Disclaimer – I don't own the SWAT Kats, or any trademarked items within.

Author's Note – Just wanted to do a little 'What If' in regards to the dimensional radar affair and what if they continued to search for home for several years. It has been done before by other authors, but I wanted to display a more realistic account from my view point. Why should they instantly be taken back home?

Italics are thoughts.

Reviews of any kind are welcome but actual constructive criticism is most welcome.

Edit #1 - 2/9/11 - Changed up some things after coming back to this with a good night of sleep. Still needs improvement.

Hopeless Search

The small fire briefly exploded outward as a stick was thrown into it before settling back into its normal plume of flame. Two lone figures sat on opposite ends of the small fire built from brushwood as they bored their eyes into the fiery display before them. The sun was just disappearing over the horizon and already the temperature began to drop dramatically. Only a few dead trees dotted the dusty landscape, otherwise featureless save the slight rise and fall of the land. The entire desolate scene gave off a distinct felling of wrongness, as if it were the location of a recent death.

The two figures knew the feeling. They had seen and felt the same thing before, but that did little to comfort them. The faint, flicking light from the fire highlighted their features; black bandannas hiding the tops of their faces. The bigger of the two was wearing a bitter scowl with his tan fur shifting in the little wind that graced the desolate plane. The smaller ones face was entirely blank of any emotion, but the Glasgow smile that highlighted the right side of his brown face was indication enough that he had plenty enough to be expressive about. The blue G-suits they wore were faded with age. Various patches and stitches adorned the suits, hinting at long gashes and holes, which were lined with faded brown stains. The red tactical webbing that fitted over the suits was in similar shape, with additional satchels woven on them to allow for more equipment. Two helmets were close at hand, once splendid in dark blue with upside down red triangles facing forward. Now the paint was faded and flaking off in places. Metal gauntlets fitted over the two figures' right hands; battered in a thousand different places and rusted where the paint was chipped.

The apparent wear the two figures had seen was not regulated to their clothes. Their fur, once bright and clean, was stained in an accumulation of dirt, sweat, oil, and small patches of red. Tails that were once raised in pride were on the ground, no vitality shown in their muted movements. Claws were rough and jagged from varying degrees of overuse. White gazes that had once been glowing with purpose were now dull and lacked their previous intensity. Scars lined the exposed fur on their forearms, painful reminders of mistakes and the harsh hand they had been dealt by fate. The big one in particular was missing his entire left ring finger, the sealed stump a testament to a few searing moments with a clothes iron.

Neither said a word as they allowed the fire to fill the vacuum of sound with snaps and crackles. It wasn't an awkward silence, but a silence that presided over two people who wanted nothing else than to believe that this would be their final night alone in their personal hell. But, that was the problem; they had long since disabused themselves of such a belief. Hope had long deserted them, though they acted as if it hadn't. Both of the figures went through the motions and the subject of giving up was an unspoken taboo.

"What's the count?" the larger of the two asked suddenly.

The smaller one lifted his tired eyes to regard his companion. "Why T-Bone?" He replied.

The larger one merely deepened his scowl and turned his gaze to his partner. "Just tell me Razor, you looked at the clock before we left the Turbo-Kat." The one named T-Bone growled back. Razor continued to study T-Bone as he tried to divine the purpose of his inquiry.

Several pregnant moments passed before Razor gave up trying to figure out what was going on in his partner's mind and answered."Twelve years, four months, and fourteen days." T-Bone sighed and his scowl disappeared as he felt a new wave of misery hit him. He sought what little comfort what could be found by looking back at the fire, trying to banish his hopelessness.

He had hoped Razor would leave it at that, but he continued to feel the stare of his closest friend fixed firmly on him. Looking up again confirmed this after the air grew heavy from the returned silence. T-Bone racked his brain trying to think up a proper way to express his thoughts. Long had he relied on the tom kat sitting in front of him and Razor deserved to know why he had suddenly asked about a taboo subject. T-Bone decided to go with the simplest way he could put it, hoping that his friend would get the meaning right away given to the fact they knew each other inside and out. "Why?" he said at length as he felt his facade of stubbornness suddenly crack.

Razor frowned as he absorbed the words and instantly realized the questions his partner was really asking. Why are we still trying to get back home after over twelve years? Why don't we just accept it and try to find another home? Why do we still try, when we both know it's hopeless? Razor was shocked, these questions suggested his friend was ready to give up. After twelve years of struggle, it seemed that T-Bone's stubborn reserve had finally been spent. Razor felt a wave of unease pass through his very core as he realized he didn't have an immediate answer. He forced his gaze from his friend's eyes as the memories came crashing back with the force of a locomotive.

For twelve years after the day they tested the experimental dimensional radar, they had been seeking their home dimension without success. The dimension where they had worked for Dark Kat was only the very tip of the iceberg for them as their next jump had placed them in the middle of MegaKat City, the entire city consumed by the desert and devoid of life. It had been their first rude awakening as they realized it could take some time to get back home. They had arrived to the site of that dimension's junk yard to find only a crater where their garage would be back home. It had taken Razor little more than two days to rig an independent source of electricity to shock the dimensional radar at their control. So had begun their journey to find their home dimension. To say the experiences had been depressing was an understatement, soul-shattering was more appropriate.

There was no true constant among the dimensions they visited. While the majority hosted a version of MegaKat City, the people they knew, and themselves; nothing proved to be a constant in them. One dimension held a force of heavily armed Enforcers and they were nonexistent. Another held a version of themselves, but as despotic rulers of a colossal airship named the 'MegaKat.' Indeed, it seems that the universe held that the SWAT Kats among the different dimensions were mostly on the wrong side of the law than with the good side. Their initial decision to hold true to their vow to protect the city was apparently not the decision most of the other dimensions' SWAT Kats had reached. It was only one fact of many that added to their pain.

Dimension after dimension they visited brought ever more conflict. Whether they chanced upon 'other' SWAT Kats, a version of the Enforcers, or just random kats with aircraft; most of their intrusions resulted in conflict. It was quite simple really, they didn't belong there and even if that dimension's SWAT Kats or authorities were on the side of good, they didn't exactly like the prospect of an unknown element in their world. So, the majority of the time, they were met with lasers, guns, and missiles. They tried to avoid conflict and hurting anyone, but the device that charged the dimensional radar took at least fifteen minutes to build up a big enough voltage to use again and there were times when they simply needed to fight to escape. Razor was not deluded enough to not admit sometimes they fought just to release the pent up anguish and anger they built up over a decade of heart ache. It was times like those that their near constant flying and fighting experience told in the air as they wrought utter destruction on those that pursued them. Enforces, other SWAT Kats, or unrecognizable aircraft; very few proved to be able to withstand the lethal edge that T-Bone and Razor had sharpened during their travels. It was only after their opponents' craft had crashed into the ground in flames did they relax and feel another ping of self loathing for what they had become to survive. So far they hadn't killed anyone that they knew of, but after twelve years, it seemed highly unlikely that all of their targets were able to bail out of their damaged craft or escape the destruction they reaped on the ground. Just another trouble heaped upon a pile of troubles.

They had quickly decided that the best plan would to be simply fly as fast as possible and make sure that where ever they jumped to be definitely not their dimension before leaving. The answers were usually easy to find: spotting another Turbokat, finding nothing but featureless sand, MegaKat City changed beyond recognition, etc. However, as the years passed Razor found a flaw with their plan: the passing years were a long time and almost anything could have happened in the intern. Maybe the city was rebuilt after an incident, maybe another pair of lost SWAT Kats had settled in their dimension after deciding to give up their own search, maybe under the twisting sand their own shattered city was hidden. A thousand different scenarios came to him which could have rendered his home realm different from what they remembered to the point they classified it as just another parallel dimension. In hindsight, they could have been in their own world and not even had known it. Razor had been foolish enough to mention this barely three years into their venture; T-Bone had not spoken to him in almost five days while he digested the ugly truth and focused his brooding anger on Razor. T-Bone had apologized soon after, just like how he apologized after punching Razor in the face so hard he lost a tooth after they reached their fifth dimension. Razor didn't blame him, who had built the dimensional radar after all?

Razor felt a momentary shudder pass through his body as he realized all their search had done was wear them both down till they hardly recognized themselves. They stole whatever equipment and supplies they needed to get by, they fought when their anger flooded their systems, they basked in each others' misery as they realized their home might not even be recognizable, and they spent many a cold night huddled around a fire when they needed rest and took stock of their situation silently. They weren't heroes anymore. At first they had approached the situation like heroes. They tried to talk reason to the different dimensions inhabitants, they tried to borrow supplies, and most of all they tried to get respite from their situation. Almost every time they were rejected, looked upon as unwelcome outsiders, and even attacked. Years of this treatment had broken down them down to the point they never asked anymore, they took what they needed in smash and grab raids on whoever had what they wanted. No doubt they might have received help from a couple dimensions, but the last time they had tried the diplomatic approach had left T-Bone having to break Razor out of a jail cell more in line with a torture chamber. Razor had received his half Glasgow smile there along with other mementos along his body. No words or agreements were spoken between them when T-Bone and Razor raided an Enforcer depot for supplies without so much as even turning on their radio to find out if the Enforcers were allies with the SWAT Kats of that dimension. They were no longer interested in taking risks that had cost them dearly in the past.

Each new experience of hatred and hostility directed against them wore down their patience and reserve even more until their control on their trigger fingers was a taunt string, ready to snap with the slightest provocation. Utter brutality and a quick retreat to another dimension became the unspoken motto of their combat style. Whenever the SWAT Kats took the time to land for rest and sleep, they found themselves realizing just how much more they had fallen since the last time they had landed. Self-loathing and introspective hatred ruled those times as the stubborn core of their good nature found them becoming what they had sought to fight in the very beginning of their careers as crime fighters. It would only take one more fatal step to become true villains, when they took a life on purpose for their own ends.

This knowledge scared them and pushed them to find their home in the vain hope that everything would turn out alright once they returned. However, they both knew by this point that nothing would be the same even if they returned home. Their trek across the barriers that separated the dimensions had changed them. The things they had witnessed, the sheer randomness of events, the different ways things could have changed on a single decision and their continual fight had irrevocably twisted them from their noble selves.

Razor sifted his gaze to their beloved Turbokat as it personified how they had become corrupted. Constant patch jobs, modifications, and the rare overhaul whenever they found a quite dimension had twisted it into something else. It was bigger to accommodate the extra fuel and supplies they needed to store thanks to continual add-ons from whatever they could collect the few times they successfully landed without being noticed. The engine had been continually reworked to be more fuel efficient and powerful as Razor took note of and adapted the differing technologies amongst the dimensions. The 'count' T-Bone had asked about was the time kept by the mission clock that had activated the minute they left the garage to test the dimensional radar. The Turbokat dutifully kept count of how long they had been from home as if mocking them.

Lasers had been added should they run out of missiles, the armor became steadily thicker as they tried to prevent as much repair from combat as possible, and their missiles become a motley collection of differing models and types from whatever they succeeded to scrounge up or build. It had become a monster. Slick lines and aerodynamic had become brutal angles and a meaty hull lined with weapons and armor. Before, the Turbokat had been an elegant machine that belied its lethality. Now, it was a flying death machine that displayed its scars and patched hull without notice as it tore through the air. Razor held no illusions, if this Turbokat were to be face against the Turbokat of twelve years passed, the Turbokat of the past would be ground down into confetti before it could even get a missile lock. That didn't comfort Razor though. What's the use of trying to resume their roles as the city's protectors when they arrived in a machine tooled for unrelenting combat and looked menacing even to him? That was part of the reason they were attacked so much, they didn't even look like the good guys anymore.

Why? T-Bone's question once again sounded inside Razor's mind as he returned his gaze to his closest friend. T-Bone had remained in his place and continued to plead for Razor to give him an answer through his expressive eyes, though his face remained stony. Razor didn't see his courageous friend anymore, he saw a broken down kat whose life had forced him to become a step away from what he hated. He saw desperation to find a cause, a purpose with meaning. But most of all, he saw a friend needing an answer as to why they should continue one more step when they should just give up. The fire continued to crackle heedless to the emotions and doubts that swirled in the two kats near it. Razor still couldn't think of an answer, but T-Bone waited silently for him to reach the same conclusion he himself was just now reaching – that there was no reason to continue.

Razor thought of what they could do if they decided to give up and his answer finally came to him. He settled his eyes firmly on his friend's and tried to call up as much of his resolve as he could when he answered. "Could you live with it?"

T-Bone looked momentarily confused at his friend's response, but quickly realized what his friend referred to. Could you live with the knowledge that you had given up on your home and everyone there? T-Bone shifted his gaze upon the ground as he thought of own dimension. T-Bone thought of Callie, MegaKat City, and everyone that lived there. The SWAT Kats had been gone for over twelve years and if the city remained, they most likely had moved on and had adapted to their disappearance. Callie had most likely finally become Mayor and had become self reliant for her safety. Commander Feral had mostly likely rejoiced at their disappearance and had finally gotten the funds he needed to protect the city. Lt. Feral was no doubt making a name for herself without the SWAT Kats to outshine her. Burke and Murray were no doubt handling their absence with irritation given the increased work load on them. The majority of citizens would have moved on from their heroes of the hour and regarded them as a story of forgotten heroes to tell their kittens.

In truth, they most likely didn't need to come back, but what if they were needed? What if Dark Kat reigned supreme in MegaKat City now? What if Dr. Viper had finally gotten the gigantic swamp he wanted? What if the Enforcers hadn't been enough for whatever new threat had risen in the time they were gone? They had seen enough of the other dimensions where such scenarios had arisen and the citizens of MegaKat City and the kats they knew had suffered greatly. No, I couldn't live with it. No matter the trouble, what I need to sacrifice, or the reality that I will never get home – I couldn't live with giving up on it. Not when we still could be needed. Inexplicably tied with his still strong notion of self preservation was the fate of his home. The act of him giving up would mean the end of his will to live. T-Bone wanted to live.

T-Bone looked up and said, "No." Razor smiled grimly as his friend rebuilt his stubborn front and decided to continue their endless search for home.

"But how will we recognize home when we get there?" T-Bone decided to voice even though he knew the answer. Razor shrugged with his Glasgow smile accentuating the fake one he displayed. T-Bone had said 'when,' not 'if.'

Razor decided to answer truthfully. "Don't know, most likely won't, but we have to try." T-Bone allowed a bitter smile to frame his face as he agreed with his friend.

"Besides," Razor said as he took to throwing another stick into the fire, "maybe we'll just know when we get home. We're heroes right? Aren't we supposed to get the happy ending?" T-Bone couldn't help but let go with a genuine laugh. They both knew they could hardly be called heroes anymore and that heroes didn't always get their happy endings. Razor felt his fake smile shift to one free of irony as he joined in the laughter too. This was their reality now and it hardly cared that they still held true to their duty or that they deserved to return home.

"Yeah buddy, we're the heroes." T-Bone's voice held not a single tone of sarcasm or untruth. For a brief moment, they both entertained the idea that they were still the same SWAT Kats that they once were and just needed to get home for everything to return to normal. For a brief moment, they were self assured and even happy, even though deep down, they knew it wasn't true. They would only continue to fly from one world to the next until they either died or were physically unable to continue. There was no happy ending waiting for them, but they allowed themselves to be fooled by their own illusions for just one night.