Felina's Teeth 3:
Rebuilding Lives (PG-13 variant)

by Fur and Fantasy
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"Sir, the Commander is expecting you in the Vault's medical facility." A prim dark tabby shekat informed Chance when he checked into the Tower with Sandy not far behind.

"Medical?" Chance asked warily. "Why?"

"I do not know sir." The young Enforcer replied simply.

Chance glanced back over his shoulder to where Sandy was making her way through the security procedures, but couldn't catch her attention. He hesitated a moment, then shrugged and sighed. "Sure. I'll go right down."

The young Enforcer nodded and let him past, paying the ranking Tooth no more mind as she dealt with the next officer in line.

Despite what he's said, Chance waited for Sandy to come through security before he headed off. "Looks like I'm back in the basement today," he said, trying to joke, but finding it falling flat in the new tension between them.

"Kat, you just aren't getting any breaks," she tried to roll with it, doubting it came out well either.

"Yeah, well, no surprise there," he muttered, shaking his head. "I guess I'll catch up with you later."

"Sure thing," she nodded, though her pace kept even with his. "Commander wanted to see me." She shrugged by way of explanation. "Something about not talking time off when I'm supposed to."

Chance shook his head as they approached the secure lift. "You'd think she'd learn."

"Yeah, and like she's one to talk." the tabby shekat snickered. "I swear she hasn't taken any time off since I enlisted."

"And who exactly is that surprising to?" As the secured doors closed behind them the lift began to descend Sandy sensed a shift in the tabby's demeanor. "Listen, Sandy, about last night ..."

She smiled and reached up to kiss him gently. "I'm here for you, lover. Anytime. You've caught me enough times, I'm glad I was there to catch you, even a little."

"You can't tell anyone that happened," Chance insisted urgently. "If Felina knew she might take me off duty this time."

"I know," she nodded sadly, unable to make herself say that she already had, and praying deep down that she would not loose him in protecting him and the city. "But you didn't take any, so there's nothing to report about you drinking, cause you didn't."

"No, I didn't. I didn't." He repeated as the lift doors opened. "Don't forget it."

"Don't you forget it either, Chance." She added softly before they went their separate ways. "You didn't fail."

If he heard her he gave no sign of it. He was doing his best to put on a good face as he walked into the secure medical facility, even though his skin was crawling beneath his fur at the thought of what it could mean.

"Ah, welcome, Lieutenant Commander Furlong." One of the staff, an older gray tomkat, greeted him. "Please come in my office."

"What's all this about?" Chance demanded as he followed the other kat. "I'm not due for a medical review for months."

"No, but given what happened, it was felt necessary to see you early." He responded quietly and sat down. "Please, have a seat. Commander Feral is quite concerned for you."

"Given what happened?" Chance asked pointedly, still standing.

"Given you fell off the wagon for the first time," the doctor explained soothingly. "It is rarely an experience without consequences, you realize. She does not want you in the field if you are a danger to yourself or others."

"I know that," Chance sighed, slumping down into the chair at last. "All too well."

"I am sure you do," he told the tabby gently. "Unfortunately it is part of my duties to determine whether you are fit for duty now that it has been called into question."

"Blood tests?" the tabby asked with his eyes closed. "Urine?"

There was a pause, something still and heavy and full of dread in the air between them when the doctor did not answer right away.


"No," the tabby said firmly. "I do not need a psych test."

"Whether you need one or not is irrelevant." The doctor said simply. "It is procedure."

"You can't make me do this."

That made the doctor pause, true concern on his face. "Within six days of a relapse, it is required, or you will be suspended." He warned the tabby carefully. "Not even the Commander is immune, or able to override this."

"I am not going to do this," the tabby insisted stubbornly. "You've got no right."

"We do have a right, and an obligation, Furlong." He repeated firmly. "To ensure you are fit for duty."

"I am fit for duty!" Chance insisted.

"We have to be sure of that," he tried to calm the tabby. "It rarely takes more than a few hours and you are back on the job."

"Oh yeah, right," Chance sneered. "I've had these things before, I know all about lulling kats into a false sense of security. This never goes as smoothly as they say."

"I am afraid that speaks more for your attitude than it does the actual testing." The doctor told him bluntly but gently. "The majority do get through it in a few hours."

"I'm going to the Commander about this," Chance said furiously, standing again.

"She is already aware of this." The doctor told him simply. "But I will call her." He agreed and picked up the phone.

"You do that!"

The gray tabby sighed softly and tapped in the code for the Commander's office, though he had to be content to leave a message for her.

"That's not good enough," Chance insisted. "There is no way I'm doing this until I hear from her."

"And she will come down when she can." He said simply and stood. "You may wait here until then."

Chance had a good deal more to say on the topic but the other kat had already turned away, so he had to content himself with taking a seat and glaring at anyone who'd meet his gaze.

There weren't many. There were even fewer as Commander Feral's powerful female form stalked in, practically daring anything to disrupt her path.

"Commander!" Chance called, launching to his feet and snapping to attention.

She nodded to him, her expression grim and, rather unexpectedly, gentle. "What is this about needing to talk to me?" Her tone backed up the gentle side, rather than the reprimand.

"This is completely bullcrap Commander," the tabby insisted as she shut the door to give them the privacy of relative silence. "You can't let them do this to me."

"I have little choice in the matter, Chance." She shook her head and met his gaze squarely. "There are regulations not even I can get around. And in this case, I am not inclined to try." She caught his eyes and held him still for a moment. "I'm seeing in you something that gets good officers killed, and I will not have you on active duty until I am convinced it has been dealt with." She paused, uncertain just how far to push at this moment.

"Chance, I know you have never forgiven yourself for not being there for my uncle when he died." Her voice was almost gentle despite the steel behind it. "Or for being week the other night with Jake. I am watching one of my best officers self-destruct in front of me and I will not accept that."

"No," Chance said, taking half a step backward. "No, commander please don't let them do this."

"Chance, why will you not accept that I want to help you?" She asked quietly, both as his superior and as someone who cared for him personally.

"I don't need help," the tabby said defiantly, his fists clenched. It would have been much more convincing if Felina hadn't been able to see the tremors in his arms.

It was something she regarded for a long time, far too long as far as Chance was concerned.

"When did you abandon the first rule of the Enforcers?" She finally asked quietly.

"I can't," the tabby replied, almost pleading with her now. "*I have to be able to do it."

"And you will," she said very firmly, fully his commander again and fully confident of her words. "But you know as well as I do that this can not be done alone. No one can do this alone. It is not expected, and I do not want you to try to tackle this without full support."

"No ... please."

"Chance," she sighed and stepped close to him, her touch on his face amazingly familiar and gentle. "You are not to blame for any of this. You need to understand that, and understand it in your heart, before I can risk your life out there."

The tabby's whole face screwed up and for a moment she thought the kat was going to break down and cry. But Chance wouldn't allow himself even that release.

"For what little it is worth right now, there should be no shame in this, Chance. Everyone needs help sometimes. Everyone."

"I'll take the stinking test," Chance told her without looking up. "Obviously I've got no choice."

"No, not really." She consented quietly. "I will see you when it is finished." She promised.

"Felina, got a minute?" Jake walked into her office without preamble, the concern clear on his face. "What is this about Chance being on medical leave?"

"Chance ..." There was the briefest of pauses as the Commander gathered herself for what she had to say. "Chance has become a danger to himself and to those around him. For everyone's security, he has been detained and placed under psychiatric care."

"What for?" He pressed quietly, the irritation burning in him fading into worry.

"Based on the results of his most recent psych evaluation," Felina sighed. "It is not safe to allow him to continue in his duties, for him or for anyone around him."

"Because of ... drinking?" He asked in a very small voice.

"That's at least part of it," she confirmed. "Even aware of what it would cost him he's only barely keeping a lid on that need."

Jake nodded slowly. "They expecting to ever let him out?"

"I don't know Jake, I really don't. Right now he's just furious with all of us for taking this step, he won't speak with anyone."

"May I try?" He asked, so much in opposition to his normal brash take on rank and permissions.

"If you're certain you want to," his commander said, although she sounded less than enthusiastic about the idea. "Just don't expect a warm welcome."

"I never did." He shook his head and turned to leave, wondering at what point he'd started to feel an obligation to the tabby again.

Jake could hear the tabby well before he came near to seeing him. Although Felina had said he didn't want to talk to anyone who'd been involved he didn't seem to any problem with hurling abuse at the kats who'd been sent to guard him.

Some of the language went beyond anything Jake had expected from Chance.

When he turned into the corridor that faced onto the holding cells he found the guards surprisingly unperturbed by the venomous stream of words, standing to attention on either side of the door to the only occupied cell.

It was an eerie type of replay on their last parting, ten years before. He didn't have to fake how perturbed he was at the guard's presence either. He really expected better for a ranking officer, even in a psych ward in the Vault.

At least the walls weren't padded. Aside from that people seemed to be taking this very, very seriously. Way too seriously, as far as Jake was concerned. At least given the results in front of him. It was a bit too obvious Chance wasn't going to cooperate anytime soon the way things were.

Not that he may have cooperated any better another way, but still ....

He shook it off and stepped up to the cell.

As soon as the door began to open the shouting stopped. On the other side the cell was much like all the others Jake had ever seen. One thing that life had taught him, jail cells were much the same no matter where they were.

One thing this one did feature that he'd never seen before was Chance, glaring hatefully at him from where he sat on the single bunk.

"I hear they really screwed you this time." He opened quietly, not hiding his irritation about it and so many other things. Not the least of which was his own involvement and absence.

"Oh you heard, huh?" Chance asked, none the less hostile for the fact Jake was agreeing with him. "Imagine that."

"When are they letting you out?" He prompted, his tail swishing slightly.

"You haven't heard that too?" the tabby asked pointedly.

"I heard never," he rumbled in a mixture of disbelief and distress.

"Then you've heard more than me."

Jake flattened his ears sharply. "That is not happening."

Chance made a sound that was something like a laugh, loud, flat and bitter. "What? You're going to ride in and save my tail? Oh, please."

"No more than you did mine when it was reversed." He said simply. "Do you at least know what they've got you in for?"

"Because I'm a fuckup, apparently," the tabby growled.

"And?" He raised an eyebrow, not believing that was it.

"Who needs an 'and'? Isn't that enough for you?"

"Because you don't get psych for being a fuckup," Jake shrugged. "You get booted for it."

"So I'm fucked in the head. Feel better?"

Jake just shook his head. "Don't you want out?" He asked quietly, honestly not sure of the answer, given his own reaction to being in prison.

"No," the tabby said, rolling his eyes. "I mean with these five-star accommodations why in the hell would I want to leave?"

"I don't know," Jake shrugged. "The way you're acting just seems like you want to stay here."

"Oh go fuck yourself," Chance spat. "You want to give someone a guilt trip get the fuck out of my fur and do it somewhere else."

Jake regarded him for a long, silent moment and shook his head. "Good luck, with whatever you're trying to do." He said quietly and turned to leave.

"Morning," Sandy greeted the confined tabby quietly, knowing he wasn't going to be pleased to say the very least of things.

"What the fuck do you want?" Chance snarled, not even bothering to sit up from where he was lying on his bunk.

"To find out why you're being an idiot." She said simply and leaded against the wall, watching him intently. "You know you need help and you're fighting it."

"You told them," he accused her bluntly. "That sort of help I can do without."

"I told them we wouldn't be in today," She refuted simply. "The rest is your doing. I should have told her more directly, but the Commander clearly got the point anyway. And you do need that kind of help, since you weren't about to get it of your own accord."

"Well, congratulations. Here I am getting help, locked in a room in the basement. Thank you so much."

"No, you are not getting help, because you are refusing it, so you are locked in a cell in the basement until someone gets through that thick skull of yours and you realize it's for the best to kick this addiction again."

"I didn't do anything," Chance fumed.

"Would you have felt better if we waited until you had?"

"I would have felt better if you'd just left well enough alone," Chance retorted.

"Not an option and you damn well know it, even if you've got an attitude up and are ignoring the fact." She said simply. "You know better than to expect any of us to leave one of our own out to dry."

"I should apparently know better than to expect you to mind your own business."

"You made it my business, Chance." She said a bit more quietly. "You asked for my help, and you broke down in my living room. That is far more than I needed to act and you know it."

"I did not break down," the tabby said firmly.

Sandy shook her head and sighed. "Call it whatever you want, Chance, you did and you asked for help. Now you're stuck here till you accept it."

"Great. My guardian angel," the sandy tabby muttered.

She actually laughed at that. "Me, an angel? Get with reality, Chance. If I'm anything like that, it's the angel of death."

"Well look where you've got me. Might be appropriate." There was a twist in his voice that kept it from really carrying the words as a joke.

"You did this Chance," she shook her head. "You never let anyone be strong for you so you could recover when it was a little thing. Now it's a big thing and we have to help you despite yourself."

"You want to make this my fault you just go ahead. It wasn't my idea to get locked away down here when I should be out there doing my job."

Sandy simply shook her head. "We both know better, Chance. And the sooner you admit you need the help, the sooner this will be over and you in the air again."

"You don't believe that. I certainly don't."

"I know it." She said softly. "And just why do you think we'd bother to lock you up instead of shoot you anyway if there wasn't an expectation for you to fly again?"

"The Commander wouldn't do that. Not her way."

"It wouldn't be the first time it's been necessary," she shrugged. "Just cause we don't advertise the fact, doesn't mean it doesn't happen."

"Feral might have," Chance shrugged. "Felina wouldn't order that."

"If that illusion makes you happy, that's one you can keep." She shrugged.

"She's not what her uncle was," Chance said softly.

"No one is what her uncle was," Sandy nodded in quiet confirmation, unwilling to counter anything that true.

A soft sigh escaped from the tabby's chest, although he didn't say anything.

"You do his memory no honor by getting yourself killed," she said gently. "He knew the value of support, as much as he hated to rely on it."

"Don't you talk to me about him," Chance hissed, springing bolt upright and stabbing an accusing finger in her direction. "Don't you dare."

"I dare anything, Chance." She met his glare squarely. "Feral's Teeth do what is necessary."

"And what's necessary is crawling up my ass?"

"If that's the only way to get to your brain, yes." She nodded. "You need help, and I'm going to be here for as long as it takes to get you through this mess."

Chance stared at her for a long moment and then eased himself back down onto the bed. "I'll never be through it. That's not how it works."

"The docs and Commander seem to think otherwise." Sandy said almost gently. "Even if they're wrong, that just means I'm sticking by your side for the same long time."

"They don't know what it's like," Chance told her.

"Do you really think you're the only one to have gone through this?" She looked at him a bit incredulously.

"You really think you have any idea?"

"Me? No." She shook her head. "I haven't a clue except for what I see in you. I've never been addicted like that, and I've never taken a death so personally. But I do know that what you're going through isn't unique around here. It's just hell to get through."

"So get the fuck off your high horse and stop telling me what I should be doing," Chance said pointedly. "You've got no idea."

"You'd rather rot in here than do what you have to and get back in the air?" She raised a questioning eyebrow.

"I apparently don't get a say in that," the tabby replied. "But what I'd rather is not having people come down here and pretend to be concerned while they pass the time pushing me around and telling me what to do."

Sandy sighed softly. "We're just concerned for you, Chance. Maybe it doesn't come across well. You know this stuff isn't my strong suit. I shoot problems, not heal them." She stepped a little closer. "You scared the hell out of me last night, Chance. You really did."

"I nearly didn't let go," he said, his voice soft and heavy with both longing and regret.

"I kind of thought so," she murmured and sank onto the cot next to him. "It's not easy, wanting something that bad and knowing you can't have it for everyone's sake."

"No," Chance sighed, turning his face to press against her fur and found himself wrapped in her arms as much as she could.

"I'm sorry handsome," she murmured against his fur. "That I can't just make it all better or go away. But I'll be here for you, for as long as it takes."

"I just want to rest," Chance sighed. "I'm tired of fighting it."

"Then let me stand watch for a while," she murmured traditional words with a slightly different meaning.

Chance snorted and rolled his eyes. "Even the Commander couldn't get a bottle down here. There's nothing to worry about."

"I'm just trying to help," she sighed softly and nuzzled his fur. "Even if I'm no good at being moral support."

"Thanks," Chance sighed, resting his head against her chest.

Jake Clawson was not one for repeating mistakes when he could help it, but when Sandy asked him to try to help Chance through things, it simply was not in him to refuse.

Feelings aside, Chance had been his partner for more than a decade of years, and that still meant something to him.

"Hi, Chance." His voice was quiet when he was allowed into the holding cell.

"Jake," The tabby replied tersely.

"Anything I can do to help?" He asked, uncomfortable with the parallels once again. It was creepy.

"You could get me out of here," Chance suggested, earning him a dubious look.

"How do you want me to do that?" He asked quietly, utterly serious even though he wasn't about to break the tabby out.

"I dunno," the tabby admitted. "Talk to the commander or something. She could get me out of here if she really wanted to."

Jake paused, knowing full well the hopelessness of that idea. "I'll try, buddy." He said quietly. "I don't expect she'll listen, but I'll try. Anything I can get you in the meantime? Gamestar or something?"

"No TV to plug it into," Chance pointed out simply.

"If I can get one, I can get both." He tried again, not sure what Sandy was thinking he could do to help but determined to do his best.

"That'd be great," Chance admitted, getting a small smile of relief from for former partner.

"I'll manage it." The lean tom set his determination fully on that goal. "With or without the Commander's consent."

"Great," Chance rolled his eyes. "Do that and I'll have some company down here."

"Only if they can prove it," he chuckled, much like his old self from years ago. "Besides, she'll be reasonable. Even if it's not her first choice."

"Yeah, maybe."

"I'll be back when I know," Jake promised quietly, not really wanting to leave, but not prepared to deal with the tabby's mood with Sandy present. He could hear her far too close for comfort.

"Sure. Suit yourself."

"Felina?" Jake caught her in the hallway in the Vault. "Mind explaining something to me?"

"If I can," she nodded, although she didn't slow her brisk pace as he fell into step with her.

"Why is Chance being treated like he committed a capital crime?" He asked evenly.

"He almost did, the last time. I'm not taking any risks."

"And a maybe rates being stuck in a cell 24/8 with nothing to do?" He looked at her with a frown. "Even those convicted are allowed some entertainment to keep from going crazy."

"What are you getting at Jake?" Felina asked with a sigh.

"Just something to make this a little less than hell for him. He's got enough problems without going stir crazy on top of it." He said quietly. "Gamestar and TV."

"The vault cells were never really intended to hold people for an extended period of time," Felina admitted. "The facilities are somewhat ... sparse."

"Just give me a couple days in one. I'll make sure there isn't anything to hurt himself with." He promised softly. "But he's never going to cooperate if he doesn't think we give a damn about him."

"He doesn't think we give a damn," She pointed out. "That's how we got in this situation in the first place."

"And sticking him in a cell with nothing is going to change that opinion?" He dared her say yes.

"No, no, you're probably right."

Jake actually looked a touch surprised, but he nodded. "Just give me a couple days and I'll have something that looks less like we're trying to put him in prison." He asked softly.

"Jake ... you know that it could come to that. In the end."

"It'd be kinder to let him die." He said quietly.

"No. I won't give up on him Jake," Felina said firmly.

"Neither can I," he said, almost reluctantly. "It doesn't make it any less the kindest choice for him, that we can't accept it. It's cruel to lock a pilot up. To take away his wings and everything he loves." He shook his head. "It's no way for a Hero to exist."

"As long as there is any possibility of recovery I will not sanction Chance's death. It is simply not an option. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly," he nodded. "I just don't understand why he's in a prison cell and not someplace he can actually get help. He's as stubborn as they come, Commander, and you know it. If he's angry, he'll do whatever he thinks you don't want him too. I may be ten years out of touch with him, but I'm looking at a lot of what I saw in the Yard, when your uncle banished us there. Only this time, he doesn't have such an easy out. And he is beyond angry right now."

"Who would you trust to deal with Chance, if not us?"

"Right now, damn near anywhere that handles alcoholics," he shrugged a bit. "I don't know much about it, but I know that this is not how you get someone's cooperation when you're trying to help them." He shook his head. "Especially not someone like Chance.."

"Quite simply, we cannot risk having Chance loose. I'm trying to arrange outside help for him, because he doesn't respond well the Enforcer Medical, but I cannot just wave my hand and make this all right Jake. If I could, I would."

"I know," he sighed and calmed down. "Just seeing him cooped up in there really gets to me."

"He's away from temptation and he can't hurt anyone," Felina sighed. "For the moment that's all we can do. I am working on getting him better help, but getting the best takes time."

"And he's going to need the best, to come out of this in one piece." He sighed and shook his head. "At least he can be a little more comfortable while we wait."

"Yes. You can have my authority to do whatever you want."

"Thank you, Commander." He nodded to her, his current version of a salute that he rarely offered.

Jake was actually in a reasonably good mood, all thing considered. He knew he couldn't make a Vault cell like home, but he could do a lot with the free hand Commander Felina had given him to fix it up.

And it was something he could actually do. Obviously the tabby didn't trust him the way he did the people he'd worked and fought beside for the last ten years, and they were having a hard time penetrating that hard headed attitude.

Not that he should really be surprised, honestly. Chance was a kat of fierce determination at anything he set his mind to, including believing that his friends and coworkers had betrayed him.

He sighed as he drew closer to lockdown. He hoped Chance could find his way through to forgiveness soon. He'd seen firsthand just how fiercely that kat could hold a grudge, and he didn't want to be on the receiving end of it. Not from Chance. Though if Feral could get forgiven and then be the subject of the loyalty that Jake once had, or thought he'd had at least, it was far from a lost cause.

There were days, few and far between now, that Jake still hated the giant tom with a passion that he'd once seen in his partner towards the former Commander. It led him to thoughts he really didn't want to face again. About how badly he'd misjudged the tabby's loyalties and desires. No matter what he said, it still stung sometimes to take second place to a badge after ten years together. Even after ten years apart.

Of course the tabby had never expected to have to choose ...

Jake shook his head as he turned the corner. Going over old wounds never turned up anything but more pain. They'd kept him distracted enough that it wasn't until he was halfway down towards Chance's cell that he realized that there were no guards. Ordinarily he would have considered that a good thing, but with Felina's determination to see him well they were posted there less to keep him in and more so that there would be someone here if something happened.

She wouldn't have called them away.

Which left very few people who could.

Then he caught a sound from inside the cell and froze. The moan of pleasure was out of place here, so far in secured territory, though admittedly not unusual for the kat it sounded like it was coming from.

Jake walked slowly to the door, careful to keep an eye out for anyone coming but too curious to see just what was going on to not look.

If nothing else, he might get a good fantasy out of it.

It was an intense scene, one that drew a sharp breath from Jake as he took it in and shifted his jeans to ease the tightness in them.

Chance's face was possessed by a fierce pleasure. Even through the door Jake could almost feel the breathless, desperate heat between them as they sated themselves in each other.

It was definite fantasy material. Not that he'd ever thought of the tabby sniper as such, but in this scene, with Chance so hungry for her, she was nearly as hot as the tabby was.

Jake let out a small sound, his body keyed up and demanding relief as he slipped away, seeking a private spot to ease the tension in his pants.

All he could think about was to be in Sandy's place, to have Chance want him like that, to be the cause of that expression on the tabby's face.

It was going to be an interesting week.

The data core in the vault was a busy place. This was where all the most sensitive reports, all the encrypted communications came and went. If anywhere there was a place which could be called the brain of the Enforcers then this was it. All around him people came and went, masses of them, even though you had to have a higher security clearance than officially existed to get access.

This was where Felina learnt about the world. For a little while, this was where she needed Jake to be. He let out a small sound and glanced around for a free communications terminal before making a determined pace around the moving masses with city bred skills he'd thought long forgotten.

He identified himself to the machine, password, fingerprint and retina, and was allowed to access the nexus. Within moments he was alerted of an incoming transmission and managed to navigate the unfamiliar configuration well enough to answer it. His screen switched to show the face of a white shekat, her eyes focused not only on him but also on things to her left and right.

She must have been working with multiple displays.

"You are Jake Clawson?" She asked briskly.

"Yes," he nodded, half his attention on figuring out everything he didn't recognize how to operate yet.

"Your terminal must be configured to Theta mode. I am releasing the territories you are to be responsible for into your authority. Do you require assistance?" Each sentence was like a statement of fact, even the enquiry at the end, delivered briskly and with a brief, entirely correct, pause in between. If he hadn't known better he might have suspected her of being a data construct in the nexus itself, but he could see the shapes of people moving over her shoulders.

Suddenly he very much wanted never to have to meet her in person.

"Yes," he answered her, half surprising himself that he said it even as he knew he was completely out of his depth at the moment.

"Log out of your terminal," she instructed, for a moment Jake thought he sensed irritation in her tone, but she seemed just as blandly businesslike than ever. "Proceed to Analysis Hub D. Occupy Terminal 3. I have assigned someone to assist you. I will hold your territories until you are prepared to receive them."

"Understood," he nodded and struggled for a moment to close the connection and figure out how to log off. He grabbed the first officer he could catch and asked for directions this time. This was not a place to be lost, and it was easy to have happen.

The officer was pleased to assist him, and as he came into the room he noticed a startling difference from the more crowded sections. Here the terminals had projected holographic screens, remarkable technology. Jake was the only one in the room, so he sat at the terminal and logged on, providing the three IDs once again.

As soon as he was accepted the display in front of him phased out and he found himself looking through into another terminal set as a mirror of his, and a perfectly black female looking back at him.

"Good morning Sir," she said, offering a friendly nod. "I've been asked to assist you."

"Good morning and thank you." He found himself smiling a little shyly at her with the returned not. "What is your name?"

"Kia Reven, Sir. I'm a comms tech here in the nexus. Selene said you're going to be synthesizing for a number of territories today, is that right?"

"Yes, Kia," he nodded to her. "Name's Jake." He added, still utterly uncomfortable being called Sir for any length of time.

"Our terminals have been unified so that I can assist you," she explained as a single display field materialized between and above them. She tapped out a few commands and each of them received an extra pair, one on each side.

"I've shifted us into the Theta configuration, which is a multitasking system. To your right you can see the territories Selene is holding for you, waiting to be accepted."

He nodded and took in the data streams and what she was doing with sharp eyes and a sharper mind gratefully warming up to the challenge it hadn't really had in years.

"Unfortunately, while I am effectively using the same terminal as you are, I'm not cleared to see some of the things that will come though. Those won't appear on my side. You need to accept each of the territories in turn, and unlock them with you ID key. You can access that using the icon bar along the button of the main display."

"I understand." He nodded and let himself slip more fully into the long unused natural flow of dealing with half understood technology. Thinking about the parts he understood and simply watching as he managed to make the rest work without it.

The Theta configuration was startling responsive, accepting each of the territories and displaying them automatically, adjusting the screen space allocated to each as every new territory came on board.

"Excellent." Kia nodded. "All the general intelligence for these territories is now flowing through this terminal before proceeding on to the nexus. You can see a variety of icons representing different incoming messages. I can spot a number of urgent ones, but I need to know if you see red flashing heart icons. They represent agent in danger, and they're usually above my rating."

"No," he breathed softly and let instinct guide his hands to open the urgent messages, scanning for content and shuffling or answering them without actually realizing what he was doing half the time.

Most of his mind was deep in a thought to make the system faster to handle. If he'd thought about it, he wouldn't have been surprised that it showed on his face, the speed and complexity of his mind's multitasking. But like most things he simply did, Jake didn't think about it, or what it looked like from the outside.

"Excellent," a voice came, startling him. He had the grace to be a little ashamed he'd forgotten Kia was there. "You barely need me here at all. This one is regional status report," the icon she selected was flagged low priority. There were a number of them on the board but Jake had been ignoring them in favor of keeping the higher level message flow smooth.

"We need to look at these and analyze them in respect to one another. Emerging systematic threats need to be flagged and reported to the Commander."

"Right," he nodded and opened one, then two others, adding them into the flow of other activities as he had moments to snatch a sentence or two between or during replies and assimilating it all as fast as he could take the information in.

"Sir," Kia interrupted gently. "There's a blank spot on my board, I think it may be a high-priority message. Somewhere in the badlands, south and west of Tzei-Wei."

"Got it," he rumbled and tagged it open, more than a touch surprised to see a rather rattled officer live on the other side of what he'd assumed would be another text message. On pure instinct, he muted the transition to Kia so she wouldn't hear his half, though if you asked him, he wouldn't have a clue how.

"Clawson here, what do you need?" He asked quickly, sure this was something serious.

"I have vital information for the Commander," the tom replied, harried. "I must speak with her at once. I'm transmitting my verification key now."

Jake glanced at it, and the automatic message that confirmed it was correct, and found the key sequence that alerted her to the incoming transition. "Transferring you now." He told the tom when a symbol flashed he didn't know but recognized the meaning of anyway as the sound came back to his link with Kia.

"Sorry 'bout that." He managed to tell her as he worked hard to keep up on his end of things.

"You're doing very well," she told him, shaking her head. "I'm barely picking up the leftovers."

"A little backup is always nice," he shot her a smile between messages, even as he frowned and shunted the lower priority ones elsewhere to be dealt with as he turned his full attention to a half pattern that made him uneasy.

"Something wrong?" Kia asked as the messages Jake discarded slipped under her control and off to their destinations.

"Not sure yet," he mumbled, his focus and concern growing as the nagging feeling in the back of his mind strengthened. "Something's ... not right." He added and called up reports from other territories and days, rapidly building a world picture he didn't like but couldn't quite put a finger on yet.

"That looks a bit like ..." Kia's fingers danced across her board and another stack of reports emerged, much older but bound together under one file number. "What do you think? Similar?"

"Too similar," he nodded sharply and skimmed through the info the old report contained, searching for the missing pieces to today's.

"The older set precipitated a raid led by Sashiri. Slavers."

Jake couldn't suppress a growl of raw hatred, but his attention never faltered as his fingers danced, linking the old report and the new ones with a message that he was sure they were in for a repeat and sent it to Felina. "Anyone else should get that warning?" He half asked as he tried to let it go and go on to the next pattern.

"There ought to be an agent in command for the territory," Kia told him. "I can't get the routing information, but you should be able to look them up with your ident."

He nodded and made a quick CC of the message to it's local commander.

"And here I thought I was going to have to hold your hand all the way. Selene said you'd never done this before."

"I haven't," he told her without breaking his work. "Never been down here before, really."

"I'm impressed," she said honestly. "You're a quick learner."

"Old habit," he ducked his head slightly and blushed. "Not used to having a choice, not if I wanted to survive it."

"Selene's cold," Kia smirked, "but she's not that bad."

"You sure she's not a computer construct?" He snickered a bit, a little confused at his own reactions but chocking it up to being badly in need of someone to talk to.

"If she were we could turn down the volume, or perhaps find the pause button. We're not that lucky."

"Pity." Jake chuckled softly as he worked. "I could have reprogrammed her. Something a little less perfect."

"Oh she's a long way from perfect. Very efficient though ... and sometimes she'd so observant it's scary. Like she's reading your mind."

"Might be," he shook his head a bit. "I've seen a lot stranger. Hell, I've built stranger." He added with a chuckle, trying to remember the last time he'd had a conversation like this and coming up largely blank.

"I don't think the Commander would put up with genuine mind-readers around here. Too much of a security risk. Selene's just freaky-smart."

"Met those too, though most of them are more social," he shook his head, thinking of most of the really brilliant minds he knew and knew of. "Or at least less cold."

"We don't really worry about it," Kia shrugged. "She doesn't like us, we don't like her. All the work gets done on time though."

"Which is what the Commander worries about." He nodded and continued filtering and replying at speed.

Kia was dressed in a long skirt and blouse when she walked into the busy pizza parlor for an early lunch, scanning the crowd for Jake. She spotted him keeping claim to a booth in a relatively quiet corner, dressed as he tended to at work in jeans and a collared shirt.

He looked both more relaxed than at work and decided nervous.

It was a feeling she could understand. She hadn't been quite sure what to think when she'd read his message asking her to go to lunch with him. She was sure that hesitation showed in her ever-so-slightly mismatched outfit. She hadn't known whether to be friendly or formal and had ended up missing both.

Still, lunch was lunch and so far he'd proved to be good company, even if easily distracted by work. She smiled as she wandered over and dropped into the seat opposite.

"Hi," he smiled, decidedly shy, after he jumped slightly at her sudden presence. "Glad you made it."

"As if I was going to say no," she said with a smile and got him to chuckle softly.

"Free pizza seems to get most Enforcers attention." He said softly, not quite chuckling, but clearly amused by older memories. "Why don't you grab your plate first?"

"Thanks, I will."

Jake watched her get up, and noticed with detached curiosity what she selected, unconsciously comparing it to the piles that his pi...former pilot ... had always claimed.

It was enough to close his eyes for a moment as the loneliness that had overcome his reluctance surged to the surface before submitting to his will and dieing back down.

They both liked pizza, that was for sure, but by the look of things she didn't have Chance's appetite. Then again, few people could match Chance's appetite.

Not for pizza, or life.

Jake sighed and resigned himself to the rather morbid turn of his thoughts and the effect they had on him. Still he managed a smile for her as they swapped places so he could grab his meal of pizza and salad.

Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea after all.

Still, he couldn't stand being alone much longer, and Callie ... Callie was simply out of the question.

What was the worst that could happen, anyway?

Probably not much, he thought, glancing back over towards her and finding her looking back in his direction as well.

Time to stop thinking and find out if I can really cope with this after all. Damn but things were so much simpler when it was just him and the wilderness.

"That's a serious look you're wearing," Kia said as he sat back down.

"Sorry," he apologized reflexively. "I think too much for my own good sometimes. Things haven't been all that great lately."

"Well I've always found pizza's a great cure for thinking too much."

"So's good company," he tried to smile and settled into the meal he hadn't bothered having in more years than he wanted to count. "Kinda hoping for that one."

"So that's what this is about," the black kat smiled. "I had kinda wondered."

"Social skills aren't exactly my best," Jake admitted quietly. "Didn't mean to have you wondering." He dropped his eyes. "I'm just very tired of being quite so alone."

"It's all right Jake, it's not like you've done anything wrong. I'm just naturally curious."

"One trait we share," he chuckled softly and took a drink of soda. "Along with the intelligence to use it to good effect."

"Seems that way, yeah," she agreed between bites. "You've really adapted to the nexus system quickly ... most people take much longer to get a hang on things."

"I'm too used to it being a matter of life and death," he shook his head with a rueful chuckle. "Even after ten years, the reflex is still there. Not learning that quickly is simply inconceivable."

"Well as I said the other day, we very rarely have life and death situations in the nexus," Kia told him. "You're allowed to relax a little."

Jake looked at her, his expression somewhere between bewildered and accepting, testament to just how foreign the concept was to him.

"That will take some getting used to." He admitted.

"Well," she said, her mouth curling into a smirk. "I'll just have to make sure you get plenty of practice."

It earned her a dubious look, then he chuckled softly and shook his head. "Why do I get the feeling I just set myself up?"

"Hey, you called me," she reminded him. "Don't forget it."

"I'm sure you'll remind me if I do." He chuckled and relaxed just a little as slices of pizza disappeared. "So what do you do with a wayward tom who never learned how to relax?"

"Pizza's a good start," she said with a smile. "Movies are usually a pretty good step too."

"Explosions, monsters, obvious wires and kats in rubber suits?" He suggested, only half serious.

"These days they don't use so many wires and rubber suits," she laughed, "But something along those lines, yeah."

"Only in the classics," he rumbled with fond memories for his old favorites. "Even the cheesy ones have good special effects these days."

"I'm sure we'll be able to find other fun ways to take your brain out of the equations too," she chuckled, finishing the last of her pizza. "I never get tired of eating here."

"And out of my workshop," he nodded with a bemused chuckle. "It was one of our favorite haunts when we went out instead of ordered in."

"We?" Kia asked, raising an eyebrow.

"My ... former ... partner." He said softly with a shake of his head. "Chance had a real love affair with pizza and an appetite that scared these places."

"Chance Furlong?" A surprised smile spread across her face. "That's hard to imagine."

"The one and only," he nodded and leaned back with his soda. "What part of it's hard to believe?"

"Well, he's so serious. I mean, he's not like Selene, he laughs and jokes and flirts with the girls, but you put a job in front of him and that's it. Besides," she continued with a more secretive, conspiratorial tone, "Old Man Feral didn't really seem like the pizza type."

"He changed a lot in ten years," Jake could only shrug. "He wasn't always like that, not when we were flying SWAT together."

"Excuse me?" Kia asked her voice rising up to much too loud as her eyebrows did their best to hit the stratosphere. "You and Furlong were the SWAT Kats?"

"I'll take that as a hint it's still not common knowledge." He shook his head quietly. "One more thing I figured wrong on."

"Wow," she said, leaning back into her chair. "I'm having lunch with Razor."

"I haven't worn the mask in a long time, Kia." He spoke softly and quite firmly, already regretting mentioning it on a lot of levels. "He's as dead as anything like that gets."

"But still ... wow ... I can hardly believe it. I thought you guys must have died or something."

Jake dropped his eyes and shook his head. "Chance ... valued the uniform Feral promised him over his partnership with me." He sighed softly, some part of him desperately needing to say it. "So he went Teeth and I stayed SWAT until I got shot down and captured." He leaned back and sipped his soda, wondering if things got any more surreal than this. "Got locked up in the Vault until the Deputy Mayor worked out a plea bargain and I shipped out of town."

He actually chuckled softly. "No heroics involved in that disappearance. Just good old politics and turned loyalties."

"I wouldn't have thought you could ever turn his loyalties," she said softly, trying to be gentle.

"Me either, till he walked in to see me with prison bars between us in uniform." Jake tried to shrug it off, to feel the acceptance he'd found somewhere in his travels, but the pain was as fresh as the day it happened and there was little use denying it. "Ten years we were a team, now he's had the same with the Teeth. I wish he'd survived better for his choice."

"I don't know much about that," she admitted, "I was still in the Academy for his early days."

"He used to be a much happier kat," he murmured quietly. "Always out for the party, always in it for the fun and to be the hero." Jake sighed and leaned back, his head resting against the wall and his eyes shut. "Damn I miss that kat."

"Maybe he misses you too."

Jake chuckled wearily. "Not the Chance that's around now. I miss the guy I was partners with. He's changed a lot since I knew him. Not even really the same person from what I can tell."

"It's been a long time, and he's been through a lot. Doesn't mean you can't be friends."

"Trying that, with mixed success." He took a deep breath, trying to forget that it was his suggestion that landed the tabby where he was now. "He pretty well occupied these days."

"Yeah. I heard."

"I'm not surprised," he nodded slightly, not really wanting to know how close to the truth the scuttlebutt was.

"It's hard to believe he'd just go back to the bottle that way, after everything that's happened. I'd heard the Commander is looking at having him committed."

Jake laughed darkly at that. "She knows better. Place like that could never hold him and they both know it. Beats me what she's got planned to do it, but she's determined to put him right."

"I'm not surprised. Chance and her uncle were ... very close."

"Yeah, I know." He rumbled softly, his hatred of the dead Commander flaring brightly for a moment behind dark amber eyes. Then he sighed and tried to relax. "Weirdest turnaround I've ever seen."

"Oh I dunno. Now if Selene was to come walking through that door in a short skirt, that would be a turnaround." She laughed, a simple happy sound, and managed to disperse some of the dark mood that had been condensing around them.

"It'd be something to see," he admitted, quite happy to grab onto the shot at improving the mood. He really hadn't intended to drop all this on her. "Or at Warlords, actually playing the part." He snickered.

Kia shot him an incredulous look and then dissolved into uncontrollable laughter that he joined more slowly. Even without the better mental images Kia no doubt had, just knowing the two reputations was more than enough of a contrast.

"Oh ... oh ... oh boy," she panted trying to get her breathing back under control again. "I wouldn't have picked you for the type."

"For what?" Jake asked, now honestly and totally confused.

"WarLords. There's not too many there that have trouble relaxing."

That made him suddenly duck his head, his cheeks burning red. "I just know its rep." He stammered, not even sure what to picture as going on there.

"Well now I know you've never been there. You're much too bashful."

"You have?" He asked, not sure which response he would prefer.

"A couple of times," she said with a shrug. "Most of them are way too much into the dom-sub thing for my taste, but I've been to a couple of parties there ... hen's nights and so on."

He nodded with kind of an uncomprehending look but didn't ask for more. Truth was, he didn't really want to know, even with what seeing Chance and Sandy together had done to his mind recently.

"It takes all types." He commented instead.

"Well, yeah, but for the most point I can do without that type."

"I expect that one is mutual," he smiled just slightly, absently wondering about the emotional roller coaster lunch was becoming.

"Oh I don't know," she replied with a smirk that was almost familiar. "I can get plenty of attention when I want to."

It drew a momentary realization that she was very attractive, something that only managed to bring the color to his cheeks again despite his best efforts.

"I expect so." He managed to mumbled, now completely embarrassed and decidedly out of his depth.

"Oh it is much too easy to make you blush Jake Clawson," she laughed good naturedly. "Almost takes the fun out of it."

"Somehow, I don't think it's going to save me for long." He chuckled a bit. "At least not around you."

"Well, I did say 'almost'."

"Which means it'll be your new favorite hobby," he shook his head and chuckled in resignation. "Jake-bating."

"Oh I could do much worse, believe me."

"You know, I'm not sure I want to test that theory." He regarded her with a wary eye that didn't mask his amusement.

"Just be a good boy and take the bait then," she laughed, shaking her head. "I'm sure we'll get on fine."

"Like I could resist," he chuckled softly. "I forget what it's like out here too easily."

"Well it's time you had a reminder. Got plans for this afternoon?"

"I was rather hoping to hang out with you," he smiled shyly, a trace of real hope in his expression.

"Excellent," she approved. "Finish up there and we'll go find something fun to do."

"Why do you keep coming down here?" Chance asked. The air in the cell was soaked in the scents of sweat and sex, but it hadn't been the release for Chance that it had used to be. Lately noting was.

"Because I care about you." She murmured and gently brushed his cheek. "I told you that I'd see you through this, and I intend to."

"Sometimes I think that if everyone up there just forgot about me then I'd be able to forget about me too, and all this would just stop."

"You know that's not going to happen," she murmured and kissed him gently. "It never just goes away."

"I know," he sighed softly. "That tiger the Commander sent down wants me to talk about Feral. Like it'll make any difference."

"Maybe it will," she murmured, gently moving a few strands of hair from his face. "He's very good at his job, Chance, and his job is putting people's minds back together."

"I just ... I don't want to go back there Sandy," Chance said softly, speaking out into the half light of the cell rather than to her face. "It was bad enough the first time."

"I know," she murmured, caressing his fur where her hands fell. "But if you ever want to be free of it, of the hurt, you need to."

"I wish he was back Sandy," Chance said, burying his face against her chest. "I wish I knew he'd forgive me."

"He would," she murmured softly but sure of her words. "I think we all wish he was back. Felina's a good Commander and all, but she's not her uncle."

"Jake's pleased," Chance contradicted her. "You can tell."

"Jake wasn't here then." She said softly. "He never saw what we did. He never understood what Ulysses was all about. You didn't until you'd served in the Teeth under him."

"No," Chance admitted. "I felt that way once too. But now Jake will never see."

"No, he probably won't." She agreed sadly. "Some things ... just never work out the way you want them too."

"Me and Jake all over," Chance sighed softly.

"Yeah, that ... could have ended really different, in a lot of ways." She murmured into his hair. "But you still have him, in a way. He's been trying to be friends, though it shows that he's really not too good at it. You can rebuild something there worth having."

"Maybe. If I can have anything worth having."

"Isn't friendship worth having?" She asked softly.

"Yeah. I just don't think I understand it at the moment."

"That's okay," she smiled gently at him. "I'm not too sure Jake does either."

"It's not okay," Chance shook his head. "It's screwed up."

"It's okay, because it can change." She retorted gently. "For both of you."

"Thanks, for being here," the sandy-furred tabby said, sliding his hands down her sides and feeling the warmth beneath her fur. "Despite everything."

"I'll always be here for you," she promised him softly. "No matter what."

He lifted himself up over her, straddling her waist. "No matter what?" he repeated, looking down into her face.

"No matter what." She repeated firmly, meeting his gaze squarely.

He leaned down slowly and pressed his mouth down against hers. It was a less desperate kiss than those they'd shared in passion, but no less deep for it. His tongue probed her mouth, exploring it thoroughly.


She didn't know for what, but she returned it with the same slow passion, going on feeling more than any idea what to do.

Their lips parted eventually and Chance was looking down at her with those warm, wet eyes. "Sandy," he murmured.

She didn't know what to say. She barely dared break the magic of the bit of progress she was sure they'd made. Still, she knew it required a response of her and she gave it with a gentle touch along his cheek and a soft, warm smile only for him.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head in toward her hand, rubbing his cheek against her fingers. "Don't go," he said, his voice very small. "Please."

"All right," she murmured softly. "I'll stay here, with you."

"Hay," Jake greeted the tabby with a half wave. "Ready to chill out somewhere that actually has a TV?"

"You got the Commander to say yes?" Chance asked, clearly surprised. At least today he wasn't aggressively hostile.

"Yap, I've been redesigning and modifying a room down the hall since we talked." He grinned, very pleased that things sounded a bit better. "It's not home, but there's cable TV, a Gamestar, all your games, a full bathroom and some stuff from your place that it looked like you used a lot."

Chance smirked. "Slices, dices, and makes french-fries seven different ways?"

"Not that good," the lean tom chuckled and shook his head. "I've only had a couple days."

"Gotta be better than this."

"That is it," he nodded and shifted to leave. "Come on."

The tabby stood without saying anything, casting a look around the room. Then he shook his head and followed Jake into the corridor. As the lean tom had said, the new room was a couple doors down, but it had nothing in common with where he'd just left. The walls and ceiling were painted a sort of sky blue with a finish that gave the impression of clouds. There were shelves that held books, games and odds and ends, and an entertainment center even better than the one he had at home. He could see where the toilet nook had been converted into a normal bathroom and everything.

Chance took a couple of steps into the center of the room, his mouth moving soundlessly as he slowly took everything in. When he turned back to Jake their eyes met for a moment before the tabby glanced away, as if he'd been stung.

"Awww, Jake," He said softly.

"I still care about you, Chance." He murmured and stepped a little closer to put a hand on the tabby's shoulder. "I'm doing what I can to help."

The plain black t-shirt Chance was wearing wasn't very thick, and Jake could feel the tabby trembling beneath it.

"Thanks," Chance managed to say, his voice almost held level. "Thank you Jake."

"Anytime, buddy." He smiled and squeezed Chance's shoulder. "You just concentrate on getting better." He hesitated briefly. "I'm sorry for my part in this, Chance. I never wanted to hurt you."

"I ... I thought you'd stop me. You said just one ..."

"I don't know I was supposed to," he murmured, his eyes downcast. "Last time I'd seen you, you were a happy drunk. A few beers and atomics were just the start of a fun evening."

"But I told you ..." Chance said, his voice soft and strained.

"I didn't understand," he whispered. "I really didn't. I'm sorry." He added, a little helplessly for anything else to convey his guilt at his part in things.

"It's all right," Chance shook his head, "it's done now."

"And now we deal with it," Jake said softly but firmly, with a touch of emphasis on the 'we'.

"There's just so much."

Jake let out a small breath and squeezed the tabby's shoulder. "We've done the impossible before," he murmured. "We can do it again. And you have Sandy to lean on too now. She's really dedicated to you, you know."

"I'm starting to figure that out," Chance nodded, drawing himself together again. "There's a lot more to me and her than I thought."

Jake managed a soft smile. "She's one worth holding on to, buddy." He said softly. "Kats that care that much are rare."

"Yeah," Chance nodded, sitting down on the bed. He bounced up and down a little, feeling the softer mattress. "I wish I knew why."

"Because you're a good kat, Chance." He told him simply and stubbornly. "And two good kats belong together."

"I don't feel like one," the tabby admitted. "Not for a long time now."

"Why?" Jake looked honestly confused and sat down next to him. "You've done so much to help people."

"I've failed so many times," the tabby said, staring down at his hands. "I've been so weak."

"Chance, you are anything but weak." Jake told him firmly. "And failure ..." he shook his head, his voice dropping several levels. "Damn, kat, everybody fails. It's part of life, as much as it hurts."

"I wish I could believe that. Really, I do."

Jake sat silent for a moment, trying to think of away to explain that might make sense. Then he sighed. "I guess that's what Sandy'll have to pull off with you." He admitted quietly. "Cause I haven't a clue how to explain it any better."

"The Commander's got me talking to this psych about ... some other stuff. It's hard to see the point."

"Cause it hurts like hell." He murmured quietly, sure the subject was Feral.

"It does that," the tabby nodded and heard Jake let out a small, soft sound.

"Cause you haven't accepted ... whatever happened." He spoke quietly from personal experience, his eyes on the floor. "You can't forgive yourself, and you have to."

"How? I wasn't even there."

"And that's what you have to accept, that you weren't there." Jake shivered slightly at his own memories. "That you can't always protect the people you care about. That sometimes, even when you're doing your best, you fail, and somehow, the people you fail still forgive you for it." He said with a tight throat. "It's not easy."

The tabby squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "It's impossible."

"And we do the impossible every week." Jake reminded him and squeezed his shoulder. "Even if we don't know how half the time."

"If you say so Jake," the tabby sighed, lying back onto the bed.

"We have to have hope to make things better," he murmured, getting increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation. "Sometimes, it's all there is."

"You did," Chance said simply. "Thanks."

"Glad I did," he smiled slightly, his gaze inadvertently falling on the tabby's crotch and the jeans that didn't exactly conceal what they contained. "If you think of something you'd like in here, let me know, okay? I'll be by again soon." He promised, not really wanting to be in the room with both tabbies when the footsteps he could hear arrived at the door.

"All right." He nodded weakly as Jake stood and slipped from the room just in time for Sandy's footsteps to catch the tabby's ears.

Jake was still breathing a little fast from racing thoughts and a mind far too distracted for it's own good when his computer beeped, signing a live message he need to answer. With a disgruntled sigh he made quick work of cleaning himself off with a nearby towel and zipped his pants up before answering the message.

"Hey Jake," a familiar female voice sounded as Kia's face appeared on his screen.

"Hi," he blinked, honestly expecting the Commander. "What's up?" He managed a smile for her.

"I was just wondering whether you had any plans for this evening."

"Nothing important," he smiled a little more.

"Well it just so happens that I've got a pair of premium tickets to an advance movie screening this evening. Luxury seats, drinks before and after, the whole nine yards."

His eyes went a bit wide, startled beyond words for a moment. "And you want me to come?" He managed to gasp out.

"No," she said, rolling her eyes dramatically. "I want you to stay in the carpark and make sure no-one messes with my ride. Of course I want you to come."

"Umm, sure." He managed to stammer, still clearly stunned by the offer. "When and where?"

"It's at the Cinema Central complex," she said, flashing him a smile. "Doors open at half past seven. I'll meet you in the lobby."

"I'll be there," he promised, still largely in shock as he closed the link down and dropped into a chair, trying to pull his wits together enough to really think.

It was definitely racking up into a very strange day. Good, but strange.

Jake was still something of a bundle of nerves when he walked into the theater lobby, scanning for Kia's black fur with eyes that still hadn't lost their edge.

The first sweep didn't spot her, and it was only with a second, more careful examination that he picked her out. She couldn't have looked any more different that she did in uniform. The white dress was a startling contrast with her flat black fur, gathered in around her waist and then flowing up over her stomach and breasts.

It was a sight that stirred the same response in him the tabbies did, though he was at something of a loss as to why. He shoved the question to the back of his mind and wove through the crowd towards her with an appreciative look on his face.

"Jake," she smiled as she saw him and offered her his arm. "Shall we go up? I feel like a drink or two before the show starts."

"Sounds good to me," he smiled and accepted the offered arm with a bit of clumsiness from lack of understanding. "You look incredible."

The light kindled in here eyes told him it had been the right thing to say. "Thank you. Uniform's nice enough in it's own way, but it's nice to be able to get dressed up in something a little more elegant."

"And comfortable, I hope." He smiled shyly as they moved at a leisurely pace through the crowd. "I never did like how constrictive they are."

"Perfectly comfortable," she assured him, "Although I admit I wouldn't be chasing anyone down in it." They turned and mounted the stairs, heading up two levels and then across a less crowded area towards the bar.

"I would hope not," he chuckled softly. "I think I'd have to hurt anyone who interrupted things that badly."

"It was a figure of speech Jake," she told him, shaking her head. "No one's going to assault us in the movie theater. What do you want to drink?"

"Ummm," he looked half panicked for a moment, trying to remember the name on the sweet apple ale Chance had brought. "Sweet nectar."

"Sweet nectar? That's an odd choice. I'll see what I can do though."

"It's about all I've tried before." Jake admitted with an apologetic shrug.

"You really need help," she said humorously as he headed off to the bar to fetch the drinks.

"So I've been told." He shook his head and accepted what she offered when she returned, not even checking to see what it was before taking a sip. He was looking forward to the extra help winding down right now.

It wasn't the same drink Chance had been having, but it had a vaguely similar taste, even if it was less sweet and lacking a certain ... something. Kia took a deep swallow from her own glass and smiled.

"What is this one?" He asked in the silence, guessing he was expected to say something, and rather curious as to what it was anyway.

"Cider, Jake." She said with a soft chuckle. "It's made from apples too, although not the same way. Cheaper too."

"Less likely to get me drunk too," he chuckled back, still fighting his nerves about the entire situation. What had he been thinking?

"Not by too much," Kia replied, "Although I don't have a lot of experience with foreign drinks. Did you spend a lot of time in Eden?"

"Probably not," he shook his head and drank a little more. "Though I didn't catch the name of most of the countries I passed through."

"Kinda takes the fun out of it, doesn't it?"

Jake regarded her curiously for a moment. "Admittedly I wasn't doing it for fun the first couple years, but it didn't really." He managed a shy smile. "I wasn't traveling to meet the people, just the places. The things that exist outside politics and things like country names. When you walk around a continent off existing trails, most of the time you never know when you cross such a border."

"But if you don't know where you were how can you ever find your way back?"

He looked up at her, half uncertain of what she was asking. "I ... it's not something I worried about. I never went with a destination in mind." He shook his head. "After I left the city, I wasn't exactly looking to ever see the same place twice again. I could find most of them anyway, if I really wanted to. I do remember the trip."

"Well, yeah, I suppose so."

He let the silence linger a bit, uncertain how to break it.

"I think we're headed back to morbid." He tried to make a joke of it, not sure if he'd succeeded.

"The movie will be on shortly. We should finish up and get in there."

"Almost as good a distraction as Selene in a miniskirt." He cracked at grin at her and happily finished off most of the drink.

"So what did you think?" Kia asked as they came back down the stairs. "Another studio success?"

"Definitely fun," he grinned, sure that cider had a lot more alcohol in it than he'd figured. He was far too physically affectionate not to be rather drunk. "Probably not the top box office draw, but I'll be seeing it again when it comes out."

"Well that's as good a recommendation as it gets really," Kia said with a grin.

"I don't suppose you're sober enough to drive?" He asked quietly. "I don't think I am."

"That's the problem with never having touched alcohol before," she said, "You've got no resistance. I, on the other hand, have plenty of experience and should be fine to drive."

He nodded and relaxed, leaning close though he was clearly coordinated enough to walk in step with her. "Did you have anything planned for now?" He asked curiously, not really looking forward to such a good night ending.

"I don't generally make plans for after dates, Jake."

She couldn't help but smirk a bit at his startled look.

"Oh," he murmured, honestly not sure how to take it, though part of him was decidedly flattered.

"Did you expect I would?"

"Didn't realize this was a date," he ducked his head sheepishly.

He was astonished when that made her laugh. "Well what would you call it?"

"A night out with a friend." He murmured, blushing seriously now. "Did this kind of stuff with Chance all the time."

"Oh really?" Kia asked, one eyebrow raised into an arch that managed to suggest all sorts of things. All of which went completely over Jake's head.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "Most partners did. It's probably one of the most intense relationships out there. You have to count on 'em for your life every day. Winding down and having fun with 'em pretty normal for pilot/gunner teams."

"I suppose with all the things the two of you went through it would have been pretty natural," she nodded. "I don't really have much experience with what life's like for a flight team."

"And I don't have much outside one," he said more softly. "Can't really count the last ten years, since I wasn't around people much at all."

"You don't say?"

Jake flinched. He knew that tone. It meant he'd said something particularly stupid and someone was trying not to laugh at him.

"Touchy too," Kia said more gently. "All I meant was that it shows."

"Sorry," he made the effort to straighten and look at her. "I'm not surprised it does. I never was much for socializing, even when Chance did drag me out to a club or something."

"The universe isn't really out to get you, you know."

The statement earned her a dubious look, but he nodded in acquiescence anyway. "Maybe not. Sure as hell used to be though."

"Nah," she said with a grin and a wave of her hand. "If it had really wanted you you'd be a smear."

He bit back the nearly reflexive negative spin on it, that he was still breathing because somebody up there wanted him to suffer. Instead he shrugged slightly. "I guess so. Sometimes it's still hard to believe the odds we broke." He actually smiled, more than a touch nostalgically.

"Impressive," she nodded. "No doubt."

"Crazy half the time," he chuckled softly. "Especially when Pastmaster and alternate dimensions started to get involved." He grinned. "It was wild."

"I can only imagine," she said, as they reached the car at last. "Honestly I think that's all I'd care to do. I'm not really a front line girl."

"Not many are," he nodded easily. "Including some who kept ending up there." He snickered and slid into the passenger seat with the ease of someone used to letting the other drive. "I swear we spent more time on rescuers of those three shekats than actually fighting monsters."

"There must be worse things in life than having the Mayor owe you favors though. Hell, Ulysses would have loved to have that sort of leverage ... Felina probably would too, although things aren't so strained there anymore."

"You just lost me." He murmured quietly, looking up at her with bright amber eyes. "We were just doing our job."

"As I recall you'd just been quite firmly told it wasn't your job," Kia said with a smirk.

Jake shook his head. "Only by Feral." He said quietly and leaned back, his eyes half closed. "We swore an oath to protect this city, and it wasn't to him. That never changed. It was still our duty to protect it as best we could."

"You're not the only one's who felt that way," she nodded, "but neither was he. Am I taking you back to your place or to mine?"

The question clearly startled him, somewhere between the drink, the memories and the evening, he'd honestly forgotten it wasn't just 'going home' anymore.

"Ur ... I ..." he glanced at her, several conflicting things dancing behind his eyes. Eventually he simply gave in to the easiest.

"I wouldn't mind spending more time with you tonight." He almost got out smoothly. It was as close to a direct answer as he could manage right then. "Up to you."

"Up to me?" Kia laughed and shook her head. "That's the best evasion you can manage?"

"I think so," he said softly, not really wanting to delve too deep into the gymnastics his brain was trying to perform at the moment.

"Perhaps you should go home then. You're clearly not at your best."

As odd as it was, it made him chuckle. "Kia, I haven't been at my best in years." He smiled softly over at her. "But my place it is."

"Which leaves the only question. Just where is your place?"

"Badgeport," he said easily, regretting her choice to end the night. He accepted it within himself fairly well, as he had left it up to her. Maybe he'd learn one of these days to ask for what he wanted, rather than accept what came. Maybe. It was a terrifyingly real thought though, one that brought to mind every wrong choice he'd ever made in graphic detail. "The Colletto Apartments at 1156th and Camberberry."

"I can find that," she nodded, pausing for a moment to consider the best route before pulling the car out into traffic. The silence in the car held for almost half a mile before Jake closed his eyes and let out a soft sound.

"Would you tell me what you had in mind, since I messed up?" He asked softly, even as he wondered where the newfound boldness was from.

"I didn't have anything specific in mind," Kia said with a light shake of her head. "I'm not plotting to get you."

"I figured that," he murmured. "Your mood changed."

"Yeah, well ... you're really bad at being around people."

He could only nod. It was the truth after all, even if she was the most blunt about it he'd met. Silence settled over them as they traveled on. Kia took a route that Jake considered a little odd, but then she probably didn't have much reason to be familiar with this part of town. It was well away from the kind of place she lived, and likely the kind of places her friends did. It left him feeling very much the outsider again, his choice in what was an odd concept to start with, a place away from work to live, clearly not the right one. Again.

Thankfully Kia seemed unaware of his discomfort as they pulled up in front of his building.

"Thank you for a fun evening," he said, gathering his courage for a moment before leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," she said, managing a smile and dispelling some of the discomfort that had built up over the drive.

He took a deep breath and plunged head first into unknown territory that scared the hell out of him.

"Would you care to come over for dinner sometime soon?" He managed to get out before his tongue tied itself into a complex knot.

"That might be nice," she nodded.

"When is your next evening off, then?" He drew the strength to ask from somewhere.

"I have most of my evenings off," Kia said with a smile. "I'm not in nearly as much demand as one of the commander's Teeth."

"Saturday then?" He suggested, pure stubborn determination getting him through it. "Sixish?"

"Sure," she nodded.

"Here," he said awkwardly. "I'm cooking." He smiled shyly.

"I'll look forward to it then," Kia said, the edges of her mouth curling upward as she nodded.

"As good as you look, casual dress." He got out in something of a rush. "I'm not formal." He ducked his head a bit with a slight blush.

"I don't know many people who are, when they're having one other person over to eat," she chuckled softly. "I'll see you then."

"Good," he smiled a little more softly and shifted to get out of the car. "I'm looking forward to it."

"So am I. Good night Jake."

"Good night, Kia." He murmured and slipped out.

"Thanks for coming," Jake greeted her at the door, dressed much as she was in jeans and a simple shirt. "Please, come in." He offered with a set of manners long left unused.

"Well you seem to have this habit of offering me free food," she said lightly, stepping past him into the flat. She wasn't surprised that just about everything seemed new, or at least newly placed, but the place was nice and he seemed to have decent taste in decorating, such as it was.

The smells from the kitchen were decidedly appealing, and not take out.

"Old habit," he grinned at her and showed her in, continuing to the kitchen and the almost finished meal of game bird, pasta, breads and some kind of pie. "Between my family and Chance, it was how we got to know folks." He glanced up at her from checking the creamy white pasta sauce. "Besides, after all the trouble you went through to make a nice evening last time, I wanted to apologize for how it ended." He said more seriously.

"Well, pie would definitely be a start," she replied.

"That's supposed to be the end." He chuckled but waved a hand in it's direction. "You're welcomed to it if you want, though."

"That's not what I meant."

Jake looked at her in confusion, forgetting the meal preparations for a moment. "What did you mean?" He forced himself to ask, overcoming years of inhibitions in an effort that showed clearly.

"Never mind," she said, shaking her head. "It's not that important."

It earned her a look that was both curious and showed the effort it took him not to press for an answer.

"If you say so." Jake managed quietly, uncertain what was going on but determined to make the best of it without angering her. "How is work going?" He tried for a more neutral subject.

"Oh, much the same as always. I heard a curious rumor about the Mayor this morning though."

"Somehow, I expect that's not unusual." He snickered and began setting things on the table. "What was this one?"

"It's about her son," Kia said, approaching he subject obliquely. "And his father."

"That would be me," he admitted quietly, setting the roast bird on the table. "Before I went wondering. I found out about him after I got back a few months ago."

"Rumor has it she'd exceptionally pleased to have you back in the city," Kia said, getting it all out in the open.

"Not so pleased," he told her simply. "Because I'm not interested in continuing whatever she thought we had."

"She's not easily discouraged."

"I've noticed." He actually flattened his ears a bit, though he continued to set the table with the last of the garnishing. "She's very accustomed to getting her way, just like a certain former Commander I spent ten years handing his tail to." He paused, making the visible effort it took not to wind up on a rant about Ulysses Feral. "She's just going to have to deal with loosing this time."

"And you've been planning to fill her in on this little fact?"

"Already have, repeatedly." He shrugged and offered her a chair. "She's stubborn, not stupid. It'll sink in eventually."

"I think it's safe to say she hasn't yet," Kia said as she sat down.

"She's not that stupid," he suddenly flattened his ears, his fangs half bared in a protective kind of outrage that was gone almost as fast. Still it gave Kia a good look at the warrior he was and still was capable of being. "She knows better than to try to hurt my friends."

Kia stared at him for a moment. "Have you considered therapy?" She asked seriously and got a startled blink for it as he sat down and regarded her.

"Can't say as I have," he answered honestly, his mind flashing back to Chance.

"Maybe you should. It might help with rejoining the ranks of the sane."

Jake regarded her quietly for a moment, then bit off his reply about never having been there to start with. Instead he chuckled softly. "Why not? The worst they'll do is lock me up for my own safety."

"At this rate someone's going to."

He cocked his head slightly, looking at her with intense amber eyes. "Maybe." He accepted simply.

"Perhaps we should just eat," Kia suggested, reaching for the food and found him quietly passing things to her in the uncomfortable silence.

"I'm worse at this than I thought." Jake finally said quietly, an apology in his voice. "I didn't mean to ... whatever happened."

"There's only so many times that'll get you off the hook you know," she said seriously. "Eventually people will just decide you're like Selene."

"And simply steer clear," he nodded quietly, his tone low and accepting despite the fact that it hurt. "I do my best." He almost shrugged. "When that's not good enough ... I just try to accept what happens."

"You never considered doing better?"

"Do better ... than my best?" He looked at her funny, trying to work that concept in his head with limited success. "Just how do you manage that."

"You know, learning, growth, change. That process which enables us to be better than we were."

"That's tomorrow's best." He looked at her quietly. "I'm better at a lot of things than I used to be, but I always try my best when I try, whatever it means that day."

Kia snorted and shook her head. "That's a good way to talk yourself out of changing. Or even trying."

Jake looked at her, half confused, half hurt. "What would you suggest?"


"Yes, honestly." He nodded slightly. "I haven't started to try for no reason."

"Decide we're actually worth it."

The statement left him silent for a long time, his confusion at her words clear as he puzzled them out, and then longer as he tried to figure out what made her think he didn't think she was worth it.

Eventually, he cocked his head at her with a slight smile unlike any he'd shown her before.

"You do seem to always give me something to think about." He said softly in a manner that suggested he liked it and liked the challenged she presented him with.

"Well there's that much at least."

He regarded her across the meal he had prepared for a while. "Do you conceder us worth it?"

"Us?" There was a moment of confusion before understanding completely refigured her face. "Oh. Us. That's not what I meant. I was talking about katkind in general."

"Oh," he murmured, then nodded, trying to remember when it had been about katkind in general. Something in the back of his mind said it had been once, a memory of completely not coping when he thought he'd injured innocent people. It was hard to think back to them, without running into the wall of pain and betrayal that was the end of his life as Razor.

"Because all the isolation and paranoia might work for you, but it makes you a singularly difficult kat to be around," she continued, the blow softened somewhat as she made brief pauses to eat.

"Yes," he murmured softly. "And you know just how much you are asking me to change." He said quietly, a statement of fact much more than a question of her. "It won't be overnight."

"I'm not asking anything Jake," she brandished her fork in his direction. "You're the one who asked me."

"How much you are suggesting I change." He corrected himself, rolling his eyes a bit at the language fuss.

"So it's too much trouble then, is that what you're saying?"

"You could learn a little patience." He snapped, his face a second later displaying his shock at his own words, though he didn't take them back. "And no, I am not saying it's too much trouble." He added more evenly.

"I've got plenty of patience," she said, allowing a smirk to break across her face. "But you've got no idea how to be around people, and I'm afraid there's no way to gently introduce them to you in a manner which won't disrupt your schedule."

"'Gentle' and 'people' are not two words I would put in the same sentence." He shook his head slightly. "As for the rest about me, I don't doubt it."

"So there's going to be awkwardness. And you're just going to have to wear it."

Jake regarded her evenly for a time. "And are you willing to deal with it, and me, while I catch up socially?"

"Oh I don't give up on hard cases Jake," Kia chuckled. "And we could shatter tank armor with you."

"I think I have," he chuckled, though he was thinking back to physically doing so. "Just don't be surprised if you have to whack me upside the head with just why I'm doing this on occasion."

"Do I seem to you like the sort of person who'd back down from that?"

"Nope," he actually grinned at her. "Just making sure you understood that I'm expecting the help." He added much more softly, a difficult enough thing for him to say, especially now when he truly meant it.

"Oh I understand," she grinned. "Probably better than you."

"I really don't doubt it," he nodded, already emotionally drained by the evening and getting ready for it. "You really are something else, you know."

"Oh now you're just trying to flatter me," she said with a smile. "You know this is actually pretty good. Is there more?"

"In the oven," he nodded with a slight blush and stood to get the remainder of the stuffing that went with the bird still on the table. "Thank you."

"Just giving credit where it's due."

"And for the longest time I thought I was a hopeless cook." He chuckled and came back with a sizeable pot of the spicy bread and bits.

"Oh not by a long way," Kia chuckled. "Some single toms are just ... well, you wonder how they survive."

"Take out," he supplied, utterly deadpan. "Chance was a master of it."

"I guess so," she shrugged.

"Don't tell me he learned to cook too?" Jake raised an eyebrow.

"Furlong? I've got no idea."

"Ah, so the scuttlebutt doesn't cover everything after all." He sort of snickered. "I understand you are a professional gossip of sorts."

"Hey, my job involves talking to people all day. It's hardly my fault if they tell me things."

"No, it hardly is." He chuckled softly.

"In fact they're required to tell me things," she said, flashing a grin. "Kinda convenient, really."

"I expect it is," he couldn't help but chuckle. "But as long as I'm not, and actually in a mood to, did you have any questions you didn't find on your own?"

"Questions? All anyone's got on you is questions. Well except for that part about the Mayor, but with your name on the birth certificate it was only a matter of time before people linked that together."

"Something I could probably contest, if I really wanted to." He shook his head. "Still amazes me she did that, sometimes."

"She's got a thing for you," Kia told him in a slightly more suggestive tone than was really necessary. "Bad."

"I kinda figured that out," he shook his head. "I meant the kit, and never telling me before I left. She tried pretty hard to convince me to stay that time, and it would have worked too."

"Maybe she needed longer to make sure it'd taken. Can't do these things on a timetable."

Jake nodded, his manner clear that he took her word for something he truly knew nothing about and found a bit on the baffling side anyway.

"It's not like it matters that much," He said with an unconvincing shrug. "It's past."

"Your kit might see that somewhat differently."

"How it happened," he groaned slightly, a bit frustrated with never getting his words right with her. "Why I didn't know for the last ten years. It's past and there's not much to be done about it." He shook his head slightly. "I just wish his mother was easier to deal with." He rubbed the bridge of his nose gently.

"He's going to ask you one day why his Mum and Dad don't get along."

Jake couldn't help but chuckle, though there was no humor in the sound. "Already has. Or rather, he asked for my version, since he knew hers. Kit that smart is scary." He shook his head. "Makes me wish I'd paid more attention to how my parents ever managed to deal with me."

"You'll figure it out," she smiled.

"Before I make too big a mess of things," he nodded slightly, though his concern for doing just that was there too. "Though at least we have a few things in common to start with."

"You and her, or you and him?" Kia asked curiously.

"Me and him," he said easily. "The only thing I'm sure I ever had in common with Callie was a little attraction."

"Well she's got that in spades," the black kat chuckled. "Although it's not so hard to see why."

"What she wants is a daughter by me." He shook his head sharply. "And a compliant body in bed with her. I'm not interested in providing either."

"Well, that's new. I suppose it's good to know there are tomkats out there who aren't just trying to get into our pants."

"Not many," he admitted softly after a pause to translate it. "But as you've pointed out, social interests haven't been high on my list of priorities."

"You didn't need me to point that out for you though."

He paused again, regarding her curiously. "Maybe not, but you're one of very few that make me care about it."

"No-one should have to make you care about it Jake," she replied with a shake of her head. "Either you're interested in joining the feline race or not. Doing it for someone else's sake isn't going to work."

"Right," he cringed inwardly at the light it shed on his entire worthwhile life and tried not to just accept the statement as a dismissal of his efforts so far that it sounded like. "I guess I'm just not that far along." He shrugged instead, though it didn't come off nearly as nonchalantly as he'd hoped. "Too abstract to really deal with."

"Abstract?" She raised an eyebrow. "You work in a building with hundreds upon hundreds of kats in it each and every day. They're not exactly an intellectual exercise."

Jake sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he tried to find the words to make her understand.

"They're individuals. I deal with them a few at a time at most. katkind in general is ... harder to think about."

"You talk like you're expecting to make contact with some sort of gestalt entity," Kia chuckled softly. "Of course they're individuals. Everyone is."

Jake could only sigh as his head sank down a little to rest on the fingers at the bridge of his nose. It was getting far too hard to follow this conversation despite the apparently simple subject to her.

"Easy subject for you, hard for me." He said quietly.

"Let me put it his way then," she suggested. "You need to become interested in other people for their own sake. You need to stop seeing them as such a grievous intrusion on your solitude. Because we can tell, and it's really off-putting."

He nodded slightly.

"And somewhere between here and there, some good has to come of being with people in general." He said softly, knowing he was likely in for another retort he barely understood. "Even when I try, it doesn't seem to work out well."

"You're a bit of work to be around, it's true," Kia admitted, trying to make it as gentle as possible. "But you've got a lot of adjustment to go through. Attitude's more important than objective results."

That lifted his face up, the look on it as clear as any words that she'd just gone outside his understanding again by a good margin.

"I'll just have to take your word on that for now." He murmured softly, a spark of the old stubborn fire returning to smolder behind figuring this problem out.

"That might be a good idea," she nodded, stretching a little in her chair and setting her cutlery across her empty plate. "That was good."

"Thank you," he smiled, both at the complement and at the change of subject. "It's been ages since I've had any need to cook a real meal."

"Well I can only wonder what you were like at the height of your skill," she said, flashing him a smile.

"If you keep coming by, you'll find out." He blushed but smiled back. "I'll only get better with practice, and I rarely cook like this for myself."

"Maybe I will at that," she nodded.

Jake smiled softly as he slipped into Chance's home-like cell to watch the tabby focus on a shoot-em up game with an intensity that made him seem much younger and much more alive than he had since Jake had returned to the city.

"You're a little early aren't you?" Chance asked without looking up. "I didn't think you'd be back."

"Ur?" Jake blinked in confusion. "Shift was over an hour ago."

"Huh?" The tabby turned his head to see who his visitor was, and suppressed a sigh as the game machine announced his fiery death. "Oh, Jake. Sorry, I thought you were someone else."

"Sandy?" He nodded with a slight chuckle. "I just came by to see if you wanted anything I could bring."

"Well, yeah," the tabby said with a bashful grin. "I think I'm pretty much set up though. You did a good job with this place."

"Thanks," he smiled softly and moved to squeeze the tabby's shoulder. "You're looking a lot better too." He sank into a squat next to Chance. "Think this thing between you and Sandy is serious?" He asked softly, clearly having a place it was headed.

"I dunno," Chance said with a shrug. "If you'd said that before they locked me up down here I would have laughed. Now ..."

There were a few moments of silence and then a laugh Jake hadn't heard in much too long. "Still, I wouldn't know a real relationship if it bit me on the ass. I haven't exactly been a long term kinda tom."

"I guess that wouldn't make you very helpful when I'm trying to figure it out, hu?" He shook his head with a chuckle, inwardly thrilled to hear the tabby sounding so much better.

The tabby laughed and pokes Jake playfully in the side. "Jake's got a girlfriend!"

"Maybe," he shook his head with a bashful look. "She's a real pain right now, but I still want to be around her." He said softly, uncertainly. "It's kinda weird."

"Yeah, they have this habit of making you feel that way," Chance said, setting his hands behind his head and leaning back against the wall. There was something knowing in his look that Jake wasn't sure about. "There's a definite upside though."

"Yeah?" He cocked his head slightly, more than happy to hear it.

"Oh yeah. So who's the fem?"

"Kia Reven," he said, though he doubted Chance knew her. "Comms tech in the nexus. Solid black fur."

"Cute," Chance said, drawing the word out so it seemed to take twice as long to say as it should. "Young. Looks very flexible. Who'd have guessed it?"

The last two comments left Jake at an utter loss. "Flexible?" He prompted in confusion.

"It's a bonus. Trust me."

"Urr, okay." The word was drawn out, Jake's completely lost state clear in his body language and face.

"Trust me," Chance repeated, although he seemed to think something was rather funny. "You'll be glad for it when the time comes. So do you think it's serious with you guys?"

"As much as I can figure out," he said quietly, a bit unnerved by the tabby's answers. "There haven't been many people I want to be around like that. Never been a girl before either."

"Ah, relax. Enjoy it. It'll be good for you."

"You know, you are being almost as confusing as she is," Jake shook his head with something of a chuckle.

"As long as I'm not as irritating as that tiger is. I swear, no one else could come up with as many ways to ask the same question."

"Probably because he doesn't believe your answer." Jake guessed outright. "Sounds like it's a real pain."

"Because he wants me to talk about things I don't want to talk about," Chance shook his head. "He's clever though. And he doesn't give up."

"Probably why Felina chose him." He said softly. "I don't expect there are many that could actually crack you."

"He doesn't want to crack me," the tabby rolled his eyes. "He wants to persuade me. I'm not sure whether that's better or worse."

"Does it make a difference?" Jake cocked his head.

"I'm not sure. I don't like it."

"I bet," he murmured quietly. "Sounds like it sucks pretty bad."

"It's not the greatest thing in the universe. I'd much rather be out there doing what I'm supposed to do." He shook his head and sighed softly. "But this guy ... he's not so bad, really. He tries not to be a pain in the ass."

"At least there's that," Jake nodded slightly, grateful that things were getting at least a little better for Chance. "And you've got a few good distractions when he's not bugging you."

"Better than most prisoners get, that's for sure."

"Yeah," he nodded. "And the visitation rights are better too." He chuckled softly, though he flushed a bit at memories of Sandy's visits he wasn't supposed to have seen.

"Oh baby yeah," Chance said, his grin much too full of knowledge for Jake to be completely comfortable. "Definitely a bonus."

There was a bit of silence, too long, but not long enough for Chance to interject anything, while Jake got himself to ask what had been bugging him for weeks now.

"How do you know she's not going to end up with a kit of yours?"

"Because she's not burning," Chance said simply. "We've never been together when she was in heat. Almost, one time, I wasn't in much state to stop myself, but she did somehow. She really doesn't want kits."

Jake nodded slowly, working through what little he knew of what and how things happened and not all that reassured.

"Why do you ask?" Chance asked.

"Cause I really don't want to be a father anytime soon." He shook his head sharply. "And it's pretty obvious you figured out how to keep kits out of the picture."

"Don't do her when she's hot for it," Chance said with a shrug. "Of course it's a hell of a lot easier if she agrees with you about that."

"Yeah, I bet it is." He nodded and filed the conversation under 'unpleasant things to discuss with Kia.' "But how can you tell?"

Chance opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it immediately. After a few moments he did it again. "It's hard to explain," he said eventually, stating the obvious. "But they make you burn for them too. Bad."

A very slow nod greeted the statement as a couple things started to fall into place from ten years before, only to knock a few out of place in the present.

"Something experience usually teaches?" Jake half guessed.

"You'll know it when it hits you," chance nodded. "Or at least you'll know afterward ... you might be a little busy at the time. It's ... well it's different with each one, but it can get pretty wild."

"I'll keep that in mind," he nodded slightly, the back of his mind more confused that ever but grateful for the new information. "I imagine Sandy gets that way."

Chance closed his eyes and shook his head slowly, a grin spreading across his face. "Sandy ... it was like some sort of drug. I know I tore my shirt off, because I found it afterward, but all I remember was wanting to touch her, and taste her, and take her. Hell of a trip, wish we could do it without getting her pregnant."

"Sounds like it," he shook his head and let a small breath out. "Nothing like with Callie, then."

The tabby shrugged. "Maybe it takes them a couple of days to really get going. I dunno, Sandy likes to leave a kinda buffer zone to be sure. The only one who could tell you is she was hot is Callie." There was a brief pause as the tabby considered. "On the other hand, I've had fems in heat try it on me before, and it wasn't as strong as Sandy. Could just be her."

"Could be," he nodded and tried to relax with some success. "At least you don't have any trouble with it. Sounds like she does a real number on you."

"She doesn't need her heat to do that," Chance smirked.

"No, I don't expect so." He blushed brightly under his fur. "You two aren't exactly quiet, you know."

That caught Chance's attention. "Have you been peeping in on us?

"No, I was coming to visit and heard what you were doing," he mumbled, blushing even harder at what he'd seen since.

"And then?" Chance asked, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"I had other things to deal with," he squirmed, feeling the heat rising in more than just his cheeks now with memories of what it had made him thing about, and think about doing, and the couple times he'd almost kissed the tabby and let whatever happened next happen.

Chance laughed. It was as though Jake had made the funniest joke of all time.

"So did I!" The tabby managed once the overwhelming mirth had passed and he was more or less under control, leaving Jake at an utter loss once again.

This time the smaller tom shook his head and chuckled. "It's good to hear you laugh again, buddy."

Chance seemed to consider this for a moment. "Yeah, I guess that part's no so bad."

"You boys having fun without me?" Decidedly amused female voice caught them from the doorway.

"Hey," Chance said, his face lighting up in an entirely different way as he saw Sandy in the doorway. "Come in."

"I think that's my cue to disappear," Jake stammered, his arousal obvious as he hurried to his feet.

"You don't have to," she smiled at him. "We can behave."

"Yeah, it's not like we can't be in the same room with each other without starting with the clothes tearing," Chance agreed.

Jake glanced between the two tabbies, then shook his head with a low chuckle. "I should get going anyway. I do have a dinner to start on." He ducked around Sandy to the door. "Have fun."

"Wow ... scared him off quick," Chance said with a smirk. "How did it go?"

"As expected," she grinned and closed the door before she sat on the bed next to him and claimed a kiss. "Just what were you two talking about that has him so wound up?"

"Oh, just him listening to us doing what we do best." Chance grinned. "He'd never admit it but I think he kinda likes to watch."

"Oh, I'm sure he does." She laughed and shook her head in true amusement. "He does not get out nearly enough for his own good."

"Shows what you know," chance said playfully. "Jake's got a girlfriend."

"Really now?" Both her eyebrows disappeared into her loose hair. "Who managed that? Certainly not the mayor."

"Kia Reven," Chance told her, reveling in the juicy piece of gossip. "She's a comm tech in the nexus. A tight, perky comm tech."

"So you've played with her?" She purred with a teasing look. "I so can not picture those two together." She shook her head. "At least the mayor didn't ruin him completely, then."

"I've flirted with her, had a pretty thorough look. Looks like fun."

Sandy shook her head with a chuckle. "You have to admit, when he goes for something, he doesn't lack ambition. Kat aims high, between you and her."

"Me? Jake's not interested in me," Chance chuckled and shook his head.

She looked at the big tabby seriously for a long time. "He's been in love with you since before SWAT, Chance. You read the report, same as I did. His behavior since sure indicates it to me, given he doesn't have a clue what he's doing."

"If Jake was interested in me he would not have just run out of here like a startled kitten at the prospect of some fur showing," Chance said, almost amused by the idea. "And he wouldn't be dating Kia Reven, and he certainly wouldn't have put a kitten in Callie."

"Oh, baby." She murmured against his fur, her sadness at it showing. "No one makes it to forty with only one experience and turns out normal about it. Especially not the way it happened to him."

Chance almost replied and then stopped himself, drawing back a little from their close embrace so he could look at her face. "You're saying that Jake never ... the Callie was ... Fuck. Fuck. Kinda explains the questions though."

"He was asking about how to avoid kits." She barely had to guess. "With Kia."

"Yeah," Chance nodded. "Ended up with a pretty locker-room-ish conversation about burning blood."

"Which probably got him thinking about you," she shook her head with a bemused chuckle. "Or Kia, or both. Poor guy's probably trying to untangle just why he's even reacting." She said more quietly. "I just hope she's good to him. He deserves a little romantic kindness by now."

Chance paused for a moment, going back over the conversation. "I did mention that time when we almost ... although not in a whole lot of detail. He was more concerned about how you could tell if your partner was in heat."

Sandy nodded quietly. "Given what was likely his only sexual encounter resulted in a kitten he didn't know about for ten years, I can hardly blame him." She sighed slightly. "And given Callie is still after him, he's justifiably paranoid even if he wasn't interested in Kia. A 100% return rate for pregnancy is not what I'd call an encouragement to relax about it."

"No. Hell, if I had Callie hunting after me looking like she wanted another kit it's scare the fuck out of me ... let alone Jake."

"And that much is no rumor, in a pretty big way." Sandy said softly. "She wants another kit of his, and personally I doubt that she'd stop with just that." She shook her head a bit. "She wants him."

"Ugh, freaky. At least you only want me for my body," he said, smirking.

"Keep telling yourself that, hotshot." She grinned and kissed him soundly.

Chance looped an arm around her waist and pressed his body against hers. "You're a bad girl," he purred throatily.

"And you are a bad, bad boy." She grinned and claimed his mouth for a heated kiss. "Let's give your friend a show to remember, if he's still around." She whispered for only Chance's ears. The tom grinned as he slipped his hands up under her shirt, drawing her closer for another, hotter kiss.

Kia was happy to settle into the comfortable couch in Jake's living room with him next to her. That he'd thought to rent a movie to watch instead of just talk over dinner was an improvement in her mind. So was the fact that the apartment looked more lived in and personal than it had the previous week.

Still not a lot of stuff, but not so much a factory showroom look anymore.

The kat was hard to figure out sometimes.

Still, each time they spoke the extremity of his reactions seemed to be a little dulled. That could only be a good sign. With anyone else she might have expected to go out for dinner and a movie, but aside from the change in venue this had been a fairly pleasant evening so far.

Of course, the fact that he was a good cook and seemed to enjoy it covered most of why he always seemed to invite her over rather than out.

And he'd actually said he was going to take her advice and get counseling. It was a hell of a leap from two months before and their first date. He was still difficult at the best of times, but not nearly so bad.

As long as the mayor didn't come up at least.

Very occasionally Kia was curious about exactly what had happened there. Then she decided that she didn't want to know. She really didn't want to know.

She blinked suddenly as the credits came across the big screen TV and the choice of movies registered.

'Bloodwork' had made a big splash when it had gotten it cinema release ... although the controversy had mainly centered on just how it managed it. Although it had all the standard high-action elements and slick special effects, and did it well, the obligatory sexual subtext was not really 'sub' at all.

Kia hadn't been to see it during it's run, but it had been reported to contain scenes that wouldn't be out of place in restricted pornography.

It left her with a very serious question of what exactly Jake had in mind. The evening hadn't felt like he meant it to go any further than it usually did, and neither did his manner on the couch next to her.

But then, he was difficult to predict at best.

It made the hair stand up at the back of her neck nonetheless. Even if he hadn't meant to, and she knew that he never really meant to, he'd put her on edge and made her uncomfortable.

He was getting better at picking it up too, given how quickly he looked at her in the dimly lit room.

"Is something wrong?" Jake asked, his voice low and neutral.

"Why did you choose this movie?" She asked carefully.

"The clerk said it was a good action flick," he glanced at her uncertainly. "The box sounded pretty good."

"So it was recommended to you by someone?"

"Yeah, I haven't had much chance to catch up with what's good." He shook his head. "What's come out since I got back isn't on the shelves yet. You don't like this one?" He asked quietly. "I picked up a couple others."

"That might be a good idea," Kia nodded. "This one's a bit ... unusual."

"Urr, okay." He looked at her curiously but got up and popped the disk out and picked up the other two movie cases. "Shadow's Revenge or Red Sky at Dawn?" He offered her the choice.

"Revenge," she said after a moment's thought. "I don't think I've seen it."

He nodded and set the disk in. "What's so unusual about Bloodwork?" He asked as he sat down again, close to her but not unreasonably so.

"It's pretty much pornographic," she said, getting straight to the point and knew the instant the word registered that he hadn't had a clue.

"Oh," he swallowed nervously and nodded. "Not ... what I had in mind." He managed to stammer as the new movie's intro began to roll.

"I didn't think so," she nodded, relieved to hear that that was the case.

"Hi, Chance." Jake greeted the confined tabby with a slight smile. "How are things going?"

"Same as usual, really," the tabby said with a shrug. "Felina came down to see me the other day though."

"What did she want?" He prompted and sat on the bed, honestly curious both for his own reasons and because it affected Chance.

"I'm not sure," Chance shook his head. "She tried to make out like it was just a social visit but she's never done that before. I think maybe she's been talking with that psych guy."

"Kind of a given, I'd expect." He nodded quietly. "She brought him in, after all. I know she wants to keep tabs on how it's going."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure whether her showing up all of a sudden is a good thing or a bad one," Chance explained. "I know they think there's stuff I'm not telling them."

"Is there?" He asked softly, not wanting any details but curious all the same about the Tiger he was trying to figure out how to approach about his own issues.

"Well, yeah," Chance admitted after a moment.

"I kinda figured," he nodded and let his eyes slip closed for a moment, just taking in the sensations of a place Chance had been in for some time. "I think there's always something more."

"I just don't want to talk about some of that stuff." Chance said flatly. Like most kat's bedrooms Chance's scent had settled into everything in the cell, forming a complex mixture of emotions that lay over each other and blurred into each other until all that was left was a strong impression of the tabby himself. There was also a faint trace of a female, and although Jake didn't know her scent well enough to be sure Jake would have bet on Sandy.

It was a bit intoxicating in an odd way, so much like what he'd felt when Callie had first kissed him in her bedroom. What made the difference, though, was that he felt safe here. Even after their years apart and everything that went into their breaking up, Jake still felt like he could trust the tabby. At least most of the time.

"It's hard to blame you," Jake said quietly, trying to decide just what, if anything, to do about what he was feeling. "Hell of a lot of stuff I don't want to talk about either. Some things just aren't anyone business."

"Exactly," Chance agreed, with more force than Jake would have expected. "Some things are private."

"And they don't agree." He said quietly, sure of the truth.

"Maybe. They think it's part of the problem."

"Yeah, I bet." He sighed and shook his head. "I doubt they'll quit till you tell them everything."

"Well they'll be waiting a long time."

"Probably," he nodded. "Not that that'll stop them. She's stubborn."

"And he's persistent," Chance agreed. "Still, things do seem to be getting better."

"That's good to hear." Jake smiled for real. "You're acting like it is too."

"Well, you kinda caught me at a bad moment last time," Chance pointed out.

"Yeah, I know. It's still good to hear things are a bit better."

"Well. They are."

Jake looked over at the tabby he'd known most of his adult life and still hardly knew anything about. It was such a contradiction, and the last few weeks so surreal, that he found himself talking without thinking first.

"Ever been with a tom?"

"What?!" Chance turned his face towards Jake, his expression awash with shock and surprise. "Where the hell did that come from?"

"Something I've been thinking about. Too much, probably."

"Whoever you've been talking to has no idea," the tabby said firmly. "It was nothing like that."

"Okay," Jake looked at him with the total and complete bewilderment of someone who has just walked into an argument he didn't realize even existed. "What was nothing like what?"

Chance looked at him for a moment, confusion reigning before he realized the conclusion he'd jumped to was false. "Nothing," he replied weakly. "Don't worry about it."

"Right." He nodded, still at an utter loss for what was going on, but sure it wasn't worth pushing. It did a good job cooling what interest he had in sex for a while as well. "Guess I'm not the only one with a few issues there." He added softly, relieved on a level that it wasn't smooth for everyone.

"I am under psych watch, after all," Chance chuckled.

"Yeah, I guess so." He nodded hesitantly. "So how are things going outside of that Tiger?"

"OK," chance shrugged. "I get regular visits and it's comfortable enough in here. I'd still rather be out there actually doing something but they made it pretty clear that's not going to happen without tiger-boy's say so."

"And he's not going to until he's convinced you've told him everything." Jake shook his head. "Major not fun."

"Everything that he wants me to, anyway," Chance nodded.

Jake closed his eyes and sighed. He was chasing himself in circles and he knew it. His work was suffering. Not that anyone had commented, but he knew it was. Kia was beginning to drive him crazy, not in her actions, but by her presence.

He wanted her.

As terrifying as the idea was, he couldn't deny it anymore. He was beginning to wonder if he even wanted to.

And then there was Chance.

The tabby made him want to do things he couldn't even put a name too yet. But they all started with a kiss. One he had seen Chance share with Sandy often enough. Just the memory of it was enough to make his heart race and pants tighten.

He felt his claws dig into his palms for a moment, the pain cleared his head enough to make a choice. It was time to see the tabby, only not to talk for once.

He focused his mind to staying on task and knocked, as he always did. Chance's reply was muted, but expected and barely needed. He knew Sandy didn't knock anymore, but he wasn't Chance's lover, not yet, if ever. The air was even richer with Chance's scent than usual. He tabby himself looked up at him from the floor with a grin as he finished his set. He'd been doing push-ups, and Jake could see a damp patch beginning to form in the white t-shirt, running down Chance's spine.

The musk did something to him, though he had no name for it beyond recognition that it was what he usually felt.

"Hay, buddy." Jake smiled at him.

"Hey," Chance replied, standing and stretching signified the end of his workout. Muscles, swollen with blood, swelled and shifted beneath the shirt, which suddenly seemed a remarkably thin covering for them.

"So what's the big news?" Chance asked, the tabby's voice breaking the spell his physicality had briefly canst over the smaller tom.

"Very little," he took a breath and stepped closer to the source of that scent that enticed him. "Just a social call, really."

"A social call, huh? Well, I'm not in any position to turn away company." Chance wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead with one hand and sat down on the bed. "How's things up on the surface?"

"Pretty dull," he shrugged. "You get most of the good stuff in here movie-wise." He drew another breath and stepped into the tabby's personal space before he lost his nerve.

"Maybe, but you get most of it being-let-outside wise," the tabby replied, reaching under the bed and producing a clean shirt. He froze when he felt a strong hand brush through the bare fur of his back. His breath caught the hint of arousal over his own sweat, and it wasn't his own.

"What ... Jake?" He turned his head and found the other tom's mouth against his, Jake's inexperience and hunger clear in every place they touched.

Chance's body was warm and hard beneath Jake's hands, muscles already swollen and firm from his workout tightening even further as Jake boldly forged onwards. The tabby made a soft, startled noise as he found Jake's mouth against his, his lips parting slightly as he found himself in a situation he was completely unprepared for.

It didn't help that the other tom involved was at best just as unsure what should happen, but Jake's hands grew a little bolder when there was no resistance. The scent of Chance's body and strength were at least as intoxicating as Callie had been, and much less threatening.

The pair of them tumbled backward onto the bed, the tabby sandwiched between the bed and the increasingly amorous kat straddling his waist. Finally he managed to gather his wits enough to take hold of Jake's shoulders and shift him gently backwards so they weren't pressed together.

Their scents mingled in the narrow space between them, sweat and muscular exertion mingling with unleashed desire into a mixture that was nakedly, forcefully male.

"Jake," Chance's voice was unusually soft, trembling in a way Jake had never hear. "Just stop a moment."

The lean tom put up no resistance to the pause, looking down with dilated eyes and a quickening breath, but he was listening.

"I ... Why Jake?"

"I love you," he said steady. "I want this, you."

"What about Kia?" Chance asked softly. "What about Sandy?"

"When did you become exclusive?" He backed off just a bit.

"When did I ever have anyone who was around for more than two weeks?" Chance replied, then reached up to run a thumb over Jake's cheek and felt as much as saw the other tom shift into the touch. "Well, except for you. I don't really know what's going on there, but I don't want to screw it up. You understand that, don't you?"

He didn't say anything, but Chance could feel him nod against his hand. But neither did Jake move, caught between his loyalty, his nerves and that new part inside himself he didn't really understand.

The tabby made the decision for him, looping an arm around Jake and drawing him back down against his body, gently guiding the smaller kat's head to rest on his shoulders. "No one could help me when you went away," Chance admitted softly as his old partner closed his, eyes and relaxed into the contact, "Not even Ulysses. Don't leave me again."

"I won't." He promised in a tone the tabby remembered from twenty years before, when Jake had promised to protect the city, and his partner. This time though, it was a promise that Jake clearly understood in full and still gave. "Don't leave me." He asked, his voice nearly broken as a light tremor passed through his frame.

"I won't," Chance said, curling his arms around the smaller tom, enveloping him with fur and flesh and scent and banishing anything else.

Chance glanced up when he heard the door open. He wasn't sure how long later it was but Jake had fallen asleep where he was, resting on the tabby's broad chest.

He saw the smile before he realized who it was.

Still the realization made him tense up. He hadn't felt so close to Jake since everything had gone so wrong way back at the end of SWAT, and it had felt so good to have his ex-partner with him again, really with him, that he hadn't considered the consequences.

He certainly hadn't considered what might happen if his girlfriend walked in and found them looking so intimate, with Chance half-naked besides, but in that split second of recognition consequences seemed to be rushing toward him from all directions.

"So who kissed who?" She asked, her voice low, soft and approving as she slipped inside.

"He kissed me," Chance said, "And seemed like to would have gone on for a lot more, if I hadn't said anything."

She chuckled softly and sat on the bed to brush the tabby's hair. "It's sweet of you to stop him on my account."

"It's not just that," Chance explained, keeping his voice soft to keep from rousing the sleeping tom. "I mean, that was a lot of it but ... I've really only done this a couple of times, and it was quick, and kinda dirty, and it hurt. If what you were saying before is true then it shouldn't be like that for Jake."

"No, it shouldn't," she agreed softly and kissed Chance on the forehead. "And you're a sweetheart for even thinking of it. I can give you a little practical knowledge if you want."

Chance managed a lecherous grin even as his fingers gently straightened the fur between Jake's ears. "Thanks. I don't think I realized how much I missed him until now."

"At least you realized when you got the chance to." She told him softly. "Just let me know how things go, okay?"

"Sandy," Chance reached out and took hold of her wrist, squeezing it gently. "Jake and I ... I'm not looking for a boyfriend. This is different."

"I know, lover." She kissed his hand, her tone understanding. "It's a class all it's own. I won't be leaving you, understand? But you two need the time more than you and I do right now."

"Come back soon," he told her, without releasing her wrist.

"Love, I'd stay, but I don't think I should be in the bed when he wakes up just yet. I'll be back later tonight." She promised softly. "You worry about him. I've got a pretty good idea just how close to breaking he must be right now, if he made a move like that."

Chance nodded and let go of her, wrapping his arm back against the smaller tom snuggled against him. They both heard Jake sigh contentedly in his sleep and snuggle in a little more. "I've got him now," the tabby said, a strength back in his voice that Sandy hadn't heard in some time. "I won't let him down."

"I know you won't." She smiled with a mixture of relief and real pride. A quick kiss came before she stood and slipped out of the room, feeling better about the situation than she had since it started. Sure, Jake was going to cut into her time with Chance, but even when the tabby had denied it, she knew the smaller tom had always held a very big part of his heart.

Chance noticed Jake's return to consciousness largely from the half asleep nuzzle he got and the gradual shift in breathing.

"Hey you," Chance said softly, running his fingers lightly over Jake's back. "Have a good sleep?"

"Yeah," he smiled lazily and arched slightly into the pleasant touch. "Best in a long time."

"I missed you Jake," Chance told the smaller tom. "For a long, long time."

"Makes two of us," he murmured with a soft sigh, trying not to remember what had caused their separation. "It's over now though." He shifted slightly to nuzzle the tabby's thick neck. "Smells like she took it okay."

"Scared the fuck out of me for a moment," Chance said, chuckling softly. "Besides, it's not as though anything happened for her to be upset about."

"Somehow, I don't think that would matter to a lot of them." He shook his head slightly and kissed Chance's neck, his arousal evident against the tabby's side.

"To a lot of who?" Chance asked, raising an eyebrow as Jake settled down again.

"A lot of people." He explained, working off of something he'd seen but never understood. "Seems like lovers tend to blow up easy over finding somebody in their guy's bed."

"Sandy's not a lot of people," the tabby said with a grin, "She's not like any of the fems I've ever been with. And I think she was kinda expecting something like this to happen."

"She probably saw more clearly than either of us." He shook his head with a slight chuckle and ran his fingers through the thick fur on Chance's chest thoughtfully. "Looking back, I think a lot of folks thought we were together back in SWAT, or even before."

"Jake, I ..." The tabby took a deep breath. "You know I don't feel the same way about you as I do about Sandy. Right?"

"I know," he smiled faintly and stretched to kiss the tabby on the cheek. "That's ... honestly, I don't think that's what I want anyway."

Chance breathed out, and a visible tension flowed out with it. "Good ... I mean ... oh I dunno what I mean anymore. I just don't want us getting things all mixed up again."

"Yeah, I know." He let his eyes slip closed for a moment and just relaxed, finally realizing that a huge part of 'this feels good' was 'I feel safe.' "Neither do I."

The pair of them just lay together in silence for a few moments, sharing the companionship that neither of them had thought's they'd be able to recover.

"I should probably get dressed," Chance said eventually. "I'm supposed to be seeing tiger-boy soon."

"It's always something," he groused good-naturedly, though he made little attempt to move. Instead he looked up at the Kat that had been so much a part of his life even when absent and let out a small breath. "Thanks, buddy."

Chance leaned down to nudge Jake's cheek with his nose, his breath running in a warm current over the smaller tom's cheek. "It's OK Jake. I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're with me."

"That was one seriously fucked up ride to figure this out." He shook his head and shifted forward to kiss Chance lightly. "At least that part's over now."

"Yeah, mostly," Chance agreed, finding the shirt he'd been distracted from some time ago and pulling it on, then trying to smooth out the wrinkles that they'd put in it with his hands.

"Mostly?" He looked at the bigger tom, not following the response and half dreading the clarification.

"I'm still locked up underground," Chance pointed out.

"Yeah," he nodded, a bit relieved. "That'll be over with too. Not soon enough, but over."

"I hope so," Chance said with feeling. "I mean, as far as cells go this is pretty sweet, but it's still a cell."

"Maybe she'll let you out before they let you back on duty." Jake suggested hesitantly. "I mean, as long as you're cooperating, they really don't need to lock you up, do they?"

"Maybe," Chance shrugged. "I think they want to keep be close. Keep an eye on me."

"Probably," he agreed quietly.

"It'll be OK, eventually," Chance said, finally sounding like he believed it.

Jake walked to the conference room Felina had told him to meet Will in. He couldn't help feeling uneasy, not with what he knew of the White Tiger, but he still managed to show up without anyone pushing him more than they already had.

As alien as it was, a very real part of him did want the help.

"You must be Jake Clawson," the tiger said, standing and extending an arm across the table. "Commander Feral asked me to speak with you."

"Yeah," he nodded and forced himself not to duck his head before accepting the offered hand. "If you can put my ... former partner back together, I figured you could help me too." He said softly.

"You're a friend of Chance's then?" Will asked as he sat back down.

"Finally," a ghost of a smile crossed his face. "It's good to be home again."

"So what can I help you with?" The tiger asked, leaning back in his chair.

As much as the lean tom had known this question was coming weeks in advance, he still didn't have a very good answer. He rather doubted he ever would.

"I'm ... paranoid." He eventually got out with difficulty, his eyes downcast and heart pounding in his ears. "Somewhere in twenty years, I forgot why I did this, why I ever cared." His voice lowered with every word until it was barely a whisper. "I don't like it anymore."

"You don't like being paranoid?" the tiger asked gently, earning a look that told him far more than any words that the tom didn't really know what he wanted, other than where he was wasn't it.

"I don't like ... being alone." He managed. "I seem to remember I liked life once. Before it fell apart."

"Perhaps you should start by telling me about the time when you felt everything was going well. What's changed, what's stayed the same, that sort of thing. Take your time, and feel free to say anything that comes to mind. It's all confidential."

"Enforcer Academy," he answered quietly. "And maybe a year into SWAT it was too. We knew what we were doing, that we were the best and ..." Jake fell silent for a long time, his eyes on the floor as he struggled to explain something that was a eighteen year leap into the future and not well understood even at best. "And before I wanted anything more than friendship."

"And how does that differ from how you feel now?" The tiger prompted gently. "You no longer feel that sense of purpose, perhaps?"

"Haven't for a long time." He admitted quietly. "It's ... too hard to remember how to care anymore, about people." He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I remember I used to. I think."

"Why?" The question was posed simply, despite the depth that lurked beneath it.

"Hurt too much, then." He admitted slowly. "Now ... it takes so much effort to even remember I should. Devoted too much of myself to one kat, one pursuit. When that was ... taken away ... I just couldn't deal with anything anymore."

"Why would you want to if you were going to be exposing yourself to so much pain?" A shrug of the shoulders as the tiger leaned forward marked the question as rhetorical. "I take it this has just recently become an issue."

It took Jake a moment to figure out which answer the Tiger wanted. "Enough of one to try again." He let out a small breath. "Somebody wouldn't just accept it's what I'm like."

"Are you sure? I would imagine you'd find it fairly easy to convince people you don't care about them." Despite the words the tiger's voice kept a light, conversational tone.

"If I want anything to do with her." He nodded quietly. "Yeah, I am."

"Ah, now that is entirely different." The tiger told him. "Could it be that it has less to do with her accepting you and more to do with her liking you?"

"There's a difference?" Jake looked at him in bewilderment.

"Of course," he nodded. "Acceptance is a matter of our ability to change other people, most commonly by making them feel bad whenever they do whatever it is we object to until they stop doing it at all. Bullying, more or less. On the other hand everyone has the right to determine who they will and won't associate with, and a lot of us do so on the basis of personality. Has this person been actively making life difficult for you, or is it just a case of not wanting to be around your paranoia?"

Jake had to think about that pretty hard, running over all the times he'd spent with Kia before he said anything. It was very hard to keep his mind from screaming that she had target him for some unknown reason.

"I asked her out first." He started, trying to work it out out loud. "She's not making things difficult. She just doesn't like how ... badly I tend to overreact. I think."

"So you're pursuing her, and she's less than completely enthused?"

That made Jake think again, working through the tangle of memories and reactions that comprised their time together. "Something like that." He agreed a little uncertainly.

"Why do you think that is?" The tiger was watching him closely as he spoke.

"Cause I never checked into the society I protected." Jake actually shrugged, though Will wasn't the least bit fooled about how badly cinnamon tom was out of his depth trying to understand motives that weren't criminal. "Always too busy protecting the city to bother with anything else."

"No, I meant why do you think these behaviors of yours make her uncomfortable?" A finger on his left hand was gliding idly across the glass, describing a series of curves. "What is it she'd reacting to?"

Fear? Maybe, though he kind of doubted it. Frustration? Definitely, though it didn't quite fit either. Pity? It made sense, sort of. Maybe.

"Something I don't understand." He finally answered quietly. "Something about her world I'm not following yet."

"Her world?" The tiger pounced on the phrase. "Isn't it your world too?"

"Not till I understand it." He shook his head.

"Is there a reason you separate yourself like that?"

Jake cocked his head, regarding the big tom for a while. "It's all I know."

"You're a very intelligent tom, and a quick learner," the tiger replied, revealing a deeper knowledge of Jake's history than he had otherwise. "I think if you'd wanted to you could have turned that around without too much difficulty."

"If I could, why do you think I'm here?" He growled softly before catching himself.

"I'm not sure," Will said frankly, "But I don't think it's because you're incapable. Let's take a different tack for a moment. You said that you went to the Enforcer Academy. You had a partner, classmates, peers, rivals. One presumes you engaged in some form of social interaction."

It was difficult to think that far back, even before he ran across the parts that hurt enough to make him flinch. Even more difficult to make sense of the tattered bits and pieces of memories that actually had to do with people.

"I did my job," he started with difficulty. "Chance didn't seem to worry about it much. Never dealt much with anyone outside the job. Chance did most of that."

"I thought you said that was a time in your life when you felt contented," Will said curiously. "In control. Free of the dissatisfaction you describe."

"You asked when I felt things were going well." Jake corrected him. "Content, in control, free of dissatisfaction? That was a couple years ago." He shook his head. "When it was just me and the forest and that day to think about."

"In which case we have two cases which you've characterized positively," the tiger forged on towards his point, "Neither of which seem to include this sort of interaction at all. Why do you feel you need it now?"

"Cause I'm tired of being alone." He murmured. "Cause I want to make a difference again." He lowered his eyes as a bit of color came to his cheeks. "Cause I started to feel new things lately."

"Then there's the root of it," the bigger tom nodded. "This is not about a shekat. It's not about people failing to accept you. It's about you wanting to change. About you wanting to reach out. It's important to be clear about that."

"I thought I said that." Jake shook his head.

"No," the tiger said evenly, "When I asked you made it out as someone else's fault. That she was forcing these changes on you."

"Not what I meant." He shook his head. "She wants me to change, but that's all."

"It is what you said though," Will reminded him gently. "You are going to have to become more aware of how you speak, what you say but how you say it. You are communicating a great deal more than you suspect, and much of it is probably unintentional."

"That's easy enough to believe." Jake nodded, quiet and thoughtful.

"I suspect you have a great deal of thinking to do," the tiger said, standing up. "Commander Feral has asked me to stay for a while, and put myself at your disposal."

Jake nodded quietly. "At least when you are not working with Chance." He couldn't help the small smile that crossed his face at the thought of the big tabby. "He's still first priority."

"Chance is doing a great deal better," There was a slight hesitation before he continued. "I have recommended to the Commander that she consider releasing him, provided that he continues to see me."

"That's great." He lit up, easily focusing on the well-bring of the other tom. "I hope she agrees. It'll be good for him to have something to do again."

"I don't know that she'll want him returning to active duty," the tiger said carefully, "But at the very least it will be good for him to be able to walk around in the open again. It's been quite distressing for him."

"I know," Jake sighed softly. "It's been really creepy, seeing him in a cell for what he might do." He shook his head sharply, forcing memories from the end of SWAT from his mind. "It's not how it's supposed to work, even if her intent was good."

"Protective custody is not that unusual a concept, although I will admit that in general it produces a much less constructive standard of discussion. I think it's in everyone's best interests that he's allowed to go free."

"You'll get no arguments from me," Jake chuckled ruefully. "I've been on the other side of those bars and it's not great for positive thinking, or any thinking about the future, really." He sighed.

"I'll have to ask you not to mention it to Chance until the Commander has come to some sort of decision," Will told him. "It wouldn't be fair to get his hopes up before there was anything to be hopeful about."

"I understand," he nodded, utterly serious.

"Good. He's come a long way and I'd hate to see that jeopardized by any feelings of resentment that might arise."

"Yeah, he's had enough of those." Jake nodded again, a faint smile crossing his face again. "Sandy's been really good for him."

"Yes, although ..." There was a pause and the tiger shook his head. "Of course I really shouldn't be discussing it with you."

Jake nodded despite his intense desire to know what was going on "I know," he accepted it. "Same reason you won't talk about me."

"Precisely," the tiger nodded. "I know that the two of you are close, but I'm really not at liberty to discuss the things we've talked about."

"That's for him to decide," he actually chuckled slightly and shook his head. "It's godda be weird, having to censor yourself like that."

"You get used to it," the larger kat assured him. "And they're not really my things to share in the first place."

"I expect so," he nodded thoughtfully. "It's not quite the same as SWAT was for us."

"Not quite," Will agreed.

"Nothing is quite like it." He smiled faintly, back in his memories again for a moment. "But even further in the past than what's bothering Chance."

"Chance's situation is complex, and that is really all I can say. Perhaps you should try speaking to him yourself."

"That's going somewhere I'm not ready to not hate yet." He murmured, abruptly averting his eyes. "Not even close to it yet."

"Well, that's up to you."

Jake nodded, struggling to control the memories and half-memories that were still ready to rip him apart inside on little notice.

"Perhaps you require some time to yourself," Will suggested gently. "To consider."

"I'm not going to run again." He rumbled, not quite a growl but highly agitated all the same as sharp claws drew a few drops of blood from his palms. "Never again."

"All the same, you need to consider what you will do, what you want to do, and that's not something that someone else can tell you." Will's voice was gentle but firm, a tone he'd probably had plenty of practice using. "Give it some thought before we meet again."

Jake nodded, catch the dismissal this time. "I will." He promised and pulled himself outwardly normal together with a level of skill that did not match well with his apparent social knowledge before he stood and extended his hand.

"I'll look forward to seeing you again," the tiger said as he shook Jake's hand and watched the walking contradiction leave with a less than wonderful feeling about how this was going to go.

"I'm impressed," Kia's voice made Jake start as he came out of the locker room, his fur now in perfect order despite the intense combat training he'd spent the last two hours at. It had been harder than he though it would be, but how much it exhilarated him was still etched in his every move and look. "And all this time I thought you were the stay-at-home type."

"Stay at home?" He looked at her a little uncertainly with a welcoming smile that was missing most of his usual shyness. "Good to see you." He added as an afterthought.

"Well, you haven't really given the commando impression so far," Kia said with a smile. "And I've never had to actually hunt you down before."

"Sorry," he ducked his head with an apologetic grin. "But it's been kind of crazy with the extra training and Will trying to crack my head on top of everything. I'd really had forgotten how much I like being this active."

"Good," she said with a smile and a nod. "I'm glad you're getting back into the swing of things."

"Eaten yet?" He asked and motioned to her to follow him out of the training area.

"No, I was hoping to drag you of and have lunch with me."

"Cool, I'm starving." Jake chuckled and stretched his arms up as he walked, unintentionally displaying the muscle and condition he'd put on in the last two weeks. "Anywhere in mind?"

"Somewhere quiet, I think," Kia said with a smirk. "It's been a hectic week."

"That's putting it mildly." He chuckled. "Cardin's?"

"Sure, that'd be fine," Kia nodded. "As long as Furlong won't be there."

"He's probably with Sandy." He shot her a curious look. "Why don't you want to see him?"

"Have you seen him lately?" Kia asked, rising an eyebrow. "I'm glad he's around again as well, but the flirting is a bit much."

"That's just Chance." He chuckled as they walked. "It's good to have him himself again."

"He's just a bit too happy to take in more than small doses at the moment," she chuckled lightly. "I'll never guess how Sandy does it."

"She's as bad as he is." He cracked a knowing grin at her.

"It's probably the only possible defense," Kia laughed.

"It makes them a good pairing too." His grin widened. "She's good for him."

"I don't doubt it," Kia chuckled. "He's certainly it a boisterous mood since he's gotten out."

"That's Chance for you." Jake chuckled and grabbed his helmet. "Ride behind me, or do you want to take your own car?"

"I'm not big on bikes," Kia said, shaking her head. "I'll meet you there."

He smiled at her and nodded. "In a few minutes then."

It didn't take Kia long to spot Jake amongst all the people crammed into the pizza bar, although she was glad he's already gotten a table. There was a bigger crowd than she'd been expecting.

He was grinning at her when he waved her over. "Not exactly quiet today," he chuckled. "Grab your lunch. I'll keep the table."

"Thanks," she said, flashing him a harried grin before heading off to assemble her meal. She took an extra slice more than she usually would, hungry after a busy morning. Jake was up and after his own meal as soon as she was in possession of the table, and was clearly not joking about how hungry he was.

"So how are things going for you?" He asked conversationally as he sat down with a full plate.

"Busy," she sighed. "I'm not sure what the hell's going on but I've seen major operations that demanded less comm-routing than this. It's just been crazy."

"Sounds like everybody's week." He shook his head a bit between bites. "Something's winding up in a big way. Hopefully Felina'll clear me before it blows up."

"Yeah, well, I'll be just as happy to stay behind, frankly."

"Saves those of us who like fighting from desk jobs." Jake chuckled.

"Saves those of us who like safety from fighting," Kia responded with a grin.

"When you're lucky." He grinned back. "But that'll be my job again soon enough."

"I dunno, you were pretty impressive of that training field." Kia managed a smile around the slice of pizza she was eating. "Maybe the Commander will decide you're more useful out in the field."

"That's what I meant." He explained more quietly. "I'm going for commando. Maybe not Razor again, but the same job."

"It'd make sense, I mean you used to be paired with Chance after all." There was a pause as she considered that thought. "Then again, he might prefer to work with Sandy."

"Or stay solo." He nodded easily. "It's not like he's on active duty yet."

"I wish he'd get on with it and give the female population a break," she groused good-naturedly. "I mean he's great to look at but it's not as if we've got a chance with him."

"Never know without trying." He winked. "Stranger things have happened."

"You've seen the way those two look at each other, right?" She raised an eyebrow. "I've had sex that wasn't that good."

"Yes, I've seen it, and a lot more." He chuckled, bordering on a laugh. "And they are seriously hot on each other, but it's hardly a that exclusive."

"You've seen them together?" Surprise was obvious in her voice as well as her raised eyebrows. "Well, you're just full of surprises."

"He's still important to me." He shrugged with a chuckle. "I keep an eye on him when he's in trouble."

"That's an interesting definition of trouble you've got there," she laughed.

"Oh, he can get into trouble doing nearly anything," he rumbled in amusement, deciding not to bring up the 'medical leave' he'd meant by it.

"Oh I'm quite sure he can handle himself in that department."

"And whoever's in the room." He winked.

"I bet," she nodded.

"So any idea when you're getting an evening off?"

"Ask the commander," Kia rolled her eyes. "Sometime next century. Most of the data core is pulling double shifts."

"Would you like to have dinner and a hot bath ready for you sometime?" He asked almost hesitantly." Or are you just crashing as soon as you get home?"

"That might be nice," Kia admitted. "Aren't you as busy as everyone else though?"

"Probably," he chuckled weakly. "But I'm not as much on sleeping. Four hours and I'm good for the day."

"Four hours? You'd best get more than that if you're going to be back on commando duty."

"Why?" He cocked his head. "It's all I've ever needed."

"On commando duty?" She didn't sound like she believed him. "You must be the Energizer Bunny's cousin or something."

"As Razor," he nodded with a shrug.

"You and he have different body or something?" Kia asked skeptically and got a really weird look for it.

"Now who's suggesting weird things?" He snorted. "Of course the same body. I just don't need much sleep, and if that wasn't commando level activity, nothing is."

"Well that would probably do it," she admitted.

"I'd hope so. I don't think I want to know about the job that's harder than that one."

"I'm sure there's one out there, although I think you're right. It's probably not a whole lot of fun."

"Or belongs to someone with an ever stranger sense of fun than me." He smirked slightly. "Which is not likely a good thing."

"It would be a bit worrying," Kia agreed lightly.

"I think they're some of our opponents." He chuckled with a shake of his head. "I can't imagine Dark Kat had a normal sense of fun. His sense of humor was definitely warped."

"Dark Kat was just warped full stop," Kia pointed out. "Nothing even remotely sane going on there."

"Just brilliant and determined." He nodded, an odd kind of respect in his voice.

"But insane," Kia pointed out. "The rest of it doesn't make much difference without that."

Jake paused in his meal and regarded her steadily. "It makes a huge difference, Kia." He informed her quietly. "Stupid ones get caught easily. Undetermined ones give up. It's the ones like Dark Kat that make life hell for years."

"Well, yes," she admitted, "But what did his brilliance get him, really? His ass kicked repeatedly."

"Something that wouldn't have happened without two outlaws." Jake pointed out quietly, even a little bitterly. "He would have won more times than I can remember if it was just Feral and Enforcers protecting this city."

"The enforcers beat him back more than once," Kia reminded him, her voice a little sharper. "You guys did a good job, but it's not like you were the only ones out there."

"*After Feral got his act together." He snorted. "You weren't even around when it was SWAT that had to handle damn near everything and he was useless except as bait."

"It's a wonder we ever survived long enough for you to turn up," Kia rolled her eyes.

"Not much on history, are you?" Jake shook his head slightly, his tone even again. "Dark Kat was the first Omega. He'd only appeared twice when Chance and I went up against him the first time, and at that point, he was still the only one. The security needs of the city changed pretty seriously about twenty five years ago, and changed again twenty years ago."

"Sure Jake, whatever you say."

He simply shook his head and let things fall silent as they ate.

"Well, I guess I should be heading back to work," Kia said as she finished up. "With things as busy as they are I won't be able to get away with stretching my lunch break."

"Probably not." He nodded and made quick work of his last slice. "Give me a call when you'd like that dinner and hot bath, okay?"

"Sure. I'll let you know." Kia's voice was as brisk as her actions as she stood, brushed a few crumbs off her pants and headed off the pay for her meal.

"Hay, Chance." Jake waved at the burly tabby as he was doing his post flight checks.

"Oh, hey Jake!" The tabby was obviously surprised to see him, and pleasantly so. "What are you doing here?"

"Tracking you down, silly." He chuckled and came up to lean against the stunt plane. "Wondering if you could spare the time for dinner at my place."

"Dinner?" The tabby thought about it for a moment. "Well I've been spending most of my nights at Sandy's place, but I could probably manage. When were you thinking?"

He chuckled and shook his head. "Tomorrow?"

"Sure," Chance nodded, then leapt off the side of the plane to land beside Jake. "I think I can arrange that."

"If not, just give me a night." He chuckled softly and shifted to touch the tabby's body lightly against his own. "I can usually count on getting off by nine."

"Sure," Chance nodded, either not noticing or not objecting to the touch. "But if you don't hear from me, expect me tomorrow."

"No problem," he nodded and relaxed a bit. "I'll try to make it worth the evening away from Sandy."

"You're not competing with Sandy," Chance laughed. "You should know that."

"I didn't mean it like that," he bapped the tabby playfully.

"That's sure what it sounded like you meant," Chance said, flashing him a positively indecent grin.

"Kia wasn't kidding about you." He chuckled.

"I should hope not," the tabby replied, his affront obviously faked. "I'll have you know I'm a kat to be taken seriously."

"Right..." He couldn't help but smirk up at him. "Only when you're in the air. Down here, you just like teasing everybody."

"Me? A tease? Oh you haven't seen anything yet buddy."

"Oh?" He looked at the tabby with an utter dare in his dark amber eyes. "All talk and no action, mmm?"

"You know better than that," Chance laughed.

"Oh, but I'm hearing differently." He chuckled.

"Then you're not talking to the people getting all the action," Chance laughed.

"You mean there's more than one?"

"Maybe," the tabby said with a secretive grin.

Jake just shook his head and chuckled. "Kia will be furious. You are driving her crazy, you know."

"She's your girlfriend. It's not my job to keep her happy."

"She's not my girlfriend." Jake rolled his eyes. "We're barely friends."

"That's not what you said to me before," Chance teased him.

It forced the lean tom to think back and he came up blank on the reference. He remembered the hope of it, talking to Chance a bit about it, but not actually claiming anything.

"besides, even if she's not it's not as though I have to clear my bedroom habits with her," the tabby laughed.

"Hardly," he shook his head. "She just hates what flirts and she can't catch."

"I flirt with everyone," Chance chuckled, "Always have. That doesn't mean I'm doing half the Tower."

"You never flirted with me." The lean tom pointed out with a snicker.

"I flirt with everyone female," Chance corrected himself lightly. "And unless you've had some sort of operation you haven't told me about, you're not one."

"Nope, not that one."

"Good," Chance said with a grin. "That's be a bit weird."

"No kidding." He shook his head. "If you had, that would be even weirder though."

Chance laughed and gave Jake a playful poke. "No danger of that. There'd be rioting amongst the female population."

"I doubt it." He smirked back. "Only the ones who actually get a piece of you."

"Shows what you know," Chance bragged.

"I guess that bit about not screwing things up with Sandy was just to get me to back off." He shrugged easily.

"You don't have to fuck people for them to like you you know," the tabby said bluntly. "And you don't have to be intending to fuck them to joke around a little."

"Right." Jake nodded, completely lost by the turns in the conversation.

"So do you feel like laying off my sex life? It's really not up to you."

Jake simply nodded and shut his mouth, chocking up one more complete failure to socialize properly. And this one with a Kat he'd managed to live with for a long time.

"Anyhow, I've got to get going," Chance said, doffing the irritation that had come over him easily and returning to his normal exuberance. "I'll let you know about dinner."

"Sure, I'll see you later." He nodded and headed off to his motorcycle.

It took Chance a little while to find Jake's place, despite having made sure to get the address beforehand. It was fairly high density housing, and the last time he'd been here he hadn't exactly been in the best state to remember the way.

The thought gave him a twinge. He'd assiduously avoided anything alcoholic since his 'release', to the point where he'd asked Sandy about her liquor cabinet before he'd gone around to her place. He really didn't want to face up to that test just yet.

Thankfully it was very unlikely to be an issue tonight. If he knew Felina at all then one round of being dragged into her office for letting him drink would be more than enough for Jake not to do it again. What Jake was going to do was an entirely different matter entirely.

The cinnamon tom was still a mystery. There were times when he behaved just like Chance remembered and it was as though nothing had ever happened. There were just as many when he behaved like a total stranger, and Chance was reminded just how little he'd ever known the kat in the first place. It left him feeling less than entirely comfortable as he stood outside Jake's door, or at least what he was pretty sure was Jake's door.

He took a deep breath, made a token effort at straightening his clothes, and knocked. The door opened a moment later, letting the smells of a varied and flavorful meal waft out to me.

"Hay," Jake grinned at him from the opening, then opened the door the rest of the way and stepped aside. "Glad you made it."

"Took me a little longer to find it than I thought," the tabby admitted, his nose twitching at the smell food.

"Well come in already." Jake snickered. "Follow that nose. It's almost finished."

"Uh, yeah," Chance shook his head at himself as he entered the flat, slipping his jacket off his shoulders as he came in. There was no surprise in the plain black t-shirt beneath. "So how've you been? Haven't seen you so much since I've been out and about."

"Okay," he replied as he headed back into the kitchen to finish the meal. "It's crazy between a heavy workload and all the extra training to get my commando cirts."

"I'd heard you were going back into that sort of thing," Chance nodded. "Kinda surprised me."

"Me too, at first." He nodded as tasted a white sauce. "But I haven't felt this good about anything in a long time." He added several pinches from various powders on the counter to the sauce and stirred it a bit more.

"That's usually a good sign," Chance nodded, his nose making tiny movements from side to side as it sorted the array of enticing scents. "Have you thought about a codename?"

"Not much." He admitted and picked up the sauce pot to pour it over a pasta and bird dish in a large glass pan from the oven. "I'm still rather partial to Snapshot and Razor."

"Snapshot's probably just as descriptive as it used to be," Chance chuckled.

"Even more." He grinned at him. "I'm actually faster than the last record I set in uniform."

"I didn't think that was physically possible," Chance smirked.

"Neither did Captain Kimar." Jake grinned and brought the pasta dish to the table. "Till I showed him the hard way."

"Oh that would have made you popular," Chance chuckled as a large roast bird was added to the mouth-watering meal.

"Hay, it's not my fault the guy won't believe what he hasn't seen."

"And you just had to rub it in his face, didn't you?" Chance chuckled and shook his head, the tip of his tongue tracing over his lips as he contemplated the food Jake was laying out. He'd remembered enough of their time together to provide plenty.

"I didn't have to." He smirked and motioned Chance to sit down. "Everyone else there did it for me. What do you want to drink?"

The question produced a momentary widening of chance's eyes, until he realized Jake didn't mean alcohol. "Soda," he said firmly, "If you've got it."

"Sure. Kat Cola?" Jake offered as he poured himself a frosted glass of milk.

"That'd be fine," Chance nodded.

"Go ahead and serve yourself." He chuckled at the tabby's glances at the layout as he poured the soda. "There's plenty."

"There is now anyway," Chance chuckled as he tried to decide what to begin with. In the end it was the roast bird which won out. "Might not be when I'm done."

"If it looks like it, I'll just set a second round to cook." He grinned and put the drinks on the table. "Just don't forget there's desert too."

"Chocolaty dessert?" The tabby asked with a raised eyebrow.

"More than one." He grinned. "I knew that one hadn't changed."

"Some things never change," Chance replied. He was probably grinning, but it was hard to tell as he started to feed himself.

"Quite true." Jake chuckled slightly and served himself hearty portions of fowl, pasta, marshmallow fruit salad and garlic bread. "Including that look you get when you're enjoying a meal."

"I like to enjoy myself," Chance managed around a mouthful of food. "Sue me already."

"Not a chance." Jake grinned widely. "Makes you easy to please."

"I suppose it does at that. This is really good," he added unnecessarily, given the speed with which he was devouring it.

"Yeah, I never managed it."

"That just makes you all the more interesting to the good cooks."

"Well Sandy's never seemed to mind," Chance nodded, pausing to take a couple of swallows from his drink.

"I'm sure she doesn't." He elaborated. "An appreciative audience makes it more fun."

"Something like that," Chance nodded. "And I'm pretty much the most appreciative guy you're gonna find."

"It hasn't gone unnoticed, believe me."

"It usually doesn't," Chance laughed. "Sandy says it's kinda hard to miss."

"She's right about that one." Jake laughed easily. "But then just about anything good about you is hard to miss."

Chance leaned back in his chair and laughed, and it was good to hear him really laugh again. It was that full-body laugh that Jake remembered from before, the one that seemed to come up from his belly through his chest and then erupt out of his throat.

"It's been a while since I heard that." Jake smiled at him.

"Well that's cause you took off for ten years," Chance said, leaving an uncomfortable moment afterward as Chance didn't know where to go from there. After a moments indecision he decided the best thing to do was start easting again.

"I took off cause the only person who mattered to me left me." Jake countered quietly. Despite the pain that still existed, he wasn't really angry anymore.

"I shouldn't have said that," the tabby said, much more subdued again. "Sorry."

"As Will keeps trying to drill into me head, it has to be dealt with eventually." He sighed and sipped his milk. "Wasn't in my plan for tonight, but it's out now."

"She's got the tiger stuck into you too now huh?"

"She didn't." Jake shook his head. "I asked for his help."

"Better than the other way I guess."

"It would be, if he was better at faking he believed I was there cause I chose to be." He admitted quietly, studying a piece of meat before nibbling on it. "That's one thing you shouldn't have to fight to get."

"Will doesn't lie about anything," Chance said, sounding like he spoke from experience. "If he thinks you're dicking him around then he's not shy about letting you know."

"Not with me." Jake shrugged. "It just comes up often enough to make it hard to believe him about anything, 'sept when he makes sense."

"You'd rather he lied to you?" Chance asked, a little surprised. "And I've always found he makes more sense than I'd like."

"I'd rather he was honest with me." He snorted. "All the time, not just when it's convenient for him. If he thinks I'm lying, I want to hear it right then, not weeks later in some kind of package lecture about how I need to be doing this for myself. And yes, I told him that."

"But you said that you knew he thought you were lying," Chance said, confused.

"Yeah, he thinks I'm lying. I just don't know about how much of what I say he thinks is a lie. He's said outright that he doesn't believe I'm there because I want to be. What else he thinks is a lie is what I don't know." He sighed and leaned back in real frustration. "If I had anyone else to turn to, I wouldn't put up with it, but he's what's on offer and I can get some use out of it."

"Like I said, if he thought you were shitting him you'd know. To be honest I kinda had to respect him for that, even when I was hating his guts."

"So he never let anything he though was a lie slide for weeks only to bring it up later?" Jake focused on him completely.

Chance thought about that for a while. "I don't think so. Sometimes I said things that made him think other things I'd said might not have been on the level, but I don't remember him trying to ambush me."

"Ambush? No, nothing like that." Jake shook his head. "He just doesn't believe I'm there cause I want the help or that I enjoy commando training and I do." He said quietly. "He hasn't called me on a couple lies I said intentionally, and does when I'm telling the truth. It's frustrating as hell to be called a liar when you aren't given his job."

"So ... in other words you're actively making it hard for him to do his job, and you're upset because he's not helping you?"

Jake glared at the tabby for a moment before running the conversation through his mind again.

"Just what makes you say I'm actively making it hard for him?"

"You're deliberately lying to him, second-guessing everything he says, getting into some sort of I'm-smarter-than-you-are pissing contest. No wonder he doesn't think you really want the help. I don't think I would either."

Jake regarded him quietly for a long moment as something broke inside him at this statement from the one he still cared about more than his own life. When his eyes closed it was to fight the tears of pain again. When he opened them the hollow numbness he felt showed in his amber gaze.

"Then I guess I don't." He shrugged without managing the wished-for nonchalance. "And I just asked for the help and keep going back cause I'm some kind of masochist."

"Jake." Chance's voice wasn't level either. The tabby pushed his chair back and walked around the table to his ex-partner, then didn't seem to know what to do when he got there. He settled for resting a hand on the other kat's shoulder and squeezed it gently, not at all encouraged by the complete lack of response to it. "Maybe you do, but you can't stand to actually get it. Not uncommon amongst SWAT Kats."

"More likely the tiger's right." He shrugged, hurting past any other sensation as he fell into a welcome numbness. "It's not like it matters, really. It's more trouble than it's worth."

"He's right a lot," Chance admitted. "But if it doesn't matter, why is it bugging you so much?"

"Cause I had this asinine idea I wanted somebody in my life again." He snorted. "And the stupidity to fall for the first person that was nice to me. Again. Just angry with myself."

"That doesn't make much sense to me," Chance admitted. "I suppose I can go if you want."

"You never lacked attention." He said quietly and shrugged as his mind and body found a kind of equilibrium again in old familiar places. It may be lonely, but at least didn't keep calling him a failure on a regular basis. "You might as well go back to Sandy. She'll be better company."

"Jake, if something's wrong you just have to say so," Chance insisted. "The way you're behaving ... I have no idea what's up with you."

"You never did." He countered quietly and leaned back in the chair. "What's wrong is that I'm trying to be someone, something, I'm not, because I made a some stupid mistakes trying to have the ... trying to have a home after you left." He closed his eyes slowly and let the silence drift for a moment. "I looked for it with others, when it's just not going to happen."

Chance was silent for a moment, thinking that through. "So why put yourself through it? I still don't understand."

"Because I wanted a home again." He sighed. "I wanted to belong somewhere again."

Chance shook his head. "I can't figure this out Jake. Every time you open your mouth you say you want something completely different."

"If you want simple answers, you should stay away from ... how did they put it ... the emotionally dysfunctional." Jake's voice was still level and low. "The two just don't mix."

"So that's what this is about?" Chance didn't know whether to be hurt or angry, or both. "You invited me over to tell me to stay away?"

"No." Jake sighed, already past any ability to take offence at being misunderstood. It was just too much a part of daily life. "I invited you over because we haven't spent much time together lately, and none since you got out."

"So why all the aggravation?"

"'Cause it came up." He said simply. "Sometimes unpleasant topics do that."

"Alright then," Chance said, shaking his head and taking his seat again. "How about we move on to something else then?"

Jake nodded quietly and made a small effort to eat, knowing better than to try to talk right now.

Chance occupied himself in much the same way, although with a good deal more enthusiasm. He finished off the roast that he'd gotten himself and then went on to the pasta Jake'd been preparing when he arrived.

He worked through that in the same silence, finishing his third plate as Jake finished his first.


"Sure," the tabby said, unable to hold back a grin as he pushed the last plate aside. "I've still got room."

"I've never known you not to." Jake chuckled weakly and stood to bring out a chocolate fudge cake and chocolate chocolate chip ice cream to go one it and fresh plates for them both.

A deep purr rose out of the tabby's chest as he licked his lips, delighting in the sight.

"After I get my slice, the rest is at your tender mercies." Jake managed a grin as he cut himself a slice and added the fudgey ice cream.

"Are you sure about that?" Chance asked, smirking. "There's probably not going to be a second chance."

"I can always make another." He chuckled a bit and moved the cake and ice cream to where the tabby could claim them, which he quickly did.

Silence fell across the table again, both of them impaired in their ability to speak on account of the ice-cream filling their mouths.

The quiet drew onwards, to and past the point where either kat could have denied the fact they were avoiding conversation. Chance, with a much larger quantity of ice-cream to work through at least had something to occupy his attention, while Jake was left to picking the remains of the dishes and a bit of cleaning up.

"That was good." Chance said eventually.

"Thanks," he nodded and picked up the rest of the plates.

That left Chance fumbling in silence again, not sure what to say.

"Want to take the leftovers home?" Jake offered absently.

"No, that's OK," Chance shook his head. "Sandy's real good at making that sort of stuff."

Jake nodded and finished putting the food in the refrigerator.

"Well ... uhh ... What now?" The question could have meant so many things.

"Up to you, really." He said without a trace of what he may want showing. "I haven't gotten much by way of entertainment."

"Right," Chance fumed, frustration and confusion boiling to the surface. "What the fuck is going on kat? You didn't invite me over so we could eat in uncomfortable silence, and then sit around in uncomfortable silence afterward."

Jake looked at him, a haunted look in his eyes for a moment. "I didn't have anything specific in mind. Uncomfortable wasn't on the guest list."

"You had a great deal in mind for the meal," Chance pointed out. "And it was really good aside from the nonsensical ranting between courses. You know, I've been trying really hard not to feel uncomfortable and kinda get to know you again. But you're unknowable, and I'm getting the impression you like it that way."

Jake sighed and shook his head, his gaze on the ground. "Maybe I do. Maybe I'm as screwed up as you were. Maybe I just don't know what I want. Probably all three and a lot of resentment mixed in."

"There's none of us can do anything about all that but you," Chance said, more gently. "Well maybe Will, if you stop screwing him around and work with him. Take it from me, it's really really easy to make sure you're not helped, even when they've got you locked down."

"The only question becoming whether it's worth it." He shrugged. "Which, of course, is another thing for only me to deal with."

"Pretty much," Chance nodded. "You have to actually start making these decisions instead of just letting them drive you crazy."

"Which makes it pretty pointless for you to stick around." He shrugged. "I'm sure listening to me argue with myself isn't anything you want to deal with."

"Not really," Chance admitted, then stepped forward and drew the smaller tom into a brief embrace that felt like it wasn't all that welcome. "But I do want to be here for you Jake. When you finally settle on something to say you just let me know, and I'll follow on as best as I can."

"I'll let you know." He promised quietly.

"OK. I'll see you round, right?"

"Yes," he nodded again. "I'll be around."

"Good. Be well Jake."

"You don't look so good." Sandy's voice held real concern when she spotted Chance walking into her apartment.

"Not the best night," Chance nodded as he flopped down onto the couch next to her and was quickly drawn into a warm embrace.

"What happened? You two seemed to be getting along pretty well."

"Yeah, I thought so too," the tabby sighed, nuzzling against her cheek. "But something's going on with Jake. I don't know what the problem is, exactly ... hell, I don't think he knows what it is either, but it's really eating at him."

"Think he's ... a danger to himself?" She asked softly and very seriously. "Be honest with me here."

"No," Chance shook his head. "No, I don't think he'd do anything like that. He's just got some serious stuff to figure out. I wish I could do something but I couldn't even figure out what the questions were, so you can forget about the answers."

"Honestly, I'm not too surprised." She nuzzled him gently. "He's got a very different history, a different way of looking at nearly everything from it. Hell, he's got different needs even. I'm amazed you got along as well as you did all that time."

"Well we didn't, if you really think about it. Otherwise I wouldn't have had to read all that stuff in a report."

"I'm talking about being able to work together. That's got nothing to do with knowing each other. You've been like that for long enough you know. How many of the Teeth you've worked with do you know as people? How well do you think he knows you, from what you've told him?"

"I know them fairly well," Chance replied. "Not deep and intimate secrets but well enough, and I'd imagine they know me. I'm not a complicated guy when you get right down to it. But Jake ... Jake hid everything, almost made up an entirely new kat so I didn't even have a chance to really know him."

"Chance, you're fooling yourself." She stroked his hair gently. "You don't let anyone into your head or your life. Not even me when it comes right down to it."

"That's not true!" Chance protested, his breath warm against her fur.

"Oh?" She challenged him forcefully. "Then why did you have to be locked up to talk to anyone about what was hurting you? What turned you to the bottle in the first place? Why have you not had a life to speak outside the Teeth of since you came to us?"

That shut him up.

"That's not fair," he said weakly, nice he felt the silence begin to grow between them.

"Neither is blaming Jake alone for what happened to you as partners or what breaking up did to both of you." She said more gently but still firm. "Something I know he hasn't dealt with and I seriously doubt you have."

"I wasn't blaming it all on him," Chance replied. "Just saying that we didn't get on as well as you seem to think."

"Or you think you should," she let his covering lie pass unchallenged this time and just held him. "Or he's trying to protect you by pushing you away." She sighed softly.

"He's pushing pretty bloody hard," Chance said, shaking his head. "I don't like seeing him like this."

"Hopefully he'll choose to stay with therapy so we don't go through with him what we had to with you." Sandy sighed. "But having the Mayor fixated on you can do a lot to a person, even if they start strong. Not something that can be said of Jake either time she's gotten to him."

"He doesn't like Will very much," Chance said with a shake of his head.

"I know." Sandy nodded. "Neither did you. He'd probably do better with someone else, but that's a risk to even suggest."

"No, but I never deliberately lied to him," Chance said, shaking his head. "Jake seems to think he has to prove he's smarter, or better, or something like that. I don't think that'd be much different if we just got someone else."

"That's not how I heard it from him, but it hardly matters what I believe on the subject. You're the one he cares about."

"It's what it sounds like to me," Chance said. "But, hell, half of the things he was saying didn't make any sense, and the rest of the contradicted each other. I can't make heads or tails of it."

"And you told him as much, right?" She barely had to guess.

"Not quite like that," Chance said. "I do have some sense."

"I hope so," she murmured and held him tight. "He too alone as it is for this to turn out well without you. Even more than you were."

"Because he's determined to be. He makes it really hard to help him."

That raised an eyebrow. "Well, I guess that just makes me the odd one out." She shrugged slightly. "He responds great to the same treatment I gave you. A non-critical ear and not being told he's a fuck-up when what he is is socially clueless. But then, to manage that you have to actually be willing to listen to the ranting and make the effort to filter it according to the source. Something I got a lot of practice at the last few months with you."

"I have never told Jake he was a fuck-up Sandy," Chance replied angrily. "Never. And if you don't think I want to help him, that I'm not trying then fuck you too."

"I believe you haven't said that." She told him gently. "And you want to help him." She sighed and shook her head. "But if you're listening to him as well as you just listened to me, then you're coming across about as well as Will seems to be. And that is doing more harm than good."

"Fine," Chance said, getting to his feet. "I'm a dick. And I'm going home."

Sandy sighed and leaned back on the couch and shook her head as he stormed off.

"So much getting him to see what's going on."

Jake grumbled when the vid message warning beeped. Between Will, Chance and Felina he was in no mood to deal with more people, much less anyone who'd beep him, which meant Felina or Kia. He shook his fur out, focused on calming his mind and answered.

"Clawson here."

"Hey Jake," It was Kia's face that appeared on the screen, looking like she'd been pushed for every moment of the day which was finally coming to a close. "How's things?"

"Okay," he shrugged. "Better than yours from the look of things."

"Oh we're just busy as hell down here," she said, shrugging it off. "Same as the last couple of weeks. I've been meaning to call, but grabbing a spare moment hasn't been easy."

"It's no biggy." He told her easily and honestly. "It's part of the job description after all."

"Maybe so, but I did say I'd call. I should be off in about an hour or so, do you feel like having a quick drink?"

"Honestly, no." He shook his head a bit. "I'm really not in a social mood."

"Oh. All right then," she nodded, "I probably should be getting home anyway, no sign of when this is going to let up on us. I'll see you 'round, yeah?"

"I expect so. I'm not planning to go away anytime soon." He said a bit stubbornly.

"Right, well I'd better get back too it. Seeya later Jake."

Chance shook his head and pounded on the door again. As far as he knew Sandy should have been home. She hadn't been sent overseas, she didn't have a mission tonight ... she could just have gone out, he supposed. It wasn't as though they'd been keeping up with each other's social schedule in the last couple of weeks or so. He gave a third, half-hearted effort and began to turn away, just as the seriously worn out looking marmalade shekat, still in her Teeth uniform, came out of the elevator and made the few tired steps to come even with him.

She'd almost passed him before recognition flickered in her bright orange eyes and she turned on heal in surprise to face the tabby.

"I didn't realize you were working," Chance said.

"It wasn't on my plans, believe me." She nodded wearily and turned to unlock the door. "What brings you by?"

"Nothing," he said, shrugging. "I just had a fuck of a day and I thought I might come by."

"I'll take that as a complement," she chuckled and stepped into her well appointed apartment. "Come in. I'll be conscious for a while yet."

"Things are going that well, huh?" Chance asked as they walked through to her living room. Neither of them missed the brief glance towards her liquor cabinet, even though he knew it was empty and locked.

"Just crazy." She sighed and stretched after her uniform coat was tossed to the couch back. "Commando may suit Jake better than Intel, but I so do not like working the Nexus."

"I'd heard things were going overdrive down there," Chance said with a nod, turning back towards her. "As much as I want my security levels back I think I can wait if it means being data jockey."

"At this rate, you might just get it back soon." Sandy shook her head and yawned between pulling a few ingredients from the fridge. "I swear there is something global about to go down."

Chance stepped into Sandy's way, taking hold of her hands in his. "Stop just a second. Let me dial for pizza. You don't look like you really need to be cooking tonight."

She looked at him tiredly for a moment, about to object, then nodded. "Okay. Black olives, garlic and tomato for me."

Chance smiled and nodded. "I would offer to do it myself, but I'm actually trying to make things better."

"Well, that would get me tomorrow off, even if it was home sick." She chuckled a bit.

"Go sit back on the couch," Chance suggested. "I'll be quick."

"Sure," she nodded and moved to relax as suggested when he released her wrists. Her eyes were mostly closed by the time he had his order in.

"Ah, we're a hell of a pair, aren't we?" Chance asked when he saw her, mostly to himself. He sat down on the couch and wrapped an arm around her, drawing her in and resting her head on his shoulder.

"So what was you're sucky day?" She murmured with a soft, content sigh.

"Oh, it was just one of those days when everything you do goes wrong and then turns around to bite you on the ass," Chance said shaking his head. "Makes you feel like a real dumbass."

"How'd you manage that one?" She looked up with a bit of concern. "I though you were out having fun most days?"

"Yeah mostly. Having all this time on my hands was pretty cool to start with, but the novelty's starting to wear off."

"Getting the work bug, hu?" She chuckled softly. "So what when wrong?"

"Oh, everything. Nothing particularly important, I suppose, but you know how it is when you're having one of those days. It was like there was someone out there who'd decided to spend the day making things irritating for me."

"Yeah, I know the feeling." She chuckled a bit. "I've had a few of those."

"So I just thought I'd come by and visit," Chance continued. "I didn't mean to be a pain."

"'So'kay." She murmured and closed her eyes the rest of the way. "What are friends for?"

"To be pillows," Chance chuckled, drawing his arms closer around her.

"That too." She smiled with a soft, pleased sound and snuggled against him. "Missed your warmth, you know."

"Yeah," the tabby nodded, resting a kiss on the top of her head. "I know exactly what you mean."

"You here for the night then?"

"Well I could go if you want," He said softly.

"Nah," she murmured. "We both like you here."

"You got that right," he said with a warm smile.

"Hi," Jake smiled as he opened his door to let Kia in and the mouth-watering smells of dinner out a bit.

"Hey," she replied with a smile and a nod as she stepped past him into the room. "How've you been?"

"Seriously busy." He chuckled and shut the door. "Between the Nexus, extra Glovatrix Felina wants for the big strike and working on my head I don't think I've had time to breath in a couple weeks."

"I know the feeling," Kia said, nodding her head in sympathy. "It's been an absolute madhouse down in the nexus. I'll be glad when this is all over."

"It'll be soon." He said simply and turned to get the roast bird from the oven. "We're mobilizing. Well, those of us going are."

"You're going too?" Kia asked, somewhat surprised.

"I've got my Commando certs." He nodded with an easy smile and set the bird on the table. "I hadn't lost as much of my edge as anybody figured."

"Well they do seem to be grabbing up anyone they can," Kia nodded as she sat down. "How are you feeling about it?"

"I'm looking forward to it." He answered easily and brought out three bowls of side dishes. "What would you like to drink?"

"Milk will be fine," she replied and fell silent to watch him while he fetched two milks and sat down after setting her next to her plate.

"Chocolate Rumcake and ice cream is desert." He added by way of warning to leave room if it appealed to her.

"Oooh, sounds good. You must have been putting in a lot of practice on the cooking."

"Sandy's a top cook herself." He grinned a bit. "It's a lot of fun with another cook in the kitchen."

"So you've been taking lessons? That's something most toms don't think to do," she chuckled softly. "Even though most could probably use them."

"Well, it's more something fun to do while we work on my head." He chuckled and claimed a thick, juicy drumstick. "But it's a nice side effect."

"You won't hear any argument from me," Kia chuckled as she served herself. "You'll be one of the best cooks I know if this keeps up."

"Only as long as you don't get invited to Sandy's for dinner. I'll be forever trying to match her." Jake grinned and added a large plop of mashed butter squash to his plate. "The cake is her responsibility though. She's really missed having liquors to work, so I get the fallout. It's amazing what a splash of the right one can do to a dish."

"Yeah, not so much of that going on around Chance now," Kia said, a little more subdued. "Seems to be doing better now though."

"I think so." He nodded a bit. "I haven't seen much of him, with him on leave. It doesn't look like he'll be joining the strike forces. At least not if the timing holds."

"He probably won't be too happy about that," she said with a smirk. There was a small pause as she chewed and swallowed. "I got a rather curious piece of mail this week."

"No, I don't expect he will be. Especially not with Sandy going." He nodded and cocked his head. "What was it about?"

"You, actually. From the mayor."

"I ... see." He stiffened significantly, his ears carefully neutral. "And what did she tell you?"

"To get lost, basically," Kia said with a shrug. "Very polite, of course."

"Of course." He nodded and forced himself to relax to an extent. "Since you are here, would I be correct that you don't intend to oblige her?"

"I'm the only one who decides on who I'll be around Jake."

"Of course," he nodded more easily and leaned back to regard her with an easy, relaxed manner that was rather new in him. "I am curious why you do want to be around me."

"That's an odd question," Kia said, curiously.

"Is it?" He level his gaze at her. "We have not had a single off the job meeting that you have not mentioned how difficult it is to be around me, yet you still seek out my company and accept my invitations. I'd like to know what you see in me to put up with my problems."

"You're loyal, persistent, smart, funny in an odd kind of way ... there's a lot worthwhile going on in the head of yours."

He nodded, accepting that she saw things still in him that he's long ago thought left behind with his mask. "I could stand to be reminded of those things too once in a while." He told her quietly.

"I'm not here to coddle you Jake," Kia said with a light shake of her head. "I told you that at the very beginning."

"There is a difference between coddling and occasionally confirming that someone is worth the air the breathe to you." He replied evenly. "I have heard nothing but how much trouble I am to you and how screwed up I am as a person. Is it really so unreasonable to want to hear that I'm improving, or at least have some redeeming qualities to you beyond that of a cook?"

"I would have thought my presence did that, especially if you're as much trouble as you seem to think you are," Kia shook her head. "I'm not in the habit of putting myself out for wastes of space. When you cook well I say so, when you say something funny I laugh and, yes, when you're a pain in the ass I have no problem letting you know that too."

"You have too high an opinion of yourself then." He informed her simply. "The fact that I had to ask why you are here should be indicator enough that you are not making your intended impression. Your company has been largely unpleasant up to this point."

"And yet you continue to seek it out."

"Because I didn't believe I deserved any better than I was given. And I didn't think anyone else would be any different. I know better now, on both counts."

"So you're telling me to take a hike?" Kia raised an eyebrow.

"If you aren't willing to meet me half way and make this something we both find at least somewhat pleasant, then yes, I am."

"Well if it's been as unpleasant as all that maybe I should go," Kia said, pushing her chair back and caught his nod.

"I understand." He accepted it and walked her to the door, opening it without upset.

"I hope things turn out Jake," she said, bushing her fingers across his shoulder at the doorway. "Let me know."

"All right." He nodded, his indifference forced but holding without trouble. "I'm sure you'll find someone you get along with."

"Probably. Goodbye Jake."

He nodded and shut the door after she'd walked out to turn and pick up dinner's remains. He move on reflex, more than mildly annoyed that Sandy had been right that Kia wasn't interested in putting in any of the effort to make things work between them.

"Hey," Chance called casually as he stepped through the door into Sandy's immaculately clean apartment. "You around somewhere?"

"Of course." She laughed from the kitchen. "Get your tail in here, handsome."

"Well you're in a good mood for someone who's spent the last four weeks beating people up," Chance smirked.

"I'm in a good mood cause it's finally over." She snorted even as he caught sight of the fact that she hadn't escaped unscathed. Several patches and lines of fur were visibly missing. "And they aren't keeping me in medical anymore."

"That bad?" Chance asked softly.

"It looks worse than it is." She shrugged. "The burns recovered a lot faster than the fur will. It'll grow back, and probably the right shades."

"You'll have to dye it if it doesn't," the tabby smirked, taking in the overall pattern. "Or you'll look ridiculous."

"I'm not going to dye anything." She shook her head sharply and moved the sauté ingredients around a large pan. "If it doesn't grow back the way it was before, I'll just look different. You know I don't cover my scars."

"Your choice," Chance said with a shrug. "I'm sure as hell not going to try and pin you down and do it."

"It could be interesting to see you try." She chuckled softly. "Something wrong?"

"I'm not sure," Chance said, leaning against the bench top. "Why do you say that?"

"Cause it's a reasonable question to ask. Between getting stuck here for the operation, not commenting on the food yet and not trying to get me to either sit down or get undressed, you aren't acting too normal and plenty of reason for it."

"The food smells great," Chance chuckled, "And I've had plenty of time to get over being stuck here. Believe me, I was not a happy tom."

"And I'm sure everyone knows it." Sandy smirked. "Any word on when you get to go to fully duty status?"

"Next week, hopefully," he said with a nod. "Just because they're all tired of me bugging them about it."

"Sounds like you have a few things to celebrate." She smiled warmly.

"Maybe, I guess," Chance shrugged. "Just getting things back to normal."

She looked at him sharply, then shook her head. "You know, of all the ways I thought this might happen, I never figured you'd be acting ... indifferent."

"Thought what might happen?"

"Seeing you again after over four weeks in a warzone, and weeks of minimal contact before that." She focused on the meal prep for a while. "It's been what, three months since we had sex? Four, maybe."

"Yeah," Chance nodded. "I noticed."

"Then it doesn't bother you?" She glanced up, her expression curious.

Chance laughed ruefully, shaking his head. "Would I rather you were doing me like you used to? Of course. But it's not like I can make you, and you made things pretty clear in that last little while before you left."

"Hu?" Sandy looked at him with a bewildered expression. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh come on Sandy. How many times did you think you were going to have to blow me off before I got the message?"

"What are you talking about kat?" She stared at him. "Blowing you off how? I've been working."

"And I just suddenly took up a life of chastity of my own accord?" Chance chuckled, "Does that sound even halfway likely?"

That earned him an even stranger look and she moved the pan off the heat.

"You have now definitely lost me." She said quietly and turned her full attention to him. "Why would you do that?"

"I didn't," Chance said plainly, "But I've seen stone statues that were more responsive to my advances than you were before you left."

"Chance, I was dead tired and pulling triple shifts and more for weeks." She flicked her ears back. "And why the hell would you be celibate just because I was too overworked to play?"

"That's not the point," Chance said with a shake of his head. "Like you said, we haven't been together for four months and a bit and it's not because I haven't been interested. You want to know why I'm indifferent? Because it's been four months. I've had plenty of time to deal."

She regarded him seriously. "If you get like this every time I can't play most days, we have a problem."

"You think lack of sex is the problem?"

"If it's not, do clue me in."

"If you're going to be bitchy about it I can just go," Chance said simply. "I didn't come here to argue with you, and I'm not going to."

"Chance, if you are not going to explain how me doing my job resulted in this opinion of yours, you probably should until you can." Sandy told him tiredly. "I do not need to be getting this runaround from both of you."

"From both of us," Chance nodded. "You see that's precisely it. For the last four months I've only ever seen you when you were on the verge of passing out. I get to be the guy who orders you takeaway food and who you fall asleep on top of. Because you're spending all your conscious time with Jake."

"Conscious free time, yes. I wasn't joking about the extra shifts." She said simply and watched him levelly. "And I'm working with him for the same reason I took all those weeks off to look after you. Because he needs help and no one else seems to be able to do it."

"And I don't?"

Sandy sighed and crossed her arms. "Considering you're back on active duty and out of custody, not as much as he does. You've convinced everyone you've conquered your demons."

"I see," Chance said, nodding. "You've only got time for guys who are breaking down on your couch."

"When I'm trying to save a Tooth's life, I don't have much time for fun, no." She agreed. "If that's a problem for you, you've got something going on here that you haven't bothered to tell me about."

"No," Chance shook his head. "It's pretty obvious there's nothing going on here."

"You thought there was, apparently." She tightened her lips in disapproval. "When were you planning on letting me in on it?"

Chance shrugged and pushed away from the bench. "I thought there might have been, we got pretty close there for a while. It's not a big deal."

Sandy shook her head. "You're a Tooth, Chance. I like you. I did what would help you. Nothing's changed there. I'll listen and we can play, but if you think I'm anyone's girlfriend, you haven't been paying attention at all. I don't do relationships, same as you've held to since you joined us."

"That's fine. I'm not arguing here Sandy," Chance shook his head. "Like I said, I've had plenty of time to sort this through."

"So what's with coming not looking for either?" She asked more gently.

"I just wanted to see you, make sure you were OK." Chance said. "It was a big op, and there's some crazy stories floating around."

"They'll get worse, no doubt." She nodded quietly and turned back to finishing dinner. "They usually do."

"Probably," Chance nodded. "I'm glad you're alright."

Sandy nodded, quiet and chasing her own thoughts away before she lashed out to hurt him enough to drive him away completely. They had such a good thing going, he just had to jump to the wrong conclusion about it and screw things up. Damn toms never understood boundaries. Never.

Felina's Teeth 3: Rebuilding Lives (PG-13 variant)

Het Level is Medium
Slash Level is
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

205 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written May 19, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Vorex

Setting: SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Addiction, Angst, DarkFic

Pairings: Chance Furlong/Sandy Ressu, Chance Furlong/Jake Clawson

Notes: This version has been edited for content to reduce its rating.

Blurb: When loyalty fails, tenacity succeeds. When tenacity fails, sacrifice succeeds. When sacrifice fails, sometimes only love can succeed.

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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