What Lies Beyond: Chapter 23

The first sensation he felt as he came back was of Lay throwing her arms around him and kissing him. It was very different from the way Sister kissed him, though, it lasted much longer and Lay pushed her tongue into his mouth, which felt scratchy and awkward.
“You were wonderful”, she told him as soon as their lips parted. “I always knew you would be. Thank you so much.”
“I'm so glad you're all right”, he said, breathing a deep sign of relief. “That was crazy.”
“I know”, she said, narrowing her eyes and smiling slyly, “we cut it so close last night, but it was worth it. I haven't felt like that in a long, long time.”
“I can hardly remember what happened”, he scratched his head. “I started to lose control of myself when I saw you in that room.”
“Do I really have such an effect on you?” she puffed her cheek and batted her eyes at him, grinning widely, but her expression quickly became more forlorn. “Oh, Corsair, if only we didn't need to split up, we've only just gotten together. I don't know how I'm going to survive being separated from you.”
“I'll miss you too, Lay, but we'll see each other again soon, I promise. There'll always be a next time, I'll make sure of it.”
She kissed him again, even longer this time. Maybe it was the sadness in her eyes, but this time he tried his best to share it with her, licking her scratchy tongue with his own, which actually felt better than he expected. “Next time I'll make sure you remember every second of it”, she whispered. Her paws lingered for a moment on his shoulders before she turned and walked back to her own ship.

After Lay's ship pulled away, Corsair gave some final instructions to his crew and walked over to Sister's cabin to bid farewell to her before they set sail. When he entered, he found her lying on her couch, staring up at the ceiling.
“You okay?” he asked, kneeling beside her.
“I was just thinking”, she replied, not turning her head.
“We have to get going soon. Pack could be closing in on the Black Ship as we speak.”
“I know why he did it”, she said. “If something ever happened to you, I'd do the same thing.”
He clasped her paw in his. “I know you would. I won't let you get hurt like that.”
She sat up and threw her arms around him. There were tears in her eyes, and she made no effort to hide them.

After they finally said their goodbyes and set off on their voyage, Corsair finally had a chance to sneak away to his cabin and write in his journal. He had a lot to write about tonight, and even though he didn't remember all the details of his adventure, he remembered the ending very clearly. “I always wondered what would happen if I didn't play along in the mornings”, he thought, “but I never imagined that a stranger might try the same.” The stranger had wanted nothing more than to see Lay again, and he somehow made it happen. Corsair didn't quite understand why he was so determined to see her, but it didn't matter. “There's so much potential here”, he mused, stroking his chin, “the world of the strangers is vast, but we only get to see a little bit of it each time. I'll have to experiment with this more.”

He leaned back in his chair and glanced out the window. It would still be some time until the sun came up. He folded his paws and closed his eyes to wait for morning, but he was too restless to sit still, so he put his journal away and returned to the deck.

It was strangely quiet above deck, a few members of his crew were around, but they were mostly keeping to themselves or quietly going through training exercises. Perhaps they felt out of practice after having so much rest lately, or maybe they were anxious about the prospect of encountering the Black Ship again. He hadn't told anyone about his encounter with the captain of the Black Ship, but even with the knowledge that the captain was one of them he had little desire to come across that ship again. Whether Karma had intended to help them or not, the things he had seen had still been very unsettling, they forced him to deal with thoughts he would rather leave tucked away in the back of his mind.

There was no such relief for him now. Ever since Sister had disappeared his world had changed, he had experienced so many new things as of late that he was still having difficulty making sense of it all. Some of the things he had learned were exciting, but others frightened him and made him feel less confident of himself than he had in the past. It was starting to seem as though the waters he had sailed before were but a tiny drop in the ocean, and now he was lost at sea with no way to guide himself. That was why he had to learn more, to find his way through these new waters and get his bearings again.

Corsair climbed the steps to the helm of the ship. Cross was there, steadfastly guiding the ship along the path he had laid out. He stood there and watched for a little while before his black and white-spotted friend realized he was there.
“You don't need to worry”, he said, “I'm clear on our route.”
“Do you enjoy being a navigator?” Corsair asked him.
“What makes you suddenly ask that question?”
“I was just curious.”
Cross thought for a moment. “It's okay, but it can be a bit repetitive sometimes. We've seen everything before, and the ocean never really changes. Sure, it rains occasionally, but that's about it.”
“Would you like to explore the world of the strangers?”
He shrugged. “Well, of course, who wouldn't? There's much more to see there than there is here.”
“Well... then why not do it? Why not just use the mornings to go exploring, and see what you would find there?”
“Because then you wouldn't come back, and you couldn't explore anymore. It's fine to see just a little bit each morning while we're there, it means I always have something new to look forward to.”
Corsair shook his head, not convinced by his friend's advice. “I realize now that there are things that we never see. Things that people keep hidden. We could visit that world in the mornings forever and we'd only ever see the things the strangers want us to see.”
But Cross was not tempted by that suggestion. “Maybe that's for the best. Sometimes the things that people keep hidden aren't things that anyone wants to find.”
“But we've found them already”, Corsair thought to himself. “And now there's no way to make them go away.” Cross returned his attention to his navigating.

Corsair took a bit more time to collect his thoughts. “What do you think we should do after we find Pack?” he asked, eventually.
“If everything turns out all right, we'll just go back to what we always do.”
“I don't know if I can. So many things have changed now. I feel like I need to be doing something else, but I don't know what.”
“If you're not sure what to do, you should just try to make sure you don't do anything that you'll regret later. That way, when you find out what it is you need to do, it won't already be too late.”
“Hmm”, Corsair mused. “That's so vague, it gives me almost nothing to go on.”
They stood there silently for a few moments. “Don't hurt Sabre”, Cross finally concluded.
“She speaks of you all the time. I don't think she realizes it, but she needs you.”
He was surprised by that answer, particularly considering the way Sabre had acted lately. “Don't you think the entire crew needs me, as their captain?”
“You asked me what I thought was important, and I've told you”, he said, somewhat sheepishly. He turned back to the ocean to avoid further discussion.

Corsair stared out over the ocean, contemplating his life: “Taking things one morning at a time and being there for the people that need me. Is that the path that I'm supposed to take?” he wondered. He recalled some of his happy memories, like hunting for treasure, discussing his adventures with Sister, sparring with Sabre, figuring out the lay of the ocean with Pack, and watching the sun rise with Lay. “Perhaps this really is all I need to be happy”, he thought, spying the first glimpses of the sun peeking over the horizon. “Things aren't so bad they way they are now.”


“How do you keep going?” someone asked him.
“What do you mean?”
The other man picked up another box. “Every day, it's just the same thing. Go to work, slave away, go home, come back and do it again the next day.” He set the box down and picked up the next one. “There's nowhere to go, no chance of things getting better... Some days I ask myself why I bother and I don't have an answer.”
Pack picked up one of the boxes. It was heavy, and it strained him to move it. “I have hope”, he said, through clenched teeth.
“Yeah?”, the stranger grunted, lifting another box. “Hope for what?”
“Hope that I'll find her someday”, Pack dropped his box with a thud, almost on his toe. He quickly pulled his foot back.
“That special lady?” The stranger seemed unimpressed. “I've met all kinds of special ladies. Problem is, what would they want with an ordinary guy like me? I've got nothing to offer and they know it.”
Pack paused for a moment while leaning on the next box. Just what did Lapse like about him? It had never made much sense to him, but he enjoyed her company, so he hadn't given it much thought. “I don't think that's important when you find the right person.”
“So I'm supposed to wait my whole life for this right person to show up? Who knows, maybe she'll walk through that door right now”, he pointed to the door in front of them, and they waited for a moment. Sure enough, no one came. He laughed derisively under his breath. “Some hope.”
“You shouldn't dismiss hope,” he said, struggling with another box. “sometimes hope is all we have. And if we give up on our desire for things to get better, then what are we?”
“We're a couple of schmucks working in a factory, and that's all we're ever going to be. If we ever had a chance for something more, it's long since gone away.”
“Then I'll hope for you too”, Pack said, putting down the second box.

A moment later, a loud bell rang, startling Pack and causing him to lose his grip on a third box. It fell to the ground with a loud crash, but no one really seemed to care.
“Finally, quitting time.” The stranger sighed. “Off we go, only to return tomorrow, and the process begins anew.”
“I'm sorry that I couldn't help you feel better about it.”
“Hey, don't worry about it. At least we don't have to do it alone. Misery loves company and all that.” He turned away, walking towards the door. “It must be nice... having something to hope for”, the stranger said as he walked out.
“It must be nice not to be alone”, Pack thought to himself, as he walked out the door towards his ship.

Back in his cabin, Pack flipped to the back of his journal and began to read through the contents as he had many times before. He had summarized the events of a few of the last times they had seen each other, and drawn a simple picture to remind himself of what she looked like. Her fur was fluffy and unkempt, but under it she was very lithe and slender, with long arms and legs and an even longer and fluffier tail. She had big, equally furry ears, and wide-apart eyes of blue and green. Somehow, she looked unhappy in the picture, even though he hadn't intended to draw her that way. It didn't really capture her essence, but it was all he had. He sighed.

Loathe as he was to admit it, his memories of her were growing hazy, and at times he wondered if there was any chance he would ever see her again. He wished he had written more to remember her by, but he had only started to write about her after she had gone. If only he had thought to write about her when she was still here, but of course, he never thought he would lose her. If only he had known then what he did now.

“Perhaps someone else would remember something more about her that I've forgotten”, he thought. Quill had always been there, maybe he would remember something he himself did not. No, Quill would probably figure out the true nature of his plan if he asked him, he was suspicious enough already. He needed someone who definitely wouldn't be able to make the connection...

He found him in a hallway, hammering something. “Snag”, he called.
“Boss!” Snag turned, abruptly, dropping the hammer and nails onto the floor. The hammer landed with a thud and the nails rolled off down the deck. “I've got it”, he said, crawling after them.
“Not now, Snag. I have a question for you.” He stood up and listened attentively. “What do you remember about Captain Lapse?”
He thought for a moment. “Not much. She was a bit strange, if you'll pardon me saying so, but I liked it when she came to visit, because you would mellow out and not yell at me so much.”
“Am I really that bad?”
There was an awkward pause. Snag cleared his throat: “Why do you ask, boss? Everyone knows you were closer to her than anyone.”
“That is what makes it so sad.” he said, walking away.

“Maybe she's happy now”, he thought, back in his chair. He had always been so focused on finding her that he had never really considered that possibility. But no, if there was one thing he did remember most vividly, it was the anguished look on her face before she had left. That image, more than any other, was burned into his mind and would never go away. Even just thinking about it all this time later still made him feel terrible.
“Oh Lapse, If only I had gone with you” he said, hanging his head. “But now I'm going to do whatever it takes to find you again. I'm just sorry it took so long.”
There was a knock at his door.
“Sorry boss”, Snag said, letting himself in, “I overheard. But I'm behind you. We all are. We're a team.“

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