TITLE: ENDGAME

AUTHOR: C. L. Furlong

DATE: July 13, 2012

FINISHED: August 02, 2012

LAST REVISION: August, 2012

CONTACT: As a member of FanFiction dot Net, you can send me a message via the site's system.

RATING: T

SUMMARY: In the aftermath of the great battle that pitted the reformed Pastmaster, Khronos, against Queen Callista and the SWAT Kats, Jake Clawson, the sole survivor of that battle, must find again purpose in his life... or forfeit whatever life remains in him. Spinoff from "Duty and Desire" by C. L. Furlong and Helion.

DISCLAIMER: SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is the property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.

COMMENTS: Hi there, dear SK-fans! First and foremost, this is merely a *very* short story that derived from "Duty and Desire", the four-chapter "monster" Helion and I cooked up a few years ago. I was intrigued by some comments we got on that story as well as on our other co-work, "Secrets and Lies" regarding what would happen after the final battle depicted in "Duty and Desire". So, I decided to give it a try. And here is the result. I hope you can enjoy it. Expect some strong emotional stuff and angst but I hope the end is to everyone's liking. It is to *mine*, so much I can say! :-)

Oh, and if you feel curious about either "Duty and Desire" or "Secrets and Lies", feel free to have a go at them. They're both posted on FFN and on the SK's Fan Fiction Archive.

Regarding this story:

- anything in italic writing is meant to convey Jake's thoughts;

- anything written in italic *and* put between quotation marks means it's a memory of something Chance said. If you know the show, you'll probably recognize Chance's lines right away.

Anyway, I should say that this story contains references to the episodes "The Giant Bacteria", "Night of the Dark Kat", "Metal Urgency", "A Bright and Shiny Future" and "SWAT Kats Unplugged".

This story is thus unrelated to my "Final Resistance" series. Till next time!

-S-W-A-T-K-a-t-s-

-S-W-A-T-K-a-t-s-

ENDGAME

Rain poured outside the bar, hitting the hazy window panes like little battering rams carried by a myriad of tiny soldiers, only to splat harmlessly against the glass barricade and run down towards their defeated sister drops of water piling up in the gutter. The dingy bar was one of the few situated in the old river docks, once a bustling center of activity and now all but abandoned. Despite being poorly lit, grimy and stained by decades of smoke, spilt alcohol and the inner fluids of those too queasy to hold their liquor, the air permeated with an ever-present aroma of stale cigar smoke and beer, the bar was, nevertheless, a port of call to the dejected with life, especially in a day like today, when winter seemed to have gripped Megakat City into its dark and dismal embrace.

The four customers – a veritable crowd for such a place – sat on stools on the counter, three of them huddled close together, adept on making a small ruckus while gurgling down beer. The fourth tom nursed his own beer while sitting somewhat apart, away from the pool of light bathing the three rather large and imposing toms that were bragging about their little nothings and complaining about everything.

The tom's lithe frame, dressed in nondescript blue coveralls, was almost completely immersed in gloom, matching his own mindset for the day. The only bright splash of color came from the red cap he had buried in his head, his face a black hole where no feature could be discerned. He looked down as he rested his forearms over the countertop before he took a sip from his almost warm beer while one of the noisy toms ordered another round for him and his mates. The beer tap was really getting a run for its money with this trio.

"So, what about them SWAT Kats?" one of them asked after drinking half a pint mug in one draught.

"What about 'em?"

"Those guys are really sumthin'! They come up, guns blazin', kick the shit outta this guy and that, blow up 'alf the city and then just scurry away like rats! What kinda heroes are they?"

"Yeah! If we did half the damage they do, we'd be in jail!"

"Couple a' fags, that's what they are."

"Yeah! And-and who d'ya think pays up for the shit they break? We do!"

"He's right! Manx raised taxes again just two weeks ago! What happened then?"

"The SWAT Kats bust up the City's center, that's what happened!"

"And that hot broad, the Deputy Mayor, died."

"You know what? I heard her death was no accident."

"C'mon, man! She died in her office! Crushed by the rubble!"

"No, I heard it too! Looks like she was offed!"

"Who'd kill such a nice piece of ass?"

"What a waste! She could have my taxes anytime!"

General laughter.

"Yeah, I know just what taxes you'd like to pay."

"Heh, classy kitty like that, sure she's gotta have sum high-priced fees!"

The sudden sound of broken glass resounded for a brief moment, making all three stop their conversation and look to the other tom sitting apart. Foamy white beer ran over the countertop and down the wall. The lithe tom quickly inspected his hand and retrieved the few shards of glass that had imbedded painfully in his left palm. As he picked them and placed them over the beer-sodden countertop, his expression was as unreadable as if he was wearing a mask.

"Everything okay back there?" one of the burly toms asked without showing too much interest.

"Ooh, kitty cut himself? Is kitty gonna cry now?" the larger one taunted.

"Excuse me," the slim kat asked the bartender. "Can I have some napkins, please?"

"HEY! WE'RE TALKIN' TO YA!"

"My apologies," the slender tom jumped off the stool and flinched imperceptibly when he landed. "It wasn't my intention to disturb you."

"Bit late for that, don't you think?"

"Who are you, anyway?"

The slim kat headed towards the three brigands as he wiped his hurt hand on a few black napkins.

"I'm an entertainer... Of sorts..."

"What kind of an entertainer?"

"I do parlor tricks! Say, why don't I show you fellas a trick or two?"

He went where the biggest of them, the one who shouted at him, stood sitting and drinking the rest of his beer before ordering another one. He was holding another mug in his hand when the slim kat reached him.

"Ah, perfect! I know a trick with beer. Can I show it to you?"

Everybody just shrugged.

"Okay. Put your beer on the counter and ball your fists while sticking up your thumbs, like you're going to hitch a ride."

"Okay. Now what?"

"With your hands in that position, put your thumbs over the counter top, close to one another."

"Like this?"

"Perfect! Now comes the tricky part!"

The slim kat took the beer from the countertop and gingerly placed it atop the ruffian's thumbs.

"Pay attention, now! You have to balance the beer over your thumbs. Not many kats can do this! If you can, you're one of the few privileged ones."

Play on their ego.

"What, like this? Pfff, piece a' cake!"

There was applause and drunken cheers from the other two toms as the other one managed to balance the beer over his thumbs quite easily.

"Yeah, that's a neat trick!"

"Oh, but the trick isn't over yet," a shadow of a smile played upon the slender tom's lips.

"What else is to it?"

"Well, I can't really claim ownership on this 'cause I saw it before in a movie but I've tweaked it a little. I'm gonna make this beer mug here disappear."

The big guy snorted.

"You a magician, now?"

"Of sorts, yes."

"Five bucks as he can't make it disappear," one of the burly toms said and put a fiver on the counter, followed suite by another one from the other tom.

"He won't make it! Look at the size and thickness of that glass!"

"Besides, where's he gonna put all that beer?"

"Pay close attention, gentlekats..."

And I use that term loosely...

"Now you see it..."

The slim kat placed his hand on the big guy's nape and, with incredible strength for someone his size, forced the brigand's head towards the beer mug, smashing it with the tom's forehead in a white sparkling explosion of beer and glass. The burly tom didn't even have time to grunt in pain before he slumped to the ground.

"Now, you see, it's gone! Ta-daa!"

"WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM?"

But before any other words could be uttered, the slender kat made the remaining two toms acquainted with his feet and fists, crushing noses and breaking a few ribs in the process. Before a minute was passed, the three were snuggled in a pile on the floor.

"When you wake up perhaps you'll be a little more considerate towards the dead," he huffed out.

The slim kat took a few deep breaths before he winced and groped his gut. He unzipped the upper part of his coveralls and looked down at the red line slowly spreading across his midsection.

It's opened again...

He zipped it shut again and pointed the bartender to the bills left by the ruffians on the counter before turning away to leave the bar.

"I believe that's enough to pay my bill. Keep the change."

Once outside, he put the coverall's collar up, tucked in tighter his cap and walked in the rain to the tow-truck, starting it.

"After handling the Turbokat, driving this tow-truck is one big snooze."

He put the vehicle in gear and drove off.

"Hey, I know a great shortcut."

Ahead, lightning crossed the sky, connecting the clouds and the lightning-rod on top of MegaKat Trade Towers.

"Hey, who said you could read those first?"

"You'd rather I drive?"

"No way!"

He stopped at a red traffic light and had to battle his tears.

Damn it, Jake, this is wrong! You don't belong in this seat! This is *Chance's* place, not yours!

The light changed and instantly a horn honked behind him. Jake quickly geared up the truck and drove off. In just a few minutes his destination loomed up ahead: Megakat City Salvage Yard. Upon seeing the closed front gate he cocked an eyebrow and a slight relief washed over him.

At least I didn't kill them!

He climbed down of the truck, opened the front gate, drove through and closed it back before finally heading for the garage. He slammed the vehicle's door shut after parking the tow-truck and walked somberly towards the kitchen.

It's been two weeks now since that day.

He tossed the keys towards the holder over the cupboard's counter on the kitchen but miscalculated the shot and they fell short of their intended target, falling on the ground. The slim kat hesitated but decided to leave them on the floor. He headed for the refrigerator and took a large can of beer from a six-pack plastic ring holder. After popping up two holes on the top with his thumb's claw, he headed for the living-room while drinking half the can, remaining five-pack in tow. He plopped down on the couch and flicked open the television.

Two weeks since I killed you.

He stared at the TV set without really watching what was on, his mind a million miles away. He finished his first beer, crumpled the can with one hand before throwing it away and removing another one from the five-pack, now only a four-pack.

Jake straightened up on the couch and winced. He remembered he had reopened the wound that the Pastmaster, or Khronos, or whatever the hell he was called, had given him two weeks ago. If it hadn't been for T-Bone's...

Chance's!

...quick thinking, he might have, quite literally, spilled his guts then and there. But, instead, he had survived and his partner had died. Jake almost choked when he remembered how the reformed Pastmaster, Khronos, had skewered T-Bone from bottom to top with his sword...

Your eyes looking down, in disbelief, to where the sword had pierced your flesh...

...had twisted it inside his torso, shredding his innards...

Your scream of agony, your blood pooling on the ground...

...and finally snapping the bones in his neck, putting a sudden end to T-Bone's life.

How did I let this happen? Why did I let this happen?

"...chaos and terror. Where are the SWAT Kats, is the question in everyone's mind..."

Jake caught up with the news bulletin where a distressed Ann Gora reported the violent robbery attempt perpetrated by the Metallikats. He watched as they blasted their way through several lines of Enforcers, burning them to a crisp. A few weeks ago, he'd have leapt from the couch, donned his SWAT Kat uniform and hurtled towards Megakat City aboard the Turbokat to stop them and bring the gruesome twosome to justice. But now he barely paid any heed to the disturbing news report.

"...one must not rely on lowly lawless vigilantes..."

Jake growled. Even with Chance dead, Feral was still pitching that load of bull crap about them being the bad guys. He crumpled the half empty beer can and threw it against the TV's screen with all his might, shattering it, so much like his partner once did. And seeing the resemblance of his act to the one Chance had done was enough to bring another wave of pain to his heart.

What's happening to me? I wasn't this violent before! This isn't me!

He stared down at his hands and, for a moment, they seemed stained in red. He bolted up from the couch, startled, but soon his shoulders sagged.

Great! Now I'm hallucinating...

But... Am I really?

Aren't my hands really bloodied?

I killed her! I killed you!

The memory of his arms snapping Callie's neck washed over him. Moments later, the sound of Khronos snapping T-Bone's neck with just a move of his powerful fingers was enough to floor him.

Snap! Snap!

He stood there, kneeling on the carpet and retrained his gaze on his hands. They were dry but he could still feel a thick fluid oozing down them and snaking down his forearms. He let his arms drop by his sides, staring, haunted, at the gaping hole on the TV screen.

Jake had yet to deal with his losses. Everything was just too damn recent! He'd been fighting for his life in an ICU shortly after the battle that robbed him of his best friend and his secret love. It wasn't until yesterday that he managed to elude the hospital's and the Enforcers' security measures and slither his way back to the Salvage Yard, late in the afternoon. He wasn't even through shedding his torn G-suit when he heard the clanking racket of metal being dumped up in the yard.

"Hey, grease monkeys! Where are youse, guys?"

Not now... Not now...

"Are we interrupting?"

"Say, like your fag fuckin' or sumthin'?

Burke snickered. "Nice, Murray!"

"Hey, we're cummin' to get youse!"

Something happened. Something bad. Maybe something buried all those years. Maybe something Jake didn't have to deal with because Chance was always there with him. *For* him.

He had no recollection of what happened. For Jake, one minute he was shedding his G-suit and donning his coveralls and the next minute...

The next minute he had the front of Murray's shirt tightly pinned in his balled fist. The short tom had his head sagged back, staring at some point in front of Jake. The slim kat dropped Murray and he plopped down on the ground. That's when Jake was finally able to get a good look at the short tom's face.

If you could call it a face anymore...

Something glinted briefly at the sun, to his right, on the ground. Something white.

A tooth, still with its fleshy red underside attached.

Farther back to his right stood a lump. It didn't take Jake much time to realize it was Burke's immobile form. His face was turned to him and in as bad a shape as his shorter friend's. A small red puddle accumulated in the dirt under the big kat's left cheek. Jake looked back at Murray and saw a similar puddle slowly growing under his right cheek.

Jake looked around and spotted Burke and Murray's trash truck. A large dent in the passenger side door struck him as odd. The door's window was also shattered, the characteristic spider-web shaped fracture hollowed in the center and its glassy edges glinted briefly in red at the sunlight.

Kats above! What happened here?

But the answer to that was obvious. The slim kat stepped back in shock.

I couldn't have done this! It's just not possible!

And the funny thing was that the red cap he'd somehow put on before getting medieval with Burke and Murray hadn't even budged an inch. But, of course, the slim kat didn't find any of this funny at all. He just fled to the body shop, grabbed the tow-truck's keys from the holder on the kitchen cupboard and drove off into the sunset, not even bothering to close the front gates. He drove the whole night, sleep denied from him, trying to sort things out in his mind. The night's aimless drive ended up late in the morning, in that dingy bar where those three toms had been on the receiving end of his wrath.

The slim kat let out a deep breath, closing his eyes and leaned his head to his chest, still kneeling on the living room's carpet. He got up and went upstairs, to the sleeping quarters, the sleepless night beginning to take its toll on Jake's already abused body. But his brain, numbed by pain and restlessness, had other ideas. He found himself holding the doorknob of *Chance's* room instead of his. Without really knowing what he was doing or actually *why* he was doing it, he opened the door and entered the tabby's bedroom.

The bed in the darkened room stared back at him. Outside, lightning flashed and, for a fleeting moment, Jake could have sworn he saw Chance lying there, in his tank top and shorts, left hand behind his head, right one grasping one of his comics. Then the strobe ceased and everything returned to the arms of darkness again. Jake flicked the room's light on and, sure enough, only the empty unmade bed stood there. His fur, however, stood on end for a few moments more.

The lithe kat looked to his left, where a stand stood filled to the brim with Chance's comic books. His feet took him there and, before he even realized it, his hand picked up a "Kat Kommandoes" magazine that stood atop the short bookshelf and opened it.

"Okay, you can read it! But don't bend the pages!"

He watched as the hero, a muscular tom dressed in a black commando outfit, blasted through a barrage of enemy fire, a sub-machinegun blazing in the left hand and an RPG launcher in the right, served also as feline shield as frightened kats behind him hurried along a destroyed hallway and even got hit by a few rounds that always failed to hit vital points.

"Yeah! I always wanted to be a good guy, just like the Kat Kommandoes"

He just had to smile at the corny lines of dialogue on those comics. Or even at the bad guys' appalling lack of shooting skills. Almost always, the hero managed to get out unscathed while his enemies lay down in ruins.

His smile vanished immediately.

Not this time, buddy...

He closed the comic, put it back in its respective plastic sleeve and returned it to its proper place, among the others. Normally, it would have been Chance to do it. He was *that* fanatic for comic books.

But things turned out different, this time around...

He paced to the unmade bed. He stared at the creased white bed sheets. The mattress was slightly caved in towards the middle, just a fraction of an inch. Jake slowly, affectionately, passed his hand over that place, a knot in his throat. He could swear it was still warm from his friend's sleeping body.

Outside, thunder clapped again, terrifyingly loud, making the window panes shake.

Jake barely noticed it as he numbly clambered down the stairs. Again he found himself someplace else without knowledge as to how he actually reached it. He was underground, in the hangar. He looked around, slowly turning on himself.

Something was missing. And it wasn't the Turbokat. He remembered that Khronos had succeeded in blasting the jet fighter to pieces. Only Callie's – Callista's – magical prowess had managed to save him and Chance from certain death.

Who would have thought that Callie was actually Queen Callista?

Something else beside the slick fighter plane was missing.

No, not something. *Someone*!

He walked towards their lockers, passing by his workbench and some paint and oil drums.

"What's the matter, pal? Can't invent a gadget for opening a stuck paint can? Here, let me help you!"

He reached the lockers and, once more, his hand guided itself towards the door marked with "TB" black lettering, opening it. The spare G-suit, helmet and bandanna were there. Also there were Chance's blue coveralls, white shirt and red cap. In a third hanger was his white gui and red headband.

Jake took out Chance's coveralls. He observed them at arm's length. He remembered each event that had garnered his friend's clothes a grease spot. One spot in particular, in the coverall's leg, didn't look like grease, despite being blackish, just like the rest of the others.

Blood...

He remembered well when it had happened. His heart raced in his chest.

"Crud, buddy! They know who we really are!"

The slim kat sighed. They had dodged the *biggest* bullet that day, when Mac and Molly had infiltrated their hangar.

Jake's heart was still beating like mad as his mind was drawn to the present. His friend had donned those clothes just before they rushed out to the city aboard the Turbokat that fateful morning, he realized. He could still smell his friend's light musk in them! He balled his fists around the fabric and brought it close to his chest. It was almost as if Chance was there, with him again. Large tears ran freely over the slim kat's facial fur, adding some more stains to the crumpled fabric of his friend's coveralls.

His moist eyes caught a glimpse of their "Hall of Fame" farther to the right, bearing dozens of black skull and crossbones signs stamped on it, each symbol representing a successful mission. He headed for it, Chance's coveralls tightly pinned to his chest. The slim kat had to fight back more tears when he passed his hand over the last black symbol.

He looked down to the small counter where the rubber stamp and an ink pad stood. A tear actually rolled over his right cheek. He opened the counter's single drawer and retrieved another ink pad from inside, his hand shaking. He had prayed that neither of them would ever have to perform the ritual he was about to enact.

Jake fidgeted the case open and dabbed the stamp on the ink. With a trembling hand, he approached the stamp from the wall, next to the last black skull and crossbones sign. He paused, his resolve faltering. He feared that accomplishing this ritual would make turning back impossible. The feel of the tabby's coveralls fabric, the big tom's scent still emanating lightly from them, had ignited a tiny little spark, the faintest glimmer of hope...

But there was no turning back.

There was no hope.

He suddenly pressed the stamp against the wall, harder than it needed. He took two awkward steps back, dropping the stamp.

"Chalk up another one for the SWAT Kats!"

A new skull and crossbones sign appeared, capping the row of similar symbols. The only difference was the color. Whereas all the others were colored in black, this one was tinted in red.

It was as when they agreed on this ritual. A red skull and crossbones sign meant the end of the line for one of them.

Jake just wished the time hadn't come... For neither...

What have I done?

His eyes stared, haunted, at the red symbol. He started shaking his head in a negative, slowly. Suddenly, Jake dropped the tabby's clothes on the ground and darted off the underground hangar. He sped through the kitchen and dashed outside, to the metal salvage yard, unfazed by the veritable storm that abated over Megakat City at the moment. He ran and ran, putting pile after pile of metallic scrap between him and the hangar. As he reached the farthest corner of the salvage yard, he actually climbed atop the last pile of scrap and stood up there, half-hyperventilating, half-sobbing. The city was nothing but a smudge of light filtered through the heavy curtains of rain and the morning seemed as black as the midnight sky.

Jake howled out his anguish, much in the same way he had when he held the dead bodies of Callie and Chance on that fateful morning. Nature seemed to mimic him, for, at the same time, a crown of lightning irrupted from the skies above, the clap of thunder impossibly loud.

The heavy rain met Jake kneeling over the roof of the scrapped car, head abated over his chest.

He wept, desperate.

And nature wept with him.

A few minutes later, he got up and climbed down the pile of scrapped cars. He no longer sobbed as he walked past the piles of metallic litter, past the front gates of the salvage yard and beyond. His eyes were empty. His mind was empty.

*He* was empty.

Hollow.

Still, he walked. He didn't know the destination his feet had chosen for him this time but neither did he care.

All that mattered was the feeling.

Hollow.

As a dead tree in wintertime.

He didn't even feel the rain hammering down heavily on his shoulders. He didn't take notice of the coldness slowly enveloping his body.

He felt dead and cold on the inside already, so why bother with such mundane feelings?

His steps took him to a strange place. Jake could discern large cast iron gates. Somehow, the storm must have opened them. He went in. It was a sort of park or something. He wondered what those whitish slabs poking up from the lawn were. And then he realized where his feet had swept him to.

He was in Megakat City's Memorial Park.

The graveyard... A fitting place for me...

He finally stopped between two white tombstones. He looked to the one in his left and read the name on it. His eyes bulged.

Callie!

He veered his head to read the name on the other tombstone but he already knew what was written there.

Chance Furlong.

He went down on his knees, splashing the rainwater pooling in the lawn. He stretched his arms outward, touching each tombstone with his hands, caressing the rough stone.

He heaved and sobbed with emotion but there was nothing left in him anymore.

My love! How could I have killed you?

He turned his head towards the tabby's headstone.

My friend! My brother!

In a sudden fury, he tore open the upper part of his coveralls and ripped the shirt off his torso. He remained there, bare chest huffing madly in the rain, teeth clamped shut. He snarled as he extended his claws and ripped a gash over the sutured wound in his abdomen. His warm blood splattered on the green grass.

Jake stretched out his arms again, touching both headstones but smearing Chance's with his blood. He didn't notice that, though. The slim kat was past noticing anything anymore. He slowly looked up to the black stormy skies, letting the heavy rain fall squarely on his face. He narrowed his eyes a little bit, as if sleepy.

I'm coming home, brother! I'm coming to you!

There Jake lay, for an indeterminate amount of time as his body grew colder and colder, his eyes shut and his body sagged as life slowly trickled away from him.

He was numb with cold. His vision saw only darkness. The hammering sound of the rain wasn't even reaching him anymore.

He smiled faintly. Or thought he smiled.

I'm almost there, buddy...

"Jake... Jake, wake up..."

I don't want to wake up... Not until I'm with him...

"Wake up, Jake. Don't you recognize the sound of my voice?"

The slim kat did recognize that voice. He slowly opened his eyes, expecting rain and darkness.

But all he saw was a blinding white light.

He squinted, the light too painful for him to fully open his eyes.

"It's okay, Jake. You're safe. Open your eyes."

The feminine voice made his heart drum heavily in his chest. He put his hand over his eyes, trying to shield them from the great luminosity of that place.

Callie?

The feminine figure stepped in front of him and some of the brightness seemed to abate. He managed to get his eyes used to the new light conditions and simply gawked at the she-kat's lithe form, dressed in a flowing pale pink dress. Her golden hair stood loose and almost floated in the air. Her green eyes looked down on him, benign and concerned.

"Callie!"

She smiled and all his ailments seemed to leave him. However, her next words chilled him.

"You're not supposed to be here, Jake."

She offered him a hand to help him rise up. He accepted and looked around but all he saw was brightness. There were forms but, to his eyes, they were nothing more than smudges.

"You shouldn't be here," she repeated.

"Why? I *want* to be here! With you! With..."

"This isn't your place!"

That comment took him aback for a moment. Jake's ears drooped and his shoulders sagged as he abated his head slightly over his chest.

"I understand... I'm not worthy of being here, with you..."

He dropped to his knees, his voice caught in his throat.

"I murdered you... I murdered him..."

She dropped to her knees as well and lovingly cradled his face in her hands, turning his head towards her.

"Why do you say that?"

The slim kat's eyes were full of anguish. Large tears rolled down his cheek. He looked miserable.

"Because that's what I did, wasn't it?" he sobbed. "If I'd been more determined, I would have saved you both from him!"

"But you *have* saved me!"

He looked back to her in disbelief.

"I was hurting so much. I was dying. Nothing you could have done would have spared me from that fate. You just made it less painful."

He shut his eyes as he rested his forehead in her breast, sobbing.

"There had to be another way," he muttered, his voice brimming with anguish.

She narrowed her eyes in pity as she caressed his hair, affectionately.

"There wasn't, Jake. Khronos and I were too much intertwined. Our spells were too much complicated for either of us to really grasp all their nuances. If I hadn't been killed, then Khronos would still live... And that would be a torment I could not bear..."

She delicately forced him to stare into her green eyes.

"You saved me, Jake. And, for that, I feel nothing but all-encompassing gratitude."

She brushed her lips over his forehead, delicate and fragrant as a rose petal.

Heavy tears rolled down his facial fur.

They parted and Jake's head abated over his chest, again overwhelmed by sadness.

"What's wrong, Jake?"

He sniveled.

"I understand what you're telling me. My heart will always bear the sorrow of having done that to you even if my brain comprehends the reason why it had to be done. But..."

She leaned closer, her green eyes inquisitive.

"Why is he not here?"

The question had been asked so softly, so sheepishly that she wasn't even sure she'd actually heard anything but a soft sigh coming out of his lips.

"Surely there isn't a reason to explain why I killed him..."

"Oh, Jake..."

"He doesn't even want to see me, does he?"

"I'm here, Jake," a gruff voice said.

The slim kat looked behind him. There stood a muscular tom dressed in a pinstripe pale blue suit, seemingly tailored to perfection. He had his hands in his pockets and a smirk in his face that Jake recognized immediately.

"Chance!"

Jake bolted up and took two steps towards his friend before he stopped.

"Chance, I... I-I..."

"Oh, come here already!"

The burly tom covered the distance between them and held his friend in a portentous bear hug. The slim kat surrendered to that show of affection and held Chance back, his snout buried in the larger tom's chest, tears flowing freely from his eyes. It seemed to Jake that their embrace held on forever and still, when they parted, he felt it hadn't been long enough.

"I'm sorry..."

Chance didn't say anything. He just looked in his friend's eyes.

"I'm sorry I killed you, brother!"

"What are you talking about? *Khronos* killed me, not you!"

"If I'd been less hesitant..."

"You'd have killed Callie more quickly. But how could I ask it of you?"

Chance put his hands on Jake's shoulders.

"If any of us must be ashamed of anything, that one would be me!"

Jake stared back at his friend's face in shock.

"I told you to kill her, remember? I was the one who put you through such misery! I am the one who should be begging for your forgiveness!"

It was true. Even hurting all over from his fist fight with Khronos, Chance had beaten Jake to the harsh reality at play there. Khronos and Callista were too much intertwined, magically. Khronos was only alive as long as Callista was.

The logic was horrifyingly simple.

Kill Callista and Khronos dies. Let Callista live and Khronos survives.

"What choice was there?" Callie intervened. "I had already accepted my fate. I knew what I had to do. That's why I stuck that long hair needle in my heart."

"But as long as you were still alive, Khronos would also be. I get that. I got that from the beginning. It's just..."

"No one should ever be put through the ordeal you have been, little buddy! I don't resent you! It was an impossible choice!"

"But I let him kill you..."

Chance caressed Jake's cheek tenderly.

"We had one huge fault, buddy. We were naive. We never really believed there was a guy out there that was actually bent on *killing* us. And all our enemies, in one way or another, always let us slip through their fingers."

He cupped his friend's chin and made him stare in his eyes.

"I was overconfident in my skills. I thought I could take him. I was wrong. And I paid for *my* mistake."

Chance stared into the deep dark pools of his friend's eyes, long enough for Jake to realize there was no resentment in the tabby's.

Jake blinked and nodded.

He understood.

He wasn't free of guilt.

But it hadn't been his fault, too.

And that was enough for now.

"I wish I could stay here with you..."

"You can if you want to. Your body is dying," Callie said, in a whisper.

"But you shouldn't. There's still much you have to do," Chance squeezed Jake's shoulder. "You won't abandon the people of Megakat City. Not while you can still defend them."

He approached his friend's ear and whispered.

"And you will... For many years..."

The last Jake remembered was the crushing feeling of Chance's embrace, followed by the soft kiss Callie placed upon his cheek. To the slim kat, those were the fondest farewells he'd ever received in his life.

He rose from his slumped position between Callie's and Chance's headstones, grunting in pain and shivering in cold. He took a wobbly step and had to lean on Chance's marker for support. He looked up, to the hammering rain.

He smiled.

Not "farewell"... More like "see you soon"...

He gritted his teeth in pain and cold, placed a hand over his gash, putting some pressure on it and slowly walked away from those two gravestones, heading out of the cemetery.

But not too soon...

-S-W-A-T-K-a-t-s-

-S-W-A-T-K-a-t-s-

Several months later, Jake plopped down on the couch of the living room, in the body shop. He was dressed in a pair of black shorts, with a towel over his shoulders. He finished drying off his slightly longer hair with the towel as he flicked on the TV with the remote.

The gash in his wound had healed into a nasty scar. He passed a hand affectionately over it, remembering how his dead friend had tended to it. His palm then passed over the impressive six-pack of his abdominal muscles. His whole body looked different. He could no longer be called a *slim* kat. His build more resembled that of T-Bone's now without actually being so bulky. But he still retained all of Razor's flexibility and speed. He was the two SWAT Kats in one, now.

He watched as Ann Gora reported the finding of the battered bodies of Mac and Molly Mange, chained together, back-to-back, on the steps of Enforcer Headquarters, their torsos bearing a ripped-out hole in them. The female reporter droned on about how their minute nuclear battery cells were gift-wrapped and sent to Commander Feral.

She also mentioned there had been some grainy fleeting footage of the kat who'd delivered the Metallikats' bodies to the stairs of Enforcer Headquarters, taken from a nearby ATM.

Jake saw as a kat – a tom, inarguably – dressed in black combat armor hauled and dropped Mac and Molly. When the tom looked askew, Jake could see he had a full-head mask on. And then he was gone.

The guy had done things so fast that he almost looked like a ghost!

"There appears to be a new crime fighter in town. In all probability, a tom dressed in a commando outfit. All we can say for now is that he delivered us from the evil of the Metallikats."

Jake flicked a button on the remote and turned off the TV. He headed down to the hangar.

The hangar also looked different, now. Instead of two, there was only one brand new locker. The "Hall of Fame" had disappeared and the jet now standing there was no longer a reminiscent of an old F-14.

Jake looked at the two-inch thick steel door to his left, next to the smaller – but state-of-the-art – array of monitors and machinery. Inside that vault were the pieces that belonged to his past life, carefully stored as treasure.

He looked to the completely matte black jet fighter, a modern F-22, tweaked to be even faster and stealthier than the original. It was still a work-in-progress but he loved his Blackblade as much as he loved the Turbokat.

He went for the locker, also painted in matte black. Inside there was his new outfit, more combat armor than anything else. Painted in black and dark gray, he looked at the stripes that crossed the back and the arms of the suit, reminiscent of his dead friend's stripes.

He took out the full-head mask. It looked simply daunting. It had been manufactured to instill nothing less than instinctive gut fear.

While looking at the mask, his eyes acquired a steely glint, remembering Chance's words of encouragement to him. He looked into the distance, towards the war machine that was the Blackblade.

You better watch out, scumbags! Kat Kommando is out to get you!

THE END