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So this is a fic about my character, Jack. While it is an OC fic, there are cameos from canon characters, so there's that. I just really wanted to tell this story. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to comment and give your opinion of the story thus far! I value any and all constructive criticism. Story Description: On the eve of his championship fight, Jack Darcy reflects on the wild journey that led him to the boxing ring. Tracing his steps from soldier to war hero to discharged veteran and remembering friends made and lost along the way, he is now faced with a simple question he cannot answer: What's next? This is an M rated fic due to swearing and violence. -------------------------------------------------- Those moments right before a match are always the most nerve wracking. The silence of the locker room is filled with a flurry of thoughts lingering in the air around me. I feel my self-doubt rise to slow my stride, so I fill the void by focusing on preparation. I stretch everything. I move around. I throw punches, anything and everything to warm up and stay warmed up. Gerard helps to rub me down. I still try to crack a joke now and then about how he should take me out to dinner first. Sure, it’s immature and a painfully old joke, but we still laugh. It makes a grown man rubbing Vaseline into my chest and shoulders less awkward for me as well. We keep things loose and casual. Dramatic pep talks are for movies, and they just psyche me out. My manager, Johnny, walks in to check up on me and wish me luck. The stocky blue nose pit bull looks like he should be the one getting into the ring, and I should be in the pressed suit wishing him a good fight. He reminds me this fight is being recorded live and to just focus on my job. It’s not my first time in front of a camera, but I’ve never been recorded while doing my job. I try not to think about it as Gerard re-centers my focus. The gray-spotted rat weaves with me in a bout of shadowboxing, helping me to stay in the zone. Before I know it, the referee is coming in and giving us the standard “rules of the game” spiel, and Gerard is taping and gloving my hands. It’s time to go. I pull off my sweats, relieved that the uncomfortable heat is alleviated, don the silken violet and gold robe that bears my family name, Darcy, pull the hood so it drapes over my blunt white snout and walk out with Gerard. The din of the crowd erupts into wild cheering as the announcer cries out for Jack Darcy. I hear only the beat of my own heart reverberating in my ears as I make the walk out to the ring. My fans cheer my name over the musical fanfare that precedes me. As I make my way through with Gerard, it still amazes me how far I’ve come. I feel like I’m marching out to the warzone again, off to fight off the Venomians or the Aparoids. I feel the casing of my prosthetic press against my knee as I walk up the steps and duck through the ropes. It’s almost time. The arena darkens, and a video montage displays on the monitors, glorifying my opponent. I only vaguely hear the excited speech. My mind, despite the focus I fought to maintain, wanders back to the interview Cornerian Sports Network conducted with me to show with this fight. I still remember how strange it was to be behind a camera and questioned about topics that weren’t military-related. The reporter was patient and kind and asked mainly about my readiness for a fight of this magnitude, but there’s one question that sticks out in my mind, one I was unable to truly answer. “What’s next for Jack Darcy?” she had asked, feline whiskers twitching as she looked up from her notes. I had been frozen to my seat, mildly caught off guard. What was next for me? What did I want? My life felt like it had been one crazy event after another, and I was just along for the ride. I remember answering something along the lines of doing whatever would make me happiest. It was purposefully vague but still the truth, even if I had no idea after all these years what would make me happy. I close my eyes, silencing the world around me for just one brief heartbeat in time, and, in that moment, I can almost hear the roar of the jet thrusters and feel the rushing wind of the landing aircraft that brought me to the first step of my journey to this stage. ---------- It was the first time I had ever seen anything so beautifully intricate and simplistic at the same time. My father, forever the mechanic, would go on for what seemed like hours about the elegant sturdiness of the Arwing, and he would explain the intricacies of its inner workings with such passion and excitement that I just didn’t have the heart to stop him despite my ten year-old brain’s inability to comprehend his technical ravings. When Katina’s annual air show rolled around, his normal excitement was only exaggerated. “Darcy men have always had a hand in the technological advancement of Lylat, Jack. We have a proud heritage in mechanical achievement.” He had told me as we took the public transport out to Katina Outpost. I had to have heard that line at least once a day from him, that goofy grin on his blunt red muzzle. I learned from my mother that this claim was fairly exaggerated but harmlessly so. My father genuinely loved his work and was proud to be a part of whatever project he was assigned to, so there was no reason to bring him back down to ground level and remind him that our family’s role in Lylat’s “technological advancement” was more of a fingerprint than a hand. I never gave mechanics much thought. It felt like a foreign language to me. It wasn’t until I saw the shining silhouette against the skyline that I caught a glimpse of my father’s excitement. It shot through the sky with such intense speed and managed to do it so effortlessly. “That's like the one James McCloud flew, right?” I asked as we climbed out at our stop, my mother keeping a firm hold on my shirt collar so as not to lose me in the crowd. “Yeah, it’s very similar.” He nodded with a serene smile, “It’s a newer version, a little more advanced. It’s one of Corneria’s top tier models.” “Cool,” my eyes lit up as I remembered once seeing the legendary pilot fly his Arwing on TV. “Let’s see if we can catch the last of its practice run.” My mom goaded me along with a smile. She didn’t need to tell me twice. My dad led the way through the crowd with me following at his heels. It was always easy to find him, thanks to the red of his fur and the stocky build of his bull terrier body. I took after my mother’s white and black coat, and between the three of us, it was hard to lose each other in a crowd. We came to the main runway of the airshow, and it was glorious. Aircraft in all shapes and sizes, from single-pilot fighters to massive air carriers, lined either side of the runway, and groups moved from one to another down the line. Booths were stationed at each craft, some informational, some from organizations associated with the outpost, and others recruitment for the Cornerian Defense Force. I watched the Arwing from before zip over the airfield and towards the outpost, bystanders cheering excitedly. “He’s going back to the hangar, and they’ll wheel the Arwing out to the show on the ground.” My dad explained. “We have some time, why don’t we have a look around?” My mom suggested, and she sauntered out with my dad, the hem of her pink sundress fluttering in the breeze. I followed behind, scittering around each craft we came across. Some of the booths had games, and others giveaway prizes. The CDF recruiters were holding various physical contests; several older teens tried their hand at the pull-up bar. One daring adult husky was strapped into a gyroscopic training wheel while watching a simulation through a VR headset. I saw a pair of my friends ooing and awing over the large carrier. All huddled together at the open docking ramp, they tried to sneak peeks inside the cargo bay. As soon as I came over to see them, we immediately fell into excited chatter. “The guy is giving tours of the inside.” My friend Max bounced excitedly on his feet, which made his floppy yellow ears bounce as well, “We’re waiting our turn to go in.” “Yeah, and we got the new kid to think there’s killer robots inside.” Hank, a blue heeler, snickered, “We told him the carrier was shipping defective robots and that it was running late and had to stop for the airshow with the robots still in the cargo bay.” “And…why are we telling him this?” I raised a brow in confusion. “Because he just went in for a tour, and when he comes out, we’re gonna record him screaming like a girl.” Max grinned. “It’s gonna be awesome.” Hank laughed, pulling out a miniature tablet from the pocket in his hoodie and unlocking it. “There’s no way he actually believes that. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard you guys come up with.” I rolled my eyes. They were normally good guys, but every now and then they would get a hold of a stupid idea. “Oh wait wait! Here he comes!” Max shushed me and ushered me aside while Hank set the camera on his tablet to record as a small group of people walked out with a Cornerian aircraft technician. The new kid they were talking about was trailing timidly at the back of the group. Grady Newell was a scrawny strange little cat gecko with deep reddish-brown scales, a thick curly tail and glittering silver eyes. He was in the same grade as us, but his size always made everyone think he was younger. He was afraid of everything and didn’t really talk to anyone, so no one knew much about him. This made him a pretty decent target for some of the bigger kids in the class. Max and Hank were just falling into the new fad as always. I watched as Max kept out of sight and sneaked around behind Grady on the ramp. “Hey Grady! How was it?” Hank called out, waving to the gecko. Grady waved with a shy smile, walking over to Hank, “It was really cool! But I didn’t see any of the—” Max jabbed his fingers into Grady’s sides with a loud “BZZZZT!” Sure enough, the color drained from Grady’s scales, and out came a shrill screech that nearly split my eardrums. Hank and Max howled in laughter as some of the nearby adults looked over at us in confusion. I felt my face and ears heat up in embarrassment. Grady had the good sense to run away from the attention he had caused. “Oh my god, I can’t breathe!” Max doubled over in laughter. “You guys, I think he peed himself.” Hank could barely get the words out. “Well I hope it was as awesome as you guys hoped.” I frowned uncertainly, “Can we go now? People are looking at us.” The rest of the afternoon, I was able to forget about my friends’ shenanigans with Grady. We roamed the airshow like we owned the place, checking out the fighters and touring the carriers. We even got to check out a flight simulation. As things began to die down, there was one last event, the one I had been waiting for. I said goodbye to Max and Hank and reunited with my parents to find a good spot for the Arwing flight demonstration. As everyone began to gather together, I noticed a familiar silhouette huddled under the wing of a small fighter, thick tail curled around him. Guilt churned in my stomach. Grady was always by himself, and the times he wasn’t weren’t much better. I knew I should have stopped Max and Hank from pranking him. Whether it was because I felt bad for him or for not stepping in, I wasn’t sure, but before I knew it, I was just a few steps away from him. He really did look pitiful. “Hey Grady?” I tried. The little gecko jumped slightly and looked over at me warily. I wasn’t sure how you could tell if a lizard had been crying, but I could tell somehow. “Listen,” I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly, “I’m sorry about earlier. Max and Hank are idiots, but they’re not bad guys.” “Oh,” Grady sniffed, “It’s okay, I guess. It’s my fault for being so scared all the time.” “You have to admit it was a pretty lame lie. Killer robots? Really?” I couldn’t help but laugh. Grady cracked a smile too. “Yeah, I didn’t believe them at first. They seemed so sure, though, so I thought maybe it was true.” “Rule number one with Max and Hank: if they have to convince you of something, they’re probably trying to fool you.” I laughed, “So…are you by yourself out here?” Grady nodded, a somewhat proud gleam in his eyes, “Yep! My mom works evening shifts, but I have a tram pass so I can get home from school.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card with his picture and name stamped on it, “So I used it to come to the airshow. I wanted to see the new Arwing.” “Woah, that’s really cool!” My eyes widened impressed. I didn’t have a tram pass, “Well the Arwing is getting ready to take off. If we hurry, we can find a good spot to watch.” “Really?” Grady’s silver eyes sparkled hopefully. We took off back towards the crowd, squeezing our way through to find any kind of gap where we could see. Being a couple of the shortest kids in our class, we understood the struggle. Finally, we were able to find a small spot at the front, just big enough for us to share. We watched the pilot board the Arwing from a hovering monitor, the actual fighter being some distance away for safety. The slate gray peregrine falcon just oozed coolness. With a loud boom, the Arwing took off, and we watched it take sharp turn after turn, somersault in graceful loops. I heard Grady gasp in awe next to me at the swirling flash of light it created from its barrel roll. The two of us had never been happier. My parents offered to give Grady a ride home, and the entire way there, we chatted up a storm. Grady was actually a pretty cool guy. He was just as much a fan of James McCloud as I was, maybe even more, and he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. We both collected and built model Arwings, liked a lot of the same TV shows, it couldn’t have been more perfect. We had no idea just how different our lives were going to be now that we had a friend in each other. -------------- Author's Note: And that concludes chapter 1! Keep an eye out for chapter 2, and thanks for reading. Shout-out to Tiger, Doc, Armin and Kurt for helping me name a couple of these characters!