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>>the cards — chapter fifteen: ante up — part two::

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>>THE CARDS — CHAPTER FIFTEEN: ANTE UP — PART TWO::

Ringshadow

Disclaimer: 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.

 

Wolf twitched and opened his eyes, folding his ears back at the low harsh jangle of the alarm clock. Next to him Fox moaned and stuck an arm out from under the sheet, swatting at the alarm clock until he found the right button and turned it off. "Seven in the morning? Dude."

"Lazy ass." Wolf chuckled, nibbling the back of Fox's neck then sitting up, stretching and yawning widely. "I like to go running before breakfast."

Fox grunted, rolling on his back and folding an arm behind his head, watching Wolf roll off the bed and start going through a series of stretches. Yoga probably, he supposed, he'd seen Wolf do some of this before but he'd been dressed then. Wolf was currently nude, and Fox rolled to his side and propped up on one elbow, staring. "Gods damn, dude."

"What?" He blinked at Fox, shifting into a lunge and feeling a few bones pop.

"I could get used to waking up to this." He smiled and shook his head, sitting up fully and shifting to the edge of the bed. "Want some company on your run?"

"I'd love some. I have some sights on the island I wanted to show you, anyway." He smiled warmly, coming out of the stretch and stepping over to the bed, pulling Fox up into a kiss.

Fox smiled into the embrace, tail wagging, breaking the kiss off with a laugh when Wolf grabbed his ass. "Hey, now, I thought we were going running."

"We are. I assume you have some appropriate clothing."

"Yeah, in the other room." He huffed and stepped away, finding his shorts and tank top with minor difficulty. "Back in a few."

"Take your time."

Fox quietly opened the door and stuck his head out, and found an empty corridor, with the only sounds being the air circulation and the distant omnipresent sound of crashing waves on the sea cliff. Smiling to himself, he padded down the corridor and let himself into the room Katt and he had picked, not surprised to find her still asleep, sprawled diagonally across the bed. After changing into exercise clothes and lacing on some running shoes, he kissed her cheek gently and headed back down the hallway.

"Katt still crashed?" Wolf asked, kneeling and tying one of his shoes.

"Yeah." He watched Wolf stand and pick a shirt up off the end of the bed, shrugging into it. "You run every morning?"

"Yeah, in one way or another. If the weather's really terrible I treadmill instead. I do weights in the afternoon, alternating days between stamina and strength training." He shrugged, putting on a watch. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah, let's go."

The sun was already up on the island, reflecting brightly off a reasonably calm sea. Since neither of them had sunglasses, Wolf took them on a path that had their backs to the sun for the time being, setting off at an easy jog, following along the top edge of the beach line. The day's heat hadn't started yet, happily, and they quickly put the base behind them, pacing each other.

"I run in the city sometimes, I like this better though." Fox remarked, panting lightly. "Cops always want to know what the big hurry is."

"Yeah, been there done that." Wolf snickered, following a path he'd taken before. The island wasn't all that large really, only a few square miles, and he'd covered most of it at some point while running. "Besides, gotta love the view here, right?"

"No kidding. And the smells."

"Hey, this way." Wolf cut off the beach path and into the woods, cheerfully dodging around the trees, Fox close behind him. The trees on the island were thick based, squatty, snarly things, most not taller than thirty feet, roots spreading wide to try to secure themselves against the planet's many hard storms. Also present were flowers and a lot of birds, but Fox barely caught glimpses as he tried to keep up with the other man.

Shortly they came out of the treeline, and Wolf stopped, stretching out on the sandy shore of a stream.

"Holy shit, you own a river." Fox said, laughing and also stretching. "Is the water drinkable?"

"Yeah, not anything in it of concern far as we're aware, we've tested the crap out of it." Wolf gestured and started moving again, following the stream up the hill at a lazy jog, Fox trotting along behind him.

"You know where we're going right?"

"Yeah, I want to show you something awesome."

Fox lifted his eyebrows, but didn't ask, panting harder as the grade of the hill increased, glad when Wolf followed a turn in the water and stopped. "Damn man, when you run you run." He finally said, stopping next to him then looking where Wolf was. Here the stream widened in a calm shallow pool, and at the far end there was a waterfall, probably twenty feet tall, the water crashing down black volcanic rock. "Oh, holy shit."

"Told you it was awesome." Wolf was already pulling his shirt off.

"Dude, seriously?"

"Yes, seriously, it's hot, humid, and I'm thirsty." He grinned. "Don't tell me you weren't thinking it." He bent and unlaced his shoes, stepping out of them and his socks.

"Naked in the woods, though?" Fox laughed and took his shirt off.

"No one else is around for literally hundreds of miles. So why not?" He snickered and pulled Fox into a hug, grabbing his ass again.

"Are you like this every time you get up?"

"Wouldn't you like to know." That said, Wolf stepped away, got out of his shorts, and splashed into the water, leaving Fox to catch up.

Katt padded down the hall and up the stairs cheerfully, stepping onto the common area floor of the base and looking around. She hadn't been surprised when she'd woke up alone, really, though Fox's duffel bag was open and gone through. She'd only laughed and taken a shower, pleased to find there were indeed towels already in the bathroom. Now, with her hair pulled back and in a sundress and sandals, she felt girly and on vacation, which was appropriate she figured. After all she was currently the only set of tits on the island.

The living room area was empty, but the kitchen wasn't, and she joined Leon and Alec at the counter. "Good morning."

"Morning, sleep well? Panther asked, in the process of chopping fruit. Leon had his eyes mostly closed, clasping a mug of tea in both hands, Alec had a cup of coffee and was reading a laptop screen.

"Yeah, actually. No one else up?"

"Not yet. ZAK will give everyone else a wakeup shortly for breakfast. How do you take your coffee? I have an espresso press if that's more your style, too."

"Coffee's fine, is there cream?" She watched, amused as he poured her a cup and slid it over the counter to her, along with a mini pitcher of cream.

"Wolf and Fox are up. They're out running." Leon said, taking a slow drink of his tea. "Saw them leave a little bit ago."

"Ahh. Yeah, that sounds about right." Katt stirred her coffee with a spoon, chuckling. "What's for breakfast?"

"Fruit and granola pancakes, bacon on the side." Panther replied. "I've got syrup and honey, the honey's local but the syrup is off Katina."

"Sounds amazing." She chuckled. "Seriously, it's like a vacation with a private chef."

"Don't butter him up too much, he's arrogant enough." Wolf remarked, straggling into the room with Fox, both still soaking wet, clothes stuck to them. "I think we'll be right back."

"What the hell happened to you?" Katt burst into laughter, looking at them both. "It's not raining, did you go swimming clothed or something?"

"Something like that." Wolf agreed, heading down the stairs.

Fox grinned and wandered over, leaning on the counter next to Katt. "Any chance on coffee?"

"Of course." Panther poured him some and passed the mug. "Fresh water… Oh, he showed you the waterfall, didn't he?"

"Yes and it was cold but fucking awesome." Fox knocked back some of the coffee.

"I demand you show me later." Katt shoved him.

"Yeah, yeah, be right back babe." He took off down the stairs, still grinning.

The two groups settled quickly into a routine, and the next few days passed quickly. By the end of the second day they'd gotten comfortable enough they tried flying each other's planes, Star Wolf having to adapt to the size and fast pickup of the Arwings, Star Fox having to adapt to the bulk and power of the Wolfens. The third day they tried some actual formation flying, Wolf and Fox trading off who headed the formation. Surprisingly, it worked out fairly well. The two groups actually got along extremely well now that they were used to each other. Leon was never particularly social or chatty, but still seemed to make overtures to everyone else. It turned out the collection he built the cases for was a collection of ancient torture and medical tools. Once he had everything built and arranged, he let everyone come in to look.

"The first few of these, people… former employers… just gave to me. Then it somehow got around, and other employers offered them, or would direct me to people who had them." Leon shrugged. "The newest thing in this cabinet is about three hundred and fifty years old."

"Shouldn't this stuff all be in museums?" Falco wanted to know, leaning and staring through the glass at what appeared to be an ancient surgery kit, the information card next to it identifying it and putting it's age at over a thousand years. "I mean, I've heard this stuff can be really fragile."

"Yeah, when I die it'll all be donated… in the mean time, I like having them here. It's… historical grounding. I like it when something has age you can feel." He shrugged again, watching everyone else look at the cabinets.

"Solid silver jewel encrusted chakra torture tools?" Fox wanted to know, staring at the items in question, which were laid out on black velvet in a circle. He was pretty sure he could see sapphires, rubies, and diamonds, he would have thought them strange jewelry if not for the size and sharpness of them.

"Those are an oddity for a lot of reasons. Beautiful things, though. Cursed supposedly, picked them up for a song because of it."

"You don't believe in curses?" Peppy lifted an eyebrow. Leon just smiled.

In the end, everyone seemed to agree the business partnership had been a good idea. Which was good, because on day four, duty called.

"Commander, there is a call incoming. I've directed it to the command deck."

ZAK said through the overhead, turning a camera to find Wolf.

"Oh, really? Anyone we know?" Wolf wanted to know. He was sitting on a lounge chair on the patio outside the base, a sketchbook on his lap, doodling a picture of Panther and Falco, who were arguing about grilling. Personally for Wolf, it was an actual fire pit, a brick oven, or nothing. Panther and Falco meanwhile seemed to be weighing up wood versus charcoal in drum barbecues and smokers.

"No, sir. It is however work related. I answered the call, they're currently on hold, should I tell them you're on the way?"

This statement made everyone nearby pause, looking at Wolf. Wolf sighed and stood up off the lounge chair, closing the binder. "Tell them I'm coming. Where's Fox?"

"Weight room, sir."

"Give him a roust, tell him to meet me there, will you please?"

"Certainly sir."

Wolf cheerfully walked down the stairs, toe claws rattling on the stone floor as he walked, and wasn't surprised when Fox met him on the stairs, wiping his face off with a towel. "Work?" Fox wanted to know. "Seriously?"

"Possibly." Wolf agreed, leading the way into the command area. "Ok, we're here, hit the overhead and visuals ZAK."

There was a brief pause, then the main screen turned on, showing a middle aged man in a security uniform, who just lifted his eyebrows at the state of Fox and Wolf. "I do hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"No, not a damn thing, we're just not on the job right now. Can I ask who we're talking to?" Wolf wanted to know, grabbing a chair and sitting down.

"I'm Jake Martin, Security Chief of Fringe Sector General. And it pleases me that you're not currently working, because we need you on the job tomorrow."

"Really." Fox also sat down. "Well I'm Fox McCloud, Star Fox, and this is Wolf O'Donnel, Star Wolf. I'm sure we could be interested in some work, tell us more."

As it turned out, Fringe Sector General was the slang name of a slowly roaming hospital convoy that usually traveled the fringe. It was three very large cruisers, one large main one and two satellite ships, the main ship large enough it carried mobile space station status. To that end, the convoy was very slow moving and very slow to change course. Currently it was in orbit around Zoness, doing a regular resupply and personnel exchange, and was due to leave for the fringe the next day.

"These ships don't have much in the way of external defenses. Our internal security is decent, but it won't really matter if we're breached in the first place. Now most people won't attack a hospital because they all know the unofficial policy is anyone who attacks Fringe Sector General goes on a blacklist, but that doesn't stop everyone… and we'll have a full supply of food, water, and narcotics." Martin rubbed one of his temples. "Until yesterday, we had an escort team, but they dropped out on us, so we've found ourselves in the position of needing a flight escort team immediately."

"Well, we've both certainly done escort jobs. That being said, we're just seven craft and a carrier. Do you think that fits your needs?" Wolf wanted to know.

"Should be enough. Mostly it's about showy dissuasion, honestly. It's like open carrying a gun: if they see you're there, they won't try anything. Not to say it'll be a totally clear ride though." He hit a few keys. "I've sent your AI the particulars. Now, these are some seriously big boomers, and they move slow and turn slow. It's going to be a long job, you're looking at two weeks being our shadow, if everything goes well."

"I'm sure we can handle that." Wolf said, watching as ZAK brought up the highlights on a screen next to the main screen. "That's a good sized chunk of change you're offering us, Chief Martin."

"Considering the time press, the powers that be agreed to lift the usual pay fifteen percent."

"Hmm, well…" Fox looked at Wolf than back at the screen. "Can we call you back in, say, an hour? I for one would like to discuss this with my crew."

"That's fair, just be sure to get back to me either way so I'll know if I have to call someone else."

"Of course. Talk to you shortly." Wolf gestured for ZAK to end the connection, then sat back and folded his arms, considering. "ZAK, move the job particulars to the main screen. What do you think?" He wanted to know, looking at Fox.

"I think we need work." Fox replied frankly, slowly rubbing the underside of his muzzle. "And it seems as good a job as any to work together for the first time on. Pay seems reasonable, too."

"I agree. ZAK, can you ask everyone else to come down here? Thanks."

In the end, the groups agreed: short notice or not, they needed work. Star Fox left that night for the time being, retreating to Corneria to get a resupply from Arspace and to drop Katt off, who would not be going with on the job, as well as Alec, who had to return to his normal job and hitched a ride. Wolf and Leon spent the evening helping Panther, whose response to all of this was to prepare a bunch of stuff ahead of time so he could keep meals prepared on the Great Fox. Then the next morning, Star Wolf launched to meet the Great Fox in orbit, ZAK closing up the base behind them.

"That's going to take a while to get used to." Falco remarked, hands on his hips as he regarded the three Wolfens in line with the Arwings in the docking bay.

"Yeah." Fox agreed, staring at it. "I mean I've always been good with us teaming up since Wolf broached the idea but this is like getting smacked in the face with reality."

"I'm sure it'll be fine, man. Hell, better than the war, at least. We've got someone with a clue cooking, more bodies in pilot seats, shit like that."

Fox nodded, heading for the command deck and zoning out a bit as he moved. He'd been a bit sad to see the 'vacation' end. He, Katt, and Wolf were actually starting to seem like fast friends, though he and Wolf hadn't told everyone else about their relationship. Except for the first night, he'd crashed with Katt, and ran with Wolf in the morning, which always made Katt smirk when they returned wet from swimming. Given it was hot as hell on Aquas, and humid, and diving in the ocean or wading in the stream certainly seemed like a logical relief from that. Of course, Katt knew the truth: it was also a great way to kill the smell of lazy post exercise sex. She seemed to greatly enjoy getting him to tell details, and he didn't really care: he was fairly sure he was going to carry the memory of fucking in a waterfall forever.

He shook off as he stepped onto the command deck, going to his chair and flopping down, lacing his fingers behind his head. "We ready to get this show started?"

"Seems that way." Peppy replied, glancing at various readouts where he was sitting. "We're going to arrive before the convoy is actually ready to move out. Nothing wrong with arriving early."

"Better than being late."

He paused, looking at Fox. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I…" He paused, looking at Peppy. "Wolf and I are fucking."

Peppy lifted his eyebrows slowly. "Well, talk about coming out with it. Yeah, I kind of guessed you were, honestly."

Fox blanched, then laughed. "Really?"

"Yeah. I roomed with your father at the Academy, young man, and I'm not blind. Besides, you and Katt are white noise fields when together… but so are you and Wolf." He paused. "I assume Katt knows."

"Yeah, she does. She seems to approve, which honestly freaks me out a little." He tilted his head back and sighed. "Do I tell everyone else? I mean, yeah we weren't really out with it on Aquas and I don't think either of us really do public displays of affection, but I'll be honest… two weeks on a job? Uh, yeah."

Peppy pondered. "Nah, I wouldn't bother until it becomes necessary." He paused, then snickered.

Fox gave him a puzzled look. "What?"

"Apples and trees, is all. You're definitely your father's son."

"Riiiight."

Wolf appeared in the doorway, leaning there. "We ready to get underway? I think we're all set."

"Yeah, let's do this thing."

The Great Fox arrived in orbit around Zoness a few hours before the hospital convoy was set to leave, which ended up being a good thing. It gave Fox and Wolf time to hash out plans with the administrators of the main ship. As it turned out, their usual flight escort numbered a dozen fighters, and they were a little worried about being down to seven. The two team commanders did what they could to dissuade it, and as the convoy rolled out, they agreed to keep a rotating schedule and active combat readiness around the clock.

"Uneven number, though. So either someone's pulling a double or someone's standing watch alone." Falco rubbed his lower beak as the Great Fox swung into formation with the hospital convoy, throttling down to pace them.

"I'll work a double." Leon replied. "I don't sleep much, so it won't bother me."

"Alright, if you're ok with that, I am." Wolf nodded once. "How long of shifts do we want to do? Four hours?"

"Should work." Fox said, still slouched in his command chair. "It'll be a little edgy but everyone should try to stay rested, fed, and hydrated. If something does happen…"

"Scramble call. Out and fighting in under a minute." Peppy said.

"Two weeks of this could get a bit nerve wracking." Panther observed.

"I agree. Let's try not to get too stressed out, though. The money's good."

Fox stretched his arms and stood. "Wolf, you're coming with me."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Where to?"

"Fighters, I want to do some one on one fucking around and at the pace we're going I don't see a reason why not, plus we can double it as an active patrol of sorts."

He grinned and folded his arms. "Sure, right behind you."

"Peppy has the chair." That said, Fox left the command deck, Wolf on his heels.

"One on one fucking around? Really?" Wolf snickered, following him down the halls, which were gradually getting more familiar.

At times it was still a bit unreal, that they'd transitioned from enemies to business partners and lovers, but each day that feeling lessened a bit and this seemed to be sealing it. The Great Fox was a good ship, battle-scarred but still solid, and he was glad to be on it instead of fighting against it.

"Yes. We didn't really get a chance before this." Fox moved through the ship by habit, zipping up his flight jacket as he walked. "By the way, does Leon really not sleep much or is he just saying so?"

"Leon's not a liar. He really doesn't sleep much, something like four hours a day, five at most. He averaged less during the war probably but was still pretty clear and level headed." Wolf shrugged. "So yeah he's probably the best person to pull doubles as needed."

"I agree, Falco and I are both either grouchy bitches or over-caffeinated jitterbugs if we get less than five hours sleep in a twenty-four hour span."

"Noted."

A few moments later, they had sealed up in their craft and launched, Fox leading them in a lazy loop around the Great Fox and ending up above the convoy, appraising the situation.

"Well, I feel pretty gods damn small right now." Fox decided, rolling his Arwing and staring down at the main Fringe General ship. "Honestly, their size is almost an advantage."

"Like attacking an elephant. You'd need a pretty good sized force." Wolf agreed. "Alright, McCloud, I like this idea but is there anything in particular you're wanting to work on?"

Fox snorted, rolling the Arwing back over a few times and ending up above Wolf's cockpit in the same position, looking down at him, maybe a foot between the cockpit windows. "How about close quarters flight coordination?"

"Sure, you lead, I follow, then we switch it up."

"Would you look at the state of that." Falco said, staring at a few of the screens, where ROB had been good enough to bring up video of what Fox and Wolf were doing.

"Nicely done really." Leon replied, looking at the screens from where he was seated. "And not a bad idea. Even if he compensates well, Wolf's got no depth, plus the added difficulty of different sized fighters."

They're listening to music. Figures." Peppy chuckled, taking the headphones off and putting them around his neck. "You guys can shove off and relax, I think the first round's covered."

"Sure, man."

James barely looked up when Felix let himself into his apartment, almost entirely absorbed in what he was doing, arranging the different information on Rio's screens by touch as he tried to connect some pieces of information that his instincts told him were important.

"I could have capped your ass, you know." Felix observed, setting a bag of groceries on the counter and looking at the old coffee in the machine with disapproval before emptying it and reloading it. That done he stepped out of the kitchen and laughed when James had a gun on him without looking.

"Wiseass."

"You love me." He shoved the gun back into the small of his back.

"Wow, it's a slug thrower too." Felix stepped over and relieved him of the gun, looking at it. "Beautiful gun, babe. Feeling paranoid?"

"You aren't?"

"Touché. I have three guns on me right now." He returned the gun to James' holster, sighing and taking the other man's computer chair since he wasn't using it.

"I've told probably half my informers to ditch if they can. I have too many not reporting in. Something's going on and I don't know what, and I haven't been in this position for years."

"Oh, some lighter news, look." James leaned and tapped through windows on one of the touch screens, eventually bringing up a security video feed he was pirating off Fringe Sector General which showed the Great Fox pacing them. "Boy's on the job, and Star Wolf's with them."

"Yeah, I heard. Honestly I couldn't be happier with them being out of Lylat, at least until I know what's going on."

"Yeah, check this out." He changed screens again. "Did you get this? It's the official deployment orders for the fringe patrols."

"No, I didn't get that." Felix leaned and drug the window over to a screen closer to him, reading this. "That's fucking weird and doesn't measure up against current pirate activity at all. Did you ever get more information about their restructuring?"

"Nope, and what information I'm getting is through a hacker skimming their communications, as in this case. I've lost my contacts in the fringe patrol. Dead or silent, I don't know." James shifted and sat on his couch, pushing his glasses to his forehead and rubbing his eyes. "I don't like this."

"Neither am I, and I'm running out of people I can leverage." Felix turned the chair, looking at him. "We're living in the moment before the first boot drops."

"Yeah, and I can't shake the feeling we're somehow tangled up in it."

"I agree. I've actually moved my funds and terminated old bank accounts. I can't prove it but I think some of my accounts were being watched."

"Aren't they all under assumed names?"

"Yeah."

"Shit. Someone is trying to find you."

"That's my theory too." He stood, walking over and taking James' glasses off, rubbing his scalp slowly. "Honestly, I want to be impressed, because that's the closest anyone's come in years. That being said, watch yourself baby. You're under deep cover, but it ain't that deep, know what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, I get you." He sighed, and leaned into the attention, tail wagging slowly. "You staying out here for a while?"

"For now. Besides, I'm rather curious how the job your kid's on will go."

"Mm. Makes two of us. And no meddling in it."

"Never."

It took both teams a while to get used to the pace of the slow moving convoy. While they'd understood how slow they'd be moving, they quickly realized they hadn't mentally compared that to the usual speed they traveled and fought at. The Great Fox ran at less than fifteen percent throttle unless it was circling the convoy, which it ended up doing on a regular basis. As did the crew, when they were out in their craft doing patrols, which any of them would have admitted was little more than a show of force. Realistically, the pace of the job did nothing for their nerves, especially when the convoy remarked that the Fringe patrols had redeployed and the convoy had to redo all of their risk zone prediction maps as the old ones were now completely wrong.

"Ok, tell me about the fringe patrol." Fox finally said, sitting down heavily in his chair and rubbing his temples. They were four days into the job, and since he and Wolf weren't on the same watch they'd been reduced to greeting each other in passing in the hallway. "I remember vaguely hearing about it at the Academy, in the terms of 'If you really fuck up, that's where we send you.'"

"Actually believe it or not, it used to be a sweet gig, or so I was told."

Peppy replied, looking at the information sent to them by the convoy. "Though problem pilots did get sent there, mostly because of the lack of things to run into with your plane."

"Ah, yes. 'Go fly circles in space until you suck less.'" Fox took a long drag from his coffee. "So, do we care about them?"

"Potentially, potentially not. They all got left out here during the war, as far as I know. These days they only seem tangentially related to the military." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Pepper has been talking about pulling them all back in, something about if they keep leaving them outside the system they'll end up like an undercover cop that went too deep. End up a pirate force themselves you know? I never really agreed with that theory. Either way, they're technically on our side. Mostly they patrol the more traveled regions of space and try to keep the assholes away from the merchant traffic. That being said, this deployment order doesn't make a goddamn bit of sense."

"It's the military. Why WOULD it make sense?"

"Touché. As for how it affects us, it honestly shouldn't. The only time we were planning on standing down from full combat readiness was when in the patrol circle of an actual station, right?"

"Yeah, that's how I have it worked."

"Then it doesn't affect us." Peppy shrugged. "If you don't mind though I may try to dig up some more information on this anyway."

"Dig away." Fox stood and stretched with a grunt. "Think I can get away with taking a nap?"

"Sure."

He nodded vaguely and wandered down the hall. They actually hadn't seen any real action yet. There'd been a few tense moments when they'd seen potentially hostile forces on the edge of radar range, but said forces had never made a move, just given the wide berth and watched them pass. Boring work, but good money so far. Pondering that he'd be open to doing this kind of job more often, he paused when he saw the den lights dimly on, sticking his head into the room.

Wolf was sprawled out on his side on the couch, fast asleep, the television idle on screensaver mode. He'd kicked out of his boots, but was otherwise fully clothed, snoring very quietly. Fox stared at this, tiptoeing into the room and turning the television and media player off, then getting out of his own boots, dropping his flight jacket aside and killing the lights the rest of the way. Poking Wolf once was enough to prompt the other man to sleepily mutter and shift back so there was enough room for two, Fox happily laying down and snuggling in. Wolf only mumbled something, wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in close, huffing out a sigh that made Fox smile.

"You asleep?"

"Hrmphnh?" Wolf wanted to know.

Fox took that as a yes and snickered, letting himself relax and doze off.

Falco popped his neck, launching his Arwing from the Great Fox one handed then settling both hands to the controls, idly rolling the craft back and forth as he circled the convoy. A week on the job and they'd only had a few minor near-skirmishes to deal with, the attackers diverting away when they'd seen an active combat detail coming to meet them. It didn't make the waiting any less nerve wracking but everyone seemed to have settled into the job and gotten used to each other. And the food was nice, he admitted to himself. Panther had done a decent job making sure there were always leftovers of some kind in the fridge.

He oriented and flew to a position above the convoy, which is where Powalski's Wolfen sat, pacing the group and occasionally doing a patrol around it. "Hey. Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." Leon replied. His ship was on autopilot, and he'd settled into a comfortable position, half meditating. "Decided to change shifts?"

"Couldn't sleep." He moved his Arwing to pace the Wolfen easily.

"Ah. Happens to everyone."

There was a long, empty silence. Falco used it to check other radio channels, and found minor chatter between the convoy vessels and a bit on the merchant channel before just kicking back, lacing his hands and deciding to see when Leon would speak again. After ten minutes of silence, he was going out of his mind and gave up. "Don't talk much, do you?"

"Not really, no." Leon admitted. "You're hardly the first to tell me that. Alec has simply had to get used to my silence."

"Well, any particular reason why?"

He considered. "I suppose it's that I don't like speaking unless I actually have something to say."

"Wow, ouch."

"That wasn't meant to be taken like that." Leon sent a sharp look at the camera inside his cockpit, nudging the throttle to start a patrol around the convoy, not surprised when Falco stayed on his wing. "I have simply never been one for small talk or idle conversation. I've never found it an enjoyable way to pass the time. So I like my conversations to mean something and my words to carry weight. I can manage small talk if I must but I won't particularly enjoy it."

"Oh. Huh." He slouched, one hand on his knee the other on the controls, pacing Leon for several minutes before speaking up again. "I'll just ask. What's wrong with you?"

"Lots of things. Why, what's wrong with you?"

Falco opened his mouth, shut it, then started laughing. "I guess that depends who you ask."

"Doesn't it always." Leon paused, peering at his screens and tapping one of them to zoom in. "That's interesting. We're going to be passing what appears to be a merchant ship on the starboard side of the convoy."

"Hardly the first time." Falco changed his displays to find what Leon was talking about, and blinked when he saw the indicated ship was in fact not moving.

"Oh. Yeah, I get you. Want to check it out?"

"I think that'd be best." Leon opened the throttle on the Wolfen, not surprised when Falco did the same and zipped ahead, both flying far ahead of the convoy.

"Merchant ship, this is flight security detail for the Fringe Sector General convoy. Please respond." Falco said, having switched his radio to the merchant frequency, doing a quick loop around the lone ship. Older cargo carrier, near as he could tell, barely any markers beyond large print across the spine with the ship name and designation number. "Carrier Sun Cart, please respond."

"Patrol flight, this isn't Sun Cart, this is the Sun Cart's shuttle. Our radio is down and we're awaiting a rendezvous with a repair service." Replied an older male voice.

"Understood. Our convoy will be passing by your position."

"Understood, clear."

"Lombardi, switch to the Great Fox's frequency." Leon said, then continued once they both had, already doubling back to the convoy. "We need to go back and get everyone up for scramble."

"Why?"

"I've got a feeling that ship's not what it's claiming to be. I think it's a pirate vessel."

"That paranoia speaking or you got something that's based on?" Falco lifted his eyebrows.

"No union markers on the ship."

"Huh. Wow. I didn't even notice." Falco rubbed his chin, considering. "Actually now that you mention it I did notice something was weird about the cargo hatches, but I'm no expert, you know?"

"Yeah, I saw it too. ROB?"

"I overheard, and concur." ROB replied, swinging the Great Fox into a better position. "I've also notified the convoy of the possibility. The others are on standby in the launch bay."

"Screw it, I'll join ya." Fox said, launching and falling in with Falco and Leon by the Great Fox, looking at the carrier. "Think they'll really start something?"

"Considering I'm picking up on hidden munitions and fighters, it's possible."

Peppy replied, having stayed on the command deck of the Great Fox. "Even with the possibility of going on the hospital's blacklist some people just don't give a damn."

Wolf launched, and wasn't surprised when Slippy and Panther followed, all grouping up on Fox after a few moments. "Hey, be right back." That said he looped out of the formula and doubled back behind the Great Fox, flying under the belly of the convoy, bringing up different displays of their situation. One eye or not, his displays came up differently than everyone else and were enhanced differently. Sometimes, this was a bad thing, when in the heat of battle and the displays were telling him too much. But sometimes, it was a good thing, and right now he had a suspicion.

"You having fun back there?" Falco wanted to know as the convoy started to pass the carrier, which oriented to face them as they went by, the Great Fox moving to stay between the convoy and the stationary carrier.

"Loads." He blinked, seeing other lights pop up on the display and stream toward the convoy. "SHIT! On our six, incoming fighters, form up!" He opened the throttle and met the incoming fighters, most of which he recognized and had flown at some point, old Widows and combat arranged Starpikes, even a custom Acid Blade (which surprised him). It was a storm of shit, too, since they all had different weaponry and he was one target, then Leon and Panther came in behind him and clicked into formation like a puzzle before splitting off again, and it dissolved the fracas of any given space battle, checking and calling targets, trying to keep the attackers off the convoy.

"Falco, Slippy, stay on me." Fox said, seeing hatches pop open on the carrier. "Wolf, you got it over there?"

"For now, yeah. Don't take too long though." Fox laughed, his group meeting the launching fighters head on, grinning in spite of himself because finally something was happening and he could do what he did best.

"Great Fox, we're taking very mild fire, but our shields are absorbing it, so far." The commander of Fleet Sector General pondered his displays and ordered one of the satellite ships to move out of the line of fire. "Believe it or not we know these assholes."

"Really, can you hook me up with that intel?" Peppy said, seeing one of the convoy ships move and moving the Great Fox in response, keeping the main guns on the carrier. Moments later, ROB had the information on the screen. "Can we assume dead or alive on everyone involved in this?"

"They're firing on us. Let loose."

"Understood. Fox, Great Fox will cover you."

Wolf managed not to yelp in surprise when his cockpit was suddenly full of light bloom from the explosion of the carrier, turning his head away as his vision slowly returned to normal, the fighters he'd once been fighting scattering away. "Holy SHIT, Peppy. Guess I know what that means in the future."

"Sadly that pretty much seems to have ended the fight." Fox said, his group wandering over to Wolf's, watching the fighters flee away from the convoy.

"Yeah this is the most action we've seen this whole gig." Wolf blew out a sigh.

"That was rather disappointing." Leon admitted.

"Well, get ready for more. In another hour we're inside the protection range of a station." Peppy said, laughing at the chorus of moans and boos this elicited. "We seem to be clear, you're all good to dock."

Wolf huffed, sitting on the bench in the locker room and drying his face. Because of the speed of the convoy, they were in a nearly zero risk situation for the next six hours. So everyone had docked, grumbling about easy money versus skull cracking boredom. Panther had cooked, loading everyone up on satay and rice, and not surprisingly everyone pretty much went to bed after that. Leon was sitting in Fox's command chair in a meditative position, and Wolf decided to take a shower.

They'd had to report the skirmish to the Fringe Patrol, which hadn't seemed all that impressed, making it a lack of being impressed all the way around. So far they hadn't seen anything out here that had been a fair fight. Sure, they weren't a large group of fighters, but they all good pilots and between that and the fact that not very many people wanted to mess with the hospital convoy, well. Easy money. He chucked the towel in the laundry chute and pulled a tank top and shorts on, zoning out as he padded barefoot down the hall, strongly considering taking a nap himself and caught soundly off guard when Fox's door opened as he passed it and his tank top was grabbed, yanked into Fox's room and pinned against the wall next to the closed door, Fox holding his wrists and smirking up at him.

"Hello to you too." Wolf laughed, grinning at him and tail wagging.

"I've barely seen you this past week." Fox licked along the larger man's jaw, grinning when Wolf growled very softly. "And we have free time. And everyone's asleep."

"Oh, like you need to convince me." He struggled free and yanked Fox in, kissing him hard, Fox fighting for control the whole time and eventually just pushing Wolf over to his bed, shoving Wolf so he sat down then straddling his lap. Deciding he really didn't care, he got Fox's shirt off and worked on undoing the lower half of his flight suit, tail frantically beating against the bed.

"You, naked." Fox snickered, licking one of his ears then standing up, getting his boots off and the rest of the way out of his flight suit, watching Wolf strip. "Gods damn, I can never get over how you're built."

"Flattery will get you all kinds of places." Wolf grinned, pushing back to sit on the bend and laughing again when the younger man more or less pounced on him, catching Fox in his arms and kissing him, stroking his hands through Fox's headfur slowly.

Fox smiled and settled down on top of Wolf, propping on his arms to hold the embrace, tail wagging energetically. He'd almost settled into a routine on Aquas, good food, working out, getting some regularly on both sides of the spectrum, only to immediately transition into a week of tense boredom and getting none. Hell, the chance for a good fight was something he'd been looking forward to, and it falling flat had left him jangling with adrenaline. But here was Wolf, only too happy to be under him, and he found himself digging his hands into his bed, breaking the kiss to trail nips and licks down the lupine's body.

Wolf moaned, both hands massaging through Fox's headfur, snickering when Fox stopped and shifted, digging in the top drawer of his dresser. "So how soundproof are these rooms?"

"Very, which is good." Fox snickered and tossed a bottle to him. "I'm not sure it's in you to be quiet."

"Eh, bite me." He laughed when Fox pounced on him again, a remarkably feral little bounce that made his torso ripple in an extremely interesting way. "You are right though. Always been loud, may always be loud."

"Good. I like it." He knelt straddling Wolf, yanking him up into a hard biting kiss before speaking again. "I'd like to be on top this time."

"I figured." Wolf snickered, eyes barely open. "I'm fine with that."

Fox grinned, grabbing the bottle and pushing down, licking up the older man's cock. "Should I be flattered?"

"Yes." He smirked and fell back to lean on his elbows, tilting his head back and just enjoying the attention, focusing on the feel of Fox's mouth and tongue. "Mm. That reminds me… I've been considering getting my tongue piercing redone…"

Fox paused, looking up at him. "Seriously?"

"Yeah. What do you think?" He trailed into a moan at the feel of Fox's fingers, managing to relax enough to allow them entry, wondering what was so special about the McClouds that he felt safe enough to let them on top. Hell, that only really counted for Fox… he'd always fought with James for control. Here, he didn't feel like he had to.

"Do it. Sounds sexy as hell." Fox grinned and moved back up to kiss him, nibbling just slightly as he rocked his hand, managing not to laugh when Wolf moaned and whimpered.

He couldn't judge, he guessed, he wasn't exactly quiet himself, but he still had to hide a grin in Wolf's neck when he moved his hand in favor of slowly thrusting in, to be met with a howl of pleasure. He didn't bother trying to muffle the sound, just let it ring out in the room, using his legs and arms to pull Fox down the rest of the way and kissing him passionately, shuddering when he felt Fox's hips press against his. Fox returned the kiss, propping on his arms and leaning down to do so, grinding for a few moments before starting to thrust. He didn't bother taking it easy, just took out all his frustration and energy on Wolf's body, thrusting hard and fast, breaking the kiss so he could pant.

Wolf yipped in surprise, then just accepted and welcomed it, hips lifting into the younger man's thrusts and howling again that change of angle brought Fox keenly on target, his own cock twitching and drooling on his stomach as his prostate was stroked over. Fox just growled and bit at his neck and chest, eyes shut, focusing on the heat of the body under him, the shudder and tensing of strong muscles around him, the desperate needy skitter of Wolf's claws on his back and shoulders before Wolf gave up and started stroking himself, both growling when Fox's partial knot slammed in.

"Mm, like that?" He nudged Wolf's head back and latched on at the base of his neck, biting and sucking as he drug his hips back and shoved back in past the knot, groaning when Wolf's body tensed up around him in response.

"You know I do." He grunted and groaned, hissing Fox's name out when the next rough shove against his prostate tipped him over, tensing up as he came, whimpering his oversensitivity to the other as Fox kept going until he climaxed hard, knot locking in and arching into it before slowly going limp.

Wolf relaxed and sighed, smiling when Fox flopped onto his chest. "I take it it's ok if I crash in here for now."

"Yeah. Honestly I don't think anyone will notice or even care… and I told Peppy the day we shipped out." Fox yawned, eyes lulling.

"Really." He wrapped his arms around Fox, sliding one hand up and down the smaller man's spine and smiling at the low pleased noises his actions drew, rumbling when he felt Fox's cock twitch inside him. "And he didn't have a problem with that?"

"Apparently not. He didn't even seem surprised."

"Well, you have a lot of your dad in you." He said it without thinking, and was relieved when Fox only hummed softly in response, already starting to doze.

Deciding that was a good idea, he smiled and hugged Fox close, letting himself drift off.

Fox sighed in relief, watching the convoy come to a halt near a fringe station. "And that's it?"

"Yes indeed, Commander McCloud. Rather easy trip honestly." Martin replied, sitting back and surveying his screens. "I'm sure you found it dreary but we honestly couldn't have done it without you."

"Well, thank you kindly."

"We'll be transferring the remainder of your fee momentarily. Feel free to move on if you don't want to wait."

"Nah. I think we're going to dock with the station, stretch our legs." He wove at ROB over his shoulder, who put the docking request in to the station.

"Keep us in mind if you need an escort again anytime soon."

"Oh, trust me, we will. It's harder than you think to find decent escort pilots. Signing off."

"We're docking?" Falco asked as the Great Fox started to move, lining up to a dock collar on the station.

"I think we all need a beer, and according to the read out, this place has a few bars." Fox stood and stretched, looking at one of his screens, which had a station rundown scrolling on it. The Ebon Sun, a very large corporate station that also served as a jump point for fringe travelers, including traders. "It'll let us get some space from each other, walk around a bit, before heading back into Lylat proper."

"Well, I have no arguments to that. In fact, thanks man."

"Pft, you think I'm doing it for you guys?" Fox grinned at him, and laughed when Falco walked over just to punch his shoulder.

Wolf sighed, looking around the shopping part of the station and wondering. He'd never been on the Ebon Sun, and for some reason was feeling hopelessly paranoid. He'd actually felt that way for the last few days, but had been trying to shake it off, because he had no grounding for the feeling. He had been looking at some club clothes in a window, and was strongly considering stepping into the store to pick up a new shirt or two, when a flicker of spots caught his eye, and he turned his head, freezing up when he found himself meeting gazes with Felix Leopard, who stood partway down the hall. After a moment, Felix nodded to the side, just a bit, then disappeared farther down the hall, leaving Wolf to practically run to catch up, eventually leaving the more commercial block of the station and coming into what appeared to be an empty service hallway.

Which is when Felix reappeared and met him with a fist to the face. Wolf reeled and staggered backwards, bringing up a hand and holding his jaw, shaking off the blow. "What the FUCK, man?" He demanded, licking blood off his lip and baring his teeth.

"If I kill you I'm never getting back on James' good side, let alone the shitstorm that would happen with Fox." Felix replied, scowling and popping his knuckles.

"James wants to talk to you. In person. Since contacting you directly was out of the question I told him I'd drag you in myself."

"Well he can go fuck himself. I've already made it clear I want nothing to do with him until he figures out what he's done wrong, and I really doubt he's had an epiphany." Wolf rolled his eyes.

"This isn't about you, you selfish fuck. Something big is about to go down and we need you in on it, preferably before James is forced to break cover. He could just tell all of you but he needs you cooperative first."

"Well, if you'd just explained that I might be willing to go but since you're being a dick, you can fuck yourself too." Wolf flipped him off and proceeded back the way he came, stopping when he heard a click he recognized as a slug thrower. "Oh, you wouldn't." He looked over his shoulder.

"Your mistake in thinking you had a choice." Felix held the gun on him calmly. "You're coming with me, O'Donnel."

"Could you say anything more clichéd?"

"Come with me if you want to live." Leon suggested, suddenly behind Felix, putting a knife to the older feline's throat and another to his back. "And that, Mr. Leopard, is your neck and your liver, in case you aren't paying attention."

Felix put his free hand to another gun and pointed it behind him. "I can get shots off at both of you in the time it takes you to move those knives."

Wolf sighed. "Ok, Leon. You're good. I didn't hear you come in."

"Of course you didn't." Leon's flat, nearly lifeless eyes looked at him over Felix's shoulder. "I'm glad I happened by. Famous informer or not, Mr. Leopard, I will not have you speaking to my commander in such a way, and I will feel no remorse if I have to kill you. So, I suggest you lower the level of your hostility before I decide to open your neck from ear to ear."

Felix was silent for several moments, then holstered both of his weapons.

"Alright, Powalski, your point is made." When the knives moved away from his skin, he glared at Wolf. "Are you willing to come with me without a scene, O'Donnel?"

Wolf paused, then nodded. "I guess I've avoided this long enough."

"Glad to hear." Felix turned to lead Wolf through the ship, only nodding at Leon as they walked past.

Leon watched them walk away, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, then turned and walked back into the commercial part of the station, sure he'd hear more about that when the time came.

"Actually as far as stations go, this place is nice." Fox said, standing out of the flow of foot traffic and looking out the station's view glass, a container of something from a food stall in one hand and chopsticks in the other. It'd been pricy, but it was worth it, whatever it was… it was fish and vegetables, and spicy sweet. Felix had dubiously took a bite and agreed to try to recreate it at a later date.

"Yeah, corporate stations usually are." Peppy replied, also enjoying the view. "Always more expensive though, even by space station standards."

"Meh, we'll live, we just made a decent chunk of change and we're leaving in a few hours, right?" Fox shrugged, taking another bite of his food, tail wagging, looking over when Leon walked through the crowd, carrying a bag from one of the stores. "Hey. Find anything good?"

"Something Alec might like." Leon replied, almost smiling.

"I figured Wolf was with you."

"Oh no, sorry. He was with Felix, last I saw."

Fox stopped mid-chew, blinking, and when Leon didn't elaborate further swallowed roughly. "What? I assume you mean Felix Leopard?"

"Indeed."

"Well, what did he want with Wolf?"

"I'm not sure. I think they left the station over an hour ago. Wolf didn't seem pleased, but I convinced Leopard not to continue the conversation at gunpoint."

Fox thrust the food container at Peppy and stepped forward, grabbing Leon by his flightsuit and shaking him. "And you didn't come get me or call me on radio why, exactly?" He demanded.

Leon blinked once slowly. "I wasn't sure what was happening was our business."

"Oh, my gods." Fox let go and put his head in his hands, unable to believe this. "Ok. Felix Leopard had Wolf at gun point, and you think they've left the station."

"I believe so, yes."

"And it didn't occur to you Wolf might be in danger?"

"I don't believe he actually is."

"Well, just to be on the safe side I'd like to confirm that in person." Fox managed to keep the frustration out of his voice, knowing if he started freaking out it wouldn't help at all. Not yet, at least. "Any idea where they could have gone?"

"If I were to guess, I'd say they were heading for another station, the Sapphire Lighthouse. I believe they were going to talk to another informer there."

"Then that's where we're going. NOW." Fox took the food container from Peppy and started back toward the Great Fox's dock at a jog, lifting his free hand to his radio set. "All hands return to the Great Fox. We are leaving in ten minutes with or without you. I'll explain once you're on board." He was extremely relieved when he heard Panther, Falco, and Slippy check in as being on the way, Peppy and Leon already following behind him. In a matter of moments, everything had gone from excellent to shot all to hell, and he set his jaw. The Great Fox left the Ebon Sun ten minutes later, leaping into warp for Sapphire Lighthouse, unaware that their arrival wasn't totally unexpected.