Affairs of the State and Heart
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M
R for Violence
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Commander Ulysses Feral scowled as he spilled the contents of the plain brown envelope out onto his desk. What he saw was enough to inspire and angry, rumbling growl that echoed around his office. He stood up for behind his desk and crossed to the door, locking it to ensure that no one could come in on his unawares, before returning to examine what he'd been sent more closely. Photos, each from a difference scene dating back upwards of nine years from their dates and contents, and a single scrap of paper tucked in amongst them. 'Call me' the note said in plain type, with a local phone number beneath.

The huge tom's face was dark as he leaned back in his chair. He wasn't accustomed to being threatened. He took a moment to compose himself, then reached across for his phone. He dialed the number and waited as the phone on the other end rang.

"I see you do not question the authenticity of the package, Commander." An electronically distorted voice purred.

"I was there at the time," Feral growled down the line, less and less happy with the situation all the time, "Which should be evident enough."

"Yes, just as I understood, you face things head on." A trace of approval made it through the distortion. "If you don't want that to land in hands that will use it, you will follow the instructions in the package that arrives in three hours. Be in your office to receive it."

The line went dead before Ulysses could reply.

He snarled angrily and slammed the receiver down. He sat looking at the photos, wondering what he was going to do with them. The safest thing would have been to burn them, eliminating the evidence, but their nature encouraged him to keep them. He reached forward and grabbed one up at random, a close-up of a young, sandy-furred face, eyes squeezed shut and mouth hanging open. Delicious. He should have thought to take photos from the beginning.

He sat there contemplating them for a few more moments then gathered them up in the envelope. One of the lockable drawers in his desk had a hidden compartment built into it, that should keep them safely away from prying eyes until he could finally decide what to do. With that taken care of he unlocked to door again and returned to his work, expecting the arrival of another delivery with anticipation and dread.

Anyone walking in that was unfamiliar with the lean cinnamon tomkat hunched over a mass of wires would probably think he was crazy; not only for what he was attempting to build, but for the strange techno music turned up to bone-thrumming levels. Outside of his fingers and the slight rise and fall of his chest, the only sign of life was a slight twitch of his tail to the synthetic beat drowning out all sound.

Feral knew better, of course, though he had been counting on the smaller tom's incredible single-mindedness to cover his approach. As it turned out the music was doing that more than adequately.

The slim tom wasn't really to his taste he realized as he watched, but then his tastes had very little to do with what was about to happen. He moved slowly and carefully until he was standing right behind Clawson then made his last movement swift and sure, wrapping a powerful paw around his unsuspecting neck and swinging his other arm around to press the knife blade against Jake's crotch as he pulled Jake out of the chair.

There was a fraction of a second of tense shock before Jake went lax, not even trying to speak or turn to see. But there was something in the manner that was disturbingly familiar from five and six years before. There was little doubt in Feral's mind Jake knew exactly who was behind him, even if he didn't quite know why yet.

Feral snarled by Jake's ear, not even sure that he could be heard over the pounding music. He increased the pressure of the knife blade, turning the tip upwards until he felt the fabric of Jake's pants giving way as he slashed the front of them open.

Even though he'd clearly gotten the tom's attention, and even smell the first traces of fear on the lean tom's scent, his pray remained very still except his a sharply increased breathing. But under the lax, compliant body, Feral could just barely feel the tension building for the lightning fast strike Jake and Razor were both known for, even as the music suddenly stopped, leaving the Hanger to an eerie silence.

Another moment and the hand with the knife was inside the remains of Clawson's pants, the tip of the blade against the base of the smaller Kat's sheath with just enough pressure to let him know that Feral was serious.

A low tremor flashed through Jake's frame and the buildup dissipated, leaving the lean tom utterly submissive as far as Feral could tell.

The larger tom carefully unwrapped his hand from around Jake's neck, giving him a little prick with the knife to keep him in line. Then he reached down to undo the smaller kat's belt, the only thing which was keeping his pants in one piece.

As the cloth fell away a slow tremor passed through Jake's frame again.

"Why?" Jake whispered without moving, his voice a half broken sound Feral had difficulty correlating to what he knew of the Kat before him.

"I have no idea," Feral snarled angrily, running his free hand up along Jake's thigh and over his rump. He could feel a gentle trembling beneath the soft cinnamon fur that had nothing to do with impending action on the smaller Kat's part as the bone-throbbing music kicked in again on a new song. It wasn't what he'd expected of this at all.

"No." Jake whimpered a pain-filled denial that was obviously not directed at the Kat behind him, but at something he was far more afraid of.

Then with a last terrified shiver, Jake went still and calm. As submissive as any broken and trained slave, even his scent began to mellow into an accepting numbness.

Feral wanted to snarl again, but he couldn't find it in himself. This behavior was nothing like the Jake Clawson he knew. He carried on regardless, his hand impelled by the consequences of holding back. He didn't even hesitate a moment as his fingertip brushed across the tense ring of muscle beneath Jake's tail, pushing forward hard and burying him in the smaller Kat's body up to the second knuckle to remarkably little physical resistance, and absolutely none on the mental level.

Even as Jake's body relaxed to accommodate the intrusion, he shifted ever so slightly to make it easier for Feral to take him, every line and reaction telegraphing this as a well trained behavior Jake probably didn't even realize he was doing.

Feral shook his head and wrenched his finger out of Jake, quickly divesting himself of his pants. "Fucking hell," he snarled, "Let's just get it done."

Felina pulled the car up in front of the Salvage Yard and looked over at a slightly drunk Chance, smiling.

"Well, Hotshot, you said you had something you wanted to show me."

The tabby chuckled, shooting her a wide grin. "Oh there's all sorts of things I could show you."

"Really now? Do I have to guess what they all are? Or will you be telling me when we get around to them?"

Chance giggled as he unbuckled his belt, leaning in closer towards her. "Oh, I think we should discover them one at a time. Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise."

Felina leaned closer to him herself, within an inch of his face. "I think I'm going to like your surprises - though you just might be in for a few of your own."

"It takes a bit to surprise me," he replied, his voice so low it was almost a growl. "Though you're welcome to try."

Felina reached down and undid her seat belt quietly. "We should probably go inside before we try those surprises. They're best in private."

She leaned over the rest of the way and gave him a quick kiss on the lips before reaching back over to pop her door open, giggling.

Chance opened his door and climbed out of his car, fumbling for his keys without ever taking his eyes off Felina. "Well that's up to you, really, but it's not a secret anymore if you decide to show everybody."

Felina turned around and looked at him with an odd mixture of surprise and curiosity in her expression. "Just what sort of surprises do you have in mind, Hotshot? Or do you have some photos I don't know about?"

Felina followed along, flicking her tail over his. "Play your cards right handsome, and you might get some. Play real well, you might get something better. Don't think I'd go telling anybody else about them, though."

"I'm not so good at cards," he admitted as he tried the door, finding it unlocked. "I always preferred to play other sorts of games."

There was a playful gleam in her eyes as she watched him, and appreciative purr in the back of her throat as she watched him move. "Oh? And just what sort of games might those be? And if you say something about video games, I will hit you. Hard."

Chance laughed as he slipped through the doorway drawing her after him. "That's not quite what I had in mind. We'll have to play carefully though, looks like Jake's still around here somewhere."

Felina smirked. "Who else would take those pictures you wanted? Besides, don't you think it's more fun when somebody might notice?" She ran her hand down his back, running her fingers casually over the base of his tail.

Chance raised an eyebrow, smirking. "Jake? He's not my type. Besides, I think I know a place we can go where we won't be disturbed. Scenery will take your breath away."

"Oh really? I can think of a few things I'd rather have take my breath away, personally. But if the scenery's that good, then you'd better lead the way."

"Hell yeah," he said with a cocky grin. "This is gonna knock you flat." He stepped through into the corridor and opened up a hatch in the floor, revealing a ladder leading downward. "Shhhhhh ... it's a secret."

"Apparently," she said quietly, thinking about what could be down there, and what might be in Chance's mind right now. She started climbing down, just a bit, before looking up. "You coming? Or are you just going to close that hatch and keep me down here until you're ready for me?"

"Right behind you," the tabby said as he followed after. The climb down wasn't too far, though Felina was surprised to find the concrete bunker at the bottom, brightly lit. She could hear the loud thump of techno music coming from somewhere nearby.

She stepped aside and looked around, putting together what she was seeing with what it had to mean, and wondering why he was telling her about this. The drinks must have had something to do with it, but still ....

"Is this where I think it is," she asked as Chance came down behind her. "I think somebody's down here already."

"That depends on what you think it is," he said cryptically as he hopped of the ladder. "Sounds like he left his radio on. C'mon, we'll go around and turn it off so we can get some peace."

"Well, if I'm right, then I guess I can stop worrying about figuring out who my favorite vigilante is," she said as she turned to follow Chance. She spoke louder, so he could hear her over the music.

"Hope he just left the radio on - it'd be kinda hard to explain why I'm down here if he was here."

"Nahhh, it's no problem," Chance said casually as they rounded the corner. "I can ... what the fuck?"

Felina followed, thoroughly distracted by the things around her until she heard Chance's outburst.

"What's - holy shit!" Felina's jaw dropped at the scene she saw, her mind not entirely accepting it - her Uncle? And Jake?

The Commander had Jake bent over some sort of workbench, the smaller kat's pants lying in shreds around his ankles. Neither of them seemed to be paying much attention to the world around them, as Feral pumped himself into Jake with steady even strokes.

That didn't last long.

Chance was moving before Felina even realized what she was looking at, grabbing Feral with both hands and pushing him off his partner. Felina couldn't quite make out whatever it was Chance shouted at the taller Kat, but the fist in the face said everything.

Jake didn't move for a long moment after Feral had been forced off him, and when he did the look on his face as he turned around to see his partner and attacker was a strange mixture of confusion and numb hatred.

Felina was still trying to sort out what had just happened, but her training took over when she saw Chance hit the Commander. She lunged forward, trying to pull him back before anybody got hurt too badly - or worse.

Chance struggled against her grip for a few moments, pushing forward toward the Commander, but soon relented and turned his attention toward Jake instead. He stood over the cinnamon tom, looking down at him with a profoundly distressed expression painted across his face as the half naked tom looked at him.

Though there was recognition in those amber eyes, there was very little life, and no fire behind them as Felina moved over to her uncle quickly.

"What the fuck were you doing?" she whispered at him as she tried to help him to his feet. Something told her that she had to get him out of here - Chance's reaction, if nothing else. But if he wasn't going to work with her, she couldn't do that without a lot of luck.

"What was necessary," he growled back at her as he got to his feet. He was glowering at the tabby, but made no move forward towards him. Chance wasn't moving either, just staring down at Jake, stunned by the sight of his broken partner.

"Gods...." What he said ran through her mind time and again as she realized what it probably meant.

"I think we should get out of here before those two click with everything that's going on. Because I don't know if I could stop both of them," the 'or if I'd want to' remained unspoken, though it flashed through her mind, "or if you could handle them both."

"I can deal with Furlong," he said confidently, "And I'm not ready to leave just yet." He pushed past her as crossed the space to where Chance was standing quickly, catching the tabby by surprise. Chance was almost lifted of the ground as Feral pushed him into the wall.

Jake's gaze was slow to shift, but it eventually followed the movement of the two larger Kats.

Felina's gut response was to leave then, keep from seeing anything more - but then she remembered that Jake was still there. She couldn't leave until she knew he was all right.

'Just don't think of who it was that did this,' she thought, 'just do what you were trained to do, and then keep your uncle from killing Chance. Get him to a hospital or something - make sure he hadn't been hurt too badly. Hell, girl, he'd just been raped - how could he not be hurt too badly?'

She went over to Jake and prayed that he'd be stunned enough that he wouldn't realize the Commander was still in the room.

"Jake?" She tried to get his attention, a sick lump forming in her gut when she saw the numb expression in his eyes. "Jake, can you move?"

He nodded reflexively and stood, his attention focused on her much more quickly than he'd followed the motion of the other toms.

"Can you get to my car? I need to get you to a doctor, somebody to check you out, see how badly you were hurt." She looked around for an exit besides the ladder, hoping there was something besides the launching ramp - but resolving to use that if she had to.

Jake nodded again without much reaction to his surroundings, except to step fully out of his shredded jeans to head back to the ladder without direction, or apparent concern for his partial nudity.

He didn't get too far though, before Feral's hand landed on his shoulder stopping him in his tracks. "Just where are you going?" the commander asked in an even voice, apparently no longer concerned with Chance at all.

Jake stopped without resistance as turned his head to look at the Commander for a moment before answering in a low, neutral tone. "To Felina's car."

"You're staying here, with Chance," the Commander told him firmly. Then he lifted his face to lock his gaze on Felina. "I will be leaving with Felina."

The statement didn't seem to carry any weight with the cinnamon tom as he made a sudden, lightning fast move to remove Feral's grip and continued out towards the ladder exit.

Feral growled softly, but made no effort to chase after the smaller tom. Instead he turned to where the tabby sat propped against the wall. "Go after him," he said, his voice making it clear he had every expectation of being obeyed. "Felina and I have some things to discuss."

The tabby slowly lifted himself up to his feet, shooting the Commander an unreadable look before he headed up the ladder after his partner. He caught up to the cinnamon tom just as he reached the front door.

"Jake, stop," he called out to no response from the lean tom.

"Jake!" Chance was right beside his partner now but couldn't bring himself to reach out and touch him. "C'mon buddy just ... just listen to me for a minute."

The lean tom looked at his partner only after he'd reached Felina's car, his eyes still empty, beyond submissive or accepting, to something very close to dead.

"Jake?" the tabby asked softly, noticing the smaller tom's odd manner for the first time. "Aren't you gonna say anything?"

"What do you want to hear?" He asked in a low, submissive tone, not quiet meeting the tabby's eyes, though he did look up at him.

"I want ... I just ... fuck." Chance subsided into silence, uncertain what to say. "Just come back inside. I'll make you warm milk."

"She ordered me to her car." Jake countered quietly, though there was a flicker of something in his eyes.

"And Fe ... and he said you should stay with me." Chance snarled softly in frustration. "I mean, hell, if you're gonna fuck him you can at least hang around after."

Jake cocked his head slightly as he regarded the bigger Kat. "He took me, no more." He said quietly.

"Besides," Chance continued on as though Jake hadn't spoken, "Since when do you take orders from Felina? It's not as though we're answerable to her anymore."

Jake simply stood there as what little life was visible in him faded to the accepting numbness again.

"Jake! C'mon don't pull this blank crap on me." The tabby stood there staring at him for a few more moments and then sighed and turned away. "Fine, do whatever."

Felina watched as Chance went after Jake, trying to decide which instincts to go with - the one that was telling her to be angry, or the one that was telling her to shut down.

She tried to fight the growing numbness, but it seemed like a better and better idea the more she thought about it. Just shut down and run on instincts and training. She opted for a third.

"Sir," she said, swallowing a lump in her throat, "he should have a doctor look him over. Make sure he wasn't injured too badly, physically."

"There's no need to worry about that," the Commander growled softly. "I'm rougher with my lovers than I was with him ... and he just stood there and took it. I swear, it was like screwing a corpse."

Felina closed her eyes and decided to ask the one question that she couldn't come up with a decent answer for. "Why? Why would you do something like that to anybody? It doesn't make sense."

"No, it doesn't," he agreed, "And you don't know the half of it. This isn't the place for explanations though. Jake and Chance need some time and I doubt it will be safe for either of us to be here once that tom comes back to his senses."

She fought the urge to growl at the non-answer, remembering who she was talking to. Instead, she worried about the second part.

"Probably not, given this," she nodded towards the jet and other pieces of equipment in the hangar, thankful for something else to focus on for a bit - getting somewhere safe. "Hell, might not be safe anywhere once he's back with the real world. Where should we go? I don't think headquarters is a good idea at this point."

"If Razor decides to become a terrorist he'll do it without T-Bone, you can count on that. Still, we'd best get on the road. Where we go is less important than that we leave."

"Yes, Sir. I assume you didn't bring your own vehicle, since I didn't see anything on the way in. Mine's out front, assuming that Chance did what you said, it should be the best option."

"Indeed," he agreed gruffly. "Let's get going. We're going to have a good deal of work to do."

"Yeah." Felina followed him out, still trying to figure out just what the hell she was supposed to do.

Terry's intuitive sense of things was nagging him the entire way out to the Yard. He'd been planning to drop by after he finished some surveillance work anyway, but something told him it was important. He pulled into the Yard, and noticed a car he thought he recognized, but wasn't sure. Then he saw a small figure standing outside, and pulled his black SUV to a stop next to it.

As he got out he instinctively grabbed an emergency blanket from the back seat. He flipped open a panel on the dash, and entered a pass code. "Standard trouble mode. Full observation. Link and contingency programming." He said setting the usual options for an uncertain situation.

He walked over to where Jake was standing, staring blankly towards the main building, his dark red shirt not really covering his nudity.

"Jake, are you alright?" He said gently, as he came close.

The lean tom visibly startled, his eyes still dead as he turned his head to face his dark gray LifeMate. Slowly recognition and life creped back into them as Jake relaxed a fraction.

"No." There was significantly more fear in his voice than anything else.

Terry's nose told him enough to keep for later. Sex, violence and Feral combined with everything else said enough. He put the blanket gently around his battered LifeMate. "C'mon, Jake. We're going home, you need medical attention." He said quietly, gently turning Jake toward the SUV, and met neither resistance nor real comprehension from the broken Kat, who was clearly running on a very base line of instincts, even if they weren't ones that made much sense with his personality.

"That's okay, Jake." He said reassuringly, as he guided the shaken tom to the SUV. "We'll figure things out." He said as he opened the door, and let Jake in. Once the Kat was in, he went around to the driver's side and got in. As he started the SUV, and pulled out of the Yard he pressed a button on the console, alerting the staff doctor that he'd be needed.
As they drove, he considered which apartment to go do, and decided to go with the penthouse. Jake had been rather taken with it, especially the large whirlpool bath, so Terry thought it a good choice.

After several minutes of silent stillness, Jake slowly shifted to curl on his side, tail tucked tightly between his legs and his head and hands seeking to be as close to Terry as possible without disturbing the dark tom.

Terry put a reassuring hand on Jake while he drove, well practiced at piloting the SUV with one hand. He concentrated on how to help Jake, as opposed to revenge, which was what his heart screamed for. He turned the SUV down into the underground parking garage, and parked in the secured executive lot. He pressed several keys on the dash, releasing all data recorded to his office computer.

He walked around, and opened Jake's door. He offered the lean tom a hand down from the SUV, which was quietly accepted. While Jake couldn't make himself look at his LifeMate, he was clearly more aware of the world around him than when they'd left the Yard.

As they rode the private elevator to the penthouse, Terry kept an arm around Jake, holding him close protectively. "Jake, I know you don't like doctors, but just this once you need to have one check you over." He said quietly. "He's my own private doctor, and he and his assistant can be trusted." He said putting emphasis on the fact that they could be trusted.

"All right." Jake's voice spoke volumes of how numb he still was.

There was a knock on the door as they entered the penthouse from the short hallway. "That'll be the doctor." He said, waiting to see if there was any reaction from Jake.

While the cinnamon tom didn't look happy, he didn't fall back into the aggressive, defensive mode he typically greeted the thought of the medical profession with as Terry opened the door.

The doctor was a mature black and gray tomkat in his forties, and his assistant a gray and white tom in his late twenties. Both were carrying typical doctor bags as they entered.

"I'm Doctor Davon Tallridge, and this is my assistant, Will Travers." He said in a mature, reassuring voice as he extended a hand to Jake. "I'm Mr. BrightClaw's personal physician, he's asked me to check you over physically. Is that alright with you?" he asked very professionally.

Jake cast an uncertain look at Terry before he nodded and turned his full attention back to the doctor and accepted the handshake a little uneasily.

"Okay, now just so I know what I'm getting into ... this was a case of sexual assault, is that correct?" He asked as he opened his bag.

"Yes." Jake said very quietly as he watched the doctor move with wary intent.

The doctor took out a black electronic device the size of large TV remote. "This is just a medical scanner. It allows me to check vital signs, and a few other things without resorting to all those other medical gadgets you're probably used to seeing." He said gently, as he touched it to Jake's lower arm. He made some notes on a pad his assistant handed him, and then handed it back.

"That was the easy part, and it looks like there wasn't any upper body, or head trauma." He said confidently. "I understand that it's probably the last thing you want, but I need to examine the site of the assault." He said in a very clinical, yet still reassuring manner.

Terry put a gentle, reassuring hand on the Kat's shoulder. "I'm right here, you're in no danger." He said softly as Jake fought an internal battle that his trust of Terry won. He let the blanket slip to the floor and moved his tail out of the way as he turned his back to the doctor.

Jake never took his eyes off his mate, and that internal battle was fought for each second that passed.

The doctor's examination was surprisingly gentle. As he examined the Kat, he was careful to preserve samples of any hair, skin or other organic product not belonging to his patient. The scanner quietly noted that they all belonged to the same Kat.

"Okay, Jake. I'm done." The doctor said gently. "The damage isn't bad, and you should be okay in a few days assuming you take it easy. You'll be a bit sore till then. Over the counter pain medications should be sufficient, but if they aren't give me a call and I'll prescribe something stronger. Any questions I can answer?" He offered gently.

Jake shook his head. "I know what to do." He said quietly. "There won't be any changes filed."

"That is, of course, your decision." The doctor said, though his tone clearly didn't agree. "Well, if there are any questions later on. Terry knows how to reach me." He said as he packed up and left, accompanied by his assistant.

As the door closed, Terry looked at Jake. "It would be a little futile to file charges. They'd be buried so fast it wouldn't be funny. You want to get washed up now?" He asked gently.

"Yeah." Jake nodded quietly. "It wasn't his choice, Ter."

"Of course it was his choice." He said quietly, as he headed for the bathroom. "He could've not done it. Shower or would you prefer to soak in the whirlpool?"

"Shower, then pool." The Kat nodded. "With you." He added as he leaned against his mate. "Terry, he didn't want to. Someone got enough control over him to order it." He shivered. "She's coming back for me."

At the mention of her Terry growled quietly. "Well, she can't have you. I won't let her." He said without hesitation as he adjusted the shower the way he wanted it.

Jake nodded as he pressed close, clearly wanting to believe very badly, but having difficulty. "She can get anything she wants, Ter. She got Feral to do her bidding."

"Jake, if you mean blackmail then he hurt you to protect himself." He said quietly, doing a very good job of keeping a cool head. As the water reached the desired temperature, he stripped down and then led Jake gently into the shower.

"Yes, he did it to survive, not out of desire or hate." Jake spoke in a strangely calm tone. "He's not dangerous on his own."

"Jake, you haven't seen what I can do, yet." The gray Kat said dangerously. "I don't play the family card very often, but this time I will." He paused. "Jake, I've been kind of vague about my family in the past, I guess it's time to be clear." He said quietly. "Not that I've ever lied about them, I just didn't volunteer anything." He said working up to explaining things. He knew 'family' was a problematic concept for Jake, considering how poorly he'd gotten along with his even at the best of times.

Jake settled his chin on Terry's shoulder and nuzzled against the darker Kat's neck. "I trust you." He murmured softly.

Terry gently stroked the Kat's hair, and held him close. "Unless you don't feel up to it, I was thinking maybe this would be a good time to get away for a day, maybe a couple of days. Introduce you to some of my family, like I should've done before." He said quietly.

"All right." Jake snuggled a little closer under the hot spray. "Just tell Chance."

"I will." Terry said wondering where the tabby had wandered off to, leaving his partner standing half-naked in the Yard. The scent had been there, and fresh. "He should know that you're alright." Terry said picking up the shampoo. "Scrub your back?" He offered gently.

There was a flicker of unease before Jake nodded and tried to let himself relax as his mate's familiar hands worked through his silky fur. "He ... really wasn't very rough with me." Jake murmured. "She's using him, to break me."

"That'll probably keep him alive." Terry said quietly. "I don't think it worked, you seem to be recovering." He said gently. "Do you feel any different?" He asked as he scrubbed gently.

Jake was silent for a long moment before he sighed and nodded. "It hurt." He said, plainly not referring to physical pain.

Terry thought about it. "As in you felt betrayed?" He asked, hoping that maybe they could work through it before any damage became lasting.

"Scared." Jake mumbled, focusing intently on the swirling of water into the drain.

Terry gently rubbed the Kat's shoulders reassuringly. "You're not used to being scared." He said understandingly. "Things were taken out of your control, something you are careful to avoid." He said softly, sympathetically.

"And I submitted." Jake shivered in a mixture of rage, hatred and pure terror. "I felt myself accept it, and I couldn't stop the training from taking over." He was shaking hard, his fists clutched tightly enough to draw blood.

Terry reached down and gently rubbed the clenched fists until Jake relaxed them. "Jake, you were in a contrived situation that rarely happens. I assume he used some threat of physical violence to keep you from fighting back?" He asked gently.

"At first." Jake admitted, then shook his head. "Nothing I haven't stopped before. Just a knife to the crotch."

"Sharp object down there, probably caused a mild flashback to what she did to you. Did you stop resisting before or after he made it clear that rape was his intent?" He asked gently, determined to reduce the situation to something Jake could deal with.

Jake shivered as he replayed that segment. "Before. I think. At least before I really realized it."

"Probably the sharp object then." He said gently, hugging the lean tom reassuringly. "You went through five months of pain and agony, that you keep mostly to yourself. That you have some extreme reactions, is not unexpected." Terry said in an attempt to be comforting. "But I think she's counting on you blowing the reaction into something big. She probably told Feral to use the knife, knowing it would cause that kind of reaction. It was a unique situation, nothing more." Terry said confidently. "Just believe in yourself, Jake. I do. You're a lot stronger than she realizes, and maybe then you give yourself credit for."

"I'm strong because you are too." He murred as he relaxed into the embrace. "We are strong."

"Very true." Terry agreed quietly. "We're each other's greatest strength, always have been. Together, we can handle anything."

Jake nodded, willing himself to believe.

Felina settled into the pattern of driving as soon as she could, and went on mental auto-pilot. The last thing she needed to do was try to find a new place to drive to now.

"Hope you don't mind going to my apartment. Should be a safe enough place to talk." She was quiet for a moment.

"Would you at least tell me why you did it on your side of things? I don't care about anybody else, I just need to know who to be right now."

"I told you," he said, staring out the window at passing traffic. "I was doing what was necessary."

Felina sighed. "Why was it necessary? I need to know more - I can't imagine ANY reason it'd be necessary to - to do that to somebody. Not that doesn't involve things that don't fit. I can't imagine you doing something like that without a good reason - but I can't think of any good reason for it."

"The fact is that I know little more than you do," The Commander admitted. "Clearly someone has a motivation to harm Clawson in an intimate and humiliating fashion. They didn't choose to share their motives with me, however."

"Why did you help them? What could anybody do that would make you do that? I don't care why they did it yet, I just need to know why you did so I know what to do. So that I can do my job."

"Felina," Feral's voice was a frustrated growl. "You disappoint me. Do you imagine that I would do something so potentially damaging if I had a choice? After all that has gone on with the SWAT Kats, that I would risk shattering them completely?"

"That's what doesn't work! Everybody you care about can take care of themselves well enough to make capturing them damned tough, not to mention noisy. I think it'd take more than somebody threatening you to make you do that, and ... and I can't imagine anybody less likely to let themselves be blackmailed. But that's all that's left, isn't it? I should've known better. Can't imagine what you'd be blackmailed with, but you couldn't just be covering your own tail to do that. Right track?"

"That's more what I expected of you," the huge tom said approvingly. "Very good."

"Like I said, you're the last person I'd expect to ever see blackmailed. Any plans for finding out who's responsible?"

"Of course. Alexander has sent me some people, good people who can't be traced back to me. All we need is time, it's simply unfortunate that Clawson is the one who has to pay the price for it."

"That's one way of putting it. Though anybody who notices somebody poking into their business probably won't need to trace them back to you, unless they make a habit out of blackmailing people, so I hope they're good enough not to get caught." Felina pulled the car up to her apartment, and stopped the car.

"Have you ever seen your grandfather's agents Felina?" her uncle asked as he got out of the car. "Aside from the fact I actually had to ask him for them there's no-one I'd rather have working the case."

"Good point," she admitted, climbing out herself. "I wonder why they decided to have you do this, and not somebody he trusted, if they were trying to break him like you say."

"I've no idea. To be honest I know very little more about their motives than you do."

"Anything else we should sort out about this situation? We should probably go inside if there is - I know my place is clear, but I can't be completely certain about everything outside."

"I don't think so," he said with a shake of his head. "The Enforcers will not be seen to be investigating this in any way whatsoever and I'll handle relations with the SWAT Kats myself. Everything is covered."

"I don't like it, Uncle. There's still something missing, something other than the obvious points. Like the way they acted earlier. That just doesn't fit either of their profiles, not the parts I've read before at least."

"Indeed. There is a great deal more to this business with Clawson than either of us know. For now."

As Terry held his LifeMate, relaxing in the whirlpool's warm water, Jake shifted from snuggling close to lean back to look at the black tipped gray tom, his face a mess of fear, pain and fighting reflexes.

"Something the matter, Jake?" Terry asked gently.

"Everything." He whispered, looking away. "Everything but you holding me." Jake shuddered. "Doesn't make sense."

"In what way?" He asked sympathetically.

"Felina was down there ... Feral's alive ... Chance ... he obeyed Feral, over me." Jake squeezed his eyes shut against the traitorous thoughts gaining voice.

"I didn't know Felina was there." He said softly, suddenly realizing who's car was outside. "I don't understand Chance's behavior either." He sighed. "But Felina's a Feral first, so her behavior isn't that hard to figure out. She's inclined to obey him on two levels, as his niece and as his subordinate."

"Chance brought her." Jake mumbled as he settled against Terry's neck again. "Can't be real."

"Wish I could say it wasn't, but I'd be lying to you." He said quietly. "I don't do that, never have, never will." Terry said quietly. "He was at least partially intoxicated, there was alcohol in his scent." He said, trying to find a reason for the tabby's disturbing behavior.

"Ter," Jake hesitated before letting the tension in his body go, all but molding against his mate. "Is ... I don't want to remember this as real." He fought with himself to say what his heart was begging for. "Something ... let it become just another a bad dream.

"Jake, I know you don't want to remember it, but this more serious. Remember who you told me is behind this. If she's really after you, you can't afford to forget. It would make you more vulnerable." Terry hugged his mate close. "Besides, who says she won't order Feral to do it again." he said quietly. "As painful as it is, it is real. And to be honest, I don't know of any memory suppressant drug that doesn't have serious side effects. And none are reliable, the memories could slam into you without warning."

"Hallucinogen." Jake mumbled. "Stardust, or Rainbow."

"I wish I could make everything better that easily, but honestly it would probably cause more serious problems. For one thing, most of those drugs can't be targeted. Who knows how much you'd lose." He said nuzzling the Kat tight.

"It'll just make a while before and after so flaky ..." Jake sighed and let go again. "Feral I can take ... what Chance did ... oh, Gods Ter ... how could he do that?"

"Clearly, they have a relationship neither of us is aware of." Terry said quietly. "After all, Feral knew where the Lair was."

Jake's head shot back, his eyes wide in shock and denial. "He hates Feral."

"Jake, the only person who can answer that question is Chance. But there's another concern, and a reason to stay away from the drugs. Can you really trust your life, as Razor, to a partner with divided loyalties?" He sighed. "If only I'd gotten off work an hour earlier." He said softly, with some regret.

Amber eyes closed as Jake looked sharply away. "Razor is no more. He died down in his Hanger, where he belonged."

Terry nodded. "That's your decision, Jake. You have my support, as always." He said completely sympathetic and supportive, just as the phone rang.

Terry looked over at it, half ready to let it ring. But something said he should answer it. "Jake, I'll be back as soon as I take care of this call. Which won't take long." He said gently, as he climbed out of the tub and grabbed a towel to dry enough, not to electrocute himself.

"BrightClaw residence, Terry speaking." He answered politely as Jake watched from the tub.

"Terry, uhhhhh yeah, it's Chance," the tabby's voice sounded weak as it came down through the phone line, devoid of his usual easy confidence. "Listen, ummmmm, Jake's not around here. I don't know where he is."

"Hi Chance." Terry's voice had a distinct edge, but it was not really directed. "Jake's home with me."

"Oh. Well, good. I mean, at least he's with someone."

"Some reason he wouldn't be?" Terry asked curiously.

"He ... he wasn't in the best way, right? And then he kinda took off, and I didn't know where he'd gone. But, I mean, if he's with you then that's okay. I just wanted to make sure."

Terry refrained from growling, barely. He had been hoping the tabby wouldn't lie to him. "Given what happened, he's as well as can be expected." Terry said shortly.

"Yeah," Chance said softly. "Well, like I said, I just wanted to make sure where he was. I guess I'll see you round."

Terry carefully put his hand over the receiver. "Do you want to talk to him?" He asked very gently of the wet tom standing in the doorway between the bathroom and living room. "You don't have to, if you don't want to." He said clearly supporting whatever Jake decided as the unsettled Kat decided.

With a barely visible nod Jake stepped forward.

"Actually, Jake would like to talk to you, Chance." He said before handing Jake the phone.

"Hi, Chance." The lean tom's voice was surprisingly calm for what Terry could see, and smell, going on inside.

"Hey," the tabby replied softly. "You kinda gave me a scare, taking off like that."

"You would have known, if you'd stayed ... or listened." Jake said before closing his eyes. "What were you doing with Felina?"

Terry said nothing, but put a supportive hand on Jake's shoulder.

"We went to a movie. Venom 3."

"And in the Hanger?" He prompted, still in a remarkably neutral tone.

"Oh. That. I guess you're mad, huh?" Chance's voice was soft and reluctant, like a kitten who knows he's done something wrong.

"That you didn't ask me first, yes." He sighed. "That was our secret ... I just figured I counted for more than I do in who to tell it to. Don't worry about it." He continued without waiting for a reply. "Why isn't Feral dead?"

"Oh God Jake I ... it's just not so simple. I'm sorry."

"How can it not be simple?" He requested softly. "You hate him more than anything I've never known."

Terry blinked at the sudden turnabout, but couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. He tactfully kept quiet, sticking to being a supportive presence.

There was silence on the other end of the line, and for a while Jake began to suspect that Chance had hung up, except for the lack of a dial tone. "Jake, we need to talk about this, properly. Will you come around here tomorrow?"

"All right, face to face." He agreed with a bit more strength in his voice than before. "But here, and now."

"Okay, I think I remember the way. I'll be about ... fifteen minutes."

"I'll be ready." Jake agreed with a soft sadness before hanging up and leaning back against his LifeMate. "I can't go back there." He murmured sadly.

"I understand, Jake." He said putting his arms around his mate. "I'll send someone to meet him. I'm sure he's going to the apartment." He said quietly. "I picked the penthouse, because only a few people know about it."

He picked a comm unit off the table. "SunClaw to security. Greg, would you take a car around to the apartment and bring Chance Furlong back here. Security state Bravo."

The older tom's voice came back. "Understood, bro."

"Thanks." Jake nuzzled the gray tom holding him. "Let's dry off and get dressed. "No way this is going to be pleasant. Just no way ...."

"You're welcome." He said as they walked back to the shower, where Terry turned on the airjets. "It's hard when things end like this. But just remember I'm here for you, lean on me as much as you need to." He said with a strong hand on the Kat's shoulder to reinforce the statement.

"Whoever said ignorance was bliss, knew what they were talking about." Jake closed his eyes as the warm air coaxed the water from his fur.

"That's just what I thought when I found out that Ryan was working for the ShadowClaws." Terry sighed, as he let the warm air dry his fur.

"For all the good it brought me, I do wish that could have ended differently." Jake sighed. "As much as I don't want to know, I don't think I can just let this drop. I just hope he doesn't try to lie to me."

"I hope he doesn't, it would make things a little easier." He said quietly. "But what will be, will be."

"Maybe it's past time for a change, anyway." Jake tried to shrug, but his heart wasn't in it. "Not like it's all I'm good at."

"Not hardly, love." Terry said reassuringly. "Not hardly."

"Chance Furlong?" A deep voice that turned out to belong to a large burly tom in a black and gray 'uniform', asked as the tabby wondered why no one was answering the door at Terry and Jake's apartment.

"Yeah, who wants to know?" The tabby moved back a step, his stance defensive.

"My name's Greg SwiftClaw, I'm Terry's brother." He said easily. "Terry asked me to come by and bring you to where he and Jake are. If you'll come with me." The nearly seven-foot tall tom said simply.

Chance's eyes closed for a moment and he nodded. "Yeah, okay."

Greg lead Chance outside to a large dark gray sedan with tinted windows that was waiting with the engine running. He opened the back door. "If you'll get in." He said with a gesture to Chance.

Greg got in after Chance, closed the door and pushed an intercom on the back of the seat. "Location Sierra Two." He said before leaning back, as the car pulled out.

The tabby just sat quietly throughout the trip, staring at the opaque window without really seeing it.

About twenty minutes later, the car stopped and Greg got out. "This way." He said leading the way through a dark parking garage to an elevator, that he activated with an electronic key.

"Penthouse." He said after they both got in, and the elevator rose smoothly to the top.

"It's that door over there." Greg said as they exited the elevator, with a gesture toward the only visible door on the small hallway.

Chance just nodded and walked down the hall, stopping at the door to knock loudly.

Terry opened the door, dressed in casual slacks and a collared shirt. "Come on in, Chance." He said evenly.

Chance swallowed nervously and followed behind Terry, his eyes cast down towards the carpet.

"Hello, Chance." Jake's voice was soft as they entered the main room. "Have a seat."

Terry took a discrete position in the archway between the main room, and the dining room. His posture was distinctly protective of Jake, as if he was Jake's bodyguard in addition to LifeMate.

Chance's eyes flicked up towards Jake as the smaller kat spoke, a grimace flashing across his face before he looked away again. He flopped down in on of the chairs, looking distinctly uncomfortable despite his surroundings.

"So tell me, how is it so complicated?" Jake prompted with surprising calm.

"It's ... hard," the tabby murmured, his voice little louder than a whisper. "There's a lot you don't know."

"Start with the earliest event." Jake suggested, just sort of an order. His growing irritation making itself known.

"Well, uhhhh ... Feral set up SWAT deliberately. He knew we could do it, and the city wouldn't give him the money to do it above board."

Jake froze, something utterly unreadable crossing his face.

"So ... you knew this from the beginning?" The lean tom hissed, the hard edge on his voice doing little to conceal the rage building just under that relaxed exterior.

Terry blinked, a little surprised. After all the noise and condemnations of SWAT from Feral, to find out that he had deliberately created it was a shock. But to find that he had done so, without telling Jake was an outrage. Terry remembered the pain that being booted from Enforcer to junkyard Kat had caused Jake, and he would've been more annoyed at Feral, if that was possible. Instead, he got annoyed at Chance for keeping this from Jake.

Chance flinched at the harsh note in his partner's voice, nodding. "Yeah. Originally he wanted us to go into SWAT from the Academy, all official, but he couldn't get the money."

"And I wasn't told because?" Jake had nearly abandoned his attempt to be calm and rational about this. This he wasn't prepared for.

"I don't know," Chance said miserably. "Jake, I swear I don't. It wasn't my choice."

"And when were you told?"

"I knew he was planning it in the Academy, but I didn't find out about what was going to happen until the day before. I swear Jake, it's the truth."

"And just how did you get so close to the tom you've pretended to hate so intently all these years?" Jake rumbled. "Just what is between the two of you that you'd manipulate and betray your own gunner like this?"

"He ... we ...," Chance whimpered softly and covered his face with his hands. "Please Jake, we couldn't let anyone find out. Anyone."

For a long time Jake's rage gave way to confusion, his mind refusing to accept the only answer it came up with. "You ... you and Feral ...."

Chance just nodded miserably. "Since our first year," he whispered softly.

Nothing even breathed for a long, stunned minute as Terry suddenly realized where the blackmail was. Feral had crossed a very serious line, one that could cost him his career. The Commander and a cadet: that was definitely a breach of Enforcer regs; and one of the few that could bring down a powerful Commander like Feral.

Suddenly Jake exploded, a fighting knife in his hand from nowhere as he crossed the distance between them. Before anyone could do much more than blink, the sharp blade found its mark in the back of Chance's neck, angled to take out the artery as it came down.

Chance flinched at the sudden movement, but otherwise sat perfectly still as he felt the knife against his skin, then slice threw the strong tendons and tender flesh of the left side of his throat, spilling more than just a little blood as the artery was severed.

The tabby cried out as he felt the knife biting in to him, hot red blood spurting out across furniture and carpet in spite of the paw trying to keep the would closed.

Terry was across the room almost as soon the blade hit, but the damage was already done. He held Jake's knife hand with a gentle but unyielding force, even as the Kat let it go, willingly, in favor of his claws for the next strike, all but oblivious to the hand on his wrist.

"Jake, snap out of it." Terry said pulling the enraged Kat around to face him, which only eared him a reflexive claw strike at his face. "This is way out of line, for lying to you. If it was Feral, fine."

Greg came into the room with a doctor about the same time. Both quickly moving to staunch the loss of blood as Terry struggled with his mate.

Chance lay in the chair insensate as the doctor worked on him, most of the right side of his body covered in blood. The doctor was able to bring the bleeding under control fairly quickly, using medical tape to seal the wound.

As they continued to struggle Terry was at a disadvantage. He didn't want to hurt Jake, while his enraged mate seemed to have no compunction about hurting him, or anything. "Jake, you've made your point. But killing him isn't going to solve anything. It'll just make going after the ones responsible more complicated." He shouted trying to break through the rage that possessed his mate.

In the end it took both Greg and Terry to contain Jake. With the option of fighting taken from him, Jake gradually calmed into a sobbing, unresponsive heap.

"Get him out of here, and over to clinic Delta." He said quietly, as he sat with his arms around Jake.

"S'allright," the tabby said groggily. "I can take care of myself." He lifted himself up out of the chair and made his unsteady way towards the door.

"You can barely walk, have heavy trauma to your neck which needs repaired, and if you stumble into something and that bandage comes off, you could bleed to death." The doctor outlined the tabby's problems. "You are most certainly not alright. Now you can either be cooperative or be sedated, your choice." The doctor said brusquely with a manner more reminiscent of a drill sergeant.

Chance chuckled weakly. "And staying here would be so good for me. I'll go to Morning Star, don't worry."

"Who said you're staying here? We're getting you out of here, before he comes round." The doctor said. "You're not leaving on foot, anyway. That would compromise security."

"In case you didn't notice your boss just tried to kill me," Chance turned on his heel, swayed uncertainly for a moment, but made it to the door on his own to feet. "No fucking way am I going with you guys."

"Actually, our boss is the one that pulled Jake off you." The doctor said defensively. "You can thank Feral for what just happened. If he'd kept his filthy, stinking paws to himself Jake wouldn't be in this state." He growled.

Chance didn't even reply, opening the door and almost falling through it and into the hallway beyond. One of the stretcher attendants in the hallways reflexively stepped in to catch the stumbling tabby.

The sound of Chance's voice arguing was enough to rouse Jake from his stupor with a vicious snarl and blind rage. "Traitor!" Exploded out of Jake's throat as he lunged for the tabby's retreating form.

Greg quickly reached out and caught the snarling tom, with a speed that belied his size. Terry quickly stood and helped Greg restrain Jake. "Why the hell is he still here?" He growled.

The Doctor quickly escorted the tabby into the hallway, the door closing behind him.

"Want me to stay?" Greg asked quietly.

"No, I'll be fine. Just see to that situation, would you?"

"Of course, bro." The big tom said easily.

As the door closed the second time, Terry sat quietly holding Jake as the cinnamon tom, fur stained brown and red with his former pilot's blood, sobbed uncontrollably. Silently Terry wondered if he'd done the right thing. But he wasn't convinced that killing Chance would've been good for Jake. The only thing he was sure of, was that Feral had a lot to answer for.

Vivid dreams of extreme violence directed against a helpless Chance Furlong shook Terry from a light sleep as he held Jake, who was not resting much better, and reeked of rage and aggressive satisfaction.

Terry looked at the clock, and figured that Greg would have put the Clean Slate contingencies into effect by now. He could look after Jake without worrying about Feral profiting from his deceptions and vile behavior. The clinic would keep Chance quiet until later in the day, not hard considering his injuries.

Satisfied that everything was taken care of, he lay there holding the angry tom and gently stroked Jake's hair comfortingly as the imagery continued to flow, some of it sexual, some of it just for pain.

But it was the backing to it that was even more disturbing, and told Terry that this was definitely from his LifeMate's mind. A mixture of first hand knowledge of what these tortures felt like, and frustration that the screams did little to sooth the betrayal that had shattered far more than the strong partnership he'd had in SWAT.

Terry had a guess where the first hand knowledge was from, and it didn't help. Dreams weren't something he could do much about, except try a few tricks he'd heard could modify disturbing dreams. Keeping his arms tight around his mate in a protective embrace, he nuzzled the lean tom affectionately, hoping that the affectionate contact combined with the scent of a caring concerned mate, might ease the dreams.

It was a long, tiring, mentally agonizing time before the dream ran it's course, with a final, almost merciful strike threw Chance's visible, beating heart.

In dream and reality, Jake sobbed and physically collapsed, before finally sinking further into the darkness beyond the dream level of sleep.

Terry relaxed a little, knowing that the best sleep was the kind that occurred beneath the level of dreams. He lay back and let himself doze again, just in case.

Terry's light doze was broken by the phone ringing, a sound he almost ignored till he noticed the time. He gently unengaged himself from his sleeping mate, and walked quietly over to the phone in the living room.

"SunClaw, go ahead." He said quietly, and he sat down on the couch as Jake, his fur slightly spiked in distress, sat down next to him silently and rested his head on Terry's free shoulder.

"Shadow teams report mission Clean Slate a success. All tech has been secured and is en route to Gamma Base." Greg's voice came back.

"Any difficulty with security?"

"A few mods not in the description, but Crypto was able to handle them. Only injury was a sprained ankle."

"Understood, any difficulty recovering Ebony?" Terry asked as he put an arm around his mate and pulled him close.

"Took longer than expected. Crypto was seriously impressed by the security system, he's never seen anything like it on a facility much less a mobile system."

"Site is clear?"

"Yes sir. As intended they don't profit from what they did."

"Very good. Hopefully I'll see you in the next couple days."

"Probably, I've got to come back for one last task."

"You don't have to, you know." Terry said softly.

"Yes I do. It's a matter of principle and family."

"Understood. SunClaw out." He said leaning back as he hung up. It was done, though events of the morning had made it easier.

"You cleaned out the Hanger?" Jake asked quietly, a mixture of curiosity and approval in his muted tone.

Terry nodded. "They don't deserve what you worked so hard to design." He said protectively.

"I would have built more, all he had to do was ask." Jake shook his head. "I'm glad no one got hurt, though I guess security wasn't nearly what I thought I'd managed."

"Oh, it was. Just remember, you told me a lot about the security measures when we first discussed Clean Slate." He smiled. "And Crypto's the best infiltrator I know of, he doesn't design 'em, but he's damn good at getting past 'em."

The cinnamon tom blink, then chuckled weakly. "I forgot about that."

"When Crypto complains about having to take longer than expected, that's a serious compliment." Terry nuzzled his mate.

"What now?" Jake returned the nuzzle before looking at his mate uncertainly.

"Honestly, I think some time away from the city and everyone in it." He said quietly. "My family has an estate to the south, I thought maybe we could spend some time there. Give you an opportunity to meet my family, the ones I'm close to." He said affectionately, wondering why he hadn't suggested this before now.

"After I check the gear, make sure it's all there." Jake nodded with a tired sigh. "I don't really want to sleep. Dreams are bad tonight."

"The gear's headed down south as well." Terry said quietly. "And I won't dispute the dream angle. If it gets too bad, I can probably get the doc to give you something so you can get some sleep without them. Can't use them for long, but they might help a little."

"I just want to do something, Ter." Jake shook his head. "The last six years ... and three before it ... Chance was just using me." He trembled as he fist drew blood. "All that ... SWAT was for him. He wanted to get in the air, a good Kat again."

"You will, Jake. There's a lot of things you can do. But this time, you can be somewhere you know you're appreciated, not just used." Terry said supportively.

Suddenly Jake curled into a tight ball, trying to sob with constricted lungs.

"Gods, I love that Kat, Ter." Jake cried, unable to hold it back any more. "I wanted to be his mate so badly ... I did everything for his approval." A deep sob broke his voice. "He refused me because he didn't sleep with toms, he said. And he'd been Feral's for years." Jake finally broke down completely.

Terry wrapped his arms around the sobbing Kat. "I know you love him. And I know how much you wanted his approval." He nuzzled the tom gently. "But it's his loss, Jake. He just couldn't appreciate how much you cared for him. I just wish you could've found out sooner, maybe it would've been easier." He said softly. At a loss for words, he settled back into holding Jake close as the lean tom cried himself out.

The sun was well on its way to its zenith when Jake finally ran out of tears, settling into a clinging embrace with the occasional sob. Only then did his stomach remind them both that it hadn't been fed in more than twenty-four hours.

Terry gently stroked Jake's hair back. "You sound hungry. Feel up to eating anything?" He asked gently.

Jake tried to nod again his mate's dark shoulder. "Not even Marissa hurt me this much." He whispered, utterly numb inside.

"That's because she didn't betray you. You loved Chance, and found out that he was using you. There's no pain like betrayal. Physical pain stops after a while, and you can learn to resist it. I've never known anyone who got used to being betrayed by someone they love." He said sympathetically.

A miserable nod accepted that truth, sort of.

"But don't stop living because of that. You're strong enough to get past it, I know you are." Terry said with fervent belief as he tipped Jake chin up. "Just remember, even in the pain you're feeling you're not alone, ever. I'm here for you, I always will be."

"You always have been." Jake whispered weakly. "I trust you, I love you, I wish I could offer my entire heart. But always, you protected me." He added in a very soft tone, the voice of warrior accepting the help of an equal. "You always made surviving worth it ... somehow."

"You offer what you can, and I accept that." He said sincerely. "Now we should deal with that hunger. When the spirit is hurting, one should try and keep the body strong." He said softly.

"Never was good about eating." Jake tried to chuckled, rather unsuccessfully.

"No, you get too focused to be bothered usually." He said quietly, remembering the times he'd brought Jake meals at the Yard 'cause the Kat hadn't eaten recently.

Then Jake leaned forward a little to kiss Terry gently, a contact that gradually gained strength and fire. With gentle care Terry encouraged the contact, enjoying it despite the lack of arousal in his mate's scent.

"Take me, Ter." Jake whispered as he hand trailed down his mate's chest to caress the gray tom's balls. "I can't stand him being the last to touch me."

"You only had to ask, love." Terry whispered gently, as he ran a caressing hand down Jake's back to feel the curve of his ass. "How do you want it?" He asked, seductively. The tone of his voice, and his scent made it very clear that love was what moved him.

The cinnamon Kat held still for a long moment, trying to answer that. Gradually he pressed his mate back, along the couch. "Put me under you when I'm hard." He rumbled with a bit more aggression than usual as he stretched sideways to dig a small bottle of lube from under the couch.

Terry rumbled excitedly, and reached a hand down to cup and fondle his mate's balls. He nuzzled the lean tom affectionately, trying to keep a balance of sex and love that he thought especially important as Jake rose to straddle his abs.

Gradually the lean tom closed his eyes and sighed with a touch of pleasure. "Oh ... gods, Ter ... just love me." Jake groaned, willingly surrendering control to his mate.

Terry continued his gentle fondling while his other hand gently pulled Jake down so he could lick teasingly at an exposed nipple. It had been ages since it had taken so long, but eventually his attentions were rewarded as Jake's scent grew aroused, and his sheath began to swell.

Terry slowly slid down so he could probe the Kat's swelling sheath with his tongue, seeking to tease the hard pink flesh from it. His hands caressed the Kat's back, and down the curve of his ass as Jake moaned softly.

Gradually Jake knees slid forward and apart, opening himself up a little more even as it moved his hips in position to slowly slide in and out of his mate's mouth as his cock began to emerge.

As Terry felt sensitive flesh emerge from its furred retreat he teased at with his tongue, playing the sensitive barb hairs with the skill of long familiarity.

"Oh, Ter ...." Jake moaned as he truly began to feel the pleasures his mate was giving. "Terry ..." he whispered, his mind and body keying up as he rocked against Terry's muzzle.

As Terry continued skillfully sucking and licking the Kat's hardening cock, he opened the small jar of lube and very generously coated two fingers. He placed one against the pucker of his mate's asshole and pushed gently, seeing if the Kat still wanted what he'd asked for earlier.

There was a spark of tension as Jake froze, his breath skyrocketing to near hyperventilating. Even more than the physical responses, Terry could actually feel the internal battle that raged between trust and several fears, with physical discomfort adding a dissenting note to it.

Terry backed off for a moment for more lube, and then resumed a slow penetration with his finger, while his mouth and tongue entertained the Kat's cock.

"More," Jake groaned softly as Terry he gently worked his finger in and out. But the gray tom still felt the physical soreness and mental unease, even as his mate's voice called for more.

Terry very generously coated up the second finger before adding it to the first finger. He wanted to be sure the Kat was loosened up before he tried fucking him, like Jake had asked.

In the end, Jake's patience ran out before Terry's and he moved back, pulling his hard cock from it's warm home and leaning down to kiss his mate.

Terry raised a questioning eyebrow as he claimed a passionate kiss from his mate, and was answered before they broke as Jake slid his hard erection along his mate's.

Terry lifted his hips pushing his cock against Jake's in a rubbing action. He figured maybe Jake had changed his mind, it would be understandable given the soreness.

"I'm hard, lover." Jake whispered in a polite reminder.

"So I see." Terry smiled, and put Jake on his back so he was under Terry, and they were face to face. Hoping the Kat was loosened enough, Terry generously lubed his cock, and slowly pressed into the Kat's asshole, until he got his sensitive barb hairs past the first ring of muscle.

He could feel the internal flinch, the pain and unease that the penetration caused, but also there was the desire for this, pain or no, and the knowledge that this hurt was nothing compared to what he'd known.

Terry leaned forward as he began to thrust slowly. "I love you, Jake." He whispered as he kissed his mate, a maneuver that was welcome with open arms and heated desire. Though his mate wasn't nearly as active as he usually was, the emotional feedback that danced across their nerves was both comforting and disturbing, all at once, as Jake struggled between desire for this and fears that he still didn't dare give name.

Terry did his best to satisfy the desires, as he skillfully thrust in and out, changing speed to keep things interesting. And then when he felt himself approaching the edge, he aimed for that special spot that always sent Jake over the edge. He thrust in, as the muscular spasms began draining his seed from him in hot spurts and Jake moaned and squirmed under him, but didn't come.

Terry stayed buried in Jake's ass, and slowly stroked the Kat's cock with his hand, as he leaned forward to claim a passionate kiss that was eagerly accepted. As Jake's increasingly desperate cries were swallowed by his mate, his body began to respond aggressively as it neared it's own climax.

Terry held the kiss, and stroked more vigorously in response as Jake began to shudder as he crossed the line of no return. Despite Jake's near silence, his shudders and sudden spurts of hot come gave Terry his answer as a flash of intense pleasure ripped threw his body from his mate's.

Terry slowly rolled them to one side so that they could cuddle face to face, as he came down from the unexpected flash of pleasure. He gently pulled the lean tom close, as they both caught their breath, and Jake nuzzled and licked him affectionately.

As Terry was busy with making breakfast, Jake stole a few minutes to set his own plans in motion with a phone call.

"Hi, Raven." Jake's voice was soft and neutral, betraying nothing of what it was actually saying. "Do this, and we're even."

"Deliver my former partner to the Tavares Royal Palace, a gift for Murolla."

"Yes, that's all. No, you don't want to know. Just do it." Jake said before handing up and dug out some of Terry's stationary to write a short note.


I bet I'm the last person in the world you're expecting to do you a favor, but I know who took those photos of you and Chance screwing back in Academy.

When you get past all the messengers and servants, the one you are looking for is Crown Princess Marissa Jarungu, heir of Teveris.

Good luck,
Jake BrightClaw

PS: I don't blame you, but I'm not forgiving you either.
     For a LOT of things.

He sat in silence, looking at the words before shaking his head and folding it to stuff into a plain envelope. Then stood and walked back into the kitchen, envelope in hand.

"Terry, I'd like a messenger to deliver this to Feral."

Terry nodded. "Sure thing. If you'll bring the comm unit that's on the table next to phone in here, I can do it now." He said without interrupting preparations.

"Thanks." Jake nodded and fetched the small device.

Terry pressed a button. "This is Terry, I need a courier to the penthouse. Secure message to go to Commander Feral." He hung up. "Should be here shortly, depending on how busy the courier service is."

"Thanks." Jake hugged his LifeMate from behind, careful not to disturb his actions.

Terry considered something while finishing preparations. "Since I don't know what's in that message, I'll suggest something I thought of earlier." He said quietly. "Ever consider telling Feral just exactly who's blackmailing him? Let the two fight it out, and then finish off the weakened winner." He suggested casually.

"That's what's in it." The lean kat chuckled. "And that's the reasoning."

Terry smiled as he began putting breakfast on to two plates. "Great minds think alike huh?" He grinned broadly.

"Or we've been together so long we share a mind." Jake chuckled as he stole a quick kiss.

"That would explain the dreams." Terry said as he set the plates on the table, and went back to get a pitcher of juice from the refrigerator as Jake froze.

"Dreams?" He turned around to look at his mate, a mixture of shock, regret and fear in his eyes and slightly poofed fur.

"Early this morning." He said gently. "Some very angry dreams directed at Chance, and I know they weren't mine." He shrugged, as though it didn't bother him. He noticed the fear. "It's not that big a deal, Jake. I kind of knew you were mad at him already." He said reassuringly.

"I ... I'm sorry, Ter." Jake whispered as he tried to smooth his fur. "I didn't ... mean to broadcast like that."

Terry sat the pitcher and glasses on the table. He walked over and put a reassuring hand on Jake's shoulder. "It's alright, Jake. No harm done. Can you actually do that deliberately?" He asked curiously, since it wasn't one of Jake's unusual abilities that he was aware of.

Jake nodded softly. "It's very dangerous, I don't like too." He sighed softly. "That it happened means I'm loosing control."

"You were extremely stressed out this morning, so a little loss of control is not unexpected." Terry said understandingly. "My great-grandmother could do it too. She rarely did though."

"Just ... which dream did you catch?" Jake asked quietly.

Terry tried to sort through the jumble of anger and violence to describe it. "The one where you killed him, repeatedly." He said quietly, wondering if that had been one dream, or a string of them.

Jake swallowed. "I'm sorry, that you had to witness that." He looked down.

Terry put a gentle hand under Jake's muzzle, and lifted the Kat's gaze to meet his own. "It's okay, Jake. That's what being LifeMates is about, good times and bad times." He said sincerely. "Besides, I'd already knew you wanted him dead." He added quietly, without any hint of disapproval.

"That dream ... that was a lot more than dead." Jake lowered his eyes, even if he couldn't lower his head. "That was sick."

"You can probably blame her for that one, I doubt you would've thought of it otherwise." He said, easily blaming that creature. "But you know it's sick, so it's just an angry fantasy. People often have fantasies they'll never act on, it's normal."

While Jake nodded, it was still clearly still an open battle.

"Besides it makes a certain sense. He betrayed you in more ways than one, so on a level you probably feel like he ripped your heart out. The dream was just repaying that pain, in a more graphic fashion."

A soft, slightly unstable giggle found it's away out of Jake's throat. "I guess so."

"Don't worry, we'll just keep plenty of distance between you two. That way you don't have to worry about what the dreams are saying." He said quietly.

"Good," Jake nodded and relaxed a bit. "I can't trust myself around him, or Feral, anymore."

"We should eat, the food will get cold." He said softly. "And you do need to eat something."

"Yes," he agreed before leaning forward to kiss his mate. "Thank you ... for being you, Ter."

"You're welcome." He said as they sat down to eat.

The first thing Chance noticed, even before opening his eyes, were the smells. They were distinctly antiseptic, and just screamed 'hospital'. He felt a needle being removed from his arm, and he felt like he'd slept way too much.

He moaned and shook his head, hoping to clear some of the fogginess away but having precisely the opposite effect.

"Wha'?" he mumbled incoherently.

"Careful, Mr. Furlong." A gentle female voice nearby said. "You've had quite of bit of trauma to the side of your neck." She said quietly.

"M'not gonna forget't," he slurred, trying hard to marshal proper control over his speech. "Where'm I?"

"You're at SunCoast General Hospital." She said gently.

"Wha?" He struggled up into a sitting position, his head still reeling. "M'not meant to b'here."

"In your condition, you definitely needed to be in a hospital. And since you were unconscious when you were brought in there was no reason to send you elsewhere." She said gently, putting a support behind him as he sat up. "You're just lucky some concerned Kats brought you in after you got mugged."

"Heh. Lucky. C'n I get s'm water?"

"Of course." She said warmly.

"Here you go." She said putting the glass to his lips. "Just sip at first. Anesthesia just wore off."

Chance did as she said, his head feeling clearer with each passing moment. "Thanks. When can I get out of here?"

"Now that you're awake, I can have the doctor check you out. Mostly we just want to be sure the anesthesia's completely worn off. Don't want you stumbling into traffic. You'll want to have your own doctor look at the stitches in about two weeks." She said easily, as she put his hand around the glass in place of hers.

"I'll go get the doctor." She said, as she turned to leave. "The red call button will summon a nurse, if you need anything." The tall, attractive light brown shekat said as she closed the door.

"Fuck." His voice rang out in the empty room, the only possible expression of the way he was feeling.

About ten minutes later, a black and gray tabby tom came into the room. "So how are you feeling, Mr. Furlong?" He asked professionally as he crossed the room.

"Better if you've come to tell me I can leave," he replied honestly.

"Well, I'm going to check your vital signs, and then we'll see if you can walk a straight line without stumbling." He smiled warmly. "Assuming everything's where it should be, the you'll be able to leave." He said as he checked the Kat's pulse. "You will need to take it easy for a while, sudden head movements could rip your stitches." He cautioned.

Chance nodded, taking another swallow of water. "I'm not in any hurry to do that," he agreed. "I'd just like to get away from here."

"I'm not surprised." He said as he checked the big tabby's eyes with a penlight. "Most Kats don't like to be in the hospital." He said making a few notes in a three ring binder.

"Okay, vitals are good. Let's see if coordination has returned." He said easily. "Turn and put your feet on the floor, and then stand. Tell me if you suddenly feel dizzy." He said firmly.

Chance swung his legs out to the side and, very tentatively, shifted his weight onto them and stood. After a moment he stretched his arms out to either side, smiling. "Feels okay to me."

"Looks good so far." The doctor said stepping away. "Now walk to the far end of the room and back."

Chance began walking slowly but quickly regained his confidence and made the walk easily, feeling much better than he had even a quarter of an hour ago when he'd woke.

The doctor smiled as Chance got back to where he was standing. "Well, I don't see any reason to keep you in any longer. Your clothes are in the closet over there, and I'll be back in with your discharge papers in a few minutes." He said easily.

"You're one tough Kat, Mr. Furlong. That neck wound would've kept most Kats down for a full day, at least." The doctor said, as left the room.

Chance shook his head as he pulled his clothes out and got dressed, taking extra care as he pulled his shirt over his head. He certainly didn't feel like much of a tough kat after what had happened the night before. He sighed as he pulled his shoes on and stood up straight. "No point worrying about it now," he murmured to himself.

He found a mirror and stared into it while he waited for the doctor to show up, scowling at the ugly line of stitches running along his neck. It was a few moments before he realized that his clothes weren't covered in blood the way they had been ... and then another few to figure out these weren't the clothes he'd been wearing last night at all. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine. Another good reason to get the hell out of here as quick as he could.

"Here are your discharge papers." The doctor said easily, before setting out a bottle and a medium size tube. "These are in case there's any pain from the injury. One every four hours, if needed." He said indicating the bottle of pills.

"The cream you'll apply to the wound twice a day. It'll reduce the likelihood of scarring and help it heal faster." He said putting them both into a small bag and handing it to Chance, along with two slips of paper. "These are prescriptions for more of both. Should get you by, until you see your own doctor."

"Any questions?" He asked openly.

"Only 'Which way to the door?' Thanks for your help though Doc. I appreciate it."

"This way." He said opening the door. "You're quite welcome." He said as he should the tabby to the front door of the hospital.

Standing at the front of the hospital, Chance could tell he was in one of the well-to-do sections of MegaKat City. The streets were reasonably clean, and the cars expensive. The Kats he saw appeared to be mostly the high-power business types, both male and female.

The tabby took a quick look along the street in either direction, and spied a public phone. It took a moment to dredge the number for the cab company out from his memory, but before long he was on his way back toward the Salvage Yard.

Chance tossed his bag on the bed and took a look around, shaking his head. It certainly wasn't a luxury hotel. Feral was probably going to have a fit when he found out he was staying in a place like this, but it was the last place Jake or Terry was likely to come looking for him.

It was a dump, but it was a dump with a bed, and locks on the door. It was also a dump with a phone. He stood there looking at it for a few moments, trying to think up a reason not to call. None was forthcoming.

"Feral," the Commander's voice was gruff after the much more appealing receptionist.

"It's me."

"Ahhhh," the voice on the other end lightened, but not as much as Chance had hoped it might. "I was expecting you this morning."

"I know," Chance said softly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I hit you too."

"It's forgiven, although I trust you've calmed down some by now. Is that why you weren't at Arden street?"

"No." Chance swallowed, trying to find the least awkward way to put it. "I ... well, I was in hospital."

"What?!" Feral's reaction was entirely as expected. "Why?"

"After ... what happened ... I was talking with Jake. I just couldn't lie to him, not after that. He stabbed me."

"He knows about us?"


"And SWAT?"


"And he stabbed you?"

"I've got forty-five stitches and medical tape along my neck."

That raised a growl. "In the neck? Clawson tried to kill you."

"No," Chance said quickly. "Well, I guess he did, but he was mad. I've never seen him so upset."

"I want to see you," Feral insisted, not sounding mollified. "I've got meetings all afternoon, I can be back at Arden by six."

"Sure. I'll be there."

"Where are you now?"

"In a hotel," the tabby admitted. Even when he was on the other end of the phone it was so hard to resist him. "West of the Breakneck. Wait, just listen, please. They're never going to think I'm down here, Jake'll be expecting you to put me up somewhere swank. There's locks on the door and I really need to get some more rest. It'll be safe."

"I want to see you tonight," Feral said firmly.

"I promise. Just ..." Chance paused, licking his lips nervously. "Don't send anyone to hassle him. Please."

"I'll see you at six."

The phone line buzzed as Feral hung up and Chance sank back onto the bed. He sighed softly up into the empty air.


"Terry, it's good to have you home." The older tom who greatly resembled Terry said as they embraced. "And good that you've finally brought your mate."

"Thanks, grandpa. It's good to be home. Can we hold off on discussing just how bad things got, for a little while at least?" He asked, as much for himself, as for Jake. "Jake, this is my grandfather, Augustus Pellatier. Grandfather, this is my mate, Jake Clawson." Terry said by way of introductions.

"Welcome to Haven, Jake." Augustus said warmly. "I hope you'll come to think of this as home, like Terry does."

"And just call him Augustus." Terry said in a stage whisper. "He hates to be called Mr. Pellatier by family."

Jake tried hard to smile, though his handshake was firm. "Good to met you, Augustus."

Augustus smiled. "Well, why don't you two go get settled in? Dinner will be at six."

"Of course, it always is." Terry chuckled as he grabbed the bag he'd packed. "This way, Jake." He said as he led the way out of the hanger and across the well-manicured campus toward the family mansion at the center.

"Here we are." Terry said as he opened the double doors into the large bedroom, complete with heavy wooden, four-poster bed big enough for four or five.

"Home for a while?" Jake asked as he set his bag down, eyes darting around in much the same way he'd greeted everything since leaving MegaKat City.

"As long as we want." Terry said easily, completely relaxed. He sat the bag down and flopped on to the bed. "This has always been more home to me than MKC. Except that it didn't have you." He said warmly as Jake began a nervous, stalking tour of the room and it's connected balcony, bathroom and closets.

"You really think it's safe here?" Jake asked as he judged the sniper possibilities of the balcony.

"Yeah, nowhere safer." He said easily. "Especially since, everybody still thinks we're in MKC. Nice thing about that penthouse, the jet is used often enough by the corporate officers in the offices below that no one knows just who is leaving on the plane at any given time."

Jake nodded, only just accepting the statement as he settled on the bed next to Terry, but couldn't manage to relax past the sitting position.

Terry sat up and scooted back a little so he could gently massage Jake's shoulders. "Still worried, love?" He asked gently.

"At least back in MKC I knew my way around: where to run, where to arm, were to hide, who to trust." He admitted softly. "I don't even know where to put my back here."

"Jake, you're among family here. And that means loyalty and trust, at least here it does." He said fervently. "I wouldn't have brought you here, if I didn't know it was safe." He said softly, beginning to feel the fatigue of the last twenty-four hours.

Jake bit his lower lip as he fought an internal battle between experience and instinct. Eventuality weariness made the choice for him, and he closed his eyes to lean back against his LifeMate.

Reflexively, Terry put his arms around Jake before letting his eyes drift close. Here he knew he could let his guard down, for a little while at least. The effect on his mate was more than worth it as he felt almost all the tension, worry and fears drain from Jake as the worn cinnamon tom sagged back, utterly spent.

Terry gave the exhausted Kat a gentle kiss, as he waited for him to actually go to sleep, which took all of a couple minutes.

Jake slowly opened his eyes, feeling a mixture of queasiness and disorientation without panic at his brain refused to figure out for a long minute. The strong arms holding him clued in the lack of panic. The disorientation was eventually placed as a strange bed. The queasiness he just didn't want to think about. Ever.

But even brushing up against the rabidly building blockade was enough to cause him to moan miserably.

Terry woke, and focused fairly quickly. "What's wrong, Jake?" He said quietly.

"Last twenty-four-something." He squeezed his eyes shut as his stomach turned over. "Godda be a nightmare."

Terry sighed. "Sweet Bastet, I wish it was." He said quietly, rubbing the Kat's shoulder. "'Fraid it's not though."

"Do I even want to hear a recap?" Jake looked over his shoulder at the only real stable feature in his life, and felt himself relax. Not to the numbness he expected, but to a calm kind of security as he rolled the rest of the way over to snuggled against his LifeMate tightly. "Don't answer that."

Terry put his arms around Jake comfortingly, and didn't answer the question. Sometimes it just made sense to be quiet.

It was a long time before Jake spoke again, his face still buried against Terry's hard chest.

"Ter ... it really does ... I mean ... what happened, that I just let ...." his voice trailed off as he began to tremble.

"That you just let what Jake?" He asked quietly, holding the trembling tom tightly.

"Let him fuck me." Jake murmured with surprising ease.

"That's what you told me." Terry said quietly. "But I don't think it was nearly as simple as 'let'."

"Doesn't bother you?" He mumbled against his mate's chest.

"The only thing that bothers me is that he hurt you. Whether you tried to fight him off or not isn't important." Terry said quietly.

Jake fell silent at that for a long time, not moving for long enough Terry almost thought he'd fallen asleep again.

"What hold could he have over Chance?" He whimpered softly. "Turned him like that."

"He's probably got Chance convinced that he'll be in trouble for what they did during Academy, as much as Feral will be. But truth is, you can't court martial a civilian.

"First time," Jake mumbled. "Chance ... fems only. Rape ... Feral ... I can't believe he's like that."

"That Feral will do whatever he has to, to protect his career. I don't find it that hard to believe." Terry said quietly, and angrily. "I'm still trying to figure out how I was so wrong about Chance, I'm usually a better judge of people." He said softly, a little miffed at himself.

"Fooled everybody." Jake shivered. "Even Callie."

"Oh gods, that reminds me. She ought to know that SWAT's down." He said quietly.

"I better call ..." he reluctantly stated to get up. "Just hope she doesn't ask too many questions."

"She'd probably have Feral's hide, if she found out the truth." Terry said as he went to the phone.

"Might be worth telling her, just to watch." Jake murmured, pride warring the vicious pleasure of the thought.

"Give me a sec, I'm going to set up a relay through CommStar One, keep it looking like your still in the city."

"Haven Communications Room, Samantha speaking." A voice on the other end said.

"Hi, Sam, it's Terry. I need you to relay a call through CommStar One. Call needs to look like it's originating inside MKC."

"Give me five, Terry." The pleasant voice said. "Okay, go ahead and dial you're all set."

Terry looked over at Jake. "Okay, all set." He said handing him the phone. "Deputy Mayor's office is on speed dial, star-eight-six-one."

Jake nodded, still thinking as he pressed the number.

"Deputy Mayor's office, Calico Briggs speaking." The feisty shekat's voice responded.

"Hi ... Callie." Jake hesitated. "It's Razor."

"Razor, now this is a switch." She said. "There's a problem, isn't there?" She said, responding to the hesitation in his voice.

"Yes, ma'am." He fell back on the more comfortable, less intimate way of speaking to her. "SWAT's out of commission, probably for good."

There was a brief pause. "What happened, Razor?" She asked gently, as she made a couple notes. She knew there hadn't been any significant villain activity, so it was unlikely they'd been injured.

There was utter silence in both rooms for a long time as he tried to work out just what, and how, to explain.

"We aren't partners anymore."

"You and T-bone had a fight, I take it." She surmised. "Any chance of you two fixing things?" She asked evenly.

Jake flinched at the suggestion. "Not after betraying me like that."

"Betraying?" Callie actually sounded surprised, though she recovered quickly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know. Are you okay?" She asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

"Getting there." He answered softly. "I just thought you deserved to know, before something happened."

"I appreciate that, Razor." She said quietly. "I hope you've got someone to talk to, sounds like you'll need them. You will be missed, you know." She said, but the tone of her voice wasn't really the Deputy Mayor anymore. "And not just when there's a crisis."

"I do, and thank you." He said quietly. "Please watch your back ... and don't trust Feral." An edge of hatred and pain she'd never heard from him before crept into his tone. "He's been compromised."

"Compromised?" Her tone became very serious. "Razor, can you at least tell me to who? This is important." She said, actually sounding worried.

He had to struggle to say it, his voice caught in his throat. "Tavares Royalty. Marissa. She has proof he was screwing my partner in Academy, and never stopped." He finished with his voice barely above a whisper, and hung up before she could respond.

Terry put his arms gently around Jake, as he hung up. "She's known who SWAT really is for a while, exactly how long I'm not sure. She's rather fond of you, you know."

"I know," he nodded weakly, drawing strength from the contact. "I wish I could have returned it."

Back in her office, Callie looked at the phone for a while before hanging it up and turning to her computer. She quickly requested everything the city had on Teveris, and specifically one royal named Marissa.

"Chance and Feral?" She said quietly. "I guess he's just good at pretending."

Ulysses Feral was still staring at the paper in his hand when the lift opened and he stepped into his luxury apartment in the Arden street complex. The smell of Chance was heavy in the air, tainted with misery, and Feral had no trouble finding the tabby curled up on the couch. The TV was on, so presumably he'd been watching it at some point, but with his head buried in his arms it was doubtful he was doing so anymore.

The taller kat reached down to pick up the remote and switched he set off, settling onto the couch beside his wounded lover. Ever so slowly Chance uncurled from around himself, shifting his position so the he could set his head in Feral's lap.

The Commander reached down to scratch the sandy-furred kat gently between his ears, something he knew Chance was particularly fond of. "How are you feeling?"

Chance grumbled softly under his breath, before making a reply that could be understood. "Crappy. Aside from the whole neck thing I feel like an absolute ass. Jake's never gonna want to see me again."

Feral nodded slowly. After all, it was probably true. His hand slipped down past one of Chance's ears, tracing out along his neck. The tabby figured out what he was after fairly easily, tipping his head away so the Feral could see the dark line of stitching that marred his fur from below the left ear to nearly his windpipe.

"Nasty," Feral growled softly as he traced a finger along the slash line, "That's going to scar."

"The doctor gave me this cream for that," Chance said softly.

"They always do. Trust me, a wound like that never heals cleanly."

Chance just whimpered softly and pressed his face in against Feral's fur.

"Chance," Feral said, his voice taking on a soft but more businesslike tone, "I need to talk with you about business for a few minutes, all right? Can you do that?"

The tabby nodded miserably, taking a deep breath and lifting himself up into a sitting position. "Yeah, I can do that."

"That's the way, there's just a few things I need to ask. What do you know about a woman named Marissa Jarungu?"

The tabby thought for a few moments and then shook his head. "I've never heard of her," he said softly. "Who is she?"

"She's heir apparent to a rather odd country a little ways form here." Feral replied gruffly. "According to Clawson she's also the person responsible for blackmailing me."

"Wait. He knew?"

"Apparently. He sent me this." Feral drew out the note and handed it to Chance. "This'll make the process of tracking down the local agents much easier. With any luck my agents will have them before the end of next week, and we'll be out of danger. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Clawson."

"What do you mean?" The tabby leaned in and set his head against Feral's chest.

"He may already have fled the city. A sensible move, perhaps, but one that puts him outside our jurisdiction and thus outside our protection. Which may be what this Jarungu woman was intending all along."

"Do you want me to try and talk to him again?" Chance's voice was hesitant, eager and yet afraid at the same time.

"No," Feral growled firmly, putting his arms around the tabby and drawing him close. "Not unless I have no other choice. I'll send Felina first."

Chance signed and nodded, pressing in closer against Feral and nuzzling under his chin. The larger kat shook his head slowly and drew his lover forward into his lap, slipping his arms around his chest. "None of this is your fault Chance," he said softly. "It's all down to me and this foreign woman."

"That's not what Jake thinks," the tabby sobbed softly, hot tears spilling out over Feral's neck. "It's not what I think either." The larger kat couldn't do much more than hold Chance in his arms, comforting him with his strength as the tabby sobbed and trembled against him. It took almost half an hour for the tears to subside.

"Hurt me tonight," Chance whispered hoarsely as he turned his face up towards Feral's. "I know you like to."

"No." The Commander responded quickly, though both his face and his voice betrayed his surprise. "I'm not going to do that to you, not because you feel guilty."

"You have to," Chance whimpered miserably. "I deserve it."

"You listen to me," Feral said sternly, pushing the tabby away enough that he could look down into his face. "You do not deserve to be hurt, and even if you did it's not me you owe. He nearly killed you. He's had his blood from you." The larger kat lowered his face towards the tear-streaked one before him, brushing his lips across Chance's softly. "I'm not going to torture my lover when I know he doesn't enjoy it."

Chance trembled and leaned in against Feral's body again. "Stay with me."

"I will Chance. You and I are both going to stay right here."

"I think we agreed to be somewhere." Jake said as he glanced at the clock, showing just after 6pm.

"Since we're awake we should go to dinner." Terry smiled. "Though grandpa probably half expects us to sleep through it."

"I'm hungry anyway." He leaned against his mate. "I really don't feel like laying around doing nothing."

Terry chuckled. "Me too. And Grandpa's chef's are pretty good."

"If they're anything like you, I might even be tempted into eating regularly." Jake managed a bit of a grin. "Has the gear gotten here? Or will it be a while?"

"Where do you think I learned?" Terry chuckled lightly. "I'm not sure, I can check after dinner." He said opening the door. "I'd expect it sometime tonight at the latest though."

Jake gave an accepting nod before shifting to move without breaking contact with his LifeMate. "It'll give me something to do."

Dinner was in a small, clearly informal dining room. Augustus was sitting at one end of the table with a formally dressed female Doberman sitting at the end opposite him. "Ah you made it." The old tom said approvingly as he stood to greet them. "Jake, I'd like you to meet Akisha, my personal assistant and confidant. Akisha, this is Jake Clawson, my grandson's mate."

Akisha stood, and extended a hand, which he accepted firmly, meeting the taller female's gaze evenly. "A pleasure to meet you Jake." She said politely, though Jake couldn't escape the feeling that she was sizing him up.

Not that that wasn't exactly what he. was doing to her. "Good to meet you as well, Akisha."

Terry sat down to his grandfather's right as the mutual sizing up broke by silent agreement. Next to him was an open place that Jake quickly claimed.

Dinner was served shortly after Jake and Terry arrived with several Kats efficiently placing the food, and bringing in cold glasses of milk for everyone, except Akisha who requested water.

"Terry, you may want to take a look at the cinnamon rose in the morning." Augustus said as everyone began serving themselves. "It seemed a little down today."

Terry nodded. "I'll take a look. Maybe some other plant is getting closer than it likes."

"So will the two of you being moving down here permanently?" Augustus asked casually.

"Maybe, we haven't made any decisions yet. It hasn't been that kind of day." Terry said, trying to remind his grandfather that he didn't really want to talk yet.

"Of course, well you know you're welcome here as long as you want. This is your home, after all." The old tom said, clearly including Jake, who nodded acceptance with a slight smile.

A kind of uneasy quiet descended with everyone concentrating on eating. Between Terry not wanting to talk, and his grandfather trying find a topic that didn't lead into the subject, nothing was said. Akisha ate silently, simply watching and listening as she always did.

It was eventually Jake who broke the silence, though his voice was very low as he considered his milk glass idly. "Do you have any top grade pilots here?"

Augustus nodded. "Halycon employs quite a few top grade pilots. Our R&D division requires them to test the new prototypes."

"Any actually capable of pushing the next TurboKat past her limits?" He raised an eyebrow.

"That would be difficult to say without seeing the specs." Augustus said simply. "I know we have at least one who would certainly try. Mason Remillard, our pilot recruiter and quite likely the best pilot flying."

Jake nodded agreeably. "Is he available to fly in the next couple days?"

"He can be." Augustus said. "I take it you'd like to see how good he really is?"

"Yes," He inclined his head slightly. "It's far easier to design for the highest performance when you know the pilot, and Blackie's got more than a few quirks, even for the piecemeal prototype she is."

"True, that's the limiting factor on production aircraft. You can't design to the highest, because there are so few pilots of that caliber." Augustus said understanding. "I believe the pilot who flew the TurboKat down here referred to her as exhilarating, yet temperamental."

The statement hit Jake like a ton of bricks. "Flew down?"

Augustus nodded. "Of course, that was the top priority on the Clean Slate agenda; removing the TurboKat to Haven. Flight was the most effective way to do it. Especially since the team needed to be clear before anyone thought to secure the Yard."

Jake nodded slowly, rattled on a level he couldn't quiet name. "Of course. Who flew her?"

Augustus thought a moment. "Oh that's right. BlackFire flew her down, last minute substitution cause the regularly assigned pilot was down with a bad cold."

"BlackFire still around?" He asked, clearly a still agitated, though he did finish his plate.

"I think he went home for the day, though I'm not certain." He said, raising an eyebrow at Akisha.

The angular female stood and walked over to a console concealed in one wall. After a moment she sat back down. "Patrik hasn't signed out for the day, so he should still be on base." She said easily.

"I'd like to talk to him after dinner, then." Jake tried to get his unexpected reaction under control.

"Certainly." He nodded to Akisha, who had finished eating.

"If you'll excuse me." She excused herself as she stood.

"I'll have him come up to the house in a little while."

"I'd rather meet him at the jet." Jake inclined his head.

"Easily done." Augustus said. "Terry knows where the special projects hangars are."

Terry nodded, as he set his empty glass down. "Anytime you're ready."

"Now." Jake relaxed a fraction before looking at Augustus. "I'll try to make it over for breakfast." He winked. "It was good eating with you."

"I'm glad you decided to join us. Terry's said that meals are something you aren't big on." He smiled.

"Jake, are you looking to create a new SWAT?" Terry asked quietly as they walked across the compound.

"No, I'm looking to find out who had their hands on my jet." He finally let the emotional jumble crystallize into what it was: possessive jealousy.

"No, I meant when you where asking Augustus about a top pilot." He corrected quietly.

"Somebody has to fly her, and it is easier to work with a pilot at this level." Jake shook his head. "If you were that good, I might consider it, but I'm not looking for another pilot to fly with."

"Just checking." He said quietly, as they came up to the Hangar door. "Try to remember that this pilot flew her down here, to keep her out of the wrong hands." He said giving his mate a quick kiss, before opening the door.

"I know Terry." He sighed. "I know I said to do it ... I never said this was a rational reaction." Jake chuckled slightly. "Though I think I know what a jealous lover feels like now."

"True, but you did give permission." He smiled as he used his electronic key card to open the door.

The Hangar was big enough to accommodate two fighters, though the first bay was empty. As they enter the second bay, they could see small, lathe figure in a black and gray jumpsuit on the fuselage of the TurboKat. His strait, silky black hair was neatly tied back in a ponytail with several bands along its trail to mix with an equally silky black tail. From the figure's body language, it was very clear that he was completely focused on the work he was doing. As they got closer, his scent made it clear that not only did he take what he was doing very seriously, but that loved doing it as well.

Jake just barely managed to stop himself from rushing up and breaking the small Kat's neck, but didn't suppress the shiver of disbelieving outrage that accompanied it.

"BlackFire?" Jake's voice held more challenge than question as he stalked up.

"Yeah, that's me." The surprisingly young voice responded, still completely engrossed in what appeared to be maintenance. From the fluffy black and white tail, it could be surmised that the tom was a distinctly longhair black and white.

If it wasn't for knowing exactly how much damage he could do to the jet by simply ripping the other tom away, Jake would have. As it stood he settled for jumping up next to the pilot and grabbing his scruff, pulling the significantly lighter Kat away to face him only after BlackFire had gone lax.

"Didn't anybody warn you about touching other people's toys?" He growled roughly.

BlackFire's eyes were completely wide, and he had gone totally submissive with his scent radiating intense fear in addition to submissiveness as he long, fluffy tail curled up between his legs and his ears went limp. The Kat, probably in his late teens, regarded Jake with fear and numb acceptance of whatever was going to happen.

A couple deep breaths latter Jake set the young tom on his feel, though his tail was still lashing. "Now, what were you doing to my bird?"

The tom was trembling noticeably, as he pointed a paper that had Jake's own handwriting on it. "Maintenance log said Speed of Heat needed microcalibration, and she told me it wasn't aligned right. Asked me to fix it." He said softly, clearly expecting Jake to hit him, but not doing anything to avoid it.

"She asked you?" Jake raised an eyebrow as all the aggression drained from his frame.

The young tom nodded silently, still numb with fear.

Jake gave BlackFire a curious look before he knelt to touch the electrical system threw the fuselage, and blinked in surprise. "Well, that's new." He looked up at the terrified tom, a mixture of curiosity and apology in his manner. "You're not just a pilot, are you?" He asked softly.

BlackFire blinked not sure what Jake wanted. "Good pilot knows how to take care of his jet." He said quietly, very slowly relaxing. "Some will tell you, if you listen."

A soft chuckle found it way from Jake's throat. "Kit, that is a very rare trait. I've flown with some of the best, not many know how to keep the plane happy."

BlackFire smiled weakly, at what he chose to interpret as praise. "This one's not like any I've ever met." He said quietly. "She's a lot more 'aware' than the others. You're Jake, right?" He asked very softly, as if afraid of going to far.

"Yes, I designed and built Blackie." He nodded, settling down on the fuselage. "I guess I'm more than a little defensive about who touches her. But she likes you, and that's enough for me. I can count on one hand the number who she likes."

BlackFire nodded. "I understand." He said quietly. "Wasn't easy talking her into coming down here. She wanted to look for you first."

"Loyalty's kept us all alive for years." He patted the fuselage affectionately. "Even if her frame's been blown apart half a dozen times." Jake shifted to gaze to take in BlackFire more rationally, and decided he liked what he saw. "I seem to remember you were doing something before I snapped on you?"

"Uh huh, microcalibration." He said, as he began to feel a little more comfortable. "Shouldn't take more than another 15 minutes."

"Well, if you can take me watching over your shoulder, why don't you finish up?" Jake suggested, relaxing a little more about this stranger touching his jet.

BlackFire nodded. "I can do that." He said quietly, as he turned back to working. His delicate hands worked quickly and precisely, making the repair. It was very clear he enjoyed what he was doing, though he wasn't as focused, since he seemed to be watching Jake as well.

"I'm not going to hit you, kit." Jake said quietly as BlackFire finished up, slightly disconcerted with the level of submissive distress radiating from the small tom. "And I'm not angry with you, either."

"You're not?" BlackFire asked, clearly surprised as he secured the access panel. From the tone of his voice, it sounded like his surprise was in response to both. "But I didn't ask first." He said softly apologetic.

"You had her permission." Jake shook his head. "I was just so wound up, I didn't bother to check. That's my bad, not yours."

Jake's apology seemed to confuse the young tom, but he recovered a little more quickly. "It's okay, no harm done." He said as he carefully put his tools away on a soft cloth that he'd been using to protect the paint job.

"Now, I heard you call flying her exhilarating, yet temperamental." Jake chuckled softly. "Was she really that naughty?"

"Well, it was exhilarating 'cause I could feel the power that was available, and all the responsiveness. It's really like no plane I've worked with." He said admiringly. "But she kept trying to get me to try things out. I think she knew I wanted to, but I knew I shouldn't cause she's not my plane. That's how I found out about the calibration problem ... she offered to demonstrate Speed of Heat for me."

Jake's chuckle turned into a full-blown laugh. "She does like you." He shook his head and slid off to land next to Terry. "Go fly, just have her back by dawn."

"You mean it?" He said, smiling honestly for the first time since Jake had met him.

"Yes, I mean it." Jake chuckled. "I hardly need to hear her bitch at me for the next six months over it."

"I will. I'll take good care of her." BlackFire said as he ran across the hangar to get his flight suit.

Terry smiled as Jake landed next to him. "That went better than I expected."

"What did you expect?" The cinnamon tom raised an eyebrow as he started to walk out of the hanger.

"Given the aggression I could smell on you, I was expecting some serious bruising before I pulled you off him." He said quietly, as they left the hanger.

"Kits got good survival instinct, at least against me." Jake shook his head. "I have to be a lot angrier than that to hurt after a complete surrender. I bet there's some serious abuse in that past though." He added quietly. "Reminds me too much of me, especially after I got back."

"That's the general opinion." Terry said quietly. "BlackFire is something of a mystery. What isn't a mystery is his piloting skill, I've only seen a handful of pilots in the same class, and some days I think he beats them all."

"I can guarantee you he can." Jake shook his head. "He's literally fifty years too young the way he talks. Blackie's probably the first jet that comes even close to what he should be flying."

"You're probably right about the abuse. What you saw is pretty normal when he's on the ground. Male aggression causes him to fold entirely, total submission. We encourage him to stay on base for just that reason. He's too easy a target, for certain predators." Terry said quietly.

"Well, you've got a hell of a bargaining chip in that now." Jake turned his head to watch the TurboKat lift into the sky on a VTOL accent before roaring off, his eyes a little sad. "I'll probably give her to him in a couple months."

"Do you think she'll accept another gunner? Assuming we find one who's a good match for him." He asked quite serious.

"She's taken a new pilot, if he likes the gunner enough, she probably will." Jake shrugged. "It's not like she really needs a second person in there, it's just what we had."

"It's not her that needs the second person, it's him." He said quietly. "He's convinced he has to have a gunner. He's just hard to pair up."

"I know the feeling." Jake nodded sadly. "I can at least keep him entertained and out of trouble in the meantime." He shook his head. "Hell, find a gunner that can deal with Blackie and you've probably found a good match for him. She likes him more than Chance already."

Terry nodded. "I'll pass that along to personnel, see what they can do with it." He nodded. "Does she really? Well, he is pretty likeable."

"He listens to her." Jake chuckled. "You wouldn't believe how far that goes with that jet. Apparently he's got a light touch too. There are days I swear that jet has a libido."

"Most of the females I've known respond well to being listened to, so I guess it's not that surprising." He chuckled.

"Try to tell that to your average hotshot pilot." Jake shook his head. "Enough testosterone for six Kats in most of them."

Terry snorted. "Tell me about it, I've got three brothers who are. And then there's Syrina, female hotshot pilot, and just as bad."

"They seem to be." Jake chuckled. "Though if BlackFire can't handle male aggression, have you found out how he gets along with her?"

"Syrina? No, can't say I have." He said curiously. "She's an Enforcer currently and a pilot to boot. She doesn't really have the personality to be a gunner."

"Might want to check out how he deals with a female." Jake suggested. "I know they're not common, but he might take to one better. Assuming Blackie does. The only female she's been around is Felina, and she hardly counts as a 'she'."

"But seriously, most pilots don't really talk to their plane, they talk at them." He said quietly.

"Trust me, I know." Jake rolled his eyes. "I've gotten to hear about it every maintenance session since she woke up two years ago."

"So was her waking up something you were trying to make happen, or did it just happen?" Terry asked curiously.

"A little of both." Jake chuckled. "The first bit was an accident, the rest was with encouragement."

"Pretty impressive accident." Terry said admiringly. "Self-aware jet."

"It's not nearly as difficult as the computer geeks would have us believe." Jake said quietly. "At least not if you're willing to deal with what shows up, and not insist on having exactly what you want. Just like with a kit."

"I've wondered about that, watching Rik with some of the prototypes."

"They've probably got potential, if they aren't already predominately aware." Jake commented. "Think about what is built into those fighters: sensor arrays, communication systems, complex, decision-making computers for the weapon systems, emergency autopilots. If you think about it, a modern leading edge fighter must be fairly aware, just by definition of its duties."

"True, and I honestly hadn't really thought about it that way. I suspect the determining factor probably relates to the level of integration of the various systems."

"And the complexity of the main computer, along with how varied its duties are." Jake added easily. "A jet like Blackie, who's asked to do *everything* and them some, with high-level integration and a very advanced computer core for a jet, it's all but a given. It just takes some time."

"The trick then is recognizing the fact that system has woken up. The ability to really talk to systems and hear their response isn't very common."

"But it could be easy, as long as the crews knew what was coming, if we included a simple language program linked to the comm unit." Jake suggested.

"Might be an interesting test, to upgrade the comm system on the Narwhal that way." He said, thinking out loud.

"And Blackie." Jake added. "I only avoided it because there was no way he'd take it well. BlackFire seems to be able to handle it fine, and she's kind of wanted it for a while."

"I think he'd be absolutely thrilled." Terry smiled.

"I just hope I didn't make him permanently scared of me." Jake shook his head. "He's going to be a pilot I want to work with, especially with Remillard having another job."

"I'm not entirely sure of the psychology here, but you've become someone whose approval is very important to him." Terry said gently.

"Well, if he keeps up the kind of skill and caring he was displaying before I grabbed him, he'll get plenty of it." Jake nodded. "I'll keep that in mind, though. Make sure he knows when I like his work."

"Probably do him a world of good." Terry smiled.

"I remember what's it's like." Jake said softly. "To crave approval and not get it. And he deserves it."

Terry nodded. "No argument here. Though he has gotten it here, but still it's going to take time to heal what I think was a kittenhood of abuse."

"On top of a basically submissive personality." Jake murmured. "You don't get like that without starting out as something of a beta. Though it does mean he'll listen to the praise easier than someone who isn't." Jake said sadly. "Strong personalities are harder to break, and harder to heal."

"True, and I'm beginning to realize why I've been rather protective of him since he first showed up." He smiled affectionately at Jake.

"He's very endearing." The lean Kat chuckled as he bumped against his mate affectionately. "Even without the overt submissiveness he all but radiates 'come protect me' to us protective types."

"Not a quality you find in pilots very often." He shook his head. "But then again, he's not exactly your usual hotshot pilot, even if he is that good."

"And that will make him a truly outstanding test pilot." Jake chuckled with a bit of a smirk. "Hotshots have their place, but the calm ones tend to do better with the truly unknown. They survive it longer too."

"He does tend to handle the unusual well. Most of the pilots didn't even buy the Sea Dragon concept." He chuckled.

"Now before I make that one up, care to explain?" Jake asked, focused and curious even as his mind began it's own initial designs.

"It's an submersible jet. Fully functional sub fighter, as well as multi-role fighter jet. Niles came up with the initial concept, and Mayri over at Brainstorm finished it."

"Oh, like the mods I made to Blackie last year." Jake grinned. "T-Bone hated it, but he couldn't deny it could save out hides."

"Rik had the SeaDragon down to a mile deep before the engines started complaining. He wasn't happy when they made him bring it up for recalibration, he was convinced it could handle another half-mile down at least." He chuckled.

"And I'm sure he was right, unlike most hotshot's opinions when they're pushing limits." Jake chuckled. "I think I might just really enjoy working with him."

"Probably be good for both of you." Terry said approvingly.

Jake suddenly subdued. "Probably, but I so don't want another pilot right now. Even one like him."

"Just think of him as a research assistant if that makes it easier." Terry suggested gently.

"I'll figure something out." He leaned against the dark gray tom. "I don't suppose I can get some sleeping aids for tonight?" Jake asked softly. "I really need the rest. Quiet rest. Just for a couple nights, till things calm down a little."

"I'll get some from the house doctor. They're a little better than your average sleep pills, though still only good for a few days. Basically, modify the sleep cycle so you don't dream."

"A few days is all I want, Terry." Jake murmured as they found the way to their bedroom. "Just a few sort of sane days to try and think."

"I'll go talk to doc then." He said gently. "Might use 'em myself, at least tonight."

"Then let's go, and get some real rest." Jake smiled weakly and leaned against Terry to kiss him.

"After last night, we can both use it." He agreed, pulling the Kat close and claiming deep kiss.

Fear. Loss. Pain. Fear. The dream started as a swirl of unfocused emotions, that slowly focused, but still remained somewhat hazy. The dream caught the dreamer in a mirror, it was Terry but younger, his early twenties. He didn't no where he was, but the scents and sounds were unmistakably a hospital.

All the faces were hazy and indistinct, but it didn't matter ... he was looking for something, no someone. Then he heard the familiar voice, Jake! He remembered that he had to find his friend, and he started running but the corridors and stairs were all the same, and there were no signs. He could hear his friend in pain and he ran faster, but never seemed to get closer.

He came to a wall, and he could hear Jake just on the other side, but he couldn't get through. He tried to find a way around, but always the wall. No matter how fast he ran the wall always got there first, he was always too late. He ran harder pushing himself to the limits and beyond ... he could feel his heart racing, his pulse pounding but never enough, always too late. And always Jake's voice calling to him, the pain so clear it brought tears in blinding torrents. And then just as he turned another faceless corner there was a searing, ripping pain as though his entire body had been set ablaze.

Terry bolted upright, sweat dripping from his pores and his pulse pounding at his temple. As he looked around fearfully, and realized Jake was holding him, trying to comfort him, though the cinnamon tom was clearly almost as badly rattled.

"Just a dream, love." He tried to whisper soothingly. "It can't hurt you anymore."

Terry shivered quietly. "Just a dream." He repeated, clearly not certain. "I thought they were gone." He said quietly.

"Probably all this stuff about when I was missing brought them back." Jake murmured into his mate's hair. "Stress'll do that."

"Maybe." He said leaning against his mate. "I remember now, sleep drugs don't work on me. At least not any you can use without medical supervision."

"Well, I guess it's my turn to take care of you." Jake said softly. "Let's get all this scent off us."

"Yeah." He said standing slowly. "Sorry for waking you." He said quietly. "Doesn't seem sleep is in the cards around here."

"It's okay, love." Jake murred softly as he nuzzled his LifeMate. "It's long past time I got to take care of you for a change. I've kept you up enough nights, as I recall."

"Once in a while, I think." He grinned weakly, leaning into the contact.

"I swear it's more nights than not." Jake shook his head and kissed Terry's cheek. "Come, let's soak in the hot tub."

"That sounds good." He said quietly, as they headed to the bathroom. "And I never minded a bit." He said softly.

"I know." Jake murmured affectionately as he scanned for the controls. "You've always been good to me."

"Over here." He said demonstrating by starting the water, and then the whirlpool.

"Come in, then." Jake smiled and extended his hand as he stepped into the warm, swirling water as the pool filled.

Terry took the extended and slipped into the water, snuggling up to Jake. The dreams seemed further away when they were touching.

For his part, Jake was more than happy to sit there in the warm water and comfort his mate as he'd been comforted many a night. It helped push his own problems away to help his mate.

The warm water, and Jake's presence slowly washed the tension out of Terry until he was dozing in the water, completely relaxed as Jake looked down at him softly.

With a warm feeling of having paid back at least a little of what Terry have given him over the decades Jake settled into a light, resting awareness he got most of his mental rest in.

It was just after dawn when Terry slowly opened his eyes, and chuckled. "Fell asleep in the bathtub. That's a new one." He chuckled softly.

"You needed it." Jake purred and nuzzled the dark gray tom as he easily focused back on the room.

"Much better than the way I slept it off the last time." He rumbled quietly, nuzzling Jake back.

"No doubt." He murred and shifted to kiss Terry lightly, leaving it open for his mate to choose how far it went.

Terry claimed a slightly more passionate kiss, which he held for a while, enjoying the contact. "If you ignore the cause, this is a pretty comfortable place to wake up." He said with humor that was a little forced.

"That it is," Jake smiled at him. "But waking in your LifeMate's arms is usually a nice thing."

"Always has been." Terry smiled back as they settled into a comfortable silence for a long, relaxing time.

"Up for something to eat?" Jake asked softly.

"Yeah, feels like I've had days of heavy activity." He said quietly, nuzzling Jake affectionately. "Kitchen should be up for breakfast now." He smiled.

"Nightmares can do that." Jake smiled softly as he helped his thoroughly soaked mate from the whirlpool. "Do you know what that was a memory of? It kind of felt like one."

"Memory of a nightmare actually." He said quietly, as he got out. "I was having trouble dealing in the real world, and my dream world didn't do much better." He said as he turned on the blowers in the shower.

"It was when I was missing, wasn't it?" He murred softly as he stepped in behind Terry, and hugged him close from behind.

"Yeah, I didn't mean it to come out." He said quietly, leaning into the hug. "Guess I just didn't have it locked away as well as I thought."

"Same here." Jake hugged Terry tightly. "I never meant you to see what I survived, much less what it made me capable of."

Terry turned so he could take Jake in his arms. "I'm not sure how, but I think I knew before." He said quietly. "That was one of the less graphic dreams."

"I'm not surprised." He sighed softly, then tipped Terry's muzzle up for a gentle kiss. "Do you have any plans for the day?"

"Not really." He said quietly. "I figured plans weren't a good idea for the next few days. Just see what comes along."

"Well, what do you think about watching me work?" Jake half offered, half asked. "You seem to find it entertaining, and I'd like to get some time in with those pilots."

"Works for me, and it'll give me a chance to see if my ability to 'read' people extends to thinking machines." He said easily as Jake nuzzled him.

"Then let's get dress, fed and see about something interesting." Jake managed to sound nearly normal.

Terry nodded as the last of the moisture was washed from his fur by the warm air. Feeling a little more stable, he got dressed though not as quickly as normal.

"Kit's efficient, you have to give him that." Jake shook his head as they walked into the hanger to see the TurboKat fully refueled and the post-flight check written up in a flowing handwriting.

"And very attentive to detail, according to the other pilots. Some pilots breeze through certain items on the post-flight, but he actually does each one in detail." He smiled. "Surprised he's not still here, maybe he actually went and got some sleep."

"Breakfast and a shower." Jake shook his head and chuckled. "Gods, he's as bad as I am without you."

"Similar reason, I expect." Terry said understandingly.

"Probably," Jake murmured as he slipped next to his mate to hold him tightly. "At least I always had you."

Terry smiled affectionately. "We had each other." He said quietly.

"And now we have a very cute black fire." Jake chuckled and buried his nose against Terry's neck. "He just walked in the far door."

"So I noticed." Terry chuckled.

"Hi Jake. Hi Terry." The young tom waved, as he saw them.

"Hi, Rik." Terry said with a smile.

"Did you have a fun night?" Jake asked with a grin, though he made no move to leave his spot in Terry's embrace.

"Yeah, we went all over." He grinned. "She wanted to get to know her new home." The grin spread ear to ear. "It was so incredible. Even the advanced prototypes aren't anything like her." The pure happiness in his scent was unmistakable.

"Well, she's been a working girl her entire life, it leads to some interesting priorities in design." Jake chuckled and moved away from his mate. "Now, beyond incredible, what do you think of her? Specifics."

"She handles like a dream, even better than the Wraith." He said focusing. "Though I think the flight stick needs replaced, the bearings are worn from heavy use. She said the previous pilot was a bit heavy handed."

Jack chuckled. "Among other things."

"Acceleration is really good, but I was wondering are you using the latest generation in igniters?" He asked hesitantly. "It doesn't quite feel like it."

"No, I haven't gotten a hold of any yet." Jake shook his head. "Not that there's a piece of factory anything in her."

"We've got 'em here." Rik smiled. "Halycon manufactures them. I can get 'em from Stores if you'd like." He offered eagerly.

"Why not." Jake nodded with a smile. "It'll be good to see how we handle upgrades."

"I'll be right back!" He said with broad smile as he took off for Stores.

Terry smiled, and watched the young tom leave. It was hard not to smile around that kind of eagerness.

"I'm going to have to keep an eye on him." Jake shook his head. "He's going to be far too easy to take advantage of."

"He's very eager to please, especially where you're concerned." Terry nodded. "It's endearing, but it leaves him vulnerable."

"Hopefully he'll become more secure with a bit of approval, and real success."

"Probably, he's already gotten a lot better from when he first arrived. It's just not a quick process."

Jake smiled sadly. "It never is."

"True." Terry said giving his mate an affectionate nuzzle from behind. "But always worth the effort to help."

"And maybe I can pass some of that care on." Jake smiled up and reached his arm around to scratch Terry's ear, causing the gray Kat purred contentedly.

"Got 'em!" Rik called out as he came pushing a cart with several boxes on it.

"He's fast too." Jake chuckled as he went to great the fluffy black and white tom. "After we get these in, we can head up to see how she goes threw the paces."

"Cool." Rik grinned. "Got a new flightstick too. They didn't have the bearings for the old one, and this one is compatible with the socket used by the old one."

"Is it the one you like best?" Jake prompted as he checked out the new igniters. "Socket compatibility aside."

"Not really, the Photon II on the Wraith is far more responsive, but not many systems can handle the fully optical design." He explained. "Is it true you built her from stuff in a junkyard?" He asked curiously.

"Yes," Jake nodded easily as he leaped up to the top of the fuselage and opened the engine cover. "Would you get a Phantom II control stick? Blackie's got a lot of optics in her, and more is possible."

"Sure thing." The young tom said as he took off again while Jake went to work making the minor reconfigurations required to get the igniters to work.

"Got it." Rik said as he came back with another box. He walked over to see exactly what Jake was doing, careful not to get in the way as the cinnamon tom made some final tweaks to the engine configuration, with his claws, not any tools.

"Good," Jake looked up and shifted to squat and look at the young tom. "Let's see what it hooks up like."

Patrik nodded, opened the box and lifted the flight stick assembly out. It was clearly cutting edge, and actually consisted of the primary optic control circuits and a more tradition mechanical back up.

"Mmm, it'll take some rewiring, but it's just taking the weapon control structure I installed to the control level." He murmured as he considered the set-up. "Shouldn't be too difficult."

Rik nodded, and watched intently, fascinated.

Across the Hangar, Terry watched quietly. In the back of his mind, he was somewhat concerned about what his older brother might do. The big tom had taken the whole affair even more poorly than Terry had, at least on some levels. Terry hoped he'd resign quietly, if he was going to do that.

Terry was watching Jake and Patrik working on reconfiguring the TurboKat when a blonde shekat arrived with a hearty, flavorful lunch for the three of them, on a rolling cart.

"Jake! Rik! Lunch!" Terry shouted, echoing a bit in the hangar.

Jake chuckled as he set down what he was working on, and carefully disentangled himself from the guts of the jet's control system before jumping down.

"Some things never change." He walked up to his mate for a quick kiss.

"Nope." Terry chuckled. "You still forget meals, if I don't remind you." He said, giving the Kat a quick nuzzle.

"He does it to me too." Rik smiled. "When he's down here."

Terry smirked. "Never even thought about it, guess I must have developed a habit of delivering meals to hangars."

"Because you've developed an interest in types that hang out in hangers, and need the delivery service." Jake chuckled as he investigated the offerings.

"Yeah, old friends and new." He smiled warmly, examining lunch. "Looks like the kitchen has done its usual spectacular job."

"And who's surprised?" Jake smirked as he selected a thick, meaty sandwich and several fruits.

Rik quietly walked over and picked up a sandwich, not seeming to pay it much attention, as he started eating.

"Surprised, not hardly." Terry chuckled. "I may enjoy cooking, but it is nice to have someone I can trust it with."

"Trust?" Jake raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me my last attempt at cooking was that scary."

"Love, you have a great many wonderful talents." Terry said with a warm smile. "But cooking is not one of them. Kind of like my attempt at say, auto repair." He chuckled, remembering a very unsuccessful attempt as Jake winced.

"Point taken." The cinnamon tom chuckled as he worked on the sandwich. "Though I'm not the worst cook in the world."

"The worst, no definitely not." He chuckled. "Greg is definitely a worse cook. Burned water once."

Rik sipped at his milk and observed quietly as Jake snickered, slowly dissolving into a mirthful ball of cinnamon fur.

"Oh, that is bad."

Terry was laughing broadly, sitting down next to the ball of fur as Jake uncurled. "Yeah, it's always been my counter to the fact that he actually has artistic talent."

"We all have our gifts." Jake chuckled, then rolled his head back to look at Patrik upside-down. "So, you got a hobby, besides flying like no one else?"

Patrik blinked, apparently caught off guard. "Ummm, not really." He said quietly, though the tone of his voice said that he'd never really thought about it before.

"Care to check some possibilities out?" Jake smiled reassuringly.

Rik smiled. "Sure. I guess maybe a little time out of the hangar would be good."

Terry chuckled. "Yeah, it's good some fresh air once in a while."

"Ter," Jake shifted his gaze to his mate, though he made no effort to sit up. "Are there riding horses here?"

"Yep, one of the old family hobbies was horse breeding. Though it was a bit more of a necessity when they started."

There was a moment of uneasy thought. "How far out does the secure line go?"

"You mean as in phone communications? We can secure communications pretty much to anywhere we need to, why?" He asked curiously.

"Area security." Jake tried to clarify. "How far out is it safe to ride?"

"We've got a five mile radius from the main buildings secure. Security sweeps are covering out to ten miles, but beyond five there's the risk of sniper activity." He said easily.

"Sounds like a nice beginners ride, and refresher course for me." He chuckled before pushing himself up and looked at Patrik. "Unless you already know you don't like riding or horses."

"Never tried." He shook his head.

"Well, then after we get the install and test-flight finished, care to try?" Jake offered. trying not to sound pushy.

Rik nodded. "Sounds like it could be fun."

Terry smiled. "I'll let the stables know. Jake, you've ridden before, any preference in mount?"

"Something reasonably well trained and cooperative." He chuckled. "It's been years."

Terry chuckled. "Okay, I'll tell the stable to leave Brimstone home." He smirked, as he turned to walked over to the phone.

"Unless you're riding him." Jake shot back with a laugh as he grabbed a second sandwich.

"I just might." He smirked.

"But then, that would take out fooling around on horseback." Jake winked.

Terry chuckled. "Well, we could always share a horse." He smirked.

"If mine's well trained, at least." Jake purred back, then relaxed to his side to look at Patrik. "Are you seeing anyone?" He asked curiously.

Patrik shook his head. "No."

"Well, I guess it'll just be the three of us then." Jake shrugged, then focused on Patrik. "BlackFire ... if our playing makes you uncomfortable, please say so."

"Why would it bother me?" He asked confused. "It's not like everybody doesn't know how crazy he is about you. You're both happier when you're playing."

Jake smiled softly. "Some people prefer it when mates keep their activities calm in public. I just wanted to make sure it doesn't bother you."

Rik smiled. "Don't worry, it doesn't." He said easily.

"Good to know." Jake twisted easily to his feet. "Finish up at leisure. I've got a good hour left before she's ready to fly." He smiled at the pilot.

Patrik finished eating quietly, and then went back to watching Jake work on the TurboKat, completely fascinated by how each repair was done.

"Okay," Jake let out a breath as he secured the last panel in the cockpit. "She's ready for a test run."

"Cool. I'll change into my flight gear." Patrik said excitedly, before hopping down from where he was watching, and running off.

Terry chuckled. "I'd don't think he walks anywhere."

"I remember those days." Jake smiled nostalgically. "It's been a few years for us though."

"A few." Terry smiled, climbing up hug the lean tom. "A lifetime ago, it seems sometimes."

"I wouldn't mind if it really was." Jake said quietly and he leaned into the contact gratefully. "I wish you could come on this test." He whispered softly.

"I know." Terry said quietly. "And it's a two-seater." He said gently. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere." He said hugging the Kat tight.

"You're not the .... I have to go up, BlackFire has to fly." Jake leaned close. "It's going to be a while before I'm going to be able to be alone." He said very softly.

"I wish I was a better pilot." Terry said quietly. "But this is just not something I can do." He apologized softly.

"I know, I don't blame you." He nodded against the warm chest.

"Jake, my grandmother's grandmother once said that once two people had shared dreams, they were never truly apart. So in a way I am going to be with you." He said trying to offer his mate something to lean on.

"And I trust Blackie to get me home." Jake took a deep breath and pulled away gradually. "I'm going to feel a lot better when she's dead and gone."

"Why's that?" He asked, confused by Jake's statement about the plane.

"She won't hunt me once she dead." Jake said quietly, not meeting Terry's gaze. "She's probably the only thing I'm honestly terrified of, of being taken back there."

"Sorry, I misunderstood." He said quietly. "And I understand. The thought of losing you again, scares me more than anything. But it's not going to happen. If I have to level her whole stinking country, it's not going to happen." Terry said fiercely.

"I know." Jake forced a smile as he heard Patrik running back. "I'll survive. I don't plan on a long flight."

"You can handle it." Terry said nuzzling the tom affectionately. "I believe in you."

"Okay, I'm ready." Patrik said as he stopped next to the jet. "Ready, Jake?"

"Ready as I'll ever be." The cinnamon tom nodded and grabbed his helmet on reflex, freezing as he looked down at his lost past in red and blue.

Jake squeezed his eyes shut, desperately trying to make the memories and thoughts go away.

Terry put his arm around his mate, and pulled him into a tight hug, gently encouraging him to let go of the helmet until he fell from numb fingers.

Patrik quietly walked back to the storage locker and got one of the spares that he judged would fit Jake properly.

With a shuddering breath Jake shook his head. "I can't ... I'm sorry," he looked at Patrik. "You ... you can take her up to test if you want, Rik. I can't do this yet."

"It's okay, Jake." He said quietly. "I'll take good care of her." He said as he climbed up.

"I know, you're a good pair." Jake said approvingly as he accepted Terry's gentle guiding out of the way, so the TurboKat could take off.

Terry watched as the plane took off, amazed that he could see a bond beginning to form between plane and pilot, like he'd seen so many other alliances. The gray Kat sighed quietly, wondering if maybe he'd made a mistake not letting Jake kill Chance, maybe the death would've given Jake some freedom from the pain the tabby caused.

"Just as well I can't fly gunner anymore." Jake said softly as he watched the jet perform under her new pilot's touch. "It's not like it was my first choice of lives, anyway."

"What was your first choice?" He asked quietly, amazed that they'd never really had this discussion. "You never really explained why you enlisted." That had been a time when Jake hadn't told him a lot of things.

"It was the best option I saw." He shrugged slightly as he stared at the sky. "When no one would buy or hire me on my designs ... it was too much to turn down, to be pursued for my skills after that. It wasn't like I didn't like the idea of being an officer; it had its bright points. I like helping."

Terry sighed, looking back at the departing jet in the distance, and remembering a design no one could place. "You submitted very early sketches of the TurboKat, right?"

"Yeah." Jake murmured as he pressed close to his mate, his eyes drifting close. "They weren't perfect, but the core of it is still flying."

"Good enough that my grandfather is still trying to find where those unlabelled sketches came from. They were found in the safe of a manager who made a habit of making decisions without authority, including not hiring designers." He said quietly.

"It's past, Ter." Jake murmured. "It's not like he was the only one. I went to all six fighter houses."

"Well, the other five I don't know what their problem was. I just wished I'd known you were trying. I could've helped." Terry said, a little of the pain from the months when Jake hardly acknowledged him sneaking back. It had been almost as bad as the missing months.

"Some things you have to do on your own, even if it's to fail." Jake said quietly. "You, know?"

"I guess." He said quietly. "Its just the corporate route would've been better." He said thinking how much pain could've been avoided.

"Maybe." Jake shook his head. "It's not like it actually matters. "I am not going to play the time travel game over this. I'm going cooperate now, we're LifeMates, we have a good future ahead of us." He turned to meet his mate's troubled gray-blue eyes. "Let it go, Terry. We'll deal with the fallout, but don't cloud the future with it."

Terry nodded. "You're right. Letting go never has been my strong suit." He said quietly.

"Not like it's mine, either." Jake smiled before wrapping his arms around Terry's neck to pull him into a long, tender kiss.

"Jake, as long as we're talking future I think we need to consider where that's going to be." He said quietly. "You don't have answer now, but I'd like you to consider staying down here." He sighed. "I don't really want to go back to MKC."

"Neither do I." He murmured. "I can learn to like it here, once I know it." Jake said with some certainty. "It's just the newness is stressful."

"Maybe tomorrow we can do some sightseeing, it might help you feel more at home." Terry suggested gently, not pushing.

"Not like I'm going to object," Jake chuckled softly and rubbed his head against Terry's neck. "But it's just going to take time. Though pointers on weapon catches and armored spots would be a very good start."

"We can cover that after dinner if you'd like. At least enough that the house will seem more secure to you." He offered.

"That would be nice." Jake smiled softly. "Where to arm, where to hide, who to trust. At least having something in each column would help."

"One thing you might want to do is get comfortable using middle ages weaponry. There's usually something like that not too far away no matter where you are in the main house." Terry chuckled. "Great Grandfather was a serious collector of old sharp objects."

"I know a little." Jake smiled with a chuckle. "Knife and staff so far, I expect others wouldn't been too hard. Not like I'm ever without my knife."

"Yeah, so I noticed." He chuckled. "You've got the reflexes, I'm sure the others will come pretty easy." He added confidently. "Just for reference, there's a weapons cache behind short red lockers in the changing area, and a security room here." He said elbowing the wall causing a panel to slide aside. "Secures from the inside."

"Nice." Jake purred softly before turning his full attention to his LifeMate and wrapped his arms around Terry's neck. "We're going to make it through this." He whispered before leaning forward for a kiss.

"Yes, we are." Terry said quietly, as he claimed a warm, loving kiss from his mate as Jake gently pressed him back, against the wall.

With gradually bolder hands he slid down Terry's sides to hook his thumps inside the gray tom's pants.

Terry purred with growing excitement, as his hands caressed Jake's shoulders and back encouragingly.

"You are mine." Jake growled with unusual possessiveness before claiming a fierce kiss and unbuttoning Terry's jeans.

Terry returned the kiss with passion while he freed the Kat's shirt from his jeans, allowing his hands to work sensual patterns in the soft cinnamon fur.

With a low chuckle Jake sank to his knees to alternate between nuzzling Terry's thickening sheath, and suckling the gray tom's balls.

Commander Feral had only been gone half an hour when the doorbell rang at the Arden Street apartment.

Chance lifted himself up off the couch where he'd been watching TV and made his way to the door. Not expecting any visitors he hit the button on the intercom panel rather than opening the door immediately.

"Hello? Who's there?"

"This is Lt. Amstead of the Enforcers, I have a message for Chance Furlong from Deputy Mayor Briggs." A very professional male voice answered.

"I'm Furlong," Chance told him.

"Deputy Mayor Briggs would like to see you in her office, regarding an important matter. She says you know what she means by that." Amstead said simply. "I'm here to transport you to her office."

Chance took his finger off the intercom for a moment so that he could swear in private. "Sorry Lieutenant, I'm not going anywhere. I'm here for my own protection and there is no way you're getting me on the other side of that door."

"Mr. Furlong, Deputy Mayor Briggs told me to ask first. But I do have a warrant to bring you in for questioning. I will use it if you force the issue." He said evenly. "You can come willingly, or otherwise. Choice is yours."

"If she wants to talk, then I'm more than happy to talk. Here. Fact is, the Deputy Mayor has no authority to summon a private citizen to her office against their will, and unless you have specific charges to lay against me you can't force me to go with you either. I was an Enforcer myself, and I know my rights."

"Actually, you appear to be forgetting the Special Investigations Authorizing Act, which does allow it under circumstances where the city's defenses have been compromised by actions direct, or indirect, of the Enforcer Commander. If I have to use this warrant, then this becomes an official investigation. If you come willingly it isn't."

Chance sighed softly, resting his head against the wall. If there was an investigation then all these years of keeping it secret would be for nothing. All the hurt that Jake had suffered would be for nothing.

"Lieutenant," he said slowly, his voice resigned, "I have a genuine fear for my life. Two days ago I was subject to an assault with intent to kill, and the Commander has sufficient cause to believe it won't be the last time. This is his apartment after all. I wouldn't be here unless he was concerned for my safety. I am not trying to avoid speaking with the Deputy Mayor, but I am the target of some very dangerous people and I would rather like to live."

"Mr. Furlong, I appreciate your concerns. But the Commander's apartment is simply unacceptable due to the situation." He said evenly. "We are trained to protect and transport people threatened by powerful and dangerous people. If you're at risk with us, then you're likely at risk in there as well."

"All right," Chance caved in, knowing he really had no choice. "Can you give me five minutes to find a shirt?"

"Of course." He said politely. "Please don't complicate matters by calling the Commander." He advised quietly.

Chance didn't even reply to that, heading into Feral's bedroom to grab the shirt he'd worn yesterday. For the first time he wondered if he should have let Feral buy some clothes for him and keep them here, but he didn't have much time to wonder about it. He slipped his key into his back pocket, turned off the TV, and hesitantly opened the door.

"Thank you, Mr. Furlong." The tall, athletic brown and white tabby tom said easily. He was flanked by two large burly toms, who didn't have their weapons drawn, but who Chance could tell were wearing body armor. "If you'll come this way." He said, indicating that Chance should follow the one tom, as the other followed along behind Amstead.

A van was waiting at the outside door as close as it could get to the door providing maximum cover. "Wait." Amstead said.

"All Clear." A female voice said after a moments pause.

"Okay, you can get in now." Amstead said, getting into the comfortably appointed, but windowless van. "City Hall." He said to the driver, and leaned back as the door slid shut, and the van started off.

Chance sat in silence, visibly unhappy with the situation but equally aware that he had no choice but to do as he had.

The security measures were equally tight as they pulled into the secure garage behind city hall. The guards carefully checked before motioning to Chance to get out. A secure elevator took them to the floor Callie's office was on.

As they walked down the hall, a large tom in jeans and a collared shirt passed them going the opposite direction.

"Nice to see you, Derek." He said in deep voice, that Chance found familiar.

"Long time no see, Greg." Amstead acknowledged with a smile.

As the tom turned a corner, Chance placed him. He was the big tom who'd pulled Jake off him the other night.

Chance froze in place as the realization hit him, shrinking in against the wall as the tom disappeared from sight and hurrying forward one he was gone.

Amstead looked at Chance curiously, but didn't say anything. He stopped at the door to Callie's office and knocked before opening the door.
"Deputy Mayor Briggs, I brought Chance Furlong, like you asked." He said.

"Thank you, send him in." The shekat's voice sounded a bit fatigued. "And leave the warrant with the clerk, since its not needed."

"You can go in." The tom said stepping out of the way, and closing the door behind Chance once he went in.

The peach shekat was dressed in her usual pink business suit and was sitting behind a desk that was mostly buried by two piles of paper. The normally open windows were covered by impressive metal security shutters.

"You could have just phoned or something," the tabby grumbled softly as he seated himself, hunching himself down in the chair.

"Really. Somehow, T-bone, I doubt you'd appreciate that." She said evenly, her choice of words precise and leaving no doubt as to her certainty. "And I'd prefer to keep the impending crisis off of things like phones that can be tapped."

She the looked up and fixed bright green eyes on Chance. "You want to tell me your side of what happened?" She asked quietly.

"Basically, no," he said bluntly. "I wouldn't even be here if not for the fact your boy would've broken the door down anyway."

"I see." She said quietly. "That just leaves me with Jake's statement that you betrayed him in some fashion that was serious enough to warrant breaking up SWAT. If it wasn't for the anger and hatred in his voice, I wouldn't have been inclined to believe him. Though I could see how he'd take an ongoing romantic relationship with his rapist as betrayal." She said bluntly.

"You know if you've gone to all this trouble just to drag me up here and try to make me feel bad you've really wasted your time. I doubt there's anything you can say which'll make me feel worse than I do already."

"No, actually I didn't know about that until a few moments ago." She said quietly. "I'm just trying to understand why Commander Feral has sabotaged a key component of the city defenses, and why you're helping him do it. I guess I was hoping maybe you'd had a change of heart.

"Foolish sentimentality, I suppose." She said as she stood and turned to look toward the closed shutters. "I hoped I might be able to fix things before innocent lives are lost. I just hope whatever the two of you are protecting is worth the lives it's going to cost. I guess I was really hoping for the hero. Clearly, he never really existed." She said quietly. "I'm finished with you. You can leave."

"You are so full of crap," the tabby said viciously. "If your office had approved funding for SWAT any of the times Feral had asked for it then Jake and I wouldn't have had to loose our badges for it. You can't do crap on the grounds of 'the city's defenses' because SWAT was never a part of it." Chance became more animated as he went on, pain and bitterness just flooding out of him. "We were awfully convenient for you, but you'd never pay for us. Hell, as far as the law's concerned there's two less lunatics with weaponry flying around."

"Oh dear. Commander Feral's spreading that one around again is he." She chuckled. "He pulls that every so often. He never actually wanted to detail what he wanted the money for. Just a blank check increase, no explanation. And as for what he did to you and Jake, that was his unilateral decision.

"And in seven years, he never once suggested that we fund SWAT. He had the authority to deputize SWAT and make it legal, but he never did. I don't know what game he's playing, but frankly I don't have time.

She pulled out a file, walked over and handed it to Chance. "This the paperwork making SWAT official. Every year I send it to Feral, and every year I get it back unsigned. Maybe he should explain that."

"Now I know you're full of shit," the tabby snarled. "He built SWAT up for me. It was gonna be me and Jake all along, and I've seen the budget rejections from city hall, itemized and everything." Chance took a deep breath, trying to reign himself in a little. "Did he tell you he just lay there under Feral? Even after Felina and I walked in? The Commander had a harder time convincing me into bed than he did Jake."

"And here's the budgets submitted for the same years." She said hauling papers out of a file cabinet. "No itemization."

"Jake didn't tell me, Chance." She said quietly. "And it doesn't matter whether Jake lay there or fought tooth and nail ... rape doesn't require resistance." She said angrily. "And no rapist is fit to command."

"So that's what all this crap is about. You must be so glad you can finally pin something on him."

"Far from it." She said quietly. "Frankly, this is going to cause more disruption than we need in the Enforcer ranks. But the law applies to everyone, and that includes the Commander."

"Except to people who you find convenient, like the SWAT Kats. Feral does a damned good job, and you know it. He did what he did to protect me, and he's more concerned about all this than you know. If Jake leaves the city he could end up in serious trouble."

"I'm glad you can live with him raping someone who was supposedly your friend to protect you." She growled. "And the SWAT Kats never did anything that came close to rape.

"His concern is touching, and if we're lucky won't cost the Enforcers a major supplier. You may be able to rationalize rape so you can sleep with him, but there is no way it can in good conscience be justified."

Chance snorted and turned to leave. "You weren't even interested in anything I might have to say. You've decided about everything already." He shot the words back across his shoulder as he stalked out.

"If you'd actually said something I might have been." She shouted.

"What?" He whirled on his heel to face her again. "Exactly what is it I could possibly have to say that would matter against what Jake wants? I can sleep with whoever the hell I choose, and if you think I'm gonna be with him for ten years and then just walk out because some foreign bitch blackmailed him then you're off your head."

"Jake hasn't said he wants anything." She replied. "And has it ever occurred to you how dangerous it is for the city to have its military commander taking orders from a foreign power? And if he's willing to commit rape to protect his career what else can she get him to do? And the penalties for the Commander sleeping with a cadet only apply to military personnel, you can't punish civilians in military court."

Chance sighed miserably and leant back against the wall. "I know. I know all this, and it's not as though I'm happy it happened. Jake did his best to kill me when I tried to explain it to him, but I'd do it again. I really need him to understand this. And he knows about all about this woman, who she is and what she wants. It's all about him." By the time chance had finished his voice had subsided into little more than a low mumble, hard for Callie to make out from across the room.

Callie sighed, thinking maybe she saw a glimmer of the Chance she had admired in the past. "Chance, if you want to explain things to Jake then you'll have to talk to his mate and convince him. Terry's the only way you'll get to Jake."

Chance shook his head and pushed himself off the wall. "It's not gonna happen, he hates me more than you do. Are you done with me now?"

Callie sighed. "Hate, no." She said quietly. "A bit disappointed, yes. And if Terry actually hated you, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

"It's not Terry's opinion I care about," the tabby muttered softly.

"Yes, you can go." She said sadly. "Just be careful, Chance. Everything else aside, Feral's misjudged things badly this time. And we're all going to pay for it."

Chance nodded, reaching for the door. "We are all paying for it Miss Briggs, him included. If you charge him, then this pain has been for nothing ... think about it before you do anything." The tabby slipped out through the door, resting against the wall outside for a few moments before he started down the hallway.

Felina was reviewing a number of reports that had found their way to her desk when her cell started to ring. Sighing in relief, she opened it and turned it on. Anything had to be better than the paperwork.

"Lieutenant Feral speaking."

"Lieutenant, this is Deputy Mayor Briggs. I need to speak with you in my office. As soon as you can get here would be best." Callie said polite, but clearly not making a request. Felina could also hear some tension in the shekat's voice.

'Well,' she thought, 'at least it's something other than paperwork - probably not good, though, given the tone of her voice.'

"Yes, ma'am. I'll be out there as soon as I can." Felina closed the files and locked them in her desk.

"I'm on my way now." She hung up and stood to leave - then realized what this was probably about, given the Deputy Mayor's connections, albeit unofficial, with the SWAT Kats.

"Damn. Never thought I'd be glad I don't know much." Felina walked out to her car quickly, and started for City Hall.

The deputy mayor was standing looking out her window when Felina arrived. A pile of papers covered her desk, including what looked to be a courier envelope between the Deputy Mayor's office and Commander Feral's office. Felina thought she could detect the scent of an agitated Chance in the air.

"Thank you for coming, Lieutenant." She said turning to face the much taller shekat. "Please have a seat." She said evenly.

"Thank you." Felina sat down politely and sorted through what she could put together. If Chance had been here, he'd probably told her about what had happened. Not good.

'Okay, Fel,' she thought to herself, 'just play it by ear - and don't think about what happened too much if you can help it. You've just managed to sort things out to the point where you can keep working under him, don't blow it now.'

"Miss Briggs, if you'll forgive me being somewhat blunt, what's wrong? You sounded upset over the phone."

"I hope you'll forgive my being equally blunt, Lieutenant." The shekat said quietly. "To the best of your knowledge, has Commander Feral committed any felony crimes in the last seventy-hours?" She asked, no indication in her posture or voice as to what answer she was expecting.

Felina closed her eyes as the various justifications and excuses she'd been coming up with on her way over evaporated. "Yes, though no charges were brought or seem likely to be, I don't know why not."

"As a law enforcement officer, surely you're aware that rape victims are often unwilling to come forward." Callie said gently. "However, that isn't why I asked you here. As second-in-command, you need to be aware of the situation and the potential crisis facing the city."


"It has been suggested that he committed the crime due to blackmail by a foreign source. Though an explanation, it is not a justification since there is none possible." She said firmly. "It is extremely dangerous for the military commander to be in the control of a foreign power.

"Commander Feral's rape of Razor has destroyed the SWAT Kats, who while unofficial were an important part of the city's defenses." She said quietly. "In addition, it's beginning to cause personnel problems in the Enforcers. It's also damaging our relations with one of the major military suppliers." She said, tiredly.

"By the book, I should hand this over to Special Investigations, relieve Commander Feral of command and place you in command pending the outcome of the investigation." She said quietly. "This is a scandal the Enforcers don't need." The shekat paused watching Felina's reactions.

Felina tried to keep her expression neutral, but she could tell that she wasn't doing nearly as good a job as she'd like - anyone who wasn't blind could tell that she was trying to keep a lid on a mix of emotions that had come up during Callie's explanation of events. Mainly the defensive anger that had flared up when she was talking about the blackmail, and a sense of resignation when the consequences had been mentioned.

"Those are all very good points, Miss Briggs. To tell the truth, I've thought of a lot of them myself, although I wasn't aware of the issues with the suppliers yet. You're absolutely right about the scandal, though. I take it you have a suggestion for avoiding that and dealing with the other concerns?"

"The supplier issue is due to Razor being LifeMates with one highly placed member of the family that owns it. I think you can understand that they are outraged to say the least." She explained.

"I can understand a lot more than outrage. Just hope that they don't decide that whatever solution is reached isn't enough." Felina nodded.

Callie shook her head. "If that was the case, they wouldn't have bothered making an official complaint to my office. Other things they could've done quietly." She said. "I would recommend your uncle watch his back for Razor though.

"A suggestion I made myself." Felina commented quietly.

"As for suggestions, I've only come up with one so far that will relieve the problems, and it's less than perfect. If the Commander resigns on his own, then SI doesn't have to get involved because the only issue remaining is outside their jurisdiction. It also removes the problem of blackmail, because a civilian can't be punished for a military offense of this nature.

"It's not perfect, and we lose the Commander's experience but keeping him has cost one experienced officer already and given the family connections, I'm expecting more resignations this afternoon." She said tiredly. "Frankly, he would've been hard pressed to pick a more disastrous victim if he tried."

"This is not his fault. Not entirely, at least. But you're right about the solution, I'm afraid. Though I don't see how his resignation could protect anybody from the blackmail unless I misjudged him quite a bit." Felina tried to keep the part of her that was saying she was betraying him quiet - she knew that Callie was right, regardless of what she felt about the situation.

"He's being blackmailed with pictures of him having sex with a cadet, Chance Furlong." She said simply. "As a ranking Enforcer that's a court martial offense. However, as a civilian he couldn't be tried by a military court, and it's not a criminal offense. I'll assume that he was trying to avoid the scandal a court martial would've caused the Enforcers." She said trying her level best to be generous.

Felina couldn't help the confusion from registering in her expression.

"What the - him and.... That explains a few things, though, I guess. But if the people responsible were to release those photographs after his resignation, while it would avoid the court-martial, it would still spark quite a bit of controversy. And the whole thing depends on his being willing to resign."

"Controversy we'll deal with, a little spin will make it look like he did the honorable thing and resigned to spare the Enforcers any embarrassment. And I know it does, I'm hoping you have some leverage with him. Before I've got too many Enforcers on 'temporary transfer' to SI just so I can put them on 'administrative leave'.

"I know that sounds convoluted, but it was the only way to keep a decorated fifteen year veteran officer from resigning over this." She said. "I know this can't be a comfortable position for you, and for that I'm sorry." The Deputy Mayor said sincerely.

"Trust me, it's not nearly as uncomfortable a position as I was in a few nights ago. At least not until I talk to him.

"One thing to consider is that my 'leverage' with him is not likely to extend that far, unless he can be convinced that it is for the best, and that there is a way to protect everybody involved. And, while you might be able to spin any controversy for the public, think of what it'd look like for the Commander to run away from his own lapse in judgment. That's at least one of the things he'll think of, I'm sure. I just hope he'll be willing to listen."

"Perhaps by avoiding the word 'run'. Actually it's simply facing up to the consequences of that lapse in judgment. Hopefully, he'll be willing to spare the Enforcers and the City any more problems, than have already occurred." She said evenly. "I'll hold any further action as long as I can, to give you time to talk to him." She added. "I just hope things stay quiet."

Felina stood and nodded. "So do I, Miss Briggs. I should probably go talk to him now, then. While I still know it's the best thing to do."

"Of course." The pale peach shekat nodded. "And thank you." She said, as she opened the door.

Felina walked out quietly, and went out to her car. When she was ready to leave, her shoulder's slumped.

"I think I would have preferred the paperwork." With that, she turned the key and started back towards headquarters, trying to figure out just how she was going to say this to him.

Jake was still on his knees, licking his mate clean when they both heard someone making an effort to let them hear her coming on high heals.

"Company, Love." Terry said as he made himself presentable. "Akisha from the sound of it."

"At least she waited till the fun was over." Jake murred as he stood for a last kiss, letting Terry taste himself.

"Discretion is one of her strong suits." He murred as their lips parted.

"My apologies for disturbing you, but a call for Razor has been relayed from the Brighton Street apartment. It's from Deputy Mayor Briggs." She said. "She's holding on the phone in the telemetry office." The Kantin said, indicating the back office with a nod of her head.

"That's something to be disturbed for." Jake's eyebrow shot strait up even as an uneasy knot made itself felt in his gut.

"Thank you, Akisha." Terry nodded, as he led the way to the back office where he finished the connection before offering the phone to Jake.

"Just press the 'Talk' button." Terry said quietly.

The cinnamon tom took a deep breath and did so. "Jake BrightClaw here." He said quietly.

"Hi, Jake." Callie's voice replied, though it seemed more tired that he was used to hearing. "I just found out about what Feral did to you ... are you alright?" The concern in her voice was completely honest and personal.

"Getting there." He answered quietly. "I've got a lot of support here."

"Good, I was worried about you." She said relaxing. "Are you planning to file charges?" She asked gently.

"No," Jake shook his head. "No point of it. He wasn't the source." He added with more strength in his voice than he felt.

"The blackmail, yes that's been confirmed a couple of times." She said easily. "Jake, I'm trying to figure out why that person is messing with my city's defenses to get to you, but I don't see a reason. Why does she hate you so much?" She asked, sounding more stressed than she usually didn't during a Monster-of-the-Week situation.

Jake quietly grabbed a chair to sit down, searching for the least painful way to give her what she'd need.

With a deep breath, he spoke. "It's not hate, it's desire. She couldn't break me on her own, now she's fighting dirty. I don't know why she waited eleven years. I don't know why she chose what she did. Maybe she's after more than just me ... always was ambitious. I am sure this won't be the end of it, against me or Feral. He failed her, she won't forgive that." He got out in a rush, before he could change his mind.

Callie didn't want to think about what kind of monster would want to break someone she desired. "Well, I won't forgive her hurting a good friend, or costing the city a valued officer." She said, anger replacing some of the fatigue. "I'm just glad you've got a LifeMate with enough connections to protect you."

"And the desire to." Jake murmured softly as he reached with his free hand for Terry.

"Jake, Feral didn't have anything to do with SWAT's formation did he?" She asked, though her tone said that she'd heard something that she didn't quite believe. "I mean, aside from the obvious."

Her last words were nearly drowned out by a roar of raw outrage as Jake lunged to his feet. "Who the FUCK said that?"

"I take that as, no." She said quietly. "It seemed unbelievable but since Chance told me I had to wonder. Something about Feral getting turned down for funding, though I've got a stack of budgets that say he never really asked."

Jake was trembling in pure rage as he spoke. "Thank you." His voice was tightly controlled. "Can I clear up any other mysteries?"

"No, that was really the only mystery. Besides, I really called to see if you were alright." She said quietly. "Anything I can do to help you?" She offered, clearly still concerned.

"Just do what you can to keep MKC safe." He said much more softly, though his body language belied the more relaxed tone. "So I don't have that on my mind."

"That's kind of my job, Jake." She chuckled lightly. "Don't worry about the City, Felina and I can handle it. You just take care of yourself." She said with a bit more confidence than she felt. "I'll talk to you later." She said before hanging up.

Terry put a reassuring hand on Jake's shoulder as the line closed.

"That Kat is so dead." Jake rumbled in utter fury. "It's not enough to betray me, he gives credit to his lover for all my work."

"If you really want to be vicious, just let him live to deal with Feral after he's been stripped of his command. I don't imagine that'll be a pretty sight." He chuckled a trifle more maliciously than intended.

Jake quirked an eyebrow at Terry. "I'm missing something there."

Terry nodded. "Callie used the phrase 'Felina and I' in reference to protecting the city. And she never used Feral's title." He explained. "Politics are something I understand intuitively, even over the phone, and its pretty clear that Callie either has removed Feral from command or is planning to. And she had already made the decision before she talked to you."

"Oh, I got that." Jake frowned. "And it'll be good for the city. But what's so bad about living with a deposed Feral? They've been together nine years."

"The Kat has no identity that he doesn't attach to his career. That career has been the focus of his life for his entire adulthood. And simple fact is, Chance only slept with him, he didn't live with him. I expect that'll be a world of difference." Terry explained as a trace of comprehension flicked across Jake's face. "I don't know that Chance is up to handling a depressed, angry Kat like Feral on a twenty-four-eight basis. Face it, neither of them will have anything to do but each other." He chuckled. "And they'll have so earned it."

"They have what they want, each other." Jake growled. "It'll do for a while at least."

"And how long before Chance realizes that he's effectively grounded again, only there's no one to help this time?" Terry added to Jake's malicious chuckle.

"Okay, this could be satisfying." Jake nodded with a vicious grin.

"This way we don't have to waste any effort on the past." Terry said easily. "Like you told me a little while ago, we can't let the past put a cloud over our future together." He said emphasizing the future.

"And no messy legal stuff to deal with either." He murred and relaxed, moving to hug his mate.

Felina walked into the Commander's office and closed the door behind her. She took a deep breath, and got his attention.

"Commander, we need to talk. Now."

"Indeed," he replied gruffly, not looking up from what he was doing.

"I think you should pay attention to this one. It's about what happened a few days ago. It's not just between the people who were there anymore, and it's starting to have an affect on the Enforcers as a whole."

"I am aware of this, yes. I am also aware of the goings on in Miss Briggs' office this morning. I had not expected, however, that it would be you she sent to do her work for her."

"I am not here for her." Felina growled softly. "I'm here because, of the various outcomes, there are damned few that anybody considers acceptable - and I'm hoping that you'll take the one that seems to present the best possible results."

"You expect me to capitulate?" He scribbled one more note in the file in front of him and closed it, finally lifting his eyes toward Felina. "If I had thought that would do any good I would have done it in the first place."

"And why wouldn't it work? At this rate, we'll lose our suppliers, a large number of our best officers, and have to deal with the dual issues of no SWAT and a split between the Enforcers who support you and the ones who don't. If you were to resign, it could work out in such a way that, even if the pictures were released, your reputation could survive, and most of the damage repaired."

"You've not seen the pictures though," he told her with a chuckle. "My relationship with Chance is ... robust. Nonetheless, to address your issues, Halycon is hardly the only company that produces the things we buy from them. Cheapest, perhaps, but you should know me better than to think I haven't considered other options."

He pushed his chair back and stood, walking around the desk. "What concerns me is the leadership of the Enforcers. Had I not insisted your father send you here it would have fallen to Steele. Can you even imagine it? Miss Briggs might like you to hold the office, I know she finds you 'agreeable', but that will not last. I guarantee that the moment I depart those pictures will be released, and all your new Enforcers will be looking at you and wondering just when you will show your true colors."

"You're right, they're not the only one - just among the best, and probably the most influential. Halycon's just the only company I've heard of so far. As for the rest - the reason that this is an issue isn't because of the content of the photographs, it's because of what you did to keep them under cover. Let's assume that they are released after this is finished, which isn't assured - it's also not assured that they won't be released, or used again, if you maintain command.

"They would be a black mark, but depending on how they were handled, possibly not a permanent one. And I can deal with the fallout that catches me. It might take some help, it might take some work, it might even take me being removed from a command position, but I can keep things from falling apart. We're not the only people qualified to run this place, after all."

"Who then Felina? Who is there that would do what was necessary regardless of the consequences? Who would strip their lover of his rank for the sake of the city? Not a BrightClaw," he snorted, "Just look at the way they run around hysterical, desperate to assuage their own sense of outrage. Not Jake's. I know they think me cold, and ruthless, and manipulative, and I do not deny it. It is what is required to protect the people of this city, to be willing to ignore the demands of politics, to simply see what needs to be done and to do it regardless of the cost. The BrightClaws are merchants and deal-makers and they look very pretty in their uniforms. They do what they do very well, and so do I."

"Willing to ignore the demands of politics? Bullshit. You don't bother with politics when you think you can get away with it, but I can name at least three separate occasions you've let politics dictate policy.

"The name David Steele ring a bell? Hell would freeze over before he was a competent officer, let alone second-in-command, and yet there he was, sitting in your chair twice when you were out of commission. Or maybe I should bring up a number of incidents at MegaKat Towers?

"As whether or not the BrightClaws are qualified to command, I'm beginning to think that might be a good option. If there wasn't any fallout from what happened, I'd be worried. The fact there is shows that they're still concerned about what's right or wrong. Which I'm beginning to wonder if you are."

"Ah Felina you disappoint me. Mostly because you come here on Briggs' behalf to oust me. What is right is that the city is defended, and for all their beautiful morals the BrightClaws are not doing that. In exactly," the Commander paused for a moment to check his watch, "Seven minutes there will be an explosion in the city, and three of this woman's agents will learn that they have most decidedly chosen the wrong side in this. It may well be the only thing done so far to address the real threat in all of this."

"Terrific. You kill or maim three of her agents. Just what, pray tell, will that do as far as the real threat is concerned? Let's assume that you kill the person who blackmailed you, the person who took the pictures, and somebody else intimately involved with the situation. What have you got? Three dead agents. If whoever did this doesn't have lots more, then there's something seriously wrong. If whoever did this gives a fuck, I'd be surprised. Those photos will still be around, unless they're some damned poor blackmailers, and they will be back to haunt you again. Probably when you can least afford to have to deal with them.

"And I told you already, I'm here because the Enforcers are already being torn apart because of this. That Briggs suggested one course of action is simply what got it through my head that it couldn't be covered up. We're already under equipped and over budget - how the hell are we supposed to get by without our best suppliers? Or our best officers? Damn it, would you PLEASE just stop and think about it - the city needs the Enforcers to survive, especially without SWAT, and if the Enforcers are falling apart, then we're useless. There's a chance that things can be held together if you step down - if somebody replaces you, there's a possibility that we'll get by. As it stands, can we really survive what's going to happen if you remain in your position?"

Feral narrow his eyes, glaring at her with a fury she'd rarely seen him display before. "Get out," he hissed angrily. "If you want this office I have no doubt that your friends will get it for you before too long. In the meantime it remains mine, and you will not presume to lecture me in it. You are insubordinate Felina, and I am still your Commander for now."

Felina fought back the urge to do exactly what he said, reminding herself that the only reason he was still the Commander was because she was being given a chance to let him back out and maintain a level of dignity. And she couldn't let him pass up that chance.

"If I wanted this office, I'd have let Briggs fire you. I'm sorry, sir, but I can't let her ruin you." With that, she took a step back, and drew her blaster, firing directly at the Commander's head.

Feral hit the floor, deeply ingrained reflexes saving his life again. He rolled toward her, kicking upward to catch her under the chin. "Stupid girl! You're well past being able to have things both ways. This will be yours now, whether you like it or not, and shooting me won't accomplish a thing."

Felina hit the ground, but rolled to a defensive position, doing her best to ignore the blurring at the edge of her vision, praying that nobody decided to check on the sounds of a fight in the Commander's office.

"I'd rather die a traitor than see you destroyed by this, damn it. If you'd resign, we can keep the damage to a minimum - if you die, then I can catch the fallout myself. If Briggs has to remove you by force, there's nothing that can protect what's left of you! Please, don't make me do this."

Feral snorted as he got to his feet, shaking his head. "I'd thought you knew better than this Felina, and I'm sure your father did as well. You're entirely too late to save anything, and speaking with the wrong person. No one is served by having the both of us eliminated. Now get out of here. You'll have a great deal of work to do over the next couple of days, and I require a few moments to myself."

Something snapped inside Felina as she holstered her blaster and turned to leave the office.

"I'm sorry," she said as she walked out, not entirely sure why she bothered to say it. She closed the door and tried to look as normal as she could, hoping she could come up with some sort of explanation that would work before she made things any worse than they already were.

Commander Feral's secretary, a petite dark brown shekat, looked up from the phone as Felina came out. "Lieutenant Commander Feral, I heard blaster fire. Is anyone injured?"

Felina shrugged and smiled weakly.

"No. Stupid mistake on my part - safety was off. The Commander noticed, mentioned it, and I took a look to see if it was jammed. Damned thing went off, but nobody got hurt." She rubbed her jaw gingerly. "Got slugged for it, too, but can't say I didn't deserve worse. Could have killed some...body...." Felina shook her head as if clearing something that she didn't want to think about out of it, and chuckled a little.

"Guess I'm getting too old for this, huh?" She started back towards her office, hoping she could get back there without any other questions - she still had to figure out what to say if Miss Briggs called to see what happened, or at least how to ask for more time.

Jake watched eagerly as BlackFire brought the TurboKat down, VTOLing into the hanger easily to a gentle stop, putting it back right where it had started. After the canopy opened, he stayed in the cockpit as he began the post-flight checklist.

Jake wasted no time leaping up to stand next to him, relishing the conflicting hot and cold of the metal after a flight. "I take it went well." He grinned at the pilot. "Any quirks?"

Rik looked up at him, grinning broadly. "Yeah, it went great. There's a slight but noticeable pull to the right during Speed of Heat operation. According to Blackie, we broke her previous speed record." He smiled a bit loopy, clearly jazzed.

"I am so not surprised." Jake grinned, enlivened by the pure, honest enthusiasm. "The pull is something I've never figured out how to counter, at least not without compromising more important things. You'll get used to it, to where you don't even notice." He promised.

"That's what she said, but I was taught that a good test pilot reports everything that might be correctable." He smiled.

"It's also good to report, because if a known problem goes away, it's something of note as well." Jake chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. "Unless someone who ranks me counters it, I'd like you to spend the rest of the day working with Blackie. See if you can think of any improvements, or just ideas for changes. I'll check with you about lunch tomorrow?"

Rik looked over at Terry who smiled. "Don't worry Rik, unless Grandfather or Akisha tell you differently, you can."

"Thanks, Terry." He smiled appreciatively before turning back to Jake. "I mentioned our 'obstacle course', and Blackie wanted to see if it was at all challenging. Is that okay?" He asked hopefully.

"Anything you want to do, as long as you both come back able to talk." Jake grinned. "She'll be your bird, when I finish up with the mods."

"Cool." He said excitedly, as he did the checklist a bit faster, without actually being any less careful. The reality of her being his didn't really register, since he knew she was Jake's and that was what she thought too. But he got to fly, and that was all he cared about.

Jake smiled and patted the jet. "*I'm not leaving you, Blackie. But you deserve to fly, and he really likes you.*"

A soft grumble of irritation, acceptance and excitement flickered back before Jake broke contact and jumped down to Terry.

"I think it's time to have a chat with Augustus, coordinate plans and such." Jake said quietly as he came even with Terry.

"Definitely. Make sure we're all on the same page." He said as they left the hanger.

Augustus' office was spacious and a mix of old and new technologies. The furniture was old wood and leather in classic designs, with state of the art computer equipment sitting on top of it. Solid wooden bookshelves filled with books lined the walls, with the exception of a large monitor on the one wall.

"So what brings you by?" The old tom asked with a smile as they entered. "Have a seat before you tell me." He said indicating the luxurious chairs in front of his desk.

Jake nodded and took a seat, glancing at his mate over who was actually going to start this.

Terry sat down quietly. "I'll assume you know by now that the situation is a little more serious than just a run-in with Feral."

The old Kat smiled. "Yes, I suspected as much but had it confirmed when Deputy Mayor Briggs called me personally to warn me concerning a threat to Jake from one Marissa of Teveris. She wasn't sure if Jake would tell me himself, and she needed to make sure her friend was protected. What I need to know is how active a threat is she." He asked looking at Jake.

"Given what she just did, I have to assume a very active one." Jake answered quietly. "The blackmail she has on Feral dates back at least ten years, but I hadn't heard anything from her since I escaped. I don't know what changed but I ... it probably means she wants me back." He swallowed, fighting to keep in control enough to get through this.

"I'll repeat what I'm sure Terry has already said; that's not going to happen." The old tom said firmly. "I will not allow it. Sounds as though some direct action is going to be required. Though that will require prep time, so I'll take some indirect action first. I don't know the name off hand, but I'll bet they do business outside their country.

"Or at least they used to." He said with a dangerous gleam in his eye.

"This is what Black Lightning and Rolling Thunder were created for." Terry said quietly.

"Agreed, activate them and begin preparations."

"Check ... see if you can find out if anything's happened to Marissa's heir." Jake murmured uneasily. "It's the most likely reason for the sudden interest."

Augustus looked at him curiously. "Okay, but what does her heir have to do with you?"

"If the last one's dead ... she'll want another sired." Jake murmured. "It's what I'm for, to her."

A very dark look crossed Augustus' face. "Well, she's in for a very big surprise. I believe the Deputy Mayor said this person is Crown Princess, would I be correct if I assumed that she's not violating any cultural taboos by what she's done and probably intends to do to you?"

"Heir apparent." Jake nodded. "It's how she's expected to treat a male mate. That she couldn't break me before I escaped ... doesn't look very good on her."

"I wonder how bringing a war crashing in on her country is going to look on her." The old tom growled quietly, as he typed at the computer on his desk. "I know Deputy Mayor Briggs is inclined to treat the blackmail incident as an act of war."

Terry cleared his throat. "Ummm, I expect there's a lot of common folk who don't really have any say in things, who'll get hurt in open war." He said quietly. "Maybe it'd be better to get a strike team or four in and simply wipe out the leadership and upper class, they're probably the problem."

"And ... ur ... don't be too hard on the Enforcers." Jake said quietly. "Please don't punish good Kats just trying to do their job for the actions of one."

"Looks like Deputy Mayor Briggs is handling that problem. Sometimes you just have to make it clear that problems have to be taken care of. Besides, Halycon's displeasure is intended to convince Feral that his continued presence is a liability.

"I'll have to have a word with Melton BrightClaw though, his clan really needs to calm down a little." He shook his head.

Terry blinked in surprised. "They do? I never even told dad." Then he remembered his older brother. "Oh gods, what did Greg do?"

"Resigned effective immediately on the grounds that he refuses to take orders from a rapist, even an unconvinced one."

"He didn't." Terry started. "Yes he did. I knew he was taking the whole affair way too personally. Gods I hope he had enough sense to keep some of the details quiet."

"From what Syrina told me the story making the rounds is that Feral attacked your LifeMate and is using his position to escape prosecution."

Terry sighed. "Well, at least he just made it assault."

"They didn't need this kind of dissention." Jake said quietly, looking at his hands. "With SWAT down, the Enforcers will have to stand united."

"Hopefully, Ulysses Feral will see that and resign quietly." Augustus said. "I can hope that he still places more importance on the Enforcers than on his own ambitions."

"If the BrightClaws start resigning in protest, it's gonna take a fair number of others with them." Terry said quietly. "Aside from the loss in manpower, the loss of experience will be hard to recover from."

"Ms. Briggs has crafted a temporary solution and is putting those Enforcers who refuse to follow Commander Feral on administrative leave. Gives her time to work on getting Feral out, without losing Enforcers."

"She always was a smart leader." Jake smiled slightly, though it was shadowed by more than a bit of guilt. "Though there's enough here ... maybe to put a kind of SWAT back up. Not as good, but it might be enough."

Augustus smiled. "Don't worry, Jake. When I found out about SWAT, I moved one of my elite combat squads in to help out. You don't need to worry about MKC."

"Jake, this isn't your fault." Terry said quietly as Jake nodded to Augustus. "I suppose I should've seen Greg's reaction coming, but I wasn't paying attention. But ultimately, there's only one Kat responsible."

"That much trouble ... just over me." Jake shook his head and sighed. "I'll be glad when I can forget your family's this powerful." He shivered slightly trying to suppress the fear building in his soul.

"Jake, it isn't just over you." Terry said quietly. "It's the principle that a commander who can do such things to maintain his own position can no longer be trusted. That's a principle this family has held for a very long time."

"Without that power, we'd just be huddling in MKC waiting for whatever predator came along next." Terry said quietly. "Whether it was Feral, Marissa or whoever. The world's a dangerous amoral place, a powerful family is the only safety you can trust."

"Just because I know that, doesn't mean it settles well." Jake half growled, then looked up at Terry apologetically. "Look, I've got nothing against your kin, I just don't like being reminded any one person has that much power. Much less that half a dozen of them are playing a game I'm a central pawn in." He sighed and reached his hand out to his mate. "Illusion or not, I liked being able to pretend I was just another Kat on the street."

"Guess I never really had that illusion." Terry said quietly, taking Jake's hand. "I always knew it made you uncomfortable, that's why I waited this long. It was easier, and with the Wraiths I could do both at once, without them intersecting."

"Perhaps strategy discussions can wait, I think there are more important things." Augustus said, as he quickly crossed the room and left, closing the door behind him.

Jake watched him leave, more than a little distressed. "I didn't mean ...."

Terry shook his head. "Don't worry, he just thinks we need to talk." He said quietly. "He told me, back when we became LifeMates, that I was making a mistake not telling you then. I just didn't like the way it made you uncomfortable. Not the first time I've tried to hide who I am."

Jake looked down, tears threatening as he stared blankly at his knees for a very long time, trying to come up with anything to explain just how horribly out of place and threatened he felt here among the rich and powerful; those that could actually say they were going to declare war and crush a country and it wasn't a joke.

"I'm sorry," was all Jake could eventually say, hurting almost more than he could stand; knowing he'd failed the most important person in his life.

"No it's not your fault." Terry said quietly, kneeling in front of Jake. "I didn't give you any time to adjust, and I knew it would make you uncomfortable. I forget how overwhelming it can seem when it's not the world you grew up with." He said nuzzling Jake gently. "If it helps any, I'm still a bit stunned at my grandfather just declaring war."

With a difficult swallow Jake nodded, though there was little conviction behind it. "I don't know what to say, Ter." He whispered miserably. "I felt more at home on the Aquarian's ship than I do with this. I would have married you even knowing, but ... this," he waved a hand around, "is everything I've hated my entire life. The rich and powerful that can just do whatever the hell that want without thought to what thousands will be hurt by it.

"I know I lied to myself these years." He sobbed and buried his face his hid hands. "I always knew there was a lot of power behind you, even before I knew just what. But you were so normal, I could usually just forget about it. I told myself you had things just because you were good at your job, even when I knew better.

"This isn't my world, Terry." He tried to look at the gray tom. "It never will be. I don't want it to be. I am just a working kat, Terry. I am." His voice drifted off softly with the denial.

Terry simply shut down. There wasn't any fight left in him. He could deal with rapist commanders, psychotic females, traitorous tabbies but Jake rejecting him on every level he couldn't handle. Everything just ceased to matter, if he couldn't have Jake in his life none of it mattered, none of it at all.

Externally, it was a puppet with the strings cut; slumped on the floor, eyes lifeless staring at the floor, with complete and utter failure the only scent. The one Kat that ever mattered to him had just told him he wasn't wanted.

"Ter?" Jake abruptly snapped into focus. "I'm sorry, Ter." He slipped to the floor and gathered his LifeMate in his arms. "I'm sorry. Don't hate me. Gods, please don't leave me for this. I'll learn." He started to panic for real. "Terry, please, I love you. Nothing'll change that."

Jake's panic triggered enough of Terry's consciousness to hear the rest. "Couldn't hate you, I love you too much." He said weakly. "Just couldn't take the thought of you leaving me." He said softly. "The agency was just me, just had the family if things went wrong.

"I tried to be normal, but I can't deny who I am." He sighed. "I don't want to have to choose between the two most important things in my life. I don't think I can."

"Family and me." Jake half asked, resting his head against his mate's. "We'll make it work, okay? Don't know how, but I love you even with all this. I would have married you even knowing all this. We can have another wedding, a real one, if you want. I'll deal with it. I'll figure out how."

"Truthfully, we're not into big weddings." Terry smiled. "Big dinners sure, but not big weddings. If I recall the story right, I think grandfather and grandmother eloped. It's really a lot more normal around here, when we're not threatened."

Jake nodded, not daring to let the turmoil just below the surface show.

"I mean think about how most parents react when their kits are threatened, that's what grandfather was doing, he just got carried away because the threat was coming from a country. We don't really have the armed forces to carry on a full-scale war."

"I'll learn how to deal with this." Jake promised fervently, his fear of loosing his LifeMate crushing everything else for a while.

"Maybe after this is all over." He said quietly. "We could get a place in Port Haven, just work up here." The gray Kat suggested trying to get things back to something like normal.

"We'll work it out." Jake nodded, holding Terry close as the intense fear passed, to leave an even more terrifying realization deep in Jake's soul. "When this mess is settled, we'll figure something out."

"Yes, we will." Terry said clinging to that unity. "You do realize how much designer/ inventors of your caliber make, don't you?" He said gently.

"No," Jake shook his head slightly. "Never bothered to check. More than I'd ever need I'm sure."

"Beginning designer with a set of hot plans and college degree can pull 150K easy, with more demonstrated ability 175K. An experienced designer/inventor with broad skills makes 250K minimum. And that doesn't include things like royalty agreements or prototype sales." Terry smiled. "That's what they're worth ... has nothing to do with connections."

"Okay," Jake could only look at him in confusion. "What does it matter?"

"Not much." Terry shrugged. "Just not exactly working Kat level, you've always been worth more than that. Especially to me." He said with a warm smile that clearly said he wasn't talking anything monetary in the last statement.

"Oh," he nodded and snuggled close, quite willing to not move for a long time.

Terry was more than willing to just snuggle for a long time, at least partially cause he was too tired to feel like walking.

Jake watched eagerly as BlackFire brought the TurboKat down, VTOLing into the hanger easily to a gentle stop, putting it back right where it had started. After the canopy opened, he stayed in the cockpit as he began the post-flight checklist.

Jake wasted no time leaping up to stand next to him, relishing the conflicting hot and cold of the metal after a flight. "I take it went well." He grinned at the pilot. "Any quirks?"

Rik looked up at him, grinning broadly. "Yeah, it went great. There's a slight but noticeable pull to the right during Speed of Heat operation. According to Blackie, we broke her previous speed record." He smiled a bit loopy, clearly jazzed.

"I am so not surprised." Jake grinned, enlivened by the pure, honest enthusiasm. "The pull is something I've never figured out how to counter, at least not without compromising more important things. You'll get used to it, to where you don't even notice." He promised.

"That's what she said, but I was taught that a good test pilot reports everything that might be correctable." He smiled.

"It's also good to report, because if a known problem goes away, it's something of note as well." Jake chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. "Unless someone who ranks me counters it, I'd like you to spend the rest of the day working with Blackie. See if you can think of any improvements, or just ideas for changes. I'll check with you about lunch tomorrow?"

Rik looked over at Terry who smiled. "Don't worry Rik, unless Grandfather or Akisha tell you differently, you can."

"Thanks, Terry." He smiled appreciatively before turning back to Jake. "I mentioned our 'obstacle course', and Blackie wanted to see if it was at all challenging. Is that okay?" He asked hopefully.

"Anything you want to do, as long as you both come back able to talk." Jake grinned. "She'll be your bird, when I finish up with the mods."

"Cool." He said excitedly, as he did the checklist a bit faster, without actually being any less careful. The reality of her being his didn't really register, since he knew she was Jake's and that was what she thought too. But he got to fly, and that was all he cared about.

Jake smiled and patted the jet. "*I'm not leaving you, Blackie. But you deserve to fly, and he really likes you.*"

A soft grumble of irritation, acceptance and excitement flickered back before Jake broke contact and jumped down to Terry.

"I think it's time to have a chat with Augustus, coordinate plans and such." Jake said quietly as he came even with Terry.

"Definitely. Make sure we're all on the same page." He said as they left the hanger.

Augustus' office was spacious and a mix of old and new technologies. The furniture was old wood and leather in classic designs, with state of the art computer equipment sitting on top of it. Solid wooden bookshelves filled with books lined the walls, with the exception of a large monitor on the one wall.

"So what brings you by?" The old tom asked with a smile as they entered. "Have a seat before you tell me." He said indicating the luxurious chairs in front of his desk.

Jake nodded and took a seat, glancing at his mate over who was actually going to start this.

Terry sat down quietly. "I'll assume you know by now that the situation is a little more serious than just a run-in with Feral."

The old Kat smiled. "Yes, I suspected as much but had it confirmed when Deputy Mayor Briggs called me personally to warn me concerning a threat to Jake from one Marissa of Teveris. She wasn't sure if Jake would tell me himself, and she needed to make sure her friend was protected. What I need to know is how active a threat is she." He asked looking at Jake.

"Given what she just did, I have to assume a very active one." Jake answered quietly. "The blackmail she has on Feral dates back at least ten years, but I hadn't heard anything from her since I escaped. I don't know what changed but I ... it probably means she wants me back." He swallowed, fighting to keep in control enough to get through this.

"I'll repeat what I'm sure Terry has already said; that's not going to happen." The old tom said firmly. "I will not allow it. Sounds as though some direct action is going to be required. Though that will require prep time, so I'll take some indirect action first. I don't know the name off hand, but I'll bet they do business outside their country.

"Or at least they used to." He said with a dangerous gleam in his eye.

"This is what Black Lightning and Rolling Thunder were created for." Terry said quietly.

"Agreed, activate them and begin preparations."

"Check ... see if you can find out if anything's happened to Marissa's heir." Jake murmured uneasily. "It's the most likely reason for the sudden interest."

Augustus looked at him curiously. "Okay, but what does her heir have to do with you?"

"If the last one's dead ... she'll want another sired." Jake murmured. "It's what I'm for, to her."

A very dark look crossed Augustus' face. "Well, she's in for a very big surprise. I believe the Deputy Mayor said this person is Crown Princess, would I be correct if I assumed that she's not violating any cultural taboos by what she's done and probably intends to do to you?"

"Heir apparent." Jake nodded. "It's how she's expected to treat a male mate. That she couldn't break me before I escaped ... doesn't look very good on her."

"I wonder how bringing a war crashing in on her country is going to look on her." The old tom growled quietly, as he typed at the computer on his desk. "I know Deputy Mayor Briggs is inclined to treat the blackmail incident as an act of war."

Terry cleared his throat. "Ummm, I expect there's a lot of common folk who don't really have any say in things, who'll get hurt in open war." He said quietly. "Maybe it'd be better to get a strike team or four in and simply wipe out the leadership and upper class, they're probably the problem."

"And ... ur ... don't be too hard on the Enforcers." Jake said quietly. "Please don't punish good Kats just trying to do their job for the actions of one."

"Looks like Deputy Mayor Briggs is handling that problem. Sometimes you just have to make it clear that problems have to be taken care of. Besides, Halycon's displeasure is intended to convince Feral that his continued presence is a liability.

"I'll have to have a word with Melton BrightClaw though, his clan really needs to calm down a little." He shook his head.

Terry blinked in surprised. "They do? I never even told dad." Then he remembered his older brother. "Oh gods, what did Greg do?"

"Resigned effective immediately on the grounds that he refuses to take orders from a rapist, even an unconvinced one."

"He didn't." Terry started. "Yes he did. I knew he was taking the whole affair way too personally. Gods I hope he had enough sense to keep some of the details quiet."

"From what Syrina told me the story making the rounds is that Feral attacked your LifeMate and is using his position to escape prosecution."

Terry sighed. "Well, at least he just made it assault."

"They didn't need this kind of dissention." Jake said quietly, looking at his hands. "With SWAT down, the Enforcers will have to stand united."

"Hopefully, Ulysses Feral will see that and resign quietly." Augustus said. "I can hope that he still places more importance on the Enforcers than on his own ambitions."

"If the BrightClaws start resigning in protest, it's gonna take a fair number of others with them." Terry said quietly. "Aside from the loss in manpower, the loss of experience will be hard to recover from."

"Ms. Briggs has crafted a temporary solution and is putting those Enforcers who refuse to follow Commander Feral on administrative leave. Gives her time to work on getting Feral out, without losing Enforcers."

"She always was a smart leader." Jake smiled slightly, though it was shadowed by more than a bit of guilt. "Though there's enough here ... maybe to put a kind of SWAT back up. Not as good, but it might be enough."

Augustus smiled. "Don't worry, Jake. When I found out about SWAT, I moved one of my elite combat squads in to help out. You don't need to worry about MKC."

"Jake, this isn't your fault." Terry said quietly as Jake nodded to Augustus. "I suppose I should've seen Greg's reaction coming, but I wasn't paying attention. But ultimately, there's only one Kat responsible."

"That much trouble ... just over me." Jake shook his head and sighed. "I'll be glad when I can forget your family's this powerful." He shivered slightly trying to suppress the fear building in his soul.

"Jake, it isn't just over you." Terry said quietly. "It's the principle that a commander who can do such things to maintain his own position can no longer be trusted. That's a principle this family has held for a very long time."

"Without that power, we'd just be huddling in MKC waiting for whatever predator came along next." Terry said quietly. "Whether it was Feral, Marissa or whoever. The world's a dangerous amoral place, a powerful family is the only safety you can trust."

"Just because I know that, doesn't mean it settles well." Jake half growled, then looked up at Terry apologetically. "Look, I've got nothing against your kin, I just don't like being reminded any one person has that much power. Much less that half a dozen of them are playing a game I'm a central pawn in." He sighed and reached his hand out to his mate. "Illusion or not, I liked being able to pretend I was just another Kat on the street."

"Guess I never really had that illusion." Terry said quietly, taking Jake's hand. "I always knew it made you uncomfortable, that's why I waited this long. It was easier, and with the Wraiths I could do both at once, without them intersecting."

"Perhaps strategy discussions can wait, I think there are more important things." Augustus said, as he quickly crossed the room and left, closing the door behind him.

Jake watched him leave, more than a little distressed. "I didn't mean ...."

Terry shook his head. "Don't worry, he just thinks we need to talk." He said quietly. "He told me, back when we became LifeMates, that I was making a mistake not telling you then. I just didn't like the way it made you uncomfortable. Not the first time I've tried to hide who I am."

Jake looked down, tears threatening as he stared blankly at his knees for a very long time, trying to come up with anything to explain just how horribly out of place and threatened he felt here among the rich and powerful; those that could actually say they were going to declare war and crush a country and it wasn't a joke.

"I'm sorry," was all Jake could eventually say, hurting almost more than he could stand; knowing he'd failed the most important person in his life.

"No it's not your fault." Terry said quietly, kneeling in front of Jake. "I didn't give you any time to adjust, and I knew it would make you uncomfortable. I forget how overwhelming it can seem when it's not the world you grew up with." He said nuzzling Jake gently. "If it helps any, I'm still a bit stunned at my grandfather just declaring war."

With a difficult swallow Jake nodded, though there was little conviction behind it. "I don't know what to say, Ter." He whispered miserably. "I felt more at home on the Aquarian's ship than I do with this. I would have married you even knowing, but ... this," he waved a hand around, "is everything I've hated my entire life. The rich and powerful that can just do whatever the hell that want without thought to what thousands will be hurt by it.

"I know I lied to myself these years." He sobbed and buried his face his hid hands. "I always knew there was a lot of power behind you, even before I knew just what. But you were so normal, I could usually just forget about it. I told myself you had things just because you were good at your job, even when I knew better.

"This isn't my world, Terry." He tried to look at the gray tom. "It never will be. I don't want it to be. I am just a working kat, Terry. I am." His voice drifted off softly with the denial.

Terry simply shut down. There wasn't any fight left in him. He could deal with rapist commanders, psychotic females, traitorous tabbies but Jake rejecting him on every level he couldn't handle. Everything just ceased to matter, if he couldn't have Jake in his life none of it mattered, none of it at all.

Externally, it was a puppet with the strings cut; slumped on the floor, eyes lifeless staring at the floor, with complete and utter failure the only scent. The one Kat that ever mattered to him had just told him he wasn't wanted.

"Ter?" Jake abruptly snapped into focus. "I'm sorry, Ter." He slipped to the floor and gathered his LifeMate in his arms. "I'm sorry. Don't hate me. Gods, please don't leave me for this. I'll learn." He started to panic for real. "Terry, please, I love you. Nothing'll change that."

Jake's panic triggered enough of Terry's consciousness to hear the rest. "Couldn't hate you, I love you too much." He said weakly. "Just couldn't take the thought of you leaving me." He said softly. "The agency was just me, just had the family if things went wrong.

"I tried to be normal, but I can't deny who I am." He sighed. "I don't want to have to choose between the two most important things in my life. I don't think I can."

"Family and me." Jake half asked, resting his head against his mate's. "We'll make it work, okay? Don't know how, but I love you even with all this. I would have married you even knowing all this. We can have another wedding, a real one, if you want. I'll deal with it. I'll figure out how."

"Truthfully, we're not into big weddings." Terry smiled. "Big dinners sure, but not big weddings. If I recall the story right, I think grandfather and grandmother eloped. It's really a lot more normal around here, when we're not threatened."

Jake nodded, not daring to let the turmoil just below the surface show.

"I mean think about how most parents react when their kits are threatened, that's what grandfather was doing, he just got carried away because the threat was coming from a country. We don't really have the armed forces to carry on a full-scale war."

"I'll learn how to deal with this." Jake promised fervently, his fear of loosing his LifeMate crushing everything else for a while.

"Maybe after this is all over." He said quietly. "We could get a place in Port Haven, just work up here." The gray Kat suggested trying to get things back to something like normal.

"We'll work it out." Jake nodded, holding Terry close as the intense fear passed, to leave an even more terrifying realization deep in Jake's soul. "When this mess is settled, we'll figure something out."

"Yes, we will." Terry said clinging to that unity. "You do realize how much designer/ inventors of your caliber make, don't you?" He said gently.

"No," Jake shook his head slightly. "Never bothered to check. More than I'd ever need I'm sure."

"Beginning designer with a set of hot plans and college degree can pull 150K easy, with more demonstrated ability 175K. An experienced designer/inventor with broad skills makes 250K minimum. And that doesn't include things like royalty agreements or prototype sales." Terry smiled. "That's what they're worth ... has nothing to do with connections."

"Okay," Jake could only look at him in confusion. "What does it matter?"

"Not much." Terry shrugged. "Just not exactly working Kat level, you've always been worth more than that. Especially to me." He said with a warm smile that clearly said he wasn't talking anything monetary in the last statement.

"Oh," he nodded and snuggled close, quite willing to not move for a long time.

Terry was more than willing to just snuggle for a long time, at least partially cause he was too tired to feel like walking.

"You seem troubled, sir." Akisha spoke quietly as she walked up to Augustus in the garden, far away from the cinnamon rose Terry was so tuned to.

Augustus nodded. "Very much so. My grandson's heart is given to one who seems to have a terrible fear of wealth and power. For once, I can't say with any certainty what he'll do." The old tom said quietly. "It would be easier if I could dislike the tom, but I find myself as protective of him, as of any of my children."

"Jake has had a great deal of cause throughout his life to learn to fear those of wealth and power." She spoke with calm certainty. "Perhaps all he needs is to learn his new family is the exception to that rule."

"I know he has, that shekat is an especially good example." He said angrily. "Though I fear my reaction to the threat she poses didn't help ease his mind any. I'm just hoping he's still open to learning that there are exceptions, the pain in him cuts very deep. For Terry's sake if nothing else."

"Sir, unless I'm mistaken, he has several years yet to adapt." Akisha said quietly. "And I would hazard that adapting is something he does extremely well."

"I'm worried about the next few hours." He said quietly. "He was reacting badly, and I don't know how well Terry can handle another crisis. Especially after having been through one of those dreams again."

"Ah," she dropped her nose slightly. "Might I suggest that Ms. Terris talk with them?"

"Perhaps, though I don't know how much she can accomplish. Jake's very secretive about what happened. Though given what little he's revealed I can understand why." He shook his head. "A culture that promotes the idea that the proper way to treat a mate is to break them, incredible."

"I rather meant to help him adjust to the fact that this family is not like the others that have taken advantage of him." She said politely. "A great deal can be done to create acceptance of an exception, without dealing with the root of the fear on occasion."

Augustus smiled. "Yes, perhaps that she might be able to do. I'm far too used to going to the root of the problem. Would you check if she's available? They're in my office at the moment, and Terry's just had one of his panic attacks. Seems to be recovering faster than before, but having Jake there probably makes all the difference."

"Of course, sir." She stepped away before pulling a smell cell phone from her belt and punched a complex series of numbers in it before lifting it to her ear.

"Yes, they are in Mr. Pellatier's office." She paused a moment. "Terry and Jake, the primary concern of the moment is Jake's ability to accept the family." Another pause. "Yes, I will tell him."

Akisha folded the phone and put it away before approaching him again. "She is on the way now, sir."

"Thank you, Akisha." He said relaxing a little. "She was quite good with Terry before. That'll let me handle other matters for now."

"I have the reports on Teveris, if you care to look them over."

"Yes, I would. I need to know who the enemy is before I start talking with our friends and allies."

Jake and Terry were still clutching each other tightly on the floor, leaning against Augustus' desk when there was a gentle knock on the door.

"Probably grandfather or Akisha come to see if we're okay." Terry said quietly.

Jake only nodded, between the fear of loosing his LifeMate and the worse fear it left in his gut, he couldn't have cared less about the rest of the universe right then.

"Come in." Terry said loud enough that the intercom would pick it up for the person knocking to hear. On other occasions he might have wanted to be a little more dignified than huddling against his grandfather's desk, but part of him still didn't want to move.

The door opened to quickly admit a very fluffy Shetland Kantin in a comfortable orange and brown dress suit that matched her fur.

"Hello, Terry, Jake." She smiled with gentle understanding as she moved slowly up to them and knelt under Jake's wary gaze.

Terry nodded as he slowly remembered the counselor; it was difficult because she was part of a time he tried to forget for the most part. "Hi, it's been a long time." He said quietly, though there was a very light change in his scent that indicated she was someone he trusted.

"Yes," she smiled at them and sat down on the floor about an arms length away. "Jake, I'm Brandy. I help family get through trauma."

"Hi." He mumbled.

"She's good, Jake. Put me back together a few times." He said reassuringly, with a grateful smile for the Kantin.

She gave Terry a smile for the praise before shifting her attention to Jake. "I hope your willing to let me help."

"With what?" He sort of growled.

"With understanding that this family isn't like all the other powerful people who've given you reason to distrust power and wealth." She said gently.

"No need." Jake shrugged. "I'm dealing with it."

"Dealing with it, or simply trying to forget it's there?" She asked gently, knowing that denial and suppression were very common responses.

"Does it matter?" He growled. "It's not going to be a problem."

"Pretending something isn't there when it is, makes it a problem waiting to resurface. " She said gently. "It's like installing a flawed part in an jet, it'll work for now but sooner or later it's going to break."

"It's better than nothing when that's what you've got." Jake flattened his ears.

"Yes, but you wouldn't use the flawed part if you didn't have to." She said gently. "Is there a reason you don't want to consider that this family may be an exception?" She asked.

That earned her a scathing look and growl. "No. But it works for now."

"And when it stops working?" She asked gently.

Jake gave her a wary, grudgingly respectful look before answering. "You get a better solution before then."

She nodded. "That's what I'm trying to help you do; get a better solution." She explained. "Because there's no way to know how long the temporary solution will hold."

Brandy looked at him seriously. "If you had to install a flawed part on that black jet of yours because you had nothing better ... how long would you wait before you looked for a better solution?" She asked very gently.

"I wouldn't." He snapped. "It'd cost us our hides."

"But the cost if the 'part' you've put in your relationship with Terry fails doesn't warrant looking for a better solution?" She asked softly.

"How dare ..." Jake snarled and lunged for her, claws splayed and aiming right for her long muzzle and bright eyes.

Terry felt the lunge as it began and wrestled his mate to floor, keeping claws away from the retreating therapist. "Jake, you are not going to kill anyone in my grandfather's office." Terry said firmly, as he held his mate down.

The amber eyes looking up at him held more indignity than rage though. "I said we'd make it work." Jake growled without resisting. "Shrink wants to help, fine. But I am not taking insult from her either."

"Jake, it wasn't an insult." Terry said quietly. "It's a valid point. We can't make it work by trying to pretend my family is something other than what it is. And it's a reality we both have to learn to live with." He said gently, and watched intently as Jake struggled with his pride, fear, distrust and need before the cinnamon tom let all tension in his hard body go.

"All right." Jake sighed. "I'll behave."

"Thank you, love." Terry said giving the Kat a gentle kiss as he let him up.

Brandy came back and sat down. "Jake, if accepting that this family is different from the powers you've had problems with isn't the better solution you want, what is?" She asked facing him from inside lunge range, but without a trace of fear.

He growled at her, clearly frustrated. "It is the solution."

"Is there anyway I can help you with that acceptance?" She offered quietly. "Is there a reason you can't accept it?"

Jake groaned and leaned back against Terry. "Give a guy a chance, will yah? I only really found out an hour ago. A lot of crap's happened the week."

Brandy nodded, having seen the complete file. "Are you going to be okay dealing with it on regular basis? Given the state of things, that will probably be unavoidable for the near future." She asked gently, genuinely concerned.

"It's not like I have a choice." He shrugged. "I'll deal with it."

"And if you can't deal with it, let somebody know. Either Terry, myself or even Augustus. There is no shame in asking for help." She said encouragingly.

Jake could only look at her strangely. "I have to deal with it." He said simply.

"Perhaps that's enough." She said with a gentle smile. "Augustus was just concerned, he's like that." She said as she stood. "But I'm available if you need help with any trauma, not just this one."

"Thanks, Brandy." Terry said as the Kantin closed the door quietly behind her.

"That was ... strange." Jake shook his head.

"Not really." Terry said quietly. "Last thing grandfather saw was that you weren't handling things well. That worried him, and she's the family counselor."

"You always talk like that when you've got problems?" He looked at his mate uncertainly.

"Talk like what?" Terry blinked, confused.

"With shrinks and stuff."

"Do I talk to her when I have problems?" Terry shrugged. "Not in a long time. Just when the problems got real bad."

Jake was silent a long time, just resting in Terry's arms and brooding about it and everything else that had gone to hell in the last week.

With a deep sigh he pushed himself to his feet. "At least let me know what I'm dealing with."

"That's a broad request, where would you like me to start?" Terry said, clearly willing just not sure exactly what was being asked for.

Jake rested most his weight on one hand on the desktop and closed his eyes. "I've never feared anything I understood." He said tiredly. "Start anywhere, it's not like I know enough to even ask the right questions yet."

Terry nodded, and bent down to pull two cans of milk out of a concealed cooler. He popped his open after handing one to Jake. "Okay, guess a brief autobiography of me wouldn't hurt." He said after several sips. "My father's family is the BrightClaws, who you've probably heard of in relation to the Enforcers. They're the second of the big families, the first being the Ferals. That's most of their influence in the city, that and the fact that there are a lot of them."

He took a deep breath as Jake nodded and found a chair to curl up in. "My mother's family is the Pelletier's, the family that owns Halycon Industries, one of the really big corporate concerns. Big enough that we deal with Khan and Xanatos Industries as an equal, among others."

Jake nodded, though it was just as clear that startled him even now.

"The Pellatiers used to rule a fairly large area, including the city of Port Haven. However, my great-grandfather felt that the days of kings and queens and the rule of the nobility were passing, so he stopped using the titles and gave Port Haven its independence. We still have a very good relationship with Port Haven as a result.

"Halycon produces advanced aircraft and weapons systems for many governments including MKC, and holds a number of patents which give them significant leverage. It's this leverage and our fairly close relations with the other major suppliers, which my grandfather is using to encourage Commander Feral's departure.

"Because of our size, we maintain a moderate military force for defending our various interests. These forces are comparable to anyone's, and have better equipment than most." He paused watching to see what Jake's reaction would be.

The cinnamon tom nodded slowly, digesting it even as he began translating it into more familiar, and safer, terms.

"Planetary distribution?" He glanced up.

"Yes, we do operate globally, with forces stationed to support those operations. We're careful about where we operate, since some governments can't be trusted."

"Where are the strongholds?" Jake clarified.

"Let me check the computer. I haven't been involved that closely with global operations." He said as he sat down at his grandfather's desk, and began typing. "Global strongholds are indicated on the wall map." He said as red dots began appearing, concentrated mostly on the continent with MKC, but a noticeable number on all continents.

Jake stood to study it, running his fingers over the various clusters and making lines between them. "What do each do?"

"Okay, let me classify by primary function: red is defense, green is resource development such as mining, blue is research and yellow is manufacturing. Secondary function indicated by colored circle surrounding main color." He explained as he typed commands that changed the map to a grouping of multi colored dots. Red dots were the least common and appeared space to provide coverage for all of the others.

Again Jake's fingers danced over the map, tracing patterns that only usually made sense.

"Ter, why isn't there mining here?" He circled a plains area on the smallest southern continent.

"Let me see what I can find out." He said while he ran through the database. "The crust is fairly opaque to LandSat scans, and there are several large tribes of primitive Xanith that inhabit that area. Apparently, they're quite hostile to outsiders. It would require a military grade expedition to do the mineralogical survey on-site. Currently, not viewed as economically viable." He said, summarizing a series of reports. "Why? You think there's something there?" He asked curious, and quite open to the fact that Jake might have discovered something.

"There should be, but nothing worth a battle over " He shook his head. "It just follows the pattern."

"Not a battle, no." Terry said quietly. "But maybe a little joint effort." He said making a few notes in the computer for later consideration.

Jake backed up, leaning back against the edge of the desk as he regarded the map. Then he turned his attention to Terry. "What are you into? Products, patents, corporations, politics, that kind of thing."

"Actually, I'm in Corporate Intelligence, though I also work politics at times simply because I'm good at alliance building." He said leaning back in the big leather chair. "Grandfather would like me to do some of the overseas diplomacy work on occasion but I've always talked my way out of it."

"Generic you, Terry." Jake would have chuckled if he wasn't so stressed. "The family." He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Sorry." Terry smiled. "A bit of all of it really. Production is big, but we have research so we don't have to rely on other people's patents. Politics is really more of a necessity than a business line." He paused and thought a moment. "I guess its really Products, everything else pretty much supports that. "

"What products?"

"Military hardware; especially planes, and weapons systems. High tech watercraft such as hydrofoils and submarines. We also do business-to-business sales with things like passenger aircraft, luxury liners and cargo planes. And there's the relatively new consumer goods division which captures the product opportunities that occur from military development."

Jake nodded and fell silent, trying to wrap his brain around this with little success. With a frustrated sigh he pushed his hand threw his hair. "I can built the TurboKat from memory, but this crap is beyond me." He growled, mostly to himself.

Terry got up, walked around to Jake and put his arm around him. "That's okay, I get lost if I try anything more mechanical than a basic tune-up. And even that's not a good idea." He chuckled lightly. "Remember the last time I tried to tune the SUV up myself."

"You don't have to understand that." He sighed. "Only thing I've got to get, and it makes less sense than politics."

"The operations of a global corporation?" Terry nodded. "Yeah, politics is simpler at times. Is there a particular point where it stops making sense?" Terry asked gently, trying to help.

"When I start to think about it in terms other that an interesting pattern on the map."

"Details are a bit much, huh?" Terry said sympathetically. "Well, I can try to simplify it. I just don't want you to think I'm talking down to you, 'cause I'm not."

"My head hurts." Jake let out a deep sigh and shook his head. "But go ahead and try to simplify it."

"Analogies seem to work best." Terry said quietly. "If you consider the Corporation as a whole to be a car, then Product Lines are the engine, Research becomes the ignition and Resources such as mining the Fuel. Politics is the Tires since it smoothes the company's way. Management is the driver."

Jake looked at him a little funny. "Okay, but how does that relate to making heads or tails of the real world thing."

Terry sighed. "I shoulda known that wouldn't work." He chuckled lightly. "Maybe I better back up. Are you trying to understand how the company works, or how it interacts with the world around it?"

Jake dropped his head to his mate's shoulder and groaned. "Damned if I know. Is there a difference?"

"In a manner of speaking. Some parts of the company don't really relate to the outside world while other things only apply when dealing with outside world. Research is internal only it supports other operations. Politics on the other hand, is an external division that handles our relations with governments and other Corporations." Terry said quietly, as he put his arms around his tired mate as cinnamon ears drooped.

"Okay," Jake took a deep breath without moving. "And how does the family relate to all of that?"

"The family as whole provides direction for the company. The heart, soul and mind if you like. We keep it from becoming simply a heartless mechanism for profit, like some of them have become. We try to find ways to do good with the power the company has."

With a weak nod Jake slipped his arms around Terry's neck and brought his head back to look at his mate. "Like what?" He rumbled softly before gradually leaning forward for a kiss.

"The free medical clinics in the poorer sections of MKC." Terry said softly before claiming a gentle, loving kiss.

"And?" Jake smiled with half-lidded eyes as they parted.

"The University Scholarship program. Education for talented Kats who couldn't afford it otherwise." He said softly, listing one of his personal favorites and earning another kiss, this one longer and more inviting.

"Anything else?" He purred, barely backing off enough to speak.

"We're the biggest supporter of the WorldHarvest program, which is developing sustainable methods of agricultural for the increasing population, as well as helping less developed regions with famine problems." He said, beginning to be glad he'd handled the charitable projects division for a while.

Jake's smiled turned serious. "And the skeletons in the closet?"

"You mean the inevitable bad apples you get in a family this large?" He shrugged. "Yeah, we've had 'em. We've gotten lucky that they've never made it to head the family. I seem to recall that one of my grandfather's brothers turned out to be taking money from organized crime. We managed to repair the damage he'd done, after removing him.

"But our corporate problems are usually the non-family members, who don't see it the same way. Managers who overstep their authority, directors more interested in their profit margin than in keeping with the company vision."

"That's the worst of it?" Jake raised an eyebrow in suspicion.

"Well, it's not a subject we exactly teach our kits about." He said quietly. "We deal with them, fix whatever they did, and try to make sure it doesn't happen again. And for us, dealing with organized crime is considered pretty bad. I'll grant there might be something worse in almost eight hundred years of family history, every family has their problems."

Jake fell silent for a long moment, his gaze somewhere around the middle of Terry's neck.

"Will we have kits?" He asked very quietly.

"Assuming there's a way around us both being toms, I'd like to." Terry said sincerely. "Sounds like you'd like to." He leaned forward to kiss his mate gently.

"Surrogate mother," he murmured against his mate's mouth, "and there's tech."

"Tech?" Terry asked quietly. "Didn't know about that. Sounds interesting." He said before claiming another kiss.

"If a kit can be created from scratch, it should be possible." Jake whispered with a trace of pain.

"What's wrong, Jake?" Terry asked gently, nuzzling the lean tom.

"Just remembering." He shook his head. "Nothing I can prove."

"Something important?" He asked quietly. "You don't have to prove it first." He said reassuringly.

"Not really." Jake shrugged. "We both know they weren't my parents."

"Oh, yeah that was pretty clear." Terry nodded. "You don't really look like either of them. Wondering who your parents really were?" He asked sympathetically, not sure what it would be like without family and heritage.

Jake shook his head slightly. "I think I know. I just ... would rather not."

"Why?" Terry asked confused. "What could be so bad?" He asked, not really understanding.

Jake fell silent, his gaze unfocused as he pressed close.

"I don't have any." He whispered.

"What makes you say that?" Terry asked, holding the tom close.

"I saw some records once, in 'moms' stuff, reporting about me." Jake murmured very softly, trembling and afraid. "Genetic Constructs Batch One, Number 3."

With that said, Jake sagged, his strength gone.

"Okay, back to bed." He said, feeling none to steady himself as he pulled a comm unit out of one pocket. "Kar, this is Terry. You in the main house?"

"Yeah, front hall." His cousin's deep voice came back. "Wha'cha need?"

"Augustus' office. Need help getting Jake back to our room."

"Sure thing. Be right there."

A few minutes later, a big orange and gray tabby walked in. He was over six foot, and built like a bodybuilder. "You okay, Terry?"

"I'll be fine, Kar." He said standing unsteadily, and supporting his barely conscious mate. "Can you carry him?"

"This little fellow, sure." He said gently picking the unconscious Kat up, while Terry kept a hand on Jake's shoulder. "But shouldn't you two go to medical?"

"Trust me, Kar. It's better he wake up in a bed he's familiar with. I'll get medical if I think it's more serious."

"Okay, Terry. He's your LifeMate."

"That he is." The gray tom smiled affectionately.

Terry waved quietly to his cousin as the big tom departed. He gently pulled the covers up around Jake, and snuggled close to him in the big bed.

Without rousing Jake shifted to nuzzle him, settling again with a few muted whimpers and his nose buried in Terry's fur.

Terry gently stroked Jake's hair while he wondered if grandfather would mind a little digging into government circles. He decided it would probably be okay, but would have to wait till he and Jake had gotten some rest.

"*Ter?*" Jake's voice, very quiet and even more uncertain, danced across the gray toms nerves some time later.

"*Yeah, Jake?*" He replied quietly.

A jumble of confused thoughts flashed by before Jake managed to focus enough for words again. "*How can you love ... we're so different.*"

"*Maybe it is the differences.*" He thought quietly. "*Have you ever noticed how I love to watch you work. That's because you're creative in a way I never will be. You actually add something to the universe, while the best I can manage is to rearrange it.*" He paused. "*But really it's just feeling on my part, there isn't a real why to my loving you, I just do. Maybe I've said it before, but I feel complete when you're with me, and when we're apart something is missing. I don't like that 'missing' feeling.*"

Terry actually felt his mate's mind relax as it pulled away, back into just it's own body.

"I think I've got a new definition for hell week." Jake chuckled weakly.

"And it hasn't even been a week." Terry chuckled quietly, before turning serious. "Jake, do you want details on that project you saw the papers for? I can probably get them." He said gently.

Jake closed his eyes and relaxed to his back in the bed. "Yes and no ... I want to know, and about the others. If they survived."

"Okay, I'll get our intelligence division working on it." He nuzzled his mate comfortingly, though clearly a little distracted.

"And you?" Jake scratched Terry's chin.

Terry blinked. "And me what?"

"What's bothering you?"

Terry smiled. "Not bothering exactly, just something I've been thinking about." He said quietly. "What you said about putting something like SWAT together, as far as MKC defenses go. A few random ideas that started floating around, especially after I saw your reaction to what Chance has been saying about who created SWAT."

A bone deep shudder snapped Jake to fully enraged awareness. "That bastard is not getting credit."

"Easy, Jake." Terry said quietly. "What I have in mind will make sure he doesn't. Assuming you don't mind getting public credit as being Razor." He said gently.

The reflexive denial, even with Terry, was clear on Jake face before he relaxed a bit. "I guess not. It's not like it matters anymore."

"Exactly, and you do deserve the credit for all you did." He said supportively. "Other thing is do you mind me putting one of the elite fighter squads under SWAT colors? They may not be as good as the original but the appearance of continuity is good for public morale. If I recall an obscure section of the MKC legal code correctly, it will also allow Callie to do something she may already have been planning to do."

"Sure," Jake shrugged, then considered. "I'll definitely need to work on their jets, and some serious briefing time. There's a lot you couldn't have in the reports." He added, warming up to the idea considerably.

"Agreed." Terry relaxed, relieved that Jake seemed comfortable with the idea. "What's going to be different, is that now SWAT will be official. Answering to the Deputy Mayor's office, with you being officially recognized as having created SWAT, though no longer flying for unspecified personal reasons."

"Mm, yes, and if it's more than just a single team, they can still be stationed out here, and just head out to MKC when they on-duty." Jake suddenly chuckled. "Hell, I could not be flying anymore because I'm more useful on the ground."

Terry nodded. "Actually, the team in question consists of three pilot/ gunner pairs and a medic." He smiled. "They were brought together with the idea that the city would need someone after Clean Slate became necessary."

"And you're right. It works even better having you still part of SWAT but in a support role." Terry thought about something for a moment. "Good thing I put Callie's number on speed dial." He chuckled.

"How does their gear compare to SWAT? Not just the jet, but the rest?"

"The jets are as close as we could get, given you didn't design them." He smiled affectionately. "But they are our top of the line, better than anything we actually market. And the stealth performance may actually be better.

"We've managed a copy of the Glovatrix, though it's not nearly as versatile as the original. It's mostly climbing gear on the right hand, and the shield on the left. Uniforms are combination flight suit / body armor and contain a layer of blaster resistant material. Flight helmets also contain enhanced night vision gear. We actually did manage to add a Cyclotron like cycle to the jets in the latest upgrade.

"There's probably a lot of stuff, SWAT had that this group doesn't."

"Though you've got at least two of everything now, plus me." Jake grinned and rolled to face his mate. "And we are going to kick some serious tail."

"So shall we give Callie a call and let her know her problems aren't as big as she thought?" Terry grinned, as he leaned to kiss Jake quickly.

"In a bit." Jake rumbled and followed the kiss back down, claiming a much more intense one as his hands ran down Terry's clothed body, as the gray Kat ran his hands along his mate's back. "Right now, it's just you, me, and lust." Jake purred hungrily as he shifted to rub their bodies together.

"What a wonderful threesome." Terry murred, as he trailed kisses down the lean tom's jaw line.

"Then get rid of the clothes." Jake rumbled with a chuckle as rocked up to kneel over his mate and pulled his shirt off.

Terry chuckled, and quickly shed his clothing paying little attention to where it end up as Jake ran his hands and mouth everywhere but to actually interrupt the shedding of Terry's clothes.

"Lube?" Jake breathed into Terry's ear as he pressed against the gray tom's back.

"Night stand." Terry murred, nodding to the upper drawer.

Jake murred back and licked his mate's ear before fetching it. He was suddenly a little shy as he came back over.

Terry noticed the shyness and raised an eyebrow. "You seem a little uncertain." He observed sympathetically.

"I ... want to mount you." He shifted a little uneasily, but met his mate's eyes surely.

Terry smiled encouragingly. "I'm willing, you know that." He said warmly. "How do you want me?" He asked tenderly.

"Face me," he said a little more sure of himself.

Terry rolled to his back so he was looking up at Jake, and put his legs up, and tail out of the way. He smiled warm encouragement to his mate as Jake smeared a large dollop of lube on his fingers.

With careful attention Jake pressed one finger forward, as aware of his mate's long lack of this, as his own inexperience.

Terry concentrated on relaxing the muscles as his mate pressed forward. A slight sigh of pleasure passed his lips as the finger entered him. He purred lightly giving voice to his pleasure as Jake concentrated on what he was doing, hesitantly adding a second finger.

The gray Kat moaned, and rumbled in pleasure as the second finger entered, giving his mate a little more assurance in his work.

"Is that enough?" Jake asked as he continued to move his fingers in and out.

Terry had to remember what 'ready' felt like, which took a moment. "Yes, feels right." He said not hiding his excitement, and the tip of his cock peeking from its sheath made his arousal equally plain.

"Get you hard first, or now?" He asked hesitantly.

"You mounting me, will get me hard." Terry rumbled seductively. "Take me, love." He said his voice full of warm encouragement for his nervous mate.

Jake nodded as he drew a deep breath to steady himself before coating his cock and pressing the tip against the tight pucker. His breathing increased as he fought down conditioning and fear as he held there, determined not to let the past take his future from him.

Very slowly, trembling with fear and determination, he pressed forward with his eyes locked on his mate's. Drawing strength from the desire and loving there.

Terry sighed, deeply contented at the full sensation he got from Jake being inside, if only a little way. He rumbled deep in his chest, strongly aroused by having his mate inside him, his fully erect cock making a dark pink flagpole against his dark gray fur as the welcome invasion continued.

Jake was nearly hyperventilating with whimpers when he stopped about halfway in, locked in a battle between will and fear.

Terry reached one hand out to gently touch his mate's chest. "Together there is nothing we can't overcome." He said supportively. "Fuck me, love. We both want it, and no one else matters." He said, trying to lend strength to the struggling tom, through his touch and words.

The words locked onto something even deeper than the fear as Jake suddenly relaxed and pressed forward, up to his sheath. He held there for a moment, focusing on his mate's desire more than his own pleasure as he began to pull out smoothly.

Even as the movement made him moan and rumble with pleasure, he kept his hand in contact with his mate. "Yes, that's it." He said encouragingly, though pleasure made his breathing a little rough.

A shallow nod acknowledged the statement as Jake settled into a steady, strong rhythm of thrusts; pulling all the way out to the smooth tip and forward until his sheath was pressed back against his balls.

Terry moaned and rumbled his pleasure with each stroke, and a deep purr began emanating from his chest. The sheer pleasure of Jake mounting him was almost enough to push Terry over the edge but he forced himself back, not wanting to come to soon. Eventually, physical limits won out over good intentions. He roared with pleasure as intense muscle spasms blasted gouts of his seed across his chest.

Almost on cue Jake roared, his eyes closed as he thrust forward hard several times as a pleasure he hadn't known before rushed threw his body in a tingling, muscle locking wave he welcomed in blind devotion.

As Terry caught his breath Jake strained forward a last time with a second throaty roar and held there for a heartbeat before collapsing forward as his arms gave out. Reflexively Terry caught his mate and lowered to the bed next to him where he pulled the tom close to snuggle. "That was wonderful, Jake." The gray tom said with warm approval.

"Did it," he chuckled with a slightly manic edge before claiming a fierce, hard jaw-lock. "I did it." He trilled again, trembling with intense excitement.

"Yes, you did." Terry agreed, reinforcing the tom's excitement with his own pleasure at his mate's success.

"Cook for us?" Jake purred seductively as he licked his mate's ear after they'd both dressed.

"Sure." Terry smiled, turning to claim a quick kiss. "There's small kitchen on this floor. Anything in particular you'd like?"

"No, just your cooking." He murred. "The staff is good, but it's not the same."

"Thank you." Terry smiled, as he opened the door out of the bedroom. "I do enjoy it."

"You can bring me up to speed on this SWAT project while we're at it." He grinned eagerly.

"Sure thing, what didn't I cover before that you wanted to know?" He asked conversationally as they walked down the hall toward the small kitchen.

"What kind of rotation are they on?" Jake started. "And are they all expected to be airborne at once, or is this one or two jets and three teams?"

"There are three pairs, each with its own jet." Terry explained as he started gathering ingredients from the kitchen. "Under 'normal' conditions each 'team' is on standby for eight hours, and then off for sixteen, though all team members will be considered 'on-call'.

"If trouble is expected by not actually present, they'd change to a eight-on, eight-off, eight on-alert rotation pattern. Actual crisis would put one team in the air, and the other two on stand-by as back-up." He said as he located the various tools needed for cooking.

"Training, specialties?" Jake prompted as he found an out of the way counter to watch from. "Who are they?"

"All team members have completed our intensive anti-terrorism program in addition to their prior training and background. They also have advanced first aid training. All personnel are certified combat pilots, just in case.

"Team one pilot is Cassy 'Frostwind' Eckers, graduate of the Protector Academy, five years active duty. Specialty is hand to hand combat.

"Team one gunner is Raven 'Longshot' Malinak, graduate of Enforcer Academy, four years on active duty. Specialty is Electronic Warfare and Intelligence.

"Team two pilot is Harshan 'Mirage' Meshabi, originally served with the Bandits of the Bright Desert, recruited six years ago. Extremely reliable. Specialty is Tactics and Motorcycle combat.

"Team two gunner is Matthew 'Striker' BrightClaw, graduate of Enforcer Academy, two years active duty, dismissed for giving Lt. Cmdr. Steele a serious thrashing." He chuckled. "Four years active duty with Port Haven Protectors. Specialty is Stealth Operations and Hostage Rescue.

"Team three pilot is Avon 'Slingshot' Thorton, graduate Protector Academy, seven years active duty. Specialty is Security Systems and Demolitions."

"Team three gunner is Tracy 'Valkyrie' Nordecki, ten year test pilot for Halycon, completed Protector Academy with flying colors, and surprisingly deadly in hand to hand combat. Specialty is Computer Operations and Research, secondary specialty in Trauma counseling."

"Are they around?" Jake cocked his head. "So I can get to know them, and start the training you couldn't do. These are the jets I'll really need to know their teams for."

"I'll have to check." Terry said as he cooked. "They should be, the recall order was issued when Clean Slate was initiated. They're going to be really jazzed by this, they never expected to meet you." He said with a smile.

Jake looked at him strangely before shaking his head. "It's going to take some getting used to, having strangers think I'm special."

"It's more common than you think." He said gently. "Your masked identity has a fair amount of popularity."

"I just don't think of him as me very often." Jake shrugged with something of a chuckle.

"Speaking of masked identities." He said quietly. "The team doesn't know what's happened, or what happened between you and Chance. Please, try not to jump down their throats when they ask about T-bone, and I'm sure they will."

"I'll try my best to remember." Jake nodded tensely. "In a way, he never really hurt me." He stopped and sighed. "I'll really try not to snap. Hopefully we can get that over with in one round."

"Once we explain that he won't be with the new unit, that should be the end of it." He said as he drained the boiling water off the pasta.

"It'll be nice to not be on the front line anymore." Jake murmured as he watched his mate move with a relaxed contentment at odds with his voice.

"It may be selfish of me, but it'll be nice not to have you on the front line, anymore." He said as he took the sauce off the burner while, and checked the garlic bread.

"It's not selfish, Ter." Jake murmured with a soft smile as he came up behind his mate to kiss Terry's neck. "It's right."

"Guess it's easier, since we're both getting off the front lines." He said quietly, turning to kiss Jake quickly before shifting his attention to the counter and rapidly cutting up some fresh fruit.

"We've done our share, and then some." Jake murred. "It's time for others to take up the banner while we teach the kits how to survive."

"Agreed. SWAT proved that a rapid response team independent of the main military could work, and handle major crisis' better than by the book responses." He agreed. "Time to put that hard earned knowledge to use, and show others how it's done."

"I'm going to miss it a little," he admitted, "but not that much. He was always the one who really wanted it."

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss the PI business some, but I never cared for the getting-shot-at part that much." He said as he pulled the garlic bread out.

"Yeah, that never was the fun part." Jake actually chuckled as he snagged a piece of bread. "But it felt good making a real difference."

"Yes, it did." He smiled. "And we will still be making a difference, just in a different way." He said as he looked at the sauce, pasta, bread and fruit and nodded. "Okay, help yourself we're being informal." He grinned as he handed Jake a plate and silverware. "Milk good?" He asked as he pulled down two glasses.

"Works for me." He grinned and stole a quick kiss as Terry moved and served a large plate, especially of the garlic bread.

Terry led the way into the large underground hanger, where three advanced swept wing jets with gray and black paint jobs were parked. Six individuals in gray and black uniforms similar to the jets lounged about near the closest jet.

"So what d'ya think this is about?" A gray and white shekat wondered out loud.

"SunClaw said it was important, and given Clean Slate was initiated that would lead to certain conclusions. But we will find out in good time." A tall, King Cheetah Xanith said easily from where he lay under the jet.

"Sure, Mirage nothing to worry about." A lanky six foot tall gray on gold tabby smirked from where he leaned against the jet's fuselage. "You are way too calm. Something big is happening."

"Perhaps, but it will happen whether you worry or not. All the worry in the world will not move sand of the Bright Desert." The Xanith said with lazy certainty.

"Well, I talked to my cousin Greg, and there's something major going on at Enforcer HQ. He wouldn't say what, but I know stress in someone's voice when I hear it." The athletic light gray tom with white points said confidently.

"Hey Striker, you mean your cousin wouldn't tell you something? Must be big and bad." A wiry Red Fox Kantin quipped.

"Guys, they're here." A short athletic dark reddish-brown shekat commented looking up where Jake and Terry were descending the stairs.

"Okay, people." Terry said with a smile, as he and Jake reached the group. "This is my mate, Jake 'Razor' BrightClaw. And yes, that Razor."
"Jake, going around that's Cassy 'Frostwind' Eckers." He said indicating the gray and white shekat.

"Raven 'Longshot' Malinak." He said indicating the tabby leaning against the jet.

"Harshan 'Mirage' Meshabi." Terry said pointing to the Xanith under the jet.

"Matthew 'Striker' BrightClaw." He nodded to the smirking light gray tom.

"Avon 'Slingshot' Thorton." He said, taking a moment to locate the Red Fox who was lounging behind Mirage.

"And Tracy 'Valkyrie' Nordecki." He said nodding to the reddish brown shekat.

Jake let his eyes and other senses run over the group, taking their measure, just as he took their gears.

"Who here is ready to face Dark Kat, and walk away with no lives lost?" He challenged them.

That challenge got chorus of "Hell, yeah's", with two quiet exceptions. The Xanith and the reddish shekat.

"If Dark Kat can be eliminated without loss of life that is good, otherwise life is simply the coin to buy the world freedom from him." The Xanith said philosophically.

"Dark Kat, or whatever the psycho of the week is. Take 'em on and take 'em down." The reddish shekat said coolly.

Jake nodded, considering the group as a dangerous smile crossed his face. "We'll see. Let's phrase that differently. Who here thinks they're better than me?"

There was a bit of nervous laughter and general demurring to Jake's experience, except for Valkyrie.

"Better in what area of expertise?" She asked evenly.

"General survival, SWAT's job." He focused on her, then swept his gaze over the rest of the group. "You do realize those two questions are the same thing. If you can take down Dark Kat, with or without casualties, you're better than we were." He locked eyes with each in tern. "And you will be when I'm done with you."

There was a murmur of surprise from the group. They hadn't really considered being better as a possibility, they'd just been hoping for 'as good as'.

"Seeing as you're here, will T-bone be joining us?" Cassy asked casually.

"No." Jake managed to keep his voice fairly level, though his body language made it abundantly clear this was touchy subject. "T-Bone is dead. So's Razor, for that matter. You are the new SWAT. I'll give you what advantages I can, but in the end it'll be up to each of you, as partners, to make this work."

There was general acceptance, but a little confusion at the statement that Razor was dead. It seemed to conflict with reality, but was quickly shrugged off. If Razor wanted to say he was dead, who were they to argue.

"Well, we were ready to go at this on our own." Cassy said with a smile. "So with you helping us, we're really gonna kick tail." She said with a grin, an attitude echoed by her teammates.

"Then let's start with showing off what you know." Jake grinned at them. "And don't be surprised if I get nosey about everything." He chuckled. "You're gear will be better, the better I know you."

There was general acceptance, as the team waited to see just what he wanted them to show off first.

Jake chuckled low in his throat and shook his head. "Pair up, gunner and pilot. Hand to hand combat's first." He focused on the gray and white shekat, Cassy. "And the 'winner' doesn't necessarily mean the one to puts their opponent down." Then swept his gaze over the rest of the group. "I am looking for something in your styles."

Cassy nodded. "There's combat mats in the gym." She supplied nodding toward the door in the far wall of the hanger.

With a nod the lean cinnamon tom headed for them. He took in central part of the gym, which contained a large combat mat, easily big enough for a half dozen pair combats. "This'll work. Which team wants to go first?"

"C'mon Avon." The reddish brown shekat said as no one was quick to volunteer.

The Red Fox nodded a little reluctantly and stepped into the center of the matt with her, reflexively dropping into a defensive position against his gunner.

Valkyrie's first strike was lightning quick, sliding past the Fox's defenses to strike his solar plexus. It would've been a devastating strike, but she seemed to have put no power behind it, as if demonstrating that she could hit there. Her block against his counterattack was fluid and seemingly effortless.

"Hold." Jake ordered calmly as he stepped into the ring. "Try that with me, Valkyrie." He nodded at the shekat and dropped into a defensive stance with every sense fully open, and his nervous systems encrypting its signals to attempt confuse her.

Valkyrie nodded, and snapped through a lightning strike that connected hard with the lean Kat's shoulder, harder than her 5' 3" frame would seem to support.

Jake grunted and rolled with the hit, his surprise clear on his face as she saw his tactics abruptly change in the possible futures that were always floating just within her reach.

With lethal speed he closed for a fist strike that was deflected, but connected with his foot to her side just below the ribs before moving with both their momentum to dance away.

A respectful look for the connecting strike was followed by a increase in speed, just before an untelegraphed snap kick struck Jake at the knee.

"Yield." Jake called even as he involuntarily went down and rolled to his feet, grateful he'd shut off pain even as he tested the stability of his left leg. "We need to have a chat in private." He regarded her with both respect and curiosity. "I don't suppose you can fight without that trick?"

Terry, who'd been watching at the edge, was immediately at Jake's side offering a shoulder to lean on, while Jake was testing the stability of the leg, which was quickly determined to be basically uninjured.

There was a brief moment of confusion before the combat focus faded. "What trick?" She asked.

"Answer enough," Jake nodded as he stepped out of the ring. "We can discus this in private. Avon, you'll be advancing to the next round. Who's the next team to show off?"

A brief look of panic crossed Valkyrie's face before Avon put his hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Val. It's not a defeat." He said so quietly, that no one but Valkyrie and Jake could hear him. She looked at him, nodded shallowly and walked to the far edge of the gym.

"The knee okay?" Terry asked quietly.

"She didn't strike to injure." He nodded before walking after the rusty shekat. "I'll be fine."

"Valkyrie," Jake said quietly when he got close. "Avon had it right. I understand your fighting style, now I need to see his. It's not about win or loose."

Valkyrie nodded, still clearly shaken by something. "I understand."

"Okay, Longshot let's do this." Cassy said to her lanky partner as she stepped on to the mat and dropped into a fluid, pensive stance.

Jake nodded, and kept a careful eye on Valkyrie as he regarded team two as Raven stepped into the ring with the team's hand-to-hand expert.

The gray and gold tabby with an even leaner build than Jake made a quick feint, determined to make a good showing even if he didn't have a prayer of winning.

Cassy caught the feint and redirected the tabby into a throw, sending him across the mat where he rolled to his feet.

Jake nodded as Striker surrendered to Mirage. "Hit the showers if you want, I'll probably drive you crazy next." He called out to them with a chuckle, then turned to Valkyrie. "Are you okay to talk to me?"

"I'm okay." She said from where she was sitting at the edge of gym, after looking at Avon who nodded.

"Would the two of you come into the office then?" Jake asked softly.

Valkyrie nodded and stood. "Yes, sir." She said politely.

"Of course." Avon agreed easily and followed Jake in a private office space behind the hanger.

"Please, I'm Jake." He smiled encouragingly at her as he shut the door. "I work for a living."

"Yes, Jake." She said quietly, a little confused but accepting.

"So do we." Avon smiled. "Its just standard here for pilots and gunners to be officers. And no matter how you measure it, you do outrank the lot of us, Jake."

"Point taken," he shook his head. "Chalk it up to a personal quirk, I don't like the title." He turned serious, focusing on the pair. "Just what happened out there?"

"I don't know." Valkyrie said quietly, clearly hitting some kind of wall, a look Jake knew the inside of far too well.

"Not sure exactly." Avon said putting a reassuring hand on his partner's shoulder. "It's happened before, once or twice. Val seems to have a bad reaction to combat defeats, especially in tournament-style settings." He paused, until he caught the reddish shekat's shallow nod. "The first time I saw it happen, I asked her what was wrong and she said she was waiting to be punished.

"Jake, I know Val well enough to know if something scares her like that it has to be pretty bad, she doesn't scare easily."

"Winner gets praise, loser gets punishment." She muttered, fear tingeing her scent.

"I'm sorry, Val." Jake said softly. "I could have set that up differently, I just didn't think to." He moved closer to her and met her eyes certainly with an understanding of that kind of fear showing in them. "For what the words are worth, Valkyrie, you're not going to be punished here, not by me, and not for failure, even if that had been one."

"Not your fault." She said quietly. "You couldn't have known. And I believe you, Jake." She said, relaxing noticeably.

"Thank you." He smiled with a shadow of the loss haunting him, then backed away a bit to taken them both in. "Are there any more of these quirks in the teams you know about?"

"Only thing that comes to mind is that Mirage really doesn't like or trust females in positions of power or authority. He's learning but it's still real obvious when somebody like Lt. Cmdr. Syndri visits."

"Disobedience level?" Jake went slightly tense.

"We don't answer to her, so it's not an issue. But you can just smell the distrust, along with anger and some fear. I think it would depend on the female in question."

Jake nodded. "Thanks for the heads up. MKC may well have a female Commander soon." He said darkly, then relaxed and patted their shoulders.

"Is that what all the secured traffic is about?" Valkyrie asked curiously. "Secured traffic over the main bridge has increased threefold in the last twenty-four hours. And Striker can't even get news out of his cousin who's a senior officer in MKC."

"Some of it." Jake nodded. "That's not the only thing doing down."

"Yeah, well that's no surprise since Clean Slate was activated with the TurboKat in one piece and you alive. Something bad went down and now the fallout's coming in." Avon said quietly.

Valkyrie looked at Jake intently, though her eyes seemed to be looking a around and past him. "Yes, and you say Razor and T-bone are both dead, but neither Kat is, though the identity may be. Something very bad indeed."

"*My sympathy for your pain, Jake.*" Her voice, deep in sympathy and the understanding of pain seemed to jump the space between them to resonate along his nerves.

He half jumped in surprise, but relaxed almost as quickly and brushed the back of his hand against her arm with a soft smile. "*Thank you.*" He whispered back before nodded at both of them. "Very bad, and not something we expected." Jake sighed. "Which makes it worse. We may see a world war before this is settled."

The two of them blinked surprised. "That bad?" Valkyrie asked, clearly not having considered that before. "Guess maybe that's why Thunder and Lightning are active, I saw their Wraiths on maneuvers a few hours ago."

"That bad." Jake nodded and opened the door. "At least a half dozen significant powers are intimately involved, and it may well be more."

"So how do we fit in?" Avon asked quietly, clearly speaking of the team as a whole.

"Just as you've trained for." Jake said as they rejoined the other four members near their jets. "To protect MKC and the world as the SWAT Kats have the last six years."

"How does that work if there's a World War going on?" Valkyrie asked quietly.

"Your work gets harder, but not much different." Jake shook his head. "SWAT's always dealt with what the Enforcers couldn't. That won't change."

"There's just likely to be more that they can't deal with." Cassy said from where she was leaning against her jet. "Any indication how sides are shaping up for this potential war?" She asked evenly.

Jake considered a moment before shrugging and relaxing back against the jet across from her. "Some. One side is the Kingdom of Teveris. Another is Commander Feral. The Mayor's Office of MegaKat City is siding with us, or we're siding with them, depending on how you look at it. Those at the major factions at the moment at least."

Terry walked back in. "An alliance would be a fairly good description." He said easily. "You'll want to reprogram the paint job on your jets, to pattern two. This unit will officially take over as SWAT, a special defense force under the Deputy Mayor's office effective tomorrow morning. And we have a press conference to do, or more accurately we have to be an Deputy Mayor Briggs' official unveiling of the new addition to the city's defenses." He said with a smile.

Cassy blinked. "Official? I thought we were supposed to unofficial, same as the original." She asked surprised, but quietly pleased.

"Circumstances dictated a change in plans." Terry said simply.

"What do the other uniforms look like?" Jake glanced at his mate curiously. "I never really thought about trying to make a unified look out of that."

Terry looked at the squad. "Why don't you get into the SWAT uniforms?" He said watching as they head to the lockerrooms. "We took the SWAT colors and let the house uniform designer work with them for a while. There's actually three forms; fatigues, the body armor, and the dress blues."

"Dress?" Jake quirked an eyebrow as he moved over to embrace his mate. "Now that's something I never thought of. They'll be wearing them tomorrow, I expect ... we'll be wearing them?"

"All official military personnel have them, so I had them made for the squad. Yes, tomorrow is definitely a dress uniform occasion. And ours will be ready before it's time to depart tomorrow." He said putting his arms around Jake. "Callie was, to say the least, thrilled to find out she hadn't lost SWAT after all. Especially to find out you were staying involved."

"As much as it hurts, I still balk at abandoning my city." Jake sighed. "Like it or not, it's been my territory a long time."

"Some habits are hard to break." Terry said understandingly. "My family has put a lot of years and lives into protecting it. And it's not likely to stop needing SWAT anytime soon."

"No," he agreed sadly. "Do you think Mirage will have much trouble with Callie?"

"I don't think so. From what little he's said about the Witches, she's not likely to remind him of one. When he was first recruited, it would have been a different story."

"Good," Jake murred and closed his eyes as he relaxed in Terry's arms, soaking his senses in the gray tom's existence. "We have a quirky group so far," he chuckled against Terry's neck. "It's a good sign."

"So you were able to handle things with Valkyrie? That's a reaction I'd never seen before." he said quietly.

"We understand each other." Jake nodded with a soft, sad smile. "She's calmed down, and I know how to avoid it."

"That's good." Terry said sincerely. "She's very good at what she does. She also plays a mean game of chess." Terry smiled as Jake nuzzled him.

"I can't believe I'm tired." Jake sighed with a mutter as he shifted back enough to look at his mate. "Do you have many details on our status? The team'll need to know."

"I can believe it." Terry smiled. "But what kind of details do you mean?"

"Well, like who ranks who with the Enforcers. Do we have the Yard back, did she add anything to the basic mission statement of dealing with the super-creeps ... that kind of thing."

"With regards to the Enforcers it comes down to domain. If it falls inside out mission parameters then we have authority otherwise, they do. We're completely separate chains of command. While the Enforcers can request our assistance, they can not give SWAT orders.

"Mission profile includes the basic dealing with super-criminals as it did before, but SWAT also has jurisdiction where the 'weird and unusual' are concerned. This includes visitors from other planets, times and dimensions.

"No one has been at the Yard, except one very brief visit by Chance, since this started. Callie said it's ours if we want it."

"It's a good base and set up for this kind of thing, at least until something better can be built." Jake said quietly. "At the very least it's much closer than here if they have to hand fast somewhere secure, for supplies or repair."

"Ever give any thought to what the 'something better' would be?" Terry asked encouragingly.

"As a headquarters?" Jake looked at Terry as he saw Mirage and Striker come back in. "A little. I mean, I made a lot of improvements to the Yard with that in mind."

"Well, you've got a lot more freedom to design now." Terry smiled, noticing the rest of the team file in wearing the dress uniforms. They were very smartly tailored incorporating SWAT's blue and red while still maintaining the formal dignity of a dress uniform.

"Attractive," Jake nodded as he looked over the team in approval, his eyes lingering a moment longer on Valkyrie than the others.

"They did come out good." He observed, pleased with the fourth try at the uniform. "Now to see if we can get the jets dressed as easily." He smiled. "Longshot, please activate the MPS and bring up paint design two." He said, seeing the tabby was closest to his jet.

"Yes, sir." The lanky tom said before climbing into his jet. There was a delay, and then the black and gray paint scheme was replaced by a paint scheme almost identical to the TurboKat's.

Jake regarded the new pattern with interest, then around the hanger. "Is there a C&C craft?"

"Not particularly, since under normal circumstances it was expected that only one craft would be in the air at a time. In the cases where more than one craft is in the air at the same time, they've trained to work as wingmen, with Frostwind serving as wingleader, unless she isn't in the air. In that case, Striker is wingleader.

"Their training was that six of them would function independent of outside guidance. Necessary given the assumptions made regarding what circumstances would surround their activation."

"Might be worth it to build a Raven," Jake said, mostly to himself. "Especially with the active hunting the next few years will bring. A dedicated sensory craft could be useful."

Longshot blinked, and looked at Jake curiously having heard his name.

Terry smiled. "You've got the resources to do so." He said supportively.

Jake nodded and looked over the group again. "Just how restrictive are those uniforms?"

Terry smiled. "The designer is a hand-to-hand combat instructor. They don't impair combat ability. I wanted the team to be able to jump into combat from a formal event without having their combat efficiency impaired."

"Now that's a first." He chuckled, suppressing a yawn.

"I always hated the dress uniform." Terry smirked. "Feeling a need for a nap?" Terry whispered gently.

"Yeah." Jake shook his head, rather irritated by it.

"Even you don't bounce back from hell week in a day." He said affectionately.

"I used to." Jake grumbled in amusement then looked over at his new team. "My working project for you. What would make the gear better. And don't worry about possible, just what you'd like it to do. I'm sure you can get a look at the originals if you want, except for the TurboKat herself."

That elicited excitement from the team as they headed off to look at the originals.

Terry smiled. "Just remember, launch is at 7:30am be here and in dress blues by 7:15." He reminded them as they left. "We'll have to be careful to time our sleep habits so we're not napping then." He smirked at his mate.

"That's what an alarm clock is for." Jake said with a wide yawn. "But 7:15 is gods awfully early."

"Press conference is at nine, and Callie needs us there early to get things set up. Fortunately it's only a ten minute flight."

"Fortunately, yes." Jake nuzzled him affectionately. "That's still an hour before we used to open."

"And you rarely slept till then." Terry chuckled. "And your team has two who sleep much the same, or more accurately don't sleep much the same." He teased gently, affectionately.

Jake grumbled good naturedly and shook his head. "You know I'll sleep in a jet, but if you want to be comfortable ..."

"Let's go back to the bedroom. You may be able to sleep in a jet, but I've never been able to." He said leading the way out of the hanger and back to the main house.

Terry woke to the most intense sexual arousal he could remember, a nose full of his mate's equally excited scent, and remnants of an intense mating dream staring Valkyrie.

Terry shook his head, not sure whether to find that disturbing, arousing or something else. He found it strange that Jake would react that strongly to someone he'd just met.

"Murrph?" Jake blinked himself awake to roll half over to look at his mate.

"Nope, not time yet." Terry smiled.

"Mmm, you're turned on." Jake purred, and rolled over to face him for a kiss.

"So are you." Terry murred claiming a kiss. "As far as I can tell one of your dreams turned me on." He chuckled.

"Valkyrie?" Jake chuckled deep in his throat as he rubbed their bodies together.

"Yeah, kind of a surprise." He chuckled. "Considering you just met her."

Jake kind of shrugged before trailing one finger along his mate's hard cock. "No faster than I decided I liked you, Callie, Sandy or Chance."

Terry nodded. "Okay. Guess I'm just a slowpoke about such things." He chuckled, then murred appreciatively at Jake's attentions. "She is a very interesting person." He added, claiming another kiss, more passionate this time.

"I know," Jake breathed as he nipped Terry's neck gently. Then he suddenly stopped to look at his LifeMate. "Does the desire bother you? That I'd want a female."

"Jake, I'm not blind." Terry said gently. "I've always known you were interested in females, for a long time I wondered why you passed on the obvious interest Callie had in you. Now I've got a good idea why, and I guess I just wonder if you're settling for toms because of that trauma." He said quietly as Jake looked away.

"It's ... about trust." Jake said very quietly. "Not male or female. I trust you."

Terry nodded, and nuzzled Jake reassuringly. "That means a lot to me, Jake." He said warmly. "I know trust isn't easy for you."

"This trust is harder than most." He added. "I wish I could have returned Callie's affections, or Sandy's. It just wasn't there, to risk it."

"It's how you were hurt, of course it's harder." Terry said sympathetically. "And it was a female that hurt you, it's a hard thing to get around." He nuzzled Jake gently. "I kind of wish you could have too, would've been good for you." He said quietly, but sincerely.

"Good for me?" Jake looked up in confusion.

"To get past that trauma so you could do as you chose." He explained. "No one should have their life dictated by another."

Jake sagged with a pain-filled sigh. "Ter, as much as you mean to me, nothing in my life was by choice. No amount of money, power or desire's going to change the fact that it's going to be dictated by someone else, and it's not going to be what I'd hoped for."

"And what was that?" Terry asked, very quietly.

Jake blinked, caught off guard and surprised. "Hell if I know." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Terry. Life is about compromise. I'm so far into it ..." he pressed his face against war, gray fur. "I'm so far ... I just want to be happy with a nice, simple life. It's not going to happen."

Terry sighed. "Nice I can probably manage...but simple, hell I don't even know what simple is." His shoulders slumped. "I tried to find it for a while, but it never lasted. But maybe we'll find happiness yet." He said quietly. "If it really exists." He said with considerable doubt.

Jake smiled softly and brushed his fingers along Terry's cheek. "I know what happiness is. Or at least what it feels like."

Terry leaned toward the touch, smiling slightly. "Guess maybe I'm thinking too hard. Guess this week's got me more turned around than I want to admit." He said quietly.

"I don't think anyone could blame you." Jake kissed him gently. "It's been a hell of a few days."

Terry smiled. "No one else would, but I'm not good at giving myself much slack."

"That's why we have each other." Jake chuckled with a lick to Terry's nose. "To remind each other that even we can be forgiven."

"And to make sure that between the two of us, we still have two oars in the water." He chuckled, giving Jake a quick kiss.

"Because our other two are otherwise occupied." Jake purred and snuggled close, trailing one hand along the cleft of Terry's ass to tease the sensitive pucker there.

"Sometimes we just don't put the oars in the water." Terry murred, enjoying Jake's touch. He tenderly explored the soft cinnamon fur of Jake's back with his hands, while nuzzling him tenderly.

"It can be fun to drift." Jake crooned as he slipped down the dark gray chest, kissing and licking as he sought his goal.

"It's relaxing, something we need to do more often." He purred, gently massaging the Kat's ears.

"Yes, we do." Jake murred as he nuzzled the fledgling erection in soft gray fur. "Game for being the bottom again?"

"Any time you like, Jake." Terry purred gently. "I enjoy both roles."

"I'm beginning to." He gave his mate a last nuzzle before urging Terry to roll forward.

"Ter?" Jake nuzzled his lifemate awake near dawn.

"Yes, Jake?" Terry replied, turning to face his mate.

"Just what is my role in this thing?"

"Is the thing you're asking about the new SWAT?" Terry asked gently, not wanting to jump to conclusions.

"Yeah," he rolled to his back. "They look at me like a CO, I was acting like one today. But I'm not their leader ... I don't want to be. That 'sir' business is bad enough."

Terry nodded. "I'm afraid its at least partially because in their minds, you're Razor and there's a certain level of hero worship." He snuggled against his mate's side. "And if you're going to train them like you said, that does assume a certain level of authority.

"You make a good CO, by the way." Terry smiled. "But I think you're more of a drill sergeant and armorer. If you look at the organizational chart, I'm the listed CO."

"So where do I fall, as drill sergeant and armorer?" He asked uncertainly.

"Above them, effectively second in command. At least on the ground. Cassy's a very good squad leader in the air."

"Do we use rank?" He asked quietly, trying to work something through in his mind.

Terry thought about it. "Not really. The members of SWAT are employees of a private company, not a military outfit. Though they all retain their rank of Lieutenant in the Protectors. I'm CO, cause I created the unit and because of my position in the company."

"So just what do I answer to in the presentation?" Jake bit his lip. "I don't have rank anymore, and I'm not Razor ..."

"Remember I asked if you'd mind being publicly acknowledged as Razor?" He said gently. "You'll be introduced the same way I introduced you to the team. I expect the bulk of the questions will be directed to me and Callie honestly. You're there primarily to demonstrate that this team is a continuation of what you started with the original SWAT."

"Oh," Jake murred softly. "But in the new uniform?"

"I didn't think you'd want to wear the old one, and it's appropriate since you're part of the new organization." Terry said gently.

"So how do they know it's Razor?"

"Guess I'm hoping they'll buy Callie saying so, she asked me to see if you'd wear the old costume, but after everything that's happened I just couldn't." He said quietly.

"We could take the TurboKat in." Jake offered after a shiver. "She's at least as recognized as the old uniform."

"That's true. I'm sure Rik would be thrilled."

"What would you take in?" Jake suddenly tensed.

"Probably one of our courier jets. I'm sure as hell not qualified to fly the TurboKat." Terry smiled. "And Rik is."

"So am I." Jake reminded him a touch defensively. "She can be flown combat by one. This is easy. The autopilot could handle it."

"I guess I just feel out of place in combat aircraft." Terry said quietly. "But I can travel with you in the TurboKat, if you'd like. Rik's not really part of SWAT, so he doesn't really need to be there."

"I'd ... prefer that." Jake admitted quietly.

"Okay, then we'll do it that way." Terry said gently.

"Do you like Valkyrie?" Jake asked softly, still staring at the ceiling.

"Val?" Terry repeated, surprised by the change of subject. "Yes, I'd say so."

"Is ... well, do you know if she likes toms?"

"I've never asked, but I think so." Terry said quietly. "She certainly gives the toms on the team the kind of looks you'd associate with liking toms."

"Would ... if she likes me, like that ... would it bother you if I spend some time with her?"

Terry smiled gently. "No, it wouldn't bother me. Maybe she'll be able to help with the scars I can't." He said with a warmth that was completely accepting.

"Thank you." Jake rolled to snuggle against his LifeMate. "Do ... do you think she'd be ... influenced ... by our rank?"

"I don't think so. Val's only sort of aware of rank anyway, she only went through the Academy for the training. She's got a pretty solid separation of personal and professional selves."

"Good," he murred and snuggled close, relaxing back into a resting state.

"Felina?" Lt. Cmdr. Kylen NightWind's deep voice asked as her office door opened after a quick knock.

Felina sighed and put away a few half-written drafts she'd been working on, looking up once the drawer was locked. "Come on in, Kylen. Something wrong?"

"Kind of depends on your definition of 'wrong'." The large Saber-toothed Snow Leopard said quietly as he shut the door and found a spot on her desk to rest his hip on. "You're stressing way beyond what's made the scuttlebutt."

"What's made the scuttlebutt then? I haven't been keeping up on the gossip mill as much as I used to."

"That the Commander assaulted an x-Enforcer, to protect his affair with a cadet." He said quietly. "I know a little more of the truth than that."

"Then I suppose telling you the rumors aren't true wouldn't do any good would it. Or that I just had a few rough days, and the stress must be getting to me. Oh, hell, anything like that'd be insulting both of us." She sighed deeply before continuing. "How much do you know? And, more importantly, what do you plan on doing about it?"

"I know the assault was a rape, blackmail from a foreign power was involved, and the Enforcers are being ripped apart by it." Kylen twitched his long, heavily furred gray rosetted tail uneasily. "I suspect a few names involved include the SWAT Kats, and there are more special ops teams running around this city for various powers that be to make anyone with a clue nervous.

"As for what I'm going to do, it really depends on what Commander Feral does." The sabertoothed Xanith sighed. "As much as I'm not fond of him, he's done a good job for decades. I'm not looking forward to what'll happen if this goes truly public, but nether can the Enforcers survive like this. Between the BrightClaws, Shydar and WindStar, their contacts, and the government stuff going on in the background, we are in a lot of trouble."

"That's putting it mildly. You know almost as much as I do, frankly, but I can add that he seems to be convinced he's still the best to do the job. And he would be if it weren't for this - but he seems to think that the Enforcers falling down around his ears is the lesser of two evils. Can't believe I was that stupid," she finished quietly, almost to herself. "There isn't really any way for this to end cleanly, is there?"

Kylen hesitated, then shifted off the desk and extended a hand to her. "Talk about this over dinner?"

Felina smiled. "I'd love the chance to get out of here, believe me, but I have to figure out how to buy a few days more time to try and talk to him again. But, if we could meet somewhere at about seven, I should have either given up thinking about that here, or already solved that problem, one way or the other. Would that work out?"

"I'm good at that too." He nodded with a soft chuckle and tap on his glistening silver-encased saber teeth. "Seven will work fine."

She pushed aside the disturbing thought that the tap brought to mind. "Any particular place you have in mind? Or just somewhere more private than this?"

"More secure." He inclined his head.

"Understood. Well, if you don't have any place in mind," she wrote an address on a slip of paper and passed it over, "this should work well, as long as informal works."

He glanced at the address, raised an eyebrow slightly in surprise to see it was her apartment, and nodded. "This'll be fine."

"Okay." Felina thought for a moment, and shook her head again. "Actually, if you wouldn't mind waiting while I make a call, I could probably use a chance to get out of here sooner. Somewhere new to think."

"Of course," Kylen nodded and turned to leave. "I'll wait in the hall."

"Thank you. I should be out there in a few minutes." Once the door was shut, she pulled her cell phone out and hit the dial code for the Deputy Mayor's office.

"Deputy Mayor Briggs speaking." The shekat's voice came back sounding both stressed and tired.

"Miss Briggs, it's Lieutenant-Commander Feral. I'm guessing the rest of your day hasn't been any better than mine?"

"Mostly no, though there was one bright spot though. I'd guess that you didn't have any luck with Commander Feral." She said quietly.

"That would be putting it mildly. How much time do I have to work with? He might be willing to listen if I try again later. Tomorrow, maybe, or maybe even in a few hours."

"I wish I had a definite answer. But as long as nothing escalates, and the press doesn't get wind of what's going on I'll wait. You do realize, though, that if the press gets a hold of this we've all run out of time." She said, not threatening but merely stating a fact.

"Understood. I'd rather it was over now, I assure you. I should probably let you get back to whatever you were doing before I called, then - good luck to both of us."

"That makes two of us, Lt. Commander. Good Luck." She said before hanging up.

Felina hung up the phone on her end, and pulled out the papers she'd been working on earlier - since she didn't seem to need them any more, she wanted to shred them before they were noticed, and soon they were in the garbage. She grabbed her purse, and started out of her office, where Kylen was waiting.

"Well, that's over with for now. Ready to go?"

"Of course." He inclined his head to her. "Your vehicle, or mine?"

"Might as well take mine - if you don't mind coming back afterwards, of course. If you do, we should probably take yours."

"We both have to come back afterwards, anyway." He nodded. "Lead the way."

"Well, here we are," she said as she opened the door, probably the longest sentence she'd said since they'd left. "It's not much, but it's as secure as healthy paranoia allows. Pull up a seat." She locked the door behind them, and pocketed the keys. "Talk business, or dinner first?"

"And a certain level of paranoia is quite healthy." He agreed and dropped into a table chair backwards. "Depends on if you're hungry, though we probably should eat first."

"So what are you in the mood for? I have to admit, my appetite's a bit shot these past few days - you can probably guess why."

"With very little difficulty." He dropped his chin in agreement. "Take out or real food?"

"Real food, actually. When I'm not pulling extra shifts, I can cook. And I need to do something to burn off some steam. As long as you're not in the mood for something I can't pronounce, I probably have the makings to fake it at worst, too."

"I'm always game for something new." He chuckled. "Know how to make these seafood pancakes I keep hearing about?"

"Okay, I'll admit you've got me stumped there - but if you could describe them, I could probably do something up."

"As best I understand, they're pancakes with diced fish, shrimp or shellfish mixed in." He considered thoughtfully.

"First I've heard of it. Unfortunately, I think you do have me stumped there - if I faked that one and it came out wrong, I don't think I'd want to know what it would taste like. Hmm - you're in the mood for something new, you say? I might have something I could whip up pretty well, if you don't mind ham. And aren't too picky about visual results."

Kylen grinned at her. "No problem. Already sounds like it fits in my favorite foods department."

"In that case," she pulled out a saucer, small block of cheddar, and a grater, "start grating that. It'll take a bit to finish up the rest, and I can get it on the table faster if you help out a bit." She put the stuff on the table, then went back to the fridge and pulled out some eggs, milk, onions, ham, and butter as he went to work without complaint. A few minutes later, she was frying the ham and onions, and slicing potatoes.

She added the potatoes, and fried the mix until they were all well browned, then added the eggs and milk she'd mixed earlier, and stirred everything until the eggs were almost cooked. Then she added the cheese that had just been grated, and mixed until well-melted, peppering the concoction regularly, though not too heavily. When she was done, she slid it off onto a plate and small saucer, and brought them over to the table.

"Enjoy," Enjoy," she said, taking the saucer for herself. "It doesn't look like much, but it's a good blend for breakfast, dinner, or anything in between."

"Smells very good." He said before digging in, keeping it just on this side of dignified.

Felina smiled as she watched him eat, working at her own serving much more slowly. "Good to have an appreciative audience."

"Anytime you want one," he grinned at her, "I'll happily play audience."

"At this rate, I might need one more often. I'll either need blood pressure meds, or a new job."

"I know a good doctor for the first," he chuckled lightly, "and a few openings for the second." He suddenly turned serious and fixed her with a searching storm gray gaze. "But you're good enough not to need either, if you've got a friend to help you relax."

She turned her eyes away slightly. "Might not matter, depending on how this turns out. If this doesn't work out fast, something's going to give. Almost did already."

Kylen regarded her carefully. "That shot wasn't an accident, it was a miss."

"I don't know what the hell I was thinking. Just how confidential is what we talk about tonight?"

"Short of a court order or treason, it's not going anywhere by me." He said simply. "And shooting the Commander, given the situation, doesn't count as treason. This is all past any rank I'd be investigating, and SI has better sources than me."

"Good. The thing that worries me most is that this isn't the first time since this all started. Just the first time I actually fired." She chuckled bitterly. "And the first time made more sense than this time did, damn it. This one ... he could serve me up on a platter and be rid of me for good if he wanted to, and not a damned bit of good would come of it. But it made so much sense right then.... Well, I'm sure that's the last part of this you want to hear about - I'm assuming you had something in specific you wanted to discuss, away from HQ?"

"To some extent." He jerked his chin up in a nod. "Mostly I'm looking to find out if there's a chance I won't end up Commander when the dust settles. It's bad enough we're loosing an effective Commander, there's no way around that anymore, but there is no reason to loose you too. Unless it's out of moral obligation of some kind."

"You mean besides watching it happen and not doing a damned thing about it?"

"Oh," Kylen blinked and quickly digested that. "Mind some honestly meant advice?" He asked seriously.

"As long as I'm not obligated to take it. I've gotten a lot of advice that just doesn't work lately."

"Understandably." He sighed and rested his chin on interlaced fingers as he watched her. "When you make that choice, list the pros and cons of each action. Give each a weight for how important they are, and take a good look at it before you decide. It can work well, when you have some time. Bouncing it off a good friend can be helpful too."

"When you have time, it helps. When you can think, it helps. I don't plan on having a nervous breakdown, it's just that I was trying to pretend nobody else knew what was going on. And when push comes to shove, it's like I go on instinct. And some pretty strange instincts at that. It's not like I walked in there planning on killing him, unless there was no other way to keep what's left of his reputation from being destroyed. That came to me when I realized that he wasn't going to resign, and I didn't know how much time I had left before events followed their natural course."

Kylen frowned for a moment. "What would killing him accomplish to save his reputation?"

"That's what I can't make sense out of. At the time, I had some sort of insane plan that would have ended up with both of us dead, and my reputation, what there is of it, taking the brunt of the damage. The worst that would have happened to his would be that the affair would come to light. Now that I think about it, there wasn't a chance in Hell the plan would work - something would have gone wrong, it was too complicated. And even if it had worked, it would have resulted in the Enforcers having to deal with losing the Commander and his second at the same time, though with the scandal focused more on me than on him."

He nodded. "It makes more sense than you might expect." He said softly. "Considering how you seem to have seen him as an icon, or hero." He cocked his head slightly, making the light flash off his silver teeth as he thought. "You are right, it's too complicated, but in simpler times it would may have well worked as intended."

"You're right, about the first part at least. Hero as a cadet, hero as a kit, hell, it wasn't until a few days ago I had to acknowledge the possibility he wasn't, until I couldn't ignore something. But the second part - it wouldn't have worked. Would have left you in command with a lot of questions to deal with, and no good answers because the questions were all parts of lies. Maybe I've already had that breakdown, and it's just showing up now."

"Sometimes breakdowns are good, when they lead you to a better understanding and inner strength." He offered quiet support. "Something has broken down for you Felina: the ability to hide an important truth from yourself. That's not a bad thing, as much as it hurts."

"I still have to deal with him, though, until this is done. Hell, Dark Kat's next project could come down the pike tomorrow, and the working strain could get people killed, if somebody doubts the wrong order at the wrong time. Though I suppose that could work out to the general advantage, depending on who got killed in the process. I'm just not sure I can, with this hanging out there yet."

"Have you considered taking a few days off, until this is settled?" Kylen asked. "If this lasts more than a week, I'll be stunned."

"That might be a good idea," she mused. "I certainly have enough personal days saved up. Though I should go back in to make sure all the paperwork's finished off for today's reports."

"Why done we do that, then come back and talk at more leisure?" He offered quietly.

"You don't have to come back over here with me if you have something you'd rather do - I should be okay, as long as I don't have another argument with him."

"Nothing I'd rather do." He chuckled. "Your company is hardly that bad, and face it, we should get to know each other better before we get thrown into the fire."

Felina half-smirked at him. "You know, if you keep coming up with good points like that, I'm going to start thinking you'd be the better candidate for Commander." She paused as he nearly choked on his milk.

"Just let me know when you're ready to go, I'll start the dishes before we head back to HQ," she explained as she went over to load the dishwasher.

"Yeah, sure." He watched her moved with a very bewildered look, and a new appraisal.

"Sorry I startled you like that," she said while she cleaned up. "Mostly unintentional, especially timing it while you were taking a drink. Mind if I ask what threw you that badly?"

"Me being Commander, over you." He shook his head. "It wasn't something I expected to hear, especially from you."

Felina chuckled. "If I'd been completely serious, I'd remind you that I'm not interested in being Commander besides thinking it's what's best for the Enforcers, and the city, at this point. But for what it's worth, I think you would make a good Commander."

Kylen shook his head and chuckled. "It's been too long since I hung with a Feral. It's too easy to forget you do have a sense of humor."

"If I didn't know you were more used to my uncle, I might take the time to be insulted. We have senses of humor, just that sometimes we forget to use them around other people, especially at work," she explained as she loaded the last of the dishes that were ready and closed the washer, ready to start it when they left.

"Noticeably." He shook his head. "Though I've been accused of the same thing."

"And I have to admit, if you've been watching me the past few days, I haven't exactly been in the best of moods."

"I don't think anyone who has a clue has their sense of humor intact without prompting." Kylen sighed. "Might not be a bad idea, at that." He murmured to himself, then looked at her with a gleam in his storm gray eyes. "I know a good place to take both our minds off this crap for a couple hours. Maybe get some ideas working once our brains have loosened."

Felina cocked her head and smiled. "Oh really? And just where do you have in mind," she asked, the tone of her voice about half curiosity, and half challenge.

"The Gray Stripe." He raised a dark gray eyebrow at her.

"Can't say I've ever heard of it before."

"I'm not surprised," he chuckled. "It's a fairly small, and very specialized club. I think you might enjoy it though."

"Sounds good. Well, why don't we go take care of whatever we have to do back at HQ, then head over there afterwards?"

"Deal." He stood with a grin and extended his hand. "We both need a good laugh fest right now."

Felina hit the dial on the washer, and starting it as she grabbed her purse and took the offered hand.

"How right you are."

Felina had just finished up the last of the reports she had to deal with, when she noticed a stocky figure outside her office that was significantly too short to be Kylen.

The kat walked slowly past the empty desks outside and into Felina's office without hesitation. It took her a moment to recognize Chance Furlong in the large leather jacket, it's collar flipped up over his neck. "Hey," he said softly.

"Hi," she said. "Don't suppose we'd be lucky enough that this visit doesn't have to do with the other night, would we?"

"I, uhhhh, I was just wondering if maybe you could get this to Jake." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a red envelope, marked 'Jake' in the tabby's own distinctively appalling handwriting.

"I can't make any promises, I'm afraid. I'm probably not on the list of people he'd like to see, and there's only so many places I know of to look for him." She paused for a moment as she took the envelope, and looked at his face. "Chance, what happened to you?"

The tabby almost smiled. Almost. "You really need to ask?"

"Depends on what you're talking about. What I'm most worried about is whatever happened to your neck that you're trying to cover up. Unless, of course, there's a vampire epidemic nobody's told me about."

Moving very carefully Chance reached up and turned his collar down, slipping the jacket off his left shoulder so that she'd have a clearer view of his injury.

Felina looked at the long, deep gash quickly, glad to see that it had been taken care of, but couldn't keep the concern out of her voice. "Good gods, who did that to you?"

"Jake did," he murmured softly, replacing the jacket with exaggerated care.

"I can see why you don't want to deliver this personally, then. Mind if I ask you a personal question?"

Chance shrugged. "I can't hang around for the inquisition, but sure."

"Hardly an inquisition. I just need to know what the odds are that my uncle would listen to you if you tried to convince him to do something he didn't want to do."

Chance smirked and shook his head. "I don't think you're gonna have any more problems with that, Commander. I've gotta get going now, goodbye Felina."

It took her a second to register what he'd just said. "Hold on, what?"

Chance stopped with his hand on the door handle. "You heard me. It might not be a good idea to work too late. Tomorrow's gonna be a busy day." With that he pulled the door open and stepped out.

Felina's first thought was that he couldn't be serious. But, then, he had known what it was about before she'd asked him. She walked out of her office slightly dazed, not quite sure what to make of it.

"That was interesting." Kylen's voice was low and curious as he offered her a supporting hand from the left.

"I take it you heard what he said, then? I wonder if Miss Briggs knows yet - I should probably call to find out. Even if she doesn't, this changes things quite a bit if it's true, and she should know." Felina pulled her cell phone out, hit the dial code, and waited for somebody to pick up on the other end, hoping that Callie hadn't left the office.

"A chunk of it." He nodded. "And it might be better to see her than call." He suggested calmly. "Something happened in the comm lines between here and there. I'm sure of it."

Felina closed the phone and nodded. "You're probably right. That being the case, I guess I'd better get started over there. Besides, we're probably going to have to sort out a few things over there, like what to do next for damage control. At least I shouldn't have to try and convince him to resign any more."

"Take my car this time?" He offered quietly.

"Thanks. I don't think you'd have to come along, though, if you don't want to."

"If this is true, I'm second in command unless you choose another." Kylen shook his head. "This is as much my duty as yours. Besides," he cocked a bit of a grin, "I'm beginning to like the idea of being your friend."

Felina smiled back and shook her head slightly. "Guess I'm still getting used to the idea of having a friend who's willing to go out of his way to help out, and the idea of not just being second-in-command anymore. Though there's nobody else I'd rather have the job than you."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." He gently guided her out of the empty office space. "And going out of your way to help, well, that's what friends do for each other."

"We're definitely used to different types of friends. I like your version better, though."

"You have one now." He said stubbornly as they walked to the Command Officers parking garage and his Xanith sized urban gray SUV he unlocked with a silent, keyless signal.

"Trust me, I'm not arguing. And thank you."

Kylen smiled at her and slipped easily into the driver seat of a crafted leather interior that looked more like a mobile command center than a private vehicle.

"Mom insists I keep a few perks of being a NightWind, even if I chose another career." He chuckled a little self-consciously as the interior powered up to reveal of fully computerized data access and communication center built into the dashboard. "What kind of music do you like?"

"Wow," was all Felina could think to say as she climbed in next to him. "The perks must be very nice." She thought for a moment. "Uhm, just about anything, really. Whatever you're in the mood for."

"All right." He chuckled and pressed a button as a very distinctive beat and instrument filled the air, though it was nothing she could place.

"Bervani Historical remix." He explained as he tagged several more buttons before pulling out. "The perks are mostly to keep in contact. It's quite useful to have the NightWind database at my disposal."

"I can imagine. Especially in this line of work - the more info the better."

"No kidding." Kylen chuckled as they pulled into traffic aggressively, showing the full power of the large vehicle to handle high acceleration, and maneuverability. "What's your list of things to fix?"

Felina thought for a moment.

"First thing on the list is basic damage control - trying to calm down the officers who were going to resign, talk Halycon down from canceling their contracts with us, basically undoing as much of the damage my uncle caused as possible. I can't turn back time, but I can try to make up for what happened - besides, we'll need all the support we can get while we deal with problem number two.

"Without SWAT flying, we're screwed. We can hold our ground, if we're lucky, but I can't count the number of times they were the only thing that kept the city from becoming a smoking crater."

"Agreed there, unfortunately." Kylen nodded. "The original SWAT is a lost cause, in my opinion, but there is a project that died at Ulysses' hand about forty years ago, to create something just like SWAT, but with three teams, and official backing."

"Might be a good time to resurrect that project, although it sounds like he had more involvement than anybody would have guessed with SWAT when it was flying - besides the obvious connections I found out about earlier today."

"Probably, though I seriously doubt half of the team was aware of it." He growled softly. "That is no way to run a project. I can hardly imagine what Razor could have done without all the distractions and scrounging."

"Almost frightening to think of, really. Even when all he had was the chunks that were left from our damaged birds, he managed to keep several steps ahead of us. That Kat's done a hell of a lot for the city, and it ends like that...." She trailed off for a moment before she continued.

"The hardest part of getting that new team running would probably be finding three teams who were that crazy and good enough to back it up. It's not exactly what most people would put on their list of things to do on a day-to-day basis."

Kylen actually laughed: a deep, throaty sound of amusement and knowledge. "More than you might think, if you're willing to look outside the recruiter's office prize boys."

"To get something even half as good as SWAT going, I'd be willing to look just about anywhere - don't suppose you have names, do you?"

"Not particularly, but I know where to look." He dropped the right side of his head in a quick nod. "I send them to my family, and the other agencies where they're wanted."

"In which case they might already have jobs they prefer - but it wouldn't hurt to ask.

"Not all of them." He muttered. "There are a few that haven't been booted yet. But the cream of the last three generations of Enforcers are definitely gone."

"We'll have to run it by Briggs, of course, but I seriously doubt that she'd have any problems with something like that. It doesn't make sense, really, that if he really had wanted to make SWAT official, that he couldn't have had it done at some point, even after the fact. I suppose Manx could have turned it down consistently, but that would have involved actually doing some work."

"That's why I suspect there is something more than two stubborn personalities involved." Kylen said. "There are a lot of little things, where the facts between Enforcer HQ and City Hall have differed. This may be the most blatant, but I think there's someone not just tapping our comm lines, but feeding bad information both ways."

"Wouldn't need to feed bad info through, just stop the right things. After all, which is easier - to consistently feed each side of things altered proposals, or just to stop the proposals from going through?"

"Very true." He gave her an approving jerk of the chin. "Either way, anything important should be dealt with in person, until we've hunted down and exterminated the rat."

Felina growled lowly. "Which should go on the list at number three or four. Clean up a few long-term problems that never quite got dealt with, whoever's responsible for that on the top of the list."

"No argument there." He agreed as they pulled into City Hall's reserved parking lot and claimed a space. "Will you indulge my paranoia for a moment?"

"Depends - what are you paranoid about? I don't think we should have to worry about anybody trying to stop us from getting into the building, for example."

"I want to scan that letter Chance gave you."

"Any particular reason? Given that it looks like Jake almost killed him, it's probably just an apology that he didn't feel safe delivering personally."

"I hope you're right, but that tabby's got as many reasons to want his former partner dead, as to apologize." He explained. "There are just so many poisons, diseases and nasty things that could be on it, I'd rather know now, than after Halycon confronts us about it."

"You didn't see him tackle my uncle that night. I thought he was going to kill him for a minute there. Normally, I'd agree with you, but I'd rather not pry into what goes on between the two of them more than I have to. But since I don't know where to reach him, I'll turn it over to Halcyon so that their security people can go over it before delivery. At least that way it stays more or less inside his family."

"It's not prying, Felina, it's just a scan." He bapped to the dashboard top to open a ten by fourteen inch compartment. "It doesn't even have to open the envelope."

"In that case, no problem. I just didn't like the idea of anything very intrusive," she explained as she put the envelope into the compartment. "Is that in right?"

"Thank you, and yes." He nodded and closed the lid before punching several more buttons. "It'll be done thinking when we get back, most likely. I expect we have a lot to go over in there." He jerked his chin at the building.

"Most likely," she agreed, opening the door and unbuckling. "Let's go, and hope she's still in the office. Though if she'd gone home by now, I'd be surprised."

"Me too." Kylen nodded and snagged a notebook sized folder before following her inside. "She never leaves this early. Especially not on a disaster day."

"And does this ever qualify."

Callie looked up from writing to see Felina and Kylen walk in. She looked curiously at Felina before focusing on Kylen.

"Lt. Cmdr. NightWind, before anything gets said, are you aware of the situation and more importantly, is Internal Affairs, officially?" She asked firmly, but there was a tired edge to it.

"I am personally aware of at least most of the situation, ma'am." He nodded sharply. "And it is solidly not an IA matter. I'm here as the probable Enforcer Second-in-Command too soon."

"No disagreement about it not being an IA matter, but I was wondering what IA was aware of." She said quietly. "And perhaps, probable Second-in-Command not soon enough."

"IA knows very little." He clarified. "I know a great deal."

She turned her gaze to Felina. "Any progress with Commander Feral?" She asked hopefully.

"That's why we're here. I was finishing up some paperwork tonight when Chance came into my office. On his way out, he made a comment about me not having to worry about convincing my uncle to resign, and referred to me as Commander. Not a confirmed resignation, but we were hoping that if it was, you'd know about it. I'm guessing you don't, then?"

"I haven't heard from him since this started." Callie said in quiet frustration. "Of course, I'm beginning to think that communications are bugged between us, so I'm not sure I'd get his resignation unless he handed it to me personally."

"Agreed." Kylen nodded quietly.

"That's another reason we came over - if somebody was trying to delay communications, then this was something we couldn't afford to have interfered with. Though it is possible that he didn't want to file the resignation until tomorrow, or some other simple reason. He wasn't exactly in the best of moods when I left him earlier."

"Understandable, though I imagine getting shot at didn't help his mood." Callie said casually.

Felina winced. "I'm beginning to wonder if everybody knows about that. Hopefully that won't interfere with operations."

Callie smiled reassuringly. "Not everyone, but Ms. Callahan did place a call when she heard the shot. Fortunately, the officer on duty didn't log it, merely told me."

"Good. That would not be something to have become public knowledge, if we want this to look relatively normal."

"Agreed. Ms. Callahan is willing to accept the story you told her, and the officer she called doesn't think you did anything wrong." Callie said with a slight chuckle.

"I'm hearing a lot of that, it seems," Felina said dryly, looking over at Kylen. "At any rate, we should probably work on what to do next. If he has resigned, and it seems likely that he has at least stepped down, we need to figure out how to fix as much of the damage that's happened as possible."

"Most of the external damage will be fairly easy to repair, as the objections were to his continued presence. With him gone, things should go back to normal, barring any other scandals." She said quietly.

"The internal problems may be more difficult, though at least I managed to head off the resignation of experienced officers, by temporarily transferring them to SI. Once we've briefed them on the change in the top slots, I can transfer them back. There maybe some lingering hard feelings between the divisions though."

"There is one thing I'm going to brief you on, with the understanding that its strictly confidential, until after the press conference tomorrow morning. That means no sharing this information with anyone, meaning anyone outside this room...including family." She said firmly. "Am I clear on that?"

"Yes, ma'am." Kylen responded instantly.

"Perfectly clear."

Callie paused for a moment. "Courtesy of Halycon Industries, we won't be losing SWAT after all. They're providing a complete SWAT squad to fill the gap left by the old one. Officially, the Old SWAT unit was a prototype to test the concept, and now its going full scale."

Kylen's jaw dropped slightly open for a moment. "Well, that will makes things easier for us." He managed.

Felina was just as surprised, but she avoided showing most of it. "Much easier. Faster too. That's what your speech is about, then?"

Callie nodded. "Yes, I'm unveiling the new squad and introducing it to the public. Jets and crews will be present for the press conference though Mr. BrightClaw and I will be handling questions."

"All right. I'm sure you've thought of this already, but do you have any plans for explaining why my uncle isn't there? Or the original SWAT? Especially that last one - people will probably expect to see both of them there, since nothing's happened in the news that would leave them unable to attend."

"Razor, as the creator of SWAT will be there." Callie said quietly. "SWAT will not be part of the Enforcers, but will answer directly to this office under the Special Defense Forces authority in the city charter. As far as anyone asking about your uncle, I'll cover that as his having taken a leave for personal reasons, since he hasn't actually bothered to resign."

"Ma'am," Lt. Cmdr. NightWind asked politely. "Is there any indication how cooperative this new SWAT intends to be with the Enforcers?"

"Cooperative as appropriate." Callie said simply. "But part of what made SWAT effective was its flexibility and independence in response. It's expected that the two organizations will cooperate on cases that require it. The Salvage Yard will be transferred to SWAT control, with actual salvage being redirected to the other Yards."

Kylen nodded. "Who has the authority to call them to a scene?"

"Myself primarily, with the Commander and Second-in-Command of the Enforcers having authority to request their assistance. I expect that the antagonism of the previous administration, no matter how much of an act it may have been, will not be continued." She said firmly.

"Of course not, Miss Briggs. I never liked the way they were treated in the first place. You don't want to antagonize the people responsible for you still having a city to protect."

"After some of the communication problems of the last ten years, I think clarity is important." She said simply. "At least part of the cause of the tragedy of the past few days, is a lack of direct communication between the former Commander and myself."

Callie looked directly at Felina. "If you have a project that's important enough to request special funding for, please come to me directly. If your uncle had ten years ago, he'd probably still be in command."

"Good." Kylen nodded, obviously relived. "Would it be appropriate to forward what information we have on Dark Kat, Dr. Viper, Hard Drive and other of their ink to the new SWAT, or are they primarily a reactionary force as before?"

"Very appropriate. The plan is to establish a joint database regarding on the subject of the super-criminals. From my discussion with the SWAT Commander, they will be taking a more active approach where such does not compromise their defensive role. The new SWAT will be looking to solve those problems on a more permanent basis."

The Saber-toothed Snow Leopard nodded with obvious approval. "Including the information not admissible in court?"

"I expect that much of the important information is not admissible in court." She said quietly. "The solutions probably won't be either."

"I think we can all agree that that's acceptable, as long as they aren't long-term threats any more. After all, if working by the book would solve problems like that, we probably wouldn't need SWAT."

"Assuming that he had handled the blackmail differently. I doubt the people behind that cared about SWAT's official standing. But I will make sure you get requests of that sort. If I can help it, nothing like this will ever happen again, especially once we find out who the mole is." Felina shook her head.

"I'd recommend looking at whoever signs off on mail between the Commander and myself. Especially budgets, since the Commander apparently thought he'd submitted detailed budget requests for a SWAT operation, and all I ever saw was requests for budgets increases. There's also my annual request for him to approve making SWAT official, which he consistently returned unsigned. Or at least someone made it appear that he did."

"That should narrow down the number of people to check out first significantly. It would probably also be a good idea to rework some of those processes so it's harder for somebody to interfere with them."

"Understood, ma'am." He snapped his chin up. "What is SWAT's clearance, for general future reference?"

"If it should come up, they're clearance is the same as any of the other Specials, unless its directly regarding a super-criminal. Regarding the super-criminal they're cleared for all information. Also for reference, the Salvage Yard is now a restricted zone, requiring high security clearance; such as ranking Enforcers."

"Felina, the SWAT Commander has suggested that you may want to keep your distance due to Razor's unpredictability with regard to certain people involved with the events of a few nights ago. He said that arrangements can be made if you'd like to meet with the new team, but for your own safety you might want to stay clear of Razor for a while."

"More than understandable, especially given what happened between he and T-Bone. Should I contact the new Commander about the arrangements, or leave that to you? I think it's important that I have at least some knowledge of who's in SWAT now."

"It would probably be good for you to contact the SWAT Commander since it would help if the two of you got the working relationship off to a good start. You may already know him, Terry BrightClaw."

"Do you know who is on the new team, ma'am?" Kylen asked curiously.

"I have names and backgrounds. Most of them aren't going to be familiar since Halycon did the recruiting. A couple are former Enforcers, one booted for trashing former Second-in-Command Lt. Cmdr Steele."

"I like this group already." He chuckled. "No disrespect for the deceased, but Steele had no business being an Enforcer. Pity we can't be there for the presentation, to show the new solidarity."

"You'll get no disagreement on that subject." Callie smiled. "But I don't want to overshadow this announcement with the restructuring in the Enforcer ranks. Just so you aren't surprised, Special Investigations will be handling security for the press conference."

"Makes sense. They'll probably keep it quieter, too. I think it'll show that we intend to work with SWAT, instead of alongside them, soon enough - the results, if nothing else, should speak for themselves."

"I don't know him personally, but we've worked with him before - ex-detective, used to do consulting work for us after that. Probably a good person to work with for re-establishing relationships between the two groups."

Callie nodded. "Good person to work with, bad person to have on the other side." She smiled. "He also happens to be Razor's LifeMate."

Kylen nodded slightly.

"Definitely a good reason to work with him, considering. Somebody needs to try to make up for what happened."

"I think the fact that we're getting this new SWAT is a good indication that there's no hard feelings against the city. But a bit of advice; don't mention Chance Furlong in any context, not even as T-bone." Callie said quietly.

"Around Jake, or around Terry?"

"Jake, if you value breathing, and Terry, unless you're trying to annoy him." She said quietly. "In a lot of ways, his betrayal was more damaging than what Ulysses did. Jake probably would've recovered from the rape in time, and SWAT would've continued, if Chance had been who Jake thought he was. The betrayal did a lot more damage."

"Understandable. After all, he didn't really trust my uncle in the first place. Chance, he trusted him with his life. That could make things a little awkward, but I can work around it. The only reason I'm asking is that before he left, Chance gave me a letter for Jake. Of course, even if it got to him somehow, there's a good chance he wouldn't read it, so I suppose that 'misplacing' it wouldn't be the worst thing I could do."

"Except of course, if Jake found out about it, it would probably cause problems." Callie said. "But right now, the only way anything is going to get to Jake is through Halycon security."

"Then I'll just turn it over to them and let them work with it, that should be fine. Kind of what I was planning in the first place."

"Speaking of security, I think given the actions of Teveris lately their activities in MKC bear examining. Specifically, a detailed look at how many Teveris nationals are present, and what they're up to. SWAT is now officially part of the city defense structure, and I have reason to believe that Crown Princess Marissa may go after Jake again."

"Most likely." Kylen spoke up quietly. "With the execution of her Occuri daughter, she will be looking to have another. I'll forward you what my family has on them. It's a nasty culture, that doesn't respect national boarders much."

"That I suspected, and thank you." Callie said. "They may have bitten of more than they can chew though, this time. Port Haven considers the Pellatier family to still be the royal family of Haven, and Jake is LifeMate to the tom most likely to be the next family head. The more aggressive members of the governing council have already stated that they consider Marissa's actions an act of war." She said quietly. "The question becomes how soon that sentiment becomes a majority."

"And how many other nations get caught up in the crossfire. Though I imagine that once the reasons got out, Teveris would be the only ones on their side. There's another issue to consider involving Teveris - while I don't know if he's still working on it, my uncle was working on teaching a lesson or two to some of her agents before I had my talk with him - if there were any explosions around that time, the victims were some of the ones involved in their blackmailing plot. There may be some information that he found that I can get access to, that might help direct any activity taken against Teveris away from bystanders. There have to be some."

Kylen got a distinctly uncomfortable look on his face. "This could get extremely ugly."

"Given the treaties we have with Port Haven, yes it could." She said quietly. "I was reviewing them earlier. The mutual defense treaty very clearly applies, since Teveris has initiated hostile action against the royal family of Port haven. However, Port Haven has not responded yet, nor have they invoked the treaty.

"This is separate from the fact that Teveris officials have kidnapped citizens of MegaKat City. That is quite clearly an act of war against this city. However, I am not in a hurry to start Mega War III, however I believe it would be fair to consider any Teveris noble or servant thereof to be a potential threat to public safety.

"Dealing with that threat is the purview of the Enforcers, so I'll leave it to your discretion how you want to handle it." Callie said quietly.

"Ma'am, is there time to do a brief overview of the budget." Kylen asked. "What you approved, and what we actually thing we have. Given the communication issues already known, the Enforcers may not be as under funded as we think we are."

"And if we're going to be dealing with Teveris nobles," Felina added, "and possibly worse, we're going to need to know that as soon as we can."

"Probably not a bad idea. Do you have a copy of what you think you have?" She said as she pulled out a printed copy of the budget.

"Approved, denied and unreturned." He jerked his chin up sharply before opening the leather folder he had and set several sheets of paper on the desk. "Those are summaries, or course, but it should tell us if more in depth review is warranted."

Callie took out her copy. "Here's what was requested, and what was approved." She said setting her copies next to his. "Usually ended up approving more than what requested because the analysts didn't think the requested amounts were sufficient."

"By your copy, they weren't, by a long shot." He flicked his ears back. "Makes me wonder where a few billion dollars has go to, each year this has gone on."

"Maybe we've figured out where the funding for a few villains came from. Of course, there's no way to be sure how long it's gone on, unless we compared each year's numbers until there weren't any discrepancies. That might go further back than we keep records for." Felina commented as she compared the sheets.

"Possibly, but if we've had a mole in the communications for that long, no wonder there's been problems." Callie shook her head. "Given that a few billion dollars is not an easily movable sum of money. Sounds like the city treasury is in need of a detailed audit... that money had to be accounted for somewhere."

"You'll probably find it was sent to the Enforcers, or to pay for contracts we do have." Kylen flicked his huge tail irately. "At least on your end, and of course, as it wasn't expected, we never noticed it not show up."

"Perhaps, but it still bears investigating. It may reveal a pattern that's a clue to who actually ended up with the money."

"I'll set II on it from our end." He nodded. "We can probably get this worked into a treason charge, not just embezzlement and falsifying records."

"Given that it amounts to sabotage, I'll put SI on it from my end. With any luck will catch the guilty parties in the middle." Callie grinned darkly. "You should probably evaluate what the Enforcer's need right now, while I put a watch on any disbursements."

Felina nodded as she continued to study the numbers and what she really would have to work with. "Given the amount of damage done because we didn't have the money, the number injured and dead - I can think of a number of charges this could be snowballed into, treason just being the biggest one. Especially given the damage it would do if we did have a war."

"Well, let's worry about exact charges when we have someone to charge." Callie suggested.

"Point taken. Hopefully, though, it won't take too long to get to that point. What worries me is that if they've managed to hide this for as long as they have, there's a good chance that whoever's on the receiving end of the money is ready to disappear as soon as there's any trouble, assuming they haven't distanced themselves by enough layers to make figuring out who they are impossible."

"Nothing is impossible, Felina." Kylen growled dangerously. "Extremely difficult and time consuming, yes, but not impossible."

"Then let's say not necessarily worth the investment of manpower and resources to get a case we can take to trial. If we shut them down, I have a feeling that they'll show up when they lose their funding, or be found out when their subordinates start talking. But it's possible that it will never come to trial, regardless of whether or not we know who they are." Felina shook her head.

"Treason is also a crime that can be handed to Sniper Squad for final resolution." He reminded them both.

"Well, the system does make hiding it easier. And the fact that Ulysses and I were never on great terms easier still. After all, if we'd talked on a regular basis we'd probably have noticed this years ago." She said mildly frustrated. "I think someone took advantage of the fact that we mostly growled at each other."

"I did have that solution in mind. One way or the other, it will be resolved. I meant it may not come to resolution publicly." Felina commented to him.

"I'm well aware of Sniper Squad." Callie said shortly. It wasn't exactly a secret that she wasn't fond of the choices made in who was recruited. She accepted their existence, much like she accepted certain levels of corruption in the city.

"There may be better ways of doing that job, but until it's implemented, they are useful." He countered.

"Much like some medications, a little cures and a little more than that kills. It's very dangerous to use, and very easy to have something go wrong." Callie said quietly. "But if there were any point to arguing about them, there wouldn't be an argument." She said quietly, cursing internally at the predecessor that allowed them to come into existence.

"Yes, ma'am." Kylen grinned dangerously. "Can you authorize a ten thousand dollar consulting fee for NightWind Investigation to back us and trusted officers up in this? I know it's a family contract, but I trust them, and they are outsiders; something we need right now given the internal corruption. I can have details to you in the morning."

"Right now, I think family contracts may be our best security. I expect the corruption is outside the big Enforcer families; they're usually pretty good at policing themselves. Speaking of which, I'll be transferring Lt. Cmdr BrightClaw back from SI tomorrow, after I bring him up to speed. That's one Kat you can trust. Even does the right thing when he expects to get in trouble for doing it." She smiled.

"Good to know we haven't lost him yet, then. Especially with these problems, we'll need all the trustworthy officers we can get."

"It was close." Callie admitted. "He was going to go in and give his resignation to Ulysses directly, along with a piece of his mind but decided I needed to know what was going on."

"Well, thank you for delaying him. Especially since if he'd just left, we'd probably have lost the rest of those who were considering leaving right then." Felina added.

"Losing Ulysses' experience was going to be bad enough, I knew we couldn't afford to lose the combined experience of other officers as well." Callie said easily. "Fifteen year veterans aren't easy to replace."

"Damn near impossible, usually." Kylen nodded. "Especially once they find out what the pay scale is outside."

"Some of them know, and stay anyway." Callie smiled. "Fortunately, some Kats have a defender nature that isn't satisfied by simply working for a paycheck, no matter how large."

"It is hard to explain problems when your teeth are clenched, though he always found a way to complain. I think we can keep that from becoming an issue again, though. I hope to be easier to get along with than he was."

"Given that we're at least on the same page right now, I think we've made a good start." Callie said easily. "Though I honestly wish the cost hadn't been so high."

"At least it wasn't as high as it could have been." Kylen said quietly. "Between having a new SWAT, and Jake not going psycho, we're in reasonably good shape."

"I think we got very lucky." Callie said quietly.

Felina nodded. "Best possible outcome I can imagine, the immediate situations under control, and others ready to be dealt with. As long as nothing else blows up that we aren't ready for, I think we'll come out of this all right."

"However, given what's brewing I think you should review the Enforcer's war preparedness status, as well as civil defense status." Callie suggested. "The last Mega War was before any of us was born. Counter Terrorism preparations would probably also be good."

"Yes, ma'am." Kylen nodded upwards sharply. "We'll be in much better shape shortly.

"Especially once we've gone over the issues that keep us from doing more than hold our ground against local threats," Felina added. "Aside from those, it's primarily a matter of time to make sure everybody is up to speed. Which we will be able to do, assuming nothing starts things off faster than anybody could expect."

"No doubt. Felina, have Enforcer Personnel review your uncle's record for the longest leave he's taken. Since we don't have a resignation we have to either give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's taking leave, or treat it as a missing person case."

"I should have the information by tomorrow. For obvious reasons, I'd prefer to assume he's taken leave as long as we can, give a resignation as long as possible. Though a discharge because he went AWOL would be preferable to having the real reason come out."

"Agreed, that's why I need to know how long he's gone before. After that we'll have to decide whether to treat it as a missing person or AWOL, unless he decides to actually resign formally in the meantime."

"Let's hope for the third, or that we find out our 'communications glitch' turns out to know something about it." Felina added.

"That would be a pleasant surprise." Callie nodded.

"I'd like to think he wouldn't want to risk disrupting the Enforcers by making us look for him - though Chance's behavior makes the possibility that he was captured by somebody seem unlikely. I'm sure that if the reason he was missing was because somebody had taken him, we'd hear about it soon, if we hadn't heard already."

"Agreed, however I was warned that Marissa might not be pleased with him for failing her. And we know she has the resources to pull such an abduction, if she chose." Callie said quietly. "But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

"Definitely. We have more than enough other things to deal with until then."

"That's an understatement." Kylen muttered.

"Okay. So effective tomorrow morning you'll be acting Commander, though the three of us know that promotion is permanent. Second-in-Command is at your discretion. Is there anything else we need to cover this evening? I presume we'll be meeting sometime tomorrow."

"Just plan for it to be a long one, ma'am." Kylen inclined his head. "I'll have much of the research coordinated by then."

"Definitely. We need to get all the information together and go over the final plans. However, I can't think of anything else to go over tonight." Felina nodded. "As for my second-in-command, I see no reason to change the original plans for Kylen to take my place."

"I'll leave it to you, as to how you want to inform the Enforcers of the change."

"When would be best to hold it then, from a research standpoint?" She asked. "I'd already cleared my schedule to leave room for 'unexpected things.'"

"Late afternoon." He inclined his head. "I'm sure we're going to be seeing a lot of each other in the next few months. It would also be better to hold it in an II briefing room."

"Very good, and not that I mind but any particular reason?"

"Security, and I don't fancy the idea of carrying all that material over here." He shook his head. "We're talking about over a century of work from dozens of agencies across the world. Even just what my people have done is not a pleasant thought to transport, not to mention much of it doesn't technically exist."

"You mean to tell me that this kidnapping regime has been known about for that long, and no one's bothered to object." Callie asked with a disbelieving look on her face.

"They've never been that secretive about it ma'am." He stiffened. "NightWinds and most other agencies have been pulling victims out of there for decades. Not than many are suffered to live afterwards. I don't know why governments have looked the other way."

"I would hope because most of them haven't known about the victims," Felina said, a disturbed expression on her face.

"Well, apparently the Port Haven government was unaware, either that or they've never kidnapped anyone from there before." She said quietly. "And this is the first I've ever heard about it. Were the Enforcers aware of it?" She asked quietly.

"This is the first I've heard of it. The more I hear, the more I wish it was the last that anybody would hear about them, at that." Felina shook her head.

"Just remember Commander, the Port Authority and Airport Authority both are under Enforcer command. If you feel they're a sufficient threat, you can deny them entry." Callie said quietly, reminding Felina of something she probably hadn't had to deal with before.

"Some Enforcers know." He nodded. "But it had been a solid sixty years since they took anyone from here before Jake Clawson, and haven't come back since. That I know about, at least. They tend to stick closer to home in their mischief, or they tend choose victims no one misses. What intel I have would suggest the later. It should be noted, that while what happened to him has come to light, no charges were ever filed, and it was never officially reported. I get a lot of my intel from outside."

Callie nodded. "I expect that it 'came to light' over a long time, and probably with great difficulty. And file charges with who? Report it to who? There's no court that covers the misdeeds of a foreign ruler. I think Jake's LifeMate's family is handling it now." She said quietly, clearly frustrated at the conspiracy of silence.

"Thanks for the reminder." Felina spoke up. "I don't think that's been done in a few administrations, but it sounds like a good time to do it again. I'll take it under consideration as part of a plan for dealing with the ones who are already here."

"I think I'm going to encourage the Mayor to extend his vacation. This situation doesn't need him in the middle of it." Callie said as much to herself as to anyone else.

"No, it doesn't." Kylen agreed quietly as he gathered his paperwork up.

"Gods, that'd be a disaster. I think the safest thing would be for him to come back after everything's been in place for a while."

"Assuming there's nothing else, I'll see you both tomorrow afternoon."

"We'll see you then, Miss Briggs."

"Come on Felina," Kylen smiled supportively at her. "We can chill at the club for a couple hours, then get to work."

Felina smiled back, a little nervously. "Yeah. We sure have enough to do."

"Nothing to be nervous about." He grinned as they got in his SUV. "The Gray Stripe's not inappropriate to be seen at."

"That's not what I'm nervous about," she admitted as she climbed in the other side.

"Then what is it?" He asked, more as a friend than officer.

"I think tonight proves I'm further behind the curve than I should be. I didn't expect to know everything that was going on when I wound up taking over, but as it stands I've only just become aware of a number of the major problems that we're going to be dealing with."

"Felina, a number of those problems are not ones a second-in-command would know about." He said calmly. "I'm only in as good as shape as I am in that arena because it's a family business, and my job."

"Guess I'm just feeling a little lost here. I just hope he didn't take all of his files with him - I'll need to go over those fast."

"If he did, he's in more trouble than he already is." Kylen growled as he pulled out of the lot. "I'll bring you up to date as much as I can." He shot her a grin. "I'm good at the paperwork and investigation, you're a damn good field commander. I don't see a reason we have to change that."

"Thank you. The last thing I want to do is ground myself - won't do as much field work, but only heading out when we need extra pilots isn't a good idea. You lose track of the reality of the situation."

"Not to mention critical skills." He added. "We've got a good mixed of skills for breaking things up like that. Unlike the previous arrangement."

"Very true. Both of us in the field at once meant we could both get taken out pretty easily. Especially if we were in the same vehicle, though we managed to avoid that most of the time. Well, let's hope the new arrangement can improve things around here."

"I find it hard to believe that better communication between the Enforcers and City Hall can't help but improve things." He chuckled. "Even if everything else remained the same, we'd be in better shape."

"Oh, there was very clear communication before, on certain subjects," Felina chuckled. "There was no ambiguity whatsoever regarding the fact that they didn't like each other nine times out of ten, for example. We'll just have to make sure that the communication is on more vital issues."

"And of a more useful tenor." He added. "Who are the officers you trust?"

"Depends on the level of trust. To do their jobs to the best of their ability, most of them. Too far beyond that, the list becomes quite a bit shorter. Ironically, most of them are probably on the list of people who were going to resign, particularly Greg BrightWind." Felina came up with a few other names that she felt she could trust completely. "Would I be right if I guessed that you're thinking of filling a few positions, maybe creating a few, to help run things around there?"

"Filling them, yes. With your approval on them, there are going to be several higher ranking posts that will be needing to be filled shortly." He huffed. "Ulysses may have been good at a lot of things in running the system, but making sure he had truly competent and trustworthy officers in the upper ranks was not one of them. One of my top priorities is to clean up our ranks of those that couldn't honestly hold the posts, and giving the promotions out to give us the best force we can."

"Agreed. Steele should not have been allowed to breathe as long as he was, and there are too many Steele wanna-be's already. Why do I have a feeling that Personnel Resources is going to hate us when we're done rearranging things?"

"Because we have about the same opinion of what needs to happen, and they know me." He grinned dangerously. "There's a reason II has the lowest corruption and highest efficiency rating in the system, and it's not nothing to do with what's inherent with the division. We'd be in a lot better shape in Ulysses had let me do my job all these years."

"In his defense, I have a feeling he wasn't allowed to handle some of the problem officers as much as he would have liked to. I know of a couple examples he wanted to get rid of, but couldn't, officially."

Kylen raised an eyebrow. "I heard the rumors, but do you know why? There isn't an undesirable on the force I couldn't get rid of, one way or another."

"I would pin at least some of the blame on the one person you can buy who could have had my uncle removed and another, more easily controlled, officer put in his place. Who just happens to be on vacation currently. Nothing that could be proven, of course, but I know that Steele wasn't suffered willingly. And it seems to be his style, unless he really is that damned incompetent."

"Hmm, maybe we should give a few other agencies a nudge in housecleaning." He rumbled. "Might well cut down our work." Kylen suddenly looked at her very seriously as they stopped for a red light. "What kind of access do you have to your family's resources?"

"I'm not sure any more. I never really used them much before, and with everything that's happened, for all I know I could be disowned by the next time I talk to them."

"I doubt they'd try something that hazardous, at least not without a solid means of getting rid of both of us first." Kylen shook his head. "Commander of the Enforcers is a position of significant power, and a pissed Commander can make life very miserable even for a group that powerful. But you are right about maybe not having their support anymore." He admitted quietly. "Which leaves my kin to count on for now."

"At least until I can make sure that missing when I fired earlier works out to my advantage. There's a very real possibility that they don't disapprove of his actions, given that he was using my grandfather's resources to track down the people who were blackmailing him. Speaking of which, I'll need to check out reports of any large explosions this afternoon, make sure they kept the collateral damage to a minimum."

"It'll wait till we get back on duty." He said stubbornly as he pulled up to the nearest guest parking to her apartment.

"I know it'll wait, I was just reminding myself as much as anything."

"If you don't mind me changing in your place, we should go in civvies."

"If you have anything to change into, feel free. It'd be a good idea to get out of uniform for a while," Felina said as she unbuckled her seat belt.

"Always carry a couple sets of civvies in the car." He grinned and twisted to grab a small duffle bag from the back seat. "We're going to have at least a couple hours of fun before the real work starts."

"Good, we could both use it. What sort of dress code are we talking about?"

"It's pretty much anything goes, jeans and a T-shirt is what I usually wear." He shrugged and chuckled as he followed her. "But I've seen fetish wear and wedding clothes there too. On stage and off."

Felina chuckled. "I think I'll go for the jeans and T-shirt combo," she replied as she pulled out her keys and unlocked the door.

"Any luck?" Kylen's deep voice drew Felina out of her search pattern as he shut the Commander's office door behind him.

"Some. It looks like everything's here, it's just a matter of finding the right things. The good news is that it's all filed properly. So, what should we go over first? My first inclination is to go over the status reports on the various projects in the works, figure out which ones to bring up to full budget fastest."

"Sounds like as good a place to start as any." He nodded. "At least we don't have to worry about funding SWAT."

"That would not be fun," she agreed. "I think the only project we had recently that was even close was the Blue Manx, and that was just as far as the technology was concerned. Do you have any information on Teveris combat forces? If the possibility of going to war with them exists, I think we should get the projects that would help us the most in that sector up and running first."

"Lets get the files together, so we can discus this with easier access to the information we'll need." He suggested.

"Right." Felina pulled out the files she could find on the projects and Teveris, and stacked them on the desk. "You have anything to add?"

"Not that we won't be grateful for the break to come get." He grinned slightly.

"All right, then. Let's get to it."

"Ms. Briggs, Mr. Terry and Jake BrightClaw are here to see you." The secretary's voice interrupted her early morning double-checking.

"Please send them in." She said, convinced that if she double-checked her double-checking one more time screaming would be involved.

"Morning, Jake. Morning, Terry." She said as they walked in. "Have a seat."

"Morning, Callie." Terry replied following her lead on formality, before sitting down.

"Morning," Jake nodded and settled close to Terry, the sharp look of his new uniform offset by his intense unease.

"I like the new uniforms." Callie commented casually. "Okay, is there anything that you want to go over before the press conference?"

Terry thought for a moment. "Are we still going with the original division of questions; you field the City and Enforcer questions, and I'll handle the SWAT questions?"

"Unless you've got a better arrangement."

"No, just checking."

"Okay, then I'll give my little announcement; we deal some questions from the press, and then the VTOL take off by the squad. Sound about right."

"As long as nothing comes up." Terry nodded agreeably. "Any idea if Commander Feral knows about this presentation?"

"Acting Commander Feral does. Whether Ulysses Feral does is anyone's guess, he didn't report in today." She said simply as Jake's tension instantly magnified.

"You don't know where he is?" Jake's voice held steady. Only just.

"We know he was in his office yesterday afternoon. He left the building between two and five in the afternoon, and has not returned. He did not put in for leave, call in sick, or resign. After discussing the matter with the acting Commander and her Second, we've decided to treat his absence as personal leave, which he has a large amount of unused." She said evenly. "Until such time as we evidence to the contrary."

"Understood." Jake nodded.

"Who's handling security?" Terry asked.

"Special Investigations. I still didn't know what the situation was with the Enforcers when I made arrangements."

"I take it they're a bit larger than they used to be."

"Only temporarily. I've been using them to delay resignations."

"Is my big bro working security?"

"Greg? Yes, I figured he was probably a good one to put in charge of it."

"How is this actually going to go down?" Jake asked very softly.

"Fairly simple presentation in the open area in front of City Hall." Callie explained. "Short speech announcing that Halycon and the Deputy Mayor's office, Special Defense Authority are taking the prototype SWAT, that you created, to the next logical level, a full squad. We then unveil the jets, and introduce the team. After that we deal with questions from the press."

"When do you want the TurboKat to come in?" He asked with a slight nod.

"As we unveil the new jets would be good." She said easily.

He simply nodded acceptance.

Terry nodded. "I think that covers everything, and since Jake and I will be 'arriving' with the TurboKat, I guess we'd better get ready for our entrance." He said standing.

"Agreed." She smiled. "Hopefully, this will go smoothly."

"Yes," Jake nodded slightly. "Thank you, Callie." He looked up, not quite meeting her sea green eyes. "For being a friend."

"You're welcome, Jake." She said standing and walking around the desk. "In a job like mine, friends you can be sure of are rare. I've always been glad to have you as one." She left unspoken that she'd once hoped for more.

He smiled slightly and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. "I am sorry I could never return your interest in more."

"I understand why, now." She said, sympathy shining in her green eyes.

Jake could only nod slightly as he retreated back into the temporary walls he'd built to protect himself.

"We should get together sometime, perhaps over dinner. When none of us has to be officially anything." Terry suggested as he put a reassuring arm around Jake that the cinnamon tom relaxed noticeably into.

"Sounds like a wonderful idea." She smiled as the two of them left, though not before Jake gave an agreeable nod.

"Members of the press." Deputy Mayor Briggs started easily. "As you're all aware, this city has benefited for the last seven years from the protection of the SWAT Kats. What you didn't know is that the SWAT Kats were the prototype of a new defense strategy. Now that the prototype has proven itself in the field, it is time to move to the production model.

"Today I'm pleased to announce the commissioning of the SWAT Squadron, under the Special Defense Authority of the Deputy Mayor's office. This squadron is made possible by the very generous support and funding from Halycon Industries." She gestured to three large tarps which lifted on cue. "These are the new fighters that will be providing the security that SWAT has come to stand for over the last seven years.

"And these are the SWAT pilots and gunners who will be standing guard over our city, keeping it safe from the super-criminals who threaten it. Ladies and gentlekats, I give you the new SWAT, and the creator and inventor of SWAT, Jake 'Razor' BrightClaw." She gestured to the TurboKat, which was just landing in the space reserved for it among the new fighters.

There was an actual moment of shocked silence as Jake, dressed in the uniform of the new SWAT, but with his Razor mask and old helmet on in as much of a concession to his old uniform as he could, jumped from the back seat to join his LifeMate and other teammates.

It was no surprise that Ann Gora recovered her wits first. "Was this done with Commander Feral's knowledge?"

"Commander Feral chose not to be involved, by not approving the paperwork to make the prototype official. That left the decision to the Special Defense Authority."

"Where's T-Bone?" A male reporter asked briskly from the right.

"T-Bone has chosen to part company with SWAT for personal reasons, and that's all we have on that subject." Callie said swiftly as Terry discretely put a reassuring hand on Jake's arm.

But it all didn't come quite fast enough for Jake's silent, nearly motionless reaction to rake over the reporter who asked, draining all the color from the brown tom's face, and having a fairly palatable effect on the rest of the gathering.

"Who are the new teams?" Ann prompted as a distraction, and for once in her life, not completely sure she wanted to pry into this one.

Callie nodded. "Team one is Frostwind and Longshot." She gestured as the two stepped forward, and then back. "Team two, Mirage and Striker." She supplied as the tall Xanith and his shorter partner stepped forward. "And team three, is Slingshot and Valkyrie."

"Will they be more available than the prototype for interviews?" A perky blond shekat with light brown fur asked.

"Since they don't have to dodge Commander Feral, interviews can be arranged." Callie said with smile.

"Are there plans for a Exhibition Show?" Ann took center stage again.

"Nothing is scheduled at the present time. But that will likely change once the squad settles into its routine." Callie responded.

A dark Tiger Xanith was about to ask something when all four jets suddenly powered up to pre-launch standby.

Jake made an abortive turn to the TurboKat as the three active teams responded reflexively to the alarm and ran for their respective jets.

"Okay, what's the situation?" Terry said into the comm unit in his glove once the three jets were airborne and headed out to sea.

"An unknown and very large entity is coming ashore at Bramble Beach, sir." A female calm voice responded after a moment.

"Understood." Terry said before switching to a secure company channel. "Get HalSat2 to focus on the Bramble Beach area."

"Yes, Sir." A male voice responded.

Jake was something of a nervous wreak from the stress of not responding to a call of danger by the time the TurboKat set down into it's hanger at Haven.

Terry was down first, walking over to the Doberman Kantin bitch waiting for them. "Something the matter, Akisha?" He asked quietly, since meeting planes wasn't something she did unless something was wrong.

"This letter for Jake passed security." She handed Jake the red envelope as he walked up, tail flicking in agitation.

"Thanks." The lean tom glanced at his name scrawled across the front for a moment before it clicked who that handwriting belonged to.

"Any idea who its from?" Terry asked, finding the choice of color for the envelope interesting.

"Chance." Jake growled as his ears flattened and claws unsheathed. "How was it delivered?" He demanded as he used one claw to slit the envelope open.

Akisha handed the security report to Terry.

"According to Security, Chance gave it to Felina Feral, who gave it to our Enforcer Liaison office. Security scrubbed it, and then had it sent down here." He summarized.

"His tracking implant." Jake snorted. "And a legible letter." He said a little softer, knowing just what it took for the tabby to write even this neatly.


We're leaving the city. Tonight. I dunno where you are so we'll probably be gone by the time you get this. I'm not even sure where we're going but it's gotta be better than here. So many people hate me now, and my best friend wants me dead. I guess I must deserve it.

I'm sorry. I know it doesn't make any difference, and I know you'll kill me if I see you again, but I'm really sorry. This is nothing like how I wanted things to be.


Jake read it once, then handed it to Terry as he tried to stop thinking about the entire mess.

Terry scanned the letter once, and decided he didn't know the tabby well enough to really decide what weight to give this. But as an attempt to make up for the level of betrayal he'd committed it seemed insufficient. He put the letter back in its envelope, set it down and put his arms comfortingly around the cinnamon tom.

It was all that was needed to make up Jake's mind. With a low sob be pressed as close to Terry as he could and buried his face against the gray tom's neck as some small amount of the grief began to come out in body wracking sobs.

Terry held Jake close, stroking his hair gently as the lean tom sobbed.

"*Ter?*" Jake's mind reach for his mate as the grief settled down enough for him to think a tiny bit. "*Love me?"*

Terry wasn't exactly sure which meaning of love was being used so he went with his favorite. "*Yes, I love you. I always have, always will.*" He thought, without hesitation or doubt.

"*He ... he didn't love me, did he?*" Jake whispered as he snuggled closer under the covers.

"*Judging by actions, I don't think so.*" Terry said, without any anger. "*That's all I have to go by."*

"*I loved him.*" He whispered miserably. "*Partners ...*" He lost the trail of thought as a swell of grief, longing, pain and betrayed outage flooded his mind.

"*I know.*" Terry said sympathetically, as he simply accepted the thoughts and rode the storm out, holding close to Jake, giving him all the reassurance he would accept as Jake gradually drifted into a hurting numbness that passed for feeling better.

"*Tired?*" Terry asked gently, with image of sleeping.

Jake couldn't really form words, but a sense of uncertain agreement drifted up as he mentally shifted the connection between them to one for rest.

Terry pulled the covers up around them, and pulled Jake close to snuggle.

Felina and Kylen looked up at the knock on II's main conference room's door.

"Come in." He called with a glance at the monitor to see who it was.

"Good afternoon." Callie said as she entered carrying a bulky set of files and a laptop computer.

"Good afternoon," Kylen nodded with a smile. "Have a seat. There's a fully stocked refreshment bar if you'd like something to drink, and my second knows all the good places to get take-out for long meetings."

Felina quickly closed a file she'd been looking over, and nodded a greeting to Callie. "How'd the press conference go? I hope you managed to handle the introductions before the excitement we had earlier."

"Introductions are about as far as I got." She smiled. "Forgot to answer the T-Bone question before it was asked, and some poor reporter almost lost his head for asking it." She said as she set the files and laptop down. "Your refreshment bar have Kat Cola?" She asked.

"Of course." Kylen nodded and stood to open the panel concealing a well-stocked beverage and snack bar, with alcohol notably absent. He pulled a chilled one out for her before returning, leaving the panel open. "I'm sure that's going to be the talk of the rumor mill and tabloids for months."

"Should keep anybody from asking questions like that in the future too. Unless they enjoy having their spleens handed to them." Felina commended.

"Yeah, that look is enough to deter just about everyone." Kylen shook his head.

"Can't entirely say I blame Jake though." Callie said after a sip of soda. "I'd be sensitive about the subject in his place. "Hell, I was tempted to slug Chance myself." She said quietly, seeming a little embarrassed. "Not really behavior becoming the Deputy Mayor." She said sheepishly.

"Is it becoming of his friend." Kylen shrugged. "Besides, you didn't. No one should be judged on their thoughts, only their actions."

"If we were judged on our thoughts, I think we'd all be in jail by now. And we've all wanted to slug him at one time or another after this started." Felina shook her head.

"Okay," Kylen relaxed back in his chair and looked at the two females. "Where do we want to start this?"

"Perhaps we should start with readiness, specifically what projects are needed that aren't funded. That's a good way to work in to correcting the budget mess." Callie suggested.

All right," Felina said, pulling out the information in question.

"Our general state of readiness is actually fairly reasonable - we need to update our equipment, and start training harder, but the majority of our forces are ready for large scale activity - one of the benefits of having to deal with one crisis after another.

"Unfortunately, our information on Teveris indicates that we're seriously outclassed - we outnumber them, but that's about it at this point. They seem to specialize in small, but highly advanced, forces. Kylen, do you have anything more specific to add to that?"

"Plenty," he sighed. "Mostly names, specialties and service records of the more notable members. I don't see a need to go over them here, but I agree with Fel. We'd have a better chance of taking out Haven than Teveris right now." He hesitated a moment. "This is extremely sensitive information," Kylen locked eyes with each shekat in turn. "Teveris has NBC capabilities, and a proven willingness to use them."

"A disturbing thought, though I can't claim to be surprised that they're willing to use them." Callie said quietly. "And I think that without the NBC component, Haven can probably take Teveris. Sounds like we have some serious catching up to do."

"And unfortunately, it's hard to catch up with NBC's. That should probably be our first priority - no matter who gets involved in a war with Teveris, we'll probably have to deal with the fallout if they use them."

Kylen shifted uncomfortably. "Let me rephrase that. They have intercontinental NBC, emphasis on the N."

"As long as we're discussing highly classified things." Callie said quietly. "Halycon has been developing a counter to intercontinental weapons. At my last meeting with the Haven Minister of Special Defenses and the Halycon lead developer they were expecting deployment in six months. That was five months ago." She said quietly.

"That is a good thing, especially now." Kylen nodded with a bit of visible relief. "Even a prototype of that system is better than nothing."

"Hopefully they'll wait long enough to deploy before anything starts. Don't suppose you know if they'd be willing to share that technology, would you? I know most places don't like to let advantages like that get outside their borders."

"I'll talk to Minister Corlas. Callie nodded. "I think under the circumstances they may be willing. After all, Halycon has assets to protect here as well."

"I hope you're right. That would leave us with one less thing to develop ourselves before we're ready for whatever goes down." Felina added. "And I don't think that any of our other contractors has anything in the works along those lines, at least not anything we know about."

"We will also only be involved at their request," Kylen leveled his gaze at her. "Or are we going to war, and just not announcing it yet?"

"We're preparing for a war that may very well happen soon." Callie said simply. "Teveris' actions have crossed the threshold for an undeclared war on their part, however we should not act hastily. Barring any further hostile actions against MegaKat City by Teveris we'll wait for movement by Haven."

Kylen nodded. "For my reference, what is your personal, and MKC's official, stance on using Blacks Ops and similar tactics?"

"MKC officially uses Sniper Squad, so I'd say anything goes." She said quietly. "Personally, we're facing an opponent with no moral or ethical qualms on the use of NBC weapons. We'd be foolish to handicap ourselves, by not using Black Ops."

"I'll see what's available, but with my standing as second-in-command of the Enforcers, we can probably count on support from Veldt, Calvagia and Parthin." Kylen inclined his head. "And full NightWind backing."

"That being the case, maybe we can head off the NBC issue before they have a chance to launch." Felina commented.

"At least most of it." Kylen agreed. "But if reports are accurate, getting into Teveris covertly is harder than it will be to out-fight them in open conflict. They've put a lot into the small force they have."

"Given the choice between risking it, and risking the chance that they'll launch and whatever safeguards we have in place aren't sufficient, though, I'll risk it." Felina stated evenly.

"The more of the NBC issue we can neutralize in advance the better." Callie said simply. "I don't think Teveris is up to the forces converging against them."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, we probably wouldn't be either." He shook his head.

"I don't think they were expecting that anybody would ever find out enough to object to," Felina said. "Or that matter, if anybody did, that they'd actually do anything about it besides object. Very big mistake, on their part."

"Most likely," Kylen agreed with a small nod. "They have been doing this for centuries without censure. It's not unreasonable for them to believe that state of affairs would continue." He considered both of them. "And you have to admit, if it wasn't for a single very serious mistake, that would still be true."

"I think the very serious mistake was the first abduction of Jake Clawson. This has been brewing since then, it was merely a matter of time before it blew up." Callie said quietly. "I think the governments that ignored the abduction of their own people have much to answer for. It should not have gone unchallenged."

Felina shook her head. "No, it shouldn't have. Though proving anything could be difficult. And even if we could, what could we do that wouldn't lead us into a new MegaWar?"

"Though as you pointed out Callie, many might not know." Kylen shook his head. "I am beginning to wonder just how much of the world's difficulties are because of a lack of communication, just like here. It's kind of amazing what wasn't reported."

"True, though you'd think that at least some of the agencies doing rescues would have informed their governments what was going on." She sighed. "Speaking of communications, what progress have you made on determining what needs funded?"

"A fair amount. Primarily returning a number of the projects that produced working prototypes to active status - the Blue Manx project, for example - and bringing the maintenance budgets up to full. Upgrade our technology to the point where we're actually keeping up with our various neighbors, and keep what we have in the air while we're upgrading," Felina explained, as she pulled the proposals they'd made the night before out and handed them to Callie. "There are a few other suggestions, but those are the ones that I consider the most important at this point in time, as far as the budget is concerned."

"Even with Halycon's SWAT, I'm also very interested in resurrecting the rapid response team project that Ulysses killed as a second in command." Kylen added.

Callie looked at him curiously. "What is it, and how does it differ from SWAT?" She asked with open interest as Felina raised an eyebrow.

"Primarily it differs in that it is ours." He rumbled deep in his chest. "But also in several significant ways. Rapid Response is geared more towards initial contact, damage control and rescue. From natural as well as unnatural disasters."

"Well, if you've observed the extras Razor puts on, SWAT also does those. So lets keep this civil, and non-competitive. But when it comes to super-criminals, aliens, and the stuff SWAT's been handling, they have jurisdiction. It's part of their charter." She said making sure things were clear.

Felina nodded. "We certainly wouldn't want to do anything that might start the old SWAT vs Enforcers problems up again. I think that the primary reason other squads would be preferable, besides the obvious reasons, is a matter of being able to respond to certain situations SWAT might not, whether because they're dealing with another situation, or because it hasn't come to their attention yet. Am I right, Kylen?" she asked, wondering herself why he was still interested in starting the second project.

"I don't mean to be competitive about it." Kylen shook his head, directing his words more towards Callie. "But even if it's low on the funding scale, would it really hurt to have a more rescue and intel oriented unit to support SWAT to back them, and us, up?"

"As long as they aren't duplicating anyone's efforts, I don't see a problem." Callie said. "If you've got a proposal, I'm certainly willing to review it."

"Of course," he nodded easily and shifted to pull a sizeable folder from a drawer in the table. "Another issue in the money department are raises for the lower ranks. While it's a living wedge, it's nowhere close to where it should be, if you consider similarly sized cities."

"A good idea, raises are always good for morale." Callie nodded. "An across the board comparison of salaries to similar sized cities maybe in order."

"That was next on the list of suggestions, especially for the lower ranks," Felina said, kicking herself mentally for not mentioning it before.

"Here." He handed Callie a smaller folder. "It's for the last five years, accurate by NightWind Investigations and accepted in nineteen court cases so far. To bring us up to the world average, we're looking at a 250% or more increase for most officers."

Callie blinked. "We're that far behind? No wonder we're losing our best to the private sector. Good thing we caught this before next years budget was written."

"Further behind than that, when you consider that even a beat cop around here rates at least level one danger pay everywhere else, and most Enforcers are at level three or four, pilots at five and six. Ma'am, We don't even have danger pay. Or overtime." He looked at her seriously. "The more I've real looked at our budget, the more I'm amazed with how Ulysses did it. I'm sure he must have supplemented it, at least to some extent, from elsewhere. We could barely make payroll on the numbers we got approved for, according to our records."

Felina had known things were rough for payroll at lower ranks, they weren't great even at the top - but she had no idea they were that bad. "Very good thing," she said quietly. "Is there even that much money left in the current budget?"

Kylen shook his head. "Nowhere close."

Callie nodded. "Not to fix everything at once, but we can start." She said quietly. "There's money you don't know about because it's in various special projects funds. Money that the mayor brought in with his emergency tax hikes and would've wasted. I'd been planning on using it to fund SWAT but with that funding taken care of, it can be put to other uses.

"Looking at the current payroll figures, we can fund a twenty percent increase plus danger pay and overtime for the remainder of this fiscal year. Start writing next years budget proposals and be greedy, every other city department is. Only this year, we make sure we're all talking about the same budget."

"Thank you, ma'am." There was an intensely warm, grateful undercurrent in his deep voice. "

"We'll keep those suggestions in mind." Felina nodded. "Even the amount you're talking about should make a lot of people very happy with the results. And we'll definitely be talking about the same budget - I'll make sure of that."

"And by planning time, we will have a much better grasp on this." Kylen promised. "When we don't have to keep this as an effective black project, there are others I trust that understand these things more than the two of us."

"You might want to look through any notes the Commander left to see who he consulted on budget matters." Callie suggested.

"Good idea." Felina nodded. "Fortunately, all the information would seem to be there, it'll just take time to go through properly, find everything we need."

Affairs of the State and Heart

NC-17 for M/M
R for Violence
Het Level is None
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

396 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written February 15, 2002 by Rauhnee Ranshanka, Todd McCall, Vorex and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Haven, SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Kat

Contents: Furry. Slash (M/M). Betrayal, DarkFic, Rape (M on F), Rape Recovery

Pairings: Jake Clawson/Terry BrightClaw, Jake Clawson/Ulysses Feral, Chance Furlong/Ulysses Feral

Notes: This starts out dark, and gets darker, and very, very little is as it first appears.
For the curious, Vorex brought in Chance and Feral, Todd has Terry, Rauhnee's Jake, and Jason's Felina.

Blurb: Jake has survived some brutal times he keeps to himself, things that not even Terry, his LifeMate of three years, can sooth. But it is a secret Chance and Feral share that may finally break him.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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