A/N - Again some potentially heavy subject mattter, just to let you know. Didn't plan to have two of these back to back, it just how it worked out.


OP – Mercy Drive – Burn In My Light

Somebody had to be attacking him with a boulder, a tree or something equally heavy. That was the only reason he could currently think of that explained why his head was killing him as much as it did. So much so that he couldn't even feel Daxium telling him where or who it was. Then he tried opening his eyes to see where the attack was coming from. Huge ass mistake as he quickly closed them again when the pain seemed to increase. Holding his head it took Ken another couple of seconds to realize he was in a bed. What the hell?

Then it slowly started to come back to him. There was a party last night. Some sort of anniversary, or special event. Something that required the massive celebration. Probably something on a bureaucratic level that he didn't care about one way or another. Everybody just went, or had to go... that part was still a little fuzzy. He was leaning more toward the had to go as he seemed to recall Hawk insisting that he show up. And he didn't have to dress it up, he just had to come in in his uniform jacket since Hawk and the rest had to show up in uniform. Vaguely remembering that he tried to avoid Richardson and Williams for most of the night Ken suddenly remembered one of the lab boys handing him something in a glass. Rising slowly to minimize the agony he was still feeling Ken clutch at his head mumbling, well more like grunting, “Ugh. New rule, never trust a guy in a lab coat holding a beaker at a party.” Carefully opening his eyes again he tried to force them to focus.

That's when he noticed the door was on the wrong side of the room.

Ken just stared at it for a few moments trying to process what the hell he was seeing. He had these quarters for over a year now and the door was never on that particular wall. And the bed was practically bolted to the wall so nobody could have moved it with him in it while he was out. So again, what the hell? Turning his head, slowly enough that a new wave of pain didn't hit him like a Mack truck, he tried to figure out what was going on. That's when he noticed a couple of items in the room that wasn't his, like that hair dryer on the dresser. And he was pretty sure that was a dress that he was seeing in the open closest. Oh shit these weren't his quarters. And he was suddenly very aware of the person sleeping next to him under the sheets. Looking at the mound next to him Ken did nothing at first. Then poking at what he hoped was a shoulder Ken went, “Please tell me I know you.”

After a moment a familiar sounding voice answered back, “Please tell me you're not who I think you are,” right before a even more familiar head of red hair appeared from underneath the sheets. Ken and Jess just looked at each in total confusion before she asked, “Did we....?”

Ken picked up the sheet, just enough to look at himself. And outside of the sock on his right foot that was dangling off the bed he wasn't wearing much. “I think we did.”

“Oh God,” Jess groaned as Ken quickly located his pants and put them on even faster. Standing up that fast was a mistake but he had to get out of that bed. She sat up and hid her face in her hand for a bit, “How the fuck did this happen?”

“Don't look my way for answers”, Ken told her as he looked for the rest of his clothes, both of their jackets was by the door for some reason, the apparent starting point for a loose trail of clothes he was now seeing, “most of last night is a blur. I don't remember even coming in here.”

She looked at him with an almost accusing glare, “You planned this didn't you?”

He looked back, “Excuse me?”

“You planned this,” she repeated. “You had this planned out all along.”

Any other day he would realize, eventually, that accusation came from the fact she was freaking out about this as much as he was. And at least thought he'd be a tad more understanding. But right now he was too hungover to give a crap. “Okay you got me. This was my plan all along. I talked Richardson into putting me on this team. Waited until the moment I could drag you away to have my way with you. Congratu-fucking-lations you figured me fuck out!”

“Do not yell at me!”, she shot back.

“I'm not...!” He winced and held his head, and a little more softly, “I'm not yelling my head hurts too damn much.”

“Alright, alright,” Jess said as she covered her face again, “you didn't plan this.” Ken found a shirt, quickly realized it wasn't his and handed it back to her. She grabbed it and quickly put it on, “Okay, obviously we drank way too much last night. Lost some inhibitions.”

“Of course,” Ken quickly agreed as he found a shoe, “happens all the time.”

“Right,” she said as he tossed her uniform pants to her. “We obviously acted on an impulse we wouldn't act on in normal circumstances.”

“Probably some old feelings that were buried over the years,” he said as he located the shirt he was wearing the night before.

“Exactly,” Jess said. “Being too drunk causes that. So we... hold it.” Ken looked back at her, she was still in the bed and looked around, almost as confused as he was earlier. “This isn't my room.”

After both of them successfully snuck out of whomever room that was, meaning nobody was in the hallway to see them stumble out over themselves trying to be sneaky, they split up and headed to their respective quarters. Ken quickly showered and put on a new set of clothes. One of the drawbacks of not having a regular uniform like everybody else is people tended to notice if you wore the same thing two days in a row. And that hangover was still there, and passing by the medical wing there was a pretty big line, apparently somebody in there had a halfway decent hangover cure according to a couple of people he talked to. Based on that line it must have been some party, too bad whatever was in that glass the lab coat gave him blacked out most of it.

As it was he was sitting in the main cafeteria holding a cup of coffee in one hand while clinging to his head with the other, waiting for the aspirin to kick in. He should have waited in line. Wincing as somebody loudly scraped on the chairs against the floor, he risked opening an eye to see the offender, of course it was Bill, and Ryo, who was a little more considerate as he picked up a chair and pulled it out. Ignoring the other in the room nursing a hangover giving him a dirty look Bill just looked at him. “Dude Civilian you look like hell.”

Ignoring him Ken just pointed at the kitchen. “Coffee pot. Here please. Ryo you got pull. Make them put it here.”

At least he looked apologetic when he said, “Sorry man, I don't have that much pull.” Ken just groaned in disappointment. “Besides I don't want to piss off the other guys looking for relief in the coffee.”

“Screw them my head's about to split open,” Ken said.

“Well you're speaking in more complete sentences now,” Ryo joked. Ken responded with a particular finger. “Now that's just rude.”

Snorting Bill told Ryo, “Told ya he got beakered.”

Opening a eye to look at him Ken went, “I got what now?”

“The unofficial term generally used is 'beakered',” Ryo began. “Some of the scientist around here have a, shall we say, not so legal apparatus that makes some pretty potent alcohol. They always bring it to the type of parties like we had last night. And they always wait for the chance to give it to one of the new guys.”

“They have a still?”, Ken asked. Ryo nodded in response. “And how can I be one of the new guys? I've been here over a year.”

“First time we had that large a party since you've been here,” was his only explanation. “They only break it out during those larger parties. Less chance of security catching them or something. Still drive the security guys nuts that they can't find it anywhere.”

“And you know those lab boys aren't going to give it up or rat out their own,” Bill added.

“Why didn't you warn me?”, Ken demanded.

“Because it's funnier this way,” Bill told him.

“I hate you so much.”

“Oh you love me,” Bill told him.

“A good chunk of us have gotten beakered man,” Ryo told him. “Some of us,” he shot a look toward Bill, “remember going through this and are willing to help a teammate out.” He put a small vile on the table. “I was able to get a dose before the line formed, and Bill did figure they might get you.”

“They didn't have a “hangover be gone' formula when it happened to you,” Bill said to defend himself. Turning toward Ken he said with a smirk, “You should have seen it Civilian, Ryo was the head of the party leading the charge to the lab boys. They stumbled around so much you would have thought it was the zombie apocalypse.”

With a look shutting Bill up Ryo turned back toward Ken, “Despite what Bill called it it won't get rid of the hangover right away. It'll just make it go away a little faster. And make it a little more bearable when it kicks in.”

Taking it Ken just looked at it for a moment. “It's not more of what they gave me last night is it?”

“They say it's not,” Ryo told him. “They're as secretive about that as they are as to the location of the their still. Besides what do you got to lose, the worst thing that happened to you this morning was waking up with the worst hangover you ever had, right?”

“Right,” Ken mumbled. That and finding out he slept with his ex in his drunken stupor when he woke up. What the hell, what did he have to lose at the moment? Unscrewing the top he quickly downed the content. Then he quickly wished he hadn't. “God that tastes like shit.”

“That's how you know it's good for you,” Bill quipped.

“Let me get you out of here before he kills you,” Ryo told bill as he got up. Bill did the same, again loudly scrapping the chair against the floor. Again drawing some dirty looks from Ken and the others. “You are lucky I don't want to do the paperwork Hawk would make me do for letting the have you,” he said as he pushed Bill out of there.'

“Come on man I thought you liked me,” Bill said as they left.

“I hate doing paperwork more,” was the last Ken heard of them. Then he realized his coffee was cold. Slowly getting up he grabbed his cup and headed back for the coffee machine. He panic a bit when he realized there was no line. Please tell him they didn't run out. He nearly ran into Jess on the way to find out.

And it was as super awkward as both of them thought it was going to be. “Jessica,” he said after a bit.

“Ken,” she said in return. Then nothing for what seemed like the longest time. She broke the silence, “We keep acting like this people are going to start guessing we did something.”

“Right,” he said. “We don't need to give the rumor mill any ammunition.”

“And the mill around here is brutal,” she added. “I mean we just made a simple mistake.”

“We drank a little too much,” he quickly agreed. “Well I got beakered apparently.”

She winced a bit in understanding, but if he got beakered how much did she drink? “Either way we both lost control.”

“Happens all the time.”

About then a couple of female team members walked past behind them. “I swear if I ever find out who had sex in my room last...”

“Relax Jennifer,” her companion told her. “It was nothing. In fact a couple of people on base found out their quarters were turned into party rooms during the night. Beside you just wish you were in on it.”

“It's an invasion of privacy Beth.”

“Then learn to lock your door.” By the time they past Ken and Jess were both gone, again headed in opposite directions.

Brooks stood just outside one of the many caverns he used. Despite the manhunt that was still on his trail it would have been more dangerous for him to stay in one location. And with the general size of the “packages” his masters delivered it would have been noticed eventually. Besides staying cooped up in one location for too long would have drove him insane. Not that most people wouldn't have questioned his sanity if they ever discovered his little deal. He was sure there was more than a few discussions on the subject back at Castle once he “resigned “his position.

Enough of the fresh air and the wonder. Ducking his head as he reentered the cavern he turned into the shadow and onto a path that was practically invisible if you weren't looking for it. That lead him to a larger cavern with a deep pit. A monstrous shape paced inside it. From the edge he watched it for a bit. “Not quite ready yet,” he said to no one in particular. Turning away he walked toward a small makeshift camp he had set up, it was the best he could do considering how hastily he had to get things ready. Picking up a small mirror he examined his feature, still debating on if he should let the beard grow out. A small bit of vanity made him keep his clean shaven appearance. However a beard would give him a couple of extra moments of anonymity if he ever had to refresh his supplies. Well, in a slightly more legal way then he had been. But given how fast the experts back at Castle were able to identify Jamira in his disheveled state the risk wouldn't have been diminished by much. Perhaps he grew the beard out then walked into the closest town as Charles Brooks... No chances were they were looking for him as well.

A slight sensation in his mind caused him to look at the vortex as it was starting to form. Before long the shape of one of his Zetton masters was in the center of. “I'm afraid Pandon is taking longer to mature than anticipated.”

Usually with news like that his master would lash out. The vortex didn't look any angrier than usual which piqued his curiosity just a bit. “It was something we were aware might happen Avatar,” the voice said. “The the duel nature of it's make up is making it hard to adjust for reasons we can not currently explain.” Well that would have been nice to know from the start.

“Should I give it another treatment?', he offered. “Give it more of a kick to adjust quicker?”

“No,” came the reply. “We choose this particular location because it is close to what you call a volcanic vein.” He looked at the rocky wall, funny it didn't seem any warmer in here than in any of the other locations. “Pandon is feeding off of that energy to adjust and mature at a proper rate. But it should be soon.”

“Of course,” he said with a slight bow. The vortex disappeared as quickly as it acme. Brooks sneered, and turned away from the spot. Right fist crackling with the dark energy he was gifyed with as he tried to kept his temper in check this time around. If they bothered to look around him eventually they would start to notice the slight redecorating he had done in those instances. If they cared at all that is, which he highly doubted at this particular point. This is what he gets for “selling his soul” as it were, just to make sure he was on the winning side of this conflict. His parents didn't raise a fool after all.

Going back to the edge of the pit he looked down at Pandon, if he couldn't zap it to give it a boost what else could he do to hasten the process. He had been here far too long as it was to be comfortable with Scott, the giant and the UNDF looking for him. And when this creature was ready it was going to bust out of here in what he assume would be a rather spectacular fashion and only a fool with a death wish would want to be this close when that happened. And he wasn't raised to have that sort of wish either.

“Feeding off the energy of the magma hidden inside huh,” he muttered to himself as he went of the brief conversation he just had. “Maybe I can do something to hasten this after all.” He closed his eyes and reached out with the energy given to him to the monster's mind. But not like before with a couple of the others where he gave it a simple command. Here he was trying something different, trying to see if Pandon was attracted to any particular section down there at all. Because if he was right about this.... there. “Back”, was all he said as he was still connected to it's mind. It did so and he formed a field around himself and walked off the edge, slowly floating to where that attraction seemed the strongest as Pandon slowly backed up. Holding out a hand he fired a beam of dark energy at the wall, drilling into it.

After several moments magma started pouring in the pit and he stopped. It fell just enough to cool off before it hit the ground. Behind him Pandon practically jumped up and down in excitement. “Enjoy,” he told the creature as he flew back to the edge . Once back on solid ground he walked to his camp and started to pack everything up. His master may not be happy with this turn of events but somebody had to look out for his hide in all of this.

“Bridge said he was getting a weird sensor reading,” Ryo said as Ken walked beside him down the hall. After becoming more or less official Ken tried to take the job a little more seriously. Not that he was half assing it before, but a lot of people didn't seem t expect much out of the civilian operative. Now, well, some of those same people seemed to expect a little more out of him now. Not guys like Ryo and the rest of their team of course, he gained their respect a long time ago, even if they did keep suggesting that he zip up his jacket to look slightly more professional. But talks like these did seem to happen more frequently now too. “Hawk wants us on stand by in the mean time, just in case.”

“In case this is Brooks doing whatever it is he's doing again,” Ken said. Not that it's never not Brooks. And he still had to hide that he knew what was going on and how Brooks was doing this. To reinforce that particular point Richardson's assistant walked passed them. One of three people on this base that knew about him and Daxium. She didn't acknowledge them as he passed. Although considering he was pretty much blackmailed to join he was paranoid enough to think she glanced at him with a warning look for a brief second.

Oblivious to that probably imaginary exchange Ryo kept talking,”Brooks is pretty much the first thought that pops up whenever they get a strange reading, no matter how small. Not that you can blame them. The man can summon monsters from where ever they're coming from. Not to mention those strange powers that he has. How come nobody noticed before now?” he asked. “Exactly how blind where we to what was right in front of us?”

Personally wondering how he did it so successfully for as long as he did Ken said, “Don't know man. Guess we never thought to look in our own direction.”

“You'd still think we'd notice before,” they passed a obviously new section of wall compared to the rest of the hallway, part of the section damaged when Brooks fought his way out of here, “well before that happened. How did he fool us so easily?” Ken didn't really have an answer, not that Ryo was looking for one. Still he rubbed the back of his neck and tried not to look he was wincing since he was basically doing the same thing.

Blanking on anything that would get them off this particular subject a group of people going in the opposite direction caught his eye. Ryo kept on going before he realized that he had stopped and stared at them. “Um... Ken.”

“Just a second,” he said. Somebody in that group look familiar for some reason, and it wasn't just because they were all wearing lab coats. “Hey,' he called out to them. They stopped and turned around. One's eyes seemed to get a little bigger, almost if he recognized him. But Ken suddenly remembered him as clear as day, particularly from that party the other night. “You were the one who gave me the beaker.”

“Oh shit,” he muttered as he bolted.

“Get back here!”, Ken ordered as he gave chase.

“Ken wait,” Ryo called out before he could stop him. A couple of the lab coat's comrades tried to get in his way. Surprisingly a couple of troopers who were in the area blocked them off and made an opening for him..

“He beakered me too man!”, one of them called out. “Get 'em!”

“If they just find that still before things like this happen,” Ryo muttered. Being the good soldier he started to tap his communicator to alert security and Captain Hawk. The part of him that remembered getting hit with it himself, well maybe after a moment or so.

The lab guy ran past several groups of people in the hallway with Ken right on his heels. At least he was until somebody grabbed him and dragged him down an adjoining hall. Nearly falling from the sudden change of direction he tried to get his footing, which wasn't easy since he was still being dragged down the hall. To his surprise it wasn't the big, burly security guy he was expecting. No it was Jessica and she did not look happy about something. Freeing himself from her grip he said, “I don't know what's going on but I got an ass kicking to....”

“Shut up,” she snapped. Being more than familiar with that look on her face he did just that. Then felt like an idiot because they weren't seeing each other any more. Jess looked around to see if anybody else was around before hissing at him, “I'm late.”

What the hell was this about? “Then maybe you should get to where you're supposed to be going instead of dragging me down here.”

She grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him closer. “No you moron. I. Am. Late!” He still didn't know what she was talking about. “By about a week.”

Confusion gave away as it dawned on him exactly what she meant. “Oh shit. How'd this happen?”

“How the fuck you'd think this happened?”, she snapped again. “That damn party.”

“I mean are you sure?”, Ken asked. Right now in his panicked state he was creating a growing list of people who just might kill him over this. Jess, Hawk, Jess' father, Jess. Most of it was Jessica at this particular moment, just because she was the closest in proximity.

“Like I said it's been a week.” she looked like she was trying to calm herself down, which was good for his survival. Mostly, he hoped. “I've already talked to one of the nurses about doing a pregnancy test. They're pretty discreet about it, unless it comes back positive. Then they have to inform Hawk and then my career is over.”

“It doesn't mean it's over,” Ken started to say. Not that he knew what he was talking about but he felt like he should say something.

“You don't get it,” she told him. “because of some stupid regulations if it was just me, I'd be taken out of the field and stuck behind a desk somewhere. But because we're both part of the UNDF I'm going to get discharged just so they don't have to risk the child losing both parents. And the fact this base has been attacked twice is going to be enough for them to justify it.”

“I... I'm sorry,” was all Ken could say.

“Don't,” she told him. “I know you didn't plan this but don't, okay.” She walked away rubbing her forehead a bit. “I got that degree my dad convinced me to get before I joined up so I should be able to land some sort of job. But I wasn't ready to give this up yet.”

“We'll get through this, okay.,” he assured her. “I... I'll do right by this, don't worry.”

She didn't look reassured. Jess actually looked annoyed and a little angry. She told him, “No.”

He was taken a bit off guard by that statement, “What do you mean no?”

“We are not doing that.” She walked off leaving him there. “That's not going to happen!”

“What do you mean we're not doing...? That's my kid too!” She kept walking leaving him dumb founded at this turn of events.

In the field two UNDF members were searching the area that Castle was getting that strange reading from. As part of a larger group it was decided that they could cover more ground if they split up in teams of two. One held a larger scanner array while the other kept an eye on his wrist scanner. Both of them were more heavily armed then they were currently used to. The one looking at his wrist scanner readjusted the rifle on his shoulder. “If Brooks is out here what good are these things going to do?”

“We're not supposed to engage remember,” his compatriot told him. “We spot him, we call for back up and wait.”

“That's if he doesn't spot us first.”

“You can't be thinking like that. Look we're all still a little jumpy after what Brooks did.”

“He ripped through Castle!” he snapped at his current partner. “He killed our team mates, our friends, like they were nothing. We are nothing compared to him. The bastard called a fucking monster!”

“It takes one to call one,” the other man said. “Look Bart, you think this doesn't freak me out too? I lost friends too. I saw what he did to them. I know these peashooters aren't going to do shit to him. But we still have a job. And part of that job is to find him and try to make sure he can't do it to somebody else. And we can't rely on that giant freak to do it for us.”

“Ultraman is the best weapon we have against him,” Bart shot back.

“Then why isn't he a UNDF member?”, came the comeback. Bart didn't bother to respond, not with anything that hadn't been said before. This had been just a small part of the argument ever since Ultraman had shown up. Neither side had a good explanation. For every “But how do you contact him”, there was something like “he's not even human why would he care about us” Both sides kept circling each other. As it was the argument was usually pushed aside when the monster alert came but it started right backup after the giant disappeared. It had been going on for over a year and didn't look like it was going to end any time soon.

Bart walked away, mainly to get some space between them for the moment. He looked down and saw something out of place among the rocks. He picked an used canteen, it looked relatively new. “Jordan,” he called out as he held it up. “You think somebody had been here recently?”

“Probably,” he said as he took a closer look at it. “Looks bone dry from what I can tell. Maybe a couple of days tops. Chances are some kids were camping and left it behind.” He looked at it a little closer, “This is a pretty expensive name brand if my cousin's right about these things.”

“Are canteens really that expensive now?”, Bart asked more than a little dubious about that particular idea.

“You'd be surprised,” came the reply. “This one basically a tiny little refrigerator so the contents always stay cold.”

“Geez what they won't make these days.”

“Tell me about it,” Jordan said. “Probably belonged to some kid with too much money to know what to do with and can just get a new one. Still we better call it in just in case. Because that description fits Brooks too.”

“If only he was just that,” Bart muttered as he walked away to see if he could locate anything else while Jordan contacted their superior. He didn't get far, just to the top of a ridge right above them, before he stopped. “Jordan!” He raced over and stopped as well as he saw it too. A massive hole in the ground that wasn't on any survey they were given. The edges were still loose and crumbling as Bart got his voice back as he looked around, the weapon on his back suddenly feeling more like a toy gun than before. “Oh God I hope we just missed it.”

Hawk walked into the control room and immediately went to Bridge. He hated moments like this just for the uncertainty of the situation. A good chunk of the men were out there at this location while the rest of them were on stand by. God he wished somebody around here could figure out how these building sized creature could just walk around unnoticed most of the time. Bridge looked away from his screens just long enough to acknowledge him before going back to what he was doing. In turn Hawk gave the briefest of nods acknowledging Richardson right before he left the room. Ever since Brooks turned out to be who he was he spent less and less time in here during situations like this one or during any actual conflict. As it was Hawk was glad he wasn't breathing down his neck anymore when he gave orders to the troops from here..

Without any prompting from him Bridge started talking, “Latest surveys on record doesn't mention that hole at all. I've already accessed various satellites pass over scans over the last few months to confirm the surveys. That wasn't there about a day ago.”

“You starting to think faster than me Bridge,” Hawk told him. Actually going to any aerial pictures of the area never even occurred to him. And that was slightly embarrassing considering he was in command of the primary aerial squadron.

“Like you said Captain Brooks had a bit of an advantage while he was here. I'm just trying to close the gaps where I can. I've also been using this in conjunction with the few location we've know a monster has emerged from to try and get an idea of where he might have gone or might be headed.”

“Is it too much for me to ask if you located a pattern yet?”

“At this point I'm afraid not sir. We had a couple for them that could burrow into and travel under the ground, at least one giant version of the smaller creatures we used to engage on a regular basis. Not to mention the one that could turn invisible.” He sighed heavily as he leaned back in his chair. “I'm going to need more data to even begin narrowing down the search parameters.”

“No offense Bridge but I hope we get him before you get that data.” Because more data meant more monster sightings. And that meant more destruction, especially if one appeared in the city. As sad as it sounded Hawk was starting to miss those smaller creature. Bridge nodded in understanding. “Have we gotten a report from Reid yet?”

“Should be coming in pretty soon.” Almost on cue the console in front of him beeped as Reid called in. “Castle here Commander.”

“Is the Captain there Bridge?”, Reid asked over the line. His voice sounded muffled a bit, a little more than he expected over the comm line.

Bridge replied with, “He's right here Commander.” Then he moved aside a bit so Hawk could lean in a little. Not that it was really necessary given the modern communication equipment at their disposal . But he was older than the rest of the people under him and set in his way.

“What's going on Commander?”

“We were getting some sort of gas reading once we entered the gave,” he answered. “It was well within non toxic levels but I had us go back for the proper breathing equipment first just in case.”

“Good call,” Hawk told him, “I would have done the same.” And he would have, facing as many giant creatures abilities that they had gave them all, what he considered at least, a healthy case of paranoia in these situations. “Where are you now?”

“On a hunch I ordered a scan to see if the gases was coming form any where in particular. We found a pretty well hidden trail that leads deeper into the mountain.”

“Does it look man made?”

Reid was quiet for a bit before answering, “By my admittedly untrained eye I would have to say no. This seems like a pretty natural formation. And I know Brooks can do a lot of things I'm hoping altering solid rock isn't one of them.”

“That makes two of us.” Hawks muttered.

“Okay,”Reid spoke up, “we found a larger cavern.” Hawk was silent as he heard Reid issue commands to the men with him. All he could do at the moment was sit tight as Reid and his men softly spoke to each other. Outside of an audible “clear” from a couple of them it was nerve wrackenly silent. Reid started talking again. “So far it looks like a large cave to us. Simmons spotted a pit not far from the entrance. I know you don't like guesstimates Captain but it looks large enough to hold a giant creature, that opening spotted above ground seems to be further back from where we're standing.”

“I'll live with it this time,” Hawk replied. “Do you see anything else?”

“Nothing that seems out of the ordinary so far Captain.”

“Commander Reid,” somebody called out.

“What is it Jones.”

“I think I located some foot prints in the dirt over here.”

“Commander can I get a visual of that.”

“Jones,” he called out. “Take a scan and send it to Castle.” There was a confirmation from Jones right after.

A few seconds later bridge said, “We're receiving the scan now Captain. Putting it on this screen.' he pointed to one in front of Hawk. The image popped up and yes those did look like foot prints.”

“If it was Brooks,” Hawk said after a bit, “I guess we know where he's been hiding out. Commander do you see any other signs of life down there?”

“Outside of that canteen that was found, not at the moment,” came the reply. “That pit takes up most of this cave that I can tell, and not a whole lot of place to hide away that I can see. And honestly if he was here, knowing whatever was in here was going to burst out, I wouldn't have stayed either. He could have at least a couple of days head start on us.”

“And I don't think that lead has gotten any smaller since he left,” Hawk said, mainly to himself, “Anything on the search top side?”

“The last report I received indicated that nothing was spotted on the ground or in the air. Not even a monster size foot print this time around.”

Hawk glanced at Bridge, hoping for a different answer. He was equally disappointed, “I have nothing so far either. No report from local authorities and no UFO sightings in the area. I've alerted near by seismic research institutes to keep an eye out for any anomalous reading and to let us know as soon as possible.”

“If I didn't know any better Bridge I'd start thinking you're after my position,” Hawk said with a bit of a grin.

“I'm better at handling computers than I am people Captain,” Bridge said with a grin of his own. “I'll leave the inmates to you sir.”

“Just keep me up to date on where they are,” Hawk said. Then he went back to business, “Reid, leave a couple of men to explore that cavern fully. Have them log anything that look out of place. I don't think he getting sloppy but I can hope. Take the rest and join the search up top and try to find that creature. I've haven't seen one that can vanish into thin air yet. Turn invisible yes but not vanish completely.” And God help them if whomever Brooks was getting these monsters from, he refused to believed that one man was behind all of this, never figured out how to do that.

“We'll get on it Captain,” Reid said, “Reid out.”

“Bridge,” he said turning to him, “tell the troop to get off stand by and on half alert. I'm calling a meeting in a half hour. If whatever this creature is doesn't decide to show itself before hand.”

“Yes sir,” Bridge said while he turned back to his console. Hawk left him to do his job. And he really wished he had that half hour to get things ready. But as he learned time was one of the few luxuries they had.

In his quarters Ken sat on the bed stewing, going over his conversation with Jess over and over again. Why would she say no? If she was pregnant didn't she want him in the kid's life? Maybe he wasn't the greatest example of a potential father but that didn't mean he couldn't be one. And damn straight he wanted a chance to get to know his child.

Thoughts about this potential child took his mind some where else. To a place he was almost afraid to think about. But he had to know if the kid's future was going to be affected or not. Taking a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down a bit more than anything Ken closed his eyes and looked inward as he said, “Dax I got a question.” Slowing opening his eyes he was in the safe space Daxium created when they first bonded. His usually giant friend was a more normal height here as always.

“What do you wish to know?”, he asked.

Oh where the hell to begin? “Dax I... uh... I know you pretty good about respecting my privacy when you're in here and I'm,” he made a half hearted gesture to the barrier surrounding them, “out there. But you kinda know what's going on right?”

“I am aware of an issue between you and Jessica,” he replied. “I felt your turmoil over it in here. I apologize for looking to see what was the cause.'

“I'm not worried about that right now Dax.”

He nodded, “While I am not fully aware of all the details I did gather it involved a potential offspring between the two of you.” Ken just nodded, hearing somebody else say it out loud just made all the more real to him. “But I am confused about why this is causing trouble between the two of you. Even in my universe a new offspring is a cause of celebration.”

“The situation is way more complicated then that,” Ken told. “But that's not why I'm here either.” Ken looked at Daxium in silence, trying to figure out the best way to ask this. “Dax, with what we got going. Is this going to affect anything? I mean is it going to affect the baby?”

Daxium lowered his head as he thought his answer over. “I do not know.” Ken said a silent cure as he turned away from him. That was no where close to the answer he wanted to hear. “As I told you before when we realized my injuries would transfer to you, I was unfamiliar with human biology to make us completely separate when we first bonded.” Seeing the apparent pain his answer was causing Ken he stepped forward, “I wish I had a better response for you. If you're afraid Jessica would reject the child...”

Ken faced him, “That is quite literally the last of my worries Dax. My main concern right now is that if Jess is pregnant what is Richardson going to do once he finds out I'm the father. And trust me he is going to find out.”

While his facial expression was usually at the bare minimum Ken knew him well enough by now to see that he was taken aback by his body language. “You don't really think Richardson would do something to the child?”

“The bastard blackmailed me to get you here,” Ken told him, not even hiding the anger he was feeling the more he thought about it., “because that is all he cared about. You're damn straight I'd think he'd do something. I don't know what. I don't even want to think about what that 'what' could be. But he'd do something. And I don't know who would be on our side if we tried to stop him.”

“Ken,” Daxium said in a calm voice, trying to get through the panic settling into his friend's mind, “you would have allies in this fight. I have fought along side them myself. And in the brief glimpses I've allowed myself to take I know your team would aid you and Jessica any way they possibly can.”

“If she even wants my help,” Ken told him, a bitterness edging his voice as he remembered his talk with Jess earlier.

Putting a hand on his shoulder Daxium told him, “A warrior, no matter how skilled, can not fight multiple battles at once. And it is even more foolish to prepare for one fight while in the middle of another. Especially if you're not sure the second battle is even going to happen. Settle things between you and Jessica first. Then you can concentrate on the second together if it happens. Because in that battle a united front is better than a divided one.”

“Guess that makes sense,” Ken admitted after a bit. “Sorry Dax. I'm just.... It's bad enough I may have put Jess in a situation where she might lose what she loves doing because we got too drunk. Now I might have put her in the middle of a shit storm that she doesn't know is coming.”

“One battle at a time my friend,” Daxium repeated. In almost an instant Ken was back in his quarters, mentally physically he never left. Still without the answers he was looking for. One battle at a time he reminded himself.

His comm went off and Bridge spoke through the link, “All teams, yellow alert. Prepare to move out in a moments notice. Alpha team, meeting in a half hour.”

Ken replied with, “I'll be there Bridge.” Not the most professional response given his new status. But his mind was in a million different place right now. Opening his door he saw Jess on the other side. She didn't look angry, which was hopefully a good thing, but things still felt pretty chilly between them. An old defense mechanism made him try to lighten the mood a bit, “I'd offer to let you come inside, but considering the last time we were in bedroom...” And this was definitely one of those time when that sounded way better in his head than said out loud.

Fortunately she smiled a little, just enough to be noticed. And he was also grateful she hadn't stopped by the armory for her own weapon. That was a plus in his book. She looked around to make sure they were still alone in the hallway. “I took the test.”

Ken prepared himself for the news, “Okay.”

“I haven't gotten the results yet,” she said. And that was way more frustrating an answer than he was expecting “Apparently discreet pregnancy tests are low on the importance meter. Especially since we're on alert now.”

“You'd think they realize that we would want to know sooner rather than later.”

“I don't know why I'm glad you said 'we' there.” Before he could say anything she went on, “But Ken, if it does come back positive, we're going to have to talk. About things that might affect the baby.”

“Talk,” he repeated with a slow nod, “talking is good. We're definitely going to have to talk about... stuff.” And boy did he have the mother load of stuff to bring to that conversation. But despite his best efforts that part of him that was still bitter as hell got him to say, “And while we're at it maybe you can tell me why you told me no.”

And tension between them rose right back up as soon as he said that. “You know exactly why I told you no.”

“No I don't,' he shot. “I deserve an answer.”

Jess opened her mouth to say something. But closed and looked frustrated as she said, “I leaving before I say something I'd regret.”

“You sure as hell don't regret saying no.” She looked like she wanted to hit him. Instead she stormed down the hall and away from him. God he was getting flash backs to their break up on top of the headache this was giving him.

“Dude.” Ken looked to his left and saw Bill standing there. Great, this was the last thing he needed. “What the hell did you say to her?”

“It's a personal matter,” was all he told him as he walked past him.

Bill followed him, “I have never seen her that angry so you had to have said or did something.”

Ken stopped and snapped at him, “Why is it automatically my fault? Do I look in all of that good of mood to you? How do you know she didn't say something to piss me off?”

“Okay man chill,” Bill said with his hand held up and backing away a bit. “Personal matter I got it. I'll be here if you want any help when you're done PMSing.”

Alone in the hall way Ken just stood pinching the bridge of his nose, “Damn it.”

In the city close to Castle most people went on with there day. Thanks to the newest mobile alert they were aware of a potential creature attack. Some were already taking action to get out. Some argued it was pointless as the alert stated they were unsure exactly when or where the suspected creature was going to show up as it concerned several near by cities and towns as well. Then there was those who didn't really care and went about things as if it was business as usual. Two in particular just looked on as they watched a couple of Razor Wings fly over head. “Guess it might be serious after all,” one of them said as she took a drink of her iced coffee.”

“They're always over reacting if you ask me,” her friend said. “You think they would take care and not waste our tax dollars like that.”

“My dad say it's so they can get in a quick attack run until the other troops show up.”

“The guys at the dorm say the same thing. But it's like the weather they can't even get that right. I mean look over there.” He pointed to a what looked like a tornado in the background. “Did any weather person predict that for today?”

Despite other around them noticing and starting to panic a bit she was still as nonplussed as her friend. “Shouldn't we, like, start running now or something?”

“Eh,” came the reply. “We're here and it's all the way over there.” He took out a phone and tried to line up a shot to post online as some of the rest around them started to run away. “We got time.” He took the picture and doubled checked to make sure if it was a good one before posting it. He missed the tornado suddenly stopping revealing a red two headed creature that started to shoot fireballs out of both it's mouths. Looking up to see the commotion he saw the creature, in fact on of the heads looked like it was staring right at him. “Okay maybe now we should run.” But she was already long gone.

At roughly that same instant back at Castle Hawk was going over what they knew with the others in the war room, while at the same time trying to figure out why Jessica and Ken were shooting each other some rather nasty looks. Something Ryo and Bill were noticing as well. Before he could say something about it Bridge called out. “We have a monster alert in the city. Reports said it came out of a tornado.” Apparently they had to remember to add any meteorology networks in the area to their look out positions in the future.

But that was for then, as for right now, “Give me a visual Bridge.”

“We've dealt with a tornado based one before,” Bill said as they waited. “Hairy, shot laser lightning out of it's fingers. Uglier than hell.” Then Bridge piped in the image as it hung over the table. “Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?”

“The monster appeared at the edge of the city and is making it's way inside,” Bridge told them. “Initial scout teams are engaging but their going to need more help.”

“You heard the man,” Hawk told the rest of them. “I want Razor Wings in the air ASAP. I don't think we're going to be able to prep the Alpha One in time. Ken help with the evacuation as soon as we get there.”

“Yes sir,” he replied. He shot a glance toward Jessica who gave him a warning look in return. To Hawk it looked like he wanted to say something but held his tongue, and he did not look happy about it.

Something to worry about for later time. Right now they had a job to do. “All of you move out now.”

Within the half hour, given the proximity of the city being attacked to Castle, the full force of the UNDF was attacking the creature from the sky and on the ground. So far they were able to contain the monster to a generalized area to try and minimize the damage, But those fire balls quickly reminded them that it could go outside their combat zone fairly easily. On the ground Ken and a few other were trying to direct the panicked crowd as best as they could. “Come on!”, Ken shouted as he waved people on. “Move it! Past the safety barriers and into the trucks!”

“Help me!”, he and a couple of others heard some one call out. One of the UNDF personnel spotted were it was coming from and pointed the source out. Somebody tripped and was currently covering up as best as he could as the crowd ran over him. Ken and a few others went against the tide to get to him eventually making a human barrier to give the guy a little breathing room as Ken and another UNDF member sat him up. “Bad enough you got to worry about a monster stepping on ya.,” Ken grunted as they helped the poor bastard to his feet.

“I got him,” his teammate said as he got under the guy's arm and took his weight as he helped him to the truck. Ken and the rest tried to get out of the way as best as they cold so the didn't get trampled on themselves. Making his way to the front of a building he and a couple of others pressed themselves up against it to get a breather. “God this day sucks more and more as it goes on.”

“Only going to get better until that thing goes away,” his partner said gesturing at the creature. “Come, I think the crowd has thinned out enough that we can make our way inward and start looking for people staying behind.” While he communicated that idea to the woman in charge of this part of the operation Ken just looked up at the Razor Wings attacking the creature, wondering which one Jess was in. And hoping Ryo wasn't off his game for this one. His partner got his attention and indicated that they got the go ahead and ran deeper into the city, taking separate routes to cover more ground.

“Going in,” Bill called in the middle of the battle.

“Right behind you,” Ryo replied as the two Razor Wings turned and took up parallel paths toward the creature, trying to take it by surprise from the rear. So far neither head noticed their approach.

“I got a lock,” Jess announced. Hawk made the same call from behind Bill in Razor Wing One. Both of them called out, “Firing missiles.” Four round flew out from underneath the wings of the jets. Two aimed at each head. All four sets made contact as the creature cried out and tried to get at whatever it was attacking iy with his arms. It saw the Razor Wings fly past and opened it's mouths again. But instead of the fire ball two streams of fire, one red and the other a blueish purple came out.

“Shit,” Bill said under his breath as both pilots did whatever they could to avoid the deadly stream. trying to get them. “I hate it when they bust out a surprise like that.”

“Less bitching and more maneuvering,” Hawk told him.

Once clear Ryo took a chance to look back at the creature as the beams stopped. “That was a little too close.”

“Yeah,” Jess muttered behind him as a hand went to her stomach. Partly because that scared her as well it was so unexpected. Anther reason was, well she had another potential reason that she wasn't sure was a thing yet. Still just the idea...

“Hey Jess,” Ryo called out. “You still with me back there? You went quiet on me.”

“I'm still here,” she said as she shook herself out of it. She went with an easy half lie, “Think I just saw my life pass in front of my eye.”

“Same here partner,” Ryo told her. “But we're not done yet.”

“Not by a long shot,” she agreed. But she looked out the canopy for the briefest of moments, at the streets below.

Haven't found any one still dumb enough to stick around Ken looked up to see the new attack the creature just deployed. As more jets tried to avoid it at least a couple of weren't so lucky as the blew up on contact. The shouts over his communicator were saying that Jess wasn't in any of the jets they just lost. But just the idea made up his mind for him. Taking one last look around to make sure Ken went for the Spark Magnifier in his jacket, “Ok Dax we're up,” and held it over his head.

Pandon duel heads roared a challenge as the column of light faded revealing Daxium who quickly took his fighting stance, “Shiah!” Knowing what the creature could do he tried to keep an eye on both heads as the monster came at him. Following suit Daxium charged him as well getting under those heads and tried to attack the body with kicks and punches. Pandon was failing it's arms as well trying to give as good as it got s it pounded on his back. It kicked as well attacking his legs. Backing up a bit he saw the creature swing a arm down at him and back flipped several times to avoid the attack and get some space between them.

It's head reared back a bit and shot a series of fireballs at the giant. Daxium bashed the fireball away with his fists waiting for an opening. Once the barrage stopped he quickly put both hands to the side and fired off a Flash Bolt that struck Pandon is it's chest. Crying out in pain and grabbing at it's chest the creature opened its mouth again and fired the duel streams one more. Daxium tried to roll and dodge those beams as best as he could. But he wasn't fast enough as the blueish one clipped him in the side. Grunting in pain as he grabbed his side he realized too late as Pandon came at him. Before Daxium could stop him he was grabbed and thrown into a building as it caved in a bit under his weight.

Pandon, sensing an opening started pounding on the giant as the building gave away even more under the struggle before giving away completely. On the ground he tried to protect himself as best as he could as the creature started to stomp on him. Grunting with each stomp Daxium tried to get into a position to get himself up. On Hawk's order several Razor Wings and Scan Tracks attacked in unison to distract the monster long enough for Daxium to get up and push Pandon away. Thinking he had an opening to finish this quick he started to set up for the Dimensional Storm Ray. Pandon was quicker as it fired the fireballs at him again. The speed of the attack caught him off guard as he was struck over and over. Then the monster switched over to the duel streams again. Daxium put up the barrier to block it. Sparks flew as the beams hit the barrier but neither side would let up. Then some how the beams started to twist and spiral together into a single beam. Feeling the increased strength of the attack drilled into it Daxium tried to pour more energy into the barrier, even as he felt himself being pushed back from the force. But the beams won out shattering the barrier as it slammed into Daxium's chest, hurling him back from the impact.

“All units open fire!”, Hawk called out. “Get Ultraman some time to recover!”

As Pandon return it's attention to it's new attackers Daxium was slowly getting to a knee as the crystal on his chest blinked. The creature was strong and he briefly considered switching over to his Power Mode. But it was fast with it's attacks as well so maybe he would have to sacrifice some power to increase his speed and hope it was right call at the moment. Staggering to his feet Daxium held up his arms to his chest and threw them down as he shifted into Hyper Mode. Running in he quickly jumped up, flipping forward in the air as Pandon turned toward him as his heel came crashing down onto one of it's head. Quickly back flipping out of the way he ran in again with a jumping kick that landed on it's chest. Once again using his superior speed he got out of the way, formed the Hyper Saw and spun out of the way of another fireball barrage as he hurled it. The jagged circle of energy crashed into the monster ceasing the barrage. Holding out his right hand he extended the Light Flash whip from his fingers. With the extra reach he struck the creature more or less at will as sparks flew off of it. Backing up a bit he started to draw in energy as he set up for a run. Pandon fired off the duel beams again at the same time he made the barest of flinches. In less than an instant he was on the other side of the monster as Pandon stood there with a glowing like going across it's body. Light Flash retracting back into his hand the monster exploded.

Clutching at his chest as he feel to a knee Daxium looked around at the UNDF forces before standing up and flying off into the sky, “Shiah!”

Back on the ground Ken returned from the glowing ball as a hand immediately clutched at his chest. As best as he could he looked down his shirt and saw the red marking were Daxium got hit on his body. Trying to rub the pain away he walked off saying, “God I hope nobody decides to slap me in the chest anytime soon.”

Back up in the air, in Razor Wing Two Ryo let out a long breath. Turning his head a bit he said, “Looks like we got some time as we head back to Castle. Do you want to tell me what's going on between you and Ken while we fly back?”

She thought about denying it, but her wing man knew the both of them pretty well. “Private matter Ryo,” she told him. “Let me try to work on it first.”

“Your call,' he said. “Let me know if you want me to kick his ass for you though.”

“Tempting,” she said. “But honestly it's not entirely his fault either.” If she had to be honest that is.

“Hey Janet,” Ken greeted his as of right now sister-in-law as he entered Hawks outer office. He was trying not to be nervous because he couldn't think of anything he done to be called to Hawk's office. But then again being called to any higher up's office was rarely a good thing.

“Hi Ken,” she greeted him warmly. “They're waiting for you inside.”

“They're?”, he asked as he headed for the door. No answer was forth coming as he hit the call button on the door and was soon given permission by Hawk to come inside. Who the other person was became apparent as Jess was already sitting in one of the chair. More or less ignoring him as he took the other chair.

“I'm glad both of you came,” Hawk began. He looked at both of them before continuing, “Now normally I try not to get involved in any private matter between my men. I'm not a nosy person after all. Unless I start believing that private matter is starting to affect my team's dynamic.” Both of them started to speak up but Hawk held up a hand to keep them silent. “Based on what I've personally seen and heard from others, I think this matter between the two of you is getting close to that point. But I'm not getting involved just yet. No, you see I'm going to step out of this office for roughly forty to forty-five minutes, just to give the two of you some time to and try to work it in some relative privacy.”

“Captain that really isn't,' Jess started to say. Again he held up a hand.

“I sincerely suggest you take this offer. Because when I come back and if it isn't settled between the two of you, or at least gotten to good enough start of settling it, I will get involved. And I will get to the bottom of it PDQ.” Feeling satisfied that his point had gotten adequately across he pressed the intercom button on his desk. “Janet since my scheduled is cleared up why don't you take your hour lunch.”

“Yes sir,” she replied, “thank you.” Giving a friendly nod to both of them he rose from his desk and left the two alone in the office.

Both of them sat there in silence for several moments not looking at each other. Before long Jess spoke up, “I got the test results back.” One more time he braced himself for the news. “They came back negative, I'm not pregnant.”

Feeling a bit of a load come off his shoulders, only able to say, “Okay.”

Then she dropped another bombshell that he wasn't expecting, “So you can stop worrying about trying to get me to marry you.”

His head snapped toward her, “Whoa! Wait... what? Where in the hell did that come from? Who was talking about marriage?”

She gave him the strangest look, “You said you'd 'do right' by this when I told you I might be pregnant. What else could you have meant?”

Now it was Ken turn to give her a strange look. “Why would you think...? Right, I forgot your mom's a traditionalist. I was trying to tell you that I'd help you with the kid any way I could. That I wasn't going to deny it was mine. At no point did marriage cross my mind.”

“Then why didn't you just say that to begin with?”, she demanded. “Instead of letting me think you were trying to marry because I was pregnant?”

“Because who does that any more?”, he asked. Looking around the room in disbelief he leaned back in his chair, “I was thinking you didn't wanted me in the kids life?”

She was going to ask him why he thought that but considering what he meant she could sort of see where he would think that. “No, if we were having a baby I'd want you involved.” She looked over at him, “I've seen you with your niece. I know you'd be a great father.” She studied him for a bit trying to figure out that downtrodden look on his face, “You weren't looking forward to being a father were you?”

“I got used to the idea,” he said., a little too defensively. After a couple of more moments of silence he started chuckling a bit.

“What?”, Jess asked him.

“It just hit me, if we were having a kid I mean. I know engines you know guns. Can you imagine our kid?””

Thinking about it Jess snorted a bit as well, “Probably find a way to put the guns in the engine.”

“Most dangerous mechanic ever.” They shared a small laugh. Okay thing were a little better between them now, hopefully they could get past this particular bump in the road and get back to where they were with the friendship. Still Ken looked back at the door before saying to Jess, “I know he said he wouldn't pry if we got this fixed, but he's going to pry isn't he?”

“It might be better to tell him any way,” Jess offered. “Just so he knows there isn't going to be a repeat performance of this particular issue.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Ken said. “And to think my biggest concern before all of this was Jennifer demanding a DNA test on those sheets. God I hope Hawk doesn't give us the talk. That was awkward enough when Mom tried to explain it.”

“I don't think it'll go that far,” she assured him. “At least I hope not. Besides we'll be honest that it happened at that party.”

“We got a little too drunk,” Ken said in agreement.

“Lost control of our inhibitions.”

“Acted on some long buried feeling that were still there.” It was a familiar statement that they said repeatedly since it happened that night. Generally neither of them saw it as more than an unfortunate event that happened and said anything more about it.

But what Ken just said, although both of them had said it before on a couple of occasion, struck an uncomfortable nerve in Jess just then as she twitched a bit in her seat. Finally she just said it, “Ken maybe it's time we talked about our break up since those old feelings are still there.”

He started to look really uncomfortable real quick, “We've talked about it.”

“No,” she said, “we haven't. We talked about things leading up to it. Barely said anything about what happened after it happened. But we have never talked about it, at all. Ken I'm glad I got you back as a friend but we got this huge thing weighing us down a bit. I think it's time we cleared the air so we can move on.”

“There's nothing to talk about,” he insisted. “I kept letting Jeff manipulate me to break dates with you to get what he wanted and you got tired of it. Simple as that. There's no big misunderstanding.”

Getting a bit uncomfortable and shifting in her seat Jess told him, “That wasn't the only reason why I broke up with you.”

Ken just stared at her, making Jess a little more uncomfortable than what she was. “What other reason?”, he finally asked. When an answer wasn't forthcoming he reached out and tried to pull her chair so she faced him catching her off guard. “What other reason? Because I'm wracking my brain right now trying to think how else I screwed up. And the only thing that makes any sort of sense is somebody told you I was cheating on you. Okay, it's over a decade too late but they're a Goddamned liar.”

“No, nobody was telling me that you were cheating on me,” she said. “Not that I would've believed them to begin with if they did.”

“Then what was it?”

She looked in the other direction as she told him, “I didn't think you really wanted to be with me.”

“Okay now I'm fucking lost,” he mumbled as he covered his face with his hands.

She tried to explain herself, “Back then I believed that if you truly loved some one you would fight to be with them no matter what. And you weren't really fighting. It's teenage girl logic, don't try and understand it.” When Ken didn't respond she kept on talking. “As I got older I started to realize how immature that was, especially when I realized I wasn't exactly fighting to try and keep you either.” Still Ken didn't say anything right away. “I'm sorry.”

Finally he said, “What do you have to be sorry for?”

“For letting you think it was you this whole time when I was just as much to blame for our break up.”

“It was mostly my fault,” he said.

“My God,” she snapped, “Why can't you let me own up to my part in all of it?

“Because it's true,” he shot back. “If I just stood up to Jeff maybe we'd still be....” Realizing what he was about to say he stopped himself. Slumping down in the chair a bit he said, “Well maybe we would have been together for longer than what we were.”

“The break up was hard on me too,” she assured him. “Your phone calls begging me to take you back didn't help either.” After a bit she did admit to him, “And I've wondered if we would still be together now too. From time to time.”

“So where do we go from here then?”, Ken asked. “Because people are going to ask and I want to keep our stories straight.”

“We'll take like we have been,” she told him. “One day at a time. And we don't let one drunken night ruin what we've been able to rebuild.”

“I am totally down with that,” Ken said. “I just wish I could remember that night at all.” He flinched, realizing he said that out loud and how it probably sounded, expecting her to start yelling at him all over again.

Instead she had this wistful look on her face that caught him off guard. “So do I. ” Then she looked at him. “We do not tell the Captain that part.” He didn't disagree.

ED – Shinedown – Fly From the Inside