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"Essence of You"

E-Mail: Alyson Terry

Author's Note: This story is probably one of the most enjoyable things I've written.It took a lot out of me emotionally, but I think I learned something. I hope I can share my love of this show and it's characters sufficiently enough, as that was the entire purpose of this fic and everything that goes with it. Copyright- TaleSpin, The Walt Disney Company, 1990-91.No profits were made from the writing of this fic and I am absolutely ashamed and mortified that anyone would even suggest such a thing. (You know who to write the check out to, Just Kidding folks)


Dedicated to all of the TaleSpin fans out there who are all unique and I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to see all of your talents. Greg, Dave, Susie, Phoebe, Marc, Kristof, thank you for taking the time to read a great deal of the rough sketches of this thing and offering support. As always, greatly appreciated. I've made a lot of good friends and I sincerely hope that I will have the chance to meet everyone come July. (So don't miss the Con, everyone!) Some individuals I'll thank especially.


Dan Green- Thanks for helping me every step of the way with this fic, offering encouragement and simply helping me to come into the TS community. I'm very grateful for everything, especially for having the opportunity to get to know such a talented person. Always enjoy the chats, and the previews, (Hint- keep them coming) and I'm glad that such a wonderful show like TaleSpin allowed me the chance to branch out and expand my horizons. Couldn't have done it without you.A great writer, an even better friend, thanks a million and here's to the entire fan-fic writing experience, can't wait 'till July.


Elysabeth Furr- Lys, thanks for being a great friend and for being part of my writing support group. I'm glad I got the chance to see first-hand some of your many talents and I am also very glad that you decided to share your writing and artwork with the TS community.We're the better for it. Thanks for putting up with me and my odd sense of humor, (hell, thanks for just putting with my jokes and laughing at them....the only way to get me to stop is.....I'll let you know) Again, always enjoy the chats, and I'm very glad that this show allowed me to meet some great people, and form friendships that I sincerely hope will last a long time.Best wishes to you both now and in the future- Aly


A window within
for to be, to feel, to know
Is Essence of You


Heidi Warner- Heidi, I truly wish that you could have had the chance to read this, but I know that like the wonderful friend you are, you would have helped me to not take myself so seriously. I'll miss you a great deal, but I wish you all happiness where you're at. Friends forever, -Alyson


So we're okay, we're fine, baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head, stronger than the monsters
beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart, look at them together
then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that's true,
 multiply life by the power of two-Indigo Girls




I was flattered when Alyson asked me to write this - I've never been asked to write an introduction to anybody else's work before, and the fact that it was someone whose talents as a writer (and qualities as a person) I resepct and admire made it that much more of an honor.

"Essence of You" is a very special fic. I knew that from the first scene Aly showed me a month or so ago. I can't think of anyone who has captured the emotional bond between Kit and Baloo as well as she has. Make no mistake, this is not an easy fic to read - it's gritty and grim and starkly realistic. That's what I love about it. I'm continually amazed by how mature and complex much of the TaleSpin fan fiction is, but then I was amazed by those same attributes about the show itself nine years ago. Writers like Aly have taken it one step further.

That's about it - I know you'll love this fic as much as I did. It raises some very serious issues and makes you think very hard about the special people in your own life. That's something I try very hard to do in my own fics, so I admire it that much more when I see somebody else do it. More than that, you'll love it because it's well-written and heartfelt - and if a fic doesn't have those things going for it that fic has no chance. "Essence of You" is very special, just like it's author. --- Dan

"I know you've felt alone......I know it hasn't been easy. There are times just before dawn, just before everything is shot to hell and you no longer recognize humanity, that you _must_ know what you're fighting for. It's your existence,'s your soul, is what you're fighting for of any value?" ---- "Sphere of Influence"

Deep blue.Timeless, ancient, powerful, was the sea. It pounded against islands struggling to be born.It raged against the continents that dared defy it. It was a part of the people who lived side by side with it, in fear, or in awe.

Past the far-reaching memories of the oldest living creature, the sea could remember everything that had come and gone here. It remembered yielding to two great rock cliffs, it's calm harbor inside, the only reminder of what had been before.

A city lay behind this natural fortress, glittering, sparkling, proof of what humanity had accomplished. The beauty of this paradise attracted thousands through the course of time.

Sometimes paths met, sometimes they narrowly missed. Sometimes what was nothing can grow into something that lasts lifetimes.This was the lesson of Cape Suzette.This was the lesson of the cliffs that protected it.

 But, the sea was patient and it knew that when the years marched forward, all would come back to it's depths, a cycle completed.

 There was only one thing that would never bend to it, never become a part of it. Wild and carefree, untouched by the stormy ocean's influence, even when the sun disappeared into it's waves, or the last horizon touched clouds with water.

 Blue on blue, endless.Nothing lasts forever, but the sky.

 Another lesson yet to be learned by those who understood what it meant to fly, to live and breathe there, high above the troubles of solid earth.

 So simple, so tangled, nothing lasts forever but the sky.

 A boy stood at the end of a pier, recognizing what the sea and sky told him, always seeing more than what was there. He seemed an embodiment of these two entities.

 With depth, with emotions that could turn stormy in a heartbeat, without boundaries that others placed on him.This boy was free. The most wonderful thing, it was the most terrible experience ever known.

 Yet, even he bowed to change. He still understood this language that spoke to him, but he had learned anew, what it meant to give something back, to become tied down.

 But, all of his pain would soon be distant phantoms, gone, with the security of a home, loving adults and two arms always there to protect him, love him.

 After all, no matter what he had been, was now, or would be in the future, he was the navigator.....always.


Azure sky meets it
the water's edge to greet it
This is Cape Suzette


May 9, 1937


Molly never liked getting up too early. She was grumpy as she sat at the table, stirring her cereal.

Rebecca, still out of sorts herself, sipped a cup of coffee and eyed her daughter sternly. "Molly, I'm not telling you again. Finish!"

The little girl's bottom lip stuck out."I'm not hungry! How come I gotta eat this? You get to pick what you want!"

 Rebecca placed an elbow on the table. Molly picked up her spoon, recognizing the look her mom gave her.

 "Make a list of everything I get to do that you don't so you'll be able to torment your daughter" the woman smiled, remembering her frustration when her mother had said that to her.*Why _didn't_ I ever keep track?*

 "Are you gonna go see Kit and Baloo soon, Mommy?"

 "What pumpkin?" Rebecca came back from daydreaming. "Oh, yes, Mom's gotta work, like every other day." She returned to her paper, then slowly brought her gaze over the pages to see the little girl staring at her, eyes full of hope.

 Pinching the brow of her nose, Rebecca answered her daughter's unasked question."If you behave and if you're finished and ready, _when_ I say, then we'll both go."

 Molly squealed in delight. "Can I fly today? Can I, Mommy?"

 "Molly," the lady said patiently, "remember what we talked about? When you're older"

 "How come?!" Molly's voice began to whine.

 "Because I said so" *Another thing I've always wanted to say. Hated that when I was young* ; The amused thought pushed all annoyed feelings out of the businesslady's head.

"_How_ old?" Molly's young face was scrunched up as she tried to get her mom to give in a little.

"When you're as old as Baloo." Rebecca said, in a joking mood, "Now, go get ready"

"But that won't be 'till _forever_!! He's too old!" the little girl looked so disappointed that Rebecca burst into peals of laughter.

 "Molly! He isn't ancient, and don't even think of mentioning anything like that to him." Rebecca's grin widened when she thought about what the pilot's reaction would be.

 *The ever present ego, strange that he should start caring now* Her mind gleefully drudged up a very recent memory of the gray bear carefully studying his reflection, she seemed to catch him at that more and more lately. Measuring his large stomach, starting to worry about the bags under his eyes.*Middle-age, hope he's ready to get used to it*

 "Scoot, Molly. If you want to come, best to be getting ready."

 "Mommy?" the little girl looked at her mother, eyes shining, before toddling off."Do you like Baloo?"

 "Of course, baby, I like him....just because we occasionally fight.."

 "Do you like him a lot?" Her daughter cut Rebecca's well-meant speech short with another urgent question.

 "Ye-es" She said slowly, now paying close attention to the very serious expression on Molly's face.

 "He's like Kit's daddy, huh?" Molly's next inquiry didn't quite fit with what she'd been saying before.

 With an inward sigh of relief, Rebecca sat back down and picked up her cup. "He certainly is, and I'm glad. They're both very lucky" The lady began to sip her coffee.

 "Can he be my daddy, too?" The sound of immediate sputtering and coughing followed the little girl's innocent question. Molly's mom quickly kneeled, eye-level with the child.

 "Molly, dear, what are you asking me?"

 "I like Baloo. He's nice."

 "Yes, honey, he is. But why did you ask about him being your daddy?" An almost smothering feeling was beginning to overtake Rebecca.

 "If you like him and he likes you, you go...get a mar-riage" the child stumbled over the unfamiliar word, not quite getting it right.

Putting a hand over her eyes, the businesslady felt a migraine coming on."Baby, it's not that simple.I like Baloo, he likes me, but we're _friends_, that's all..."

 Her daughter's puzzled expression saddened her. "We....sweetheart, I know you like Baloo, he's lots of fun, he would make a wonderful dad, but we are _not_ going to go 'get a marriage', probably not ever"

"Why?!" the child's tear ducts threatened to spill over. It was so heartbreakingly sweet, she really didn't understand.

She already had a mother and the only real father figure in her life happened to be a large, jovial pilot who already seemed like a daddy.At one time, the child's faded memories of a dad only included strong hands tucking her in at night, or a loving face to kiss her tears away when she was sad or hurting.

 But all this had drifted away gradually with coming to Cape Suzette.When she'd met Kit and Baloo, all of her confusing memories of someone gone, yet still in her life had been replaced by Higher for Hire, the Sea Duck, Uncle Wildcat, Papa Bear and Lil' Britches.

 Yet here was her mom saying that Baloo could never be her real daddy. Molly started crying, she hated leaving Higher for Hire and the three inhabitants thereof to stay here, alone, no matter how much she loved her mother.Something was missing.

 As young and small as she was, she knew that.

 Rebecca felt like she was choking, at a loss for words. She felt completely useless, not being able to speak up and tell her daughter what she herself had no desire to think of for a very long time.

 But the little girl's tears broke through and she took a steadying breath."Molly, look at me."

 Her daughter complied, sniffling. "Do you remember your daddy? Your real daddy?"

 Molly was stunned, she could just about count the number of times her mom had mentioned her father- (not a very large number in itself, obviously)."N-no"

 "Not anything?"  the deep sadness in Rebecca's eyes was confusing to the child.

 "I 'member, he used to tuck me in"

 Something caved inside of Rebecca, her voice was unsteady. "You look like him"

 Molly looked at her mom, who stared back, not seeing the little girl but someone else, unforgotten but long since gone. Rebecca was lost in her own thoughts for several crucial moments.

 *How could I have been so selfish? She has a right to know..* Swiping at her eyes, the lady stood up, an idea forming.

 "Go get ready pumpkin. We'll be late"

 Molly, emotions changing as only a child's can, began running to her bedroom, excited.

 "Molly," the little girl looked at her mom, "I don't think Baloo would mind if you pretended, but let's just keep this between us, alright?"

 Molly grinned and scampered off. Rebecca felt a sharp pain twisting into her, she looked at her hand. It had been some time since she'd worn a ring there.But, she had kept her wedding band on for some time after....

 Thoughts coming back, she finally smiled.*But, Baloo?* Unbidden, images came to her. Of Molly playing with Kit, of Kit and Baloo, always together, each an extension of the other. Of laughter, of warmth, even in *Some business, more like a...what?*

She didn't quite know. Unfortunately, she could also picture a wedding ceremony, but instead of the traditional march, the sound of the Boogie Woogie Blues led her in.Baloo would of course be in his pilot shirt, inviting the caterers to join the fun before the actual ceremony ended, offering to show his bottlecap collection to her parents as soon as the honeymoon at Louie's was over.

Rebecca trudged into her room, hands on her temples, to write her daughter something very important.Something she didn't trust herself to leave to words.

She sat down on her bed, a black and white photograph in one hand, pen shaking in the other. It had been so beautiful, her dress, the excitement as her mother helped her prepare. And he'd been so handsome, standing there, waiting for her.

 Then, when their daughter had been born, it had been a moment forever etched in time, the most precious thing, holding a small life, a part of her.

By the stars, but Molly looked like him. The same light coloring, same open expression, it was painfully familiar.But, the fact that her small daughter had had to come to her to ask if Baloo could be her real daddy was like a slap in the face.

 *Of course she wouldn't know him, she was still so young when...* The distasteful sensation of guilt left a sour taste in Rebecca's mouth.

 She was, however, able to solve problems, not add on to them most of the time.

 _Dear Molly,_ She began writing, letting things long since buried take over.



Warm breezes touch you
the scent of rain and flowers
the only fragrance


Bright sunshine suddenly flooded a dim room as Kit pulled up the shade, letting it roll up suddenly. Baloo's large form jumped up in bed.

"Storms, lightning, evasive action!!" He yelled before blinking and focusing in on the small boy standing next to his bed, laughing.

"Up and at 'em Papa Bear! Ms. Cunningham's here and she enlisted some help to get you outta bed." Baloo scratched the back of his head.

 "What kinda.....oof!!" The pilot didn't get a chance to finish as a small yellow cub leaped on the bed, right onto him. Molly and Baloo both looked at Kit who was holding his sides, laughing hysterically.

 "Pretty effective, huh?"

 "Mom said for me to get your, uh....lazy caracass out of bed." the little girl smiled brightly at Baloo, who chuckled.

 "That's _carcass_, Pigtails, and thanks. Too bad I wasn't choking" Baloo said ruefully, rubbing his mid-section where Molly had landed."Heimlich manuever ain't got nothin' on you."

 He started tickling the girl, who screamed and giggled. Kit joined in. The sound of the two children's laughter intermingling was the most beautiful music ever to fill the warm place that was Higher for Hire.

 Rebecca walked in, her previous melancholy evaporated with the sweetness of the scene before her.

 Kit and Molly on Baloo's bed, both climbing over the large bear in some wild game. Baloo looked tolerantly at Rebecca who began laughing as well.

 "Ahem" she said in mock sternness when the two children had calmed down a bit."Since when did this place become a circus?"

 All three grinned toothily at her."Don't answer that, let's get a move on!"

 She put an arm around each of the two cubs, leading them downstairs in a one-sided embrace.Baloo followed rubbing his eyes, sleepily.

 He loved this.It didn't matter how many fights this group had, where each went or why or how far they could drift apart, it was the tenderness of moments like this that sealed them together.

 It was a home of mis-matches that fit perfectly together, like pieces of a puzzle that formed a much larger picture.

 He couldn't imagine anything taking priority over these individuals, particularly the young boy giving Molly a piggy-back ride as Rebecca shuffled and sorted papers.

 The pilot wanted to stand here, watching this scene and being a part of it for as long as he was able, something about it was almost bittersweet.

 He walked down one last step and suddenly felt a sharp twinge in his lower back.*Umph, Ouch!, where'd that come from? Gettin' on in years, I guess* the bear put his hand on the stiff muscle, not quite being able to see the humor of his own joke.

 He walked through the room, over to a small mirror, glancing at his reflection. He frowned.

 Sadly, the scene behind him became forgotten as some of the most important things often do, with the weakness of people and their emotions.

 Kit noticed Baloo examining imagined wrinkles and smoothing out his hair. The boy stifled a grin, not being able to resist teasing the pilot.

 "Maybe you'd better sit down Papa Bear, don't wanna overexert yourself. You're not as young as you used to be." Rebecca and Molly joined in Kit's giggling, even though the little girl had no idea why.

 The laughter slowly diminished awkwardly as Baloo scowled at them and turned to walk outside.Kit looked after him, unsure of what had happened.

 *Since when can Baloo not take a joke?*

 Rebecca was also wondering at the reaction with concern.*I think he's taking this aging thing a bit too much to heart. If this is going to be his attitude, things are going to get worse before they get better.It's not like he can turn the clock back.* This didn't look good.

 Molly, happily oblivious to the tension around her, glanced at her mom."See Mommy, Baloo _is_ a good daddy. You should ask him to m-marry you." The child spit out the word again.

 Kit blinked in complete astonishment before a huge grin crossed his features. Rebecca turned beet-red and glared furiously at her daughter before nervously glancing at Kit.

 "Molly, one more word about that and you're going to know just what it means to be in hot water. We'll talk tonight." She motioned helplessly at the little girl, who returned to her coloring book on the floor, for Kit's benefit.

 That cub felt like he was going to explode if he had to hold in his laughter any more."Kids, huh, Ms. Cunningham?" The boy's eyes twinkled.

 "Uh..Kit...if you don't mind. I would rather keep Baloo in the dark about that little comment." *No telling what his reaction would be with how he's been acting.*

 Kit opened his mouth to give the affirmative but was cut off.

 "Keep me in the dark about what?" Baloo's usual easy-going manner seemed to have returned as he walked in and put a hand on his navigator's shoulder.

 "Oh....uh.....nothing, nothing to worry about, nothing at all, absolutely nothing." The flustered woman only brought more attention to herself. Baloo smiled a bit.

 *Hmm* was his only thought.

 "You should be my daddy, Baloo. Mom's gonna ask you, then you'll get a ring and we'll live here!"

 If life had been kinder to Rebecca, a miracle would have occured and the earth would have opened to swallow her. Baloo's expression should have been captured for posterity.

 Kit was rolling on the floor. Rebecca finally peered through her fingers to stare at the pilot who kept glancing from mother to daughter and back again.

 Meeting his boss' gaze, he winked understandably at her."Well, Molly.Can't do it, Cupcake."

 "How come?" the discouraged little girl cried out.

 "Because all of the unlucky so and so's out there would skin me alive if I took a smart gal like yer mom out of the game." Rebecca looked at her employee, so did the Sea Duck's navigator.

 *What a considerate thing to say!* Becky was completely touched. Kit smiled whole-heartedly at his Papa Bear who pushed the boy's hair back in reply.

 "Fine," all attention turned back to the little match-maker on the floor."But help me look for somebody else, 'kay?"

 All three laughed loudly, filling the room with happiness. If moments like this could last forever.....



Water on the sand
like a touch of ages past
secrets never told


Rebecca fumbled for her keys in the darkness, holding a sleeping Molly outside of her apartment. She didn't know who had been more worn out by the end of the day.

 Strange, this apartment was where her and her daughter happened to live, but to compare it to the place from which she had just come from, it just didn't seem much like a home.

 Molly sighed and shifted and her mother's shoulder as Rebecca carried her into her room and laid her down in bed.Quite the interesting day, emotionally draining, to be honest.

 Staring at the little girl as she continued sleeping, Rebecca felt her heart tug at her once again.This was probably the hardest part of any time she experienced since her husband had gone out of her life.

 The loneliness was crushing.She remembered doing this often, staring at Molly in her crib as Stephen tucked her in.The bearess gently brushed her daughter's cheek.She was glad that Molly had so much of her father in her, yet it was painful as well.

 Walking back into her bedroom, the lady picked up a sealed envelope and placed in a drawer that she had had no intention of opening for a very long time.Various pictures were there, each it's own seperate memory.

 Slowly Rebecca took each of them out to stare intently at them.A few tears managed to make their way down her face and she wiped them away distractedly. How long had it been since she had allowed herself to experience these things?

 Her life before Higher for Hire........

 Rebecca placed the envelope in the drawer, it would lie there, stay there, until it was the right time to open it and share everything that needed to be said and felt. But, for now, it would wait....

 As the businesslady made her way back to her daughter's room, her mind began to wander away. Someday, she would tell Molly......but for now, what she had would have to be enough.

Kit, Baloo, Higher for Hire and all that it encompassed became pushed to the back of her mind as she remembered.She had never put her life on hold to think back and reminicise before, and she certainly didn't want it to dominate everything........but things back at Higher for Hire had a pattern to them at times, regardless of how out of the ordinary that pattern was.

 This was her life. Her's and Molly's. And nothing could really change if she focused on that, after all, Kit would always be a big part of it......and he would always have Baloo.


Hold to what you have
Love's not taken for granted
so Count Your Blessings

 Kit and Baloo sat at the table, uncharacteristically quiet. Something was on the large bear's mind, but for him not to share it with the cub was a new experience for Kit.

 Besides that, he picked at his food, proof that the pilot's mind was far away. Kit stared at him in concern, unsure of what could be bothering Baloo.

 Nothing too bad had happened to them for quite a long time. In fact, life here had been pretty peaceful, uncommon for this past year.

 It almost felt as though, Baloo didn't even know he was here. And for some reason, that hurt Kit deeply.With disgust the boy pushed the emotion away.

 *Stop being so sensitive!; You're getting so that every little thing has got you assuming the worst* Baloo finally glanced at the boy and Kit smiled at him, hoping to break him out of this strange melancholy.

 The bear didn't smile back. The bright expression slowly faded away on Kit's face as Baloo got up and went upstairs, leaving Kit alone.....

 Kit after some time, followed him. The gray bear was already in bed when the navigator walked into the room. Unconsciously, another flash of hurt hit the boy.*He could've said good night*

 Besides, Baloo usually tucked him in, maybe.......he just didn't want to tonight?

 Crawling into his own bed, Kit almost turned over without saying anything.He didn't understand.He didn't understand why Baloo's moods had the power to affect his emotions so strongly, or why he could take so many little things to heart.

 Before drifting off to sleep, he heard Baloo's bed creak and someone tucking a blanket around him.Strange, but a strong wave of relief hit the cub.

 "G'night Lil' Britches" It felt very good to hear Baloo say that for some reason. His own special nickname. Baloo had used it for as long as he'd known him.

 As sleep finally came, the pleasant dreams that Kit had come to expect since coming here, to this place, evaded him. Instead, an unpleasant nightmare that wasn't easily explained haunted him.

 Darkness, pain, confusion and how quickly things change.Kit was glad for the morning.



May 11, 1937


The palm tree's music
in the place of the islands
will move your feet

 Louie sat on a stool beside the bar, tapping his long fingers on it's smooth surface.The place was quiet, his helpers were scurrying around, wiping tables, sweeping the floor or in the kitchen, anticipating the rush that would surely come tonight.

 The walls were rickety and unstable, thin as paper. The roof often leaked when it rained, and if a hurricane happened to pass through here.... The ape shuddered, remembering the last one that had taken his place apart.

The bartender turned and caught himself staring at the Wall Of Fame behind him. The aces that stopped here had been the first ones to support this ramshackle club, their pictures were all there, grinning.

 That lone wall held so many memories for Louie. Memories of what this dive meant to him, with the parties, lights, music and good friends, always that, good friends.

The red ape chuckled and pushed his hat forward before reaching up and plucking off one such photo in particular. Three individuals smiled back at him.Himself, a large, gray bear and a small, brown cub, arms linked. The boy was laughing, bringing a special....something to the picture.

 *Man, those two, what a pair.* The ape held the photo in his hand for a long time, thoughts far-away, before he rearranged a few items on the board, tacking the picture right in the center.

 The orangutan felt a twinge of loneliness, however, thinking of the trio's close friendship.As close as he was to the pilot and his navigator, as much as he'd come to share in the different form of living that had come from having a kid around, especially a kid like Kit, he still felt a little outside of things.

 When Baloo looked at Kit, mostly when the boy wasn't watching, there was a light there, powerful, that blocked out anything else.The bartender was surprised at it.

 He had known Baloo for a long time, he'd thought he'd had the bear figured out. As big a heart as the pilot had, Louie had thought his friend's longest flight would be relaxed, pretty uneventful......and solo.

 Seeing something grow in his oldest friend that the ape would've never anticipated also changed _his_ relationship with Baloo. He respected the bear a great deal more.

 Respected him with the guts it must've taken to go through some of the large bear's misadventures with Kit. Respected him with the strength it took to have your heart and soul carried with a small boy who unwittingly had the power to rip them apart by his own actions or what the world could dish out.

 Louie respected Baloo, their friendship had reached a better level with the addition of the pint-sized navigator, but he envied him as well.

 With the pain, also came the joy, even two confirmed bachelors like Louie and Baloo had it's opportunity.Louie, it seemed, was still waiting.

 The orangutan tapped the photo, feeling something warm spread in his chest.*And then there's those boy's boss* The ape grinned, as much as he liked to flirt with Rebecca, it was impossible not to. *She looks even better when she's steamed* Louie chuckled to himself, enjoying this quiet time with his thoughts.

 Enjoying even more the unaccustomed stability that came from his solid acquaintances there in Higher for Hire.As if someone was reading his mind, the door opened and a large bear in a yellow flight shirt ambled through.

 Or rather, dragged himself through, his gaze never leaving the floor.*Trouble* was the orangutan's first thought when he glanced at his oldest friend.

 Baloo looked lower than Louie'd seen him in a long time, an uncharacteristic aura of the blues hovering around his usually cheerful countenance.

"Hey Fuzzy! What's shakin'?" the red ape shouted at the bear as Baloo slowly walked over.The pilot raised a hand in reply then flopped down on a stool, laying his head down on the bar. A few more customers began to stroll in, the earliest of the night crowd.

 "Where's that kid of yours?" Louie asked, surprised not to see Kit with the large bear.

 Baloo grumbled something unintelligible. "What was that, cuz?"

 "Said Kit's back home, thought...'cause it was a school night and.....well, y'know..." the bear glanced around the bar, as if he was worried that someone might overhear.

 The bartender scowled. *What's the matter with him? Never used to worry 'bout Kit's school getting in the way before.* Louie raised an eyebrow at Baloo.

 "So....he's there by himself?" his friend looked up hurriedly."Well, he was a little distracted when I, fer cryin' out loud, he's 12 years old, Louie! Not like I have to childproof the house."

 Louie scowled, not liking the pilot's tone. "Maybe he wanted to come with ya" the bartender blurted out, hoping it was true. "You boys didn't have a dust-up didja?"

 "Naw, but..." Baloo didn't finish, only looked down at his hands.The ape shrugged and turned around to finish up behind the scenes as a steady stream of customers began to enter.

 "Hey, Louie?" Baloo grabbed the bartender's arm."Do I look older to ya?"

 *What the..* "Older'n what?"

 "Then....y'know!" Baloo motioned embarrassedly. The orangutan put an arm on the bar, wondering where this topic had come from.Something came to light in his mind.

 "So, 'ol Fuzzy's worried about feelin' his years, eh? This wouldn't have nothing to do with your birthday comin' up?" Louie smirked at his friend as Baloo visibly squirmed.

 "Aw, it ain't fer awhile, lay off." The uncharacteristic sharpness in the reply irritated the bartender.

 "Face it Baloo, you're no young pup, anymore. You've settled down. Won't be long afore ya hafta spend all your days in a rocking chair, us bringin' ya food you hafta sip through a straw."

 The ape was enjoying himself. He always enjoyed bringing the large bear down a notch or two when he got too wound up or started taking himself too seriously.

 "I am _not_ settled down!" Louie's technique backfired."I've still got it, don't I? My knack, I can still do all the things I did before, I...."

 "You what, cuz? Gettin' older ain't so bad, look what ya got" Louie reached behind him and tapped his favorite photograph, for someone else's benefit, this time. It was a less than subtle hint.

 Surprisingly, Baloo didn't take it."I got a pain in my back, an' my joints are so damn rickety sounds like I'm fallin' apart."

 "Yer imagining things, and don't be so hard on yourself.You can't be as bad as what ya say." Louie, glanced at the bear, grinning."Close, but not as bad"

 It took a second, but finally Baloo smiled. "Guess I sound pretty pathetic, huh?" His friend's return look said enough. "Louie, 'ol buddy, think I'm feelin' sorry fer myself."

 "Well, snap out of it!" the bartender smacked his friend on the back, then turned all of his attentions to the quickly growing crowd.

 Baloo sat thinking as the rush began to gain steam. *Guess I shoulda brought Kit* the bear thought with a flash of a sudden, strange feeling emerging from deep within him. It was odd, not having the boy there, Baloo missed him, yet...the plaguing thought of how it made him look, having a kid along kept bothering him.

 *Stop it!* the pilot thought testily, feelings of guilt starting to grow as he thought of Kit, waiting at home, then wondering where he was, seeing how Baloo didn't tell him that he'd left, or where he was going. The boy had been too involved talking with his friends from school.

 *Better be gettin' back.* Baloo stood up, adjusting his cap but noticing the overall carefree atmosphere of the party and the place that had it.

*Why am I leavin' when all this is just getting started? Fer pete's sake, never used to...* Used to, that phrase was beginning to become embedded in the bear's brain.

 *I'm not dead yet, Kit'll be fine* With incredible effort, the pilot tried to forget his nagging concern for the boy. *If anyone's gonna understand, he will*



Then the funny little trinkets of temptation, something new instead of something old All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it's fool's gold....fool's gold- Indigo Girls


The crowd may have been rather unfamiliar to Baloo, but he quickly got into the spirit of things. He felt like he did in the old days of "Baloo's Air Service" Young, without a worry.He didn't want this bubble of illusion to pop and leave him with the reality of how life changes, even though he knew the consequences.It was fun, but empty, too empty. And there was that emotion of feeing like the loneliest guy in the world, even in the middle of all these people.The pilot had thought he'd forgotten.

 He hadn't. He felt hollow to the core.

 But, sometimes stubborness is too much of a motivation and denial could only lead to disaster. A future tragedy, one that Baloo knew deep within him to be true, was what the pilot truly thought he wanted, at this moment, he could always have again.But, the lights and the glitter hid something worthless, the real things of value were just that much harder to hold onto.

 Louie felt uneasy as well, seeing his friend, just like the old days, laughing and carrying on.Trouble was, the ape didn't like the memories as much as he used to.

 Something was out of place. Baloo walked over to his friend, breathing hard, and sat down, wiping sweat off of his forehead.

 "Phew! You can still throw a party, Inn-keeper." Louie glanced at the bear.

 *No time to beat around the bush* The orangutan had known Baloo long enough to speak his mind bluntly, or so he thought.

 "Baloo, watcha doin'?! Gettin' kinda late and I shouldn't hafta be the one to tell ya that you ain't exactly free to stay out 'till the early mornin', catch the drift?"

 Baloo pointedly ignored Louie's glare. "Hey Louie, remember some of the crazy trips we usta make? Ha, ha! Man, think a couple of good-lookin' bachelors like us could still charm the ladies?"

 *Uh, oh* was the bartender's urgent thought when he saw the large bear disregard everything the ape had just said and saunter over to a table of new-comers, all young, probably a group of friends out on the town.

 Louie had to keep himself from throttling the pilot back to his senses before he really embarrassed himself.Wearily shaking his head, the orangutan could think of nothing tactful to say as Baloo grinned at him.

 Several of Louie's helpers joined him in covering their eyes, not wanting to watch the ugly scene that was certain to ensue as Baloo leaned over and tapped the shoulder of one young lady in particular.

 It was unfortunate that Louie heard, but thankfully didn't see what happened as the bear began talking to her, a bit too involved with his own ego for his own good.

A startled gasp then an ear-deafening clatter brought complete silence to the room.Against his will, the bartender peeked through his fingers. It wasn't pretty.

 Whatever the girl had had once had on the table was now on Baloo, who looked beyond humiliation as she stood over him sneering."I don't know who you think you are, but being crude and arrogant are _not_ going to get you anywhere. Go find someone your own age, Gramps!"

 As the table started laughing, the reaction on Baloo's face was like a blow to his friend.Without another word, he stormed out, the hysterical laughter of the club following him.

 Louie watched him go in pity.He'd never have pegged Baloo to be so sensitive, but that, admittedly, was a hard pill to swallow.*Um...he'll get over it. I hope. *Sadly, he turned his attentions to cleaning up the mess, only wishing that he could make a difference.


The sun drops slowly
split by two ancient rock walls
to rest in the sea

 Kit had been staring at the clock for some time, feeling concerned and having a pretty good idea where Baloo was, but not understanding why he hadn't taken him with him.

 *He could've at least asked me* The boy sat, patiently waiting in the large armchair, Rebecca had long since left, lost in her own thoughts and not noticing Baloo's absence, seeing as how there was no real pressing reason for him to be there.

 Unless, of course, you counted the small boy waiting for him. Kit was tired, but still felt uneasy.Strange, yes, but he couldn't ignore the fact that he felt better when Baloo was there with him, especially at this time of night.

 Disgusted, he shook his head. *He has a right to his own life. Besides, when did I get so mushy?* The boy could remember falling asleep, cold and alone, for a large portion of his life, so he didn't really understand the anxiety he was experiencing now.

 As for Baloo's life, well.....Kit felt a sudden twinge, familiar, one that he felt whenever he thought of Baloo's life without him. It made him feel so lonely and left-out, worse, he couldn't seem to shake it off.

 It was with great relief that the boy heard the door open and shut and Baloo come through. Except the cub knew instinctively that something was very wrong. Baloo looked absolutely furious, Kit had only seem him that angry a few times, and they weren't pleasant memories.

 *~Kit, _scare_ doesn't cover half of it!!~* Shaking his head at the sudden recollection, the navigator stayed where he was as his partner threw his cap into the corner and stomped up the stairs, flinging open the door to their bedroom.

 Kit heard Baloo re-emerge, quickly come back down the stairs again and look around, looking even more upset than before. He started when he saw Kit staring at him in the arm chair, but he didn't look any calmer.

 "Kit!! What in blue blazes are you doin' scaring me like that? You should be in bed, an' instead you're here just twiddling yer thumbs! Dontcha got school tomorrow?!"

 Kit looked at the pilot, open-mouthed. It was very obvious that the bear was trying to pick a fight, but why he wanted to argue with him and for what reason, the cub was at a loss to know.

 "Me?! I'm wasting time? Where were you?" Kit shouted back, angry himself at being left behind. "And you coulda told me that you're were going somewhere, what if I wanted to come too?"

 Baloo scowled, "Who's the adult here, Kit?! I don't hafta tell you where I'm going every time you _think_ you want to come. Now, to bed!"

 Kit was now hurt and furious."I was waiting for you!! And you come home and do this! I'm not the one who ruined your night, you did it yourself, so stop taking it out on me!!"

 "I'm...well, I don't mean..."Baloo looked a bit calmer, and a little guilty. Kit was so angry he was shaking. The boy jumped up and quickly began stomping up the stairs, not understanding the bear's attitude, or why he seemed to bound and determined to find fault with him.

 "Kit, wait" The cub stopped on the stairs, but didn't turn around. He heard Baloo's footsteps behind him, and two hands gently turned him around.

 "Look, Lil' Britches....I'm sorry. Ok? Had a rotten night, had nothin' to do with you, kid."

 Kit looked concernedly at Baloo. He looked awful, and a large part of him stilled seemed far away, but the cub smiled. "Sure, Papa Bear."

 It felt very comforting to be in the large bear's arms as Baloo held the boy close but something still seemed wrong. There had been no explanations, Baloo wasn't one to start fights, and the confusion surrounding this one hurt Kit badly enough for it to stick in his brain.

 "Here we go." The pilot picked the cub up and put him on his bed, softy tucking his navigator in. Kit tried to humor his friend by closing his eyes, but the boy knew that sleep wouldn't be an easy thing tonight.

 Baloo sighed, looking at him. He didn't know why he'd taken out his humiliation on Kit. He didn't know why the boy always had to share in his burdens.But the bear couldn't block the mocking laughter of this night from his mind, and looking down at the cub, he felt very old and worn out.

 Gently, he put a large hand on the boy's head, brushing his hair out of the way.*This'll pass.* The pilot told himself, not quite believing it.*It has to.*


 May 12, 1937


Feel the joy above
mixed with sorrow of ending
a flight beyond cares

 The navigator of the Sea Duck slowly made his way down to the main floor of Higher for Hire, completely worn out. He hadn't slept a wink the night before and from the sound of Baloo's tossing and turning, the fight they had experienced had been equally disturbing to the pilot.

 Kit had thought very hard about why a few short comments could have the power to hurt him so badly. He didn't know the reason, he hoped he would never _have_ to know.  But he was tired and had to get to school, so he yawned loudly and waved to Ms. Cunningham who was working at her desk, in spite of the distraction of her small daughter sitting on it

 "Bye, Ms. Cunningham," Kit yawned again before heading out the door. Silence. He turned back around, and saw Rebecca laughing at her daughter's actions as she attempted to help her mother uh..organize the desk. A crushing emptiness hit Kit, one he found hard to explain. It wasn't even like the first night he's spent at Higher for Hire. At least then, all he had wanted to do was watch this kind of scene, even if he wasn't in it.

 But since then, he had felt an unspoken invitation to come into this little comraderie between the individual's that lived or worked here. Too bad he didn't feel that way now.

 He tried again. "Uh...Bye, Ms. Cunningham, Molly!" he said much louder. Finally Rebecca looked up, seemingly distracted."Hmm? Oh, g'bye Kit. Have a good day." She returned her attentions to Molly.

 There was an expression that applied here. You never know what you have until it's gone. For Kit, with his personality and imagination sometimes hurting him as much as it could help him, the expression could be applied with how left out he felt at the unspoken bond between Rebecca and Molly.

  He'd never known what it had been like having someone watching out for him, caring about him until now.  And he'd never known the pain of feeling out of the tight circle he identified as a family until now.

 He turned and began walking towards school, feeling like a lead weight was hanging around his neck.

 It could have been an uneventful day. For about ninety-seven percent of the students there at Cape Suzette Elementary, it was. But for Kit, it had been a struggle, one he would have never anticipated, until he knew the dangers of becoming close to someone, then having to face the torture of being pulled away.

 His teacher, Mrs. Van Campen, had always liked the boy. He was polite, incredibly intelligent and well-behaved. The other children seemed to like him too, as he was a bit of a ringleader among them. But, the well-meaning lady didn't like any student that seemed closed off.

 And Kit was one of those. Not much was known about his past, his records were atrocious and he seemed very skittish about anything that concerned digging into what had happened to him before he had come to this school.

 At first, the administration had encouraged the woman to simply look the other way. As long as the boy kept his grades up and didn't cause trouble, he wasn't a problem. He seemed taken care of and if whoever he stayed with was concerned enough to see that the cub attended school in the first place, then there was no real cause for alarm.

 But the teacher simply couldn't let it go. Too many times the boy had come in looking worn out and tired, without a good explanation. One of his friends had told her that Kit had a small job with an air cargo service, and sometimes he went out on late runs, but not very often.

 Then there was the fact of no communication between Mrs. Van Campen and Kit's....quote.....guardians. She didn't like it.  She had never regretted getting involved in a student's personal life when she thought it was for their benefit and she had few qualms now. If anything, the boy was probably at odds with his parents or relatives, or whoever he happened to live with most of the time and that was why he never mentioned them, or seemed to get so upset whenever _she_ did..

 Looking at Kit, she knew something was different about the boy. He could be very smooth when cornered, and although he was not disrespectful, he didn't have many shy tendencies around adults, odd for a boy his age. She couldn't shake the feeling that he was too....resourceful.

 If his....uh....parents had any kind of protective tendencies, they would have a hard time with Kit. The boy was no trouble-maker, but he was certainly independent. She had seen many children come and go, but none like this cub. He was a strange combination of many things, smart, talented......vigorously protective of his own secrets.

 Mrs. Van Campen frowned.She had let her doubts concerning this boy slide along without doing anything. Now, she needed to do a bit of research, if only to silence her own nagging thoughts and guilts about some bad situation. It was her right, she was only doing it for the boy's own good. Someone had to take care of him, like he deserved. The woman liked the boy too much to let him waste his life with people who would take advantage of him.

 She was hoping she was wrong about all of this, but with the school year ending, she didn't want Kit to be shuffled along to some other teacher who only cared about getting through another year with different students to discipline. The teacher's justification was sufficient enough for her to head down to the main office.

 She confronted the secretary, as she had several other times in the past two months or so. "Hello Elaine" the young cheetah at the desk said, feet propped up, as she filed her nails disinterestedly.

 "Feet off of the desk, Lys!" the woman snapped, disgusted at the lack of activity in this office and the on-coming battle she knew would be starting up, as it had many times before.

 "Ahem, Lys," the cheetah looked at her expectantly, feet still in a comfortable pose on her desk. "I want you to pull up the records on Kit Cloudkicker."

 "Can't do it, _Mrs._ Van Campen" the cheetah said in mock politeness. "You know that all students records are restricted unless you have written permission from the parents."

 "We've gone over this, young lady"  the teacher grinded her teeth, irritated. "Kit hasn't provided me with any kind of signature or written permission. So, in the student's best interests, I'm going to see what's going on."

 "Best interest, huh?" the young cheetah looked less than convinced, "If it's so important, and for his own good as you say, why can't you _get_ permission?"

 "Because the boy keeps giving me the run around."

 "Well, he's probably tired of you sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong, and so am I. What is this, the fifth time you've asked me in the last few months? What, did you think the answer was gonna magically change? It isn't any of your business and if you are really curious to see what's going on, I suggest you go to the one person who _should_ have the most say in this."

 "If Kit doesn't want to give you a straight answer, and he seems fine, then I suggest you just drop it, before you start something you might end up regretting"

 "If I have to get a signature from that boy, I will, one way or the other. And I suggest you start looking for another job, pronto."

 "My job is to look after kids like Kit, protect their rights from people like you, who believe that children shouldn't have any privacy simply because they _are_ kids. Now, listen to me and listen very closely, you can try to get rid of me, I'm not the real issue here, but leave Kit alone, please. You really don't understand what it means to a boy like that to have someone root around in his personal life. He wouldn't like it, it would only cause more hurt than good, so for his sake, not for mine, back off!"

 Lys' well-meant speech to the woman only sparked her interest more."What kind of an interest do you have in that boy? There are quite a few student's that have a great deal more on file than Kit, why the big secret? What does it matter to you?"

 Lys looked the older teacher straight in the eye before replying. "Evelyn, leave the boy alone. Just let it go. You can try to do this battle of wills with me until your blue in the face, but the bottom line is that you're not getting in to see Kit's records, his profile, _anything_ without some kind of parental permission. You want it so badly, try to weasel it out of your student. See how much he likes you by the end of the year. That's all I'm gonna say."

 With that last comment, the cheetah returned to filing her nails, humming a bit and dropping at hint that it was time for Mrs. Van Campen to leave.

 But, the teacher hadn't lasted as long here and gained some influence by simply letting things go. She marched into the door marked Principal, leaving Lys to look after the woman sadly and shake her head.


Wind rustles the trees
it's language heard to only
those who would listen

Kit sat in front of Mrs. Van Campen awkwardly, fingering his cap and staring down at his feet. He didn't know why his teacher had asked him to stay after class to speak with him, but with the way things had been going with more and more persistence concerning his parents, meeting and speaking with them, the boy had butterflies in his stomach.

 His deep-rooted sense of keen observation told him that something bad was about to happen. Something he couldn't avoid any longer. He only hoped he had the courage to face it, possibly deal with things right here and now, if needs be.

 But still Kit could feel his insides flip-flop with anxiety. His teacher looked at him intently.

 "Kit, I asked you to stay after for a very important reason. You know that all of your classmates have brought me back some notification that their parents will be attending the important teacher conference coming up very soon."

 Kit gulped, he had wanted to ask either Baloo or Ms. Cunningham about that, since he had gotten into hot water simply trying to forge a signature the last time one was required. He had felt bad enough about that incident but had simply not gotten around to asking the two. The three had never talked Kit's legal status there, it seemed to be such a touchy subject. Kit didn't know what he say, or how they would respond. All out panic was not a reaction that he wanted to deal with.

 "So, taking into account the last time we talked, I want an _actual_ signature and I would also like you to tell them to sign another paper. It' policy, time to check each student's records. If there aren't complete, then things must be properly dealt with. Understand!"

 Realization hit Kit like a ton of bricks. Mrs. Van Campen was basically spelling it out for him that she knew something was up and she was bound and determined to find out what it was.

 The navigator's mind raced. He could tell Baloo, or Ms. Cunningham, or he could try to talk his teacher out of this, or.... None of these solutions seemed right, and Kit didn't think he could be successful with any of them anyway, especially when he realized how closely Mrs. Van Campen was watching him, it made him very uncomfortable.

 *Everything I try to tell her, she's gonna be able to see right through. She knows something's wrong.* Kit felt trapped, like the walls were closing in on him. He didn't need this, he was only 12 years old, but he wasn't stupid, if Mrs. Van Campen looked at his records, or more specifically, the absence of them, he would be finished.

 Shipped back to an orphanage, having to live in that cold, unfeeling place. Especially after he'd known something so much better. The boy felt sick, he couldn't face that. He could face down pirates, storms, or any kind of physical danger to himself, but to have to go back to that harsh life after the comfort and peace he'd known for some time was terrifying.

 Kit couldn't think straight. Somehow, he stammered a coherent answer to his teacher, who was still looking at him with a sharp gaze and stumbled out the door.

 All of the former problems and tensions that had existed in the cub's mind before concerning Higher for Hire were completely forgotten. All he cared about, was staying there. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions, but Kit had lived for too long not knowing what would happen to him, or what his life would be like the next day.

 Now, he had some control, and he aimed to make sure he kept it. The worst experience he could ever have with Baloo, Ms. Cunningham or the other individuals at Higher for Hire didn't not compare to living on the streets. And nothing could ever happen that would change Kit's mind about that.....nothing.


 May 14, 1937


Navigator here
to guide you along your way
through life and perils


During the past year, Baloo had usually had a difficult time flying on solo runs while his navigator was in school. It wasn't exactly having to load and un-load the cargo by himself or having to pin-point locations while dealing with the maps and compasses.

 These things were a hassle, true, but a certain emptiness took over when Kit wasn't there beside him. Even in silence or in the middle of a particularly long and boring run, just having the boy with him felt.....good.

 He had felt incomplete without the cub, pilot and navigator, a team, a partnership, both working together, inside or outside of the Sea Duck.

 It was an arrangement that puzzled the bear, but for the longest time, he had chosen not to question it. It seemed, that time, had passed.

 Baloo's back and neck were beginning to ache and his patience was wearing thin as he struggled with one map in particular, trying to locate the exact coordinates that would take him to Ria Solfuerte, a small city located north of several well-known ports.

 Why Rebecca had suddenly gotten all fired up and motivated to help the Cultural Department of Cape Suzette Foreign Relations was beyond the pilot.

 But, the cargo of valuable artwork he was returning to the city after the Cape Suzette Museum had hosted an exchange made Baloo eye the sky nervously.

 Trying to balance finding the place, pushing his nagging thoughts out of his head and watching for a possible attack was making the usually easy-going bear angry and tired.

 *Wish I had a navigator who could be here every trip I needed 'im to be* That single thought passed through the bear's mind before he roughly pushed it out.

 *Ain't the kid's fault he's got school...still...* Baloo's annoyance level dropped a bit, but did not disappear.  He looked at the map, then tried peering through the thick clouds. *I should be right on top of it.*

 He scanned the map again, something didn't feel right. He picked up the mike to radio in to the landing field. To the bear's dismay, the only answer to his request was static.

 *Damn! Must've gone too far north!* the pilot re-checked his coordinates, glancing at his watch. *Terrific....why do _I_ get chewed out when I'm a crew member short an' it ain't even my fault this time!*

 The stillness was starting to wear on his nerves when the bear jumped out of his seat with an unfamiliar sound. Several, sharp, staccato noises brought Baloo right back to where he needed to be.

 An array of bullets bounced and ricocheted off the top of the Sea Duck's cockpit. Without another thought, Baloo pushed down the stick, bringing the Duck out of the attack, hitting him from above.

 He spotted three of the air-pirate's CT-37's close in on him. Gritting his teeth, Baloo turned the sea-plane, narrowly missing one such nuisance as Mad Dog yelped and flipped his own plane to get out of the way.

 For some reason, Baloo was having a hard time getting most of the pirates off of his back and more machine gun fire hit his plane straight on. Another round sounded on his right and he heard several bullets penetrate the hull.

 Baloo rolled the plane, ending up in the opposite direction befor he attempted to gain some altitude. Two more CT-37's appeared in front of him, one looking a bit too familiar. More bullets grazed the plane, some coming uncomfortably close to his window.

 Don Karnage's voice sounded out over the mike. "You are losing your wily-type touch, Baloo! Surrender and hand over all your niceties to me, and I will think very hard about letting your furry hide go, yes-no? Who is to be saying that pirates have no sixth sense of culture, eh my lackluster lackeys?"

 Several cheers answered the wolf as more warning shots bounced off of the yellow plane. *I don't need this....losing my touch...I'm not..*

 "Since when did the word _think_ every apply to you, Karny?!" Baloo yelled into the mike, his temper snapping.

 "You had better be watching your next step, you estupid pilot. I would use you for a bear-type rug, since I enjoy stepping all over you by the way..."

 "_Anyway_" Baloo grumbled.

 "But you are being much too fat, so....kindly give your efforts up, you gluttenous goon!" Karnage snarled at the bear. "No more chances and this is your last! I am happy and even enjoying myself too, taking apart your ugly plane, stone by stone."

 Baloo eased the Sea Duck down in completely unfamiliar territory. The pilot was infuriated. *Well, maybe if I'd had some help finding this place, this wouldn't have happened!* he thought, finding any excuse he could.

 Baloo slumped down in his seat, looking like an angry child, pouting because something hadn't gone his way.

 He never liked dealing with the egotistical wolf anyway, but now, with everything piled on top of the other and his humiliation at being taken down so quickly, Baloo wanted to lash out at someone.

 Unfortunately, a malicious captain who had a band of armed idiots fully behind him was not the best target. A harsh kick brought the door to the cargo hold open and Baloo heard several rough voices arguing, along with the sound of boxes being dragged out.

 *Someday I'm really gonna give it to that pirate* Baloo heard some loud footsteps behind him but didn't turn around. "Whaddya want, Karny? Ya got yer stuff, so why don't ya beat it like the coward you are"

 "Ooh! I have made the chubby pilot angry! Normally I would end your worthless life for daring to open your not small mouth and insulting my wonderful self! But...I will just be gloating over your pathetic-type ego....I am guessing that you are not the _best_ pilot or best anything for today!"

 Baloo finally turned around to scowl darkly at the wolf who held his arms out mockingly and laughed with that high-pitched, unpleasant giggle.

 "Ah..yes, you are not best anymore except to be losing to better ones such as me!" Karnage grinned toothily, enjoying himself as he visibly hit a sore spot with Baloo.

 "Where is your juvenile-like pest? He is the only one foolish enough to be hanging around a loser such as you."

 That did it for the bear. "Get out...I don't ever wanna hear you mention Kit again! He's no business of yours, never was, don't even think about bringin' him up anytime, anywhere, and especially not with me!!"

 Baloo forcefully pushed the captain out, who proceeded to trip and land on the floor of the Duck with a loud clang. Karnage jumped up again, enraged.

 "You are deserving each other!" the wolf spat out furiously. "But now I am believing him to be better off. Worthless runt, he could still grow-up to be something useful. I am doubing it, but the boy was having the potential."

 Baloo's fist tightened dangerously.

 "But _you_," the pirate sneered at the gray bear, "are less than something. You should be going south to the retired home, you are no longer worthy of Don Karnage's time on the clock! I leave you to dog-paddle in your most large pitifulness, come my thick-headed thugs, this ancient one is not worth the ammunition to take him down with."

 Baloo stood there, stunned, angry at the wolf's uncanny ability to always hit him where it hurt the most deep inside. Of all the people in this world, it had to be him.

 "Hacksaw!" the pilot dimly heard the wolf's voice again. "How old is your most glorious leader turning on my next birthday?"

 "Uh...why....29, Cap'n!"

 "Ah, yes, 29. How each year flies for the young and handsome...."



What can we learn here?
What makes us all that we are..
and what we'll become?


Kit wasn't sure what to do.Mrs. Van Campen's instructions were right there in front of him, but he wasn't stupid.

 How could he provide records that didn't exist? He still wasn't even sure how he had managed to get into school with no questions asked. The boy believed it had something to do with someone who worked in the system and had chosen to look the other way.

 Kit didn't know who though. He did know that his luck had seemingly run out and he was in trouble. He was certainly at a loss for what to do. The past two days had been nothing but walking on eggshells. His teacher hadn't brought up the subject of his non-existent records during that time, but the way she looked at him told him that his time was running out.

 It was a nuisance, a problem that he just didn't know how to get rid of. He hadn't told Baloo or Rebecca. What could he tell them? He loved them, and he did want to stay here. Nothing either of them did would make him change his mind, but for once he didn't see a window.

 Simply asking for help with anything wasn't something he did very often and how could they help with this, anyway? Another problem, how could he approach them with the way they'd been acting lately?

 Baloo, snappish and moody and Rebecca's mind constantly elsewhere. Kit felt as if he were part of the furniture there at Higher for Hire, always helping with the people he cared about's problems but struggling and sinking deeper all the while with his own.

 *Maybe she'll just forget about it, school will be over soon, anyway* The boy didn't even believe that himself. He'd do what he could, even if it meant being cutting a few corners. Kit's stomach twisted. He didn't like being dishonest, didn't like not knowing if his badly thought out plan would work and especially, didn't like trying to justify all of this in the first place.

 But......there was nothing else to do.

 Finally, there it was. When had the walk home seemed so long? Kit waited a moment before opening the door, swallowing hard and wiping at his eyes furiously.

 Why couldn't things ever be simple for him? He should have the right to come home and be with his family......they were his family no matter how non-traditional, no matter what their attitudes towards him sometimes were. He shouldn't have to worry about any of the things he'd been forced to deal with for most of his life.

 Life......that one word, everything about it for Kit just didn't seem quite fair and he sometimes felt very tired. It was a good thing that Baloo was usually there to hold him up. The boy still believed the large bear would come around, maybe if the navigator told him what was going on.

 Admittedly, it would be a relief to have the pilot reassure him that everything was going to be okay. Just as long as there was someone to depend on.


 Surprisingly, the individual that Kit had been thinking of with confidence was there. The boy hadn't noticed the Duck outside.

 The conversation in the room could almost be classified as an argument, except for the fact that Rebecca was doing all of the yelling, and Baloo was just sitting there, not responding.

 Kit didn't like the look on his face, or the lack of one specifically. He knew from experience that the large bear probably wasn't listening to a word his boss was saying.

 The navigator felt very conflicted suddenly and he didn't like it. Him and the bear were close, right? Closer than Kit had been to anyone in his entire life. The boy had always thought that when you really got to know someone, you could foresee problems with them, or you knew when they were out of sorts.

 Maybe that was why Baloo's attitude was such a mystery. Perhaps if the large bear had tried to explain the confusion regarding where he felt his life was going, where it had been or the routine he seemed to be stuck in, someone like Kit would probably be a little more understanding.

 They were a lot alike that way, they both had drifted for so long. But Baloo's life seemed to be taking a different route, and dragging his thoughts and emotions along for the ride. There was some resentment building, Kit was young, he still had his whole life to live, or so the pilot thought.

 What worries could the boy possible have that would compare to feeling like you've already done and seen everything life can give you? Worse than resentment, minimalizing whatever concerns or troubles the cub had could lead to flagrant disregard......if the pattern held, things didn't look good.

 The two that were usually so close, usually so in tune to what the other was thinking, seemed miles away from each other, with the distance growing each day.

 All ideas about confronting Baloo with his current problem seemed out of place here. Obviously, the bear was involved elsewhere.

 "You don't even have an excuse for me?!" Rebecca was shouting, frustrated at the pilot's stone-faced composure. "This was _important_ Baloo! You know, I'm against inflating your ego at any time, but I could have really used some effort or skill on your part to outmanuever those pirate scum!"

 "Now, I'll probably have to foot the bill for losing that cargo!" Baloo scowled, temper finally starting to flare up.

 "Well......we wouldn't want that, would we _Miz_ Manager. Like always, lettin' you down was my first worry. Please....let me apologize fer tryin' to save my own skin, _excuse_ me, Rebecca"

 The sharp sarcasm in the gray bear's voice could have brought the argument to an unpleasant level. Baloo seemed to want to bypass excuses or explanations and get right down to out and out fighting. Rebecca's eyes flashed, her own temper building at the bear's tone. She would have responded with a vengeance, except the pilot kept going, cutting her off.

 "Y'know, I sure am tired of ya and everythin' here. You and yer money-grubbing selfishness. I'm tired of everyone jumpin' on my back for every little thing that happens to go wrong, I'm tired of gettin' pinned with all of the blame!"

 "Karnage bested me today, I don't know why, but that guy already took out his pound of flesh, so now I gotta come back here an' put up with you! I'm sick and tired of.......everything, everybody, an' I don't need any more problems! Why can't you just try to mind yer own business and let me live my own life. I know yer always so disappointed in 'ol Baloo, but I don't give a flyin' fig right now."

 "I'll just hafta live up to yer expectations from now on, and do nothin'. Already feel like I'm there, so guess that's just my lot in life. Deal with it."

 A pretty long-winded speech, even for Baloo. All of Rebecca's anger turned into confusion. Where had all of this come from and what could Karnage have said to set it off? Since when did Baloo care about anything the pirate said?

 Neither Rebecca or Baloo noticed Kit standing there, feeling suddenly very self-conscious and more than a little hurt at the bear's words.

 *I didn't know he hated things here so bad* All of Kit's previous plans about possibly going to Baloo for help quickly changed. If the large bear was so unhappy, Kit didn't want to add to his problems. The navigator just wished he knew the reasons behind the pilot's discontent.

 Sometimes when the boy had first met Baloo, he'd been worried that the pilot would just become tired of him and want to go back to his old life, no responsibilities, no troubles....not much of anything.

 A memory came back to Kit, of a few nights back, with Baloo's harsh words and his staying out so much later than usual. The cub knew he'd been at Louie's, but it had been odd that the large bear had been there without him. A crushing pain hit Kit.

 He felt overwhelmed, like things were sliding down but he had no power to stop them.

 The boy stepped forward, both Rebecca and Baloo looked at him. Both were scowling darkly. Kit felt incredibly awkward all of a sudden.

 "Kit! Why do ya always hafta go sneakin' around like that? Can't ya just open yer mouth and say somethin' when you come in?Quit tip-toeing around here and scaring me every chance ya get."

 *Always sneaking around?* To Kit's best knowledge, this was the first time he'd done this, or ever felt as though he _had_ to do this.

 Rebecca didn't seem too happy either."Do you have any homework, Kit?"

 Homework.......did he ever.

 Kit nodded silently."Then go upstairs and do it...." the woman stomped back to her desk and sat down, still irritated. Baloo was far beyond that and continued watching the boy as he opened his mouth to say something that could help the tension in the room.

 "_Now_ Kit!" The cub was taken back and started to reply angrily. Something stopped him. Maybe if he pushed Baloo too far or made him angry, the bear would really have a reason to be sick of him.

 Not making eye-contact with either of them, Kit made his way upstairs."Sorry...." he mumbled, even though he knew he was out of ear shot.


May 15, 1937


Live for the living
don't live for that which is gone
here and now, is all


The Sea Duck had seen better days. Karnage and his goons had certainly done a number on her. Baloo sighed and headed outside, Kit having long since gone to school.

 He hadn't wanted to say anything to Rebecca, he just didn't have the energy to fight. With a grimace of frustration the bear tried to remember the last time he'd had enough energy to do anything constructive.

 The yellow sea-plane was patiently being tinkered with by Wildcat. He had been blunt and told Rebecca and the pilot that the damage caused by a few well-placed bullets would take a few days to repair, even for him.

 That fact that Karnage had simply been lucky in taking him down did nothing for Baloo. He should have been able to slip by those pirates easily. When had he gotten so slow and rusty with every doggone thing he tried to do?

 His back ached as he inspected his baby's hull carefully. *She looks like swiss cheese* Angrily, the bear pounded his fist against the side. Wildcat looked up from his work to stare at the bear.

 "No runs for a few days, huh Baloo?" The pilot ignored the mechanic, he simply continued staring at his poor plane. Was this going to be come a regular thing? And what was he going to do in the meantime?The feeling that he was past his prime, worthless, showed itself again, nearly choking the large bear.

 The thought of maybe spending time with his navigator flashed into the bear's mind. Sadly, Baloo pushed it out. *Kid's so jumpy lately, too busy with school besides.Well, guess everyone'll just have to put up with me for a few days*

 The pilot sat down at the end of the pier. He felt completely useless. Even if he could take the Duck out, where would he go? Why would he want to do anything that showed just how far he'd slipped with any of his previous talents?

 Nothing to do, nowhere to go. How come everyone else seemed to have so much to do, and he didn't? His life seemed so narrow, it was closing in on him. He was too young to be feeling this way, or was he?

 The large bear's birthday was coming up. Another year gone by. True, this one had been quite a bit different than most. Kit was here, along with Rebecca and Molly. So, why did he feel so discontent? Maybe because everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, and he felt like he was running in a circle, going nowhere and getting slower and slower at it all of the time.

 Baloo's mind was far away as he walked back into Higher for Hire, not wanting to sit still and just think. His thoughts were becoming his own worst enemy, he resented how everyone here seemed to have a purpose, or had the desire to push forward, while he himself was sliding back at an alarming rate.

 What were the years going to be like from now on? Kit wouldn't stay here forever, Baloo wasn't foolish enough to think that, someday he would grow up and leave. The boy was already shooting up like a weed.

 Melancholy crept in. This was the rest of his life, day after day. This was his final stop. Kit could go anywhere he wanted, he had the promise. Rebecca as well, she was still young, still had all of the fire she had had when upon arriving here. What did either of them know about what he was feeling?

 Scowling at Rebecca who looked at him in surprise, the pilot's resentment grew. *Let 'em go about doin' what they do usually.If 'ol Baloo's such a bother, then why should they care how I'm feelin'? I sure ain't gonna be the one to tell 'em*

 "Well, a good morning to you too, Baloo." Rebecca scowled right back. "Don't get all grouchy with me. I'm not the one who shot up your precious plane. Maybe if you would have been prepared for once in your life, this wouldn't have happened"

 "Prepared? Am I supposed to be physic now? If I'd had a navigator with me to tell me where to land on time, _then_ this probably wouldn't have happened"

 "Kit's got school, you've got your job to do. Next time you run out of excuses, try to be honest instead of blaming everybody else."

 "Can it, lady" Baloo growled before stomping upstairs and slamming the door. Rebecca rolled her eyes.

 *Of all the self-centered tricks to pull.Whatever's been affecting him lately better move on, quick, or I'll committ justifiable murder* Shaking her head, Rebecca let her mind wander once again, distracted by thoughts and memories that neither Kit nor Baloo could have a part of for a long time.

 Baloo's mind was also wandering. But his thoughts were decidedly less pleasant and far more liable to become embedded in his mind. *She don't' I'm not surprised. Nobody does. The Duck......sure she's my baby, but what good's that gonna do when I can't even fly her like I used to? Gettin' to be a chore, that's what.....who needs it, or this place, or even for that matter, this job........who needs any of it*


To know what strength is
is to care, to see, to live
for somebody else


Rebecca had already gone home. Kit had really wanted to say _something_ to her.....even if it wasn't about his pressing problem. Just a simple conversation would have been enough. She had acted as though Baloo and him were hardly there, muttering a good-bye and leaving quietly, no instructions for tomorrow, no news about Molly, not even a simple inquiry as to how he was doing.

 Kit's heart felt almost raw, made so much worse by his confusion. It wasn't the end of the world, just because she was involved with her own life. Kit figured he was hurting because of how overly sensitive he could be. He just wanted to be a part of things here, especially when he thought that he wouldn't always have a chance to talk to Rebecca or Baloo, laugh with them, even help them to avoid strangling each other......sometimes.

 The boy really didn't want to see her go for another reason as well. There was a strange undercurrent of tension lately between him and Baloo, but the navigator had no idea where it had come from. At least if she was there, it didn't seem so obvious.

 Baloo wouldn't talk like he used to, he was snappish and distant.He used to be so open, even when it was the quietest time here, the place didn't have the coldness that existed now.

 It was almost as if........Baloo resented him. Kit had gone over various things in his already cluttered mind to try and figure out why. He had come up empty, and it frightened him. How could he fix things, or make it up to the bear, when he had no clue as to what brought it on in the first place?

 Baloo was still sitting at the table, staring straight ahead, but not talking, it was becoming a familiar sight. Kit thought about striking up a conversation, but decided against it. He didn't want the bear to lash out at him as he had been doing for several days now.

 The boy was still worried, though. He needed some help, of that there was no doubt, he just didn't know how to go about getting it.

 Kit sighed, knowing that Baloo wouldn't even hear, and stared out the window. The Sea Duck was there. Kit loved that plane almost as much as Baloo did. It made him sad to think about how long it had been since he'd enjoyed a flight in her, though.

 He had only gone on a few routine cargo runs in the past week and a half. And he had gradually learned to hate them. The silence was so pressing, it was incredibly uncomfortable, and Kit didn't like thinking that his one-time boundless chances to do this, were soon to be non-existent.

 Kit gripped the windowsill tightly. He couldn't take much more of this. Mrs. Van Campen was breathing down his neck, his closest friend either ignoring him or acting as though they were strangers. If only Baloo would tell him what was wrong! Just so he'd know if it had been something he'd done.

 "" Not surprisingly, no answer. "Baloo!"

 "What Kit?" Baloo snapped, coming out of his daydream.

 "You want to take the Sea Duck out? It's been a while since she's had any fun......" Kit smiled, Baloo still didn't make eye-contact.

 "Maybe......I could do a little cloudsurfing......?" Kit trailed off, unnerved by the lack of a response.

 Finally, Baloo looked at him."Kit, we don't have another run, what's the point of taking her out?"

 "We....could go to Louies?" Kit's voice was unsteady.

 Baloo scowled, "Naw.....I ain't goin' back there for a while an' I'm sure not goin' back there tonight. Besides kid, I ain't yer chauffer to take the plane out, waste gas and waste more time, just so you can risk breakin' yer neck......"

 Always a defensive subject, Kit's pain at Baloo's words quickly flashed into anger. "Why are you always criticizing me about my cloud-surfing? How many times do I have to tell you that I know what I'm doing?! I just wanted to help you to feel better......" Again, the unsteadiness.

 "If ya want to help me feel better, then _stop_ naggin' me all of the time, I got enough problems without you making more""

 "All of the time! Since when have I been such a pest? All you have to do is say the word, Baloo and I'm go-"

 "Enough!! I'm sick and tired of you hangin' that over my head, Kit......if you can't back it up, then don't make the threat!"

 "Yeah?!" Kit was infuriated. "Would you even care if I did? Huh?! Would you care?!!"

 Baloo didn't answer. He just continued sitting there, slipping back into his own thoughts, forgetting about Kit, forgetting about the argument.

 Kit felt torn apart. If he didn't care......then why was he driving himself crazy trying to prevent Mrs. Van Campen from finding out that he shouldn't be here?

 Just what was going on? It was rare that him and Baloo ever fought. Now, they seemed to do so every time they talked. It was petty, it felt as though something fragile was cracking, and would shatter soon, leaving the cub to hold the pieces and Baloo never once even botherng to notice.

 Or perhaps it was something else, maybe........maybe he _shouldn't_ be here. He wanted so much to ask for help.......but why should he go to someone who didn't care one bit whether he stayed or went.....

 Unless Baloo snapped out of it, then Kit wasn't going to say anything about it. Let everything go to hell in a handbasket, what was the use?

 Kit stomped upstairs, feeling very tired. Let them take him away, in the morning he might see things differently, but for now, it just didn't matter.


 May 18, 1937


This world is but canvas to our imaginations- Henry David Thoreau


School was becoming quite the chore for Kit. His teacher had pulled him aside once again and requested the necessary signature, although this time, she was decidedly less pleasant.

 Besides the boy was exhausted. He was disheartened and he had no idea of where to go from here. He hadn't sleep at all the night before.

 It had been another nightmare, without definite shapes or events, just fear, the tension he felt inside coming back to haunt him while he slept.

 He had waken up in a cold sweat, gasping and had tossed and turned for the remainder of the night. Remembering, Kit closed his eyes for a moment. Nightmares were nothing new to him.

 He'd had them for a long time, he'd learned to accept them. It had been easier to deal with them since coming to Higher for Hire. Baloo had nearly always been there to comfort him, to stay there with him as he went back to sleep.

 It had made Kit feel taken care of, protected. Last night though, when he'd really needed the bear, Baloo hadn't even responded. Nothing new, still very painful.

 It would have been better if Kit had known Baloo was asleep, but the large bear's tendencies regarding that lately had been just as restless as his navigator's. The pilot just.......didn't care anymore, it seemed. How had they gotten to this point? Kit wished he knew.

 The day dragged. The navigator was having a hard time remembering a day that didn't. He dreaded going back home, he couldn't stay here, he was trapped, in the worst sense of the word. There was no real solution in sight.



I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after- Emily Bronte


Wildcat had done another bang-up job on the Sea Duck. Usually, Baloo complimented him on it.Well, usually the bear was glad to get up in the air again.

 Now, he just didn't see the point. How did it benefit him to go back to flying......doing the same tasks as usual. He didn't have the flair anymore.

 The resentment he felt extended to everything and everybody. Including his baby, the pilot was indeed, far gone. He didn't feel the desire to do anything but sit and feel sorry for himself.

 If all that he was, was tied up with this plane, then what was he? In a way, the Sea Duck had a lot in common with him, they both seemed past their prime by most people, except the ones who really loved them.

 Baloo didn't care, he didn't want to be reminded of when things were better, or when he was younger. His life felt like a black hole, with nothing escaping, bleak and dark. The mind can do strange things to one. Things that at one time seem so very important, fade into the background and are lost, without ever having been missed.

 It was probably the first time Baloo could remember in his life that he was glad for an all day run. He didn't think of Kit, as he used to when he had long trips such as these without any company.

 It was truly terrible. He didn't even once glance at the empty seat beside him. The gray bear was becoming so wrapped up in himself, that even the negative emotions had no sway.

 He didn't wonder if Rebecca would stay there with the boy until he got back, nor did he wonder how Kit would be feeling with his distancing himself from the cub.

 He didn't even think about the night before, with Kit's nightmare. He knew the boy had had one, of course. He shared a bedroom with him, so he could hear the cub tossing and turning all night. That was as far as the concern went, however.

 He just knew that now he was even more tired than what he would usually be, and his body seemed ready to give in with every small task he did. He didn't appreciate always having to put his own problems aside for Kit's, so this time, he wouldn't.

 Maybe tomorrow he would feel better and this would all pass. After all, he wasn't even sure if Kit had noticed any change. 



I am different from all the men I see. If I am not better, at least I am different- Rousseau


Kit sat staring at the door of Higher for Hire. He was tired, he was scared, but he was 12 years old and if Baloo didn't want to talk to him or just be around him, then he would go to bed. He was no charity case.

 *Stop it!* the boy furiously wiped away the tears that broke through. *You've gotten soft, he's just your partner, who cares?* It doesn't matter*

 The boy's small fist made contact with the table. *It doesn't matter!* Another pounding, this time weaker as the boy began crying in earnest.

 *Every time and it's never different.* Kit would never understand why life chose to punish him for trusting people. The boy put his head down on the table, trying to block out images of him and Baloo, trying with everything in him to understand what he had done to make the pilot hate him.

 He had gone over everything he'd said, had tried making it up to the bear, but with no response or success. It hurt terribly, more than all of his memories of cold, sleepless nights and an empty belly.

 It hurt with the pain of having loneliness placed back where once it had been vanquished. *Won't be here much longer anyway, if things keep up the way they have been.*

 To the navigator's absolute disbelief, regret welled up.*He's not worth it and I don't _want_ it!* Kit threw his cap across the room vigorously, just as the door swung open and the familiar, heavy tread of Baloo came through.

 Kit froze, wanting so much to run up to the bear, like he used to, and throw his arms around him. The memories were too fresh, too harsh to the boy's sensitive nature for him to delve too deeply into them. He watched the large bear.

 The pleading expression on his face was wrenching, but Baloo's disgust at walking through the same doors, the same rooms for the space of half of a lifetime, pushed all else out of his mind. He walked past Kit, not looking at him.

 He stepped on something soft, but could have cared less as he made his way up to the bedroom and slammed the door, locking Kit and all of his opportunities out.

 The tears were now unnoticed by Kit, who felt his already much-abused heart break distinctly. He picked up his cap and tried to reshape it again. He gave up, after a few minutes. Something in him just wanted to let it go.

 Sobbing, the boy clutched it and sat down in the easy chair. The only merciful thing that would be given to him on this night was sleep, and thankfully, it came quickly.



May 19, 1937


You'll find your answer
to your questions, all you ask
in each, new sunrise


Kit simply stood where he was. He had been fidgeting with nervousness for quite some time, but now he felt sick to his stomach.

  His teacher sat her desk, letting the boy sweat it out for a moment. The other children were leaving school, going home. The navigator suddenly envied them as he'd never had before.

 Mrs. Van Campen drummed her fingers on the desk. " long has it been since I requested your records?" It was a simple question, a trap. Kit didn't have any kind of an answer.

 "Uh.....well.......a few days?" uncertainty infected Kit's voice.

 "You do know that all of your classmates have turned everything I need _when_ I ask for it. I don't see why you seem to think you're above them, or above my rules."

 Again, Kit's stomach flip-flopped. "I.....I promise I don't think that....I've...been having some problems and....."

 "What kind of problems? Aren't you tired of that excuse? Kit Cloudkicker, you listen to me and you listen good. You may be able to fool some people, but I know when things are out of place and I also know you're hiding something. I can't help you if you don't let me."

 "All I want to do is watch out for my student's best interests. How can I do that when you're constantly side-stepping me? I gave you a relatively simple request and you've been avoiding it, purposely! If you think this little game you or whoever is putting you up to this is funny, then you'll really enjoy it when I tell you that I've been granted permission to see your records _without_ your so-called parent's consent."

 "So, if you have anything to tell me, I suggest you do so, immediately......."

 Kit just stood there, feeling an overwhelming sense of panic."Can I have one more day?" Kit didn't think it would do any good, but he had to try.

 Mrs. Van Campen stared at him, piercingly. She pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something down on it, before handing it to Kit.

 "One more day. I want your _legal_ guardians to look at this, sign it and for you to give it back to me. If they'll just meet with me, then I'm sure you'll have nothing to worry about. However, I still have the right to check your records and rest assured, I will. If you think this little act you've pulled, avoiding me every day has worked, think again."

 Kit clutched the note. He was beyond cornered. He was caught and he knew it.


The place of shadows
between consciousness and sleep
it's known, but unknown


Wildcat had been tinkering for over an hour, blissfully happy and unaware of the troubles happening between two of his closest friends. To him, life was about fixing problems, never adding on to them.

 Machines were so much easier to work with than people.A simple tightening or loosening of a bolt or hammering at a dent and everything worked again. Why couldn't the souls of people work so well?

 If the mechanic ever found a way to communicate with people as well as he did with machines, then the pain that existed between those he knew best would never confuse him again.

 But, like the best made parts, these individuals fit together and would always do so, working hard for each other's future, for themselves. People would never understand how easy it could be to fix some things, and he would never be able to find a way to tell them.

 A loud slam brought the mechanic's head up. He heard some clattering, Rebecca call out sharply and Kit grumble in reply. Their boss didn't say anything afterwards, odd.

 Coming out of his shed, the lion walked into the main building and saw Rebecca writing something on her desk and gazing at a picture in her hand, smiling. Kit's airfoil sat in a corner, dusty, having been ignored for some time, there was no sign of the boy anywhere and Rebecca was completely involved in her own affairs.

 The mechanic, usually wrapped up in some bizarre thought process that was coherent only to himself, had a surprising burst of clarity, even if it was in an emotional form.

 Something was very wrong. The tone of Kit's voice had been upset, but uncharacteristically, Rebecca had barely noticed. The Sea Duck was outside, but Baloo was nowhere in sight.

 If, at any time, it was difficult to remember seeing Baloo and Kit together for a long period of time, something _had_ to be wrong.

 Rebecca didn't look up as the lion began walking up the stairs. For some reason known only to him, Wildcat peeked through the door.

 Kit sat on the bed, surrounded by papers. The cub looked near tears as his young face tiredly read several sheets over and over.

 He picked up a pen and began scribbling something before crushing the paper and throwing it to the floor. The boy put his hands over his eyes, mumbling and shaking his head.

 The mechanic only heard snatches of what the navigator was saying, and understood even less than that. He closed the door silently, a single phrase repeating itself as he did. "I can't do this anymore.....I just can't....."


May 21, 1937


The navigator of the Sea Duck didn't think he had enough energy to move anymore, with all of his worries spiraling out of control. But, somehow, he managed to hold his head up and sit there, at Higher for Hire, staring at what he had thought at one time, would be the perfect gift for Baloo's birthday.

 The large bear hadn't spoken to him in about two days. If it hadn't been for Kit's trying with all of his abilities to get himself out of the mess he was in, it would have been devastating.

 Mrs. Cunningham's constant lectures had done nothing to break through the large bear's barriers. It was if he had completely surrounded himself and not only did his navigator not know why, he didn't know how to break through them.

 Kit looked at what he'd written down. Even with his nerves so keyed up lately, he still believed that this would work. All he had to do was tell the pilot how he felt, and all of Baloo's resentment and sullenness would go away. Even if Kit couldn't be around to share it, the bear would at least be back to his old self. They could chat and enjoy each other's company once again, instead of either trying to avoid each other, or not knowing the other was there.

 He hoped it was the right present to give to Baloo. Kit felt a little presumptious. But, at this point, he was willing to try anything.


You know you've felt it,
touched the limitless sky, freed
from The Bonds of Earth


Mrs. Van Campen was feeling a bit smug. She really hadn't wanted there to be much wrong with Kit's status here, she honestly didn't want to cause the boy more problems, but she always got her way eventually, and if she suspected something was up then she would deal with it, end of story. The boy had missed his chance though, one more day, and he was still avoiding her.

 A phone call, a signature and a quick trip down to the records office had confirmed everything. More than confirmed it, actually. She had always liked Kit, though the cub was a mystery. Now she knew why.

 The proof she needed wasn't in the documents that Kit was either an orphan, or definitely had no legal right to be where he was. It was in the lack of them. There were no official records on the boy, anywhere. She had been surprised.

 Of all of the things she'd been expecting, she hadn't been expecting this. No birth certificate, no.....well.......not much of anything.

 Whomever Kit had been staying with for the past year, they hadn't bothered to see her about anything. She could try and deal with this if she thought the boy was well taken care of. But looking at the other student's parent's attendance and participation, then examining Kit's. It looked like trouble, it really almost looked as though whoever these people were, they were hiding something.......

 If it was neglect, then the woman knew just who to call. She picked up the phone, ready to dial the appropriate department. She hesitated. In spite of herself, she was curious to see just who these people were. If they appeared as though they could care less about Kit and the boy's future, then she would let the Child Welfare Department become involved. But......she would just have to see.


 May 22, 1937


To say you've seen all
touched all that life can give you
could not be living


Kit had a bad feeling about this run. He felt as though he couldn't breathe, the depression was so crushing. All of the memories, all of the good times.......gone, it seemed.

 And the boy didn't know why. Baloo had simply stopped caring, stopped paying attention to any of them. The bear just didn't seem cut out to live this kind of life.

 Kit almost felt guilty. He had never really wanted to put a pinch on Baloo's freedoms.The pilot had never seemed to mind before.

 There was silence between the two in the Sea Duck's cockpit.That was nothing new. But, if it was in this place, in the place where Kit had always felt closest to the bear, then a great deal of hope about ever snapping Baloo out of this rut, before the boy might have to go, was lost.

 Standard run......standard delivery. The tension Kit felt was close to breaking point. Baloo just sat there, staring straight ahead.

 It was the large bear's birthday tomorrow. Kit remembered his own birthday, the pilot's words to him. A painful knot formed in his throat, making it difficult to swallow.

 Maybe it was the best decision he could have made, leaving here. He just couldn't take the memories anymore.

 Surprisingly, en route to Cape Suzette, Baloo turned and headed to a familiar spot, one that Kit hadn't visited in a long time. The large bear's only explanation to Kit's inquiring look was that he had to tell Louie to cancel something.

 Kit didn't ask any questions, didn't say one word. He knew what the pilot wanted cancelled, and he felt as though his friend was gone for good.

One last thing........perhaps it would snap Baloo out of it........perhaps not.


 May 23, 1937


The sounds of the sea
the melody of the surf
the language of time


It was possibly the longest walk home that Kit could imagine.He had his ultimatum in his hand. Mrs. Van Campen knew.

  Kit hadn't spent years out living on the streets without learning how to read people. The teacher had only handed him a request to see whom he was staying with, there wasn't even a reference to his parents. And it was dated the next day.

 It simply said that if they didn't show up, then _necessary_ actions would be taken. Kit knew what necessary actions encompassed.

 As bad as things had gotten, he wouldn't go back to an orphanage. No way. It was still his life and he intended to live it. No matter where it took him.



To hold to something
like a treasure, or a gift
gives it it's value


A calender lay open on one of Louie's tables, date circled. Normally, the bartender would have had a wild party in full swing by this time.

 But, his friend had stopped by once after his humiliating experience here over two weeks ago, yesterday in fact but when he had shown his face, hadn't been his friend.

 Baloo was not a particularly complex person by any means. He cared about what he cared about and protected these things fiercely.

 Why the bear had built a wall around himself was a mystery that hurt and bewildered his oldest friend. Baloo had barely mumbled two words the last visit here and, although Kit had been with him, the boy was edgy, distant, like he had been when he'd first come crashing through those doors.

 It was a turnabout that concerned the ape, no communication between the pilot and navigator, both irritable and silent. The comraderie and warmth that came so easily between the three had been shut out by a force that Louie couldn't understand.

 He'd never been one to become too involved with the personal affairs of the inhabitants of Higher for Hire, but when the distance between them caused their problems to be laid out right in front of himn, the orangutan felt he had no other choice but to help.

 He had no other option anymore, can't just get involved in the good times and he wanted to make sure that plenty more of those were on the way.Louie didn't know what was wrong with Baloo, he only knew how frustrating it could be when the bear was feeling down and out, taking everyone else down with him, shutting everyone else out.

 What made Louie the angriest was how selfish the pilot was being, acting like he was the only one who'd ever had any problems and pushing all else away.

 Louie had seen this happen occasionally for as long as he'd known the bear. It was a fault, holding on to certain aspects of his precious ego like a treasure to his heart.

 Until nothing else mattered and nothing else remained. *No party, like he _ahem_ suggested* The ape scowled at the memory of Baloo's harsh reply when he'd inquired.

 *Better show up, though.  Got a bone to pick with  him* That was a mild exaggeration. Louie was ready to kick Baloo out of this depressed rut he'd been in for far too long, literally.

 Time to knock some sense into him anyway possible. The club was empty, no arrangements had been made for any large parties, the bartender had planned it so.

 Just him and his best friend, the bear _was_ still his best friend, no matter what he had to do to prove it.

 Baloo's birthday, usually a time of good-natured bantering and jokes that centered on growing old gracefully had turned into a topic of constant tension, with everyone walking on eggshells around the moody pilot.

 Louie scowled when he glanced at the clock. He'd told Baloo to be here nearly a half-hour ago. Angrily the bartender picked up the phone, dialing the number at Higher for Hire.

 Instead of his oldest friend picking up as expected, a woman's voice answered back, "Higher for Hire, how can I help you?"

 "Well, Ms. Rebecca Cunningham...pleasure as always." Louie's bad mood evaporated as he applied the charm to the businesslady.

 A loud sigh sounded from the phone. "Baloo's not here, Louie. The fact that he's not there with you is frankly mind-boggling to me. You should try again later."

 "Oh, I will, again and again and...."The double meaning to the orangutan's words caused Rebecca to let out a frustrated sound.

 "Oh! Just save it for someone else, I've had all I can take from that bear and I'm not in the mood to take anything more from you."

 "Easy Re-becca, that's why I was dropping a line....'ol Fuzzy had something important to discuss with his pal, Louie."

 "Well, if you can get more than a three-word response out of him, I'll believe in miracles."

 "That's what I was gonna try an' talk to him about."

 "Louie, it's his birthday.....isn't it? Do you think that's why he's been acting .....?" The hostility left Rebecca's tone, if anyone could try and help her piece out why Baloo had become a different person as of late, the ape admittedly could.

 "I'm concerned, he lashes out at everyone, work is becoming more piled on, his flying hasn't been up to par, no one can get him to talk about it."

 Louie frowned, concerned."What about Short-stop?, how's he takin' this?"

 "Who? Short-stop....? Oh! Kit, he.....he seems to be alright, I don't think he understands this whole aging thing, or why it's so upsetting to Baloo." It was decidedly odd, talking to Louie about Kit, she normally didn't talk to him about much of anything except to grill him on the whereabouts of her employee.

 "You sure? Haven't seen him in here for a long space of' I don't pretend to understand why."

 "I would've noticed if anything was wrong with the boy, Kit's sensitive, but he hasn't seemed too upset, I believe he's gotten more involved with school, provides a bit of a distraction....."

 Rebecca felt a little defensive at the bartender's inquiry....of course she'd notice if anything was wrong with Kit, but just trying to deal with Baloo and her own personal issues with her daughter had frazzled her nerves.

 "Just worry about Baloo, he's been driving everyone up a wall and if he was supposed to be meeting you at your place, then I am completely shocked that he's not there, good night." She hung up the phone loudly, a little ashamed at her rudeness.

 *But, who is he to bring up the subject of Kit? I didn't even think he knew the boy that well, let him hash it out with Baloo, those two are beyond me."

 Rebecca closed her briefcase with a snap, briefly wondering where Kit and Baloo were. She had only found out that it _was_ her pilot's birthday from Wildcat, and when she had attempted to ask the bear about it, as tactfully as she could taking into account his own defensiveness concerning his age, all lines of communication had been shut off abruptly.

 With a sigh she pulled out a small bonus she had planned to give to the bear on such an occassion. Now she wasn't even sure he would want it. Walking out the door she considered calling Kit's name to see if he was even there.

 Surprisingly, it was silent in the building. Thoughts she had not looked over in a long time rattled around in her brain, causing a small pang of worry. *Oh, he's probably with Baloo, that bear wouldn't have let the boy stay out too late without him. He's too protective of the cub.*

 Rebecca felt a small flash of sadness, how long had it been since she had bothered to say good-bye personally to Kit? The woman left the quiet spot of Higher for Hire, unable to rationalize the feeling of dark foreboding that had come over her.

 About Baloo, well, she was usually very astute about his feelings for Kit. Had been since the day she'd met him, always would be...


It may be a word
but what is to define love?
to know it's meaning


Kit was outside, sitting on the pier, numbly, fingering his airfoil. He barely noticed when Rebecca left, but he didn't bother to say good-bye.

 The boy had been through some rough patches in his young life, far too many for one such as him, one who didn't deserve them.

 He had gotten soft, weak, and vulnerable. All of the lessons he had thought he knew front to back conerning trusting people and letting yourself become too attached to someone else, someone careless and unfeeling enough to take advantage of you, had slowly faded away. Faint shadows of another life, another cub, hidden forever inside of him.

 Baloo, the pilot of the Sea Duck, his partner, his friend, since the beginning, one year ago, had followed the patterns the boy knew all too well, and had changed, forgotten him and moved on.

 One of Kit's last hopes to bring the bear back to what had existed before had failed and the disappointment cut like a knife. Everything Kit had felt at one time had been put into his gift to the large bear. He would have given all that he had, if Baloo had cared.

 He couldn't remember the last time Baloo had called him, 'Lil' Britches', or one of his other nicknames. He was having a hard time remembering the last time Baloo had willingly talked to him without being snappish or short-tempered.

 Kit had survived for years on his own, in a harsh world that hadn't cared whether he made it or not. The boy had learned not to let others roughly push him aside, he had learned to fight back, to defend himself, in many, many ways.

So, why had he given Baloo what he did today? After everything the pilot could put him through, it was beyond belief that Kit still cared and had tried to express it, writing down what he never had managed to say with simple words. It was almost degrading remembering Baloo's apathetic attitude when he had taken it from the boy, not even bothering to glance at it.

 Kit still loved the bear, probably always would, leaving a gaping hole of pain and regret, that much more horrible if he was forced to make a decision and leave. But, still the navigator remained hopeful, optimistic. It was a strange tool of survival for an orphan, never to be down and out for the count.

 And Baloo still had a chance, even though he didn't necessarily deserve it. All he had to do, was take it.



What the pilot knows
is that time and love will show
properties of life


The seemingly center figure in all of this was sitting in the pilot's seat of the Sea Duck. Sitting in the darkness, the silence, feeling each wave as the sea moved the plane gently on it's surface.

  The large bear remembered vaguely Louie telling him that he had to talk with him. Not surprisingly though, the pilot didn't care, he was numb to the very center of his being.

 *One year older* Baloo thought the sadness would swallow him completely. *A wasted life, that's all it is.What have I really done?* The answers, comforting and glaringly obvious eluded the gray bear.

 He glanced at the empty seat next to him. *Wonder why Kit's stuck around fer as long as he has. Ain't no life for a kid, maybe he'd be better off in a.....No!* Baloo's stomach tightened, he couldn't express to the boy his own depression about how he felt about his life, the monotony and discontent that was poisoning every part of every day.

 He felt powerless to try and stop it, it was as though he couldn't think clearly anymore. The walls he had placed around himself left him oblivious to time passing ro the pain of others around him.

 But, in spite of all of this, he could allow himself to be completely selfish about Kit. No matter how many times he unintentionally hurt the boy, or how incompetent he felt with how to raise a 12 year old cub, he wanted Kit with him, always.

 Even in his current fog, Baloo didn't think he could ever handle trying to live the rest of this kind of life without his navigator. He started the engines and headed in the familiar direction of Louie's, not needing Kit's coordinates and taking for granted all of the times when he did.



The rain falls slowly
touching everything it can
to cleanse or to heal


As the large pilot stepped through the doors of the club, he was surprised to find it completely deserted.Even Louie's helpers usually scurrying around everywhere were nowhere in sight. Only the owner, manager and serving bartender of the place stood leaning against the bar, arms crossed.

 "Man, Louie, looks like you're outta practice with havin' a good time. Kinda like me."

 "Yeah well, seein' it's your birthday Fuzzy, I'll let it slide that yer behind schedule." The orangutan glared at his friend. "So sue me, since when did you get all fired up about schedule's Louie? And my birthday's just another day, rather not talk about it."

 "That's _'zackly_ what I wanted to talk about, Baloo" The ape stomped over, cutting right to the chase. "You....," he poked Baloo in the chest sharply, " an'...if you.......don't....cut it out.....I'm gonna.....tan.....your lousy.....hide!!" Louie jabbed the large bear with each pause, until Baloo finally backed into the wall.

 "_I'm_ actin' like a jerk?" the pilot snapped, rubbing the sore spot on his chest. "Well, what's the matter with you? Are you sore just 'cause I didn't want a party this year?"

 The bartender smacked his forehead. "Baloo, pull yer head out! You mean to tell me that you don't have any idea 'bout how you've been actin'?"

 Baloo's empty stare caused another outburst. "Man, wake up!! You ain't been nothing but dead weight for near two weeks an' about as useful too. You got some serious issues, Fuzzy, an' ya better do somethin' quick or somebody else is gonna give you the run down an' they won't be as _gentle_ as I am!"

 Louie turned and stomped back to the bar. Baloo scowled. "Well maybe the problem's with you, _pal_ 'cause you're the only one I've heard a word from."

 "That's because I'm the only one you've had to listen to! Do ya really think you can treat us all like we're not fit to wipe yer feet on, then turn around and expect everythin' to be peachy again? Sorry, fly-boy, it don't work that way...."

 "You can fight with me or your boss and push us out but ya better reconsider how you treat the people who really give a damn about how you feel about them!"

 A less than subtle hint, Baloo knew it but followed a now familiar pattern and chose to disregard it, remaining silent.

 Louie glared right back at him. "Well, if you ain't gonna say anything, then what's the point of even having this conversation? You know the way out."

 That hit the pilot hard. "Y'know, I don't see why everyone's so dead set against me lately! Got a right to my own life, an' I don't remember ever asking you or anyone else to stick their nose in, so before I go, I'd like to know exactly why you seem so doggone determined to see me squirm."

 "Baloo.....I'm beginnin' to think that yer beyond help. Do what ya want, I ain't responsible for your actions. But when you start causing me and everyone else problems, ya better be ready to take a little bit of tearing down. 'Cause you sure as anything deserve it."

 "If you're so damn sure of yourself, then why even bother trying to bring around a loser like me? Save your pity fer some other lost case, I sure as hell don't want it." Baloo snarled, turning to leave.

 "What I'm sure of, is that you hadda hold of something good, an' yer lettin' it slip through yer fingers, cuz! How long have we been friends? Too long, it seems, especially right now, but I ain't about to let you ruin somethin' just cause you're too thick to know what ya got!"

 The two friends stared at each other for one moment, Louie fervently hoping that in some way, he'd managed to get through to the bear before he did something that everyone would regret. Nothing. The wall around the pilot seemed inpenetrable.

 Baloo stomped out, slamming the door with a vengeance behind him. Louie rested his head on one hand for a time, then sadly trudged over to the opposite wall, his wall at one time, but no longer. With a quick movement, he ripped down the picture of the happy trio, not wanting to look at it for now, maybe not ever wanting to look at it again.


 May 24, 1937


It's to be alone
to push what you have, away
not knowing it's lost


Baloo was sitting on the end of the pier, watching the sunset, oblivious to all else. As long as he had food to eat and a bed to sleep in, he could allow himself to wallow in his self-pity.

 The only change that anyone could see now in his life was that the emptiness he'd once only imagined, now existed for real.

 It was true, he _had_ changed since meeting Kit, Rebecca, all of them.Since his dealings with Higher for Hire, since all of his experiences here.

 But, unfortunately, change can bring heartache as well as opportunities, and new circumstances can arise which no one could ever have anticipated.

 Two years ago, Baloo's bouts of selfishness only affected himself, he was alone, he had liked it that way. The cruelty of this new situation was now, his retreat into himself, affected others too. Destroy everything that had bound the pilot to them, destroy everything of value. The whole time, Baloo allowed it, and would keep allowing it until everything that was most precious to him, slipped away, without his ever noticing.

 Kit stood on the pier behind the bear, not saying anything, frustrated at the fact that even though Baloo ignored him almost constantly now, it still had the power to hurt him terribly inside.

 A crumbled piece of paper was in one small fist as Kit's chest heaved. It took all of his strength not to break down in front of the bear.

 He had always imagined that if the time came when he had to say good-bye to the pilot, it would be special....different, at least from this.

 Maybe in the boy's heart he prayed that Baloo would give a damn, try to stop least _say_ something.

 But a great many of Kit's idealistic tendencies had flickered and died under his many new burdens. Kit was too proud to just let Baloo off the hook, allow him the satisfaction of a peaceful parting of ways.

 Kit was emotionally strung out, fearless and ready to pick a fight. He wanted to hurt Baloo as much as the bear had hurt him.

 His anger took control, held sway over everything else. The boy cleared his throat loudly. Baloo didn't even react.

 The navigator of the Sea Duck finally pushed back any and all barriers that kept him from doing what he had planned to do for quite some time. He ran back into Higher for Hire, up the stairs and threw the paper into a now familiar spot.

 He then took off his cap, stared at it for one moment, then threw it to the floor, kicking it under his bed. He picked up his board, a few odds and ends and stuffed them into a bag, going through a mental checklist of what he would need to bring, where he would go the next day and how quickly he would have to do it.

 He knew that if he was supposedly in school, it would give him a chance to put some distance between himself and anyone that might try to follow, in the unlikely event that someone here would wake up and start looking for him.

 Kit was grateful for the anger that dulled his agonizing pain, it would keep him going, motivated, for some time. He held onto it, fed it, he needed it to leave this place and it's memories behind him.

 The boy stomped back down the stairs and stowed the bag in one of the many forgotten closet spaces in the building. Baloo walked in, brushed past Kit and slumped down, not seeing the way his navigator planted himself in front of him, arms folded.

 "Baloo," the bear didn't look at him. Kit cocked his head to make eye-contact and blurted out the first thing that came to his head.

 "Y'know, I bet I can guess what you're thinking." Finally, the pilot looked at him, his gaze blank."I bet you're thinking that you're a loser and a failure and everything I've ever heard you call yourself."

 Baloo blinked, Kit knew he'd hit the mark at last and pressed on, not caring. "And, y'know what? You're right, nobody who acts the way you do could be anything but that. Selfish, arrogant, and self-centered!!"

 Baloo jumped out of the chair, shocked and enraged. He had only heard the cub use that kind of disrespect with him once, when Kit was trying to convince Don Karnage that he had used Baloo and then betrayed him.

 But, even then, with how terrible it had seemed, the boy hadn't sounded as sincere as he did now. Kit held his ground.

 "Kid, you got some nerve talkin' like that!! I.....what the hell has gotten into you?!" The bear said, at a loss for anything else.

 "I used to wish that someday I could be like you. I'm glad I figured out what you really were like before it was too late." To his complete dismay, Kit felt a tear slide down, his voice began to break up with his turmoil.

 Baloo's face was a thundercloud, dark and exceedingly dangerous, but still the boy pressed on, letting all of his simmering emotions explode with a few terrible phrases.

 "You don't care about anyone but yourself!! That's all you've ever cared about! I wish I'd never met you!!"

 Baloo took a threatening step forward and for one second Kit recoiled, seeing the large bear's arm raise a bit. He waited for everything to crumble around him, everything he'd been stupid enough to believe in, care about, hope for to turn to dust if Baloo struck him. It would all end, Kit was ready, but Baloo stepped back again quickly, repulsed at the one impulse.

 Both were exceedingly frightened at what could've happened, but Kit was beyond caring and the harsh moment didn't stop him.

 Baloo was breathing hard, his face pale. "Kid, yer the one bein' selfish, that was cold and unfeeling. So, I'm guessing I ain't the only one who's not perfect 'round here."

 Kit was so angry he screamed back at the stranger in front of him. "_I'm_ unfeeling! Me!! I..I..I've tried! You don't know me, or know anything about me, you never will. And you don't understand anything, you don't understand anything at all!!"

 Baloo made a disgusted motion with his hand and stomped outside again, leaving Kit alone, crying, hunched over in the middle of the floor.

 The large bear paced outside, working off his anger and fear at nearly...he almost.....*No! Never. I could never hurt that kid, I _would_ never. He'll be fine, he's just gotta blow off a little steam.*

 With his feeble justification, Baloo walked inside again, letting Kit sob, not going to him and returning back to the place deep within himself, the excuses he had used time and time again ready to betray him, and soon.


 It took a few hours but after awhile, Kit's body felt as heavy as his heart. Inevitably so.No matter how many times he told himself it was for the best, the boy still felt something give inside of him when his mind conjured up so many memories of his life just a few short weeks ago.

 It was painful to leave before he was forced to, but is was more painful to think about what had meant so much to him might just be a fleeting thought to the others he'd left behind.

 Things had gone so well for so long, the orphan almost believed someone was punishing him for being so happy. Despite the have someone care about him, to watch out for him had healed his bruised soul.

 Now, he felt empty inside.

 The Cape Suzette airfield was a familiar spot for him, he carelessly began searching for a friendly flight symbol. Why should he use any kind of caution? No one in the place he'd left would come looking for him.

 Kit couldn't allow himself to think about that, it hurt too badly, left him breathless actually.

 *How could I have gotten so vulnerable?* the cub didn't want to know the answer to that either, he wanted the quickest way out of here. He was free, he would stay that way.

 It had always been a trait that he'd valued before, now it could be applied in many new areas. He had no more connections here, no more emotional ties to bring him back.

 A large white plane close by looked rather promising, the desired symbol that much easier to see on the hull. Several large crates would help Kit to slip by unnoticed, although he didn't have to worry if he was caught.

 *~Hey, kid, need a lift?~* Kit pushed the memory out of his head violently. Not for a long time.......


 "Freedom's overrated"- Second Sight by Dan Green


Something wasn't right. Even with the characteristic silence that had been pressing down on Higher for Hire for the last few weeks, things were almost never this quiet.

 Rebecca tapped a pencil against the desk. Not a footstep, not one creak, nothing. Curious, the bearess headed upstairs. Odd, the room was empty, it almost seemed cleared out on Kit's side.

 The businesslady frowned, a small twinge of worry affecting her. She looked at the clock, 4:48. If Kit wasn't home by this time, usually either she or Baloo had some notice.

 True, she'd been a little distracted as of late, but she always knew when Kit was _there_, even if he'd been much quieter than usual lately.

 *I'm sure he'll be home any minute now....* the woman's thoughts managed to push her growing concerns away. Any minute, there was always some notice otherwise.


 Baloo docked the Sea Duck and began walking up to the door of Higher for Hire with slow, measured steps. Same runs, same places, same everything. The monotony was enough to make the bear go stark-raving mad.

 It was all he could think of, all he could focus on. It helped him to block out anything that could help him. But, it didn't help him to block out the urgency in Rebecca's voice the moment he walked through the door.

 "Baloo, do you know where Kit is?" the bear looked at her blankly and Rebecca, nerves frazzled and motherly instincts up in arms resisted the urge to shake him.

 "Kit?! Your _navigator?!! He should have been home three hours ago!" The words barely penetrated. As a force of habit, the large bear looked at the clock, 7:34.

 It _was_ getting late, Baloo really didn't care however. Sighing wearily, he sat down in the arm chair. "Aw...relax Becky, don't get yourself tied in a knot. Kid's probably just at friend's or somethin' an' forgot to tell ya"

 Rebecca scowled darkly. "How many times has that happened....let me think, oh....none!" I've called his closest friends, do you think I would be like this otherwise?!"

 "Baloo...." the bear still didn't look at her. "Do you have any idea of what I'm saying? Do you care?! Kit's not home...he could be _mis-sing_" Rebecca emphasized the last word. "Doesn't that worry you?!"

 The large pilot had gotten so good at blocking people out, his boss' words didn't quite reach him. Rebecca stood in front of him. "Baloo, I don't want to wait anymore, I'm calling the police..."

 On cue, the phone rang. The businesslady made a mad dash for it. "Hello....Kit? Oh....why yes, hello.....No, I wasn't aware that we'd missed anything.....we'll I'd love to but he's not here right now." A pause. In spite of himself, Baloo ear's tuned in to the conversation."No.....I know it's late, I was getting concerned.....what! Who are you to....." Another pause.

 Baloo had turned half-way around to watch his boss. She didn't look good. "All right, we'll be there......" Forcefully she hung up the phone, breathing hard and obviously angry. She turned on the gray bear sitting close by.

 "_That_ was Kit's teacher. Why didn't you tell me that we should have met with her before this? She didn't sound too happy, said she had something urgent to tell us."

 "I don't know, Becky, lay's been long day."

 "Lay off!! Baloo, _where's_ Kit? What kind of guardian are you! What if he's hurt or in trouble, aren't you the least bit concerned?!"

 Finally, a small flash of worry hit the pilot. "You know he'll be home soon...." he began, not sounding very convinced.

 "Soon! _Look_ at the clock you idiot! Look at what time it is? Do you know what that woman just accused us of? Neglect.....we could be in serious trouble here! And Kit's nowhere to be found, this just isn't like him"

 Rebecca was practically wringing her hands. She didn't know what frightened her more, the fact that the boy was missing or how non-chalant Baloo was being about the whole thing.

 The bear turned away again. "Like I said, he'll be here. Sometimes he does's nothin' to get all fired up about."

  Rebecca just looked at him, suddenly feeling sick to her stomach. "We....uh.....need to meet with Mrs. Van Campen tomorrow. I need to get home but I'm not leaving before you promise me that if Kit isn't here in one hour, you'll let me know." 

Baloo didn't respond, he had become lost in his own thoughts again.

 "Damn you Baloo!" He turned at that. "Don't make me call you! Remember one hour...."

 The pilot really didn't notice when Rebecca left. *One hour, won't even need to wait that long*


The old Man still stood, talking by my side;
But now his voice to me was like a stream
Scarce heard; nor word from word could I divide
And the whole body of the Man did seem
Like one whom I had met within a dream
Or like a man, from some far region sent 
To give me human strength, by apt admonishment- William Wordsworth, Number XVI


Baloo stood in front of the mirror, staring at his reflection as he'd done for weeks. This time, he saw something different yet, somehow, it was the same. He disliked this person equally.

 There wasn't a note, nothing taken away, all signs of the room being occupied by two people were still in place. The real emptiness was in the bear's heart.

 Kit's airfoil was gone, his bed neatly made and all other ties that showed that the orphan had slept here, dreamed here, sometimes cried here on Baloo's shoulder, were gone, reduced to ashes in the space of several days time.

 Rebecca was downstairs, simply sitting, unable to work or regain the will to stand up, stunned completely by the horrifying news that had just come through.

 *Three days* To Baloo, it had been an exhausting walk through hell. Kit hadn't come home from school three days ago and Mrs. Van Campen, the boy's teacher had emotionally screamed at Baloo and Rebecca, after calling them in for a long over-due conference, breaking through the pilot's mental fog for one excruciating moment.

 The day after, the teacher was as good as her threats. The Cape Suzette branch for Child Welfare had paid a visit to Higher for Hire. Ironically, they could barely be discerned from the various officers already there, summoned by Rebecca's frantic calls to find Kit.

 The protecting blanket of self-pity in which the large bear had wrapped himself had begun to fray as the police failed the first, then the second and finally the third day to locate the cub. Scouts were sent out, searching potential places where the navigator could have run off to and only adding to Baloo's misery was the Child Welfare Department's threats that if the boy was found, he would immediately be placed in a foster home.

 The cold, razor-edged words of Mr.Thomas, the director in charge of Kit's case, bit hard. *_Rest assured, _Sir_, you will never have the opportunity to set eyes on that boy again. I am appalled at your thinking that you could decieve the system. What makes matters worse is that this child was hurt, perhaps scarred permanently by your neglectful tendencies. All discussion is closed_*

 Flashing back to reality, Baloo couldn't drive the accusations from his mind. They were made all the more terrible with the base of truth they stood on.

 Before he realized what had happened Baloo grabbed the mirror, pushing it to the floor with a roar of fury. The fragile item shattered into a million pieces with the greatest of ease.

 Holding his head, the bear thought of the other precious thing he'd once had in his hands, but had thrown away with the same apathetic motion.

 Rebecca came through the door of the bedroom, face drawn and tired but with a quiet inner strength in her eyes. She had prepared herself, she had walked this path before and she was ready.

 The aloofness in her manner struck a chord with Baloo, however, especially as she stepped over the shattered glass as though it was non-existant.

 "Let's go Baloo, they're waiting." She said, staring coldly at the bear. A source of terror that sprung from deep within the pilot caused a wave of weakness and nausea to overtake Baloo.

 "I-I can't do it." The gray bear looked at Rebecca pleadingly, praying for some support for the oncoming ordeal. A tiny spark of pity showed on Rebecca's face.

 "You can't sit here, _I_ can't sit here, not knowing. And they're waiting. We need to find out." The lady made no attempt to step closer to the bear, the wall that existed between them stronger than any solid material known on earth.

 Still Baloo blurted out, "God, Rebecca, I can't do it! It it's him....what if it's him?" Rebecca's mouth quivered slightly, a tear rolled down, but her composure held. Her composure, what made her what she was, a gift allowing her to answer without breaking down.

 "You don't know it is him, but...if..if it is," the woman finally put her hands over Baloo's, speaking for the benefit of both of them, "The sun will rise and set and the season's will continue to change. You'll fly again, dance again, feel joy once again, laugh at someone's joke or smile for an instant, maybe longer. And someday, if heaven is willing, you'll grow a new heart." Baloo's face fell as she took his arm.

 "We need to go to the station, they're waiting."


  The silence seemed to be the only thing that had remained steady and constant between the two as the cab arrived at the station.

 The silence became more than what it really was for this pair, it was like a companion, a new addition to take the place of the small boy whose presence was all that could render it powerless. A poor substitution, but it existed, nevertheless.

 Both walked in the doors slowly. The Chief personally came up to them. He didn't waste words.

 "I know this is never easy, but we'd like to thank you for trying to identify this boy."

 Rebecca clasped her hands. "There...isn't any way to know for sure if it _is_ him?" Baloo thought he was going to be very ill, very soon.

 "No, there was no identification, he was found this morning. We have no idea what could have happened, but since you were the one's who had filed the missing person's report..." the Chief stopped, his eyes full of pity as the large pilot's face went white.

 "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked softly, "We could do an examination, then..."

 "No!" Rebecca yelled. The scurrying room froze.

 "I want to know. Just let us see." Baloo barely registered the _us_, or the fact that this woman, his boss, had taken his arm.

 Through the doors, down a hall. The walk was a moment which could pass as forever, an eternity, and on that cold table was... Baloo felt drawn out, the pain was horrid. All of the dissappointments, hurt, even his own self-pity, still his own lurking phantom, couldn't compare to this emotion, never to be defined on earth, of waiting for that sheet to be pulled.

 A small form was underneath. It was with some surprise that the indescribable feeling inside Baloo before was wiped away, as love, even if it wasn't acceptance, connected with the bear's heart.

 The pain could destroy, even kill, but to know torture was to never have had the opportunity of knowing Kit. He had memories. They weren't enough, but he had them.

 "Are you ready?" A young female bear with frightened eyes and a white lab coat prepared to pull the sheet away. Rebecca's fragile, treasured resolve was dissolving down her face as she cried terribly.

 Baloo felt as cold as a block of ice, or a stone in the midst of winter. Frozen, cracked, dead to all things around it. Too quickly the sheet was ripped off. A young cub lay there.

 To actually think of the horrifying tragedy of one so young as this, gone before his time, seemed a perfect, unreachable level of unselfishness. It wasn't Kit.

 Sometime, maybe today, maybe farther down the road, the sheet would once again be pulled back and the torment that had passed in this room today, at this time, would blossom into something that should never be explained.

 It wasn't Kit, but this boy belonged to someone else. The fog of self-centeredness, Baloo's last barrier of protection, was finally cleared away. He was now vulnerable.

 As clear as any scene that he'd ever known, the large bear saw, felt, the future in this room. And it mattered. No one should ever go through this.

 Rebecca had a look of potent horror on her face as she was led out of the strange-smelling room. Slowly, deliberately, Baloo walked out, into a bathroom and was promptly very sick.

 It took awhile for him to get on his feet.He felt no better, he felt the lesser of two evils.Instead of the terrible indifference which had led him here, he felt the awesome power of grief.

 He walked out. Rebecca sat on a hard bench, face rigid, as she twisted a tissue savagely. She didn't even glance at the bear who looked ghastly, when he walked past.

 The Chief, never overjoyed from these experiences said kindly, "We'd like to thank you for doing this once again. It's never easy..."

 "Save it" Baloo snarled, "just save it for the next one who's gonna look at that table. He'll be the one that'll need it."

 He glanced at Rebecca, wanting to share in his new freedom, regardless of how terrible it was. Not one bit of emotion registered on that lady's face.

 She got up and walked out without waiting for the pilot. "I'm sorry" the Chief had sadness plainly written on his features. "I have two children. We'll keep looking for him" He stared at Baloo piercingly."I couldn't have done it"

 The Chief quickly walked out, leaving Baloo to stare numbly at the back of his head.

 Outside, Rebecca had made two blocks progress before Baloo caught up with her."They'll keep looking" he said, wanting to hear the words that would end this ordeal, no matter how superficially.

 Rebecca's icy fury did not lessen as she stared straight ahead. "I suppose you'll tell me next how lucky we are that that boy wasn't Kit."

 "No, I..."

 "And then," she whirled to make eye-contact, "I suppose you'll tell me about how sorry you are and how when you find Kit, you'll make everything all better, how you always make everything all better!" Rebecca's voice had risen to a tactless yell, and it was getting louder.

 "Becky, please listen...."

 "No!! No, no no! Never again, you're not doing this ever again!" Tears rolled down the woman's face.

 "We've lost him, that might as well have _been_ him. He's gone! You heartless bastard, I despise you right now, you did this!"

 She pointed a finger at him, Baloo felt as though he couldn't breathe."You _always_ do this! You killed him, you did it!!" The woman broke down sobbing.

 "I just couldn't help him," she finally said, unable to keep up any kind of charade, any longer.

 "Don't touch me!" Rebecca almost screamed at him as Baloo reached over to try and comfort her. "Stay away from me. Do the one thing you're good at and _leave_!!"

 She hailed a cab, tears still streaming and headed away from Baloo, back to her apartment, as quickly as possible.



Ask it it worth it?
to give your heart, to carry
Innocents Aboard


Mid-afternoon, the clock was threatening to drive Baloo mad. He still felt too sick with his ordeal and Becky's shrill accusations to care. Now, in the silence of Higher for Hire, *When did this place become so quiet?* Baloo stared at the door, as though he could will Kit to appear through it.

 *I can't sit here* The bear stood up, placing his cap on his head in an unconcious motion. The walk to Rebecca's apartment had been made many times before, but always under happier circumstances.Always with..Kit.

 The door looked unfriendly as Baloo reached out to knock on it, suddenly wishing he hadn't come and feeling very unwelcome.

 He tapped on it quickly, recognizing Rebecca's light footsteps as she made her way to the door from the inside. She looked awful, frazzled, with dried tear stains on her pale face.

 The two looked at each other for a minute before Rebecca stepped aside, letting the bear come in even if it wasn't the friendliest greeting he'd ever experienced.

 He sat down on the couch. "Baloo!" Molly's high-pitched squeal sounded as she came around the corner. The pilot grabbed the little girl in a tight hug.

 "Where's...." the girl didn't finish, but looked at her mom. She didn't understand. She didn't know where Kit had been the past few days, or why he wasn't here with Baloo, like he should be. They were _always_ together, something wasn't right otherwise.

 "Kit's.....well....he's, uh....gone...fer awhile, Button-nose, but he'll be back, promise." The pilot didn't trust himself to look Molly in the eye, her expression of confusion ripped his heart out.

 "Molly," Rebecca spoke up sharply, "to bed. Baloo and I need to discuss something." She pointed down the the hallway.

 Molly jumped down and loked sideways at the adults. "Kit?" she asked, knowing full-well the only subject of discussion that ever existed between the adults when the boy wasn't there with them.

 Both gave her a concerned look. "Why isn't he _here_?" the little girl's eyes misted over. "I miss him"

 Rebecca scooped her daughter up, "I know, baby, I know. Just let me and Baloo handle this, please?" Baloo watched the two dissappear into Molly's room, their closeness causing a flash of envy to hit him hard.

 *It's your own fault, besides, Kit's not really yours, remember?* Like he could ever forget. The large bear put a hand over his eyes, exhausted, overwhelmingly depressed.

 Rebecca's soothing voice reached him as she put Molly to bed, then he heard her footsteps approaching briskly. He looked up to see her glaring at him, arms folded. Once again, the notion that perhaps it wasn't the best idea coming here came over Baloo.

 Rebecca voiced his thoughts. "Well.....?" she said angrily. "What's your excuse, oh, I mean, _explanation_ about all of this? Did you and Kit have a fight? Did you just get tired of having him around, y'know, the pinch on all of your freedoms. Who'd want some kid hanging around, even if he does love you with all of his heart and...."

 "Stop!" Baloo didn't think he could take anymore. "I-I know there ain't any kind of good reason behind the way I was actin', you know how I feel about that boy, right, Rebecca?"

 That lady continued to scowl at him."I thought I did, but your behavior was atrocious. Besides, why on earth are you asking _me_ if I know how you feel about Kit. What difference is that going to make now? You should have asked your navigator, because obviously he didn't know the answer!"

 Baloo stood up, frustrated.It was as if no matter what he did, the old support that Rebecca had for him wherever Kit was concerned was washed away by her fury.

 She blamed him, of that there was no doubt. He blamed himself, he couldn't even be angry with her for her words and current attitude. If Kit was in trouble, the large bear had always trusted her to take care of the boy, more than anyone else, how could he ask her to change her feelings now? Even if the person she was protecting the cub from was the pilot, himself.

 "I...just got scared. I was worried that life was passin' me by, and I hadn't even had any chance to live it. I'm gettin' old, Rebecca, and I'm runnin' out of time..."

 "Spare me!" the woman snarled at him. "Your self-pity sickens me, it always has. Look at yourself!"

 The two faced each other, Rebecca absolutely fearless with rage. "Just _look_ at what you've become! Instead of holding on to the one thing that was really important, you let all of your vanity destroy not only your life, but Kit's as well!"

 "We could still find...."

 "Where?! How?! Do you even have the faintest idea of where he could have gone? What if we get another call to go down to the station tomorrow. Will you be ready, or will you just vanish into yourself like you always do whenever someone else needs you!"

 "Get out," she snapped, pulling the door open when Baloo only stared at her, hurt to the center of his being by her contempt for him. "I'll see you later, when I'm calm. I don't trust myself to continue this discussion."

Baloo slowly walked out, barely noticing the trip back down to the docks.


 The pilot sat in the large arm chair, waiting.Waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for Rebecca or even Wildcat to come through the door and tell him that everything was going to be alright.

But Rebecca was home with Molly, probably counting her blessings at how lucky she was to have her child there with her, after their agonizing ordeal at the station and their harsh discussions afterwards.

 Baloo stood up, something in him unsteady as his mind thought back..... He began parting through one of his many cluttered cupboards. He found what he was looking for, a small card, with a plain "Happy Birthday" on it.

 Baloo hadn't bothered to look at it when his navigator had given it to him, not so long ago. He had cared only....only for himself.

 Like some torture he felt compelled to place on himself for what he had done to the people around him that he cared about most, the pilot brought up the image of Kit's face, with those huge eyes, as he gave it to him.

 He saw Kit trying in a thousand different ways to show the bear that no matter what he did or why, he would always be there, as his partner, a solid part of his life.

 Baloo had thought he'd always return the favor, he would as soon stop breathing as hurt that boy.

 He opened the card and a picture fell out. It was Kit, in his cap and green sweater, a wide grin on his eager face.

 The photograph was so simple, yet it was the essence of Kit.Open, honest, kind, with every feeling and care he had in his young but oddly old soul worn on his sleeve. Baloo stared at the photograph.

 He felt he didn't deserve it, but just being able to see Kit, no matter what the form, worked wonders. Then he looked back to the card;


'Dear Papa Bear,

 It's been nearly a year since I've lived here, been your partner. Since it's your birthday, I wanted to tell you how lucky I am to have meet you in Louie's that day.It changed my life, you changed it for the better. I can't thank you enough for being there for me, even when I didn't care. I wanted to give you something, but instead I'll say thank you for everything you've given me. No matter what, we're a team and I'll always be there in Higher for Hire, cause I'll always be there with you, no matter how far away I am.

 Love, your navigator,



The words had long since blurred as Baloo sank to his knees, tears streaming.What had he done? How could he possibly make up for losing something like this?

 The trust and thankfulness that poured from the letter finally brought some motivation to the large bear to get in the Duck and fly non-stop, until he'd found that boy.

 But he was too emotionally spent, so he slumped in his chair again, thinking of the thousand and one memories of Kit and him.

 The large bear would never let this happen again, not while there was life in him.As long as Kit was there smiling at him, believing in him, he would protect and keep him there.

 The pilot loved that cub too much not to.

 But...something kept sticking in Baloo's mind, something in his previous conversation with Rebecca, something that concerning Kit, and the exact reasons he'd left. The bear still believed it had been because of him, but something important appeared as well, it could only appear after all of the guilt and self-pity had been washed away.

 The Child Welfare Department.....why Kit's teacher seemed so uptight and angry. Certain phrases kept popping in his head.

 'As _parents_ you've beaten around the bush long enough', 'All those excuses Mr. Cloudkicker kept giving me' and the woman finally bringing to light what she'd figured out. Kit was an orphan, he had no legal status here at Higher for Hire and as Baloo just sat there without responding, she'd become furious.

 *So, here I am.* The bear just didn't see an answer to any of these problems, so why were these things plaguing him now? He'd missed something.

 These thoughts continued to turn around and around in his head as sleep finally came.


 It was a terrible dream, Baloo was surrounded by fog so thick, he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. He kept tripping and stumbling, the silence pervaded everything.

 He was searching for something important he hadn't even bothered to see before, but the fog wouldn't clear to let him.

 A far away, but wonderfully familiar voice came to him, calling his name out. Frantically, Baloo began running towards the voice, gaining speed as he heard his name being repeated over and over.

 *Kit?!* It was horrible, Baloo could hear the boy, yet he couldn't see him or reach him and Kit's panicky yelling made his emotions tense up, almost snapping.

 He had almost given up, wanting to put his hands over his ears to block the urgency of that voice, but he kept looking, sensing the need in Kit's tone.

 *Never again!  I'm not leaving him alone ever again!* The bear stepped forward, then quickly re-balanced himself as he came close to walking right over the edge of a cliff.

 Kit voice reached him again, closer now. Baloo looked down and in horror saw Kit clinging to one branch, quickly losing his grip as he called out Baloo's name.

 With speed he was unaware of the pilot brought himself as close to the edge of the cliff as he could, reaching. He almost had the cub's hand as Kit reached up to him.

 "Come on, Lil' Britches!! Just give me yer hand!" The navigator's small fingers slipped more and more and the sound of crackling caused Baloo to extend his arm as far as he could.

 "Please Kit!" Baloo yelled desperately, reaching. His fingers were so close to Kit's hand, just a little more and he'd have the boy and all of this could be over. Hang everything and everybody, all that mattered was grabbing Kit's hand.

 Kit reached as far as he could and Baloo barely brushed his fingers before the fragile branch snapped, taking the young boy with it.

 "Baloo!" Kit's call caused the worst torment the bear could ever feel as he saw Kit fall and dissappear into the fog.

 "Kit! Kit!!" Baloo screamed again and again.

 "Baloo!" another voice, not Kit's, called his name. Someone began shaking his shoulder. "Baloo, wake up! Nightmare, it's just a nightmare!"

 The pilot jerked out of the chair in a cold sweat."Kit?" he repeated weakly before reality came back to him.

 Rebecca stood there, holding his shoulder, pity in her eyes. Wildcat was in the far corner, hugging a sniffling Molly and looking at Baloo with more understanding than anyone would have thought.

 "Becky? I thought you didn't want to be here."

 "I thought...if Kit were to come back, maybe he had second thoughts..."the heartache in the woman's eyes tore a hole in Baloo.

 "Rebecca," Baloo said gently, taking her wrist. "I-I'm sorry. You can't know how sorry...." The bear held his head in his hands.

 "Enough, " the woman said, sternly."Baloo," he looked at her hopefully when she smiled sadly at him.  "I wanted to apologize. I was just as responsible for all of this as anyone. I didn't even try to find out what was bothering Kit, or if he needed help and I'm sorry. I shut him out."

 Baloo looked at her and gave her a smile, the first that had crossed his face for a very long time. Still, his previous thoughts kept bothering him.

 "Baloo?" Rebecca peered at him, "What is it?"

 "Becky, you remember that talk with Kit's teacher?" It was an obvious question and Baloo knew it. There wasn't one second of the past few days that both of them didn't remember in perfect detail.

 "Mrs. Van Campen, of course, why?" Rebecca was now very interested.

 "Well, how exactly did she find out about Kit? I mean, she called them Child Welfare people, how'd she know?"

 Rebecca still wasn't following. There was confusion on her face. "Baloo, what does this have to do with Kit being gone?"

 "It could have a lot, hear me out! Did you read this?" Baloo thrust his card at her

 "I don't know..."she gingerly took it from him. Baloo looked away for a moment, stomach twisting with the images of his dream, being so close to holding Kit, safe, but missing at that last moment.

 He looked back to his boss, who was reading the message, eyes bright with tears."I-It's beautiful, Baloo, but I don't understand..."

 "Kit wouldn't have left just because of us, Becky....because of me." he corrected himself."I know that kid an' I know I don't deserve him cause he would've stuck around until I _came_ around. He's done it before."

 Shame overcame the pilot. *Twice, maybe more'n that. What's a guy like me doin' with a kid like that?* Baloo gently held the photo of Kit, still smiling up at him, it seemed so real.

 *I need another chance, just lemme talk to him one more time. Give anything* Baloo swiped his eyes before going on.

 Wildcat and Molly crept closer, the lion handing the little girl back to her mom, who clung tightly to her.

 "I _think_ Kit was runnin' from somethin' else." A light showed in the large bear's eyes as he finally began to think clearly, blowing all the cobwebs out. "Yeah! Maybe he knew about those guys down there at the Child Welfare place and all of that Mrs. What's-her-name's suspicions!"

 Another light, equally powerful showed on Rebecca's face. Some of the terrible pain of believing that Kit had just gone, walked away from them, never to be coming back because of what she and Baloo may have done, lessened.

 Wildcat looked from Baloo to Rebecca, not quite getting the full scope of the conversation. But he had his own worries about the young navigator and any memories of Kit could be helpful right now.

 "Yeah man, like Kit was havin' troubles a _long_ time ago with school. 'Cause he was doin' his homework and rattling papers and holding his head goin' 'Can't do this', and 'They're gonna find out'"

 The mechanic held his own head and started shaking it with almost painful exaggerated motions. Baloo looked at his friend tolerantly.

 "Wildcat, buddy, that's not what we're talkin' about. Don't think Kit's homework would make his teacher jump on our backs."

 "Oh! Right, silly me" the mechanic chuckled. "Then, the lion's brow creased in concentration. Baloo and Rebecca stared at him, tring to be patient."Maybe he was upset and left because of the mailman!"

 "What?" the pilot and his boss said simultaneously. "Look Wildcat, I know you want to help but...." Rebecca didn't think she could take any of the mechanic's ramblings right now. Certainly the lion's statements made absolutely no sense, just because he was here all of the time, and noticed things that no one else could have about.....

 "Why would Kit be upset over the mailman?" she said, shifting a confused Molly to her other arm and raising a hand as the even more confused Baloo tried to speak up.

 "Well," the mechanic's voice rose a bit and a another look of deep thought came across his amiable features."The mailman brought a piece of paper, kay....but Kit like, didn't open the door to let him in and so the mailman said to himself. 'I'll just leave this here to pick up later' and left some papers on the doorstep and then he went stomp, stomp.."

 Baloo was shaking his head wearily, "Come on, the point, Wildcat!" he snapped, his patience gone.

 The lion was having too much fun remembering to think about what was really being discussed here. "It must have been a _really_ big bill, " he extended his arms way out to clarify.

 "Yeah?!" Baloo asked, starting to get excited. "Yeah man, 'cause when Kit read the paper he started twisting his cap" again the lion demonstrated like an overzealous mime, "and he tore it up and shredded it and ripped...."

 "He threw it away?" Baloo came to the point for his friend. "W.C., 'ol pal, I don't think that was the mailman an' I don't think that was Kit's homework before neither."

 Rebecca and Baloo both looked appraisingly at the mechanic, grateful, but a little ashamed that he'd noticed a small but crucial thing that both of them had only passed over.

 "Oh Baloo!" Rebecca looked at the pilot, who was twisting his own cap, then."He knew. He tried to keep it from us and we...."

 "What Mommy?" Molly put her head on her mom's shoulder as a few tears trickled down that lady's cheeks. "Nothing sweetie, it'll be okay" Her voice broke.

 "Ah..Kit," Baloo started, guilt choking him, "'Lil Britches, why do ya always put that kind of burden on yer shoulders?" He muttered to the floor, something this important and he hadn't even seen it, noticed or cared.

 "That's why he left, he knew those creeps we're gonna find out and, sure enough! What'll I do now?"

 "I don't know Baloo, that Mr. Thomas didn't sound very compromising." Rebecca was trying to wipe off her cheeks, a losing battle as she kept crying.

 Molly tried to help, frightened at the strong tension even she could feel in the room. Rebecca gave a short laugh and grabbed her daughter's hand, suddenly feeling very dismal. There just didn't seem to be any light at the end of this tunnel.

 Wildcat grinned at the yellow cub and took her from Rebecca. "Come on Molly-cat. I got some, uh, stuff to show ya and then...." the lion's voice faded away when he walked out.

 Rebecca gave another short laugh and glanced in Baloo's direction. "Uh..guess Wildcat came through! I'll try not to underestimate him again."

 "Yeah," the pilot replied, not looking at her, "I don't give that guy enough credit."

 "Baloo," he didn't look at her, he only wanted to keep staring at Kit's photograph. "I'm sorry about our arguments,'s over and we have to find Kit! That's the main thing."

 "Baloo?" she said again, only to be answered by heavy silence. "I s-said we need to find...."

 Rebecca didn't finish, only stared at the bear, she felt so left out of the emotion Baloo was experiencing.

 "I'm worried, and I'm just so scared that something will happen.." She had her daughter, loved her with all of her heart and they had shared some priceless moments these past few weeks, but what had she lost?

 She had screamed at Baloo, accused him, pushed him away, because of her inablility to understand. And if real pain was wondering, always worried, that her young navigator would never look up at her with his sweet smile, or call her "Ms. Cunningham" in that special, complimentary way, then she knew it, it was there.

 Rebecca began sobbing, surprised to feel herself being pulled into the pilot's strong embrace, as both were quiet. They stood there, together, something stronger than friendship binding them and that something was Kit.

 The experience was that much more empty, however, without him and both missed the boy terribly. Both had weaknesses, strengths, but to unwittingly hurt this child was something neither could stand.

 "We'll find him Becky. I swear it." Rebecca felt strangely comforted by the determination in the bear's voice, made that much more convincing when she realized that she believed it.

 But...that didn't solve the problem that still existed. How could either possibly survive finding him, only to lose him again?

 "Baloo, I'm calling Mr. Thomas"

 "What?!" the shock in the pilot's voice echoed through the room."I thought we were tryin' to avoid him!"

 "He already knows, what good would that do?" the woman picked up the phone.

 Baloo tried to reason with her. "That guy's dead set against us! You heard him before, we'll really be up a creek if you drag him back in!" Fear had taken control of Baloo's voice, but even that was better than the monotone his boss had heard for too long.

 "Baloo," she stared piercingly at him."I think the main issue here is Kit's safety and well-being. Who better to bring the boy back here in one piece?"

"So he can take him away again?!"

 "Kit left because he thought he was just going to get shipped off. How do you think that would make him feel? You know him, he wouldn't last long in an orphanage.He needs more than that, he's too sensitive."

 "Was Kit wrong?" Baloo asked desperately.

 "Calm down, I believe there's another way, there _has_ to be!"

 "But this guy you want to buddy up with _works_ for these busybodies there at the Department! He's one of their agents, for crying out loud!" the bear was now yelling, high-pitched.

 "Yes, may I speak to Mr. Thomas please? Calling? Rebecca Cunningham from Higher for Hire, he's with the case concerning Kit Cloudkicker. Yes, the same."

 "No, we haven't, I-I was hoping for some good news in that category. Oh! Well, we'll certainly be here. You too." Rebecca hung up the phone but her hand remained there, fingers tensing and untensing.

 Baloo was still confused but too tired emotionally and physically to think straight any longer. "No good news?" the bleakness in the bear's voice brought Rebecca about.

 "He'll be here in under an hour at most."

 "Swell, that's all we need." Baloo slumped down, pulling his cap over his eyes, he didn't want to close them, since he kept seeing Kit's small hand, almost in his, slip away and.....

 "Baloo...did you search your's and Kit's bedroom? He had to have left something behind." Rebecca had her chin propped up on one hand, elbow on desk.

 She looked deep in thought and the pilot recognized that glint in her eyes which always spelled either big trouble or a needed solution in regards to him.

 "Follow me," she made her way upstairs, Baloo close behind.

 "Hmm," the lady began pulling out drawers as the gray bear watched.

 "What 'zackly are you lookin' for?"

 Rebecca sat back on her heels. "Wildcat said something about Kit signing papers and such? Why would he need to do that?"

 Baloo shrugged, not following."Baloo, have seen any kind of permission slip from Kit's school in the past few months? Or what about parent-teacher notices? Just how did he keep all of this under the rug?"

 "Yer right, Rebecca! I remember having to go through that song and dance earlier this year."

 "It's the same with Molly and she's just in pre-school"

 Baloo began helping her search, finally beginning to understand. "So, you think somethin' like that could still be here? Alright, got that, but how's it gonna help us even if we do find it?"

 "I'm not exactly sure, but maybe that's where Mr. Thomas can help us."


 "I got the feeling when he talked with us earlier that he thought we were deliberately side-stepping the system and school policies are included _in_ that."

 "But, if we didn't know Kit was doin' all this? Tryin' to keep it from us?" Baloo began the thought and his boss finished.

 "We could have a window." Rebecca smiled at the pilot as she reached far back into one dresser drawer....nothing. As she began closing it, she heard a crunching of paper.

 "Wait!" she reached in again, searching harder. Finally her hand emerged with a handful of papers, some had signatures, some not, but all had different comments written on them.

 Baloo took a few from the pile and both began reading.

 "Baloo, these are all from these past few weeks, these notes written on them must be from Mrs. Van Campen."

 "Sounds like they finally got her suspicions up, all of 'em are a rejection of some kind."

 "Here's a notice for a conference with the parents and/or guardians of Mr. Kit Cloudkicker. It's only dated a week back."

 Baloo looked slightly overwhelmed. "Man, had no idea about all of this. No wonder the kid was so on edge besides....well, how I was actin'" He twisted his cap tightly.

 "When Kit came to live here, I...well....I guess I never thought too much about him bein' an orphan, that maybe the state could waltz in and take him away."

 "I tried not to," Rebecca said, depressed, "but it was always lurking beneath the surface, that he wasn't legally yours." *Wasn't legally his, did that really matter in this case?* Not taking into account how the bear had been acting recently, his relationship with Kit had been strong and caring. The lady knew that her pilot would rather walk through fire than see any kind of harm come to the boy.

 Baloo seemed to echo her thought, surprising her a bit. "I thought, well....there are kids who ain't got nothin' and Kit sure was one of them so I did what I could for him. I ain't no model parent, but_ but I really love him. I just messed up, I'd do anything for that kid, anything Rebecca and I'd take everything that's happened back if I could but I can't"

 Baloo stood up, the stack of papers in one hand, looking very tired. He waited in the doorframe and suddenly pounded his fist against it.

 "Damn! Why ain't it fair, Rebecca?" she stood up and gently put a hand on his arm. "Everytime I mess up or get feelin' sorry fer myself, Kit's gotta deal with it, plus his own problems, too!"

 "I really shoulda seen this comin' and instead I just added more. I don't deserve to keep him" Baloo stopped, breathing raggedly.

 Rebecca felt wrung out but there always seemed to be more tears inside of her, just beneath the surface. "I'm as much to blame as you, Baloo, but that's what got us here in the first place, thinking of ourselves too much instead of Kit. As much as I pray this will work, I'd rather see him put in another home then have him out on the streets or...."

 "With someone else?" Baloo's voice rose unsteadily.

 Someone else. Meeting Kit when he came home from school, someone else there when he wanted to talk or comfort him when he needed it. Someone else would be there for his first date, first crush, first time driving, or in this boy's case, flying. Someone else there for his graduation, for his future. Someone else to wake him up in the morning, to be lucky enough to see him there, smiling back at them, they would be the one's to hug him, to take all of his fears away.

 If there was a hell for the pilot, that was it. But, he knew Rebecca was right. He'd felt something even worse having to face the thought that maybe Kit had lost all of his chances, his opportunities, before ever reaching them.

 A sharp knock brought the two back to the lonely room.

 "I think that's him." the woman took a deep breath and made her way to the door.

 The tall, stark figure of Keith Thomas entered. "Thank you for coming," Rebecca started, "please sit down."

 Without cracking a smile the fox sat. No small talk was exchanged as each gazed at the other nervously.

 "I assume there was an important reason for you calling me down here at this time of night?"

 A door opened, luckily interrupting Baloo before he could finish what he'd been ready to say to the cold individual.  Wildcat came through holding a sleeping Molly.

 "Oh! Wildcat, if you don't mind, will you put her to bed upstairs? I forgot how tired she must be."

 "Sure Ms. Cunningham," the lion slowly walked upstairs, glancing down occasionally to look at the tense little group with a puzzled expression.

 "Here, take a look at these" Rebecca pushed the small pile of papers found in front of the fox, who looked at them with no small amount of distrust. 

"What are these?"

 "_Those_ things are just what we didn't know about!" Baloo snapped angrily, oblivious to Rebecca's warning look.

 "I don't follow you"

 "Mr. Thomas, Kit was keeping all of this from us. H-He's like that, he tries to protect people, especially us, and he tries to fix the whole world it seems sometimes"

 The fox stared coldly at at the pilot for a time.

 "Mr. Thomas," Rebecca stated softly, her breath measured. This man seemed so harsh...but... "It seems that Kit was afraid of something just like this happening, with the state, well you know, and we believe that's the main reason he left."

 "Really," that steely voice cut her off, the word wasn't a question. "I was under the impression that the boy doesn't really fit into this environment and left because of the hostilities here. Neglectful, apathetic, not one appearance at any of the boy's appropriate conferences with school or what have you. Shall I go on?"

 Silence. "Not that you really belonged there with him...."

 "But, that's just it! See, we didn't know Kit was hidin' this stuff, I would have tried harder, done more."

  "Kit forged a great deal of these things," Rebecca said as the fox began to skim some of the discovered papers over. "We just barely found them. Believe me, I wouldn't try to brush any of this under the rug, but the boy is skittish concerning these matters. He left the orphanage he'd been staying with in San Flamingo, lived on the streets, after that. I believe the only real stability he's had in his life has been here, he left because he thought he would be forced to go anyway."

 "If you take him away from here...." Rebecca stopped at the agent's freezing stare.

"Stability!" he snapped, finally betraying some anger, "_This_ is stability?!" A disdainful arm swept the expanse of the room.

 "Ms. Cunningham, my job is to make sure these children, the ones that society has basically given up on or pushed to the side end up in good homes with caring, attentive adults," Mr. Thomas scowled at Baloo, who looked down, ashamed.

 "All that's important is the happiness of the child. Obviously this boy didn't feel welcome here, I really can't see any type of emotional ties, so...thank you for wasting my time and now, this is no longer your problem. Good night"

 "Wait!!" Baloo's shout shook the windows.  The other occupants of the room froze. "Now you just wait. What do _you_ know about Kit? You don't know what he's gone through, how he feels! An' you're standing here darin' to tell me that there ain't any kinda tie between us!"

 "Here," the large pilot, with difficulty, pushed Kit's card at the fox."My B-day was a week an' a half ago. You read that, then tell me you're even gonna _think_ about taking him outta here!"

 Mr. Thomas slowly began scanning the card, facial expression dead-set in a scowl. He brought his head back up and sighed deeply.

 Rebecca stood beside Baloo and squeezed his hand, he returned the favor, squeezing so tight that the woman winced.

 "You do realize that legally the boy has never had any right here."

 "Yeah...." Baloo felt incredibly keyed up and had to struggle to keep himself from shaking another response out of the unreasonably calm agent.

 "And I really just can't look the other way, he _is_ the concern of the state now not to mention, still missing."

 "We know" Rebecca stated simply.

 "I hope you both know that it isn't easy, doing what I do. Always having to ask if I've done what's right for the child." He looked Baloo straight in the eye."I _thought_ I knew here."

 Dead silence. "But, it's pretty apparent that regardless of the idiotic mistakes you made," Baloo didn't flinch, let the fox dish out whatever he wanted as long as this discussion brought some glimmer of hope, "that this boy had felt something here. So, maybe...."

 "You've reconsidered?!" Rebecca's eyes were bright.

 "I really could care less what the two of you want or do. But if this boy is happy here, and taking into account what you mentioned with his less than stellar record at the previous orphanage, I don't see the wisdom taking him away."

 No sooner had he finished than Rebecca nearly toppled him over, throwing her arms around the astonished fox. Baloo's eyes were red as an enourmous wave of relief, the first easing of tension he'd felt since Kit had gone, rushed over him.

 "That, however, is just me. The Department isn't about to let you become involved with this boy again." Again fear filled the room.

 "I could shuffle some things around, then perhaps you could begin helping us search in earnest. But why should I stick my neck out? Perhaps it's really not a good idea." The fox stood up and headed towards the door.

 Baloo and Rebecca watched him go, feeling crushing defeat. The fox turned to glance at the pair before walking out.

 "Well....let's get searching, shall we?"


Glittering surface
a thousand dreams below it
start a second chance


 Kit sat shivering in an alley, wet, cold and miserable. He knew what he had been forced to do years ago to survive, but after living at Higher for Hire in some comfort for some time, the thought of stealing or begging to get something to eat, turned his stomach.

 But, he was weak and exhausted, his extremely limited funds having long since been worn out.It had been raining here in Port Talbot, unusual for the mild-weathered northern city.

 Kit had ended up here, the city looked promising, lacking the cold ruthlessness of Port Wallaby, or the painful memories of New Fedora, the other two locations he had hitched a ride to.

 Now, however, the boy was at a loss, he looked terrible, drained emotionally, bone-thin with circles under his eyes caused by lack of sleep.

 Everywhere he had tried to find some kind of reasonable work, he had promptly been thrown out with each answer being the same, too young or nothing available that he could do. Kit was disheartened.

 He hated having to face the thought of sleeping in this wet spot but the thought of having to get up and continue searching just seemed too much for the cub right now.

 He had not allowed himself to feel his sharp-edged grief since that last night at Higher for Hire. He was too spent to cry now, although the unshed tears made his eyes burn.

 Before the boy realized what happened, he was sound asleep, not an easy task with his filthy surroundings and soaked-through sweater.

 Kit didn't know how long he'd been asleep when he heard a door slam open.The cub jerked awake and quickly jumped behind some boxes, hidden from view. He didn't want to take any chances in this unfamiliar place.

 A light-brown bear stepped out, whistling and putting on a coat. The loud laughter and clinking of glass that came from the open door told Kit that this was probably a night spot of some kind.

 The light was like a friend, however, and the burst of warm air that drifted over to him from inside of the building felt indescribably good. Kit leaned closer.

 Not paying attention, the boy leaned too far causing several boxes to topple over with a crash.The bear whirled in surprise, Kit struggled to get back on his feet and tried darting around the stranger who quickly grabbed him by his sweater and pulled him back.

 "Whoa there!Easy, kid, what's the rush?!" Kit quickly put up his defensive stance. "What's it to you?" he asked non-chalantly, standing off to the side.

 The stranger cocked an eyebrow at the boy. "What's it to me? Other than the fact that you scared the living daylights outta me, what's a kid like you doin' hanging out here at this time of night?"

 "Look, I wasn't doing anything wrong and...."

 "That wasn't what I asked." The bear folded his arms expectantly. Kit felt the same cornered feeling he'd felt for weeks.

 "I...I...well..." to the cub's dismay, something about the way the other bear was knowingly looking at him caused him to stammer awkwardly.

 "Runaway?" the bear asked flatly.

 "I guess...." Kit mumbled, eyes looking down.The bear loosely took hold of Kit's arm."What's your parent's number, let's see how interested they'd be knowing your here."

 Kit quickly jerked away. "Don't bother, I don't have any."

 "Then we'll call some other people who might be interested in finding you."

 "No!!" Kit yelled pleadingly, "I'll get out of your way, I was just leaving, don't have to call anybody."

 "Kid, have you taken a look at yourself? You look half-way dead, now why on earth would you want to stay out here?"

 "I'll be fine, as soon as I get a job and....."

 "Job?! You've gotta be kidding me, how old are you?"

 "16" Kit said, not making eye-contact."Yeah, lemme guess, small for your age, huh? Whatever you say..."

 There was silence for a few minutes."So," the bear cleared his throat, "must've been pretty awful for you to prefer staying out here, waiting to catch something lethal."

 "Huh....?" Kit asked, just as a racking cough nearly doubled him over, as if to re-emphasize the stranger's point.

 A hard scowl crossed the other bear's face."What you're running from. Is it worth this?" He looked at Kit, shivering and absolutely miserable in appearance."

 "Look, it may not be worth it, but I can't go back, end of story"

 "And why's that? People there hurt you, work your fingers to the bone, what? I'm curious to find out."

 "No, they....were okay, I guess, but if I have to go back, I might just have to leave again."

 "Ah, I see, everything makes perfect sense now. Instead of staying somewhere relatively safe and comfortable and sticking it out, waiting for something that may or may not happen, you'd rather risk your scrawny neck out here, catching your death of cold and nearly scaring every joe that comes along out of twenty years of their life!"

 The stranger's voice was growing angrier with each word he said. Kit felt confused, it was the first time anyone had talked to him about this. Somehow, it didn't seem so clear when the words were spoken by somebody else.

 "Kid," the bear's voice softened some, "is there anyone out there that could be worrying themselves sick because they can't find you?"

 Kit didn't have to think about that answer. "No...." he said sadly, looking away. "You're sure?"

 *Why doesn't this guy believe me?* Kit thought, annoyed at this person's ability to see right through him."'s better th-that they just forget about me."

 "So, what you're telling me is that things are really bad there, but you left to come _here_ so you wouldn't have to leave the place you were at in the first place?"

 Kit felt completely turned around, his reasoning just didn't make any sense when spoken out loud. The bear was looking at him, fully expecting an answer.

 "I...well..." Kit was too tired to argue with this guy.

 "Well, as long as you know what you're doing kid. You sure sound like it." The bear chuckled and motioned with his hand for Kit to move along.

The boy slowly walked away, his thoughts jumbled together. Nothing the stranger had said to him had been radically different than what he'd told himself, yet.... Hearing someone else draw it out for him really made Kit think things over.

 Besides, he felt awful, his throat hurt and he was completely exhausted. Turning back, he saw the bear looking at him with a small smile on his face.

 Kit made eye-contact and gave a wave. The stranger winked at him as the cub made his way to an important destination, the air-field.

 "Hey, Dan! Who are ya talkin' to out there?" A rough voice called out from inside of the club.


"Just some kid, don't worry about it." The bear shut the door and walked out of the alley, still whistling cheerfully.


The walk to the airfield took a great deal out of Kit. He kept thinking about the stranger's words. And he missed Baloo, Rebecca, all of them.

 It frightened him. He could try and break away from these people in a physical sense, but the tie that bound them together could only be stretched so far without the pain becoming unbearable. Kit stomach fluttered at the thought of having to go to an orphanage, or being taken away, but he couldn't do this alone anymore.

 The boy stopped for a moment, breathing hard and feeling very dizzy as another round of coughing took control. Obviously the strain of the past few weeks, with his tromping around in the cold rain all day, had not done wonders for his health.

 Kit struggled to catch his breath, wishing very much for Baloo to be there. The simple, childish sensation nearly made Kit's composure give way. *Would he even be worried about me?* the boy thought sadly, slowly continuing his journey to the airfield.

 Something deep within the cub knew that he had been.It was a lesson learned long ago, one he'd purposely forgotten. Kit felt another dizzy spell overtake him and he was having a hard time breathing. The lights of his destination didn't do much to relieve his aching, tired body.

 Strangely, the planes kept blurring as he squinted to search for a friendly flight symbol. A large hand clapped down on his shoulder. Kit felt decidedly unpleasant as the pilot looked down at him in concern, his words sounding jumbled.

 The navigator was tired, all he wanted was sleep.

 "I said, you feelin' okay, boy?" the elderly lion looked at him in concern. Kit's tongue felt thick and his weak body wouldn't support him anymore.

 He managed to stammer out, "I.....I need.....a .......ride"

 "Where to son?" the lion gently placed his hands on the boy's shoulders, a younger female came running over.

 "C-Cape Suze...." Kit ended the sentence in a dead faint. The pilot swore as the girl looked at the young boy.

 "Dad, what happened?"

 "Got a sick kid, gimme a hand here, Amber."

 "Sure thing,"; the lioness scampered into a nearby plane, large, certainly a newer model designed to carry more, much faster. She was followed by her father, who was still carrying Kit.

 The older lion placed the boy on a cot, holding one hand against his forehead. "Is he gonna be alright, Dad?" the lioness looked at the sick cub in pity.

 "I think so, it's probably just exhaustion that got him, maybe the flu, but he's not running much of a fever, not yet anyway." He looked at his daughter."Let's just hope it stays that way"

 "Look at how thin he is!" The girl's eyes were sad, "Poor thing, where did he say he needed a ride to?"

 "Don't know hon, Cape something or other, didn't hear the rest of it." The lion smiled at bit as he glanced at Amber again.

 "Well, mind staying put for a little while longer while our friend here recovers?" The girl's eyes sparkled, like her father even had to ask.

 "I wonder if he belongs to anyone?" she asked, staring intently at the cub who was breathing deeply, finally being able to get some rest.

 He looked incredibly pale and haggard.Amber looked at her father."What if he gets worse?"

 "Then we'll have to call a doctor, or something."

 Kit stirred restlessly and mumbled something in his sleep as the pilot lightly patted his shoulder.

 "Papa Bear? Wonder what he's talking about."

 "Don't know dear, just have to wait and see."


Baloo ended another radio signal with a discouraged click.Rebecca was sitting in the armchair holding a sleeping Molly and looking half-way there herself.

 Mr. Thomas sat tapping a pencil randomly as he read over some papers for the tenth time. Baloo sighed and put a hand on his forehead, discouraged

 "Still nothin', nobody's seen him." He stated the obvious to the other two exhausted adults. Rebecca shook her head.They had been trying to find any lead they could, anywhere, for almost twelve hours and all had been going at it since before sunrise.

 Mr. Thomas picked up the phone reflexively, as he'd done dozens of other times that day. "Come on Baloo, any other cities anywhere?"

 The large pilot did a mental check, his tired brain coming up with nothing. "Well, can _you_ think of anybody else in any of the places we've tried that could help us, cause I've named every one I could think of. What's the verdict?"

 The fox sighed deeply."All of the police departments don't have anything, I've contacted the Bureau of Missing Persons but it's doubtful they'll have anything for at least a couple of days."

 "An' I've been sending out the message to every Tom, Dick and Harry I know up there in the skies, nothing....."

 Baloo stared at the floor bleakly, the worry he'd been sheltered from for far too long twisting his stomach painfully, making it difficult to concentrate.

 He couldn't take this, if anything happened to that boy, it would kill him.

 "It's like lookin' fer a needle in a haystack!" the bear snapped, standing and following the familiar trend of pacing as he'd done seemingly hundreds of times that day.

 Rebecca watched him wearily. "There's nowhere else we haven't tried?" Mr. Thomas repeated tiredly.

 "Look, like I said, we've tried every place I can think of! Kit....well, even if he was in any of those places, who's gonna see him? How're we gonna find out even if they do?!" Baloo twisted his cap tightly.

 His boss sighed."Don't jump to conclusions Baloo, would you rather be doing nothing? Howabout we simply wait around for Kit to come back here, huh?"

 Rebecca's sarcastic tone didn't help the mood of the room."It's been nearly four days, I don't think that's going to happen. We'll just have to be patient and...."

 "Patient?! Look lady, every hour Kit's gone is more proof that somethin' bad could've happened."

 "What do you suggest we do?"Mr. Thomas snapped, "Go out and comb every city looking for one boy? Might as well start looking for an 18 year old, because that's how long it would take you to find him, if not longer."

 Baloo scowled. "I think I should take the Duck and then..."

 "What Baloo?" Rebecca was disheartened and irritable."Do you honestly think you can do any good?"

 "I could _try_, Miz Manager"

 "Don't pick a fight with me just because you're scared. I'm just as frightened as you are, but if you'd have taken a look outside of yourself for one minute before any of this had happened, Kit would probably still be here, so don't...."

 "Enough!!" Mr. Thomas shouted, placing his hands over his ears. Molly woke up with a start. She blinked sleepily and looked around, disoriented.

 "Is Kit still gone, Mommy?" the little girl asked Rebecca innocently. All three adults were silent. Baloo sat down quickly, suddenly very tired.

 "Yeah baby, he is" that lady said gently, "go back to sleep, he'll be here soon."

 The look Molly gave her mother gave away the child's thoughts. After being told that for several days, she no longer had any faith in the response.The little girl closed her eyes to appease her mom, but the issue was not closed.

 She had inherited Rebecca's sense of efficiency and if she saw a problem, she fixed it any way she could.

 "Do you think perhaps it's time to give it a rest tonight?" Mr. Thomas asked Baloo and Rebecca. "Obviously everyone's tired, maybe it's best."

"Shall we try again, same time tomorrow?"

 Rebecca nodded. Baloo simply put his head down on the table, saying nothing. "All right, good night folks. Bright and early then, tomorrow."

 The fox stepped out the door, his departure barely noticed by the two worried individuals remaining.

 "Well, perhaps......I'd better put Molly to bed. You should get some rest too, Baloo."

 "Huh? Oh, sure Becky, you too" The large bear had his head in his hands, emotionally pushing Rebecca away as she stood there, at a loss for what else they could do.

 "All right, g'night then." The pilot didn't answer.


 Molly crept down the stairs as quietly as she could. She heard Baloo snoring, finally able to get some sleep after heaven knows how many fitful nights.

 Molly's mom was asleep on Baloo's bed, even the little girl knew how exhausted both were. It showed on their faces, but she was going to fix everything.

 The child gingerly stepped up to the radio and, with some difficulty, hoisted herself up. Like she'd seen her mother, Baloo, Wildcat and even Kit do many times before, she began sending out a message, her voice startling the many different individuals who happened to hear it, somewhere past the Cape Suzette harbor or farther.

 The message was simple, as Molly wasn't sure what she'd say, she just blurted out what was on her mind, blunt and to the point.

 And, out of the many who managed to hear it, only one reciever would matter. Amber, who had been dozing in the pilot's chair, her father having long since gone out to find a doctor to help the boy, awoke with a jerk as the little girl's voice crackled through.

 ~I'm looking for Kit, if you find him, please give him a ride home 'cause we miss him~

 The young lioness' heart melted at the message.

~Tell him he's in trouble too, 'cause Mom and Baloo are scared, and a man keeps coming over and trying to help find him.~

 Back at the quiet building that was Higher for Hire, Baloo had awakened and was silently watching the little girl's efforts.It tugged at something deep within him and he stood up to walk over to her.

 Molly didn't seem too concerned at getting caught, she just stared at the large bear who returned her gaze. He appeared tired, sad and worn. Molly knew why.

 ~Tell him.....Papa Bear needs him to come back~ Baloo gently hugged the child as the transmission ended.

 Far away, Amber stood looking at Kit with more pity than before. *Papa Bear* If this was a coincidence, it was a pretty large one. *So, Kit's his name*

 The lioness listened anxiously for her father, the boy was getting a lot worse, and fast. His breathing was coming in gasps and he seemed to be in a dangerous state of delirium.

 Amber was unsure of what to do. Obviously the cub was in trouble and someone was looking for him. He needed help, now. She gently placed a hand on the boy's feverish head.

 "Kit?" she asked uncertainly. Proof to her unspoken question, the boy quieted down a bit. *It _has_ to be him!* The girl raced back into the cockpit and picked up the mike carefully, remembering her father's warning about using it in any case except an emergency.

 Glancing back at Kit, moaning and tossing, she caught another familiar name. *Baloo!* That settled it. Unsure if it would reach the necessary people or if she even knew what she was doing, she sent out a message.


 Rebecca was feeling a trifle annoyed at being roughly shaken out of some much needed sleep. Baloo was staring at her looking twenty years younger, but still much too tense.

 Molly was by the side of the bed, looking very awake and wound up, especially for this time of night.

 "Becky, wake up!! Kit, someone found him!" Baloo's tone was overjoyed, but something was amiss.

 "What?! Kit.....where is he?" the lady jumped up, fully alert.

 "Port Talbot, but....." Baloo's eyes were hooded, he was way too antsy.

 "But what?" Rebecca whispered, anxious.

 "Mommy, we gotta go, Kit's sick! He needs a doctor..." the child trailed off, still confused at the girl's transmission that had carried such wonderful news, but had still been so terrible at the same time.

 "Baloo, what on earth is happening?" the now frightened woman looked at the bear.

 "Someone named John Kilburn found him. His daughter heard Molly's message."

 "Molly's what?" the businesslady glanced at her sheepish-looking daughter.

 "Never mind! But his daughter radioed out an' we heard her, but she said Kit's sick, didn't give many details but I'm headin' out. You and Molly stay here.."

 "Oh no! Just hold it buster" Baloo stopped, ready to run out the door."I'm coming too. Molly stays here with Wildcat. No arguments from either of you!" She said sharply as both opened their mouths to protest.

 Rebecca picked the little girl up, walked downstairs with Baloo right on her heels and walked out the door. Baloo climbed into the Duck, feeling young and energetic for the first time in weeks.

 He would have enjoyed it too, if the frantic worry for his navigator would ever stop twisting his gut into a knot. Rebecca was in and out of Wildcat's shed in record time, climbing into the plane beside Baloo.

 The atmosphere surrounding the pair was rather strange, with the overwhelming silence of the darkness and the still harbor. Port Talbot was almost three hours away......


Kit was still tossing and turning. He was so very tired and his throat hurt so badly. He wanted to swallow but the pain was awful. He was aware of voices around him, moving him to another position and occasionally he would ask for Baloo or Rebecca, wishing very much that the ones taking care of him, trying hard to help him through this, would turn out to be them.

 Amber sat listening to the conversation between her father and the doctor who had managed to bring down Kit's fever a bit.

 "Still dangerously high, but at the rate it's lowering I wouldn't worry too much." the tired-looking doctor was saying. "You said are coming?"

 The friendly but exhausted dog glanced at Amber who nodded vigorously.Her father gave her a small smile.

 "If you think it's necessary, I'll wait until they get here, but as I said, the boy seems to be out of danger.This was really just his body's way of letting him know that it was time to take a break. He does have a mild case of strep throat, a little painful right now, but I don't think any fluid has settled into his lungs, thank God. Pneumonia, nothing to fool around with."

 "Thanks Doc, I think we can handle things. This person.....uh.....what was his name, hon?"

 "Baloo" Amber piped up, vividly remembering the strained voice that had answered her call. "If he left right after I talked to him, and he's in Cape Suzette, then he should be here...."

 "In a few hours" her father finished before looking back to the doctor.

 "Lots of fluids, more rest and no over-exerting himself?" The pilot read the scribbled instructions.

 "Yes, just make sure this person gets that." The doctor glanced at Kit, who was sleeping soundly again, although his face was still flushed and haggard.

 An unspoken question formed, but the doctor didn't ask it and the elderly lion didn't answer. "I'll give it to him" the pilot said quietly, then turned his attentions to Kit.

 "Still feelin' hot..." John muttered, "but guess he just needed to get out of the rain."

 A loud burst of coughing came from the cub, who seemed to have traveled so many paths in quite a short time this night.

 Amber continued looking at her father as the doctor slipped outside. "It was Cape Suzette, that's where he needed to go" she said, relieving the heavy silence. The lion tucked a blanket around Kit, who mumbled something then settled in to sleep.

 A flash of sadness crossed the pilot's features.

 "What's he sorry for?" Amber whispered, mostly to herself. John turned to look at her.

 "What exactly did this Baloo fellow say about.....?"

 "Kit" the lioness prompted.

 "Kit, is he his father? And if he is, why on God's green earth would he let his kid be running around for this long without doing anything about it?"

 "He just sounded happy until I told him that the boy was sick." Amber trailed off, alarmed at the uncharacteristic sharpness in her dad's voice.

 "Well, guess we'll just have to see"


 "Do you think that maybe we should've contacted Mr. Thomas?" Rebecca said, staring out the window.

 Baloo was holding the controls with a vice-like grip. "We'll contact him later" he growled, teeth gritted."What's the time Beckers?"

 It was the same question he'd been asking his boss every ten minutes."I'd say we have about a half-hour"

 Silence again."Baloo?"

 He didn't look at her when the businesslady peered at him.His eyes were glassy and his head was lowered a bit."Baloo?" she repeated, much softer this time

 "Don't worry, we'll get there in time, get Kit and this'll all be over with. He can stay with us, so try and feel a little bit of happiness. You really won't have to worry about someone taking the boy away or about losing him ever again."

 He finally made eye-contact with her as she patted his shoulder. Losing him...... That terrible fear that lay deep within the pilot.

 "I don't deserve him Becky" Baloo's voice was very serious. "What am I gonna say to 'im?"

 "Kit will forgive you and..."

 "That's just it!!" Baloo yelled, startling Rebecca. "How many times am I gonna let him down? Just how bad did I hurt that kid? I wasn't there when he needed me the most and.......I ......well, I just don't know how I'm gonna say I'm sorry."

 "I love him, but it looks like I didn't love him enough." Baloo placed a hand over his eyes as Rebecca stood there, tears streaming.

 "Kit loves _you_ Baloo, and everything that comes with that, as I'm sure that's the case with you. People make mistakes, but there's a reason we got another chance. I hope you can understand, there are some people that won't get a second time. Just......count your blessings."

 They both looked at each other, both finally able to remember that cold table, that feeling.

 They would never forget again. Every day Kit was there with them would be a reminder of a gift. They were grateful. Baloo rubbed his eyes vigorously and checked their bearings.

 "I think we're almost there...." Rebecca said, sniffling.

 "Yeah, long trip huh?" Baloo smiled, "_Very_ long"

 His boss gave a short laugh, comprehending what was being said. "Too long.....but, it's over"

 Within a few minutes the Sea Duck had landed at the Port Talbot airfield.The two inhabitants jumped out, oblivious to the pouring rain.

 "All right, here's us.....the plane, where is that dang....." the gray bear scanned the scene in front of him.

 "Baloo, over there!" Rebecca pointed. An elderly lion came running up to them with speed that defied his appearance.

 "You're John Kilburn?" Rebecca yelled over the torrent that was coming down even faster.


 "Where's Kit?!" Baloo yelled, frantic.The lion nodded grimly."Follow me."

 The elderly pilot's plane was a dandy, that much was certain. But even more wonderful then the new aircraft was what lay inside of it.

 Baloo rushed over to the small bear cub, lying there so still and in moments had him in the tightest embrace possible. The silence in the hold was touching as Baloo held the boy, breathing hard.

 Kit stirred a bit, but his exhaustion held sway and he continued to sleep. Baloo gently picked his navigator up, smoothing out his hair and turned to Rebecca, who didn't say a word, simply gave him a large hug then softly kissed Kit on the forehead.

 John felt overwhelmed by the scene. He put an arm around his own daughter, feeling strange, suddenly very glad that she was there.The large bear turned to the other pilot.

 "Mr. Kilburn......I-I can't thank ya enough...."

 "That's fine Mr. Baloo," the lion cut him off, "but I would like you to possibly answer something. What was the boy doing here and in _that_ condition, in the first place?"

 Rebecca peered closely at the cub, who was incredibly thin, frail, and looked sickly. It wrenched her heart, this wasn't the energetic boy she knew. He was so young....far too young to look as aged as he did right then.

 The elderly lion continued speaking to Baloo. "What kind of problems would make him want to go through something like this? I'm assuming he did leave on his own?"

 "He......left because of a problem that we've been able to work out." Rebecca answered for the bear, whose full attention was on Kit. The gray bear was so thankful to finally be able to see Kit, relatively safe, and protect him after the carelessness, worry and fear of the last few weeks, the horrible uncertainty of the last few days.

 John felt like protesting, his own instincts going against handing a child to someone who may or may not have been responsible for his current condition. Many of his doubts floated away as he watched the large bear, however, many emotions familiar to him winning out against cold reason.

 Baloo was still holding the cub fiercely, staring at the boy as though Kit might vanish if he wasn't careful. Rebecca also seemed very tense, but the huge smile on her face at seeing the pilot and navigator together lit up the entire place.

 The lion roughly pushed the doctor's written advice into the woman's hand. "Doc said it was strep, but the kid's mostly just tuckered out." He said gruffly, studying Rebecca's face as she read the note slowly.

 "Mr. Kilburn, how can we...."

 "Forget it," the elderly pilot cut her off, "I have a daughter." He gently placed a hand on Amber's head, who was watching Baloo with Kit, transfixed."I don't want anyone to have to go through something as terrible as not knowing where your kid is, or if something could have happened...." the lion trailed off as Kit lasped into another bout of coughing.

 Baloo looked at Rebecca in concern."Better be getting him home, sure he'll pick up as soon as he gets there, anyway."

 "Here's hoping Mr. Kilburn" Rebecca turned to the young lioness solemnly watching."and thank _you_ dear. If it wasn't for you, we would still be pulling our hair out."

 "Yeah.....thanks a million, sweetie. Don't know what we'd have done if you both hadn't found Lil' Britches here." Baloo gave the girl a grateful look and held out his hand.

 Amber shook it, facial expression serious. *Lil' Britches?* The lioness wondered at the strange nicknames these individuals used. She really liked them, actually.

 "Your welcome" the girl said simply and softly touched Kit's shoulder, feeling a little sad that she hadn't had the chance to even talk with the boy, or just get to know him better.

 "Bye Kit" she whispered as Baloo, still tightly holding the cub, showed himself out, his boss close behind him.

 "Dad?" Amber asked after a few minutes of silence. "Did we do the right thing?" she echoed her father's thoughts.

 "Well, hon.......I think so, it's strange, but.....I really believe we did. What say we head home?" The girl grinned at him before yawning loudly.

 The sun began to show it's first rays as two planes headed away from the port. Oddly, though different, their destinations were very much the same.


The light has been here
to welcome you back safely
the place you call home

 It was truly a beautiful morning. Even a place like Cape Suzette had outdone itself.

 Rebecca sat downstairs, on the phone, always thinking ahead. It was one of the things Baloo admired about her, no matter how irritating it got. With him, it could be annoying, where Kit was concerned, the bear was glad to know she was there.

 Kit had coughed and hacked the whole way home. It had been terrible to even look at him, he seemed so weak and worn out. His breathing and temperature were normal, but any kind of sickness made Baloo very uneasy.

 As he himself was usually very healthy, it was hard to handle, the pilot often panicked in these situations. So he watched Kit like a hawk, although the boy seemed to be much better. Rebecca had mentioned that, indeed, strep was nothing to ignore, but Kit's case seemed mild at worst and several hours worth of rest had done wonders for the cub's appearance.

Baloo sat, listening to Rebecca and thinking. It was a pastime that he had gotten very good at in the last few weeks, but know, for once, he would look outside of himself, his own needs and his own interests, to really concentrate on what he could have lost, and just what he had to gain.

 It frightened him. If he had done it more than once, then things were against him. He could just lapse into himself as he'd done time and time before, but next time, he wouldn't be so lucky.

 Staring at Kit, Baloo felt his stomach tighten painfully. He had come so close, would he ever realize just how selfish he could be? The pilot wasn't sure if he could get used to the idea of being more in control of not only his own life, but someone else's as well. Someone like Kit, who was too sensitive to be shut out and not have it have some lasting effects.

 The bear racked his mind, trying to figure out what he would say, when he couldn't explain the situation himself. Why had he cared so much about life passing him by? His whole life was right here. Without this boy, the years would stretch on for seemingly endless amounts of time,empty, bleak and lonely.

 Baloo couldn't believe that he had every thought this place, this life he had was dull, or was commonplace. In spite of himself, he chuckled.*Boring? Not a chance. I'm just getting more used to it*

 The large bear knew what had made the difference. Coming close to losing the one thing that made life tolerable, livable here, in this narrow existence. He could see every day through Kit's eyes. Someone young, who amazingly in spite of everything he'd experienced and seen, still believed in the goodness of life and all that it could give.When Baloo looked at everything with Kit, simple things seemed so much more special.

 He hoped with all that he had that this would never change, that he would never be foolish enough to let it slip through his fingers. But he still had to tell Kit why.

 A difficult thing, but the navigator would understand. It would take time, undoubtably, but that was the relationship between the pilot and this boy. Baloo provided the means, but Kit showed the way. Kit showed Baloo that life could be more than what it seemed on the surface.

 It was about sharing it. It was about becoming something better than yourself through someone else. Kit looked peaceful, sleeping there, it was unbelievable the power he had, and he didn't even know it. Baloo gently took a hold of the cub's hand waiting patiently for the boy to wake up. And to those who wait, good things often come.


Quiet dawn has come
the morning stillness shattered
by a waking soul

 Baloo had never felt more free in his life. He felt as if he had gone on a long journey inside of himself and the trip back had been excruciating. But now he had the courage to face things and not run away. He had everything that could possibly matter to him right here beside him and the liberation of facing his demons and conquering them helped the large bear to focus on making everything up to Kit.

 He could never really forgive himself each time he hurt the boy, but now he knew the power of unconditional love. And he was very lucky. He hoped he would never forget why. For kids like Kit who had had so many struggles in their life that pain could become common, for those who never got a second chance to start over or to say they're sorry.

 Rebecca stood behind the pilot as he watched Kit. "What are you going to say to him, about all of this?" She asked quietly. When Baloo didn't answer she went on. "I called Mr. Thomas, as you know. He said he needed to meet with us privately, to tie up any loose ends was how he put it."

 "I don't know Becky, gotta get some important things outta the way first." Rebecca knew just what he was talking about.

 "Well, you know where I'll be later if you need me....." She put her hand on Baloo's arm, he looked at her with a strong light in his eyes.

 "I'll make sure we make it over there."

 She smiled and swallowed hard to keep more tears from overflowing. *My tear ducts are never going to recover from all of this* "Thanks Baloo" the bearess turned to leave when she heard Baloo's voice.

 "Naw, Rebecca, thank you" She turned back and was surprised to be enveloped in a large hug from the gray bear. A few moments later, he walked back to Kit's bed, leaving a very touched and sniffling Rebecca to get Molly and go home.


Kit was having a very comforting dream and he was saddened to find himself waking up. He had been back at Higher for Hire, back in his own bed.

 Baloo was there with him, the old Baloo, the one he knew best, his partner and friend.

 He felt safe, all of the tension that had racked his life for far too long was lifted. It was wonderful, but too awful, imagining having to leave it again.

 Kit waited for his sore, tired body to wake up and take him back to the rainy streets of Port Talbot or somewhere else, it really didn't matter. Any place was horrible after being reminded of home. He just wanted to stay here, even if it was just an illusion, for as long as he could.

 "Kit......" a very familiar voice that seemed so real came to him. "Kit, wake up, it's okay." The boy slowly opened his eyes, afraid at what he might see. It was his was even better.

 Baloo _was_ there smiling at him, holding one hand tightly.

 "Papa Bear.....?" Kit's voice was uncertain.The large bear's eyes were red.

 "Hey kiddo, how do ya feel?" Kit opened his eyes wider, scarcely believing that this was real.

 "Confused" he responded honestly. " did I get here?"

 "Well Kit-boy, you wore yourself out and you were lucky enough that some decent fella and his daughter found ya."

 Kit blinked, struggling to remember."And found me?" He asked, looking at the bear warily, more details of the environment here before he left clicking into place.

 Baloo's heart suffered a sharp wrench at the boy's expression, but a great deal remained to be worked out. "Yeah kid, we were sure lucky."

 There was silence as both looked at each other, Kit completely unsure of what to say but grateful, very grateful that the large pilot seemed like his old self.

 But the pain, the horrible fear of being taken away from this place, especially if things seemed better between the bear and himself, made the cub anxious.

 Baloo looked at his navigator, hardly believing days had gone by without Kit here with him. It sickened him to think that he could have ever let anything become more important to him than this boy.

 Could he ever trust himself not to lose sight of what really mattered? He quickly grabbed the cub and hugged him close, Kit gladly returning the embrace. It felt.....right.A huge burden lifted.

 Baloo could forgive himself a bit if Kit was ready to move on. Remembering the boy's gift to him, not so long ago, the bear felt a wave of thankfulness wash over him.

 "Lil' Britches...." It felt so good to hear that again! "We need to talk"

 Kit nodded, sensing the serious mood in the room. Baloo gently pulled the boy's head to his chest, the cub visibly relaxed, obviously this wasn't going to be a confrontation.

 There were things that needed to be said, that should have been said long ago. "Kid, first off, I'm beggin' ya, when you got a problem, come to me, Becky, Wildcat, for hell's sake _somebody_. Don't you ever run off like this again! I just can't take another episode of this, I can't...."

 The bear's voice broke and he squeezed Kit tightly. The boy said nothing, it felt so good to be there with the large bear, feeling Baloo's concern. He felt liberated.

 Things had hit rock bottom and now they could only get better, or so he hoped. Kit shut his eyes, not wanting to think of what could possibly happen in the future. If he had to leave Baloo again......

 The navigator laid his head against Baloo, any feeling of anger at the large bear's previous treatment of him, vanished. Whatever the pilot had been through while he was gone, it had been more than enough to snap him out of his daze.

 "Lil' Britches" Baloo stared, bringing the cub's gaze to his. "Now, I know I can't take back what's happened," Kit swallowed, this wasn't going to be easy for the bear to say, "but I can promise ya that I won't shut ya out ever again."

 Kit felt the tears start as Baloo hugged him again, softly patting his back. "I guess you could say, I-I, well, I learned some stuff "

 "Kid, I love ya, no matter what I do or say. Inside, I've always loved ya an'...even when I'm stupid enough not to show it, every hour of every day yer here, I want you to know it."

 Kit was sobbing, his small arms wrapped around the large bear as best as they could be. This was close to torture. It was balm to the pain he had felt inside for so long to finally have someone say these things to him, especially when that someone was Baloo. But with that, he was still very afraid that all of this wouldn't last, even if he stayed here. He couldn't take it if the pilot pushed him away again.

 He loved the large bear, someday he would be able to tell him with something more than his actions, with his words. However, even Kit knew that it could take some time before he could trust Baloo again. He'd been deeply hurt, the cub now could only fervently pray that there would be time to rebuild what had been lost.

<P>Baloo was still talking, feeling the need to let these things out."Kit, I thought life was passin' me by, I just felt like hadn't done nothing to be proud of. But, I sure was wrong, Lil' Britches" The pilot stared at the cub, this unique boy who had been through so much pain, yet still had so much love to give and who always felt so much but was so afraid to show it.

 "That's why I'm askin' ya not to ever do this again, Kit-boy. I need you to know why, too" Kit didn't say anything, only looked at Baloo.

 There was more said in that one moment between them than there had ever been before. They finally realized that alone, they were less than what they could be, they were incomplete.But together, they fit perfectly and the strength of emotion that bound them together would last.

 "Kid, there's somethin' else" Baloo needed to say at least one more thing. In a small way he had already let Kit know about the knowledge Rebecca and himself possessed. But he needed to relieve the boy's mind without making him ashamed or afraid. Baloo still felt uneasy, he would until all of this was taken care of completely.After the last few days of worry, he wouldn't be satisfied until he had the absolute certainty that something like this would never occur again, and it wasn't just about the Child Welfare people, either.

 He could only be very grateful that there were people who had chosen to look at what had existed here, and the potential of what could exist in the future, those people who had chosen not to disregard the most important things, despite the struggle, were the ones that Baloo had to thank the most.

 "Kit, _this_ is your home" the words were slow and drawn-out but so very important. "You don't ever have to worry about being forced to leave. You've always been welcome here and now yer a part of this place......forever."

 Kit heard, more importantly, he listened to what was being said. Was Baloo actually saying what he thought he was?

 "Do ya understand?" Baloo looked Kit straight in the eye. Once again, that unspoken connection conquered any doubts.

 "Y-Ye...." Kit tried to answer but his voice wouldn't cooperate. He felt so light, nothing could feel this good. Nothing, that is, but being held by the pilot as sobs racked him, knowing he was safe and there to stay.


Mr. Thomas sat drumming his fingers on his desk as two individuals sat in front of him. It was strange, how things had changed with these two. The fox usually considered himself to be a good judge of character.

 He saw a potential problem, he tried to fix it, always with a child's best interests in mind. Staring at the pilot and his boss, sitting there nervously fidgeting, he wondered how his own ideas could change so suddenly on him.

 Ms. Cunningham had called him the day before with good news. They had found the boy, he had been rather ill from pushing himself too hard, but from his inquiries, Kit seemed to be recovering nicely.

 Now the fox found himself wondering how a situation that had seemed so wrong, so out of place, could turn into this. He felt as though he was talking about the son of one of his many friends who were lucky enough to have a family and children.

 With a sigh and a shake of his head, Mr. Thomas observed the hope on these people's faces, he couldn't give them full security concerning the cub. He had, however, arranged something that could put this problem off for a long time.

 He only hoped that both of them had a very well developed sense of humor. They were going to need it.

 The fox cleared his throat. "Mr. Cloudkicker seems to be a little more informed regarding this situation?" He peered at Baloo who nodded tensely, twisting his cap, always a sure sign that he was agitated.

 "The Department informed his teacher, who as you well know was the one who had the most concerns. She was a bit.....uh......uptight about the situation, but luckily she was convinced that we would deal with things our own way. The boy now has the proper paperwork filed, excepting a birth certificate of course, so that's some protection, I suppose."

 Rebecca and Baloo both looked increasingly edgy. What Mr. Thomas didn't tell them was that the only reason they had been able to pull this off in the first place, was thanks to his excellent reputation in the Department.

 Even then he hadn't been able to just shift the problem around so that it would never see the light of day again.I was a strange situation.It had taken a great deal of convincing to simply accomplish what he had here in his hands.

 But these two weren't going to like it, the fox had a pretty good idea of what their reaction would be.Call it a test of their sincerity. The hope was that this pair would do anything, walk through fire, in order to insure that the cub could stay where he was.

 So, he kept the hope in mind. There was a chance he would even enjoy this process, given they both didn't take themselves too seriously.

 "I've managed to keep my end of the deal. Obviously the Department wasn't too thrilled with all of this, but I managed to secure this document."

 Baloo and Rebecca leaned forward

 "It states that no one, at any time in the future, may take the boy from his current home without absolute consent on his part. And by that I mean _absolute_. It must be Kit's choice, no one else's, end of story."

 "Even then, it would take a great deal to legalize an adoption process. Only someone with a great deal of influence would even be able to cut through all of this red tape. It's a difficult thing"

 Both nodded, although Baloo's brow creased. The fox wondered at it for a moment, then continued. Here's where it got complicated.

 "However, due to the unnatural atmosphere in which this boy has chosen to stay.....their words not mine!" Mr. Thomas hasitly remarked as Rebecca opened her mouth to begin a tirade. "Two signatures which have legal binding power must be used on this document. Then, I leave you both to sort out everything else."

 "What does _that_ mean?" Rebecca raised an eyebrow, her voice suspicious. She had looked at enough documents and knew enough about vague wording anywhere _on_ one to know the fox was hiding something.

 Mr. Thomas continued,"Well, you do realize that even I couldn't fix this muddle unless I told a small white lie to smooth things over"

 "How small?" Baloo asked, confused

 "How white?" Rebecca contributed looking a little ill-at-ease.

 "I told them you were married" The pair looked at him, waiting for the agent to let them in on his badly timed joke.

 Keith Thomas chuckled. "That wouldn't be so bad, of course" It slowly dawned on Baloo and Rebecca that this person was very serious.

 "Except you need to provide a certificate to go along with this. Then, we're out of your hair for good....hopefully"

 "How are supposed to do that when.....we......Oh,, no've gotta be kiddin' me" Baloo trailed off as the two flushed beet-red simultaneously.

 It occured to the fox that he didn't look very professional, doubled over laughing at the pair's expression, but he was beyond caring. When he managed to look the two mortified individuals in the eye, he grinned.

 "Just a formality, only takes a few minutes, it won't last beyond signing some kind of certificate, then complete annulment. I even provided for the Justice of the Peace to be here..."

 "Thanks a heap" Baloo growled.

 "So this _is_ necessary?" Rebecca stood up and followed the fox, Baloo doing the same, both feeling awkward, and both rather embarrassed for feeling that way in the first place. It didn't mean anything, it was for Kit, as Mr. Thomas had said, just a formality.

 So why did both of them feel so uneasy about this subject?

 "Define necessary" the agent led them into a small room, "if you don't do this, then all I can say is that I won't have a lot of control over whether Kit can stay with you. Remember it doesn't mean a thing, just something for the records that will insure the disappearance of any further headaches."

 Neither Baloo nor Rebecca could fully explain why they felt so uncomfortable. It was one thing to talk about it, laugh over Molly's or even Kit's ideas about it, but to actually go through with it? Neither could face the other as things were wrapped up, the certificate signed, the ceremony dissolved. It was so fast, yet seemed to last a very long time.

 Both thanked Mr. Thomas heartily and bid him farewell, glad that someone had managed to see the humor in the situation and started back to Higher for Hire.

 It was over. The whole ordeal seemed to be behind them. Again, silence was dominant in the air as the two made the trip back, staring straight ahead, not knowing what to say to each other.

 Each felt incredibly uncomfortable. Rebecca finally cleared her throat to speak up. "Well.....I guess it's over"

 "Ye-eah" To the large pilot's dismay his voice was displaying the tension he felt inside. For the first time since meeting this lady, he could think of absolutely nothing to say to her. He sought out a safe topic, always a middle ground for the two.

 "Can't wait to see Kit. Gonna be great.....not having to worry, huh?" A large understatement, but it needed to be said. They both could see what they had and knew to appreciate it.

"Still....." Baloo, in spite of his better judgement screaming at him to shut up and let things go, couldn't help but ask one more thing.

"Uh.....guess t-that was different......" Rebecca glanced at him sharply. "Um....what I, well, from your first?"Baloo stammered, sweating and wishing that he'd kept his mouth shut.

Surprisingly, Rebecca smiled at him."No Baloo, not really. At one time.......I was friends with him too."Silence again, it had a strange charge in it.

It was as if something unexpected had been let through, and instead of it being out of place and unwelcome, it felt strangely exhilirating. Nothing else remained to be said.

Well, maybe one thing."But I wouldn't get any ideas mister."

The large bear looked at Rebecca with sudden apprehension. "You are _way_ too old for me....."

First a smile, than a laugh that broke down several barriers, let something out and brought a release for the pilot. She did have a point.


Kit was sitting up in bed, tired, worn out but at peace.The tension that had threatened to break his life into a hundred different pieces had changed in a few moments.

He still felt the shadow of what could be, what might happen again, but the trust he wanted to establish once more could be rebuilt.

To believe in what life could give him, not take away put the navigator's mind at ease.What Baloo had gone through, why the large bear had pushed him away appeared even now to be a dark hole in the pilot's personality.

It was a fault that Kit still didn't understand.He, more than anyone, knew to take people how they came and knew that Baloo had meant what he said about never losing sight of what's important again.

But, deep within the cub, he'd always wonder if it could happen another time.Would it hurt even worse a second time because there probably wouldn't be anything to distract him from Baloo's indifference? Would the be able to bring the bear back or was Baloo simply not capable of fully sharing his life with anyone else?

Kit fidgeted.The silence and his thoughts were making him uncomfortable.Would he be better off going somewhere else, leaving the pilot in peace, despite Baloo's urgent requests otherwise?

Maybe this was always meant to be a short-term partnership, easily made, just as easily dissolved.The boy slowly got up, sat down on the floor and reached underneath his bed. His answer to these plaguing questions.

Finding it, Kit placed it on his head and laid back down again, still weak, his throat still rather sore. As he heard footsteps approaching, the boy reached up and flipped the bill to face backwards. Wildcat and Molly walked in, both looking excited.

"You're back!!" the little girl squealed and opened her arms for a hug. Kit gladly returned the favor, squeezing Molly tight, very glad to see her and the mechanic once again.

The child didn't understand where Kit had been, but she was certainly glad to see him right here, where he should be.Molly looked closely at him, confusion flashing across her young face.Why there were times when Kit disappeared then re-appeared again just as quickly was something she didn't comprehend.Perhaps no one at Higher for Hire did.

"Um.....Mom and Baloo missed you" she said, her voice sincere.Something tugged at Kit.

"Yeah, I missed you too, Pigtails"

"Where did you go?"she asked suddenly, "And how come you do this a lot?"

Kit stared back at her, unsure of what he could say. "Well Molly....."

The little girl folded her arms expectantly.The navigator sighed, he'd learned long ago that it was no use trying to fool Molly. She could usually see right through him.

"Molly, I......uh.......I thought something was going to happen, so I left before it could. But now I think everything's okay so don't worry, I'll try not to do this again."

The child blinked. Wildcat, standing nearby looked like he was even more confused than Molly. For these two, however, any explanation would be sufficient at times.

Molly wrapped her arms aound Kit tightly once more, catching the cub by surprise. "So, now that man's not gonna come over anymore, huh?"

"What man?" Kit asked, looking from Wildcat to Molly and back again.

"Like, this guy kept asking questions an' coming around. First he was really mad, but then Re-becca and Baloo talked and talked and talked and....."

"Okay WC, I got it, they talked, about what?"

"About you, man. But then you showed up again, so he won't be coming back. That's what Baloo said this morning when he left with Ms. Cunningham.He said because you were sleeping, I shouldn't say nothing, but you're awake now so I guess it's okay!"

The lion looked at a non-existent watch on his arm, before recalling that he didn't wear one."They should be getting back any second....." The mechanic seemed satisfied with himself, believing that he had followed Baloo's instructions to the letter.

*Think Baloo needs to word things better* Kit looked at Wildcat, shaking his head but smiling in spite of himself. The mechanic always seemed see and think about more than what he let on.The boy remembered Baloo's words, *~You don't ever have to worry about leaving here again~*

Full realization hit and it felt wonderful. The huge smile that crossed Kit's face was contagious to the other two individuals in the room, even if it they really didn't know why the cub was so happy.

Wildcat spoke up again, "Hey Kit, glad you're feeling better man. An' it's great yer back 'cause now Baloo won't hafta miss you......'cause.....well, now you're here!"

The lion seemed to have a knack for clarifying things. Especially when he didn't mean to.Kit looked at the mechanic.For some reason, he felt very grateful to him.

The cub held an arm out, reached over and gave the mechanic a quick, one-arm hug, not an easy thing with Molly still clinging to him tightly.

Wildcat returned the embrace. He didn't pretend to know what had gone on here with the people he cared about in the last few weeks, but now things seemed to be working out just fine. Problems fixed, that was something he could always understand.

The three felt content to stay there for a few minutes, in that room.There wasn't anything they really needed to say.Kit gently released the two and laid back, feeling exhausted but very happy.

Wildcat quietly stepped out of the room to head downstairs, leaving Molly and the navigator alone to visit.It was a good idea, except the boy was incredibly tired.He was almost asleep when he felt Molly tap him on the shoulder.

"Yeah kiddo?" he asked, his voice showing little enthusiasm."Kit, did you leave 'cause you thought Baloo didn't love you no more?"

Kit sat up again, wide awake."Molly......Baloo......well, Pigtails, no, that wasn't why, I promise"

"Good!" the child grinned at him, "cause he sure was sad, him and Mom fought a lot.I wanted to make sure you knew that he still loved ya"

The simple way the little girl explained things touched Kit deeply.Both cubs looked at each other for a moment, a sad expression passed over Molly's face. "Mom said Baloo's like your daddy"

Kit swallowed hard as a few tears trickled down Molly's cheeks."I wish he was mine too."

"Molly, I a way.....he is. But Baloo's not my real dad, I wish sometimes he would be easier."

"Mommy said that Baloo loved you so it didn't matter that he's not really your daddy." Again, that bare simplicity said a great deal.

"Molly, you miss your real dad, huh? and your mom ever talk about him?" Kit felt uncomfortable bringing up this subject, but obviously the little girl was feeling a little down.

"We have been a lot, but it makes her sad."; Molly looked at the boy, remembering something."Besides,"the child shifted on Kit's small bed, "Mom said you remind her of my daddy, cause you're always nice to me and she said you're a....g-gentleman."

The little girl had a bit of trouble with the word, Kit didn't have any problems understanding it though.&nbsp; A warm feeling spread in his chest. Ms. Cunningham had said that, about him!

Molly smiled at him. "So, don't go anywhere because now you know why Mommy and Baloo would be _really_ sad."

Kit, not quite having Molly's ability to shift gears emotionally so quickly, rubbed at his eyes, and hugged her again, this time for a lot longer.

After a while, both heard the door open and two pairs of footsteps walk through.&nbsp; Kit's heart leaped, where only a short time ago he'd felt dread at Baloo's returning home to either ignore him or pick a fight, now he felt the same familiar happiness as before.

Rebecca and Baloo walked into the room, both looking a little strange, with identical grins on their faces."Hey sweetie!" The bearess headed over to Kit's bed, addressing either cub and planted a kiss on both of their foreheads."How are you feeling Kit?"

"Better, thanks Ms. Cunningham" Kit smiled at her as she brushed his hair out of his face. Baloo quickly hugged the boy.

"Hey Kit-boy, uh...had some errands to do this morning. Sorry to leave ya here but doctor's orders!" Kit grinned at the large bear.

"Sure Papa Bear, errands, did they go okay?" Kit looked intently at the pilot, who smiled back at him.

"It went great, Lil' Britches. Better'n anything I could expect." Neither needed to say anything more as Kit hugged the large pilot. Baloo grateful, a thousand times over grateful for this boy, and it was enough, he would never forget again.

Rebecca and Molly watched the two, the businesslady hugging her own daughter, feeling something very special fill the room. She hoped it would stay, always.

Molly looked at her mom, another infamous idea beginning to take shape."Hey Mom! If you don't marry Baloo, then how about Louie! He'd make a great dad, then...."

The other three looked at the little girl before cracking up."Molly, well.....we'll see"



Rain wasn't uncommon in Cape Suzette. Even here, like any other place, it must fall.


It brought new life with it though, one of the mysteries of this universe.Beginning over again, with destruction, comes rebuilding, with pain, comes healing. Even when one didn't understand, one clung to this. The cycle of what had gone on for eons and would continue to go on, when all the drama and joy of these lives were but distant memories, nearly forgotten......The rain cleansed, it was fresh and new. It was a part of the pattern that would go on for as long as there was such a thing as time.Starting over, another chapter, finding oneself with the help of another.


This is what would last......forever.


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