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>>ordinary vanity::

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>>ORDINARY VANITY::

Damned Elize

Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.

Dedication:

x

Fast-Forward: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4

 

i. [don't follow me]

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Water.

Water.

Something cold and wet, trickling on… … forehead. Something flat and painfully hard underneath. Concrete, maybe. Or steel.

Water.

Her paw twitched. She moved her head away from the drizzle, and felt the breath spill out of her, painfully, as though someone had put a heavy box on her chest and breathing took extra effort to raise the added weight. She felt soggy and filthy everywhere, and wasn't sure if it was snot or blood that was oozing out of her nostrils. She slowly allowed herself to ascend further and further awake into consciousness, analyzing the finer points of her situation as she became more and more fully aware.

Okay, I'm wet, I'm cold, my panties are soggy and my fur feels like it hasn't been washed in a month, my chest hurts like hell and I think my back muscles are starting to spasm. I feel like shit. And mouth tastes like…

"… …fishpaste. Ugh… …"

Open your eyes.

Miyu did. She blinked rapidly, black fuzzing and swirling before her, covering her field of vision.

I'm blind!

Don't be stupid, look —

Floor —

Miyu turned her head to the side, cheek resting on the freezing ground as she squinted at the place that had caught her attention. There was a tiny shaft of light cutting through the shadows and retiring on the floor. Miyu's eyes quickly danced around the room, searching for the source. A small pin-hole, maybe a half-inch or so in diameter towards the middle of the far wall. Or what Miyu assumed to be a wall. She couldn't see anything.

Call for help?

She carefully weighed her options, knowing she had very few, trying to steady her breathing, keep from falling victim to the fear that threatened to explode in her chest and tear her to screaming hysteria.

Control. Composure. You're a soldier. Act like one. Assess your options, keep your mind and body sharp. Don't over look anything.

Miyu swallowed, raising a paw above her face in the darkness, swinging it around, and found nothing but air. As long as she was not in danger of rearranging her face on something, it was safe to sit up.

Easier said then done.

She fought the urge to groan, still unable to decide if she was completely alone. She didn't feel like attracting any attention to herself, her lack of sensory information keeping her extremely vulnerable. She bit onto her bottom lip, bracing her paws on the gritty floor, slowly pushing herself upwards, white hot pain searing through her chest.

I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.

Miyu finally made it to a sitting position, allowing a moment to rock back and forth, breath hissing out of her as she struggled to gain her composure. She screwed her eyes shut tight, tears forming at the corners. The pain quickly subsided to a bearable dull ache, and Miyu ran a paw through her tangled mass of spiky bangs, grimacing at the clamminess of them.

Okay, kitty cat, what next?

Miyu blinked, eyes roaming around the room again, the sheer opacity of the darkness giving her no clues as to the particulars of the room.

Well… … fuck.

Okay, where were you last? Maybe that'll give you some clues.

I was… … … I was ripping apart one of the old FX engines and gutting the parts for one of the Arwings… … Slippy was going to do it, but two of the jet bikes were acting up again, and he asked me to look into Falco's piece of shit aircraft, it needed upgrades…

And then?

And then… … I had the smoldering gun, I was repairing one of the circuit boards, and then… … … darkness. And then I woke up here.

Whee.

She sat for several minutes, uncomfortable and sore, weighing her options as she tried not to breath too deeply.

Ah, fuck it.

"Hello? Anyone there?"

Miyu strained her ears, tense and waiting for anything other than the silence pressing on her. Her shoulders slumped slightly, and she audibly sighed.

Worth a try. What next? I could always try t —

"… … hey."

x

ii. [i can't stand it]

… …forty eight bottles of vodka on the wall, forty eight bottles of vodka, take one down, pass it around, fo —

"Hello? Anyone there?"

Vincent blinked, not even sure he had heard it. A girl's voice, from somewhere close by, possibly even in the same room. He held his breath, not sure whether or not he wanted to reply. He'd been used to his own company for some time now, although for how long he didn't know and the desire that he should wear a watch from now on had begun to fester inside him. He thought he'd smelled someone earlier, but had shrugged off the notion, thinking perhaps it was just the lingering scent of a prisoner kept before him.

It could be a spy. She could be here to interrogate you. She could be here to kill you.

Or maybe she's just trapped like me. She could help me — us — get out.

Your funeral.

"… … hey," Vincent started, wincing at how his voice cracked, how young and tiny it sounded.

Beautiful first impression.

He swallowed, trying again. "Who's there?"

"I asked you first."

Definitely a female's voice, cool, authoritative. Sexy.

"I… my name's Vincent. And you are…?"

There was a momentary hesitation, a rustle of fur and clothing, and wet sound, as though someone had tossed a soaking blanket on the floor.

"Miyu Lynx."

Where've I heard that name before….

"Miyu L- StarFox?"

Another momentary hesitation, as though she were sizing him up and assessing him for any kind of a threat.

Why wouldn't she? She's probably just as wary of you as you are of her. And if she's who she claims to be, she's got a lot of people who want her dead…

"… …yeah."

Vincent swallowed, feeling hope swell inside him for the first time since he had woken up cold and semi-alone in the dark.

"I'm from the Cornerian Flight Academy, one of the specialty mechanics for the Arspace units, first class."

I bet you she's real impressed with that. Maybe if she could see you, she'd be stripping naked and throwing herself on you by now.

Shut up.

"So where are we? What the hell is this place?"

"I… …I don't know. I mean, I just woke up here. I was making my rounds in Hangar Seven, someone hit the scramble alarm and everything happened so fast… I think someone hit me from behind. Maybe it was an Imperial lizard shock troop raid, I don't know. All I do know is… er, nothing, really."

Brilliant.

There was another shuffling sound, and Vincent guessed she must've shifted her position. He changed his own posture, pulling his legs out from underneath him. They were getting stiff, but during his short conversation with Miyu so far, he hadn't paid much attention. He flicked his large round ears, and fidgeted again, hoping he didn't sound too stupid. Or at the very least, too scared.

There were more shuffling sounds, the soft squish of wet shoes. Vincent listened for a moment, holding his breath.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking for a light switch."

Oh, of course, derr.

He turned around, his paws stretched out in front of him, lightly grasping the hard surface of the closest wall as his fingers grazed it. He stepped carefully, rubbing his paws up and down the wall, moving right.

C'mon, c'mon, there's got to be —

"Bingo!"

As soon as his fingers touched the switch, he flicked it up, and immediately regretted it, squeezing his eyes shut. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes, Vincent blinking rapidly to dispel them as he slowly became accustomed to the dramatic change in lighting. He'd finally been able to force his eyes open fully before he turned around, feeling the air leave his lungs.

Whoa.

Long legs. Tawny, black spotted fur. A gold ring in one ear. Sharp, aristocratic features. A muscled and well curved figure. Vincent swallowed, the eyes and heart (as well as anything south of both) were pleased.

x

"Bingo!"

The lights snapped back on, forcing Miyu to brace herself against the wall she was currently exploring, and her eyes shut in a flash of howling white, sending pain shooting through her forehead.

Ah, fuck.

She rubbed at her eyes for a second, blinking away the ache, eyes concentrating on the tan blur on the other side of the room, an African painted dog coming into focus, large, round black ears, tan fur with black splotches placed in seemingly random locations, a thin but cut physique, blondish-brownish bangs, not unlike her own, falling into a boyish face.

Miyu internally shrugged, mild shock wearing off to amusement.

Knock it off, already, he can't be much younger then you.

She politely pretended not to notice him staring, taking the opportunity to examine herself for visible injuries, now that she could see. After a short inspection, she was relieved to find out that she was virtually unscathed, save for a few sore spots and scratches, which were not of much concern. There was, however, a rather large bump forming at the back of her skull, presumably where she had been knocked unconscious. It hurt like hell, but after a quick check of her ears that resulted in finding no blood or CSF, she decided she could deal with it.

Finished, Miyu turned to her cell mate, who now had his back turned to her as he apparently surveyed the room, which was pretty much unremarkable, dirty off-white tiles fashioned grotesquely over grey concrete, some spider webbed with cracks, others no more than mere dust on the ground, as though someone had forgotten to finish the job. The floor was plain concrete too, littered with miscellaneous debris, the ceiling in worse shape, rafters and insulation fluff poking through rotting panels. There was a large broken pipe running along the ceiling, the source of her unfortunate soaking.

Vincent had stopped his little tour of the chamber, jogging lightly to the far corner, where the only door in the room was positioned, and tried the knob before butting his thin shoulder against the wood and throwing his weight into it. The way he sagged afterwards told Miyu that it wasn't going to budge, and the look on his face when he turned around and shrugged confirmed her suspicions.

Shit. Well, now what?

Miyu pulled gently on the loop pierced through her left ear, a tic she'd developed when deep in thought. She narrowed her cat-slit eyes, unconsciously biting on her lower lip. She sized up Vincent again, deciding that he really wasn't any bigger than she was, and was quite possibly an inch or two shorter than her. Miyu crossed the room, trying to ignore the howling pain in her body, the way the room faintly moved in and out of focus, and the nausea rising in her gut. When she got to the door she motioned for Vincent to move, who looked slightly affronted, but nodded, stepping back. Bracing herself, Miyu lowered her center of gravity, planting a sharp, high kick against the wood and teetering back when the door held its ground.

Vincent reached out to steady her, but she shrugged him off, composing herself.

Fuck fuck fuck.

Miyu ran a paw through her bangs, and couldn't think of anything to add to that. She squeezed her eyes shut, pinching the bridge of her nose as she tried to ignore the pounding of her skull. The door was made of wood, but there must've been steel reinforcements in it somewhere, yet there had to be a weakness, she — they — had to get it open somehow…

Miyu's eyes shot open, head snapping up. She flicked her ears, straining to hear.

Mumbling. Voices. Coming closer.

Miyu blinked, swiftly forming a plan.

"Turn off the lights," she said quickly, eyes scavenging the room for any heavy object that could be used as a weapon.

"Huh?" was all Vincent could manage in his slight confusion, watching as Miyu rummaged through a pile of debris in the far corner, pulling out a broken two by four, which must've been a part of a rafter at one time. Vincent promptly started looking on his own, not wanting to feel useless. Miyu hissed at him about the lights again, and the voices were close enough that he could distinguish two male voices, and he realized there was no time. He sighed, hitting the light switch just as Miyu got into position near the door. He pressed himself against the wall, waiting.

And hoping.

x

Tancredi had been having a semi-good day; he'd evaded the wrath of the Emperor on two occasions, had won the poker game at lunch, and was now off to check on the newest prisoners of war, one of which was a woman, rumored to be a member of the notorious StarFox.. If it were not for the fact that he had been paired up for duty with someone he absolutely hated, it would have been a swell day.

"…I hope the girl isss ssstill alive. It might be fun later to put her in the pit with Lara, or the sssnake…"

He swung the door open just as he was finishing up his sentence, Roussillon on his heels, heading for the light switch as soon as they'd both made it in the room. He was about to remark on something else when pain exploded across his face, snapping his head sharply to the right, blood spraying from his nostrils and mouth as his elongated jaw popped in several places. It was then he noticed the normally faithful concrete flooring was lurching up towards his face, and he was met with even more discomfort when his head connected to the ground and he was quite suddenly staring at someone's boots.

He coughed, and heard a tooth rattle across the concrete. Blood was filling his nasal passages, and his tongue lolled out of his mouth and onto the cement when he opened it to breath, tasting copper in his maw as things got fuzzy.

x

Vincent was on the ground as soon as he heard the board splinter against someone's head with a sickening wet crack, the other guard almost on top of him as he went for the switch, the dog swinging out a leg and tripping him just as the gritty lights buzzed back on. It was a lizard, his head thumping on the concrete as he fell, the dull thud nearly echoing the first. The lizard wasn't fully unconscious, moaning softly as he struggled to move, writhing piteously as he tried to come to. He was at least incapacitated, and Vincent decided to leave it at that, the idea of killing someone, Imperial lizard or otherwise, making his stomach turn.

The lizard near Miyu wasn't as fortunate, Vincent swallowing in disgust as he witnessed a pool of scarlet slowly spread from his face. He watched as Miyu hefted the heavy body over, rifling through his pockets and holster, pulling out an almost archaic looking handgun, a nine-millimeter that was quite rarely used. Miyu snorted in irritation, but seemed pleased enough to at least have a weapon, and pocketed two clips before ejecting the cartridge in the gun and counting the bullets.

Vincent stooped down over his own semi-conscious once-captor, inspecting him much the same as Miyu had done, pulling out a VP70, the same model Miyu was now handling. He was surprised at the weight of it in his paws at first; he'd never owned a gun, and had only used laser rifles at the academy (and very seldom at that), but he didn't want to appear too obvious about it. He cautiously watched out of the corner of his eye and mimicked Miyu's movements, tucking the gun in his pants and the extra ammo in his pockets as he stood up.

Miyu nodded to him, stepping cautiously towards the door, gun half-raised. She pressed herself against the opened door, peering out into the corridor, and must've decided it was safe, dropping her weapon, posture relaxing. With out looking back at him, she stepped into the hall.

Vincent shrugged, following her.

Ladies first.

x

iii. [why are you torturing me?]

"Back," Miyu commanded, holding out a paw and forcing Vincent to stop. The dog sighed, breath pushing his wispy bangs up before they fell back into place. He shifted his weight to one leg, knuckles pressing into his hip as he waited for Miyu to investigate whatever it was that she had become interested in. He studied her for a moment, her face tense, ears flicking spasmodically, trying to pick up any sound.

He'd been unable to form a complete opinion of her; she was interchangeably condescending and affable, and very standoffish more often than not. She had an incredible knack for making him feel uncomfortable and stupid, yet for some reason he couldn't define, or didn't want too, he felt inexorably drawn to her.

… …Yep, that's pretty stupid.

Vincent may have only been a mechanic, but even technical support had to learn basic paw-to-paw combat in order to graduate; it was a war, after all.

And anyway, wouldn't a normal person be happy to have help around? Even a rookie?

Miyu must've found it safe; she continued forward again, Vincent quickly following, trying to fall into step next to her.

"So what's it like being on StarFox?" Vincent asked lamely, grasping for anything that might connect the two of them, anything he could use for conversation. To him, the silence seemed more of a threat than the lizards.

"The same as being on any mercenary squad, I imagine."

"But I mean… isn't it great to work with Fox Sr.'s son? That guy was a legend in his own time!"

Miyu shrugged. Fox was a semi-nice guy and all, but they'd rarely spoken, aside from missions. Even less so now, as he had taken to putting his muzzle up skirt of the Space Magnate's daughter every chance he got. But given the kid's track record with women, she had the distinct impression that he was just trying to squelch money out of the princess. Whatever. It wasn't any of her business.

The dog swallowed a panicky feeling as their conversation steered towards an iceberg.

"Is it a big thrill to fly those awesome jets?"

"It's fun, I suppose."

"Well, like… do you think we're close to defeating the Emperor?"

"Sure."

"Really?! How soon?"

Vincent sighed, feeling the ship sinking as Miyu grunted another monosyllabic response.

"Soon."

"I have my faith in you guys. I know if anyone can do it, it's StarFox."

"Whatever," was Miyu's terse reply, not looking back as she rounded a corner.

Vincent blinked, taken aback.

Score none for you. You suck at life.

… …Thanks.

He scratched the back of his head, and sighed again, following her.

x

Lizard.

The thought flashed through her mind in a second, reacting before it had passed completely. Miyu balanced herself, shifting her weight, kicking low to the back of her shin, the lizard breathing a hiss of surprise, dropping to her knees. Not faltering, Miyu clubbed the guard on the side of her face with the gun, hard, feeling skin and scale peel away as blood spurted from a popped eyeball. The body dropped to the concrete with a heavy whump, and Miyu exhaled.

"Don't ever hesitate," Miyu said matter-of-factly, as if that was all the justification she needed for killing someone. She stepped over the body, continuing down the hall, back straight, shoulders set. Vincent blinked, looking down at the corpse again, eyes flying wide as he saw he leg twitch, a post-mortem muscle spasm. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, the dog quickly moved away to catch up with Miyu.

Yeah, it was a war after all, but man, she could've just incapacitated her instead of killing her…

They reached the end of the corridor, neither one talking. Miyu stepped ahead of Vincent again, rounding the corner first, gun loosely raised. The hall was empty, a iron bars set into the far wall, and the two jogged lightly towards it.

It was an elevator, a wrought iron gate, black with age, set into a concrete wall. There was a small button on the left, Miyu reached out and pushed it, loosely aiming her VP70 towards the humming door. Surprisingly, it came up obediently, without any pissed off occupants. Vincent and Miyu exchanged glances, the dog nodding to her unasked question.

"Going down?" Vincent joked lightly, blushing furiously when he realized what he'd said.

x

"What's your ammo like?"

Vincent retrieved the gun from his pants, fumbling through ejecting the clip and counting the bullets.

"Uum… seventeen."

"Let me see," Miyu held out her paw, and although Vincent felt that her condescending attitude towards him was quite unnecessary and offended the hell out of him, he handed over his weapon, if only to placate her. She nodded, taking it from him and tucking it in her vest.

"Good. Thanks. You're staying here."

Vincent, who had previously been inspecting his shoes and mentally berating himself shot his head up at her. Her lips were set in a grin line, ears tucked against her head.

She's serious.

"What? I don't —"

"You're not experienced in combat; it's going to get more dangerous from here, and you'll most likely only get in the way."

Vincent curled his lips, agitated. He was pretty sure he'd proved his worth by now, and although it was true he wasn't experienced, he wasn't an invalid, he was quite capable of taking care of himself. He was beginning to get tired of her demented head games; she was alternately hot and cold, and often left Vincent wondering what the hell he'd done wrong.

"You're going to need back up, you know that. I'm all you've got, so we might as well get along, I —"

Miyu cut him off again, raising a paw. "Please, just stay here, I can come back for you when it's safe."

Vincent swallowed, suppressing a growl and trying his best to stay calm. His fur was beginning to bristle up. It always upset him when he got so easily riled; he prided himself on being calm, collected, even if he didn't always exactly know what he was doing all of the time.

x

Miyu was getting irritated, hoping to drop Vincent's dead weight and mush on ahead to find them a way out as soon as possible. The kid was persistent, she'd give him that much.

He opened his mouth to protest again, and Miyu shook her head, sighing.

Fuck this shit.

"Do you like fucking girls on the rag?"

The question was so vulgar, so bizarre and out of place that it stopped Vincent in his tracks, and before he could fully comprehend, Miyu was moving away from him, cut off by the elevator's iron gate as he moved farther back into the darkness above. He tried to call her name, and found his voice had also left him.

x

Sorry, kid, but you're a mechanic, not a soldier. Sit this one out.

Miyu sighed, careful to muffle her footfalls as she stepped forward, ears forward, face tense, whiskers stiff. Her ears perked up, hearing the sounds of indistinct muttering and boots scuffing the ground. There was a map attached to the wall directly ahead of her — hangar, passage on the left — but the noises were coming from the right; Miyu want to be sure their escape route was cleared before going back for Vincent.

Thank the goddess they idiot proofed this place for the lizards.

There was an offshoot a little ways up the corridor, which was most likely cluttered with troops or guards.

Miyu sighed, chuckling without mirth, tiredly grasping onto the hope that maybe, just maybe it was a rescue crew.

And if I'm lucky, they're all straight, good-looking, and know how to give really good head.

She smiled slightly, pushing back damp bangs and sighing. Miyu licked her lips, spying the offshoot at least forty feet away, knowing the guards wouldn't give her much time to make a run for it, they'd be on her as soon as they spotted her. She'd have to be quick, flawless, knowing she only had one chance to make it across the exposed gap without getting smeared across the far wall. Miyu clicked the safety off both the weapons, tensing her muscles.

She sucked in a breath.

Now.

She ran, trying to fly when she reached the intersection, twin pistols bucking in her paws as she fell, painfully hitting her shoulder on the concrete, rolling out of the gunfire. Miyu was up in an instant, pressed against the wall, trying to ignore the fading throb of pain, gritting her teeth as she ejected both clips, quickly slapping two fresh ones home. She wiped the back of a paw across her forehead, breathing heavily, her vest sticking to her sweaty fur. She closed her eyes, waiting for a chance, a split second interval in the rapid explosions of gunfire was all she needed. Enough time for one clear shot.

When I get out of this, I'm taking a nice, long hot bath. And having some wine. And while we're at it, a bunch of those dancing squirrels.

Miyu smiled, snorting slightly. She listened to the screaming rounds of ammunition, eyes snapping open, body moving instinctually when she heard her chance. The lynx dropped to one knee, left arm winding around the wall, pressed against it, face barely peering out in the open. She squeezed the trigger, five, six times, hitting at least three lizards, mind barely registering that one of the guards was a wolf as she pulled back, out of the line of fire.

Fuck fuck fuck, too damn many of them not enough ammo get the hell out.

Miyu heard a commotion in the other hall; they were calling reinforcements most likely, which meant that she had to be elsewhere, now. She stood up, looking down to the end of the corridor.

There was what looked like a giant shutter or a loading bay door at the end of the hallway, and nothing else but concrete lined up on either side of her. Miyu went for it.

She was running, throwing herself forward, adrenaline pouring into her system when she saw the shutter closing, quickly trying to judge the distance. She didn't want to chance it, she dove for it, landing hard on her breasts but swallowing the cry of pain, sliding underneath the door just before it hit the concrete.

Miyu lay still for a moment, trying to catch her breath when the burble of rising bubbles in water caught her attention.

Slowly, she looked up.

It was a large stasis tube, full of a pink nutrient bath and glowing faintly. There was a figure inside, wires intertwining and running up shapely legs, folds of silk fluttering gracefully in the rising bubbles.

Miyu swallowed.

It was Vixy Reinard.

x

iv. [what do you want from me?]

Miyu had been too caught up in the grotesquely beautiful vision of Vixy's living corpse to notice the high backed chair in front of the stasis tube. She held her breath, body tense, her instincts telling her to get the hell out of there as fast as possible, curiosity imploring that she stay.

Curiosity killed the cat.

She wiped her sweaty paws on her shorts, almost forgetting that she wore gloves. Choking and whimpering sounds reached her ears, and it took Miyu a moment to realize they were coming from her. She slowly reached out, resting a paw on the back of the chair for a second, hesitating, her resolve failing.

"H-hello?" she asked, voice faltering as she swung the high backed chair around, and then she —

Ohmygoddessohfuckohhelpme —

— the image in front of her was so grotesque her mind could only feed it to her in pieces, falling together as Miyu pushed herself away, gagging as bile started crawling up her throat.

Andross.

But it was wrong, it was all wrong, he was propped up as though he should have been watching Vixy, but his eyes were closed, sewn shut with thread, and his skin was hanging off him, ragged greyish clumps that looked like cracked leather. He was long dead, but somebody had gone to great pains to position his cadaver in the chair, shoulders high and back, head resting against the velvet, fingers clasped neatly in his lap. As though he were addressing his legions.

Miyu scuttled backwards on the floor, crab-like, trying to get as far away from the hideous freaky thing as possible. Her back hit something soft, and her head reflexively snapped upwards. Her body jerked, startled as her eyes went wide, and she tried to scream, nothing but air hissing out of her.

A joke, it's got to be a fucking joke —

She was finally able to make noise when the thing she had bumped into reached out for her face.

x

Vincent had bolted even before the elevator had hit the floor; he'd forced the doors open and jumped the last two feet, stumbling into a run.

So stupid, she's so freaking full of herself.

He had come to a fork in the corridors, and was just about to randomly run down a hall -map!-head left — when he heard a girl's agonized cry, followed by a heavy thumping sound, like something denting metal.

It took Vincent a second's worth of hesitation to for everything to sink in before he darted to the right, sprinting down the passageway, pumping his arms for speed. A slick sheen of sweat began to form underneath his fur, and Vincent pushed himself harder.

Oh goddess, oh my god, oh Miyu, I'm so sorry don't be dead don't be dead, please, please don't be dead…

x

She was falling backwards, flying, the wind knocked out of her, and she did not have time to scream a second time before her back compressed against the shutter door, pain exploding within her. Miyu slid down the dented surface, head meeting the floor. She was still, lying prone, blood gurgling out of the corner of her mouth as shock clouded her mind, her thoughts a garbled mass rolling around inside her skull, like loose milk duds.

Oh fuck oh god oh fuck ohgodfuckfuckfuckfuck… …

She heard a heavy thud, followed by another, then another. It was a thick, meaty sound, like someone slapping a wet torso repeated against the cement. It took Miyu a few seconds to realize that they were footsteps, and that they were coming closer. She struggled to sit up, to ignore the pounding through her skull, the rush of blood that muffled everything to a dull indistinct roar, the black fuzz hazing over her vision. A wave of nausea washed over her, but Miyu tried to think of something else, knowing that she had to get moving, to get as far away from that thing as she could, and as soon as she could.

x

The shutter was locked tight, but he'd found a clear way around; Vincent hit the door running, pushing into the room, mind racing — I don't even have a weapon what do I do what if she's hurt how many Imperial lizards can there be what if —

Oh my god.

He stopped.

He stared, mind unable to comprehend what he was looking at.

What the hell is that —

It looked like Andross, but it wasn't, it couldn't be, it was too tall, too disfigured, an abhorrent creature from hell that should've never even existed. Its arms stretched down to its knees, its hands with too-long fingers ending in giant sharp claws. The head was too big, too long, bottom jaw jutting out from its neckless head, stringy white hair falling over its wet shoulders. There were spikes and bumps and patches of hair haphazardly appearing in odd locations on its naked form, the entire thing dripping ooze.

It took Vincent a few seconds to absorb it all, another few to watch as it turned towards him, what looked like another face sticking out the side of its head.

Vincent choked.

He was going to be sick.

He gasped, unaware that he'd been backing up until his back hit the wall. Vincent pressed himself against it, eyes wide, heart thundering in his ears, throat burning with bile.

"Vincent!" Miyu called, her voice weak, raspy. The dog stumbled backwards, away from the monster, eyes searching for Miyu —

And found her crumpled beside a giant tube-thing, a beautiful woman wearing a flowing gown trapped inside, a chair in front of it, with another Andross-creation propped in it, and Vincent felt cold fear run through him again, adrenaline leaving him shaking.

What the hell is this place?

Miyu struggled to sit up, setting one of her guns on the floor, muscles groaning at her as she mustered her remaining strength, giving the weapon a sharp kick, sending it skittering across the concrete, stopping several feet from Vincent's grasp, spinning in place.

Shit.

Miyu's vision fuzzed again, the lynx slumped against some odd piece of complex machinery that seemed to be tied to Vixy's stasis tube.

You'd better be as fucking competent as you say, kid.

x

She kicked a gun in his direction, Vincent's hope dying out as quickly as it had flourished, the weapon stopping several feet from him. The room was large, but he didn't want to chance getting too near the thing, it seemed to get around pretty well, and he was certain its claws could eviscerate him in seconds if they got the chance.

He eyed it quickly, not having enough time to judge the distance as he went for it, heard something clatter across the concrete — Miyu must've found something to throw at it — gave him time to dive for the gun and roll into a crouch, aiming, squeezing the trigger —

— and felt his heart drop into his stomach, the VP70 clicking empty, the Andross-thing bearing down on Miyu, who was trying to drag herself away, not enough time what do I do it's going to kill her —

Safety, stupid —

Vincent released his breath in a quick exhale, pressing the safety down and cocking, aiming again, blood spurting from the creature's shoulder before he'd even realized he'd fired, the thing turning towards him, away from Miyu, who was still trying to scuttle away. It growled it anger, a half-ape, half-monster scream of fury, mucus spraying from its lips. Vincent hesitated, lowering the weapon as the thing bounded towards him with impressive speed, and there wasn't a thought in his head until —

Shoot! Shoot it!

He snapped out of it, raising the gun, vaguely taking aim and squeezing the trigger, once, twice, the creature not slowing down —

I hit it I swear I hit oh my god oh my god ohmygodohgodgodgod —

RUN. GET AWAY NOW.

Eyes wide, fear saturating his system with fresh adrenaline, Vincent did the only thing he could think of.

Keep it away from Miyu.

He ran.

x

One of the shots went wide, concrete chips flying out the wall closest to her, the other hitting its mark, ripping through the creature's left shoulder, dark ripples of blood streaming down its back and legs. It didn't stop there, it continued to go for Vincent, who panicked, stumbling away, trying to dodge it. Miyu used one of the ventilation tubes from Vixy's pink-bubbled prison, hoisting herself up, pulling the other gun from her shorts, trying to raise it, to stop the room from spinning around her.

One good shot, please please please…

She cocked the weapon, trying to aim, squinting as she tried to focus her field of vision —

— and heard herself cry out, watching as the thing clawed Vincent, tearing four massive ragged flaps in his back, shredding flesh and gutting bone. He was screaming, a terrible piercing cry that barely touched upon the exquisite suffering he must been feeling, falling to the ground almost immediately, blood cascading over him.

The creature was still moving, still shrieking as it stood over Vincent, howling in triumph, and Miyu narrowed her eyes, focusing all of her anger and sorrow and shock onto it, unloading the rest of the clip into its chest and head, paw still squeezing the trigger, long after the gun went dry and the abomination fell and stopped breathing.

x

Pain. Horrible agony, ripping through him, tearing his breath from his lungs, biting into his organs. He could've been screaming, he wasn't sure, all he knew was the pain, searing anguish spreading from his back and burning through his body, leaving a strange numbness in his limbs, spine still stinging. A million thoughts raced through his mind, smells and emotions and memories and that fuzzy pillow he used to cuddle with at night and his Mama was smiling at him, he'd just received his acceptance letter into the Academy, and he wanted very much to hug her, tell he loved her, but she was so very far away and there was a creepy monster thing trying to kill Miyu and he was pretty sure he loved her, and he had to save her, Mama would understand if he left for a few minutes to go save Miyu, and maybe afterwards he could ask her out and they could eat dinner and Mama could meet her properly, and —

He was all alone, bleeding to death, and would never see his Mama again.

And the sobs that ripped out of him in blood splatters could not even begin to express his fear and loneliness.

x

Miyu blinked, moving by new instinct as she dropped her gun and ran to Vincent's side, feeling things shift inside of her, emotions that had starting swirling in her chest as soon as she'd watched him try to battle the monster-thing, try to save her from a grisly death, only to suffer one himself he's not going to die, sobbing in his own body fluids.

She finally reached him, wincing when she saw his back, cloth and fur and skin ripped to shit, bone splintered and shattered, his upper spine barely intact, but everything else nearly destroyed.

"Vincent?" she asked softly, extending a paw, close, but not touching him, afraid to cause him further pain. He did not answer, and fear swelled in Miyu, thinking that he'd died already, and she tried his name again, jaw hurting from the force with which she was using to hold back tears.

One of his eyes sluggishly opened, and for the first time, she noticed he had brown eyes.

"Hey… … Miyu," he rasped, barely above a whisper.

The lynx felt her throat lock up; something had changed for her when he fought the thing in her stead, and she wasn't sure how to change it back, if she could change it back, or even worse, if she wanted to change it back.

Vincent started mumbling in his delirium, words pouring out of him in blood rivulets, eyes glazing.

"You're… … so beautiful… … Miyu. Strong… smart… would've… really liked to… … I lo —" he broke off, coughing, blood spraying from his lips and splattering Miyu's shorts. She braced herself, gentling putting a paw on the top of his head, expecting that this was it. He quieted after a few minutes, though, muzzle red, glazed eyes trying to focus, to find her in the encroaching darkness.

"I… … I think… … found… a way out… … Upstairs. Fork… … in hallway. Near… elevator. Map. Left."

Miyu nodded, eyes blurring. She'd seen it too, of course, but said nothing, wanting to give him at least the satisfaction that he was helping her.

"Okay. Okay, I'll go check it out. I'll find a stretcher or something, load you onto an escape pod…"

The corner of his lips curled up, very slightly.

"No… prob," he wheezed, blood burbling at the corner of his lips, soaking into his fur, splattering across the concrete. "You… go on… ahead, and… I'll… catch up."

He closed his eyes, wheezing, breath becoming more liquid than air with each inhale. Regret and denial and grief were screaming in Miyu, wishing she'd been nicer to him, that she'd been able to protect him and I'm a fucking member of StarFox for fuck's sake, and he tried to save me and now he's going to die in terrible pain on the cold concrete floor of a freak show storeroom, and no one is ever going to know what happened to him.

She was quite suddenly aware Vincent's chest was not moving anymore, his hissing breath quieting, the tremors in his thin body abating. Miyu held her breath, looking down at his still form, back shattered and saturated in blood, muscles and the slick shine of bone visible. His face was also sprayed crimson, tongue limp in his open mouth, eyes half lidded, blank, dull.

Me, he did it for me, her mind repeated, and her chest twisted in knots when she realized just how lonely she felt. Miyu pulled Vincent into her lap, stroking the back of his neck.

x

She realized at once that she'd hazed out when she came to, eyes snapping open momentarily disoriented. There was something wet and squishy in her lap and as soon as she looked down she turned her head away.

Vincent… …

She pushed him back to the floor, closing his half lidded eyes. Milky cataracts were already glazing over them. Miyu shuddered, closing her eyes, and wrapping her arms around herself. She'd lost her composure during the fight with the thing, and once more during the demise of poor Vincent. Regret had nested inside of her, and she kept replaying what she'd said to him and what she'd done, he was trying to help me. He was trying to help and I told him to piss off and now —

There was a deep chuckle behind her, her tawny fur instantly standing up. Of course she'd remember that voice.

Andross!

Most people described true fear as something that grabs at the heart instantly, but the cold unsettling feeling rising in Miyu was talking a leisurely stroll through her body, making sue she felt every pinprick on the way up.

Miyu was instantly on her feet, arms in front of her, knees bent, paws balled into fists. Her heart was hammering inside her chest, and she could already feel cold sweat trickling down her back.

"I see you two had trouble with one of my pets," the ape tyrant started, not caring to introduce himself, or ask Miyu her name. Of course he knew.

Andross stroked at his full white beard, eying Miyu in a way that greatly perturbed her; although there was nothing sexual about it, she still felt naked under his gaze. He walked towards her, holy shit, he's huge! his height easily dwarfing even her 5'8".

"Herbert had a bit of trouble with the cloning device. Best to test it out, I suppose, lest we have difficulties if it'll ever be truly needed. Such a pity, though…"

Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. This guy's not just out there, he's in a different god damn system —

Andross looked at the dead clone-thing, almost piteously for a moment before turning his gaze to Vincent, then back to Miyu.

"I see he sacrificed himself for you," Andross sneered, steely eyes digging into Miyu. "How noble."

Miyu swallowed, trying her best to retain her composure, and keep an eye on Andross and get the hell out of there and succeeding at none of them.

You're a soldier, for fuck's sake! Remember? Kill him! Beat his ass! He's fucking crazy!

Miyu managed a weak snarl, mind blank as she fell upon her training, body flowing and moving instinctively as she tried to land a round-house kick, confidence screeching to a halt when she felt his hand clamp around her ankle and squeeze. She snatched a wide eyed glance at him —

— And then she was flying again, staring at the ceiling as the fluorescent lights poured over her at a crawl —

And time exploded forward again as she crunched her neck painfully on the floor — ohhell — as her body tumbled awkwardly, finally landing sprawled on her back, pain screaming through her body. White clouded her vision before a face appeared over her, Andross. He smiled grotesquely with rows of sharp teeth, then clicked his tongue, waving a finger at her.

"I'm disappointed in you, Ms. Lynx. After all, we could've been such friends, you and I. If I had ever wanted a member of StarFox working for me, it would have to be you. You do what you must to survive, just as I. You allowed that silly mongrel to kill himself in your stead. Bravo, Ms. Lynx, bravo. Not many creatures in this planetary system are strong enough to do such things. Ridiculous, pointless little animals that believe that everyone has a right to life and conveniently forget the very principle which all life is based upon. That the strongest kill the weak to survive, and those who do are created better for a reason."

"Fuck you," Miyu spat, struggling to sit up, even as the pain forced her back down.

Andross simply smiled again, something unknown crossing over his face, an emotion Miyu couldn't quite define. It scared her. The ape knelt down, and the lynx floundered about the concrete harder, screaming at her muscles to move.

"Shh," Andross whispered, as if he were trying to soothe her, but the deadly edge to his voice only served to further unnerve her. He produced an item from his velvet robes, holding it up to the light and tapping his fingers on it — oh shit that's a SYRINGE! And with a speed Miyu didn't think he had, the ape grabbed her flopping wrist and plunged the needle in.

"I want you to give Junior a present for me," he instructed, Miyu's panicky mind barely registering his words, let alone the sting.

"All better now," Andross said in a cheery tone as he withdrew the needle, smiling like the doctor from hell. "Sleep now," he continued, and the last thing Miyu saw was his heavy fist before the world disappeared.

x

She awoke quite suddenly as the world jolted, followed by the high whine of the engine. Miyu grunted a she felt the g-force pressing her into some kind of soft lining, the entire room rattling terrifically. She finally realized she was dressed in a thick space suit, paws clamping a vice-like death grip on a protective bar that held her in place. She scrunched her eyes shut as a dull throbbing pain caught up with her, amplified by the awful shuddering.

An escape pod, he's letting me go, what the fuck did he do to me —

When the tremors subsided to constant muffled vibrations, Miyu opened her eyes, staring blankly as stars spun around a tiny window, a dark, rough-textured object floated into view, larger enough to fill the entire pane.

Meteor… … it was that fucking meteor…

Control. Composure. Get on the horn, get the hell away from here.

There would be a small Cornerian outpost nearby, the only one so close to Venom. Miyu activated the emergency beacon, broadcasting an old Arspace military code that she hoped was still active, or at least would be recognizable.

If they shoot me down, they shoot me down. Not much I can do now… …

Miyu waiting for a rush of horror or adrenaline to come at the thought of her own demise, mildly surprised when it didn't come. If she did survive, the army would want to know about what she saw, the two Andross dopplegangers, the Emperor himself, and possibly Vixy… Fox would no doubt want to… …

The syringe. If he infected you with something, so be it. If you're contagious or terminal, you can eat a bullet.

She sighed, not wanting to think about it, feeling empty and exhausted, both emotionally and physically as she slumped against the wall, allowing what remaining strength she had eke out of her. Miyu closed her eyes, and let sleep claim her once more, her eyelids already drooping.

x

She was at once dimly aware of being crowded, mumbling and people near her, unstrapping her, picking her up, of pinpoints of lights passing over her. Fuzzy shadows placed an oxygen mask over her muzzle, but she had to tell them things, she had so much to say — about the monsters, things she suspected were Andross clones gone awry, of the shot, of Vixy Reinard, of poor, dear Vincent…

Miyu tried to move, to speak, but someone shushed her, petting her face and hair, blurry face full of sympathy.

x

… … … ugh

… mouth tastes like… … …fishpaste…

Miyu's cat eyes opened up to yet another blurry world, light blinding her as she snapped her eyes closed again.

"Curtains…" she rasped, and heard someone cross the room, and then the rustle of cloth as darkness fell over her eyelids.

"It's okay now," said a voice, young, girlish, full of concern.

"Hey there… … Fay," Miyu whispered hoarsely, swallowing the awful taste in her mouth. A tired smile surfaced on her face and her eyelashes fluttered open after several blinks. Fay walked towards her, a white blur slowly coming into focus the closer she got.

"Heard you weren't feeling too good," Fay bantered sweetly, crossing her legs as she sat in the chair next to Miyu's bed. The lynx managed a small grunt of appreciation, eyes drifting closed again.

"How long was I out?"

"Well, the guys who found think you were drifting for about two days before they picked you up; you were delirious, suffering from a fever, severe blood loss, and trauma. They hooked you up to IVs immediately, and you needed two blood transfusions. You've been out for about a week. You're damn lucky to be alive, but I think you used up a few of those nine lives."

Miyu tried to smile. "That's cats, not lynxes, Fluffy."

Fay shrugged, and smiled sweetly, reaching for Miyu's paw, grasping it in both her slightly smaller ones. She was incredibly curious as to what the hell happened, but was afraid to ask, guilt clutching at her throat. They were a team, and Fay of all people should've been there. Falco was put out of action for a few days with a sprained wrist, it was Miyu who was supposed to fill in for him, but Fay had begged her for the spot, and in the end, Miyu'd relented… …

"Will… um…. Can you tell me what happened?"

Miyu turned her heard slightly, skull pounding, nausea rising in her gut.

Do they know what I'm carrying?

If no one knew, she was unsure if she should even bring it up. Maybe whatever the hell it is doesn't even show up on scanners…

"Miyu?"

The lynx was brought back to the present again by Fay's gentle coaxing. Miyu grabbed at her head, feigning sleepiness.

"Yeah… … but later, okay? I… I don't feel well…"

Fay tried to smile, and watched as unconsciousness quickly claimed her best friend. She brushed Miyu's dirty bangs back, a pained expression on the lynx's face. She seemed worn out, old, haunted somehow. Pepper was crawling down StarFox's collective throat for a status report, but Fay would be damned if he was going to get it until Miyu was good and ready to give it.

This is all my fault… …

The poodle whimpered, shifting to a more comfortable position in her chair, closing her eyes as she listened to the drip of Miyu's IV fluids, the steady beep of the heart monitor. She opened them, and turned to look at the Cornerian sky through a crack in the curtains.

It looked as thought it was going to rain again.

Fay sighed.

x

fin.