It was a miracle that Chase remained sitting, and not on top of his psychiatrist, with his throat in his jaws. Fire burned within Chase as his psychiatrist droned on, in an uncaring tone that screamed -how much longer before I can take my lunch break? And Chase had sat through more than enough sessions to know that what he wanted to hear, the words of hope he craved, were not going to be spoken this time. He only picked up on words here and there: unstable, unforeseen side effects, increased doses and wait a little longer.

A hot breath left his mouth as his name was called. He looked up from his mental anguish to the doctor in front of him as he tapped his clipboard impatiently.

"Are you listening, Chase?"

"What did you say? Sorry."

Dr. Edward's leaned forward and crossed one leg over the other and watched him, analyzing. "Chase, I wish you would have said something sooner about these side effects, we could have been passed this stage by now."

Chase lowered his head and sighed, he knew he was right, but what choice did he have?


Dr. Edward's nodded his head and looked up from his clipboard. "How long has this been going on, the hallucinations?"

"I started seeing him in my nightmares, after last Christmas. That went on for seven months. It wasn't until these last three months that I started seeing him during the day. . . and with my recovery almost complete, I refused to give Ryder any more reason to keep me from doing my job."

"It is interesting that as you got closer to your goal, and the stress increased, that your hallucinations became more aggressive. I wish you would have told me about your nightmares sooner."

"I told you, nightmares aren't exactly a new occurrence for me, and I didn't think anything of it until I started seeing him during the day."

"And what made you say anything at all? Were you really so determined to hide this from your family?"

Chase hesitated as anger flooded him, and he bit his tongue so he didn't shout his answer. "I had a bad day, worse than usual and my team took notice, they were there for all of it. I had a panic attack. They went to Ryder when I couldn't be reasoned with and I broke down in front of them all."

"And this angers you?"

"Of course it does. Ryder wouldn't let me continue training until I saw you."

Chase let out a heavy sigh as a small smile formed across his muzzle, "But now that we have figured out it is just a side effect to the medication, that means I can continue training?"

The room grew tense and Dr. Edwards seemed to shiver.

"Chase. Firstly, communicating with me about what's going on, including side effects, as they happen, will only help you during this process." He let out sigh, "I'm afraid based on everything you told me, the last thing you need right now is more stress. I'm sorry, but I don't advise you to go on any high stress rescues until we get you on a treatment plan that works, and you stabilize."

The fire spread. His jaw clenched together as he stared his doctor down, feeling every muscle tighten and coil, ready to launch. "You don't think I can do it either? You, my team, you're all the same. Telling me what I can and can't do and I'm sick of it!"

He wouldn't stop pushing himself until he was back to his role, back to some sense of normality. Nobody would understand, not even Everest, that getting back to rescuing, would be a more effective antidepressant than anything else his doctor could prescribe him.

"Chase try and understand that what you went through and the changes that came out of it are not to be taken lightly. You need to be patient with yourself, healing takes time."

"Why do you think I am trying so hard to get back to rescuing? Once I get back to rescuing, everything else will fall into place."

"Chase, that will not heal the trauma, and you may never be able to get back to where you were, I think you -"

"No!" Chase jumped down from the couch and pushed the ajar door open and stormed out, kicking the door closed. He didn't bother to wait for a response. Didn't bother to make another appointment. Neither of those things could help him. He had a much bigger appointment today, a test he would not fail, not again. This would be exactly what he needed. Not more medicine. No more talking. Only determined action and prayer could help him now.

Chase's heart pounded as he ran in place on the treadmill inside the physical therapy center that had been his second home for the last eight months. He didn't focus on anything outside of the poster in front of him nailed to the wall. Repeating the words "Believe" printed on it in big red letters in his head.

A bumper sticker slogan that he, under normal circumstances, would have taken for granted. Today was different. It was the third stress test he was taking in the span of his recovery and this time he would pass. And Ryder would have no other choice but to clear him for active duty. No more doubts.

A beep pulsed from the machine and the speed of the track increased. Chase quickened his pace to stay on board, watching as the timer in front of him counted down at a snail's pace.

Shaking his head, he tightened his core and drove his paws harder into the rubber track, swallowing built up saliva in his mouth to quench his burning throat.

"90 meters, Chase." Ryder's voice came through his pup tag.

He pushed harder, knowing that each step was one step closer to returning to active duty.

Briefly, he scanned his body for any discomfort or warning sign and tried to ignore the eyes that were on him. Scrutinizing his every move. He glanced over to the mirror against the wall, not needing to see through it to know what was on the other side.

His trainers, monitoring his vitals being recorded by the sensors attached to his fur. More importantly, Ryder and Everest were there, analyzing him and the flood of data collected by the sensors: his blood pressure, body temperature, blood-oxygen levels, and heartbeat patterns. The pair looking for completely different things.

Everest, most likely, watched his face more than anything, scrutinizing his features. If he showed pain or discomfort, she would shut the test down, like she had done before. She, more than anyone, knew how badly Chase wanted to pass, having had countless late-night conversations with him about the brighter future he was working towards.

Ryder was more concerned with Chase completing the test. He wasn't taking any chances, and was as strict, if not more than Everest about making sure Chase was physically fit before returning to duty. This is what he had drilled into Chase's head throughout his recovery and countless physical therapy sessions. This stress test was the last of many stipulations Ryder had set for him to pass if he were to be cleared for duty.

It was all on him. He had to pass. Failure was not an. . . No.

Not now.

Familiar pain wove through his back and trickled down to his legs, starting as it always did, but the end was in sight, only 50 meters left. He pushed harder, trying to ignore the fact that he had never made it much further past this point.

"Ease up, Chase, you're not going to make it." Ryder's voice came through his pup tag.

Chase gritted his teeth, sprinting flat out, ignoring him and the electric current surging down his limbs, shocking him with each step and took several off balance steps before recovering.

30 meters.

"Chasey, you need to stop." Everest was inside the room now. Wide eyed with her ears pinned to her head.

Any anxiety he had was burned off as he sprinted in place, the machine rattled in protest as he stomped against the track. Fire replaced the air in his lungs and he clenched his teeth together. They were wrong! He was going to make it. He pushed harder; his limbs burning. Bright spots began to intrude his vision while his limbs lost their strength and turned to jelly.

Fire tore up his insides, weaving through the metal screwed into his back and hitting him like a bullet. He growled viciously as his back legs collapsed and his chest slammed into the moving belt, and he was tossed back onto the linoleum floor like a ragdoll. He had failed his stress test. Again.

Chase lye on his side, the pain crippled him. Looking up at the bright fluorescent lights they swirled with the walls as they shifted and wiggled before normalizing. A black wolf came in and out of focus, staring down at him, before vanishing as Everest came to his side, on her haunches cradling his head before he could normalize his breathing. The weight of his reality cut up his insides as he saw the disappointed look on Ryder's face as the door opened and everyone rushed inside.

Before he could hide the pain he was in. He tried to stand with his front legs but Everest kept him down and held his head in her lap. His muzzle leaked out growls as he breathed, his teeth locked together and he squeezed his eyes shut and winced as Everest met his eyes.

"Stay still, Chase."

He would have fought against anyone else in her position, had done so in the past and sent one of his therapists to get stitches, but he was helpless against her soothing touch that cut through his anger. Her claws found their way to his neck again and burrowed underneath his fur and scratched against his skin.

"Breathe, baby," she said, rubbing the side of his cheek as he let hot tears spill down his muzzle as the fire inside him spread.

Footsteps stopped close to him and when he blinked the water out of his eyes, Ryder was standing close to Everest, kneeling down in front of him. The door opened and two therapists came in to detach the wires, less than fazed by his wipe out. His eyes closed, not wanting to see Ryder's disappointed look anymore and buried his face into Everest's tummy.

The therapists surrounded him, and only after Everest had given them the ok, they began poking and prodding his body in various places, asking if anything hurt, keeping clear of his lower back and focused on his limbs. After passing a few physical tests for fractures and a checkup of his vitals, Chase was cleared to go home. Following Ryder, he limped out of the clinic with his head down and tail drooping. Everest drove them home in his cruiser; he didn't even try to fight her on that one.

Chase barely noticed the drive home, all of his surroundings blurred together and the constant droning sound of tires against the pavement kept him distracted from thinking about what awaited him when he got home, Ryder would not be happy with the result of his test. He snapped out of his dream-like trance as the engine cut off and he found himself back home. He turned to Everest, and as if she read his mind, tried to reassure him.

"It will be ok, you did so well today, he can't ignore how hard you've been working."

A small smile graced his muzzle. Thank God one of us is an optimist, he thought. It was one of the things he loved most about her.

Chase sighed and eased his way out of the truck and down to solid ground, and Everest brushed against him as he tried to get his footing.

"I'm ok," he said, smiling as his muscles screamed in protest against his movements. "Though I won't be doing much more for the rest of the day."

Everest nodded and pecked him on the lips. "You don't have a choice mister. I already booked the rest of your day, rest and relaxation."

"Lead the way," he said, and the two of them made it inside and when Chase looked back, thankfully, there was no sign of the wolf.

Ryder was waiting for them, tapping on his pup pad. His movements were tense and Chase had half a mind to ignore him when Ryder looked up and spotted him.

Curiosity got the best of him. "What are you looking at, Ryder, sir?"

The boy sighed and pushed off of the counter he had been leaning against and squatted down to Chase's level, the screen reflecting off of his eyes as he turned it to Chase.

"These are your stats from the stress test. Why don't you take a look?" Ryder sighed as Chase scrutinized the tablet. "Do you see anything? A pattern?"

Chase cocked his head as he took in the data, his heart rate had been normal enough, 150 bpms, what about his oxygen levels? Those were fine too. What was he missing?

"Nothing out of the ordinary, sir."

Ryder tapped one of the tabs marked, distance, and then history, and the window expanded, showing the length of each of his runs.

"You have taken the stress test three times, and each time you made it to the two-mile mark, and each time you couldn't push yourself past that."

"I am still working up to it," Chase said.

"All I'm saying is that the results are concerning. I can't feel good about you rescuing if your body can't handle it. I hate to say this, but you may need to prepare yourself for the possibility that you might never return to full active duty."

Chase wilted and his ears fell to their sides, "No. Ryder, I can do it. I will train harder, I can get back to where I was."

Ryder hummed to himself, before looking Chase in the eyes. His stare was piercing as he scrutinized Chase.

"We will see. With your current performance levels, I will keep you on standby until your stats improve. Which reminds me, how did your therapy session go?"

Chase stood a little taller, he had an answer to that at least. "The hallucinations were a side effect to the medication, and they should go away once I stop taking it."

Ryder seemed to accept this answer and scratched Chase's head. "Well, that is good news. So he thinks you have processed everything enough to stop taking it?"

Chase gave him a tight nod and tried to ignore the twisting of his stomach. "The end is almost in sight, just need to push myself harder. Nothing I can't handle."

Sorry, Ryder, Dr. Edwards, but he knew what he needed to feel better. Not more medication, not more therapy or processing more emotions. The time for words was over and now it was up to him and the action he took. Just a little more, more pressure. More training and time and he would be back to normal. He tried to ignore the twisting of his stomach as doubts lingered in his mind. Not daring to think about what would happen if he was wrong.