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Falco sighed, handing over yet another door fee and pushing through, shouldering past the crowds and into the club proper. The music effectively drowned out any voices, let alone the one he was searching for that he knew so well, and the flashing multicolored lights made it even worse. He sighed, letting himself get jostled to the side to stand against a wall, scanning the club with a few flickers of his eyes.

No. He wasn't here, either. Not at first glance, at least.

Falco sighed, and proceeded to prowl through the crowds, the heavy trench coat fluttering around him as he walked. No one really noticed him as he stopped again, watching the dancing crowd, which had oriented to give praise to the DJ. He shook his head, again searching, knowing he was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. He had no idea what the target of his search was wearing, what club he was in, or if he'd even kept to Corneria City.

Damn you, McCloud.

He was about to turn and move on to the next club, to blow more of his hard-earned money on yet another door fee, when he noticed the row of booths in the far corner. He rubbed his chin, and crossed the club, walking slowly down the line and looking in each one. Mostly the patrons glared at his intrusion, couples slouched together in various poses of relaxation or groups of friends talking at mock five. He ignored their looks and continued on to the last booth, sighing in relief when he saw the single resident.

"Howdy, stranger."

Fox lifted his head from where it was rested on his crossed arms and looked at him blearily. "Falco?" He asked blankly, watching his vision blur and swirl, the flashing lights creating starbursts across his eyesight.

"Yeah." Falco sat down across from him and picked up the half-empty bottle, turning it to look at the label. The contents glowed faintly in the light, so he had a pretty good idea what it was, reinforced by the stack of sugar cubes in a bowl. "Absinth? Fox, are you trying to fuck yourself up?"

"Yes."Fox replied, setting his jaw back on his arms, staring at his empty shot glass. "What do ya want, Fal?"

"Oh, that's nice. I've been spending the last three hours bouncing between clubs, trying to find your ass. Peppy said you'd be fine… I didn't buy it." He scowled at the slightly younger boy, watching Fox pick up the bottle and pour another round for himself. "It's not like you to take off like this."

Fox shrugged weakly.

"You've been acting weird since the award ceremony. You know you can't hide anything from me." He reached out and caught Fox's wrist when he reached for a sugar cube. "Lay off the booze, you've had enough."

"I paid for th' bottle." Fox replied, tugging his wrist free. "Why th'hell are you sho concerned?" He frowned. "Thatsh not like you."

"Yup, enough booze for you." Falco took the bottle, closing it back up and resting it next to him on the booth seat. Absinth. He shook his head wearily. He'd never even seen Fox drink beer, and now here he was, hitting hard liquor, and illegal liquor at that. He made a note to have a word with the bartender later. Fox growled feebly and tried to lunge after the bottle, and ended up kneeling on the table nose to nose with Falco. There was a long tense moment as they stared at each other, then Falco tapped him on the nose and shoved him back to his side of the booth. "Now. Come clean. The hell's the problem, McCloud?"

"What ishin't?" Fox replied, managing to have the coherency to pull a lighter from his pocket and melt one of the sugar cubes over the shot he had already poured.

"We won. You were *supposed* to go out partying with us tonight." Falco covered the shot glass with his hand, preventing Fox from downing it. "We both know that Bill throws awesome parties. So why aren't we there right now, pray tell? Why did I have to track your ass down?"

Fox grumbled, reluctantly taking his hand off the glass and rubbing his eyes blearily, then looking back at Falco. The air seemed to be moving in swirls of its own accord, flittering with the music in neon bursts, and it was screwing with his head. Knowing seeing things was a side effect of what he was drinking, he shook it off. "Guessh it finally hit me. What I did." He finally said, eating a sugar cube.

"You kicked ass. You won. What's your point?"

Fox looked at him blearily for several long moments, then took out his wallet and started going through the contents, claws stumbling over the photos and business cards. He had to look through it a few times to find what he wanted, and he set it on the booth table and slid it across to Falco wordlessly. Falco picked it up, turning it to see it in the flickering light. An old photograph, dog-earred and much loved. But the point of it was clear: in the photo were a younger Fox and Wolf O’Donnel, leaning on each other's shoulders and grinning. By the look of the background and their shirts, they were at a concert. "When was this taken?" Falco asked, frowning.

"'Bout two years ago. I was… shixteen? Shomething like that." Fox took advantage of Falco moving his hands and slammed his last shot, smiling when the liquor kicked him solidly and burned.

"Shit, man. I didn't know you and Wolf were friends." He took a closer look at the photo, moving the bottle of absinth so it was trapped behind his back and therefore inaccessible to Fox.

"Not eshactly." Fox hiccupped, slouching in the booth and staring at the ceiling. "Are ya really that densh, Fal?"

Falco stared at him, then looked at the picture again, this time noticing one small detail: both were wearing small pins at the collars of their shirts. "You are not seriously implying…"

Fox ate another sugar cube. "Fal, are you sherioushly shaying ya din't know I'm queer?"

"I'm bi." Falco shrugged. "So yeah, you set my radar off. But come ON. You had a relationship with O…Donnel?"

"For a few monthsh." Fox agreed, taking the photo back and tucking it back in his wallet. "My fault…" He trailed off.

"What is?"


"That helps me, bud." Seeing Fox's drunkenness switching moods, he sighed. "Let's get out of here. Come on." He stood, shoving the bottle of absinth in his coat pocket and helping Fox up, sighing when Fox nearly collapsed to the floor. "I'm not carrying you, McCloud. Lean on me." Fox hiccupped blearily and did so, letting Falco wrap an arm around his shoulders and lead him out of the club.

"Where we goin'?" Fox whined as he was towed down the street, and Falco rolled his eyes in annoyance, popping his car doors open and depositing Fox in the back.

"Buckle up." Falco said, moving around the car and getting in the driver's seat. "You're coming to my apartment, and you're spilling."

Fox boggled at him for a moment, then just hiccupped and sprawled blearily across the back seat, staring at the ceiling of the car. Falco shook his head, pulling into the main flow of traffic, wondering when he'd become Fox's keeper.

Twenty minutes after their departure from the club, Falco was setting the bottle on top of his fridge and hanging his coat up, watching Fox wobble across the main room of the apartment and flop on one of the couches. "How do you feel?" He asked absently, and wasn't surprised when Fox had to hunt to see him.

"Not sho great."

"I'd imagine so. Absinth is toxic, you know." He shook his head.

"Yah, I know."

Falco got a glass of water and crossed the living room, turning the lights up and sitting down across from Fox. In the club lighting, he hadn't really been paying attention to what Fox had been wearing. He was in black leather pants and a tight mesh tanktop, the clubshirt over it hanging open and off one shoulder. He looked totally blitzed. Falco let out a sigh, pondering the irony of having the pretty boy in his apartment and having nothing intended for such an occasion. "Now talk." He said quietly, passing the glass of water over.

"Ishn't mush to say." Fox took a drink, pondering, and nearly dropped the glass. "Wolf and I had a… fallin' out. Very sharply."

"What happened?"

Fox looked at him gloomily. "I'm the one that damaged hish eye."

"Shit, man."

"It wash an acshident. We were shparing." Fox choked out a sob of tension. "My clawsh caught him wrong. All my shorries did nothing. He never forgave me." Fox frowned over Falco's shoulders at the wandering shadows on the walls, which to him currently looked like a dragon at play. "And now, I … I fucking killed him, Falco. I…"

Falco moved to sit next to him and tugged him close gently, giving him a shoulder to sob it out on. "You're not a pretty drunk, McCloud." He remarked quietly after a few moments, and Fox growled and made an attempt at punching him in the gut. "Look. He obviously wasn't that good of a guy. He would have killed us, all of us, trying to carry out Andross' will."

"If I hadn't fucked up… he… wouldn't have been a bad guy…" Fox choked out.

"You don't know that." Falco grumbled when Fox sloshed water on him, and took the glass from him, setting it on the table. "Is THIS what this is about? You're blaming himself for Wolf cutting over to Venom, and therefore, blaming yourself for having to kill him?"

"Shomething like that." He replied, setting his jaw on Falco's shoulder and inhaling dreamily, watching ethereal bits of colored air meander by.

"None of that is your fault. Yes, you pulled the trigger… but he always shot first, Fox. Don't you remember? Star Wolf always started the fights. We defended ourselves." Falco jabbed him when he noticed Fox was wandering off into a drunken stupor, and grinned when Fox growled at him. "Oh, you wanna fight, McCloud?"

"I'll try, you keep pokin' me." Fox said in a grumpy voice.

Falco shook his head, still grinning to himself, and they sat like that for a while, Fox in Falco's arms, barely coherent. Falco eventually noticed Fox's eyes fluttering, and huffed, shaking his head. "Come on, don't fall asleep yet." He jabbed Fox again, provoking only a feeble grumble. "McCloud. Up and at'em. We are not sleeping like this."

"Saysh you."

Yes, says me. Move before I'm poking you without meaning to, you goddamn pretty boy. Falco moved Fox by force and stood, pulling Fox to his feet. "You are never allowed to get this drunk again. Do we have an understanding?" He grumbled, towing Fox to the bedroom.

"Hey, wha…" Fox vaguely protested as he was dumped on the bed, Falco crouching and unlacing the drunken teen's boots, levering himself up to watch this.

"You're getting the bed, I'm taking the couch. Live with it." He stood back up, giving Fox a play shove to make him lay back down. Fox, however, growled and shoved back. "You're totally smashed, Fox. Give it up." He said, catching Fox's wrists, then cried out in surprise when Fox responded automatically and flipped him. The room was upside down briefly, then Falco was on his back on the bed, blinking in bewilderment.

"Fuck, I'm shorry." Fox hiccupped out, then yipped when Falco drug him down.

"You JERK!"

"I'm shorry I'm shorry… no tickling!" He sputtered this out, trying to wrestle back but in the end was helpless, ending up pinned to the bed, Falco straddling him and pinning his arms above his head. Falco was laughing helplessly, looking down at the giggling drunken boy beneath him. "You shuck." Fox finally said, sticking out his tongue.

"Mmm. You wish." Falco replied, still staring down at him, clearing his throat awkwardly after a moment. "I, ummm…"

"Are shtaying here." Fox finished, tugging one of his wrists free and pulling Falco down roughly by his shirt, pouting when Falco resisted the tug.

"No. No way. Not a good idea. You're totally pickled, Fox. If we do this, you're going to be sober." He moved so he was just kneeling, rubbing his eyes for a second. Fox pushed himself to a sitting-up position, staring up at Falco with soft, booze-blurred eyes, and Falco sighed, brushing his fingers over Fox's cheek gently. "The hell do you have to be so pretty, anyway?" He finally asked.

"Thanksh. I think." Fox replied, leaning into the touch, eyes fluttering. "Jusht shtay. Pleash. I donwanna be alone."

Falco looked at him and huffed, resigning himself to defeat and moving, kicking off his boots and laying down. Fox crawled over and flopped next to him, staring at him with a dopey smile on his face. Falco rolled his eyes and tugged him close, letting himself relax and trail his fingers down Fox's spine. Fox giggled, sighed, and went limp, asleep like someone had flipped a switch.

Falco shook his head wearily, settling his jaw on top of Fox's head. Fox's keeper, indeed.