What Lies Beyond: Chapter 45

What do you say when everything has been said and nothing has been solved?
More than anything, Pack felt lost right now. The entire time she had been gone, he always knew what he'd say to her if he saw her again, and yet now nothing he could think of seemed appropriate. He had spent so much effort trying to find her, he never imagined that facing her again when she returned might be the hardest part of all. He sighed and looked up at the stars. She blamed herself for what happened? How could that be true?

He knew he had to put things right, but he still had no idea how, and time was drawing short. He peered out over the helm of his ship at the ever-growing outline of the ship he knew was hers. She was waiting for him. It would all come to an end tonight.

There was a shuffling sound from behind him. Someone cleared their throat.
“Ummm... Good luck, boss!”
The whole crew was assembled behind him.
“You can do it!”
“We believe in you!”
“Your whiskers are looking sharp tonight!”
“Everyone...” He started to say...
Snag stepped forward and embraced him. “I knew you'd set things right, boss!” Absurdly, there were tears in his eyes.
“You all assume too much”, he said, rolling his eyes “she may not want to be with me anymore.”
“Then why is she waiting out there, boss?”
He shook his head. “I guess I'll find out soon enough.”

The last few miles felt like an eternity as he finally pulled up alongside her ship. He hesitated a moment, but she didn't come out to greet him. He swallowed audibly as he laid the board across her ship and cautiously ventured across, much the same way as he had on that very first night, so long ago. He realized that even without his journal, he still remembered that night as clearly as if it had been yesterday.

She was standing right there, perched on the railing, looking up at the stars. He hadn't expected to find her right in the middle of the deck, and he still hadn't figured out what to say yet. Flustered, he blurted out the first thing that came to him.
“I kind of expected you to be hiding.”
That was stupid. It had only been a few moments and already he had brought up the pain she had struggled so long to deal with.
“No, I won't hide any more”, she replied, stepping down from the railing. “I've decided to face our past.”
They just stared at each other for a while, saying nothing. This was exactly what he had feared would happen. He knew that if he didn't say something, he would lose her forever. All of the things he had planned to say had left him. The only thing left was the truth.
“I never imagined it would be this hard,” he admitted. “While you were gone, I thought about this moment every single night. I played this conversation out in my mind so many times, but now that I see you again I don't know what to say.”
“What is it you want from me?” she asked.
“I want us to be close again. I still care about you.”
“Why?” she asked, flatly. “Why did you refuse me back then?”
“I was too proud, and too set in my ways. I was afraid to change the way things were.”
“Are you still afraid?”
“Not as afraid as I am of losing you again.”
She stood there, considering it for a moment. He could read no emotion on her face.
“I'm not the woman you once knew. I've changed a lot. Does that change how you feel about me?”
“I think we've both changed. That's what makes this so hard. I used to think that we could just go right back to how things used to be, but it's not that simple. It's going to take some time for us to become close again, and it may not be exactly the same as it was before.”
“So where do we start?”
He knew this was it, if he gave the wrong answer here it would all be over. The only thing he could do was listen to his heart, and when he thought of all the happy times they had spent together, one thing came to mind:
“Do you still remember that song? The one you sung for me when we first met? It was when I heard that I first knew you were special.”
She quickly turned away, and for a moment he thought he had said the wrong thing.
But then, still gazing out over the sea, she began to sing:

“The day is long and hard,
And the night is dark and cold.
Dreaming of another life,
Waking with the one I've got.

Putting on a different face,
Trying not to lose myself.
Precious things drift away,
Standing there I watch them go.

But as long as you stand by my side,
I won't fear the night or day.
Together we can find our light,
And never fear what lies beyond.”

The starlight shone down on her brilliantly, and Pack was captivated by her. “It's just as enchanting as it's always been”, he said, stepping forward and putting his paws on her shoulder.
She slowly turned to face him, sheepishly, “It's a bit embarrassing, because I understand what the words mean now. Or maybe I always did. I always sang the song for you...”
She looked down into his chest, unable to face his gaze. “That night...” she managed, weakly, “I came to tell you... that I loved you. But I didn't know how. Then when you didn't want to go with me, I...”
“I know”, he said, squeezing her. “I'm so sorry. I didn't understand. If I had known what it meant to you, I would have gone.”
“Now you know”, she said, still choked up. “...Would you come with me this morning?”
“Of course I will.”
The moment he finished speaking those words she threw her arms around him and pressed her face into his. He was startled to feel her tongue rubbing against his own, but he quickly became accustomed to it and after a fashion, he returned her sentiment in kind. He was actually a bit saddened when their lips finally parted.

“Would you have done that if I had agreed to go with you back then?” he asked, incredulously.
“I told you”, she said, very sheepishly, “I'm not the same woman you once knew.”
“Yes you are”, he said, holding her tight, “you may have changed some, but you're still you. And I'm so glad you're back, Lapse.”
She couldn't contain it anymore, she buried her face in his chest and wept openly. She didn't leave his arms even for a moment until the sun rose.


Truth be told, he was still a little nervous. He had never done anything like this before, and he had no idea what to expect. Lapse had always brought a little chaos into his otherwise highly formulaic existence, but the days had always been his personal refuge, where he could relax and lose himself in his work. He did face the Black Ship for her, he reminded himself. This couldn't possibly be as bad as that.
“Are you coming, or what?”
Hearing her voice put his mind at ease. He opened his eyes, and there she was, peering at him. Her dark mottled fur had given way to tan-coloured skin and long black hair, and she was dressed plainly in colourful shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Her mismatched eyes remained as vibrant and full of life as ever. Somehow, even though it was his first time seeing her this way, it felt very familiar, and he smiled at her.
“Where are we going” he asked. “What are we supposed to do here?”
“Oh Pack”, she giggled, “you have so much to learn.”

She skipped over to him and took his hand in hers. “Come on,” she said, tugging at him.
“Are we late? Do we need to hurry?” he asked, doing his best to keep up. Being dragged along by her also felt very familiar.
She laughed again. “Look around you, silly.”
He hadn't really been paying much attention to their surroundings, he was so focused on trying to figure out what was going on. They were outside. He was standing on a dirt path flanked by trees on both sides. He could hear the sound of running water, as well as a number of high-pitched squeaks of various kinds coming from above.
“It's lunch time?” he guessed.
Suddenly, she slowed her pace and snuggled up to him, resting her head on his shoulder. “It's us time”, she said, softly. “We're going for a walk together.”
“And we're not walking anywhere in particular?”
“Oh, we are, but we've got time.”
He sighed, but deep down he was happy to be with her again after all this time.

So they walked along hand in hand, at a pace that would even have been slow for him. Every now and then Lapse would point out something or other – a tree, or a bush, or some other small plant, chattering away in much the same manner as she always had. He didn't understand a lot of it, but he knew it made her happy.
“So, is this what the days are like for you?”, he asked.
“Sometimes”, she said, “well, except I'm always by myself. Did you know this one is called Lilac?” she pointed to another one of those little plants. “It smells so nice. There are lots of nice things, though, it's not all flowers and trees. Sometimes you can be inside, and they have all of these great pictures that let you see things that are far away. Oh, and there's also these little balls that they shoot up into the sky, and they make the most dazzling patterns of light and colour, like a million stars all at once.”
“It sounds exciting.”
“Well, maybe compared to the stuff you usually do.”
“Oh? Am I dull?”
“Well, let's put it this way: Out of all the plants we've seen so far today, you'd be grass.”
“At least I know that one.”
She laughed and snuggled up to him again. “A walk in the park would be nothing without grass.” She looked up at him. “I'm so happy you finally came.”
He embraced her and she nuzzled her face into his chest.
“It's almost time”, she said afterwards, a sudden sense of urgency in her voice. “Hurry now!”
“Now we're in a rush?!” he tried to ask as she dragged him along. It seemed he'd be run off his feet yet.

“Here we are”, she announced, stopping suddenly in front of a bench. “We made it!”
She didn't seem at all tired, but Pack was totally out of breath. “We wouldn't have had to sit down if we hadn't done all that running.”
She laughed. “Just watch.”
He was more than happy to sit down. She sat down beside him and snuggled in close.
There didn't seem to be much to see. The river that Pack had heard earlier emptied into a lake in front of them. If there was supposed to be something on the other side of the lake, he couldn't make it out from here.
“Is something going to come out of the lake?”
“Be patient”, she gently chided him.
“I hope I won't miss it.”
“You won't.”
“Excuse me”, said a voice that didn't belong to either of them. He turned his head to see there was another man standing beside the bench. Lapse didn't even move. He hoped there wasn't trouble.
“I was just painting this scene”, the man continued.
“Oh, I hope we're not in your way”, Lapse offered. Pack didn't even think she had been listening.
“Oh no”, he said, sheepishly. “I just thought you two made a cute addition to the picture. I hope you wouldn't mind being in it.”
“Of course not”, Lapse said, snuggling up to him even more. “I hope it turns out great.”
He smiled and thanked them and went back off to his work.
“It's getting late”, Pack said, noting the sun in the sky. “Are you sure we didn't miss it?”

As the sun sank lower into the horizon, the light swept over the lake, changing the colour of the water from light blue to a brilliant orange. The light shimmered off the water's surface, creating little pockets of white light in between the waves.
“Wow”, Pack said, “I've seen the sun set so many times, but I never thought it could look like this.”
“You see?” she said. “There can be beauty even in the most simple things, if you know how to look for it. That's what I wanted to show you.”
“Well, I don't know a lot about that, but I guess it's a bit like when I watch you dance. Your movements are so smooth and graceful that I can't help but be captivated by how beautiful you really are.”
For once, she had nothing to say. She just sat there, silently, her tan-coloured cheeks
as red as the setting sun.
“It's finished!”, the stranger declared, holding the picture in front of them. The two of them were curled up together in front of the dazzling sunset as it painted the entire scene in a warm, orange light. “I think it looks just the way it was meant to, don't you?”
“Yes, it's perfect”, Pack said. “This is exactly how it should be.”
The sun slowly disappeared below the horizon, turning the water from orange, to red, to purple, then finally dark blue. The stranger vanished and the park faded away, leaving only Lapse's ship floating in from a distance. Lapse's eyes were closed as she lay there in complete contentment, he rubbed her head with his paw to let her know it was time to go and led her back to the ship.


He offered her his paw as she climbed over the railing of her ship. “That was wonderful”, he said to her. “I can't believe we could have been doing this all along and I said no.”
She smiled at him. She had been quiet ever since they were back in front of the lake, but now he had found his passion for her and it was he who felt exuberant.
“So this is what it means to be in love, is it?” he asked her, taking her paw in his.
“There's something more,” she said, unable to hold his gaze.
“What is it?” He asked, eagerly.
“...Do you trust me completely?”
“Of course I do.” He lifted her chin with his paw to meet his and stared into her eyes.
She kissed him again, but he was ready for it this time, and returned it passionately, wanting to show her that he felt just as strongly about her as she did about him. As he did so, he felt his heart pounding with an intense desire for her that he had never felt before.
“Then let me show you what lovers do”, she said, taking his paw in hers and leading him towards her cabin. She was still acting very sheepishly, but there was excitement in her voice as well. He knew he was ready for whatever it might be.

Inside her room, she sang the song to him again, slower and with more emphasis this time, and he finally understood what she had long ago. As the words dripped passionately from her lips, they made the song theirs, and as they reached the end together the look in his eyes told her she would never be alone again.

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