Fear The Dawn: Chapter 45

The mood on the ship was jubilant. Despite their ordeal, the others were overjoyed to see the orange one and his crew return safe and sound. They were chatting, laughing, and slapping each other on the back, yet Karma found he could not share in their high spirits. Somehow Corsair's return only served to make him all the more aware that his own task was not done, and the fact that he alone carried that burden prevented him from truly being one of them. He walked over to the railing of the large ship and looked out to the sea. His own ship was out there, not too far away, and he longed to return there and get back about his business, but the others were in no great hurry.

Well, well, there you are”, a smarmy voice greeted him. It was the white-furred captain of Lace's ship.
He didn't respond to her, but she wasn't deterred.
I was really surprised to learn that you're one of us”, she said, “and even more surprised when you came to ask for my help.”
It was really Lace's help he had come for, and her demeanour annoyed him a bit, but he tried to be pleasant. “I suppose I realized that there are some things that I cannot do on my own”.
You should visit more often, you don't have to be alone all the time”. She put her paw on his face and tickled him with her tail, which he really didn't care for. “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.”
He was a bit surprised to hear that, but he wasn't falling for her silly game. “I'm afraid not,” he said, “I still have a lot work to do.”
She didn't seem to get the message, instead she wrapped her paws around him and kissed him on the cheek. “Well, that's thanks for all the help you gave us”. Despite her tone, her gratitude seemed genuine. “Lace has far more for you than that”, she whispered in his ear. “Don't be a stranger, now”, she said, slipping away from him, giving him one last tickle with her tail as she left.
His impression of her could hardly have been more different from Lace.

He had not even noticed that the orange-furred one had been standing there, watching the scene unfold.
I heard you came to help us”, he said, joining him at the railing. “Thanks for looking out for Sister and the others while I was gone.”
I was worried that my words might have brought about disaster”.
Corsair looked out across the ocean, deep in thought. “Well, everything turned out all right in the end. All's well that ends well, right?”
I wonder”, Karma replied pensively. “Can things ever truly go back the way they were?”. Even if Line came back, would they still be friends? He had never really considered it much, he had convinced himself that it didn't matter, that he just had to bring Line back to atone for what he had done. Tonight, he dared to hope so, but he still felt very unsure about it.
You know something, don't you?”, Corsair said, looking at him curiously. “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 railing.

The next one to bother him was the grey-furred one, Pack. “So, we finally meet”, he said, though to Karma's mind he knew him well enough. “My name is Pack, and you are?”
My name is Karma”, he replied, only half-paying attention.
You saved my life back there, and you gave me good advice several times before, stubborn as I was to accept it. I really owe you a lot of thanks.”
Just don't lose her again.”
I most surely won't, friend”. They grey one extended his paw towards Karma. Karma looked at him out of the corner of his eye for a moment, and eventually he decided to shake it.
Have you met her?”, he asked unexpectedly. “She should know how much you've done for us.”
Karma was caught very off guard by that, but he knew that this was his chance. She would be grateful for how he had helped Pack, and then he could ask her for her help finding Line. He just wished he had more time to prepare, Pack led him off to see her in such a hurry that he barely had time to catch his breath.

Lapse was chatting happily with the Calico when they arrived. He was briefly happy to have a moment of extra time to plan what he would say, but Pack tapped her on the shoulder and got her attention immediately.
Lapse, this is Karma, the captain of the Black Ship. He helped me escape this morning, and he made me see what a stubborn fool I had been.”
Hello, Lapse”, he said, trying not to look at her directly. He still didn't have what he was going to say next worked out yet.
She knew. He could tell instantly from the way the enthusiasm melted out of her voice and the glance she gave him that she remembered who he was. He had dared hope she might have forgotten, or that hearing what Pack had to say might change things, but it hadn't. Things were quickly turning very bad. She was still looking at him, and he had even less idea what to say now than ever.
I'm glad you're safe”, he blurted out.
He half-expected her to tell Pack about what had happened the first time they met, and then he would really be in trouble. They would probably throw him overboard, though that might be preferable to this awkward silence. She didn't, though. “Thanks for helping Pack”, she replied, though it was clear that it was a mere courtesy. Still, it could have been a lot worse. His chance would not come tonight, but perhaps someday when he had a much better plan it might still be possible. He quickly excused himself from that awful conversation and returned to his railing.

He really wanted to get back to his ship now, but they were still too far away. He contemplated simply slipping quietly over the railing and swimming back there, and he probably would have done so if he had not been interrupted again.
Oh, it's you. Karma, right?”, It was the Calico. “I'm Sister. Lay told me about how you came to help us. Without your help, we probably would have never been able to bring Corsair back, so thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea what this means to me.”
You're welcome”, he said, surprised by her graciousness. That was probably the kind of thing he needed to say to Lapse, though he had no talent for it.
I feel like we've met before”, she said, looking at him carefully.
He briefly considered telling the truth, but he deemed it to be too risky. She and Lapse were close now, the last thing he could afford was for her to dislike him, too. “Perhaps we may have, in a different time and place”, he said. “Thank you for looking after Lapse.”
Did something happen between you and her?”, she asked. “I can talk to her if you want.”
So she could tell as well. He couldn't be surprised, but if she discussed it with Lapse, Lapse might tell her the truth about what had happened. No, this was something he had to do himself.
That's all right”, he said, “you don't need to worry about it.”
She seemed unconvinced, but she let the matter drop. “All right. I need to do something, but I hope you'll stick around. You might not feel like you belong here, but none of us would be here if not for you.”
He didn't know how to respond, but she left quickly afterwards. If only he had her talent for speaking with others, so many things might have been so much easier. He looked back out towards his ship, still waiting patiently on the gentle seas. Perhaps he would be all right here for a little longer.

Not too long afterwards a kind of quiet fell over the deck of the big ship. Sister had returned from whatever she was doing now, and everyone else just seemed to watch as she and Corsair finally spoke to one another. He didn't know the full story, but he knew how devastated she had been when he went away, and perhaps the others did, too. Watching the two of them reunited, even his jaded heart was slightly moved. He glanced at Lapse out of the corner of his eye, she seemed very happy, which greatly relieved him. Hopefully she had forgotten he was there, but either way it looked like he didn't have to worry about her disappearing again for a while. As he was watching, Lapse stepped forward from where she had been standing, and for a moment he was worried that she had caught him looking at her, but then she began to speak out in a strange, rhythmic way that blanketed the entire ship in a soothing atmosphere. Corsair and Sister wrapped their paws around each other and began to sway back and forth together. He couldn't help but be reminded of the first time he met Lace, and he almost wished she was here now to see this. This was their moment, though, a celebration of their success. While at first he had felt like he didn't belong and perhaps even a little resentful that it had been Corsair who came back instead of Line, now he felt a bit of hope. Perhaps someday Line could come home as well.

When it was all over it finally came time to say their goodbyes. The grey-furred one took the wheel and one by one he returned them to their ships. Karma remained quiet, but when they came to Captain Lay's ship, he found himself accosted once again.
I'll take you the rest of the way”, she said, taking his arm in her paw.
He had no intention of going with her, but she practically dragged him onto her ship. The others hardly even seemed to take notice.
Karma!”, a familiar voice called to him. He immediately found himself wrapped up tightly in Lace's waiting arms. “Thank goodness you're okay.” Lay smiled at him and left the two of them alone.
Yes, I'm all right”, he said, returning her embrace. “I'm glad you're okay too.”
What happened? Where did you go?”, she immediately wanted to know. He told her about the strange colourful world where nothing was as it seemed to be, though he left out the part where he had seen her. She listened intently, her eyes widening when he told her about the way the world began to disappear around them.
In the end”, he concluded, “it turned out that the stranger was actually the one called Corsair, and Sister convinced him to come back with us.”
That's amazing”, she said, “Lay will be so happy. What a morning this must have been, I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you.”
You've helped me more than you know. I couldn't have done this without you.”
She smiled, and she finally let him go. “So, Karma, what will you do now?”
My friend is still out there. I have to find him and bring him home.”
Oh, of course”, she said, looking down at her feet. “I guess this is goodbye again, then. I'm glad I was able to help you, Karma.”
He looked over at her. She wasn't crying, but he knew she was sad. They had come to his ship, but he couldn't leave things like that. Lace just wanted to be with him, and he realized that he wanted her to be part of his life, too, but he had never really made a friend of his own accord before, and even those who had actively tried to befriend him had gone away. He had no idea how to be a friend to her, but he had to say something. His ship was right there...
Would you like to see The Black Ship?”
Lace perked up immediately. “You mean it?”
I'd love to!”, she said, embracing him again, and he lead her onto his ship.

Wow, it really is almost invisible!”, she said, admiring the sail.
As black as the night itself”.
No one could ever see you coming with this!”. She ran her paws over the cloth, as if to reassure herself it was even there. So far she had been entranced by all of it.
If you want, I can show you my favourite spot on the ship.” She was especially excited to see that, so he helped her climb up to the base of the sail.
It's breathtaking”, she gasped, “you can see almost the entire ocean. Look, there's our ship, way over there.”
They had sailed some distance away from Lay's ship. He felt a little uncomfortable with her being right beside them.
Look at this”, he said, leaning back into the sail a bit and tucking his paws behind him, his black fur disappearing into the sail.
Wow!”, she said, again, “it's like you're totally gone!” She looked down at her own body. “I don't disappear” she said, pointing to the lone ridge of white fur that hung below her neck.
You don't need to. I like seeing you.”
She smiled. “Thanks. I like being with you, too. This is really nice.”
She reached over and put her paw around his back, but he shied away from her touch.
What's wrong?”, she asked. “Is there someone else?”
He shook his head. “No, it's not that. I have some idea what it is you want, but I don't think I can be that person.”
You're already the person I want”, she said. “I like you just the way you are.”
A little reluctantly, he put his arm around her, and she laid her head down on his shoulder. He was nervous at first, but he soon got used to it, and he even found himself tilting his head a little to rest it against hers. They stood quietly like that for a long time, watching the sun begin to rise together.
Lace”, he said, trying to get her attention.
Mm?”, she replied, half-consciously.
We should probably be getting you back to your ship.”
All right”, she said, still a bit out of it. He helped her back down to the ground. He led her back towards the wheel so he could turn the ship around.
Wait”, she said coyly, “there's still something you haven't shown me yet.”
What's that?”, he asked, desperately hoping she didn't mean the area below deck.
Your cabin”, she replied, much to his relief. That would be all right.
He took her over to the cabin, open the door, and stepped inside. “All right”, he said, “here it is, but there's really nothing to see-”
She closed the door behind herself and pounced on him.

I'm sorry to be so forward”, she said afterwards, “but I was afraid if I didn't it would never happen between us.”
You don't have to apologize”, he said, idly caressing her body with his paw, “it was nice.”
He had been shocked to discover just how hungry he was for her once they started. It was not unlike the way he used to feel at the sight of blood, but much less revolting. He chuckled softly in spite of himself, when she first leapt on him, for a moment he had actually believed she meant to attack him, but he quickly realized otherwise, and when she screamed and cried out his name he finally understood what it was between them.
I'm glad you like me”, she said shyly. “I could kind of tell, but I was afraid.”
I was afraid too, but I'm getting over it”, he said, kissing her. “If you want me to let you in, I think I might be able to do that.”
She smiled. “That's all I ask. So, what do we do now?”
He glanced out the window in his cabin. He hadn't been thinking about it, but it was almost morning. “We'd better get you back to your ship”, he said, “the sun will be up soon.”
I was kind of hoping I could stay here with you.”
He considered it, he really did. He could start all over with her, and he knew she would bring him happiness unlike any he had experienced before in his life. He wanted to say yes and gather her up in his arms and indulge those passions again, but he couldn't forget the person he had been. His past was still a part of him, and until he settled things he couldn't think ahead to his future just yet.
I'm sorry Lace”, he said sadly, “but this is something I have to do. My friend is out there, waiting for me, and I'm the only one who can bring him home. But when this is all over, I'll come back for you, I promise.”
All right”, she said, embracing him. “I understand. I'll be waiting.”
They shared a last kiss as she returned to her own ship. Lay looked on knowingly, very pleased with herself, but Karma couldn't even bring himself to be annoyed by her right now.

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