What Lies Beyond: Chapter 44

“What am I supposed to do...?”
Pack rubbed his eyes with his paw. The vision he had witnessed a few nights ago still weighed heavily on his mind.
“Anyone! Please help me!”
He could still hear Lapse desperately crying out for someone, and whenever he thought of it it was like his chest was being squeezed. The thought of something happening to her again tore him apart, and he wanted to go back to her.
But he could also remember how she had been when she left. “I thought you liked me”, she said. Even when she came back, it was clearly still bothering her: “We've greeted him. I want to go now.” Hearing her say that cut through him like a letter opener. Even if she needed someone, she wouldn't want it to be him, not after what had happened. Surely there could be someone else for her, someone who would treat her better than he had...

He reached instinctively for the drawer in his desk, but it was empty. He wished he still had his notebook. Maybe he could read through it and remember how things used to be, and then he'd know what to do. But it was too late for that now. He had made up his mind, and he had squandered his one chance.
So why was he still unable to accept it? “Your heart still cries out for her”, that voice had told him. She was still out there, maybe they could start again. But they had both changed so much. The woman he had met was not the one he had remembered. She probably felt the same way about him.

He stood up and looked at himself in the mirror. His fur was a mess, but tidying it didn't give him any happiness right now. Just who had he become? Why did the things that once seemed so simple now seem out of reach?
The answer still eluded him, and he knew he was shirking his duties. “At least I can still address the crew”, he thought, opening the door to his cabin and stepping outside.
It was strangely quiet tonight. He climbed up the stairs to the deck and found it empty. Quill wasn't at his charting table. Relay wasn't running messages back and forth. No one was cleaning the deck, mending the sails, or keeping watch over the oceans. The entire ship seemed deserted. With some trepidation he opened the hatch and climbed down below deck. The moment he did so he heard distant voices, so he followed them, until he found himself at the door to the common room.

“Don't worry”, said a voice, the main one he had heard while he was in the hall, “the boss will be back to normal soon enough.”
He peeked inside the room and saw Snag speaking to the rest of his crew. He quickly ducked into a nearby room and left the door open so he could listen to what was being said.
“We all want things to go back to how they were, but for now we just have to keep working hard and not let on that it bothers us. If he found out he'd probably take it the wrong way.”
There was a murmuring from the crowd.
“We'd better get going now”, Snag said, “he'll notice if the work isn't done.”
People started shuffling around to leave. Pack quietly closed the door he was hiding behind and waited for them all to file out. When he thought they had all gone, he opened the door and slipped out. Snag was still in the common room, dusting the furniture.

“What's going on?” He asked, startling Snag, who almost knocked over the lamp he was working on.
“Uhh, just cleaning, boss!”, he responded hastily, still clutching the teetering lamp.
“Not holding any secret meetings, then?”
His expression sank. “So you heard that, huh? I'm sorry, boss.”
“What's going on?” he repeated.
“The crew is distressed, boss. Everyone knows something's wrong. I was just trying to keep everybody motivated. ...You're probably mad.” He looked totally crestfallen.
“I'm not mad,” Pack reassured him, “but I do want to know why you think something's wrong.”
“You've been acting so different, boss. All you do is work and stay in your cabin now. You don't come up with strange plans, scold me when I mess things up, or lecture people about how to look sharp and work efficiently. It's like you've lost what makes you you.”
Pack instinctively straightened his whiskers with one paw. “What's wrong with focusing on one's work? Is work not its own reward?”
Snag shrugged. “Work is fine, but it's not wrong to want something more than that. You taught me that, boss. I used to feel really bad all the time because I wasn't a good worker, so I thought I wasn't much good to anyone. But you taught me that there's more to life than just work. Even if I could never be the best worker, I could still find a different goal for myself.”
“And what would that be?”
“You'll probably think this is stupid”, he said bashfully.
“Please, I want to know.”
“Well, someday, I'd like to be captain of my own ship.”
It was more ambitious than he had expected. “And what would you do if you were captain?”
“Well, I'd have some adventures, help those who can't help themselves, and try to figure out how to find those who got lost so people like you wouldn't have to be sad anymore.”
“It's more complicated than that.” he said, resting his face on his paw. “Even if people come back, sometimes it's not the same.” He sighed. “I think I'm starting to understand what Corsair was looking for.”
He patted Snag's head. “Don't give up hope. Maybe you'll get your chance someday.”

Leaving Snag to his duties, he returned to the the deck. His thoughts turned to Corsair. He regretted the way he had acted the last few times they had spoke. He once thought Corsair had all the answers, but he now realized that was just what he had wanted to believe. Corsair had been suffering as much as anyone.
“What divides us?” He wondered, thinking about the way things used to be. “Something comes between us and we just can't solve it. That's what you're looking for, isn't it?”
He gazed up at the stars. “Please let me know if you find it, old friend.”

As he walked back to his cabin, he spotted a ship in the distance. “That couldn't be you, could it?” he wondered aloud. But that was silly, Corsair wasn't just going to appear with the answer he was looking for. It was more likely that it was Lapse, and he wondered what he could possibly say to her, or if he could even meet her at all. In the end it turned out to be neither, but his relief was short-lived.

“Is Lapse with you?” he asked Captain Sister as she came aboard.
“No”, Sister replied. “But she's nearby. You should go and see her.”
“I can't.” He said sadly. “I hurt her. I don't know how to face her anymore.”
“Then why did you spend so long searching for her? What did you think you'd do if you found her?”
“I don't think I ever planned that far ahead. I just felt so terrible about what I had done, and so sorry for what she went through that I just had to make it up to her somehow. But now that she's back I realize it would be best for her if she just forgot about me.”
“Are you really that blind?” She demanded, narrowing her eyes. “It wasn't just sympathy and guilt that drove you to search for her. You wanted to be with her because she made you happy. And she knew that. She always knew.”
“Even if we were happy once, that's in the past now”, he said, sadly. “That became abundantly clear when we saw each other again. We can't just go back to the way we were.”
“Maybe not,” she said, “but there's a lonely woman out there who knows exactly what you're feeling right now. If you choose to let this go because you think it was your fault and it's the noble thing to do, then we'll have two noble people and no happy ones, because she blames herself for what happened, not you.”
“But how could she blame herself?” he asked, incredulously.
“Maybe you should ask her. She's waiting for you. She's been waiting for a long time.”
And with that, she returned to her ship, leaving everything up to him.

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