This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
-The Hollow Men - TS Elliot
Johnny Cage was leaning against the wall, watching Liu Kang with the younger monks. They were laughing about something. Johnny smiled to himself. He was going to miss this place. He felt more comfortable here than he ever had in LA. His bags were packed and sitting in a corner of the room he was sharing with Liu and Sonya. Well, to be honest, Liu, Kitana, and Sonya, but there was no way he was going to complain about that. Kitana seemed to have no inhibitions and he and Sonya had a tendency to watch. He shook his head, no one would believe that he just lay there, exchanging eye rolls with Sonya at unimaginative sex talk and biting his lip not to laugh when she gave a full-bodied cat-sprayed-with-water shudder at the knowledge that Liu was definitely getting some and she wasn't.
It wasn't like he hadn't offered, but she'd looked down her nose at him. "Sorry, wrong equipment," she'd said lightly.
He grinned at her. "Yeah," he'd replied. She'd smacked his arm then, with every intention of reading him the riot act, but Rayden had shown up and distracted them.
His mind turned to the Lightening God. He sighed. He just wished he could remember why he was so familiar. It wasn't how he looked, or his speech patterns, it was something else. It was as if he'd known him all his life. He rubbed at his eyes, feeling them water without the protection of his RayBans. He missed those shades badly.
A crackle heralded Rayden's appearance. Johnny grinned over his shoulder. "Hey, Ray."
"A little respect, Johnny," Rayden replied, laughing. The God knocked him gently in the temple with a finger. He cocked his head to the side, sparkling blue eyes full of mirth and sadness. "Do you remember?"
And with that, the memories slammed into him. He blinked rapidly. "Oh," he whispered. "That explains things."
Rayden smiled, sadly this time. "Are there arrangements you need to make?"
"No, I tied everything up when I left. There's money for a memorial service, but I want to be in the water. Thought you knew that."
"You could have changed your mind."
"No, I've always loved the sea. That's why I was so disappointed to be stuck here."
"Do you want to say goodbye?"
Johnny paused. "No, I don't think so. It would just hurt them to know the truth. Can we go sit by my lake though?" Rayden was amused by the fact that Johnny had claimed the lake the instant he'd seen it and made no bones about showing it.
"Of course." Rayden tucked a companionable arm around Johnny's shoulder and they made their way through the temple. Liu looked at them with a fond smile. Everyone knew that Rayden had a soft-spot for the American. Johnny waved at him. He blew a kiss towards Sonya who gave him the finger in response. Rayden's grip grew more insistant and Johnny began to feel slightly light-headed. He grinned at the god, feeling sappy and sentimental.
It wasn't the sea, but it was water and right now Johnny wanted nothing more than to be near his first love. He ran his fingers through the cold water, smiling. "Do you want to go for a swim?" Rayden asked, smirking. Johnny shook his head. Rayden settled on the grass, under a tree. It was a good vantage point. Johnny joined him there, looking out over the water. The sun glinted off the ripples that the fish made.
"Ray, thanks," he said. "Just in case I forget to say it."
"No, thank you. You didn't have to do this."
"Yes, I did. High adventure. Fighting. Heroes. How could I resist? And the ultimate treasure." Johnny smiled. He laid on his back, head in Rayden's lap so that he could look at him as they talked. "I would have liked to have had my own ship and the yacht doesn't count. You can't feel the water like you can on an old rig. That's what made that ship we took to the competition so strange. I could barely feel the water." The conclusion was nice. All the little loose ends were being tied up. He shivered.
"Yes." There was no reason to lie to Rayden, not to the god who knew him better than anyone. Rayden took the younger man's hand and stroked it with his thumb. "Not long now."
"Take care of them?"
"Of course. Goodbye, Johnny Cage."
"See you around, Lord Rayden."
Johnny turned to watch the water. His eyes never closed, even as he whimpered softly. He went limp, boneless, in a way only the dead can. Rayden brushed a kiss over Johnny's temple. He sat there for a moment longer. He knew that the young man's spirit would be waiting for him, probably already mischieviously planning rain storms to soak Kitana or lightening storms to make his sea rise up in powerful waves. And Rayden wouldn't deny those plans. He looked forward to the sparkling humor that had held Johnny in the world when his adventures had been cut short.
"Lord Rayden?" Liu Kang called. The god realized that it was growning dark. Grey clouds were rolling in. He smiled. Already causing trouble for me, aren't you? he asked idly. He could hear laughter in the distant thunder. Liu went to his knees, checking for Johnny's pulse. "What happened, sir?" the young man asked. He was shaken, pale. "Lord Rayden?" he queried again when he got no response.
"The end of a long story, Liu. Go get a candle and insense. And bring Sonya back with you." The rain started in the distance and Rayden held it there, barely recognizing the decision. There were things for him to do here before he could leave to find laughter and the sea salt smell that no cologne ever hid. Liu returned quickly and Rayden smiled to himself. Sonya followed more slowly.
The young woman looked down at Johnny and said quietly, "Shit. Natural causes?"
"He knew he was sick?"
Rayden smiled. "I'll tell you the story in a moment. First, let me finish this." Rayden lifted Johnny into his arms. He wondered for a moment if this is what human parents felt like, carrying their sleeping children. He walked into the lake, no, into Johnny's lake. He'd claimed the place in life, let him have it in death as well. He stopped in the center of the water, looking up through the layers of filtered light with a smile. He laid the body down and made sure it would stay wedged. He kissed the slack brow with a fond smile, then teleported himself back to shore.
Liu had been busy lighting insense and candles while Rayden was gone. Sonya just shook her head. "You should have let me take him back to the states." Her voice was quiet. "There'll be questions."
"No, there won't," Rayden replied. Even now Johnny's things were disappearing, plans being put in order. Everything in his home was being auctioned off by order of the man himself. His house was on the market. The money was directed to charities across the world. There would be nothing for the police to worry about, except finding when he'd committed suicide. "Come, sit down and watch his lake." Rayden smiled as the younger two fighters looked at him. They'd managed to come out of the competition alive, but not unscathed. Their casual acceptance of Johnny's death told him that more clearly than anything.
The three of them sat on the grass, under the tree. Rayden looked out over the lake. "The man you know, isn't what you think him to be," Rayden began. The memories were crystal clear. Time held no meaning for the god, not really. He smiled at the memory.
It was 1875 when Johnny and Rayden first met. The young salior accompanied his captian to the temple for trading. The captain and the master of the temple were talking. Johnny was bored. He tried to talk to some of the men who were his age, but they didn't dare disobey their master and went back to their practice. Captian Parsons glanced at him. "Go on, this will take awhile. Get some land time." The rest of the crew was on shore leave.
"Thank you, Captian." Johnny left the courtyard and went to explore the land surrouding it. He stopped and stared at the lake, trying to find the source that fed it. Underground river, he decided. He debated going back toward the building to explore the walls, but decided against it. He waved at Lin, the Chinese man who'd brought them up here. The man was a seasoned sailor. He'd taken Johnny under his wing when he'd signed on at 15. Four years had past and Lin was still teaching him things that he didn't think anyone knew about. Niether of them had ever told the Captain, that was for sure. Johnny winced, thinking about Parsons' response if he found out Lin was "corrupting" a good Christian boy. Not that the man hadn't hinted at corrupting him in other ways, but that wasn't something Johnny thought about often either.
When Johnny turned back to the water, there was an old man walking along the edge of it. Johnny smiled at him and greeted him formally, the way Lin had tought him. The old man returned the greeting and kept on going. The young sailor found a nice outcropping and settled down on it. He trailed his fingers into the water, hoping that a fish might come inspect them. The old man returned. Johnny jumped up to help him with the basket he was carrying. He was waved away with an impatient hand. He didn't sit down again though. Captian would have his head if he wasn't respectful to his elders.
The man frowned at him. His eyes flashed blue and the sailor froze. He sat down abruptly and blinked. The man grinned at him. "Ah, I wondered if Lin had told you." The words were in English, the accent strange. "You know who I am?"
Johnny nodded, still stunned.
"Good. Your captain doesn't know."
"Who I am."
"But you don't mind?" Rayden's smile brought an echoing smile from the young man.
"We don't normally get visitors at the temple."
"Lin convinced the captian that you'd need supplies here."
"Very true. And we have crops to offer in return." Rayden nodded. "But why are you here?" the sentence trailed off, begging for a name.
"Sorry, sir. John Cage. You can call me Johnny." The young man shrugged. "Captain doesn't go anywhere without me, if he can help it."
"Are you hungry?"
Johnny looked at the basket. "No, sir," he said quietly. He was lying, but Rayden had known he would. The captain had made it clear that Johnny was to take nothing from their hosts until the negotiations were complete.
"He will never know."
"I'd tell him. It would be worse if he found out from someone else. He'd kill me." Johnny shrugged again. "I've never met a god before."
"You accept it well."
"I have a proposition for you," Rayden said. The young man blinked.
"Well, I never heard any stories like that from him."
The god chuckled and Johnny relaxed. "Not like that, although I wouldn't say no. No, this impacts more than simply you."
"You have my attention."
"First, a question. You carry a weapon. Have you ever killed?"
"Tell me about it."
"We were boarded. I fought to protect our ship and my captain. One of them had our cabin boy hostage. I took it rather personally."
Rayden chuckled. "Tell me, Johnny Cage, if I were to tell you that you could save the world, what would you say?"
"That you're pulling my leg. I'm nothing special."
"Yes, you are." Their eyes met and the young man shivered. "Let me tell you a story?"
Johnny nodded, voice gone.
"Jonathon!" Captain Cooper called. His protegee stood up, offering his hand to the old man he was sitting with. The man waved him off. Johnny bowed to him formally the way Lin might. The chuckle caught Cooper off gaurd. The old man smiled. Johnny strolled to meet his captain.
"Sir?" he said smiling. "Did the negotiations go well?"
"Very well. Arrange the transport of the grain."
"Yes, sir." The young man turned to walk down the hill to the harbor. His stomach growled.
"After dinner. Come, our hosts have offered us dinner. It's not much. They are poor. And what stories has that old man been telling you to make you smile?"
"Stories of quests and battle-fields beyond this world." Johnny smiled, eyes light like a summer's sky.
"As long as it's nothing more. Your father would be upset if I were to allow you to be corrupted by Chinamen."
"It's too late for that, my dear captain." Johnny's voice was wistful. "And if you think I haven't been corrupted in general, I think you need to get out more when you're on shore leave."
The captain laughed. He put a companionable arm around the younger man. "Tell me, Johnny, could I corrupt you further?"
The blue eyes studied him, looking far older than the last time he'd noticed them. "No, sir." The tone of the words was soft. "If you'd asked before I turned sixteen maybe, but after that? No." A wicked grin curled Johnny's lips up, "It was a birthday present."
Cooper's brows rose. "From whom? You're father is going to have me hanged."
"From the Baker, of course. You chose not to join us on shore, remember? Something about not being able to tell my father anything you didn't know about?"
Cooper felt the sad smile on his face. "You've grown. You'll have your own ship soon, God willing."
"And then maybe you won't be frightened to act on your instincts." Johnny stepped away lightly from the arm around his shoulders. "You've been keeping me at arm's length for years. I'm sorry, sir. My mouth has gotten away from me," he added. The tone was light and Cooper pretended to accept it as a joke.
They ate the meager dinner the monks provided. Johnny spoke to them easily, without needing a translator except occasionally. They slept on the pallets that the monks themselves did. Cooper laid awake in the night, listening to the soft breathing of the young man who'd been by his side since his tenth birthday. In a few more years he'd be free of his contract. Lightening arched across the sky in a dazzling display, but there was no wind or rain to accompany it. He heard Johnny's voice, mumbling low, his peaceful sleep transformed into a nightmare. He reached over and laid a hand on his forehead. It was drenched with sweat and burning to the touch.
Fear clenched Cooper's stomach. The illness had set on quickly. Perhaps it was merely the nightmares, but perhaps it was more. He sat up and found his handkerchief. He used it to wipe the sweaty brow. He stayed there until morning. Lin settled next to them. Johnny didn't wake though they called his name repeatedly. Cooper sighed. "I'll arrange the transfer, Lin. Do you think he'll be well enough to move him to the ship?"
"We will see, Captain. I will sit with him and try to break his fever."
Cooper was content with that. Lin considered Johnny his grandson and would watch him carefully. "I'll be back as soon as I can, Johnathon," he promised.
Johnny's eyes opened at Rayden's touch. Lin had stepped away, head bowed. "Hello," the young man said. "You're in my head," he whispered.
"You saw the future," Rayden said calmly. "Do you wish it to pass that way?"
"No," Johnny whispered. "But I don't recognize that world."
"You have a choice, Johnny Cage." The voice was soft, but the words cut deeply. "The illness that has taken hold will kill you within the week if you return to your ship. Stay and you will be healed."
"The price for this miracle?"
"You will be taken out of time. You will resume your life in a different time and fight in the tournament."
"No garauntee that I'll survive that is there?"
Rayden's lips curled up. "You see more than many men your age."
"I won't survive the tournament even if I survive the fight, will I?"
"No," Rayden replied. "But you will have a few more years of life and you will die a hero."
Johnny laughed at that. "I want to live."
Rayden leaned down and placed a kiss on Johnny's forehead. "Your captain will recieve word that you must stay here. Go to sleep. I'll be here when you awake."
Liu Kang and Sonya Blade stared at the god. "You're serious. He knew he was going to die? Johnny Cage, the most irritating man I've ever met?" Sonya demanded.
"Yes, he knew, Sonya." Rayden tipped his head listening to something the humans couldn't hear.
"He's with you now, isn't he?" Liu asked quietly.
"As he has been more than a century," Rayden answered. "I'm leaving. You should return to the temple. There's a storm coming in." Rayden was gone in a flicker of light.
Liu bowed his head, then turned to make his way back to the temple. Sonya didn't follow. She looked out over the lake. "Geeze, Johnny, why didn't you tell me?" She shook her head. "Goodbye, Cage."
She followed Liu's footsteps back to the temple.