood watch since I didn't want to be the one found with the gang and the punk. Your enforcers might have been suspicious about finding me at both scenes of an attack. Anyway, I found your weapon on one of the gangers when I frisked them down. I hid it in my jacket."

He paused and shrugged with an amused grin on his face. "I didn't know how I was going to get it back to you though....so I'm glad you're here to take it and save me the trouble." He turned to his friend and asked, "Jake would you go get it from the work bench?"

"Sure, be right back!" Jake took off for their hidden hangar.

"Your hangar is here?" Feral asked, curiously, as he waited.

"Yeah....just under our feet, as a matter of fact. Apparently, the salvage yard was built over an old World War II bunker. It's a huge complex down there but we only use a small section of it," Chance said, amused by the look of surprise on the Commander's face.

Shaking his head, Feral mused, "well how about that......surprised no one's remembered it being there. It's probably in the city archives somewhere...."

Jake arrived at that moment and handed over the large laser pistol Feral favored.

Feral smiled in relief as he took it back and checked it. It was in good condition and still charged, surprisingly."Thanks for getting this back for me and finding my assailant. That eases my mind a lot. Felina is probably learning about it today and will tell me more later," he said easily. He flashed Chance a broad grin. "Thank you again for my life. I hope I may do the same for you some day."

Chance blushed at Feral's uncharacteristic show of warmth and gratefulness. "Hey, anytime....just be more alert next time, okay?"

Feral nodded then climbed into his hummer, laid his gun beside him on his seat since he wasn't wearing his harness, and waved goodbye as he started the engine, leaving the yard for home. The two stood there watching the dust from his departure long after he'd gone, still too stunned by the day's event to move.

"What a weird day! Feral figures out who we are, thanks you for saving his life then says we can continue to be SWAT Kats without reprisals! Pinch me! I'm still in shock. Did this really happen?" Jake asked rather dazedly.

"Yeah.....seems saving his life that night changed all our lives and for the better," Chance mused, equally at a loss how to deal with this new development yet.

"That's what makes us heroes, isn't it?" Jake smirked suddenly, managing to find humor in the oddness of the moment.

Chance laughed abruptly then punched his friend in the arm. "Yeah, guess it is!"