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>>the cards - chapter twelve: bet me - part one::

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>>THE CARDS — CHAPTER TWELVE: BET ME — PART ONE::

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.

Author's note: A good friend helped me with this one. Props to Finley Otego.

 

"I must say, Commander O’Donnell, this has been an extremely pleasant experience." General Pepper stood and offered his hand across the desk. "I look forward to doing business with you in the future."

Wolf smiled and stood, shaking the General's hand. "The pleasure was all mine, Sir. Thank you for doing business with me."

"I'd be a roaring hypocrite if I didn't." Pepper smiled sourly, taking off his hat and combing his headfur back with his other hand. "And hell, son, I have nothing against you. If nothing else, I'm impressed by the size of your metaphorical balls. Not everyone calls up the person who has a bounty out on them and asks to negotiate."

He laughed in spite of himself, shoving his hands in the pockets of his suit. "One does what one has to."

"Indeed. Now, your buddy Powalski isn't spared by this, you understand. He'll have to call us and make his own deals."

"Of course." Wolf picked up his laptop bag, slinging the strap over one shoulder, pausing.

"Is there something else?"

"Well, to be honest I need a ride. I don't own a car. Could you spare a driver to take me to a car dealership?"

Pepper looked at him for a moment, then shoved his hat back on. "I'm due lunch. I'll take you myself."

"So, tell me something."

Wolf sat somewhat stiffly in the shotgun seat of General Pepper's personal car, hands folded in his lap, staring out the window from behind sunglasses. He hadn't expected this. Hell, the General had been unexpected all around. He hadn't personally worked with the man before, and he was honestly surprised by the sheer lack of bullshit the man tolerated. When Wolf had called Corneria's government to try to negotiate the lifting of his own bounty, he'd been routed through a few desks, put on hold, then connected to Pepper, who had proceeded to interrogate him as to what this was about. Wolf had been honest, and now, two months later, here he was. Sitting in the General's classic car, free from bounty and uncomfortable as hell. "Of course."

"What happened over Venom?" Pepper didn't look at him, directing the car away from the military base toward downtown Corneria City, driving automatically. "From what I was told, Dengar turncoated, then Hare and McCloud senior faced your group."

"Mostly true. It wasn't my idea, honestly. I can't stand Dengar."

"Hare came back alive and told me what happened. Said James was dead and named names." Pepper stopped at a light, giving him a look that was nearly unreadable behind the sunglasses. "He named yours, of course. Is that what happened?"

"No. Hare wasn't there. James… McCloud Senior told him to run."

"So, what's your version?"

"I told my copilots to let Hare go and called a cease fire. I didn't want to kill McCloud. We ended up escorting him to the main cruiser, but it didn't matter in the end. When it became apparent that Andross was going to lose, the cruiser staff had him executed." Wolf looked away again, jaw tightening. Considering he'd believed this story true, it wasn't hard to pretend that it was. "I wanted to get him off the cruiser. I didn't have time."

"Any particular reason I should believe you?"

"Did McCloud's plane ever send a signal that it was downed?"

"No. Upset Fox, too. He's still convinced his father's alive." Pepper shrugged, pulling onto a different road. "Thanks. I've been wondering about that for a while now. Did you know him?"

"James? I'd met him before."

"He was a good man, but not always on my side." He looked at Wolf over the tops of his sunglasses and lifted an eyebrow. "Which is why I said I'd be a raging hypocrite if I didn't work with you. What's your brand of car?"

Wolf lifted an eyebrow back, then looked out at the line of dealerships. "Bimmer."

"A man of class. I approve." Pepper turned into the appropriate dealership and stopped the car, watching Wolf climb out. "Behave yourself, young man."

Wolf grinned over his shoulder. "Never. Thanks for the ride."

Peppy knocked on the door frame of the Great Fox's command deck, leaning in and looking at Fox. Fox was sprawled in his command chair, holding his shamisen in his lap, eyes on his main screen. Instead of ship readouts, it was playing the news, to which Fox was playing a soundtrack that even he would admit sounded a bit trite. "Hi, Fox."

"Hey. How's the family?"

"They're well. They send their regards." He walked into the room, taking a seat at one of the terminals and grinning at the younger man. "How's Katt?"

"She's good. We're doing surprisingly well, considering."

Peppy lifted an eyebrow. "Considering what, that she used to date Falco?"

"Short answer, yes." Fox said hurriedly, deciding that Peppy didn't need to know about the random young women who'd randomly jumped him, let alone the encounter with Wolf on Aquas six or so months before. He'd been totally honest with Katt about the girls, who seemed to find it hilarious that he couldn't go anywhere without getting surprise oral. "It's been really good though, Pep. I'm not gunna say she's the one or anything, but…"

He nodded. "I understand." He fell silent a while, looking at the security screens while Fox returned to picking random tunes on his instrument and staring at the news.

"Oh, I got a call from General Pepper a few days ago." Fox said after several minutes.

"Anything interesting?"

"O’Donnell got himself off bounty. Pepper apparently figured he should tell us."

"That qualifies as interesting."

"I thought so."

Peppy peered at one of the security screens then stood. "I'll be right back."

Fox blinked at him, and shrugged. "Okay." A few news segments later, the security screen caught his eye, and he peered at it. Peppy was standing at the end of the talking bay ramp, hands on his hips, talking to a male figure that stood leaning on an expensive looking car. After staring at the security feed a moment, Fox gaped and stood up, leaving his instrument on his chair and running through the ship. The last thing he needed, he thought wearily, was Peppy plugging their former enemy on their tarmac.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Peppy demanded, walking down the docking ramp.

Wolf shrugged. He'd pulled his car up to park a bit in front of the Great Fox's dock ramp and wasn't surprised when Hare had promptly appeared. "I have some business with your boss."

"Like hell you do." He scowled, eying Wolf. He was wearing an expensive looking charcoal-grey suit with an ice blue dress shirt under it, no tie. Instead of an eye patch, he'd settled on designer sunglasses. "You look like a casino pit lord."

Wolf lifted an eyebrow. "Are you always so diplomatic?"

"No, you're lucky as hell." He replied darkly. "Fox told me you're off bounty. If he hadn't, I'd have just shot you."

"You'd have tried to shoot me, anyway." The lupine smiled just a touch. "Look, I understand why you don't like me. Shit, you've got a lot of reasons not to. However, that doesn't mean I'm going to leave. I'm here on business with your boss, not with you."

"Relax, Pep." Fox came into the docking bay, carrying a bottled sports drink in one hand, trying to make it look casual. "I got it."

"You can NOT be serious!" Peppy stared at him, tossing his hands up. "He helped kill your dad! He beat the shit out of you! TWICE!"

"Pep. I got it." Fox's voice dropped as he passed by the older man, pausing to look at him. "Go back inside." He sighed, watching his older friend snarl and stomp back up the docking bay ramp, turning back to Wolf. "Nice suit."

"Thanks. I don't look like a casino pit lord?" Wolf snickered and shot his cuffs.

"Nah, you aren't greasy enough." Fox paused, taking a swallow of his drink. His former rival did look good, actually. "Look, Peppy's going to be pissed for a week about this, so I do hope this is good."

"Is dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant good enough?"

"Now I'm glad I sent him in, or I'd be trying to explain why you're asking me on a date." Fox crossed his arms, lifting an eyebrow.

That got him a smirk. "A business dinner, but feel free to read into it whatever you like."

"Asshole. I appreciate the offer, but I'm not sure I can afford it."

"Sure you can. I'm buying."

Fox blinked. "What will I tell…"

"That it's business."

"You're not letting me out of this, are you."

"No." Wolf crossed his arms and pondered the younger man seriously.

Fox thought about it for a moment, taking another drink. A good dinner at a fancy restaurant? What the hell, he was game. Between working out and a high metabolism, he ate roughly enough for two normal people. Katt affectionately called him a black hole with legs. That said, this dinner was with Wolf, who was his enemy and a past lover at the same time. Fox wasn't angry anymore, not really, but he had no idea what to think now. "Tempting, but…"

"But?"

"I think I understand you better than the guys do. Off bounty or not, they think you're the enemy. I'm not sure what I'd tell them."

"That it's business. You don't need to tell them anything else. Hell, you don't have to tell them jack shit."

"Hey now…"

"You don't. Their need to know stops when you feel it's necessary to the peace of the organization. I have business to discuss with you, I refuse to do so here, and you need to get some fucking culture. So you're going to figure out if you have a suit that fits, no tie necessary, and I am going to pick you up at seven, and you're going to like it. Are we clear?" Wolf lifted an eyebrow at him.

Fox blinked. "Crystal, but how the fuck can I trust you?"

"This is business. What has happened between us in the past will not be a repeat issue. I'm picking you up, talking over dinner, and bringing you back. That's it."

There was a long silence, then Fox lifted an eyebrow. "Bet on it?"

Wolf blinked once, taken off guard. "Sure. Why not? See you at seven." That said, he returned to his car, making himself not look over his shoulder as he did so.

Fox pondered, taking another slug of his sports drink and watching the slate gray sedan pull away. This was sure to be interesting, but now he had to buy a suit.

"What was that about?" Peppy asked, coming back into the docking bay.

"O’Donnell and I have a business meeting later this evening." Fox replied, digging his phone out of his pants pocket.

"You've got to be kidding me. You can't trust him."

Fox was actually pretty sure he could, or at least he could trust Wolf not to hurt him. But he just shrugged at Peppy, hitting autodial on the phone and lifting it to his ear. "Hey, Katt."

"Hey, baby."

"I have a business dinner with Wolf tonight. Just thought I'd let you know."

"Huh. That's out of nowhere." Katt sounded surprised. "I'm sure I'll hear about it later. I'd ask you to slap him for me but I doubt that'd work out." She paused. "So, any coffee baristas pants you yet today?"

He shook his head. "You're not going to let me live that down are you?"

"Hell no, you won't tell me how good she was." Katt pouted.

"Why do you care? Are you going to surprise her with lesbian sex or something?" Peppy lifted his eyebrows silently.

"How does that work? Surprise, confetti, om nom nom?" Katt asked thoughtfully.

Fox had been mid drink, but that was enough to put an image in his head, making him do a spit take. "Dammit, woman!"

"No, glitter would be more appropriate. Would this be the opposite of surprise buttsex you think? I mean, you'd know."

Fox at times regretted ever telling Katt what happened on Aquas, or at least admitting to her that he was bisexual. She found the fact amusing somehow, picking at him on occasion and trying to figure out what his tastes were. When he asked why she wasn't upset, she said that guys making out were hot, and she forgave the random coffeehouse blowjob because he still came home to her. "I don't know. Would a strap-on be involved?"

"What the hell ass." Peppy said, caught between confusion and laughter.

"Either way, I'll sell some damn coffee. Actually, that'd be a good name for a coffee shop wouldn't it? Coffee and Lesbians."

"Dammit, are you trying to send me to a business dinner with a boner?"

"I doubt Wolf needs the help with that."

"Right. You're lucky I like you."

"I own your ass, sweet cheeks. Om nom nom!" That said, she laughed and hung up.

Wolf shrugged out of his suit jacket, hanging it up and undoing a few buttons on his collar, pacing across the spacious hotel room to the balcony and opening the glass door. The wind that blew through was cool, thick with the smells of the city, and he was still leaning there with his eyes closed when his phone rang. He didn't move from where he stood or even bother opening his eyes, digging his phone out of his pocket and flipping it open and putting it to his ear. "O’Donnell."

The connection crackled and hissed, the familiar tones of a distant satellite-made connection. "Hey, you. How's Corneria?"

Wolf laughed weakly, moving to lean on the balcony rail, staring out. "Same as ever, James."

"Well, now that you're not avoiding me, I take it the bounty business went well."

"I wasn't avoiding you. I was busy." Wolf stared out vacantly. Well, it was a lie and a truth. He'd avoided James by working his ass off. It made it hurt less if he was busy. "And it did go well. My bounty's off."

"Good, good. Still willing to do that shopping for me?"

"Of course, probably the day before I leave."

"Staying there a while?"

"I have some business to deal with. Some tonight, actually."

"Would this have anything to do with my son? Because Felix told me you dropped by the landed Great Fox a few hours ago."

Wolf bared his teeth at the skyline. "You had Felix tracking me?"

"You're smooth, babe, but you aren't that smooth. He's keeping a close eye on my kid for me. That said…" James let the sentence die a natural death.

"We're having a business dinner tonight to discuss a nonaggression treaty. He doesn't know that yet, he just knows he's going to dinner whether he likes it or not."

That made him snicker. "Good show. Let me know how it goes."

"Whatever, you'll know either way."

Silence for a long moment. "Mind telling me what I did?"

"You didn't, it's something I did." I'm trying to keep from loving you, you horribly lovable slut. Wolf pressed his eyes closed again, remembering being let into James' station apartment to Felix cooking in the kitchen wearing jeans and nothing else and a hug from an all-too-happy, smelling-of-sex James. James and Felix. That made a lot of sense, actually, the way they bounced off each other in normal conversation sort of gave away how familiar they were with each other. He'd been there to try to talk to James about their relationship, and had scrapped it, accepting a meal from a cheerful Felix and trying hard not to hate the informer for having what he wanted. "Don't worry too much about it."

"Well, since you're already upset I'll ask. Did you drop by that gallery?"

"Nope."

"Are you going to?"

"Nope."

"Gods damn it. I am not going to let you continue to torch your paintings, Wolf." Now James sounded pissy. "That's just fucked up."

"It isn't art, James." Wolf matched the voice tone. "It's therapy. I am not going to sell my fucking art therapy, that's even more fucked up. Besides, I'm a goddamn hack."

"Most artists are hacks but they're still in museums."

"Gee, fucking thanks."

"You're good. Whether you believe it or not, you're good. I don't like the sheer idea of burning books, let alone art. If you don't want to keep it, or store it, selling some of it off to keep it from cluttering up the place makes sense. Fannie agrees with me."

Wolf blinked, caught off guard. "Fannie?"

"Old friend. Felix contacted her for me, since I'm dead and all. She owns the art gallery I wanted you to stop by."

"Her parents named her Fannie? That is cruel and unusual."

"Speak for yourself, Artemis, your mother gave you a girl's name."

"Yeah, and she and my therapist are the only ones who have permission to use it. Use it again and I'm beating the shit out of you, capice?"

James seemed to ignore that. "My point is, she agrees with me. I passed pictures along."

"Pictures."

"I took pictures of a few of your binder pages."

Wolf's hand tightened on the phone painfully. "You what."

"Relax, just a few of the ink works. I wanted a professional opinion. She agreed and wants to talk to you."

He managed not to throw the phone off the balcony, rubbing his eyes with his free hand, rage temporarily quashing his heartache. "You, you fucking snoop. I never intended for you to even see those fucking binders and you take pictures of them?" When he didn't get an immediate reply he jammed his thumb on the End Call button and kept enough control of himself to turn before he went through the throwing motion, the expensive phone ricocheting off the bed and landing on the carpet of the hotel room. Only then did he stagger back into the room and collapse into a chair inside, grinding his palms into his eyes and shaking.

It was just fucking paper and ink. It shouldn't have concerned James this much, let alone upset him this much that James had looked at them. But of course it did. It felt like his privacy had been invaded, on a disturbing excuse-me-while-I-cut-open-your-brain sort of level. He shook off, taking a slow breath. It was J, for fuck's sake. He trusted the man with his life, his body, and practically his soul.

He just couldn't trust him with his drawing.

He heard the cell phone ring and keep ringing, eventually clicking to voice mail and giving him the series of notes to let him know he'd received one. He ignored it, unlacing his boots and stepping out of them, getting to his feet unsteadily. When the phone rang again, he was halfway through a yoga salute to the sun, and he kept ignoring it. He wanted to be collected for his meeting with Fox. The last thing he needed was to continue to fight with James.

At ten minutes to seven, Fox shrugged into the suit jacket and looked at himself in the locker room mirror for a long moment. Buying a suit had been a bit of an ordeal. He readily admitted he knew nothing about suits, let alone what was in fashion, so ended up putting himself in the hands of a store downtown. To his surprise, he got the suit for free. They'd seen the name on his bank card and waved the entire cost in exchange for taking a few pictures of him. What the hell, it seemed more than fair to him.

Looping the tie over the back of his neck but leaving it untied, he exited the locker room and looked at Falco. "What do you think?"

"You are just not meant for suits." Falco replied, shaking his head. "You look like you're going to career day with dad the stock broker."

"Asshole." He snorted, batting at Peppy's hands, who'd automatically moved to tie the tie. "He said no ties, I just grabbed it just in case."

"No tie? Odd." Peppy shrugged and stepped back. "And ignore Falco, you look fine. It's a great suit."

"I'll take your word for it." He actually liked the look, but he wasn't going to admit it.

"Are you sure this is wise?"

"No kidding. The man's an asshole. You can't trust him." Falco interjected. "Even if he hadn't beat the shit out of you twice I'd be against it."

"You seem to like hitting that point." Fox gave him a narrow look.

"I want to kill him because of it."

"Right. I'll be fine." He looked at his watch and started moving through the ship, going to the docking bay. He wasn't surprised to find O’Donnell was early, the sleek grey sedan parked in front of the docking bay ramp. When he appeared at the top of the ramp, Wolf got out and leaned one arm on the top of the driver's door, waiting for him. "Wish me luck." He saluted lightly over his shoulder to his friends then walked down the ramp. "Nice car."

"Nice suit, get in."

Fox looped around the front of the car and got in, buckling in as Wolf did, settling into the seat uneasily as the car started moving and pulled away from his cruiser. Brand new car, he realized, though a stack of music disks had already accumulated in the center console. "This isn't a rental I take it."

"No, I bought it a few days ago. Wrote a check." Wolf replied, pulling out of the spaceport and turning toward downtown.

"I hate you and everything you stand for." Fox made a face, but couldn't help smiling when Wolf just snickered. "So, mind telling me what this is all about?"

"I imagine you know I've been off bounty for about a week, and it's been a very successful week for me. I was able to iron out a few things with my lawyers. So, we're going to have a business dinner."

"This is a bit unexpected you understand."

"Of course. I was rather pleasantly pleased that you agreed, given our past."

"Actually, I have a question on that."

Wolf looked at him over the tops of his sunglasses, the car idle at a stoplight. "This is business, McCloud, I'd rather not get too deep into other things until said business is resolved."

"I'm asking anyway. On Aquas, if I had shoved you off, what would you have done?"

Wolf shook his head a bit, shifting the car back up as he pulled away from the light and pacing traffic. "I'd have said alright, then and went back to where I'd been sitting before."

"Seriously?"

"Yes. Is that so surprising?"

Fox looked out the window. "I guess not. So what business is this about, exactly?"

"There's a folder on the back seat, you should be able to reach it. I was going to discuss it with you over dinner, but if you're that curious go ahead."

Fox blinked at him, twisting in his seat to peer behind them both. Sure enough, there was a black leather folder sitting behind Wolf, and with a bit of a stretch against the seat belt he was able to grab it. Settling back down, he opened the folder, and was surprised when a bunch of legal language jumped out at him. "There's a lot here… Besides, I wouldn't want to try to read this and eat."

"Fair enough."

The rest of the trip was silent as Fox flipped the pages silently, whistling once or twice. It was all contracts, three different ones from what he could tell. The first one was a treaty of nonaggression, a proposal to assist when need be, then a massive proposal to agree to work together. Star Fox and Star Wolf? That would explode some heads. From a purely business standpoint, Fox had to see the benefits of all of them, but from a more realistic standpoint… he wasn't so certain it would work. "I don't think the guys are going to like this. They barely tolerate the idea of your existence, let alone working with you. I like the idea of having an outpost, but…"

Wolf shrugged, turning down another street. "You don't have to sign any of them, let alone all of them. I just wanted them on paper. I'll be in town for a while, if you want to keep that and read over it, then call me, I can give you my cell number."

"I'll do what I can to broach the subject with the guys. Where are we going anyway?"

"Livery. Mainly a steakhouse, excellent food. I'm a long time customer." Wolf pulled into a parking garage and parked, shutting the car off. "As to your guys, do you want my advice?"

"I don't think you understand how much they hate you, but sure."

He looked at Fox, expression mostly hidden by the sunglasses. "They don't know me. When you get down to it, you're a group of mercenaries. They wouldn't be on a mercenary team if they weren't at least heavily swayed by the power of the almighty credit. As of right now, I am making a lot of money but I am stretched thin. I need more pilots, and going to your group makes sense. I need fire support, I trust you, and while I can't promise I'll make you rich I can at least help you pay off your ship."

"I think it's a good idea, you think it's a good idea, but good ideas don't make former enemies wingmen." Wolf sighed and opened his car door, stepping out. Fox took a hint and did the same, closing the door and looking at Wolf over the top of the car. "I can talk to them about it, but that doesn't mean they'll listen."

He shrugged. "You can face it alone, or I'll go with you to help explain. After all, it is my business proposition, I'd be remiss if I expected you to explain everything."

"I knew you were suicidal, but I didn't think you were stupid." Fox lifted an eyebrow.

Wolf snorted and stepped away from the car, locking it with a key fob. "Are you coming, McCloud?"

"Not as far as you know."

That made him laugh in spite of himself, stepping out of the parking garage and walking down the street, Fox following behind him uncertainly. It was early evening in the city, and this district was thick with business, lined with restaurants, coffee houses, and hotels. "The Livery doesn't allow ties, put it in your pocket."

"I was wondering about that." Fox did so, blinking as they stepped onto a run of carpet and approached a valet.

Wolf merely nodded to the valet. "Evening, Rubens."

"Welcome back, Mr. O’Donnell." The valet smiled and held the door for them.

"It's hard to find anyone who can do a blue steak right." Wolf replied with a real smile, stepping into the restaurant proper.

"They know you by name?" Fox asked numbly.

"I have been a very busy boy."

"Apparently!"

Wolf smiled at him, then cheerfully greeted the maitre d' by name, who noted the reservation and took them to a table. "If I was feeling any more wise ass, I'd pull your chair out for you." He smirked, sitting down at the two-person table.

"And I thank you for not doing so. You ass." Fox snorted and sat down, setting the folder next to his place.

Wolf laughed, then pointed when Fox grinned. "Hah. Now you can't say you didn't enjoy yourself."

"Jerk. So what's good here? I heard you say something about blue steak, something to do with blue cheese?"

"Blue is the step below rare. So sue me, I like my meat to bleed."

"Below rare? Why not just order it raw." Fox made a face.

"If I wanted raw, I'd order a tartar. Don't tell me you eat well done steaks."

"Hell no. Medium."

"Well, at least you're not totally clueless about meat."

"Don't make me call you more names." Fox shook his head, opening the folder back up as a waiter came up to the table.

Wolf cheerfully greeted the waiter by name, and asked about two children as the waiter handed them their menus. The waiter chuckled and wove it off. "Do you want your usual wine, sir? I can have the sommelier come over."

"No, I'm driving, unfortunately. I'll stick with water."

"Are you sure? A single glass with your dinner would do no harm, and we have sparkling juices as well."

He shook his head. "No wine, but the juice sounds fine. Surprise me." He looked across the table. "Fox, what do you want to drink?"

Fox blinked and looked up, briefly getting a holy-crap-I'm-an-adult expression before looking at the waiter. "What do you have on tap?"

"We pride ourselves on having a selection of microbrews, sir." The waiter produced a list on thick card stock, passing it to Fox.

He stared at it. "I don't recognize any of this…" He passed it back. "Could you bring me something resembling an amber?"

"Very good, sir." The waiter approximated a bow and left the table.

Fox stared across the table at Wolf, who'd taken the sunglasses off, tucking them to an inner jacket pocket. "Why do they all know your name?"

"I've been a contractor since I was your age. I never bothered buying a house… if I was in the city, I stayed at a hotel a few buildings down, and would walk over. I've been coming here for years, so all the long-term employees know me, same with the hotel."

"You stayed at a hotel on and off for that long? You could have bought a house." Fox shook his head, setting the folder aside and picking up his menu. "So, you want to talk business. What kind of business have you been doing?"

Wolf ignored his menu. "Most of our work has been on the fringe. There's been a lot of pirate activity lately because of the war, so we've been doing escort and security jobs mostly. Not exciting, but good money."

"So, where would we come in?"

"Obviously, more pilots means I could take bigger work contracts, and split the money evenly, allowing for craft damage of course."

"Mm." Fox's eyes skimmed down the short menu, which had maybe sixteen things on it. The waiter drifted back by, pencil and paper poised, so he looked up. "10 ounce filet mignon, medium rare, and a loaded baked potato if you can manage it."

"Of course sir." The waiter took Fox's menu, took Wolf's order, and left again.

"As to the agreements, I'll hold up my end either way. You're welcome on Aquas, anytime. I don't have any intention of shooting at you anytime soon, I just had the paperwork done to extend the same courtesy to your crew."

"Shooting at me would put a damper on our relationship." Fox said, accepting his beer from the waiter as Wolf accepted his sparkling juice.

"Or make it more amusing, if it was paintball." Wolf managed a smile.

"That's something I haven't done in a while… and actually that isn't a bad idea." He sat back and took a sip of his beer, thoughtfully staring off.

"What, now?"

"You've put together a business proposal for our two crews to work together, but my concern is our crews will just try to kill each other. So why not have them try to kill each other in simulation? I know a great tactical paintball field outside the city, we could rent it out sometime soon."

Wolf considered, then grinned. "Actually that's fucking brilliant. I'm not sure if Panther and Leon play, but getting gear is easy enough. Good idea, Fox."

"Thanks. If you can keep your guys in line, I should be able to deal with mine."

"It won't be a problem. Panther's got no issue with your group, and Leon can be monetarily motivated if need be." He sipped his juice. "Sometime next week perhaps?"

"Works for me." Fox took a long look around. "You know I'm surprised the press hasn't wandered in yet. Usually it's like I have a second shadow if I'm somewhere public."

"They wouldn't make it past the maitre d'. Though I have to admit, a picture of us like this cycling around would be interesting. It'd be great fun watching all the news show talking heads implode from the righteous indignation."

He snorted. "No kidding. As if my previous escapades weren't enough! This would be a three ring circus."

"Hey, you're not the one who recently got rid of a wanted status." Wolf smiled as the waiter returned, bearing plates. "Ah, the up to ordering meat rare… you get your meal fast."

Fox moved his beer, staring down at the plate that was set in front of him and managing not to drool, moving his napkin in his lap and picking up his knife and fork. "Well, the facts are weird enough between us… just wait until the news started spinning it. It's not like they'd understand our relationship. Hell, I don't understand our relationship."

He decided to ignore that. "I called one of those talking head news shows once. I actually got on the air too."

"I do hope you have a copy of that, because I demand to see it. That had to have gone over like a lead balloon." Fox took a bite of his steak, nearly groaning. "They don't charge enough."

"Well, this was before the war so I didn't quite have the reputation I do now. Back when I was still with BlackSky." Wolf cut into his steak, taking a few bites before continuing. "Some less than mainstream things were going on. BlackSky was involved. The media was having a nice pout about military contractors. To add to it, when this happened I was very, very drunk on some spectacular wine, and staying at the hotel a few doors down. I was so drunk I'd come out the far end into drunken coherency."

"I can't imagine being that wasted."

"Yeah, I didn't repeat the experience. Said talking head said something that pissed me off, I don't even remember what. So I called the TV station and proceeded to give the poor woman who answered a piece of my mind, including who I was, who I worked for, and why I was pissed." Fox nodded, absorbed in his food. "Do you actually want this story or am I boring you?"

"No, no, I'm listening."

He nodded, eating some of the seasonal vegetables that came with his meal. "Yeah, so she confirms who I work for and puts me on hold. I get transferred to someone else, who I give the same routine to. This happens a few times, the TV show goes to commercial and I'm back on hold. Talking head comes back and says they've got someone interesting on the phone, next thing I know my drunk ass is on live television, or my voice at least."

"Again, lead balloon."

"Pretty much. He kept me on the phone the rest of the segment. At some point he asked if I was drunk, and apparently I replied "Oh yes, marvelously." Eventually I hang up, finish the bottle, and pass out. I saw a rerun the next day while hung over and was stunned to find out that in spite of being drunk enough to do that, I'd still kicked his ass." When Fox stopped laughing, he continued. "All this, I stayed in the news three days. You buy a book, you're in the news a week as they analyze it."

"I'm convinced it's because of how I look. Every time I make the news they always harp on the "handsome hero" thing, which is ridiculous. I'm somewhere above average not a model."

"Oblivious pretty boy is oblivious."

"What?" Fox cleared the last of his steak. "You know, I'd eat here constantly if I could afford such a thing."

"Consider it motivation to work with me."

"Gee, twist my arm why don't you. Ow." Fox snickered, watching Wolf eat. "I'm sold, you know, it's just convincing my coworkers. Hopefully the paintball idea will help that, especially if we do mixed teams."

"Them versus us."

"That's evil. They don't have a chance."

"It'd force them to work together though."

"Good point. Getting them to the paintball field will probably be the hardest part."

"As said, I'll give you my phone number. If you need help, just holler."

"Great, I'll let you know when I've got the field scheduled. Do you have anything coming up I should schedule around?"

"I think it's safe for you to assume I'll clear my schedule for you." Wolf ignored Fox's snicker, setting his fork on his empty plate and looking at his juice with resignation.

"Why don't you just get a beer? We aren't leaving anytime soon."

"I don't drive if I've had anything to drink in the last six hours. Don't worry about it, it just bothers me to upset a routine. I always have wine if the meal's this nice."

Fox frowned. "That's a hard rule. Did you wreck a car?"

"Someday, I'll tell you what I was like when I was your age."

"Gee, thanks dad."

Wolf pondered his reaction and settled on sticking out his tongue. "I'm only eight years older than you, thanks. And either way, I was incredibly stupid as a teenager."

"You were? I fought a war that I wasn't technically old enough to fight in. Hell, I wasn't legally able to drink yet."

"Fair enough." Wolf pushed his empty plate back and relaxed in his seat, looking over the restaurant slowly. One of the other reasons he liked the place was that it had a very open layout. He could be seated almost anywhere and have the room in line of sight. He chose where he sat at tables for that reason. "Listen… Thanks for coming along. It's nice to not eat alone."

Fox cleared the last of his potato and also pushed his plate back. "My pleasure, trust me." The waiter drifted by offering dessert and coffee, Fox cheerfully accepted a cup of coffee.

"Make it two." Wolf said, watching the waiter go before looking at Fox. "I figure I'll drop you back off at your ship after this, with a copy of the paperwork. That way your friends don't get worried and you can show them what we talked about."

"No rush. I'm glad to be off the ship, honestly. I'd much rather hang out with a friend then hang around there another night."

He blinked at Fox slowly then smiled. "Thanks. You have no idea how much that means to me."

The waiter arrived with the coffee, which Fox took from him and took a long drink of before giving an approving eye. "They don't hold back much here, do they?"

"Naturally not. I'll take the bill when you're ready." Wolf nodded to the waiter, still sitting back, now sipping his coffee.

Fox looked at him for a moment. "If you were anyone else I'd say you were trying to get me into bed." He finally remarked, knowing it sounded ridiculous.

"Wasn't planning on it. Business and pleasure, trying to keep them separate, all that. I wanted to be able to focus on the contracts." He shrugged.

"For what it's worth, they're excellently written, and as said I like the idea of having a ground base. My ship has the capacity to launch a few more fighters easily, but not really to house more for any long amount of time. So really, it'd work out quite well. Lord knows, we could use the work."

Wolf smiled. "Glad to hear. I think I'd enjoy working with you instead of shooting at you. I'd much rather count you as an ally and a friend."

"Same. On the subject of your facility, do you have any pictures?"

He lifted an eyebrow slowly, accepting the bill fold from waiter and looking at the receipt within before writing a check. "There's all sorts of ways I could answer that question."

"Har, har."

"I have pictures and video, as well as blueprints, all on a laptop. I actually had the receptionist at my hotel hold my laptop, as I figured this might come up." Wolf tucked the check into the bill fold and set it on the table edge, finishing his coffee. "We'd have to adjoin to another location though."

"That's fine. As said, I'm in no rush to go home." Fox watched Wolf stand from the table, also standing and following him out of the restaurant. "It couldn't have been cheap to do. I mean, it must have cost as much as my ship."

"It wasn't cheap. I financed most of it. The majority of it's underground, and built to last. Spacious, well built, as far away from a military base in design as I could manage." Wolf lingered on the carpet outside the restaurant, looking up and down the streets mellowly. Traffic was still flowing; daylight had dimmed to give away to the city lights. "The island is a dead volcano, so it had to be excavated out of volcanic rock."

"Ok, that's pimp." Fox finally said, staring at him.

Wolf laughed and started walking down the street, ambling toward his hotel. "It's not nearly as cool as it sounds, trust me."

"Is hanger space underground? Are planes moved by taxiing or elevator?" Fox hurried to keep up, mind trying to concoct mental images of what this installation would look like.

"We have a tarmac but that isn't the main entrance. Hanger approach is over the water, doors in the side of a cliff."

"Could the Great Fox be touched down there?"

"No, you'd have to land it in the water. Good thing your bird is water worthy." Wolf held the hotel door open for Fox, who wandered into the lobby and stared around as he went to the desk and retrieved his laptop bag from the receptionist cheerfully. He settled it on his shoulder and beckoned to Fox, walking across the lobby and opening a glass door. "We can talk in here."

"Nice digs." Fox said, hurrying to catch up and blinking at the sudden dim light as he stepped through the door. "A bar?"

"Do you have a better idea?" Wolf looked over his shoulder at Fox, who was almost silhouetted by the light coming in from the hotel before the door was allowed do close. "It's a low key place. I can set up my computer, you can look at the pictures, and we can talk."

"Works for me, man." Fox followed him to a booth. "Hey, you got dinner, so I'll pay for drinks."

"I can't, I'm…"

"Driving." Fox finished. "I'm buying you a beer and you're going to shut up and drink it. What's your poison?"

Wolf opened his mouth, sighed, and gave up. "Something along the lines of a stout." That said he sat heavily in the booth and opened the laptop bag, watching Fox cheerfully stroll across the bar and chat up the bartender. By the time he got the laptop on and the relevant files pulled up, Fox had returned toting two bottles, another amber for himself and something that appeared to be a singularity in bottled form for Wolf. "Thank you kindly." Wolf accepted the bottle, oofing in protest when Fox poked him until he slid down the bench, Fox sitting next to him. "I could just put the laptop in the middle of the table, you know."

"I don't feel like stretching to see, especially since you seem to have one of those security screen laptops. Show me what you got."

The next hour and a half passed quickly. Fox kept himself busy going through the pictures, videos, and blueprints Wolf had saved to his laptop, Wolf slouched and watched, sipping his beer and answering questions. Fox was geeking out, obviously approving of the designs. It was a military base, there was no arguing that. Hydro and solar power, and a reactor for emergency power during hurricanes (or sieges, whichever). Communications array, landing lights, gun turrets that popped up when needed, armory. But the rooms were more than generous and had their own bathrooms, the hallways were wide and airy, the kitchen sprawling and comfortable. It was like the mutant child of a resort and a military base. The hangers had been designed for a lot more spacefighters than currently being fielded. There was a whole other wing of bedrooms that was closed off and empty for the time being. Wolf had planned for more staff, obviously. Eventually Fox dug his keys out of his pocket and took a thumb drive off a key chain, jacking it into the laptop and saving over what he could to show his team mates. After that he wandered back up the bar and got them another round, sitting down heavily and slouching against Wolf's side, holding the bottle out to him.

"I shouldn't. This will be my third." Wolf protested.

"And my forth. Take it." When he did, Fox stayed where he was, looking out over the low-key bar. "You got a family?"

He about choked on his beer, swallowing roughly. "Where the hell did that come from?"

"I don't know you." Fox tilted his head back, regarding Wolf upside down, eyes dopey and half open. "So do you?"

"I've got a mom, and twin younger siblings, brother and sister. Both have kids, I have three nieces and a nephew, they seem to like me a lot when I see them."

"No dad?"

"Mom divorced him when I was four and the twins were, like, three months old. Never saw him again, barely remember him." Wolf took another drink of his beer, which he knew was probably the exact wrong thing to do, though not the worst. No, the worst would be to wrap an arm around Fox and snog the hell out of him. He shook his head slightly to jostle the idea out of his head, staying where he was, letting Fox slouch, his laptop closed on the table.

"Y'know it just hit me I don't know your real name." Fox idly turned his beer bottle in his hands, staring out at the bar. "Your files just have first and middle initials, your dogtags too."

"You'll laugh."

"I will not!"

"Yes, you will." He set his bottle down and sighed, resigned. Ok, they'd banged twice, so Fox probably deserved to know. "Artemis. Artemis Faron O’Donnell."

"What?! What the hell was your mother on?"

"My siblings are Calanthe and Cadon. Mom's big on middle ages stuff. She makes on-order plate mail as a hobby."

"Can I call you Art?"

"I'll kill you and desecrate your corpse if you do."

"'S fair." Fox lolled, snickering the helpless laugh of the amiably drunk, weight leaning back into Wolf, who was slouched against the back corner of the booth. "Favorite color."

"Blue. Are you enjoying interrogating me?"

"Yes. Favorite style of music?"

"Techno, various flavors. Ambient or trance if just listening, happy hardcore if I'm dancing."

"Holy crap. We're going clubbing." Fox thrust an arm upward as if declaring a proclamation.

"Not right now we're not, I'm not sure you can even stand." Wolf laughed, unable to help it. "Let me guess, candy raver?"

"Yes. Dad hated me for it, he was into all this snarly obscure metal music. Strange tastes. He also liked old cult movies, you know, the naked girls dancing in cemeteries to possess the town's teenagers crap."

"I see his point on that one."

"Worst thing you ever did."

"You'd know, I did it to you on Venom."

He swatted backwards blindly and missed. "You're forgiven. Best thing you ever did."

"You'd still know, I did it to you on Aquas." Said Wolf without thinking, grinning when Fox's swatting hand found him that time. "But seriously, gave my nephew an entire carton of action figures. My sister hated me, she was finding them all over the place including the dish washer."

"Mm." Fox drained some of his beer. "Well, so far I still like you. That's good."

Wolf sat silently for a moment, then lifted his free hand and ruffled his hand through the younger man's blonde Mohawk-esque headstripe. "Good to know. I'll pay for your taxi when you're ready to go home."

"Nuh-uh. I'm stayin' here tonight."

"Fine, I'll get you a room. Gods only know it'd cost about as much as the taxi ride." Sad, but true.

"Or I could stay in your room."

"Listen, my precious little drunken princess, I have a single room and my days of sleeping on the couch are over. You're getting your own room. End of discussion."

Fox made and effort and rolled, ending up on his knees on the bench and pouting, wavering a bit. "Aww, come on. Katt says I can be very persuasive. Don't make me beg." He wavered again, lost his balance, and tumbled backwards off the bench and onto the floor, bottle clattering to the floor.

Wolf moved and leaned to look at Fox as the rest of the bar did the same, watching him sit up unsteadily. "Well, sunshine, you win, but only because you may have just given yourself a head trauma while drunk."

He pouted again, but didn't argue when Wolf hefted him to his feet, Fox slouched on one of his sides, the laptop hanging on the other. "I like you. You're comfortable." Fox announced to the nearby world as they staggered out of the bar, one of Wolf's hands holding onto his belt to prevent another tumble.

"And you're ridiculously adorable when drunk." Wolf shook his head, carting them to the hotel elevator. "You can borrow some of my gym clothes to sleep in and take half the bed. If you steal the covers you're being demoted to the couch. I'll have your suit cleaned in the morning." Fox mumbled something that may have been a positive, wrapping an arm around Wolf's ribcage and sagging against him with a dopey smile on his face as the elevator slowly ticked up a few floors.

The hallway was thankfully empty when they got there, Wolf dragging Fox down the hallway and getting the door open with a bit of difficulty, reaching in and turning on the lights before entering. The room was large for a hotel room, with a separate seating area, good sized bathroom, and balcony. He parked Fox at the entrance to the bathroom and went to his suitcase, dropping his room key by the television on the way by and rummaging. Even with Fox's new build, he knew anything he wore would swim on the smaller man, so he grabbed a clean pair of sweat shorts and a tank top. By the time this was done Fox had wandered past him and opened the balcony door, stepping out onto it and leaning on the railing.

"Great view." He turned and looked at Wolf over his shoulder, then turned totally and leaned back against it, hands on the railing to either side of him, suit jacket open and shirt disheveled.

Wolf stared at him for a moment before walking back over and pulling Fox back into the room by his belt, dropping the gym clothes into Fox's arms. "Go into the bathroom and change. I think there's already a hanger in there, and the hotel's toothbrush is still wrapped. Put your suit on the hanger so I can get it sent to the cleaners." He shoved Fox lightly to punctuate this statement, and Fox snorted and staggered back across the room into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. This gave Wolf a moment to pace the room waving his arms and yanking on his headfur to vent the trainwreck that was this situation before unlacing his boots and setting them by his suitcase. The image of Fox on the balcony was electric in his mind, every wrinkle of his suit, fall of his fur, even the lazy glitter of his eyes. He shoved it aside as best he could, shrugging out of the suit jacket and hanging it up before sitting on the bed and waiting for Fox.

From the bathroom came the various sounds of someone getting ready for bed. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later Fox stumbled out of the bathroom wearing the borrowed gym clothes and carrying his suit, which was flopped reasonably neatly on the hanger. Seeing where Wolf had hung his jacket, he also did so before looking at Wolf and stretching the shirt away from his body. "Your chest is fuckin' huge. It's like, I don't even realize how tall you are then I put on your clothes…"

Wolf laughed, standing and going to the miniature fridge, digging out a bottle of water and handing it to Fox. "Drink some of it so you aren't wishing for death in the morning, and if you want to be useful turn down the bed."

"M'kay."

Wolf collected another set of gym clothes from his bag, settling on sweat shorts and a plain t-shirt before retreating to the bathroom. Personally he preferred sleeping nude but that definitely wasn't happening tonight. Once the bathroom door was closed he leaned on the counter and scrubbed his eyes with one hand, trying to figure out how they had gone from business dinner to Fox in his clothing and honestly not sure if it was a horrible twist or a lovely gift from fate. He settled on horrible gift from fate and went about his pre-bed routine.

When he left the bathroom, the room was dark except for the city lights coming in from the balcony. His eyes adapted to the dark and he saw the comforter was turned back, Fox under the sheets on the near side of the bed, laying on his stomach with his head on one of the pillows, breathing quiet. Silently hoping that Fox had passed out, Wolf tiptoed around the bed and pulled the sheet back on the other side, settling into the bed with the sheet at waist height, laying on his side with his back toward Fox and staring out the balcony window. He was half asleep when the bed shifted a bit, and the lazy thump of Fox's tail started sounding off through the room, the sheet shifting with it, Fox's eyes like lasers on his back. He tried to ignore it, but after several minutes straight of it happening a snicker started deep in his chest.

"For fuck's SAKE, McCloud, cut it out!"

"I'm not doing nothing." Fox started giggling, which quickly progressed into full throated cheerful laughter.

"Go. To. SLEEP!" Wolf protested, but the laughter was infectious. It took several minutes for both to wind down, and Fox went silent again. Wolf was nearly asleep again when the bed shifted and Fox nestled into his back, startling in shock when Fox's arm wrapped around his waist to keep him there. Not knowing how to react, he stayed there frozen, feeling Fox sigh softly and relax, arm going limp with sleep, his face tucked to Wolf's shoulder blades. Unable to move, Wolf gave up and let himself sleep, unable to get the wry smile off his face.

Wolf woke up slowly, awareness coming to him in bits and pieces. The first thing that sank in was that the world appeared to be gently rocking. In his still dreamy stupor it took him several moments to realize that it was someone breathing, then other senses checked in and the smell of Fox flooded his mind. After that he was scrambling for consciousness, blinking blearily and having to turn his head to get a better look at the situation.

Fox was asleep at an angle across the bed on his back, head turned to rest on a pillow, breathing evenly. The opposite side of the bed he'd started on. Wolf himself was also sleeping at an angle, sprawled mostly on top of Fox, chest to chest with his head resting on one of Fox's shoulders. Fox's arms were wrapped around him, one of his legs wrapped around one of Wolf's. He vaguely remembered getting up to use the bathroom, which made Fox wake up and decide to do so. That had been in the wee hours of the morning. He wasn't sure how they'd ended up like this, but Fox's subconscious had apparently been fine with the arrangement.

God dammit so much.

It took him several minutes to disentangle himself from Fox without waking him up. As it was the younger man muttered and tried to yank him back down, he'd resisted the tug and eventually been able to roll off and sit on the edge of the bed, leaving Fox to mutter vaguely in his sleep and roll onto his side with a sigh. This done he shook off a bit and looked at his watch. Nine in the morning. Time to get up, he guessed, if anything so there wouldn't be a contest for the shower.

He was in the shower when reality hit him. All this had happened and he'd managed not to hit on Fox. Well, a point to his willpower, he guessed. Maybe they had a chance at a relatively normal relationship. Fox had called him a friend during dinner, and he actually liked that idea a lot.

Then he was out of the shower and dressed, finishing towel drying his headfur and staring at Fox, who was sprawled on the bed on his stomach again, sheet at his hips and borrowed clothes twisted tight around him, and Wolf had to fight with himself as memories from Aquas slammed him. Beautiful. Lover. Mine.

God DAMMIT so much!

A cussing spree on the balcony later, he had phoned the hotel staff and had had Fox's suit picked up for cleaning and more towels dropped off, cuing up music on his laptop at a quiet volume and going through a yoga salute to the sun, determined not to fuck this up again.

Fox woke up slowly, blinking awake and wincing a bit when the sunlight hit his eyes, taking stock of himself. Yeah, he had a hangover but not much of one, just the barest hint niggling at him that he drank too much the night before. He grunted and pushed himself up on his elbows, looking toward the balcony and amused to see Wolf in an exalted warrior pose, trance music playing faintly. "G'morning."

"Morning." Wolf kept the pose a few more seconds then came out of it, turning and wandering over. He was in loose black cargo shorts and a plain grey t-shirt tucked in, a contrast to how he'd been dressed the day before. "You hung over?"

"Not badly so." He rolled and sat up, scratching the back of his head groggily. "If memory serves I was a damn idiot last night. Sorry."

Wolf chuckled. "Nah, though you could have stopped at three beers. You can't hold your liquor for shit." He ruffled Fox's head stripe. "Take a shower. I'm not sure if your suit's done yet, but I can call down and ask."

"Right." Fox endured the ruffling and slid off the bed, staggering to his feet and catching his balance with effort, then shaking off and walking to the bathroom, taking the borrowed tank top off as he went, totally unaware he was being stared at.

Once the door had closed, Wolf let out the held breath and bit his own knuckles to express his frustration. Why the hell was this so difficult? Telling himself to let it go, he walked back to where he was and tried to return to his salute to the sun, but found himself unable to as he heard the shower kick on and his mind kicked into overdrive, falling out of a pose and sitting on the edge of the bed, knitting his hands into the fur between his ears as he tried very very hard not to think. This was not a problem, he was in control, he could get the hell over Fox and move on.

Then he heard Fox mutter vaguely in the shower, something about Wolf's brand of shampoo, and Wolf gave up, putting on socks and lacing up running shoes. He grabbed his headphones, shoving his keys into his pocket and hitting the bathroom door with his fist once in passing. "Hey, take your time man, I'm going for a quick run." Not giving Fox time enough to answer, he was out the door and out of the hotel, headphones on, hitting his stride and putting distance between himself and the hotel. If he couldn't control himself, he could avoid the situation at least. He wasn't as fast as Fox, but he had endurance and he'd run in the downtown area many times.

In spite of going through the war, Corneria City had recovered, a fact he was very glad about. That was one thing he'd hated a lot about working for Venom. His family members lived in the suburbs, and he'd lived in the area on and off for years. It had been home, and it probably always would be in a way. It was familiar territory, a comfortable place, even as it changed and grew. The business districts started changing around him as he ran, leaving the restaurants and hotels and passing through a stock district, then hitting the edge of the art district. He looked at his watch and let himself stop at a corner, leaning on his knees and calming his breathing. He'd been running just over twenty minutes, he could probably turn back and Fox would be out of the shower by the time he was back upstairs.

So, he'd be dealing with a clean, wet Fox with a towel around his waist in lieu of his suit, or indeed any clothing at all.

I can't avoid this forever. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, frustrated with himself, taking a look around. He'd never spent a lot of time in the art district, except occasionally coming here with his family when he was younger. It was a sprawl of galleries, studios, and interesting shops. There was an art school or two somewhere nearby, so most of the sidewalk traffic was interestingly dressed younger people, some of which gave him the eye as they walked by. He just lifted an eyebrow at them and started walking, shoving his hands in his pockets. He'd just noted a café and was pondering jogging back so he could drag Fox there for lunch when his eyes fell on the large gallery next to it. The Glass Factory. That was familiar…

Oh, right. That was the place James had been railing him to drop by, run by the woman with the silly name… Fannie? Yeah, Fannie. He eyed the place briefly and shrugged, jogging across the street and taking a look into the café (ooh, gyros and hummus, he'd be coming back here) before moving down a storefront and peering into the gallery. In spite of its name, it was not a factory of any sort, though it may have been a long time ago. The gallery itself seemed spacious and white, the art inside widely varied. He could see some comfortable looking chairs and a coffee bar. Curiosity got the better of him and he opened the door, stepping in and looking around. A few art students looked up from sketch books curiously as he meandered around. Wow, so it's a gallery, he decided with a snort, though the techno music still playing on his headphones did make the whole situation a bit surreal.

Toward the back he ran across an empty corner of the wing, nothing hanging up and just an empty canvas on an easel. Wondering briefly if it was some sort of display, he walked over and pondered it, looking down at a rolling set of drawers that looked to be full of paint and other artistic errata. Looking back at the blank canvas, his hand twitched, remembering Fox from the night before.

Leaning back on his balcony, the city lights behind him, the dress shirt hugging his torso, the jacket falling away just so, the lazy tilt of his head and content smile.

Then he was digging into drawers and coming out with a woodless pencil, turning up the volume on the headphones and attacking the canvas, tilting the pencil so he was drawing in wide charcoal-grey arcs. The line of the balcony and the rails, the vague skyline behind him, out of focus but a back drop all the same. Fox's slouched pose against the rails. He had to get this out of his head or it'd stick with him longer.

That's what art had always been to him, a way to vent. The chaos in his head went onto the paper, and left him settled, the issues worked out. Sometimes the binders tore under his force or he went straight through the canvas, he'd always shrugged about it. Venting was venting, who cared about the end product? But now, that wasn't the case, he wanted what was in his head on the paper.

It did give him some problems. He had to move and adjust things, and shift his position a lot due to only working out of one eye. He knew it wasn't reality, exactly. It was what he saw, and if it was anything he'd learned from therapy is that not everyone perceived reality the same way.

Eventually he put the charcoal pencil down on the easel and stared at what he'd drawn, and came to the realization that there were people behind him. He froze, then slowly reached up and took his headphones off, looking over his shoulder. A half circle had formed around him, mostly younger people, a few of which had sketchbooks (one of which had even brought a stool over to sit on, what the hell?), a few people in suits with curious expressions, but the main one was a middle-aged woman. She was a white tiger with an in-your-face build and clothing that did nothing to hide it, though she was fairly conservatively dressed. And she had an eyebrow lifted at him.

"Uh. I think I owe someone a canvas." He finally said. "Sorry."

"We shall see." The tigress stepped forward, hands clasped behind her back. "Have we met?"

"No." He watched her as she stepped up even with him, stepping to the side so she could see what he'd drawn. He started to say something else, but she held up a hand and stuck a finger to his lips to shush him.

She tilted her head to one side, pondering. It was under work, obviously, a fairly quickly done sketch, a portrait. The figure was male, younger. She quickly decided she hadn't seen this new guy's work before, she'd be able to recognize it in a heart beat. The perspective was… off, somehow, the drawing high energy and angular, sharp, grabable somehow. She humphed and turned back toward Wolf, folding her arms and nodding at the canvas. "You need to finish it."

"Er, ok?" He wasn't particularly like any artist she'd seen. Artists tended toward skinny, underfed, he was tall and broad, heavy muscles and battlescars. Particularly interesting was one of his eyes, which was blurry blue and unfocused. It was no wonder he'd drawn the art students over, he was an artist's dream for a model.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"Yes. That'd be very nice." He stared after her, totally confused, before looking back at the sketch out he'd done. Well, alright then.

Time passed. He dug through the drawers in search of what he wanted, and ended up settling on oil. The painting didn't go as fast as the drawing, not nearly so, it took him a while to get the florescent haze of the city in the background and to work out the folds of Fox's suit. The more he progressed, the more contrast hit the canvas, and he had to keep closing his eyes to rewind to the night before. People came and went behind him, he was distantly aware of conversation but he ignored it. The tigress brought him a few cups of coffee, then switched to juice, which he'd been fine with.

Eventually he dropped the abused paint brush in a cup of turpentine and stared at the canvas before just reaching out with a finger and using his claw to etch his first name along the bottom edge of the canvas, right into the paint. Then he took the headphones off and saw the low battery light flashing, and reality returned like a ton of bricks. He looked at his watch and gaped.

"Yeah, you've been here about four hours, a little more maybe." The tigress walked up, seeming amused, looking at the canvas and reading the name. "Artemis. I guess that's you."

"Yeah."

"Well, Artemis, I'm Fannie. I own Glass Factory. As luck would have it, a return customer of mine wants to buy your painting."

The world seemed to get small and narrow around Wolf, the air sucking out of the room. "What?"

"Yeah, hell of a concept isn't it. You did an entire painting in a go standing in a gallery and someone wants to buy it." She smiled a touch. "Being it was my canvas, I could just do it and pocket the profit but that seems rude, so I'm just going to take my usual twenty percent and you get the rest." She looked at the picture again. "I don't know who he is, but you rendered him well. He's cute."

Reality hit Wolf again, and he abandoned his concern about one of his paintings being sold in favor of realizing he'd abandoned Fox naked in a hotel room, looking at his watch again. "Oh shit."

"And I take it he's sitting somewhere wondering where the hell you are." She chuckled. "Get out. Go. I can't actually sell this for a few days because it has to dry, I'll need you back before that to fill in some paperwork so I can pay you. Understand?"

"Yeah, I do. Listen, thanks."

"Don't thank me. Get out, someone's waiting for you." She grinned, watching him take off running out of the gallery and grab a taxi. "Well that was amusing." She stepped behind the canvas and lifted it gently from the back, toting it to a back room and wondering if ‘Artemis' realized just how much money he'd made today. She doubted it.

Wolf tossed money at the taxi driver and climbed out, running into the hotel and through the lobby, cussing himself the entire way as he slapped the elevator button and took it up, running down the hallway and carding the room door open. "I am so sorry…!"

"Dude." Fox said, looking at him in surprise. He was back in his suit, slouched comfortably in a chair with a beer and an empty tray of food. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Losing track of time elsewhere." Wolf closed the door behind him, walking over. "I am so fucking sorry. I didn't mean to leave you here for damn near five hours."

"No worries. This has been like a miniature vacation. Do you know this place has a spa?"

Wolf blinked then slowly lifted an eyebrow. "That explains why you smell like raspberry vanilla and you've gotten a haircut. I take it there's going to be some interesting charges to my room bill." When Fox gave him a ‘well duh' look, he nodded. "Alright then, that seems fair. Glad to know you enjoyed yourself in my absence."

Fox snickered and finished his beer. "You smell like turpentine."

"Yeah, I dumped some on myself earlier." Wolf sat heavily in the other chair across from Fox. "I'd invite you out to a really late lunch but you already ate."

"Another day then. I went back over those contracts from yesterday and I like them more and more. It may take me a few days but I should be able to work it out with my guys." He offered his hand across the table. "I guess you can consider me a business partner."

"Very good." Wolf grinned and shook his hand. "What made you settle on it?"

"I think I like your life, and we get along well. Why not?" Fox stood. "I'll call you in a week or so to set up the paintball ok? But in the mean time I have some angry as fuck teammates to deal with, so if you could give me a ride back to my ship it'd be awesome."

"Alright." He stood back up, digging his keys back out of his pocket as they exited the room.

"So where the hell did you go anyway?" Fox asked, following him out of the building and to the parking garage.

"Long story. I'll get back to you."

"I'll hold you to that."