What Lies Beyond: Chapter 39

“Have you remembered anything else about what happened before or during the time when you were away?”
“No, not really. It's all still very fuzzy.”
Sister had been spending more time with Lapse the past few nights, and she was gradually warming up to her. She didn't hide from her anymore, and they'd spoken about a number of things. She was very timid, and about as different from Lay and Michelle as anyone could be, but Sister could tell there was a kind heart underneath her tender exterior.
“What about 'dreams'? Do you know anything more about that?”
“I don't think I even know that much.” she said, looking out over the ocean. “I can't recall anything that might have made me say that. It just came from somewhere, and then it was gone.”
“Maybe that was part of your lost memories?”
“Could be. I don't like not being able to remember. Every time a fragment of something comes back to me, I feel like I've lost something important.”
“It's okay, we'll figure things out when the time comes.” She had hoped for more information about what had happened to Corsair, but it seemed that Lapse's problem had to be solved first. Maybe if she and Pack could be reunited then she could remember more about what had happened.

In the hopes that it might jog her memory, Sister had told her a bit about her own situation. When she mentioned dancing, she was surprised to learn that Lapse already knew about it and was excited to talk about it, but she quickly realized that dancing meant something different to her as she pranced and spun around on her own. Lapse could leap from one foot to the other and even flip over onto her paws with surprising grace. One time she even walked on the railing of her ship and Sister was afraid she would fall off into the water, but she gracefully dropped down to the deck on one toe and bowed. It was very impressive, but Sister couldn't help but feel sad for her as she watched it: To her, dancing was something to be shared with someone, but for Lapse it was something she did alone. Most of her life was spent alone, she realized, and it left its mark on everything she did.

“Doesn't it make you sad to dance by yourself?' Sister asked after she had finished.
“No,” she said, smiling, “it's fun. I like to practice and it's fun to share it with others. As long as they enjoy it that's enough reason for me.”
“I never thought of it that way”, she admitted. “If someone else didn't want to join me, I'd worry that they didn't like it.”
“There's no need to worry about that. If you just watch carefully, you can tell how other people are feeling. Their eyes tell you everything. Nothing made me happier than to see his eyes on me and know he couldn't look away even if he wanted to. It made me feel like I was really special...” She gazed up, wistfully.
“So why did-” She started to say, but stopped herself. She really wanted to know more about how things had been between her and Pack, but she knew something had happened, and she didn't want to risk bringing it up in case Lapse would become withdrawn again. Lapse looked at her strangely for a moment, expecting her to finish, but after a few moments of silence she looked away, across the ocean. She did that fairly often. Sister wondered if she expected to see something out there.


Elsewhere, another pair of eyes were staring out over that same ocean.
It had been a number of nights now since they had set out. It did not surprise him that there had been no sign of Corsair yet, he had mostly agreed to look just to humour poor Sister. She didn't realize just how hard he had looked for Lapse, fruitlessly. Once lost, people did not easily return.
“But she HAS returned”, a voice inside his head reminded him.
He knew it was true. He could tell from the hope that shone in Sister's eyes that her story was genuine. Part of him wanted to go to her, but he could still see the pain and the hurt on her face that his words had wrought. She had disappeared because of him, how could he face her after that? What kind of apology could he possibly give her?

He wandered over to the table that held star charts. In truth, there wasn't much to do these nights. The ship was running so smoothly that his crew had little need for his oversight, leaving him with a lot of free time and little to do with it. Was this the way it was before he met her? He didn't believe so, but he couldn't say for certain, it had been too long ago. He ruffled through the charts, but it only took a few moments to confirm that they were still on the right course. He paced up and down the deck restlessly.
“I wonder if you found what you were looking for, old friend?” he mused idly. He hadn't understood why Corsair had left, but he knew he had been searching for something. He had mentioned wanting to know more about the strangers and other such nonsense, much as Lapse had done on the night she disappeared. Sister seemed to think it was her fault.
“I wonder if you know how much you hurt her?” he thought, sombrely. He did. When he saw Lapse's face the night she left, he knew he had done something terrible. Perhaps Corsair knew that as well.
He shook his head and gazed out towards the horizon. “I've moved on. It's for the best that she does too. I'd only hurt her again, and the next time she might not come back. I only want for her to be happy...”
Only the rising sun knew if those words were genuine.


It was happening again.
Lapse crossed her arms to her chest and listened carefully to her surroundings for a moment. It was strangely quiet, usually she could hear people talking or moving about, but this morning she could hear nothing apart from the sound of her own breath. She slowly opened her eyes, nervous of what might lie before her, and as her vision adjusted to the light she found herself in some kind of large room. There was a ceiling very far above, but only a few lights were turned on so the area was only dimly lit. On the floor in front of her were a lot of chairs, but they were all empty, while she herself was standing on a raised wooden platform flanked by tall red curtains on either side. She looked to the side, to the darkened area behind the curtains, but it too seemed to be empty.

“I'm alone”, she realized. She glanced around the area once again, just in case they were hiding somewhere, waiting to jump out at her, but as far as she could tell the place was totally deserted. “I'm really alone this morning.”
A soft sound slowly drifted to her ears, some light, fast-paced music was flowing into the area from off to the side of the stage. It wasn't forceful or oppressive, just a gentle, pleasing melody. A smile slowly crept across her lips. “I'm free”, she thought, scarcely daring to believe it. She stretched her arms out before her, finding them covered in orange cloth with white gloves on her hands. In her apprehension she hadn't even bothered to look down at her own body yet, she found she was wearing a thin but tight-fitting orange suit with a pink frill around the middle that covered her body from neck to toe. Despite being tight, it was very easy to move around in, she extended her leg, then leapt from one foot, landing gracefully on her toes. She stretched out one arm and spun around, leaping and spinning in time with the music. “I'm free!” There was no one here to torment her tonight, and she danced all over the stage to the airy music, so happy that she could just be herself this morning.

“Bravo! Magnificient!” someone said, clapping their hands, and her heart stopped cold. Had they been waiting for her? Was she in trouble? Her first impulse was to dive off the stage, but instead she merely froze and stared at the man who stepped out from the shadows behind the curtain.
“Hey, don't stop on my account”, he said, and she finally got a good look at him. He was dressed somewhat similarly to her, in an equally tight-fitting suit, only his was blue and didn't have the frills that her outfit had. He stretched out his leg and hopped from one foot to the other, much the same as she had. “We're supposed to be practising together”. She merely took a few tiny steps back and continued to look at him as he began to do a few simple steps and jumps.
She had never danced with anyone else before, she had learned by watching a stranger dance and then trying to imitate her movements when she got back to her ship, very clumsily at first, but she had eventually learned how to do it without falling. Still, despite whatever confidence she had in her dancing ability, she was very hesitant to join in with the stranger. As he spun around, she eventually managed to take a few little steps, then a jump or two, and eventually she started to synchronize the timing of her movements with his.
“That's it”, he said, smiling at her, and she gradually felt her nervousness melting away. She leapt back and forth past him in time with the music and he could only watch, unable to match her nimbleness. She grinned and spun around in front of him.
“Very good!” he assured her. “Now come over to me and kick up your leg.”
She did as he asked and he caught her leg in his hand, then put his other hand on her stomach and lifted her over his head with a single, quick motion.
“Eek!” she exclaimed involuntarily, and for a moment she was terrified that he was going to drop her or toss her off the stage into the chairs, but he had strong arms and he was holding her very steady.
“I won't drop you, I promise”, he reassured her, as if sensing her fear. She glanced out over the room as he held her body up to the sky, and a strange sensation came over her. She raised her arms like she was flying and laughed happily at how scared she had been. A moment later he set her down gently and took one of her hands in his. She pulled away from him to arm's length, then came back in close before stretching out to the other side. They did that a few more times, and when she came back to him he caught her in his arm and lowered toward the ground. Afterwards she spun around him, still holding onto his fingers, before letting go and spinning away. He quickly moved to take hold of her arm again, and they danced all around the stage together with her loving every moment of it.

The music finally started to die down and the stranger let her out to arm's length a final time and raised their hands as it came to an end. After holding that pose for a moment, Lapse pulled him back towards her, scooped him up in her arms, and kissed him passionately, slipping her tongue inside his mouth and pressing his body tightly against hers.
“Hey, where did that come from?”, he asked afterwards, looking totally bewildered.
“That's what this is about, isn't it?” she said, intense desire burning in her lidded eyes.
He nervously rubbed the back of his head with his free hand. “Well, in a way, but not like that. We're just friends and dance partners, okay? The love we display on stage is just a show for the audience.”
“Oh, all right”, she replied, blushing a little as she released him. “I guess being friends is okay too.”
“I had no idea you felt that way”, he said, equally reddened in the face.
“It's all right, I just got caught up in the moment.”
“I guess I should remember that ballet has that effect on people”, he laughed.
“Shall we go again?” she asked, hopefully, but before he could respond there was a ringing sound from behind the stage.
“I've got to go”, the stranger said, “but keep on practising, you've got real talent.”
She nodded, but she knew that if he left, she had to leave too. Sure enough, no sooner had he left the room when the lights started to dim. She sighed wistfully and gracefully dropped down from the stage.
“I've got to find myself a dance partner”, she thought happily. Her mind quickly turned to that grey-furred man from her memories, and she smiled as she imagined him trying to leap about with his chubby body or lift her up with his stubby little arms, but then she remembered what he had said to her the night she went away and her merriment faded instantly. He didn't want to be her partner, no one did. Lapse hung her head and walked out of the deserted auditorium, back to being alone.

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