What Lies Beyond: Chapter 49

“So this is how it is”, he said, holding his paws out in front of him as he stared out over the endless purple waves. “This is what's been clawing at the back of my mind.”
“Do you remember now?” The spotted cat asked him.
“It's fuzzy” he said, rubbing his head with his paw. “Are you okay?”
“I will be”, she said, twisting her arm a little bit. The sling they had made for her had vanished when she turned into a cat, and the bones appeared to have mended themselves. “I'm so glad we're finally all back together again.”
He looked around the ship. Besides the ones who had taken him back to the ship, there were other, distantly familiar faces. They stretched and staggered about, as if awakening from a long slumber.
“You should go and say hi to everyone”. she said, gesturing to two of the other cats he had met earlier with her other paw. “It might help you remember.”

“I'm sorry”, the brown cat said to the grey one, “I shouldn't have doubted you.”
“I'm sorry too”, he said. “I know that place meant a lot to you, and we never got to see it together.”
“In the end, I guess you were right”, she said, sadly. “Going together in the morning really was dangerous. We barely made it back from that one. After today, I can't imagine you'd ever want to do that again.”
“Don't say that”, he said, putting his paw under her chin and lifting it up. “Even if I had to endure a thousand days like today, I wouldn't leave you again. And someday, we'll find that place again. In happier times, I know it.”
“Oh Pack”. She wrapped her paws around him and squeezed him, a tear running down the side of her fuzzy face.
“What's wrong?” he asked, good-naturedly.
She shook her head and smiled slightly. “...There are still a lot of things I need to tell you about.”
He nuzzled her. “Shall we go to my cabin this time? Or would you prefer to go back to yours?”
“Surprise me”, she said, burying her head in his chest, “I'm sure you won't let me down.”

Corsair didn't want to interrupt, so he waited until they noticed him. It gave him time to try to put his memories back together.
“You must be... Lapse”, he said, finally. “And Pack, my old friend.”
“Corsair”, he said, shaking his paw, “welcome back.”
“I can see a lot has happened while I was away”, he said, looking at Lapse. “I'm so glad you two finally found each other again. You're meant to be together, I can tell.”
“Thanks”, she said, hugging him. “we never really got to know each other, but I'm glad you came back. There's a lot of people here who really missed you.”
“He never gave up on you, you know”, Corsair told her. “All the time you were gone, he kept searching for a way to bring you back.”
“She never gave up on you, either”, she said, leaning in and whispering into his ear. He glanced back to where the spotted cat had been, but she had gone away somewhere.

On the other side of the ship, the white and black cats stood outlined against the starry sky.
“I was really surprised to learn that you're one of us”, she said to him. “And even more surprised when you came to ask for my help.”
“I suppose I realized that there are some things that I cannot do on my own”, he said, not really looking at her.
“You should visit more often, you don't have to be alone all the time.” She put her paw on his face, and walked in a circle around him, stroking him with her fluffy tail: “You did a number on Lace, you know, she came dashing in to tell me that the man of her dreams was back and he needed our help. I'm sure she'd love to keep you company some time.”
“I'm afraid not,” he said, unamused. “I still have a lot work to do.”
She wrapped her paws around him and and kissed him on the cheek. “Well, that's thanks for all the help you gave us.”
He said nothing, but for a moment, his eyes betrayed the slightest hint of surprise. She saw it and smiled at him. “Don't be a stranger, now”, she said, puffing her cheek and waggling her tail the way she always did.
“Poor guy”, Corsair chuckled as the black-furred one turned to look out over the sea.

“I heard you came to help us.” he said, standing beside him. “Thanks for looking out for Sister and the others while I was gone.”
“I was worried that my words might have brought about disaster”, he said, still looking out over the ocean.
“Well, everything turned out all right in the end. All's well that ends well, right?”
“I wonder... Can things ever truly go back the way they were?”
“You know something, don't you?” He looked at him inquisitively. “I'd like to hear your story, Karma.”
“Perhaps someday, if it becomes a story worth telling, but there is much to do before then. Besides, I think you have more important people to speak to tonight.”
“I won't forget”, he said, leaving Karma to his thoughts.

She turned to look at him but did not speak. As he looked into the white cat's green eyes, a mixture of happy and painful memories overwhelmed him, and he could not speak, the words caught in his chest.
“About that night”, she started to say, “it doesn't matter-”, but he took her by surprise, throwing his arms around her and sealing her lips with a kiss. Her surprise quickly melted away to contentment as she wrapped her arms around him and returned it with a fierce desire she thought was gone from her.
“I'm so sorry I misunderstood your feelings.” he said, after their lips finally parted. “I never wanted to hurt you, truly, I didn't. I don't know if we can go back to how things were, but I couldn't bear to leave things like that.” He leaned in closer, their noses touching, and stared straight into her eyes, which were as wide as they could go. “I should have told you I loved you that night, but I didn't understand.”
She shook her head and backed away a little. “This is wrong. It's Sister you should be with...”
But she was a bad girl, and her conviction completely broke down as she gazed into his loving eyes. “Curse my traitorous heart”, she thought as she gave in to her desires and kissed him again, furious with herself but loving every second of it.

“Cross!”, he said, spotting an old friend. “I'm so glad to see you are still here with us.”
“What happened to us?” asked the black and white-coloured cat, placing a paw to his head.
“Actually, I was going to ask you if you knew”, he said, a little concerned. “So you don't remember anything?”
“I feel... as if I have been waiting for a long time, but for what I couldn't say.”
“That's my fault”, he said, his head dipped. “I didn't come back to the ship. Perhaps you were waiting for me all this time.”
“I don't know.” He said, closing his eyes and trying to concentrate. “Something has changed. For the first time, I feel... lost. I don't know what I'm supposed to do now. A fine situation for a navigator to be in, wouldn't you say?”
“What is it that you want to do?”
He thought for a while. “I want to know more. I realize now that there is more to us than we ever imagined. I want to find out who I truly am.”
“Then maybe you need to start following your own path rather than mine.”
He shook his head. “I'm sure that if we follow you, you'll take us on adventures unlike anything we've ever known. This time, I will not hesitate to see where they lead.”
“I'll do my best to become a captain worthy of your trust, but until that day comes, I hope you will not hesitate to offer your advice when it is needed.”
“Of course” he nodded. “If you want my advice right now, I think you should see how Sabre is doing. She was there with you as well, wasn't she?”
“Yes, I believe so, and I haven't seen her since we came back. I hope she's all right.”

He climbed the stairs to the rear of the ship, hoping to spot Sabre. Suddenly, something landed on the ground in front of him with a clacking sound. He looked down to see a wooden practice sword at his feet.
“We have some unfinished business”, she said, dropping down from the sail above.
“What are you-” he started, but she was already charging at him, her sword drawn.
Corsair quickly grabbed for the sword and thrust it above his head as she leapt at him, but he lost his balance and fell on his backside. He scrambled to get away as she swiped at him and just barely missed his back leg. He got back on his feet just in front of the back railing and turned to see her charging at him, he quickly swayed to the right to avoid her thrust, then returned a horizontal slash of his own that was easily blocked. She pushed his sword arm away and made a quick chopping attack for his head, but he ducked out of the way and she struck the railing instead with a loud crack. Seizing his opportunity, he swept his sword at her legs, but she jumped and landed on the flat of his sword, pulling it out of his paws. As he struggled to regain his footing, she chopped downwards with her sword, but he caught her paws before it reached him, and kicked out her leg while she was caught off guard. The sword fell from her paws and she tumbled down on top of him. He reached for the sword but she quickly stamped her paw down on his arm, pinning it to the deck. He tried to reach for her with his other paw but she was too quick for him and caught it before he could reach her.
“I win”, she said, kneeling on top of him and pinning him to the ground. Beaten, he stopped struggling against her and waited for her to let him go, but instead, she brought her face in close so she could look right into his eyes. “Now, promise you'll never leave me behind again”, she whispered, in a softer, more vulnerable tone of voice than he had ever heard from her.
“I promise”, he said, wrapping his arms around her. “We're a team, you and I.”
Her strong green eyes lit up and a warm smile graced her lips. She placed her paws on his chest and snuggled up to him, letting her feelings show just this once. “You'd better not forget...”

He made a quick trip around the dock to make sure the rest of his crew was all right. His memories of his life here and the events leading up to when he went away were clearing up, and with that came a painful feeling of remorse surrounding the one person he had yet to speak to. She was standing there, patiently waiting for him, as she had been for a long time, and the more he thought about it the more he found himself at a loss for words.
“Has it all come back to you now?” she asked kindly, with no trace of bitterness in her voice.
“I don't know what I can say to you”, he said, stricken with guilt. “You needed me, and I abandoned you.”
She looked down at her feet. “It's okay, I understand now that you were just trying to help.”
“But you were right. In the end, it was up to us to solve our own problems, not the strangers. I should have listened to you.”
“Maybe not”, she said, shaking her head and moving closer to him. “Who knows if I ever would have figured things out if I hadn't gone through that.” She wrapped her arms around him. “You're safe now, that's all the matters”.
“You really are too kind” he said, surprised and humbled. “I don't feel right just leaving it at that.”
She looked up at him with her innocent blue eyes. “Well, if you really want to make me happy, you could dance with me.”
“But there's no music.” He said, returning her gaze.
As soon as he finished speaking, Lapse stepped forward and everyone fell silent. She closed her eyes for a moment, then she began to sing a lonely, hopeful melody that fell over the ship like a spell. He offered her his right paw, she took it, and all eyes were on the two of them as they danced along with the words.

“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.”

As the song came to a close, he kissed her gently on the nose and lifted her chin up so her eyes met his. “I hope that can make up a little of what I owe to you.”
She sighed contentedly. “There's just one thing I want to know: Was what you found out there better than what you have here?”
He thought about it for a moment. “To be honest, I don't know. I'm still not quite sure just what happened out there, or how I've changed since I came back.” He took a moment to look over his ship, where the smiling faces of all of his friends stared back at him. “...But the one thing I do know is that this is where I belong.”
She snuggled up to him and buried her head in his chest. “I'm so glad to have you back, Corsair.”


And so eventually they said their farewells and went their separate ways. Karma was anxious to to get back to whatever it was he was doing, and Pack and Lapse seemed eager to have some time to themselves. As for Corsair, he set the course for his ship to whatever came to mind and gave his crew the night off, then he retired to his cabin to write down whatever hazy details of his absence remained in his mind. As he leafed through the pages to find the next blank one, he read over some of his previous entries laughed at how clueless he had been back then. He came to the entry he had made about Steven and smiled, remembering how happy they had been to find him. The entries after that were filled with wild theories and plans, and he felt a little sad as he glanced over them, thinking about how things had turned out. He finally came to the last page and nearly dropped the book on the floor:

I found Steven again.
He found Michelle, she made it back, and they forgave each other. He had changed a lot, but they were still together, and they seemed very happy. More than anything, though, they both wanted to thank you. They never forgot what you did for them, so I thought I'd write this down for you so you'd never forget:
Thank you for everything, Corsair.

You were right, we really did do something great that night.”

A tear rolled down his cheek and onto the page. He looked at the blank page, then put the book away, no longer having anything to write. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, feeling at peace with everything.

Then there was a soft knocking at his door. “Come in”, he said, barely lifting his head.
“I thought you'd come”, he said, gazing warmly at the figure who entered his cabin.
“Shhhh”, she nodded, raising a paw to her mouth. She walked over to his desk, blew out his lantern, wrapped her paws around him, and climbed onto his lap, and they said nothing more for the rest of the night.

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