Team Cowboy.

Chapter One

Disclaimer: I do not own Toy Story or any of its characters.

Summary: Sometimes even complete opposites must team up to conquer the most challenging obstacles. Often, this will involve coming to terms with someone of the most despicable avarice. What if the ending to TS2 had been different? Will the Round-Up Gang overcome the odds, or succumb to them?

~X~X~X~

The aged toy-repairer chuckled menacingly as he admired his fine crafty work.

Perfect - as always.

"He's for display only," Eyes trained on his handiwork, he first observed the glossed over hair and eyes, then the newly bronzed boots before looking at the repaired seams in the doll's shoulder, testimony to his excellent and - he blushed to admit this - his unparalleled handiwork. A smug smirk tugged at the edges of his lips. He couldn't have felt more complacent. "You handle him too much," he bagan to proudly assert "he's not going to last."

The breath was violently oozed out of him in a single, great gush of air when a bulky, overweight man charged into him to admire the star in the display case at a closer view.

Al McWhiggan couldn't have been more pleased. His large, rounded orbs lacquered with avarice and strangely darkened with some kind of (((primitive evil))) gaped intensely at the final, most prodigous piece of his set. "Oh, he's amazing - you're a genius! He looks just like new!"

The toy-repairer eyed Al with something of a casual interest as his arms folded across his chest at the chicken man's side, thinking to himself well, it's the money that counts. Nothing mattered to him as long as his work was spot on, as usual. And this, he mentally remarked with a small chuckle, was certainly no exception. In fact, this could be his best work yet.

He pushed his glasses up his face with a trembling hand, and looked to Al pointedly. His spectacles were glistening with some odd sense of superiority as he said: "And I hope you plan on keeping him that way."

Al's hands dropped to his side as he turned back to the repairer almost as if he was deflating. "Huh?"

"Prizes such as this are very valuable artefacts, Mister McWhiggan." Al's eyebrows arched in something close to disbelief. Of course he was aware of that! It was the whole reason he was selling them, after all. They were like stuffed gold to a man who made a career out of dressing like a chicken. "And many would be willing to take the burden of carrying them around off of your hands for you, if you don't treat them right."

"Wha-?"

"Did I hear you mention before you were planning to sell this collection off?"

"Well, yeah, of course," Al stammered, wanting now to kick the man out of his apartment but inhibited by his own curiosity. "They're being sold to the Konishi toy museum in Tokyo - I'm going to make thousands!"

The toy-repairer nodded, murmured something incomprehensible under his breath, and then continued. "Are you aware of how many mishaps occur within these luggage systems?" Al barely had the time to stammer an answer. "And I assume you don't have anything to protect your case with?"

"I never-"

"Well - let me tell you this, sir," The cleaner began, moisturizing his lips with his tongue. "Replacements for these kinds of collectible items can be quite costly, if you know what I mean." Without even having the slightest intention of attempting to understand what the old man was saying, Al became unwillingly aware of the exact meaning behind his words. "So you might want to try purchasing a lock - okay?"

He didn't even give the matter a second thought for the time being as he mindlessly agreed.

The Collectibles were of star-quality. Lose a piece of the set and, well, it'd have no value as a collection any more.

"Just go..." Her words faded into silence as her only hope for a better future lowered himself gently down from the windowsill and onto the chair's arm in defeat. She rested her head on the knees she clung to her chest, thinking to herself it's all over it's never going to happen I'm never going to be happy again. He didn't understand. He couldn't have, otherwise he'd never have done this to her. He would have turned around right there and then, climbed to the windowsill, sat beside her and told her. It's all okay. I'm here. I'm not leaving. Andy will be okay without me. He's a good kid, Jessie, but I need to move on - we need to move on. But no, she still continued to shake and repress sobs as he continued, on and on, to the vent leading out of the building. Out of their life. Away from her.

No, he didn't do any of this, so there's no way he could have understood. All the pain and loneliness she felt day by day. The prospect of a future like hers... No, he didn't. He'd understand if he really knew her.

All the more reason for him to go, she tried to tell herself. But believing this, truly and fully, was another matter entirely. Only twenty-for hours earlier, her saviour had arrived as the answer to all her problems, but there was more to him than that. He didn't want to be the saviour - the prodigy child. He'd wanted to get back to her owner, Andy - to live as a child's favourite toy. A position only few dream to have and one that she'd lost a long time before. It'd broken her spirits completely to extents unimaginable. Nothing could parallel this pain, she thought.

She stole a sideways glance at him from where she sat on the windowsill, and wanted to be mad at him. She wanted to hate him for doing this to them. To her. To Bullseye. She wanted to conjure more hate than she'd ever had within her before - more than she had even for Al himself - but the anger building up within her only deflated into one, long somber sigh and she looked away. No, she couldn't hate him. He's hurt her in ways unimaginable, to an extent even he couldn't understand, but as she heard him walk to the vent and pause in thought, she couldn't help but start picturing himself in her boots.

She tried to imagine what it'd be like to be in such a position he was in. If she'd been taken away from Emily by a mad-man with a passion for gluttony and dollar notes, would she want to go through with what they were suggesting? Would she have left Emily behind, even despite the fact that she was clearly growing up, to live a life of luxury before the eyes of thousands of little kids staring at her in awe? To be loved for eternity by children who knew not of her sentimental value... Would it be worth it knowing what she'd leave behind? Jessie tried to hone her perspective to focus on only what truly mattered, but soon saw no point. She'd cherished Emily far too much to do that. But then why did she feel so bitter inside at the thought of being forced back into the darkness - the place she most despised? The Sheriff was only doing right by his kid. As she pondered, she realised: she would have done the same thing.

Disheartened at this equilibrium, she gave a great forlorn sigh and began the mental countdown. She knew that when it was finished, Woody would be gone and Al would put them all back in storage whilst he fruitlessly searched the rest of the state, the country, the world for another Woody. The collection may take another decade to finish, may never even be complete. She'd been waiting far too many years for this chance and now she felt that counting on another hero to save the day would be pointless. Once the rest of them were back in the box, it's likely - more likely than before - that they'll never get another opportunity like could rot in the box for the rest of their existence while their bodies still functioned before time rusted them up, rotted them into nothing. Al could fix them again and again, but even the best toy-repairer in the world couldn't stop Time's decomposition. She could be stuck in the box for the rest of her life; she could lose herself to this darkness.

She didn't know what would come of her. She dreaded to think of it, simply.

That was why the museum was their greatest chance. Al's storing cupboard was damp, dark and dusty, but the display cases in Tokyo, Japan wouldn't be. A polish every day and chances to stretch their parts whenever possible. Most importantly, they'd also have room and time to wander around after hours and they could just be free. Jessie didn't reckon she'd get any of that back in storage and plus, the muscle cramps and the dreaded fear of being trapped in darkness for the rest of time were-

The vent's hatch was lifted up with a screech. She stopped dead, still.

He was leaving them, and he wouldn't be coming back. Her insides hollered in despair at the thought of having to endure it all over again. Once he was gone, the waiting game would be played and there was no telling when it'll end. Simple as that.

Meanwhile the path the Sheriff faced looked gelid and unfriendly. The path onwards, to Buzz, to Bo, to home - to Andy - was desolate and consumed by sheer blackness. The void leading towards Andy made him pause in deep thought for a moment, instilled uncertainty into his heart.

He knew he was doing the right thing, but why did it all feel so wrong? So empty? The feeling was not one he could explain to someone outside his brainspace, nor even one he could explain to himself. He could only ask himself was this really what he wanted? To leave the Round-up Gang behind after everything they've been through - especially Jessie. He was their only chance - how could he walk away from them so easily? He knew it was for Andy, but-

"How long will it last, Woody?" Woody's senses stilled. He didn't move, but instead continued listened intently to those soft words - that voice - which had kept Jessie going all these years, and felt his world fall quietly into new reality. "Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college? Or on his honeymoon?" The softness here metamorphosed into slight bitterness, and Woody could feel the condemnation in Pete's words. He was old, wise, considerate - but he did not approve of Woody's choices, and this Woody understood much to his own ((disinclination)). Pete didn't trust kids. They get old, forget you and, in the worst cases, neglect you. And there was no questioning the fact that the love of an owner is more subject to the vicissitudes of time than the kind of love they'd receive in Tokyo, where there'd be constant influxes of kids from all walks of life for as long as they remain in the museum. There, love would be infinite. There, no-one would be lost, forgotten, abandoned and - here Woody gulped - broken.

Pete had a point, but what was Woody to make of this? Should he be asking himself? Should he try to reach some sort of a reconciliation - an equilibrium - or should he just walk the cold trail ahead like nothing mattered to him more than his loyalty to his owner? He wondered sadly, but came to no definite conclusion. A word perched on his lips, but his tongue was like ice so he could not speak. The path before him was now inconceivable in the way it seemed to head straight into the bowels of dark obscurity.

"Andy's growing up - and there's nothing you can do about it."

Woody'd never felt a blow like this before. It overwhelmed his every thought and tugged at his final heart-string. His head hung lower as he dwelled on what Pete had just said and finally, at last, came to his poorly constructed conclusion. Andy was growing up. There was nothing to deny this and there was, equally but more horrifyingly, nothing he could do about it. He suddenly remembered the sudden disappearances of Andy's old preschool toys, and felt a weight like an anchor dawn on his heart. It was only a matter of time before Andy outgrew him, and who knew what would happen when he took his final rip? He'd face a fate similar to Jessie's - or worse - and then there would be nothing left for him to do.

"It's your choice, Woody." Pete continued solemnly. "You can go back or you can stay with us - and last forever."

'Forever...' The word pinballed around his mind a few times before he could reconcile it with the reality of the situation. It was a term he'd been subconsciously pondering over ever since Ms. Davis placed him on the shelf the day before. Toys don't last forever, at least not under the ownership of kids. But was it true in all situations? The museum was offering him the answer to this question, and there were a great many chances of it being a no. They could live forever in Tokyo and need not fear rotting away or being rusted over by the hands of time and neglect.

"You'll be adored by children for generations." Woody perked up at that. The idea seemed very welcoming, especially when observing the path of obscurity and ambiguity that lay ahead of him. To live forever being cherished and admired by children all over the world? The only thing he wanted to do was make a child happy. He'd been to hell and back with Andy's father who'd kept him tucked away on a shelf in his room for years on end watching him grow up and leave bits and pieces of his childhood behind, one by one like waste he'd been happy to get rid of. And he knew eventually that Andy would only turn out just like him, in the end. He was bound to, but the fate wasn't anything the Sheriff wanted to face over and over again until the years didn't count anymore. It was Heartbreak, being torn away from an aging child like that. But what if he could live without it? To watch the awe-inspired eyes of wondrous children stare past them from sparkling glass behind metal voids and live through it without the encrypted fear every toy known to this world was born with?

He'd never be touched. That seemed to be one of the key factors that crossed Woody's mind as he risked one more glance down the path that stood cold and malicious through the eyes of the spirited. Knowledge was burdensome to him and he knew of the times that'd face him if he followed that route to the rest of his life. It'd be just like the first time. The kid would grow distant barely acknowledging the life that wanted nothing other than value in a heart; then the other toys he loved would be pulled away by a teenager and abandoned like they'd meant nothing to him, nothing at all; and then - well - the 'child-no-more' would just forget. Take no notice of every single thing they'd put forward for the sake of the one that'd grown too old for toys. Woody remembered what it was like very well. It was pure torture on the mind, the unpredictability, the unknowingless, the powerlessness - being aware of what was out there waiting but with no idea of how long the Waiting Game would last.

Woody felt it safe to say that he did not want to go through with this again. But then he thought of the other option that perched before his form like a ready door to a guaranteed freedom. He could go to the Museum with his Gang. It still seemed rather unfathomable that he had his own gang to call family, to adventure to Tokyo with. It felt just so far-fetched to be true. All of his life he'd thought he'd been created just for the sake of it, to be a child's plaything for the entirety of his life. That he didn't belong to anything; that he was just a cowboy - he just was. But no, he was famous, and with this newfound stardom realized that he could make so many kids happy, if only he could make the right choice. Insubordination certainly wasn't a bad thing. The Sheriff knew this to heart. Without it, life would never change and sometimes it has to change for the better good of society. So then, if that was the case, it'd be safe to say all was fine to leave his owner behind to fill up the empty hole in the Round-Up Gang? He asked himself this very carefully and slowly as he stepped back from the vent's hatch.

At the corner of his eye he spotted the horse approaching nervously with eyes lowered facing the bland carpet. The look he saw on Bullseye's face almost tore up the stuffing in his heart. They'd go back into storage if he stuck to his logic and not his heart, and he didn't want to leave Jessie in the place she most despised while he made a kid with toys to spare happy. Glumly, the Sheriff thought of what a waste it'd be to leave the horse to rot for the rest of his time in the dark and felt melancholy stir within when Bullseye reached him with round, sparkling eyes in hope.

Woody made one final calculation of the pros and cons of this situation in his mind, and came to his conclusion. Lifting his hand to stroke Bullseye's mane soothingly, he realised, this was where he was meant to be. "Who would I be...to break up the Round-Up Gang?" He started petting Bullseye's neck faster when the horse's expression lit like a thunder-bolt illuminating the night sky.

Stepping back, he closed the vent's hatch and paced to the side just as Jessie's head turned in his direction. And when he caught her gaze, brightening instantaneously when the shock died, he came to his final conclusion: This was where he was meant to be - - and who he was meant to be with...

...

He didn't understand how everything could've turned out like this. In the matter of a few mere moments, his confidence he'd once felt about the idea had arrogantly abandoned him leaving him distraught and befuddled where the pain ached. He breathed in and out slowly, frustrated and absolutely sure he had just made the worst mistake of his life.

He'd just down-right rejected Buzz's pleads for him to return back to his owner. A child who cherished him deeply and one that wouldn't do a thing to hurt him.

He sadly picked out the tunes his character was singing in the Woody's Round-Up show in the background as he felt his spirits drop. Sitting on the tape roll down on the floor more than two yards away from the TV set, all seemed hopeless. He deflated as he sighed.

- Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am - He pulled back just a little bit. Insides lighting like a firework struggling to light in a water-mill, something about those words echoed meaningfully in the back of his mind.

- Bigger and stronger too / Maybe - He was almost tempted to bury his head in his hands when the child on the black and white film caught his attention. The child was embracing his character, lovingly, joyously. And it was watching this that made him truly fathom the weight of Buzz's words. The purpose of a toy's existence revolved immediately around children, to make them happy. It was what they were made for - to be played with and loved by a child. It was everything a cheap, disposable object could dream of. And to be a favourite was just...more than anyone the Sheriff knew could want. And yet he was prepared to give it all away to live forever to be admired behind glass and metal, untouched and unloved. Admired only from a distance. It was frankly far-fetched, and Woody knew he shouldn't want it.

Watching this child made him realize that being there for a kid was all he wanted. He wanted to love and be loved.

- But none of them will ever love you the way I do - And that was when the pieces of the troubled puzzle fell into place harmoniously. Toys were meant to be for one reason, and one reason only. It suddenly made sense to the Sheriff now that he was making the biggest mistake of his life. In disillusioned shock he straightened his posture and allowed the nerves in his body to fall limp as he dropped his gaze. - It's me and you, boy -

Something in his consciousness stirred and his hands subconsciously found the heel of his boot. Before he even knew it, the boot had been turned over and he was scratching the auburn paint off with his knuckles. The horrid frontage concealing only the truth that dawned on him too heavily for him to ignorantly withstand.

-And as the years go by, our friendship will never die… You're gonna see it's our destiny-

A sigh. "What am I doing?"

A thousand bolts of electricity surged through him. Before he knew it, he could feel the wind on his body - his senses - his mind… Every single current brought pain through him. All over his body, he felt this electrifying emptiness proliferate. A strange kind of feeling: Guilt.

He couldn't just abandon his owner - no matter what. He had to stay with the Round-Up Gang, but he had to stay with Andy too. It was a hard decision to make. The hardest one he'd ever faced, but at this moment, standing at the cross-roads between two different lives he had all the power to choose between, he felt like he finally knew the right decision to make.

Sheriff Woody the cowboy doll would be nothing without him.

Daring not to give it a second thought, he turned away from the TV set and his overwhelming near-mistake, ready to rejoice with his heart and his mind.

...

His timing couldn't have been any more inconvenient.

Common instinct made Woody freeze in his spot, listening intently to the pounding sound in the distance. One - and then another. Footsteps. And they were heading right for the door.

Woody's eyes grew wide. "It's Al!"

Moments were ill by the time Bullseye and Jessie leapt back to their foam holdings to avoid being caught red-handed in the act of being alive. Woody barely had time to throw himself forward by the time the sound of footsteps built up to the door, just missing the foam holding by the time Al bounded into the room with anxiety in his thick expression. Instinctively, the rest of Andy's toys in the vent stepped back into the shadows to avoid being seen. A conflict with Stinky Pete the Prospector, they could have dealt with; but not Al.

Frantically, the large man with boundless passion moved on his stocky legs towards the corner of the room. "I'm going to be late! The thing is I can't miss this flight." He carried himself over towards the cases he'd packed the collectible stars in and dropped to his knees. "Let's see: Keys, wallet -" He suddenly froze in his tracks, eyes captured by the sight of the famous collectible Woody in his hands.

All of a sudden, his expression dropped in pure disbelief. A moment of immobile wordlessness passed before the pressure eventually struck him full-on. "He was out of his case!" Al's logic behind the matter was far from adequate. "Oh, the old man warned me about this!" He dropped Woody back into his foam-holding, unease marking the creases on his face. A glance was shot around the room, but there was nothing and no-one to be found. Of course, this only exacerbated his fear. "Oh no, oh no, oh no, no, no!" A stuttering fool. "First they go for the Declaration of Independence and now me? What have I ever done to them? Oh Lord, have mercy!" They must have security cameras and spying devices all over the place, he thought to himself. They must be after his collection.

"It must've just been an accident," He said, shaking the thought away, now on his knees trying desperately to think of the ideal explanation behind what he'd just seen. There was no point in even trying. The lack of evidence was incontrovertible. "Oh, but I really need to go!" But even then he was the most indecisive fool known in the whole evolution of mankind. "I need to keep you guys safe!" Geri's words were knit-picking at Al's consciousness, and he just knew he had to do something about it.

Deciding he needed to get out of the apartment -right now- he put Woody in the case along with the rest of the toys. As he did so, his eyes fell upon the front of the case where a small rectangular shape of metal was perched directly above the handle. The circular rods protruded from the metal all holding numbers that could be mixed and matched to form a very unique code. Inspiration struck him momentarily. "Ah, I remember! This case has a lock!" A frown struck his face shortly. "If only I could remember how to lock it…" Deep thought contorted his expression. "I'll do it in a bit - I just have to go now!"

And then, daring not to waste another moment, he took off with his gathered luggage and headed towards the door.

The toys in the vent stood in bewilderment, their expressions slightly agape as the reality of the situation began to kick in. Rex's drawling apprehension was the first sound to break the collective silence. "Oh, I don't like this at all, Buzz!" His tiny arms were only halfway up to his face as his teeth chattered in fright. "Not one bit - what are we going to do? He has a lock!"

"They'll be all right, Rex," Buzz insisted, somewhat more vapidly than was his custom. They were already making their way towards the end of the vent to the elevator leading to the bottom floor. "We just have to remain calm and orderly."

"Excuse me, if you will-" Intercepted the bonus Buzz Lightyear. "But I do believe that this prehistoric beast was asking for an answer from me. I am a member of Star Command, after all - I am an experienced ranger, unlike this novice." He looked pointedly at Buzz, who rolled his eyes, deciding to instead initiate forward momentum for the group by quickened his pace into a run.

Rex clasped his hands together, awkwardly fumbling around as he tried to keep up with the rest of the group. "Did you hear that? He called me a beast! Oh, I feel so honoured!"

"Never mind that!" Potato-Head inputted, repressing the urge to throw his bowl-cupped hat at the imbecile.

"But-"

"Not now, Rex!" Buzz ordered, quickly forming a plan together in his mind. "We just need to get to that elevator!"

There was no fuzz after that.

They turned a corner, and pair of eyes met them. Scarlet eyes through the dim light - and a gaping gold mouth.

What the…? "It's Zurg!"

And as sure as Star Command, it was.

A short ding indicated the elevators arrival. With a loud swoosh the silver doors spread apart to allow entrance. Not wasting another second, Al passed through the doors and fitted himself inside. A gentle music played in the background as he thrust his chubby fingers against one of the buttons repeatedly to get the doors to shut promptly. When the button went yellow, and the elevator began to descend, he pulled himself away and sighed deeply. He was about to lose himself to these minutes of silence when he spotted the lock again, and entered a code into it.

"Just twenty-three more floors to go, big-shot - you can do this!"

Turns out, he couldn't. When the lift's descent down towards the ground floor halted abruptly after a mere ten floors, his mental state was nearing 'absolutely berserk'. He couldn't believe it. He'd miss his flight if he came across anymore unnecessary disruptions!

Before the doors even had a chance to part again, he was jabbing his finger into the ground-floor button so forcefully even he would have been shocked by his behaviour had he been in the right frame of mind. Before the doors fully opened, he shouted 'This lift is taken!' and through the now open doors spotted a brunette in her late-twenties cradling a small child against her chest, her cerulean eyes agape in utter shock. She made to step towards the elevator, and Al literally growled, stepping sideways so his frame fully blocked the sight of the luggage. He awkwardly stretched his arms backwards to clutch the luggage behind him in a motion that was not unlike a fierce dog defending its bone. When the child started to cry and she stood staring motionlessly at him, he rolled his eyes. "I said this lift is taken!"

The doors closed, leaving a very aggravated salesman to just sigh heavily where he stood. The cries of the child could still be heard five floors down as the lift descended. "Stupid woman! Didn't she read the signs? NO CHILDREN ALLOWED!"

A hatch in the elevator roof was pulled back.

"Are you sure this'll work?" Slinky asked cautiously, looking back at the fixated Hamm.

"I'm sure!" Hamm snapped in a hushed whisper, positioning himself closer to the hatch. "Just drop down and try to work that code. He's bound to have put one on by now."

That was true. Who knew how much time they'd wasted on their encounter with the notorious Zurg, Buzz's sworn arch-nemesis? Plenty of time for Al to conjure a simple three-numbered code for the suitcase containing his collection. A code that could even break those with the most patience and plenty of spare time on their hands.

From 0-0-0, there were nine-hundred and ninety-nine different combinations to choose from. Only one of them would work, proving quite arrogantly that the odds were not in their favour.

Coils rustling as he lowered himself down, he examined his surroundings. The Chicken Man appeared to be staring quite intently at the double doors ahead, definitely not paying much attention to anything else around him A perfect opportunity.

Slinky quickly gathered up his courage and made a swing for the case. A failed attempt. Another try - and he missed this one also. A pressure of some vague sort was beginning to build up within him stirring something that shouldn't dare be touched.

Come on! He tried again, this time just able to get his paws wrapped around the handle. Focusing on his balance as he hung, he lifted his gaze and reached for the padlock. Obviously, Al had been smart enough to conceal his code as the digits now read 0-0-0, unless he'd forgotten to apply one in the first place of course. A sudden flare of hope igniting in him, he tested it out.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.

To add insult to injury, by the time Slinky even tried to have a crack at the code, a small ding was heard and the doors to the elevator sprung open allowing passage into the lounge.

"Finally!" Al proclaimed, sauntering forward without even a second thought. The sudden movement sent tremendous vibrations coursing through Slinky and his springs reacted violently to this. He was forced to let go of the case as his body fell, head-first onto the floor.

No!

With several small thuds, he was joined on the elevator's floor by the rest of the group. Shock mixed into his thoughts paralyzing him instantlt. How…? How was this even possible? He'd been so close! To taking the leap towards catastrophic chances…

It was Potato-Head who'd collected himself together the quickest. When his gaze traveled towards the lounge, he saw that Al was about to pass through the automatic doors.

This was his only chance.

In an instant, the spud knew one thing. They had to get through it.

Taking the risky chance as soon as possible, he took his hat off of his head and readied himself carefully. If he blew it now, then they'd lose Chicken Man and his toys for good - possibly forever in this massive city.

Like a Frisbee, he threw the hat through the air in the hopes it'd wedge between the doors to give them just that very small gap to squeeze through. If he succeeded, then they might find Woody and bring him back home.

Instead, the timing went slightly awry, and the black plastic hit the door-frames just as they closed, falling aimlessly to the ground as their last hopes shattered into a million tiny pieces.