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>>the cards — chapter nine: blackjack::

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>>THE CARDS — CHAPTER NINE: BLACKJACK::

Ringshadow

Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue. I do not own Star Fox 64, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

 

Dr. Coraline DeSauza sat back in her chair, tapping her pencil on the pad of paper in front of her, pondering her current patient. She was growing used to this, in a way. For years the majority of her patients had been soldiers, mercenaries and otherwise. Most soldiers were never happy about the idea of therapy, especially when mandated, but they got over it, and some even came back of their own volition.

Bringing her to this patient. She hadn't seen him since a year before the war, and his visits weren't exactly scheduled. She'd tried to talk him into regular visits and failed, so he just turned up whenever he felt like it, and she tried to fit him into the appointment schedule. On this day, he'd asked her for a long session and had spent an hour catching her up on what he'd been dealing with. He was still a mercenary, though independent now, and seemed to be under massive stress related to the construction of a base. He was working regularly and was in a relationship situation that she could describe as interesting, and had required her to draw a graph to keep track of it while he talked about it.

"Well, you've definitely been busy. Let's discuss the base factor first, shall we?"

Wolf looked up and shrugged. He was slouched in one of the overstuffed leather easy chairs his shrink kept in her office, in casual clothes. Getting back to Corneria had required a fake ID, among other things, but he didn't want to try to find a shrink on the fringe. Hell, he hated the sheer concept of therapy, but he had grown to trust Dr. Coraline over the years. Ever since his eye had been blinded, he'd come back to her office, on and off. He had a favorite chair there and she knew how he liked his coffee. It almost felt ritualistic, and whenever he felt wound, he came back. Coraline herself was in her thirties, a just slightly overweight dark-furred hamster. He liked her a lot, and always bet that her fur was velvet soft, but she probably would have broken one of his fingers. "Whatever you say, Doctor."

"I understand you can't give me a lot of details, but from you've said you're dealing with solid volcanic rock. That's going to be expensive to excavate, especially if you're trying to expedite the construction." She pondered, picking up her coffee cup. "So you're bleeding money, plus fighting with the architect, and trying to pick all the materials yourself. AND you're working on top of that, at least a few jobs a month."

"Sounds like a pretty good short version."

"Do you have to keep working during the construction?"

"Have to pay for it somehow. I'm financing some of the stuff for the buildings, but I'd rather pay outright for the excavation."

"Well, my professional opinion is, you've stretched yourself too thin. You're trying to do too much, and you're going to reach a limit sometime soon."

He sighed, picking up his café latte and taking a long drink. "I know."

"So, what do you plan on doing about it?"

"I don't know where to start."

"Surely there's someone else you can trust to help you with construction."

"Leon might be able to help but I'm not sure he knows anything about this."

"Well, ask him. He'll be there as well, right?"

"If everything goes like it should."

"Well, then, he should at least be able to help you get materials ordered and make sure that the suppliers are keeping in line. Maybe he can handle the architect as well." She took a drink of her coffee. "And, personally, I think you'd do well to find more people to work with on a regular basis. Help spread the load out."

"I'm actually looking into finding another pilot."

"Good. Now on to this… relationship situation." She looked at the graph she drew and lifted an eyebrow. "How do you feel about it, Artemis?"

"I fucking HATE when you use my name, Doctor Coraline."

"I know, but I'm still going to use it, we established that years ago. So, how do you feel about it?"

Wolf growled and slouched forward, leaning on his knees and folding his ears back, looking at her from under his brows. "That's a kind of broad question, can you narrow it down for me?"

"Let's start with this 'J' then." She tilted her head, watching his body language. "You like him a lot, that much is obvious. Any problems with him?"

"Not yet… but if he finds out what happened with his son…" Wolf wove a hand dismissively and flopped back. "I'm sure his reaction won't be positive."

"Do you plan on telling him about it?"

"Not if I can possibly avoid it." He sighed. "I mean even if I tell him voluntarily, there's not exactly a way to introduce it delicately! 'Oh by the way, I lost control of myself and banged your son. Twice.'"

"I see your point, but the question is are you avoiding talking about it because you want to save your own skin, or because you don't want to jeopardize your relationship with him?"

Wolf opened, then closed his mouth, thinking about his wording before speaking. "I don't want to watch him walk away."

"Then why even touch his son?"

"Trust me, if you saw his son you'd know."

"He was asking for it dressing like that, the little slut?"

Wolf laughed in spite of himself. "No, no… Trust me, I don't like thinking of myself as a date rapist, and I don't like that it happened, but I can't exactly go back and undo it. All I can do is move forward and hope it doesn't happen again."

"So, what if he does ask for it?"

He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. "I don't know, Dr. Coraline. He has a girlfriend. I'm probably interfering with something. I'd have to turn him down."

"Then he's a non-issue?"

"I… I don't know."

She waited, but he stayed silent, staring at the ceiling. "In a way, I think this is healthy."

He looked at her and blinked once. "What?"

"Oh come on. All these years you've been coming to see me and you've never even mentioned a relationship to me. Granted you're in a mess with the current one, but at least it's a relationship. You just need to figure out what to do with it."

He sighed. "J's not exactly the monogamous type…"

"And that's bothering you. Have you even tried to discuss this with him?"

"No."

"I suggest you do so, and soon. At least, you'll know where you stand." He nodded, and when he stayed silent, she continued. "Are you still drawing?"

"Yeah. I'm painting now as well." He finished the café latte. "It's sort of turning into a real hobby. It's still a therapy thing, but I actually enjoy doing it now."

She smiled. "Glad to hear. Our time is about up, do you have anything else to discuss?"

He sighed. "No, not really."

"No, or not really?"

He glared at her. "No."

"Alright. Thank you for coming to see me, I'm glad that you made it through the war in one piece."

"Because I pay in advance, right?"

She laughed. "Oh, do give yourself SOME credit. Though I would appreciate if you would call for an appointment in advance."

"I will from now on." He stood and offered his hand, she shook it. "I may visit again, in a few weeks."

"I look forward to it. Good luck, Artemis."

Wolf shook his head and picked up his jacket, leaving the office.

Later that evening, Wolf was starting to feel really uncomfortable on Corneria. He had the assurance that Felix would call him if his cover had been blown but that didn't make him feel much better. It was incredibly risky, coming back here. But he'd wanted to see his shrink, and he had to talk to someone about business.

He REALLY needed to do something about his fucking bounty…

The bar was low-key at least, though it was also borderline a dive. Dressed casually and carrying a leather messenger bag, he still barely blended, but found a seat in a booth toward the back, accepting a beer from a waitress that he wasn't planning on drinking. He'd been sitting nearly half an hour when the person he was waiting for turned up.

"I saw you as taller."

He looked up and grinned. "I saw you as less manicured. Have a seat."

Panther Caroso snorted and sat down across from him, slouching. "I trust you're alone."

"Yes, my coworker is outside the system."

"You've got some brass balls, you know. I could take you in for bounty right now and make a god damn pretty penny. In fact, give me a reason I shouldn't."

Wolf looked at him calmly. He'd heard of Caroso in passing, but had never actually met him. Caroso was the sort of the guy normal mercenaries talked about in low tones: a professional assassin as well as pilot, and a damn good one. He tended to work alone, the sort of guy who left black roses to warn his targets before taking them out. He had a low voice that almost purred, and was immaculate in appearance. Clean, trimmed, the build of a swimmer. Supposedly a womanizer, not that Wolf cared. "Because you're a professional, and I have a business proposition."

Panther smiled a touch. "Alright, give me the bottom line."

Wolf did, keeping his explanation short. He and his copilot did jobs on the fringe and they had reached the limit they could do with only two fighters. He needed another pilot, and was willing to pay an even split of the pay for good work. Usual work included escort and police-style patrols, and the occasional bounty. Money was good, and consistent. Panther merely nodded and only looked like he was half-listening until Wolf mentioned the under-construction base.

"A military base? That's rather extravagant for a two-pilot team."

"Say what you will, I'm tired of hotels and apartment buildings don't have fighter plane parking, let alone good built-in defenses."

"How far along is this installation?"

Wolf opened his messenger bag, taking out his laptop, well aware that Panther had tensed and moved a hand when he'd unzipped the bag. "Still in the excavation stage. It'll be probably six months before it's finished, everything installed. I have blueprints on this if you want to see."

"Yes, I would like to see them. Describe the facility to me."

He turned on the laptop and brought up the blueprints, shoving the laptop over to Panther, who took it. "Partly underground, low profile. Multiple power sources, good sized fighter hanger, large private crew quarters. Built in defenses."

"Who drew up the prints?"

"Some douche of an architect from the fringe who is known for this sort of thing. He's been dicking me around though, so not everything you're looking at is totally final."

Panther was silent for several minutes, intent on the blueprints, then stopping and blinking. "What the fuck. Has this architect even been in a kitchen?"

Wolf blinked. "I have to assume. It looked alright to me, and he said it'd impress any visitor and have enough storage space."

"He's full of shit. This is a crap kitchen." Panther turned the screen so they could both see it, pointing with one finger. "The work triangles are all fucked up, and it isn't large enough. It's like he took a kitchen layout from a fucking house design and is expecting it to work efficiently in a military base. In fact, that looks like that's exactly what he did, and it isn't even a good layout for a fucking house." When Wolf just blinked at him, he sighed. "You bought equipment for this yet?"

"Well, no…"

"Good, because what he's got planned is shit too. This needs to be redone, at the very least you need a different layout, more space, and a reach in as well as a walk in."

Wolf looked at him for a long moment. "Work with me as a pilot and I'll let you revise the blueprints for the kitchen as you see fit."

Panther looked at him, a bit surprised. "Really?"

"Yes, but only if you agree to work with the architect for me. He's not listening to a word I say and I could use a hand with this, and god knows that my other copilot is about as clueless as I am to design."

"Hmmm." Panther stared at the design for a long moment. "It's a tempting offer, actually. Good money and a safe place to land. Have some questions for you first though."

"Sure."

"Who's your copilot?"

"Leon Powalski."

"Seriously? Fuck me, you're tougher than you look then." The feline snickered. "Never met him, but I've heard about him. Does he really carve his initials into the people he interrogates?"

"I wouldn't know. He just flies with me. I've never taken an interest in his occasional side work."

"You trust him?"

"I pay him. He's had my back in the past, and we get along. So I suppose I do."

"Fair enough. Any other allies I should know about?"

"I work fairly closely with an informant called the Devil's Advocate, and Felix Leopard through him, so I don't plan on crossing them any day soon."

"Any enemies?"

Wolf hesitated. "Not… exactly."

Fox shifted the strap of the instrument case that crossed his chest, unlocking the apartment's door and sticking his head in. "Katt? You home?"

"In the kitchen!"

He came fully in and locked the door behind him, dropping the keys into the key dish as he went by, stopping and leaning on the wall, smiling at Katt. She was wearing daisy dukes and a halter top, kneading dough. "There's a sight for sore eyes. How have you been?"

She grinned at him. "Speak for yourself, gorgeous, it's only been what, nearly three weeks since I last saw you?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry, I was working." He sighed, moving to hug her from behind, burying his muzzle into her neck and inhaling slowly. It'd been irritating when the job order had come in at first, two days after his encounter with Wolf on Aquas. Katt had been working long shifts those days, so he went on the job without getting to see her first. Hell, that they'd gotten a job offer had been a surprise, and the bigger one was that it was an odd sort of black op. His father probably wouldn't have approved, being big on honor in spite of being a mercenary, but it had been good money and not difficult work, just drawn out.

"That's fine, baby." She leaned back into him, tail wrapping down one of his legs. "Falco told me you got in a fight?"

He coughed. "I'll tell you about it later. What are you making?"

"Braided bread loaves."

"Really?" He looked at the dough she was working with. "That's talented."

"Hold your opinions until the bread's done, I haven't done this in a while." She dusted more flower on the cutting board then started braiding the bread, looking at him when he shifted to lean against the counter. "Is that a guitar case?"

"Oh, no, but it is an instrument."

"OH! Is it that banjo thing that drives Falco insane?"

He grinned. "Short answer, yes. It's a shamisen. I was hoping to hang out here tonight, maybe play some music for you?"

"You're always welcome here." She grinned and used a floury hand to grab the strap of the instrument case, reeling him in. "I've had a sort of hard time at work lately… I plan on abusing you for a few hours tonight."

He grinned back, tongue flicking out to brush her nose. "It's only abuse if I don't want it."

"Hah." She let him go, transferring the braided loaves to an oiled sheet, brushing butter on top of the loaves before loading the sheet into the oven. "So how did work go?"

"Interesting. It was basically a glorified escort quest on the edge of the Lylat System, can't go into it much more than that." He scratched the back of his neck, watching her set the timer. "I mean it wasn't hard, but it was tedious and long hours. We only got attacked twice."

"Sounds like easy money, then." She poured two cups of coffee and handed him one, going into the living room.

"Yeah, it was overall." He trailed after her, claiming a side of the couch, setting his instrument case on the floor next to him. "I'm not sure I'd want to do that sort of job often, but hell, anything that ups my reputation is good."

She sat down on the other side of the couch, tucking her feet under herself and looking at him curiously. "Not sure why you're worried about that. You have a good reputation with the people who matter."

He lifted an eyebrow, taking a drink of his coffee. "Who matters?"

"General Pepper, Felix, and me." She grinned at him, swatting at his tail playfully. "Felix told me to keep an eye on you."

Fox stared off briefly, trying to dig up some memories. Even talking to Felix on the phone had sparked some odd familiarity, and he had some vague cloudy memories of Felix sitting at the table with his father. He'd been a kid still, eight or nine? His dad had been happy, that stuck out. Actually it was surprising how much that stuck out. His father had tended to be a sort of carefree guy, but he'd never remarried. Hell, he'd never taken the rings off.

Wait. Rings?

"You ok, babe?"

Fox startled at the feel of Katt's hand on one of his shoulders, looking at her. "Yeah, I'm fine, sorry."

"You been sleeping well?"

"Actually… Yeah. I stopped using the drugs." He smiled in spite of himself, sipping the coffee. "Which is nice, actually. It isn't so much that I'm sleeping better, it's that I'm waking up better."

"Really? You stopped using the sleep drugs?" Katt lit up, moving to give him a hug and a kiss. "That's awesome. Are you still having nightmares?"

He grinned, returning the embrace, stretching to set his coffee on the coffee table. "No. Well, not really. I'm having some vivid dreams but nothing where I wake up yelling or anything."

There were several moments of content silence, the pair just sitting together on the couch. Fox sighed and settled his arms around her waist, tucking his face into her hair. Katt nuzzled him and eventually shifted so she was leaning back against him, picking up her coffee from the table. "So what happened that you went off the meds?"

"I, uh…" He hesitated, picking up his coffee as he tried to find a good way to put it. "I came to terms with myself."

Katt tilted her head back and looked at him, blinking. "That's… good?"

"Yeah. I'll give you the full story later, if you promise not to neuter me."

She laughed in spite of herself. "Oh, hell no, I'd never do that, I get use out of those."

Fox choked on his coffee, hacking for several moments before he could reply. "Fair enough."

She giggled and reached down, groping his leg. "Willing to get that guitar thing out?"

"Eh, sure." He reached down, popping the case open and carefully fishing the shamisen out, setting it in his lap then grabbing the tool used to play it out of the case. "This thing is called a bachi, it's like a guitar pick." He handed it to her, she pondered it curiously, sitting up and turning to look at him. "Believe it or not, it can cost as much as the instrument."

"That's a lot of money for a wooden paint scraper."

Fox laughed and accepted the tool back, shifting the way he was sitting and moving the body of the shamisen to sit on one of his thighs, tucked close to his body. "No kidding. But what the fuck, right? I didn't want to be yet another two-bit hack playing guitar, especially when half the guys in school and at the academy played guitar in an attempt to pick up chicks."

"So you play an oriental banjo to pick up chicks."

"No, I play it because I needed a hobby, any chicks acquired is a fringe benefit." He grinned at her, one hand splaying on the strings as he brought the bachi down in a practiced motion.

She was actually rather surprised. She couldn't remember if she'd heard one played before, and the bright jangly tone did seem sort of banjo-like, though not in an offputting way. What amazed her was that it seemed that Fox wasn't just playing around with the instrument, his hands practically flew on the strings, nodding to himself with the beat of what he was playing. It took her several minutes to recognize the tune as a mainstream rock song, which still somehow worked oddly well on the shamisen.

Eventually he eased out of the popular music and into a simple tune, looking at her with a half-smile. "What do you think?"

"I like it. It's happy. And it looks really good with you for some reason."

He grinned, strumming lightly. "Thanks."

They sat there for a while, him playing random songs, her listening happily and telling him how her last few weeks had gone. She worked as an assistant flight instructor at the academy, which was experiencing an abnormally high number of recruits with their grounds still under repair from the war. Midterm week had finished a week ago, which she was glad for because it'd been utter hell.

"Thank god for catnip or I would have lost my damn mind." She concluded, laughing weakly.

He snorted, lifting an eyebrow at her. "Doesn't catnip make felines horny?"

"Depends on the feline, wiseass. It doesn't bother you?"

"Katt, you're abusing a mint. Why the hell would I care?" Fox shook his head. "It's not like it's addictive. If anything else, I'm irritated that there isn't anything like that for vulpines, or even just canids."

She giggled and moved, on her hands and knees on the couch, licking his muzzle once playfully. "Actually, you might be surprised. A lot of mammals are very mildly affected by it, it just hits felines the hardest."

Fox set his shamisen into the case and set the tool on top of it before combing a hand through Katt's hair, licking her back with a little playful growl. She was halfway through straddling him when the timer in the kitchen went off, making her sigh and make a face, climbing back off of him to go check on her bread.

"Did I just get cock blocked by baked goods?" He asked after a moment, tilting his head back to rest on the back of the couch and looking at her as well as he could from that angle, nose twitching as he inhaled the welcome scent of bread.

"No, you got cock delayed by baked goods. If I was on nip, it'd be a worse delay because I'd eat half a loaf of this and pass the fuck out." She laughed, setting the sheet on top of the stove and turning the oven off. "Looks like they turned out good. Want a piece?"

"Maybe in a bit?" He asked, taking off his shoes and flopping on the couch, stretching out and staring at the ceiling. "I love your couch."

She returned to the living room, leaning on her elbows on the back of it and grinning down at him. He grinned back. "You only say that because we've done it in like three different positions on it."

"I bet I could think of a few more."

"Save it for the bedroom cowboy."

He sat up and turned to kneel on the couch facing her, lacing his hands with hers and giving her a tender kiss, nibbling at her warmly. She purred in surprise and returned it, eyes lulling, smiling softly when he backed off. "You do know I care a lot for you, right?"

Katt tilted her head, looking at his concerned expression, surprised. "I have gotten the definite impression you like me, yes." She snickered.

"Wiseass." He kissed her nose gently.

"You know you like it."

"Oh, no, I utterly hate it and want nothing more than a subservient woman that walks three steps behind me."

"Bastard!" Katt vaulted the couch and tackled him, driving him off the couch in the process. Happily he missed the coffee table, oofing as he landed on his back on the carpet with her sitting on him, hands tangled into his chest fur. "You know I own your ass!"

Fox gasped a few times to get air back in his lungs, which proved difficult because he was laughing helplessly, hands on Katt's hips. "Really? What good is my ass to you?"

"I could rent it out and make a mint." She reached down and tried to pinch an inch off his stomach, and failed. "A body this beautiful? Bet I could get a thousand credits per hookup."

"I live to serve you, my pimp." Fox said this so deadpan Katt burst into laughter, grinning when she did and deciding that that was a wonderful time to start tickling her. She yipped and protested vainly, her claws eventually convincing him it was time to stop and collapsing on top of him once she had, giggling weakly. He smiled and shook his head, relaxing on the carpet and closing his eyes, taking in the feeling of her laying on top of him.

"Don't fall asleep on me, babe." Katt gave him a narrow look, even though he couldn't see it, poking one of his sides.

"Mm. I'm not, you just feel good."

"And I still have my clothes on. You're easily satisfied."

"I spent the last three weeks on the world's most tedious escort quest with my buddies; of course I'm easily satisfied. Honestly, right now I'm just praising the galaxy for boobs."

"My milkshake brings all the ace pilots to the yard."

Fox burst into laughter and rolled, shoulder knocking into the coffee table and shoving it over a bit in the process, ending up on his hands and knees looking down at Katt. "Damn right it's better than theirs, but if you ever charge me we're going to have to have a very long talk about our relationship."

"This from a mercenary!" Katt laughed and messed up his headfur. "Get your ass to my bedroom, soldier, or risk rugburn."

"Yes, ma'am."

Panther sat back in the booth, flipping through the pages of the legal document. He had been surprised, when he had said he was officially interested in the job, Wolf had gotten a leather folder out of his laptop bag and passed it over. It was a very well written legal contract, with a breakdown of terms, very cleanly written. "I'm surprised."

Wolf looked at him. He had slouched a bit, staring out over the bar, ignoring his now-warm mainstream beer. "About what?"

"I didn't figure you had actually drawn all this up. Very professional… Which I guess fits in with what I know about you." Panther turned another page. "I do want to ask you a few questions that don't have anything to do with the job."

"Sure."

"I read your file." Panther took a pen out of an inner jacket pocket and lifted it, moving it back and forth, watching Wolf's eyes track. "That's interesting." He muttered, moving the pen far to Wolf's blind side and watching Wolf turn his head slightly to keep it in his field of vision. "So, that eye is totally blind, then."

Wolf gave him a sour look. "Yes. Completely, no chance of repair unless I let them yank it and load a cybernetic replacement."

"That speaks of heavy nerve damage, at the very least."

"I got thrown by a concussive blast that knocked me out. I'm lucky I got out if it with just a bad eye."

"That had to hurt."

"Not nearly as much as coming to in an MRI machine with the sudden knowledge that the nurses had missed a piercing in a sensitive place."

Panther struggled to keep a straight face and ended up rubbing his eyes, letting the chuckle out. "Wow. That wasn't in the file."

"No serious damage was done by that, happily." Wolf shrugged, watching as Panther returned the pen to his pocket, gaze going back to the document. "That I only have one working eye is fairly common knowledge for anyone that knows me. Why ask about it?"

"Just weighing up this job in my head. Why not use external cybernetics?"

"I do have an optic lens and the implants to use it, I just don't. I've become so used to working with one eye that suddenly having a second one throws me off more than it helps, and I've had ongoing trouble with the implants. Phantom vision after removal, the usual shit. Besides, you have to admit being a one eyed pilot adds to the badass factor."

"No, I can't argue that. It's practically what you're known for." Panther turned to the last page, taking the pen out and signing the document with a flourish. "I guess this officially makes us business partners."

Wolf grinned, accepting the leather folder back. "Glad to have you. I've got a plane awaiting official financing and quarters for you in blueprint, at least. Welcome to Star Wolf."

"I'm not sure I like the name honestly."

"Neither do I, but I'm stuck with it. You know how it is with nicknames."

"That I do. How soon you heading back to Aquas?"

"As soon as I get to my plane. Until I get my bounty off I don't want to linger here."

"Fair enough, I'll give you a ride to the space port and head out with you. I want to see this base and slap the architect for the butchering of my kitchen."

"Your kitchen?"

"My kitchen."

"Right, then. Shall we?" Panther snorted and stood from the booth, Wolf shoved his laptop and the folder into his bag and zipped it closed, standing and moving to follow him out of the bar. He was nearly to the door when he heard his last name called, and recognized the voice. "Shit."

Panther looked at him and started to ask what, then Falco appeared from another corner of the bar. On the news, he'd dressed like a VIP going clubbing, but now he was in worn jeans, kneehigh buckle boots, and a leather jacket over a black shirt. The only thing that suggested he was a soldier was the bright silver dogtags, in the miasma of the bar they nearly glowed against his shirt. "O’Donnell! I thought that was you. You got some brass balls for coming to Corneria but I'm going to break them. I have no idea what the fuck you did to Fox, but you deserve a beat down." He cracked his knuckles, scowling. "I'm only too happy to deliver."

"Hey, assholes! Take it outside!" The bartender shouted.

Wolf shook his head and ducked out of the bar, shifting his laptop bag to another position and looking over his shoulder as Falco followed, clearly not kidding. "Your mouth has a nasty habit of writing checks it can't cash, Lombardi."

"Fuck you. Bring it. I spent years fighting on these streets, I'll take your ass out."

"I'm sure you'd try." Wolf smiled thinly.

"You good enough for two on one?" Panther asked, crossing his arms. "Because I'm working for him now and I'm afraid I'd have to join in, and I'd take your skinny ass out, boy."

Falco bristled. "Boy? BOY?"

There was a silence, the two staring at the one, Wolf's ears swiveling and waiting for sirens, more anxious with each passing moment about his blown cover. "Throw a punch or step the fuck down, Lombardi." He finally said quietly, and was rewarded when Falco took a step back, hands falling out of the fists they'd been in. "That's what I thought. Good on you, at least you know when you're outnumbered." He turned his back and walked away, following Panther to a low key black sedan, only too happy to put the bar behind him.

Falco watched the car leave, then cursed, digging into his jacket pocket for his cell phone and hitting autodial. "Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. You better pick up, Fox."

Fox grinned and relaxed, licking Katt's neck affectionately and laughing when her hands tugged at the fur on his shoulders, her legs tangling with his. "Mm. Damn, babe."

"You're a bastard." She groaned in reply, toe claws digging into the backs of his legs. "You know I like that knot inside me."

"Yeah, I know." He managed not to wince at her insistent claws, nuzzling her, groaning when she shuddered around him. "But I reload faster this way." That said he levered himself up on his elbows and kissed her to cut off any further protests, hips nudging against hers teasingly and yipping into the embrace when she yanked on his fur again. She broke the kiss to apologize, he just shrugged and backed off, licking his way down to her chest. He'd wound her back up into a mewling senseless mass when muffled music sounded off in the room, along with a dull buzzing sound. "Dammit."

"Ignore it." Katt protested when he pulled away.

"Not sure I can, that's Falco calling me." Fox flopped on the foot of the bed with his arms hanging off, rummaging through his clothes until he dug his phone out of his pants, answering. "If this doesn't concern work I'm hanging up on your blue ass."

"It might." Falco replied, adjusting the volume on the earpiece, setting a foot down to steady his bike and looking around the corner. The black sedan that he assumed belonged to Wolf's friend sat about a quarter block ahead waiting at a light, and he wasn't taking a chance on being spotted. "Guess who I saw at a bar and who I'm currently following."

Fox blinked, juggling the phone to his other ear. Katt sat on the small of his back and bit one of his ears with a growl, hands kneading his shoulders. "Mmn. Are you stooping to stalking a supermodel, Falco? Surely not."

"Fucking wiseass." Falco hissed in reply. "Stop banging my ex-girlfriend for five seconds and clear your head. For your information, I ran across Wolf O’Donnell."

He rubbed his eyes, memories from Aquas flashing through his mind. "You're kidding."

"Not hardly, talked to him too. He blew me off. I'd have beat his ass but he wasn't alone."

"Dude, what the hell. That's fucking stupid."

"He sent you back to us barely able to walk. He deserves a beat down."

Fox sighed. "I appreciate that but I'd rather you stay safe. So, in spite of a bounty on his head, O’Donnell came to Corneria. What was he doing?"

"Talked to someone for a while then left. I'm actually following them right now, at a distance. I'm not sure, but I think the guy he was talking to is an assassin named Caroso. Ring any bells?"

"Fuck. Yeah, that does. He's supposedly responsible for the death of that admiral, as well as a long list of other rich assholes. And you're following them? Any idea where they're going?" Fox went limp into the bed, eyes fluttering as Katt rubbed his back, fighting to pay attention to the situation.

"Moving away from the inner city… if I were to guess, they're heading for the space port."

"So, they're leaving."

"Most likely, what should we do?" Falco sounded tense. "He's worth a lot on bounty but I'm not enough to take them, and I don't think you'd get here in time, let alone any other authority."

"And if you called someone else we wouldn't get the bounty anyways." Fox sighed. "Thanks for telling me. Go ahead and trail them, but if they go into the space port stop there. I'd like to know for sure if they're leaving, but we really can't do anything."

"Fox?"

"It isn't worth the risk, and it doesn't sound like the guy was running around gunning people down or something." He scratched his head. "So just shadow the car until they reach their destination. And Falco? Stay the fuck back, ok? I don't want you to put yourself in danger."

"You got it boss." The avian replied begrudgingly. "Hey, can I ask you something else?"

"Sure."

"I never got past second base with Katt. How is she in bed?"

"Let's just say you missed out. Thanks for the call, and goodnight." Fox hung up and closed the phone, letting the held groan out as she continued to rub his back. "God you're good at that."

"Thank you." She smiled and planted a kiss on the back of his neck, grinning when he shuddered under her hands. "Did I hear that right? O’Donnell's on Corneria?"

"Currently, he seems to be in the process of leaving. Gods only know why he'd risk being caught, considering the bounty on his head."

She sighed, stroking a hand down his spine. "Good. I've never met him, but considering what you told me, I mean, what he did to you… It pisses me off. If I ever meet him, he'll be sent to ER for stitches. I won't spare him the claws."

"Why does everyone feel the need to defend my honor?" Fox replied in a bemused voice. "Believe it or not, Wolf and I are… sort of ok now. Well, I don't want to kill him anymore at least, and he doesn't seem pissed at me anymore."

"When the hell did this happen?" She paused, then stared down at him. "Wait, does this have anything to do with you being beat up before that job?"

He blew out a sigh. "Yeah, yeah it does, and I did plan on telling you about it, but maybe as pillow talk or something, I don't know."

She shifted to sit next to him, watching him sit up and look at her. He looked sheepish, a look only somehow enhanced by his not-fully soft member peeking at her. "Clearly something interesting happened. Spill."

He did so. Telling the entire story of what happened on Aquas took about ten minutes, and her reactions varied wildly during that time, demanding to know if he was a dumbass almost immediately, then just staring at him as he described the fight. She clearly didn't understand Wolf's tactics either, looked amused about the social hour after the fight, then just gaped at him when he told her in as few words as possible what happened after that.

"I guess… Yeah, that'd be cheating on you, wouldn't it." Fox sighed and held his head in his hands, erection long gone. "I don't want to hurt you, but you deserve to know about this. I, I think I may be bisexual Katt."

"Apparently." She replied in a dry voice, rubbing her eyes with one hand. "I don't know what to think about this, Fox."

"Be mad at me, if you want. I shouldn't have let it happen."

"Yeah, but you wanted it to, and because of what happened, you can sleep without medication." She sat back, leaning on the heels of her hands. He blushed a bit, not sure how to reply to that. "Is this likely to keep happening?"

"With Wolf? I have no idea, I mean it isn't likely…"

"No, I mean, with guys in general. Or hell, other girls. How many people would it take to keep you happy?"

He gaped at her. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"There are stories about your dad at the Academy, apparently he banged half the people there, both dorms, and by all reports he practically had to. He was just that fucking horny. So, I put the question to you: am I going to have to deal with that?"

"No! I mean… Ok, sex is great but come on, I can't even buy a soda without reporters finding out which brand and if I tend to frequently buy that brand from that particular store. I'd never get away with it, and even if I could I'm not sure I would. I really, really like you, Katt. I wouldn't want to put you through that. I'm miserable just putting you through this."

She looked at him for a long, long moment. "Ok, then."

"What?"

"I said ok, then. Thanks for telling me."

"You aren't mad?"

"Well, I wouldn't have minded knowing before we boinked earlier, but no, I'm not really upset. I'm not really the sort to share, but I think I could deal with you getting your brains fucked out on occasion. Hell, I enjoy getting my brains fucked out, why would I deny it of you?"

Fox gaped at her, then burst into laughter and pounced forward, tackling her to the bed and kissing her senselessly for several moments, holding her close. "You are fucking amazing. I was expecting you to slap the shit out of me."

"Nah. I think I can deal with it, provided I'm the only girl in your life."

"I'm all yours, beautiful."

"Damn right you are. Of course you realize if I do meet Wolf, I may still send him to ER for stitches for beating the shit out of you. Coercion isn't cool even if it does end ok. And if anything ever happens again, I expect detailed reports."

"Fair enough." He grinned and kissed her again.

Katt kissed him back, curling her legs around his hips with a playful growl, hands tangling into the fur on his shoulders. His smooth tongue lashed against Katt's rough one, eventually easing off to nibble at her, laughing when she rolled herself on top. "I hope you don't mind." She quirked a smile, wrapping a hand around his half hard length and stroking him slowly.

He growled, hips lifting just slightly into the contact, quickly going fully hard in her hands. "Oh, not at all baby, you know that."

She leaned down on all fours, licking along his jawline then nibbling his throat, hips grinding against his teasingly. He moaned and relaxed under her, tilting his head back and letting her have run of his body. "Have I told you how much I enjoy your new build?" She asked, tongue tracing the muscle lines of his chest.

Fox laughed a bit in spite of himself, looking at her and grinning. "Not today."

"Mm, well I love it." She sat back up, straddling him so his hard cock rubbed between her legs, pinned against his body. "You were great looking before, but now you're… refined." She purred softly, hips rolling.

"You are such a tease."

"It isn't teasing if I make good on it."

Fox groaned and arched his hips as her damp warmth surrounded him again, closing his eyes and savoring the feeling. "Mm, Katt…"

She groaned softly, hands resting on his stomach and head bowed, biting her lower lip. He'd actually been the first canid she'd taken to bed, and she'd grown to appreciate his shape, the way they fit together so well. She ground into him, purring softly, smiling when he gasped. He rumbled, hands coming to rest on her thighs, stroking along her legs, focused on the feeling of her body.

Fox's time at the academy hadn't been nearly as eventful as his father's, for which he was actually a bit thankful. Sitting in the medic's office and staring at a glassed in file that was at least two inches thick, the names obscured, and realizing that was all the files that belonged to people that had referenced his father at some point in their medical history had freaked him right the hell out. McCloud blessing, his ass.

But hell, he'd had a few girlfriends and he liked to think he'd pleased them. Fara had been the one he'd stuck with the longest before they'd parted ways, and he'd always sort of figured it wasn't going to work in the long term. Fara hadn't exactly been interested in him for him. Katt, though…

Katt arched her back, muscles tightening around him a little and bringing him sharply back to reality. He groaned, watching her lift off his body and aching for the loss of her heat, thrusting up to meet her when she rolled her hips, grinning when she yowled in surprise. He let her set the speed, panting softly as he paced her, hands running up her body to trace over her breasts as they moved.

She growled, low and sultry, grinding into him as she leaned forward, catching him for a kiss that he was only too glad to return. He nibbled into it, hands stroking down her back and grabbing her ass, rumbling when his forming knot slipped inside her. Katt yowled and shuddered, clinging to him as she jolted into a minor orgasm and not arguing when he rolled her under him, wrapping her legs around his waist and kissing him as he started to thrust, her mewls harmonizing with his low growls and whines.

It was his whines that spurred her to start moving with him again, hips rocking up against his, biting one of his shoulders lightly. Fox rumbled and moved with her, thrusting harder and grinning when she yowled. "Like that?"

"Gods, baby!" Katt gasped out, body going rigid under him, arching, claws dragging into his back as she jolted into another orgasm.

Fox tucked his face into one of her shoulders and groaned, sucking in air at the feel of her claws and letting it out in another whine. This was almost becoming a kink, the feel of her claws in harmony with her tight, wet body, the slightest edge of pain and distant smell of blood. It spoke to him, to some part of his brain he rarely used, it fueled him. Not quite thinking anymore he rolled roughly off the bed and stood, arms holding her close, kissing her hungrily as her legs clung to his waist. A few steps and she was against the wall, planting his hands alongside her head and pressing them into the wall for leverage, holding the kiss. Her arms wrapped over his shoulders and clung there, mewling into the kiss when he started moving then breaking it to laugh helplessly as the pictures on her wall tumbled to the carpet, bookshelf nearby rattling in discordant harmony.

"Any.. ah fuck… reason… for the position change?" She panted out, head tilting back and yowling when his half-formed knot nudged inside her, her weight making him shove in to the hilt, sheath getting pushed back.

"Because I felt like it and you love it." He replied, ducking his head and muffling a wail into her chest as he drew back, licking as he thrust hard into her, grinning when she jolted into her third orgasm of the session. He'd been amazed at first when he'd figured out that he could get her to come multiple times in a night, now he strove for it because he liked her limp and spent against him. "And I love that." He growled that into one of her ears, grinning again when she shuddered against him, lingering to grind into her, nipping her ears.

"Bastard." Katt growled and squirmed against him, trapped between him and the wall, panting at the low throb inside her. "Don't you dare stop."

"You're fun to tease." He replied, kissing her gently on the lips and smiling before starting to thrust again, fucking her with full intent to leave a feline shaped dent in the wall, cries harmonizing as she clung to him and he started riding a knife edge, claws leaving dents in the drywall as he tried to stave off his looming orgasm, eventually shoving off the wall in favor of dropping to the floor. She rolled him underneath, spending her frustration at his teasing by riding him hard, back arched, tight around him. "Fuck… damn, babe, I'm close…" He panted out, arching into her.

"Good. I want it, I want to feel it." She yowled and rolled him back on top, mewling and clutching him as his quick thrusts tipped her into one last orgasm, quivering as she felt him arch and lock inside her, his weight collapsing on her as he came. She held him and purred softly, smiling when he licked of her ears.

"So, was it good for you?" He finally asked, laughing weakly.

"Wiseass." She bit one of his shoulders with a growl. "Once we can walk, we need to get dressed and go eat. I'm starving."

"Sounds like a plan." He grunted and rolled carefully so she was laying on top of him, staring at the ceiling. "Anywhere in particular?"

"Yes. We're going to go eat fish on the warf and ogle the roller blading boys that pass by." She propped herself on her elbows and contemplated him. "Any protests?"

He grinned in spite of himself. "Works for me."