Even though it's hard to understand
That a silent wind can blow the candle out
Taking everything leaving the pain far behind
You call out my name, but your voice is fading
Into the wind, embraced, you'll fly away now
Nothing on this earth stays forever
But none of your deeds were in vain
Deep in our hearts you will live again
You're gone to the home of the brave
Glory to the Brave
Tyger did not know when he had left Rutger Bridge. He did not even care. He only knew that he could not stay at that place. Between Yiska and Brogan, he had no desire to be anywhere near them. Not now. Not yet. Neither of them understood how he felt, what he was thinking or what he was going through. Sure, they each may have had their own losses; Yiska's parents to an accident and Brogan had his own issues with being almost dead, turned into a cyborg and that entire mess. Tyger took a long drag on his cigarette and shouldered his assault rifle. He turned then and made his way from the bridge, back towards XSWAT HQ. He did not even look back or explain where he was going. He hoped that nobody would actually stop him.
Something moved at the corner of his eye, catching his attention. Tyger flicked his attention towards the source. A ruined Class II Entity struggled weakly from underneath a ruined car. It was still alive, and even as it lay there struggling to resist death, it still reached towards the clade. He stopped and watched the beast for a few moments, pondering why it would still fight and struggle to end his life, even while it sat upon Death's doorstep. Why it would seek to still fight, when what it sought to kill was in an obvious position of superiority.
What was it thinking? Or was it thinking at all? Was it some form of animal that had only enough thought to survive? No...not survive. If it sought survival, it would not reach out as it was. It would struggle to escape and flee. This thing's only thought was to kill. Why? Was that it's purpose? To simply kill? Something told him that that was not necessarily the case, especially in whatever world or reality these creatures came from.
Tyger started to step away, but he stopped, one leg caught in the weak, ruined grasp of the Entity he had been regarding. He shook his head slightly and ended the creature's tormented existence with a burst directly into the remains of its face and head.
Tyger sighed as he looked up at the battered, ruined frame of the Blue Steel Zero. Even in this state, after the time he spent after the battle, the machine still appeared to plead to be left alone. Unshouldering the assault rifle and web-kit and armor he had adorned himself in earlier, he began to pack his gear into the leg storage compartment he had pulled it from in the first place. "I'm sorry baby. But I need to get out of here. As soon as I can track down the right people and a place to work, I'll get you fixed up again. I promise."
Within minutes, the Blue Steel Zero reluctantly pulled itself up from its kneeling position. Another moment more and the mecha was powering into the air on thick columns of blue-white flame in a powered leap. From there the battered, ruined prototype was streaking down the nearly abandoned streets. To where? Tyger had no idea. He needed to get away. To escape. Without Marcy, his only means of escape was in the sanctuary of the mechanical cocoon of the Blue Steel Zero.
The front of a hospital... Tyger mused to himself as the Blue Steel Zero slowly came to a stop. The struggling whine of its damaged thrusters coughing as they entered their cool-down processes and wound down resonated through the entire mecha like a weary sigh of painful torment. ...why here? I ain't hurt that badly... Tyger stared at the front entrance curiously, almost as if he were trying to will the building to answer his question.
A series of flashing readouts illuminated his monitors. The primary alert told him of the critical condition that the Blue Steel Zero was in. The frame and superstructure had suffered severe damage, numerous internal systems were off-line, and the jet thrusters were hanging on by mere threads. "Alright. I get the hint love..." Tyger murmured as he pat the central monitor. "...I'll find Sirkowski and get her to have a look at you. You're gonna be alright."
Just as Tyger reached for the communicator to begin hunting his mechanic down, he caught something else that the Blue Steel was trying to tell him. A couple of quick taps brought the information up and he found a fairly bland layout of the sector he was in. Several flashing icons caught his attention. First was his, positioned at the center of the digital map. Two others caught his attention however. The first was that of Jamadigni Renuka. Tyger lifted a brow. "Now why would she be all the way over here? That don't make any...ahhh..." he caught himself in mid-sentence as the information for the other icon came into view. Nathan Carpenter was in there as well.
Tyger frowned and looked towards the building once more. The Order of Enoch had all but taken over the place. Not that it was a bad thing, for they would provide equal care to everyone. No surprise either, Carpenter had thrown his lot in with them fully recently, so it was expected that they would be the ones to take care of him.
"...Bloody well figures..." the clade muttered under his breath as he began the shutdown sequence for the Blue Steel Zero. He smiled though as the automated systems began to work in deactivating the mecha and as he disconnected himself from the Neural Network. Then something occurred to him, and his smile turned almost sympathetic "Thanks baby, I really appreciate it."
Tyger had never placed a command or given the impression that he wanted to find Carpenter, much less Jama. But it didn't matter. He was there, where they were, and he decided to make the most of it. After shutting and locking down the Blue Steel Zero, Tyger stepped towards the Enochian hospital.
Inside the hospital, Tyger found an utter madhouse of activity. The wounded and insane groaning and babbling, littering the floors, chairs and tables. Accompanying this cacophony was a veritable army of doctors, nurses and caretakers of all sorts, each attempting to do their job to offer comfort and rest for the wounded and insane.
He genuinely felt bad for walking past and through the scene as dispassionately as he did, but he had no choice. He knew that there was nothing he could do. He was not a doctor, and his knowledge in first aid was lacking...not that it would help most of the people here to begin with, and paramedics knowledge was absolutely abysmal. I can take lives...but I can't save them. I can break them, but I cannot fix them. I guess I ain't too much different than what I was created to kill am I? Tyger shook his head as he stepped past the main entrance hall. He had no idea where he was going, but he could at least figure it out with his databand.
Tyger stopped in his tracks, his internal musings suddenly cast into the back of his mind so that he could address the real world.
"Who are you and where in His name do you think you are going?"
So much for letting the mass of people and overabundance of activity granting him a free trip upstairs. Tyger bit the inside of his cheek as he turned to face the person that was addressing him.
"Medical staff and patients are the only ones in this area sir. I am going to have to ask you to leave." An older man, dressed in the attire of a priest, but also a surgical mask, a blood soaked disposable apron covered most of his chest, hinting at his duties and professions within the Order of Enoch, stood in the middle of the crowded hall hard, brown eyes glaring at Tyger from over a pair of small round spectacles that sat upon the end of his blunt nose. If it were not for the dark expression and condition of his attire, he would almost appear friendly or jolly in most circumstances.
Tyger offered a sad smile to the doctor. "I'm sorry. I...I'm looking for a couple of friends of mine. It's really important."
The doctor's countenance softened slightly, but he was still firm. "I am sorry, but you simply are not permitted in this area. I am afraid that I am going to have to ask you to go into the waiting area and see the secretary. They will s..."
"No. No time. I need to see them now" Tyger interrupted.
"I am afraid that it is just not that simple. We cannot just allow anyone in this area, they require special care an..."
The doctor was interrupted again as Tyger devoured the distance between himself and the older man. As he traversed the distance, the clade produced his identification, indicating his affiliation with XSWAT, which included his precinct and squad. "I don't give a flying fuck." Tyger growled. "I'm here to see Nathan Carpenter, and I ain't leavin' until I do. Now you have a choice, padre. You can turn your happy ass around and pretend you didn't see me and let me find him on my own, you can shut the fuck up and take me to wherever it is you've got him stashed, or I can get stupid."
"But..." The doctor stammered.
"Those are your choices old man." Tyger moved a hand to unlatch the holster to one of his pistols at his hip. "...and ain't none of 'em sound anything at all like 'you can't do that', y'hear?"
The doctor looked to his left and right, hesitating as if he was not sure exactly what he should do. He was clearly losing control of the situation.
"Mother fucker! We just fucking saved your sorry asses and the whole fuckin' world from some goddammed Demon army! We just took down the Grand King Poo-Bah of all of those motherfuckers when everyone else cowered and said that it couldn't be done! I am mother fuckin' 9th Squad, and there ain't shit I can't do! Ya hear me?"
The doctor took a long deep breath, his face reddened. If it was from anger, embarrassment or frustration, there was no way of telling. The doctor ten exhaled with a sigh and gave a slight nod of resignation. "Very well. Since you are so adamant, an associate of Sir Nathan Carpenter and one of the heroes who stood in the face of evil. Follow me."
Tyger gave a curt nod in reply and stepped aside to allow the doctor to pass and lead the way. As he did so, he put his badge away and secured his holster.
As the doctor passed him, he glared at the clade and spoke softly. "But in the future, please do not speak with such language in a House of the Lord or to his humble servants. Such language has no place here, nor does violence of any sort."
Tyger gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and showed the older man his open palms. "Alright, alright...just lead the way. Thanks."
The doctor shook his head as he started to make his way down the hall with Tyger in quick pursuit. Tyger quickly found himself in an elevator which wasted no time in ascending several floors. Tyger did not bother to count. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets, his stature bowed and his gaze downcast. It was almost as if by entering the elevator, all of the bravado, arrogance, bluster and anger had left the clade, leaving him with his own thoughts.
"He was a great man." The doctor mused aloud.
Tyger's ear flipped and he looked to the older man with a slightly raised brow. "You have no bloody idea old man. None at all." He paused and looked at the doctor fully as the rest of his words sunk in. "What do you mean 'was'? He's still alive, right?"
The doctor offered a sad smile. "For the time being he is. But his injuries are...well, I cannot talk about such things. He is not my patient and I have no right to discuss such matters with anyone but him or his family."
Tyger blinked in reaction and suddenly wished that the elevator could move a little faster. When the door opened, Tyger shoved himself past the doors, forcing and squeezing his way though due to his impatience.
"You will find him down the hall and to your left!" the doctor called over Tyger's shoulder. Already the clade had made a mad dash down the hall. "You cannot miss him!" There would be no way the doctor could hope to catch up, so he simply left the retreating clade with those instructions and stayed in the elevator. He had more than enough work to do anyway.
The doctor was right about that. Tyger had almost run over a nun who was kneeling in prayer in the middle of the hallway. A single member of many who was serving a silent prayer vigil for their Knight Protector. He cautiously and silently stepped past and around the silent throng of priests, nuns and others.
Some gave him dark glances for his utter irreverence, but most seemed to simply remain oblivious to the world around them as they remained submerged in their faith and prayers. With careful, tentatively slow movements, Tyger opened the door and let himself into the hospital room.
Tyger had spent more than his fair share of time in several hospitals for numerous injuries in his career with XSWAT. He knew what hospital rooms looked like, he knew what to expect.
He did not expect the sight that greeted his eyes upon passing the threshold. Tyger expected to see Carpenter laid out on a hospital bed, a few bandages here and there and hooked up to several manners of monitoring equipment. For the most part, that was true, but the addition of life-support machinery and a hardened plastic "tent" was another matter entirely.
Tyger was also half-expecting Jama to be present. The fact that he had tracked both her and Carpenter to this building, but she was not present. This just was not right. Carpenter should be the absolute last person to be alone.
The clade bit back a curse at seeing Carpenter as he was, remembering the priest's words and warning he had given before. He released a bitter sigh as he closed the door behind him, some of his actions that brought him to this point now were just beginning to sink in. Nate will have my head on a stick for that one...
Tyger walked towards the plastic tent, housing Nathan Carpenter's body, laid before the clade as he had never seen him before: beaten, broken, wounded. Tyger had suffered all manners of wounds in his service with XSWAT, especially in the past year. He never once thought about how he may look to someone else. Somehow though, this was not the Nathan Carpenter he knew...and yet in a way, it was.
With a single hand, Tyger touched the plastic barrier. The fact that the color of his fur matched the hair and beard of the Paladin was not lost on him in the least. Another sigh was released, though this one was far more sad and a lot less bitter.
"Hey Nate..." He murmured softly. "...I..." He paused. He knew what he wanted to say. But how should it be said? Could it be said at all?
"Look...you know that I ain't a pillar of any community. The way I figure it, when I finally blow it, I'm goin' straight downstairs. Don't get to pass 'Go', and I sure as hell ain't getting' two hundred creds either. But at least I tried, right? I may have gone about it all wrong, but that's better than nothin'. Right?"
Tyger sighed again, his hand clenching into a fist. "Nate...I've done some pretty shitty things in my life. You know that. Who doesn't? I was a bloody pirate for cryin' out loud. Y'know as well as I do that I'm beyond whatever savin' you may think I need."
Another long moment of silence. Eventually Tyger stepped away to pull a chair up beside the plastic sarcophagus that held his friend. "You though...you're a good guy Nate. You don't deserve this. I should be where you are right now...not you."
"If I could take your place right now...to have you be up, runnin' around and healthy with me knockin' on death's door, I'd do it. No problems. No regrets. You deserve a whole hell of a lot better'n what you got t'day an' a hell of a hell of a lot more than what I've got."
"Goddammit Nate!" Tyger stood up from his chair and pounded lightly in frustration at the plastic shield. The hint of tears in his voice as he fought to maintain his composure. "You ain't supposed to be there! You're supposed ta go back to your wife an' kids! I'm a goddammed criminal! I should be there. Not you!"
Tyger slid to his knees, his fingers clawing at the plastic helplessly, his tears flowing freely now. "First mom got taken from me...as much as I hated her at times...sh...she was still my mom. And...I loved her.
"And now you are being taken as well. You were with us on day one! It isn't supposed to end like this! We're Ninth Squad dammit! We're supposed to stick together. Ain't nothin' can stop us! Not Class III Entities. Not a trip to space. Not Omega Sector...Not even the end of the world itself! It just ain't right, and it just ain't fair! Why couldn't I go? Why do I gotta stay? You know damn well I'd...we...we'd be lost without you Nate."
There was a long sigh as Tyger bit back more tears. "When all of this got started, you were the only one that believed in me. Before the trial, during and afterwards...all the way up until now. The Jama and Dick came around eventually...but even then, I don't think they really do believe in me. Or that they care...Even if they did, they never really showed it. You did, and you didn't ask anything in return. Only other person to do anything close to that was Marcy...and even then, that didn't happen right away..."
"I'm gonna marry her Nate. Marcy told me...promised me that she would come back to me. When she gets back, we...we're gonna have a nice wedding. But...you gotta be there dammit. I haven't picked a Best Man, an' you're the only person who fits the bill. Mom told me she would be at my wedding...but she lied...
"You can't leave Nate. Mom abandoned me...and you and Marcy are all I've got left. You can't go away too..."
Tyger tried to restrain himself, to rein his emotions in, but it was a losing battle. He clenched his hands into tight fists as he knelt there in sorrow; his feline claws digging into the palms of his own hands, staining his stark white fur, and soon the floor, liquid crimson.
Unable to hold back any longer, the pain he inflicted upon himself to bite back his tears wholly insufficient, Tyger allowed his grief to flow freely. It was very rare that he succumbed or acknowledged his deeper emotions. It was even rarer that he allowed them out, to be seen and felt by the whole world. Indeed, even if those outside could not hear the clade's words, his pleas for it to be different, or even hear his tears, they could be felt resonating from the room.
Jama stepped inside of the room softly, gripped by a moment of indecision. Just hours ago, Tyger had lashed out, though not entirely violently though quite unexpectedly, at the sorceress. Seeing him in this state now, never mind how he had gotten here, was enough to cause her to give pause. Even for a moment.
"Tyger?" She murmured softly, unsure just how the clade would react.
The only sound that would come from Tyger for several moments would be the soft whimpering of someone who had done such a good job of keeping it all together, bound up tight and always with a smirk or flare of "Devil-May-Care" assurance that he was untouchable had finally been broken. He had reached that limit, finally, where only the most tortured men reach in the worst of conditions after such suffering and torment that few would even comprehend and even fewer would actually know. He had reached a point where he had given everything and yet more was demanded of him.
The point where a man can remain a man...
...or be a hero.
Jama stepped carefully towards the clade, unsure of just what reaction she would get from him. It took a moment, but she decided to take the risk. Slowly, carefully she reached out and placed a hand on Tyger's shoulder.
When he finally did decide to speak, Tyger's words were a soft murmur of despair. "Who else? They already my past from me. Took my ship, my crew. Theytook Alice... Mom from me. Marcy is half a world away, not even sure if she can come back and now Nate. Who else Jama? Dick? You? How much more do I have to give? How much more has to be taken from me? I have given all I've got an' it wasn't enough.
"How much more do I have to give up and sacrifice Jama? Why do they take everything from me?"
Jama knelt beside the bed and slowly moved her arm around Tyger's shoulder. No one took Alice Cadbury from you." She began slowly. "She chose to go. And in her final moments she looked happier than I have ever seen her."
Tyger said nothing, his gaze still turned to the tear and blood stained floor in front of him. Stained by his tears. His blood. Slowly, his shoulders and arms shaking he opened his hands. His hands had been clenched into fists so tightly that although he had drawn blood, the flow had been minimal. The act of opening his hands caused the pink rivulets to flow freely between his fingers and onto the floor.
"And no one has taken Nathan Carpenter from us, either. He is here now, and will be here tomorrow. He has made his choice, and he has chosen to remain by our side.
"I am still here Tyger, and so are Richard, and Yiska, and Malachi. We are still together, we are still friends, companions, and comrades in arms, and none of us have given up. I know we will not be together much longer, but will not be death that causes us to go our separate ways, but our choices for the future."
Tyger sighed heavily, still looking at his hands, his stark white fur stained with blood. His blood. "Even if mom sacrificed herself, was murdered or simply just decided to leave for good...I...I still did not get to say goodbye to her. I wasn't able to tell her what she meant to me...or even tell her 'thanks'. Sh...she left without saying goodbye. Alice was the closest thing I ever had to a mother Jama...I... just wanted to say goodbye. And tell her I loved her."
He took another long sigh, and exhaled slowly, closing his hands once more, but nowhere nearly as tight as they had been before. For a brief moment, Jama may get the feeling that Tyger was actually enjoying the pain he inflicted upon himself. As if that small amount of punishment he inflicted upon himself made him feel...better.
What Jama did next totally surprised him. Tyger would have thought that the sorceress would have done...something...something totally different than what she did. Tyger's mind went blank as Jama took his face into her hands and forced him to look into her eyes. He could smell her sweat, the evidence of her own actions, her scent as a human, as a woman. He tried to avert his gaze, but she held him fast, forcing him to look into her deep green eyes, and it was only then that she spoke.
"When I left Bali two years ago, I said goodbye to my mother and father and told them I loved them. And had I died today, or on any of our other missions, they would still have that memory. So perhaps I am the lucky one. But I saw the bridge you held. I saw the dead there. How many of them had that chance? How many of them were able to say goodbye before they were taken?
"Alice Cadbury loved us more than we will ever know, even if it wasn't readily apparent. And before she left she gave us a gift greater than we could have imagined. A moment of Perfect Grace. Do you think she granted that gift idly? Do you think she would have given that gift to just anyone?"
Tyger bit his lip, his feline blue-green eyes welled slowly once again with tears. He leaned forward slowly, his forehead gently resting against his own as he closed his eyes, forcing his tears back. "I know she loved me Jama...despite how horrible of a creature I am...she loved me. If she did not, she would not have done the things that she has done for me...for any of us. I...I just never got a chance to tell her.
"I..." he paused and swallowed hard. By now, Jama could feel his hands wrapping around her waist, like a child seeking the embrace of his mother. "...I don't even want to think about how many didn't get to say goodbye. But most of 'em got to tell their loved ones that they loved them. Even if they didn't do it before they died...they at least got to tell them. I never got the chance to ever tell mom..."
Tears forced themselves from Tyger's eyes once more. "She gave me the only thing that I ever wanted Jama. So did Nathan and Marcy..." Jama would find a new sensation on her shoulder, for as Tyger spoke, he pulled Jama into a hug. It was not a hug of friendship, or even a hug from a child unto a parent. It was a hug given from a soul who, for all intents and purposes, had never really received a hug or a sense of genuine caring from another but who desperately needed it.
"...and all of 'em have been taken from me." Tyger mumbled into her shoulder, now slowly growing damp with his tears. "Everything I've ever cared about has been taken away. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to mom or tell her I loved her. Marcy ran off to another country...she said she'd be back...I wanna believe her...but I just don't know. Now Nathan's gone too. I've got nothing left to give Jama...why do I have to suffer? What did I do wrong? Why do I have to be unwanted, unloved and hated? Why aren't I allowed to be happy like everybody else?"
Jama sighed softly and then kissed Tyger's forehead. If there was supposed to be some manner of significance to that action, the clade was unaware of it. "You're not listening, Tyger. Nathan Carpenter is not gone. He has chosen life, to live, to stand with us and continue the tasks Alice Cadbury gave us. He is not dead, not yet, and he will be there to stand with you on your wedding day." She paused for a moment, as if in thought, before she continued to speak. "As I, and the others. You are not unwanted or unloved, if only you'd open your eyes and see."
Tyger blinked a couple of times. Didn't he hear something like that from Carpenter at some point? Tyger tried not to crack a slight smile at that. He looked like he was about to say something, but Jama continued; And whatever he was going to say right then was lost in what Jama told him next.
"Alice Cadbury charged me to take her place, Tyger, and I will. And I will have need of you. Your knowledge, your skills... and your smirking grins in the face of adversity. Both as Defender of Angelus and Director of XSWAT."
Tyger looked for all the world as if he had been slapped in the face, after being smacked upside his head with a fifteen pound wrench. "You... wha... huh? You have got to be kidding me. You're just a kid, still wet behind the ears!" He said with a slight smirk. His words were typical of the self-assured pilot, but it was obvious that he was happy for her.
Jama sat back then, her hands upon his shoulders. Will you have me then? As a... stepmother perhaps?"
Tyger smiled for a moment, but then it turned into a halfcocked grin. One hand moved to rub the back of his neck "I dunno...I still kinda think of you as my little sister. But if you are taking the Director's chair, I guess I have no choice but to stick around Jama. After all, someone's gotta keep you outta trouble."
Jama laughed at that. "Now that's the Tyger I know."
Tyger gave her one of his grins as they both stood up and looked upon Carpenter, who seemed far closer to life than to death. He was going to make it. Tyger had no idea how long he had been in that room before Jama showed up to talk some sense into him. He did not have any idea of how long he had been standing there with the Sorceress...no. The Director, before a doctor hustled both of them out of the room. Although Tyger was not entirely willing to leave yet, he took one last look at Carpenter and accepted the doctor's expertise.
"Hey Jama..." Tyger began as he tugged at her sleeve. "I just thought of something. If you're the Director and you need me around, does this mean I'm going to be stuck behind a desk? 'Cause you know how much I hate paperwork."