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Arius Ex

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



It all started when I found a corpse inside my bathtub.

Well, not a corpse, per se; a rag doll of a person draped across the porcelain like a damp, discarded towel.

Just where I had left it, drunken and confused.

In a way, he's lucky. He could have ended up much worse than a few scrapes and a swollen eye. He could have been dragged around the city. He could have been kidnaped or arrested. He could have been dead.

Kneeling down on the cold tile floor I admire his wounds — his proud medals of accomplishment bright against his cobalt feathers — while I reach for the nozzle and give it a quick, forceful twist. The rusty showerhead sputters and strains before firing a solid stream of water down onto his chest and stomach, jolting him back into consciousness. He squints against the fluorescent lighting of the room, the water soaking him from beak to tail as he writhes, fighting against his nagging hangover and an impressive series of tender bruises. For a moment I think his wing is broken until he lifts it to press against his forehead.


You're in my shower, I reply, running a paw through the white streak of fur over the top of my head. He ignores me as his alcohol-soaked brain still struggles to comprehend the sudden brightness, the sound of my voice, the air conditioner kicking in behind me, and the panicky sensation of drowning. His body is weak and nearly lifeless. He puts a wing on either side of the porcelain but can't muster the strength to overcome the weight of his own body. Defeated, he slumps back into the bathtub, his jeans bunched against his thighs, eyes locked shut. I stand and move to the sink, pretending to be occupied with my hygiene.

"Muh… my keys," he sputters, groping across his jacket and down to his jeans that now clung to his form like a second skin.

I pick up the small razor pinched between the faucet and the wall and open the cupboard behind the mirror. I tuck it away with the crusted, useless tubes of toothpaste and molding gel like everything other pink elephant in my life. The cabinet door locks shut and I erase yesterday evening from my mind.

"They took my keys."

They took his keys.

I exit the room and return a few moments later. He's got one wing exploring in one of his front pockets and the other in the side of his jacket when he sees me in the doorway. A redness creeps across his face, and with a frustrated grunt I toss an empty duffle bag into his shivering lap.

Get out.

"My keys," he repeats. "They took my keys."

Like a broken, drunken record: "My keys, my keys…"

Why do I even bother.

I move over the tile floor and kneel over him. The water is pouring down his face and his left eye is swollen like a ripe, lavender plum. Yet he still manages to blush like an idiot while his body twitches against the cold. A voice inside wants me to crack his jaw because he won't shut up about his keys. I reach over his legs and turn off the water.

He looks away, weak and embarrassed.

I tell him I want him gone by this afternoon. He holds the duffle bag to his chest and his other wing is still pressed deep into his pocket. I leave the room, shutting the door behind me. A draft of air rushes through the crack between the door and the frame, sending a cold shiver down my brown-orange fur. The clock in the corner glows green against the darkness and I wonder what I'll have for breakfast.


Ask me where I thought I'd be six months after the Lylat Wars.

Go ahead, ask.

If I can remember correctly, I saw myself stretched out on the shore of some distant, exotic beach, the warmth of the sand and the heat of the sun like a calming cocoon against my fur. No Arwings, no officership, just me on a remote stretch of uninhabited land like a bleaching piece of driftwood.

Fast forward. My open shoreline is a studio apartment where the sun struggles to penetrate the lavender shades with their rusted rings trapping them shut. I suppose I can claim some form of success, given the fact that the area is basically uninhabited. Aside from the elusive blue-clad mailman with our weekly stipends from the Cornerian government, and an avian who has more pent up aggression than he knows what to do with, I have the whole world, east to west, all to myself.

Jobs? Why bother. Careers as managers or technicians or engineers; just the thought of a tie bothers me. Immediately following our resignation our mailbox was packed full of "once-in-a-lifetime" offers and promises of six-figure incomes; paid vacations, corner offices, and more board rooms and secretaries than you could shake a stick at. The corporations were desperate for figureheads. Without the details or declassified documents, our lives were like heroic epics. Who needs to investigate our financial practices? Ol' McCloud, old rough-and-tough-can't-get-enough of Star Fox is in charge.

And all is right with the universe.

Not to say we never tried. A crack at the corporate life seemed natural to Falco a few months ago. But he had enough of his own demons to be able to deal with the politics of an executive boardroom. A brief disagreement over management style landed two of his co-workers in the hospital and that was the end of that.

Re-enlistment. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. It was only a matter of pulling a few strings and maybe becoming Training Instructors in the new flight academy, like Peppy. We had enough clout to weave our way into a desk job, probably. The military is just like any other business. It's all about who you know and how many favors you do for them. In the corporate world it's called kissing ass. Sport a uniform and kill a few people and it's called becoming a field-grade officer.

It's funny if you think about it. Two war heroes, Class A uniforms, medals and awards, recognitions and speeches from the usual slough of political juggernauts. And then just as we had hit the top of the coaster the brakes clamped down hard, and we were nobodies, warped and sucking on the teat of the government we almost died to save.

Ok, I guess that's not as funny as I'd hoped.


It's around ten o'clock when I enter the tavern. Just a few blocks down from the apartment, it's become sort of a common hangout for the two of us. It used to be that anyone with a military ID or a uniform could spend the whole night there and never have to spend a dime. In fact, it's still that way, unless you're me or Falco.

I push open the door and a rush of cooled air beats against my body, heavy with nicotine-laced smoke even at this time of the day. A few introverted patrons are sprinkled about the various corner stalls and pool tables, speaking in muffled vowels to each other with only a lite beer or a mixed drink to compliment the banter. If any of the regulars were here you'd think there was a drinking contest going on from all of the empty bottles populating the tables.

I sit down at the nearest stool along the bar, closest to the door in case I have to make a quick exit, and already my stomach is turning knots.

I can sit wherever I damn well please.

The bartender comes out from a back door with a wooden crate of bottles and sets them down underneath the counter. A young, well-built coyote with ash-colored fur and hazel eyes. I grab his attention with a slight wave of my hand and he nods as he makes his way over to me.

Just a beer, I tell him. Domestic, if possible.

"Sure thing," he replies with a grin. I cross my arms over each other and rest my chin on the nook they form. I try to remember just how pitiful that avian looked lying beaten to a pulp in my bathroom. I try to forget about last night, but I can't. I try to remember climbing out of my Arwing and whistling while I admire the burns and gashes that lined the armor. I try to remember patting Falco on the back and how the sun looked through the plating of my cockpit as it rose over Fortuna. I try to remember but all I see are a few distant stars against the blackness of space.

The bartender returns a few moments later and places a long neck bottle right up next to my nose. It's imported. He must be new here.

I close my eyes and concentrate on not feeling anything, on letting my whole body go numb to its surroundings. Meditation, I guess, at least in some form.

"It's not about trying to think of things that make you happy," he explained to me once, his legs crossed like a pretzel in the middle of the living room. "It's not about thinking at all."

To this day I don't know how Falco got hooked on the whole "Eastern Mysticism" thing.

Slowly inhale through the nose. Hold for a moment. Exhale through the mouth and let your whole body relax. He demonstrates and I watch his trim, feathered chest rise slowly and then fall, eyes closed, face like a mask. He was completely untouchable and unreachable when he did this, three times a day, every day as part of the court-ordered anger management therapy.

Catch him about halfway through one of his sessions and it's like trying to start a conversation with a piece of furniture. Three-fourths of the way through and you could push him on the forehead and watch him fall in slow motion. It was always good for a cheap laugh and a few punches to the ribs.

"Something on your mind?"

I open one eye and the young bartender is leaning up on the counter a few feet away from me, a ridiculous little grin on his face. I feel like knocking his teeth out, but I don't think I can muster up the will to do it. Instead I growl and tell him it's nothing, hoping there was enough hostility in my response to get him to give up and leave.

"Haven't even touched your drink."

So much for Plan A.

I'm saving it for a special occasion, I reply, tapping the sweating glass bottle with my index finger and letting the thin film of water soak into it.

"Oh, and what would that be?"

My birthday, I tell him.

"Your birthday's today?"

Oh, in about three months.

He grins and shakes his head. It's a calm, genuine response, and I can't help but feel a little more relaxed because of it. "How old you turning?"

If I told you, I say, you'd take my beer back.

He shrugs and our attention turns to a young couple exiting the bar arm in arm. They're smiling and so in love and my day is just a little worse because of it. The conversation goes dormant for a few awkward moments and I begin to wish I hadn't talked to him at all.

"So where's your blue friend?"

Cobalt. Or some random color like that. He hates being called blue nowadays.

I snort. Don't know. Don't care.

I open one eye again and he looks a bit surprised.

"I guess I misjudged you two."

How's that, I reply.

"You seemed like a cute couple."

I think I'm ready to leave now.

"Seemed like you two got along pretty well."

Are your conversations always this intrusive, I ask.

"I hate mindless banter, to be honest," he says with a smirk. "It's fake and insulting."

Sounds like something Falco would say.

"Look, if I'm hitting a nerve, I'll drop it."

I shake my head. He's trying to be personable and I tell him it's no big deal. The problem is that always manages to get my mouth moving faster than I can think. Soon words start leaving my lips and I have trouble believing they're mine.

I'm looking for something of his, actually.

"Yea, he was a wreck last night."

Last night was spent staring at my reflection in the mirror and wondering why I was still alive.

"Came in pretty late with a thundercloud over his head."

When you've seen the kinds of things I've seen, done the things I've done, the mirror mocks you with your own reflection.

"He was sitting right here, actually."

I reach for the bottle in front of me. The gashes on my arm look like a freeway map.

"Lucky I spotted him outside before I left and got him that cab."

He's lying on the bed and everything about him is in a million pieces. I'm running a needle and thread through a part in his feathers and he's struggling not to wince, mumbling something about being sorry for everything.

I tip the bottle back into my muzzle and the beer is lukewarm.

The nightmares started a few days after the wars ended. We always received seminars about this sort of thing, and how it was perfectly natural for soldiers who had our experiences to feel conflicting emotions.

"A normal reaction by a normal person to abnormal situations."

That part always made me laugh. Soldiers are anything but normal.

When you destroy a fighter — like an Arwing for example — in the middle of space, there isn't the ball of flame or epic explosion like you see in movies. The first time you see it, you're a bit disappointed by the whole experience, because it doesn't seem as intense or heroic otherwise. Then a few months pass, reality starts to register, and it becomes a game to see who can score the most combat kills without destroying the ship itself.

After a while we learned where specific weak points were in the armor. While there are hundreds of different makes and models, fighter engineering has been standardized enough to where basic components are almost always positioned in the same portion of the ship, and as a result armor placement is just as predictable.

Fire a shot burst into a small section of open armor just behind the cockpit, between the twin engines, and if you're lucky you can cut power to the thrusters, making the ship a floating casket with a limited oxygen supply.

Put a well-aimed shot into the bottom of the front of the aircraft and you could fry the circuits for the pilot controls. At that point the ship's going full speed into the closest object with a gravitational pull: a planet or a star or whatever. If they have their afterburners on you can overheat the engines, and then they would either explode or begin to melt and slowly cook the pilot.

Other times you could use their armor to your advantage. For instance: cockpit glass is actually made of synthetic plastics and metals. This is so that pilots can't simply shoot each other out right off the bat, but the extra blast shielding goes both ways. Get a shot into the power generator on some of the older models, the ones without super-advanced uranium plating, and you could send a powerful blast straight into the cockpit. If you've seen some of the photographs that are being passed around over the net, the ones of idle ships drifting through space with their pilots plastered all over the inside of the cockpit like a sloppy coat of paint, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Combat Stress Reactions, they call them. The nightmares, I mean.

The doorbell rings in the middle of the night and I get up to answer it. Leaning into the hallway I find it deserted and when I turn around a foreign soldier is growling at me, his uniform shredded and charred, small swirls of smoke still rising from the smoldering parts of his rancid body. His eyes are hollow like bowls and he reaches towards me with a limb that's still deteriorating and the smell makes me want to vomit. I'm pinned up against the doorway too terrified to move and he opens his mouth to speak but only blood comes from his throat, spilling down his chin and chest.

I wake up moments later sprawled across the floor next to my bed. The room is spinning; a poorly taken photograph, smeared and blurry. Falco peers over the side of the bed. His lips are moving but I can't hear or feel anything.

I'm lying like a slab of meat on the carpet and beads of cold sweat are rolling down my fur.

There's a flash of movement and I feel him kneeling next to me, his wings on my shoulders and he's shaking me. Everything begins to come into focus but it sounds as if he's speaking in tongues. My throat feels dry and hoarse and I realize I've been screaming.

His eyes are wide with concern and he pulls me up into his chest, my body limp like a rag doll. I feel him shivering but I know it isn't the cold. He's reciting something from memory and his voice is slowly falling to pieces as it leaves his mouth.

Inhale through the nose. Hold for a moment. Exhale through the mouth and let your whole body relax. He demonstrates and I feel his warm, feathered chest rise slowly against my cheek and then fall. A small necklace with two bold medallions swings just in front of my nose and I grab it with one hand.

Their dog tags; One is his and the other is one of mine.

He says something about being sorry for everything and the room fades to dark.


I stopped watching the time, and when I finally managed to drag myself from the tavern stool it was almost noon. Leave it to alcohol and nostalgia to keep you glued to a seat for over an hour.

The sun is high up in the sky now, casting a small, puny shadow beneath my boots and reflecting blades of light into my eyes off the rounded edges of nearby car frames. I unzip my jacket and let some of the low, dry wind hit my thin t-shirt, taking a quick moment to get my bearings and figure out what to do next.

It's not that I'm drunk or anything. While a few beers may have been able to give me a well-rounded buzz a few months ago, it does nothing except quench my thirst now.

Across the street I spot a few of the regulars, the real hard-asses. Arms bulging from chronic steroid abuse, eyes puny like marbles against their rippling frames; The kind of guys who down 20 shots and then go find a stranger walking home from the library and toss his books and break all of his teeth one by one, real horrorshow.

One of the three turns and makes eye contact with me. I'm either too stupid or I'm out in space again and I lock on him in response. The sun is cooking the asphalt into waves between us and he smirks his hideous little yellow smirk and all three of them turn and make their way towards me.

This is when my survival instinct wakes up and kicks me in the nuts.

What's the matter with you, McCloud?

I shove my hands into my jean pockets and the weather is making my palms sweat against my thighs. I turn on a heel and head back towards the apartment, towards relative safety. I'm hoping that they're just heading back to the tavern but they turn in the middle of the street.

I'm back in the Asteroid belt. The defense system chirps, loud and crackling, because someone somewhere in the darkness has a missile lock on me.

My instincts bring me back to my training and I make a sharp left into the street between two large vehicles. My foot barely makes it into the road and a truck, like a comet moving past the speed of sound, careens down the road blaring its horn. I yelp and stumble back against the blast of wind, and before I know it the three of them have me surrounded. Two of them grab my arms at the shoulders and the other is chuckling and croaking like he does nothing but breathe through a cigarette. They drag me into a side alley and I do little to fight them. If I struggle they'd have no qualms about snapping both my arms apart like toothpicks.

They toss me to the ground with a grunt and the beefed-up wolf, exploding in his olive tank top and jeans, comes cackling towards me, his huge arms like tree trunks crossed over his chest.

"I thought I was pretty clear last time I talked to you."

I can sit anywhere I damn well please. "But you fly boys, you just gotta do your own fucking thing, don't you?"

Falco explained who this guy was last time they showed up. Apparently, he was in the Cornerian Army for a few years and got discharged for substance abuse.

You mean the 'roids?

"No, those came after," he replied, sitting cross-legged on the floor hunched over a small orange book. "Mostly drugs: barbiturates, hallucinogens, the kinda stuff that makes you go crazy."

Turns out one of his officers got snappy, so he snapped his neck in three places.

"He didn't kill the guy," Falco added as he poked at a healing scar on the side of his beak. "Ended up spending a year in military prison before being dishonorably discharged. Now, he vents his frustrations on anyone he can get his hands on."

No one wants to fuck a guy who likes to smoke cigarettes while cutting fancy designs into somebody's chest with a broken rum bottle. That kind of hobby doesn't make for a healthy relationship.

I get up on my elbows and a sharp pain sears through my spine.

"Aw, too much already? See, you guys, this is why they don't want queers in the military."

I use my hands to get up onto one knee while they cackle and laugh and I'm almost to my feet when "Mr. Roids" plants a steel-toed boot into my stomach. The oxygen rushes out of my lungs and I double over into the ground, gasping for air. Everything goes blurry and the three disfigured creatures towering over me take to me like they're at the soccer field, driving their toes and heels into every soft spot on my body they can find.

My mind races to register the pain and I remember sitting on the floor across from Falco. He had asked me to try one of his little meditation sessions with him and I had finally given in to his constant nagging. We're both cross-legged and our shirts are off and he's reading from that little orange book like some kind of monk.

"The most wicked of people — those who commit unbelievable crimes…"

I move a hand up to guard my face, but a boot slams it into my nose.

"…whose minds are filled with greed, anger and infatuation…"

One of them grabs me by my collar and lifts me up to my knees. I hear his knuckles crack against the side of my head, the packed meat sound of my body hitting the concrete.

"…those who lie, chatter, abuse and cheat; those who kill, steal and act lasciviously…"

"Look at him, boys," one of them howls, "Not even putting up a fight."

"It's almost unsporting," another replies.

I try to speak but I'm choking on my own blood.

"Yeah, he's just like that bluebird, eh?"

"…they are destined to long ages of punishment."

My elbow strains under the weight of my torso as I fumble to try and stand. I can't feel anything below my waist and I wonder if they haven't broken both my legs. Mr. Killemall kneels down next to me and drops a small ring of keys at his feet. With my one good eye I spot another medallion attached to it.

My second dog tag; the one I refused to wear after being discharged.

He snorts and glares at me like I'm the source of all his problems before punching my skull into the bloody concrete.

"Damn puffs are all the same."


It was a military reception, just after the declaration by General Pepper that major combat operations were over. Inside that large conference room, along with all of the top military brass and major news reporters, the old hound stood like he had just punched God square in the muzzle and walked away unscathed, his voice booming, eyes glowing with the kind of fatherly pride and compassion that you would expect to see from the victorious commander of Corneria. At the sound of the news, the entire hall erupted with a thunderous accolade of cheers and handshakes. I was still the raging war hero back then, a grin from ear to ear and my ego like a massive bubble slowly tightening around my skull.

We floated around the reception like gods among men, our vanilla uniforms pressed, ribbons shining and adorned with all kinds of medals. I spoke with generals, diplomats, reporters, common soldiers, respected guests… they weren't so much interested in me as they were in my accomplishments. I wasn't a fox who sat in an Arwing. I was a uniform with a Distinguished Service Ribbon, a System Defense Award, three Combat Distinction Medals, an Exemplary Unit Award, and a Blue Order Band for time in service. I was a mass of fur and flesh for them to shake hands with and admire, and I was more than happy with that.

I stopped off next to a waiter and grabbed a tall glass of champagne from his silver tray. Back then I didn't drink any of it, I just held it in my hand and occasionally poured some of it into a nearby plant or table piece to create the illusion of sophistication. I was all about being something, anything to get someone's attention.

I was busy plotting how I would introduce myself to a general's wife when an old, plump walrus of a character approached me looking like something out of a comic book, sporting a gold-rimmed monocle and top hat to set off his large black tuxedo that seemed as if it would burst off of his body if he dared to inhale too deeply. The orchestra spouted off Beethoven's 6th as he made his awkward, wobbly steps towards me, grinning like he had just found candy in his pocket. I distinctly remember praying that I would never grow up to be that fake and bloated when I was his age.

As the ambassador from "god-knows-where" of the great and illustrious Lylat System, he was honored to be able to congratulate me on our stunning victory. I play the part and smile and nod every so often as he rambles on about the political and economical advantages that this new victory will create, and how two great men like ourselves could very easily earn a lot of capital off strategic investments.

Mining operations on Fortuna; Aerospace construction on Macbeth; Military contracts on Katina and Zoness.; He explains his theory on free trade and I nod and try to remember if I use the small or large fork for the salad. I'm lectured on the situation in Meteo and its effect on uranium prices and wonder if I enjoy my steak medium-well or medium-rare.

As I'm debating the effect of our victory on the yearly senate elections, I recall that I'm to place the napkin on my left knee. Then, I feel a tap on my shoulder.

"Ah, Mr. Lombardi! As the ambassador from…"

Falco grins and nods and then zones the old man out. He turns to me looking more tense than usual but at that point I'm too stupid to notice.

"Fox, uh, we need to talk."

The walrus is still rolling out his "delighted to meet you" speech and I tell him I'll talk to him later, that I'm in the middle of an important conversation that can't wait.

It's the small fork for salad, I'm sure of it.

"Oh, um," he shuffles back, eyes wavering. "Ok. Yea, later."

I don't even bother to watch him leave.

Looking back, I can't believe I didn't catch on sooner. It was like someone was holding my head under water but I refused to believe I was drowning. I'll just learn to breathe under water and everything will be okay. Nothing has to change.

It's ten minutes into the entree and already I have to take a leak. I excuse myself from the table with a polite gesture and everyone smiles and I smile back and they return to their scripted conversations. On my way across the large dining hall I receive handshakes and good words all around, each one inflating my already pulsing ego to new heights.

If things hadn't turned out they way they did I might have actually had to live up to the standards they were setting for me.

I turn the corner into the washroom and there's Falco, stopped over a sink running full blast. Uniform unbuttoned, one hand running down his face drenched in cold water, the other clenched into a fist on the edge of the sink. He looks like a train wreck and I try to sneak past him without having to speak to him. The last thing I want is some kind of awkward moment to ruin my day. My shoes click against the tile floor and he almost hits the ceiling when he jumps back into reality.

"Ah, um… hey," he stutters as I stride by and occupy myself with how to best reseat myself when I get back. I can feel his eyes follow me as I move across the washroom and back to the row of sinks. He's at the far corner struggling not to watch me as I run my hands under the faucet and ask him if he's enjoying himself.

"Who, me? Yea, yea, it's great."

Conversation: over, as far as I'm concerned. I dry my hands on one of the towels hanging on the wall and make for the door.

"Fox, hang on a sec."

I keep my eyes on the door and slowly start to accelerate.

"I… we need to talk."

The faster I move the farther away the door gets. I'll sit down and pretend to enjoy myself again and everything will be fine.

I pull the door open and his blue wing slams it shut in front of me. Defeated, I lean up against the door and face him.

What is it, Falco?

There's a struggle going on inside of him. You can see it in his eyes, feel it in his motions. He moves and puts each arm on the door behind me, as if he's trying to leave and I'm an obstacle in his way.

What's bothering you?

His light blue eyes are locked on mine, feathers still damp and he moves, slow and calculated, like dipping a toe into a lake. I feel his warm, unsteady breath caress my muzzle.

What is it you wanted to tell me?

I close my eyes. I feel his lips touch mine and for a moment neither of us moves. The air is static and he pulls away from me. My mind is blank and my body is frozen. He can sense my confusion and sulks back into himself.

"Fox, I…"

Something inside me snaps. I lean forward and cut him off with a forceful kiss, feeling him quiver under his uniform. Suddenly we're like a fly wandering around a fluorescent zapper, zipping around the surface to see how close we can get without getting burned. I wrap one hand around his neck and press his lips harder against mine, licking across his beak as I feel one of his wings wrap around my waist.

Ask me what I would've told you if you'd said this would be the culmination of my evening.

He's sucking on my tongue as I wrap my other arm around his waist just above his tail feathers and tug his body up against mine. I can barely catch my breath and I feel a slight moan ripple through him as I thrust my tongue deeper into his throat.

No, really, ask me.

His wing slides down across my ass and I suck in sharply, our warm bodies a tangle of fur and feathers pressed against the doorway. His waist bucks up against me and I can feel his tight erection brush against my thigh.

He thrusts a wing down the front of me and I moan into his throat. A door on one of the bathroom stalls opens with a squeak. I'm crushed up against the door and Falco is working on unbuttoning my uniform as I hear the sound of a monocle breaking against the tile floor.

I'll be with you in a minute, Mr. Ambassador.


I regain consciousness about an hour later and feel like I've just been hit by a freight train. Finding my legs aren't officially broken, I creep to my feet and pace awkwardly around the alley, testing my tolerance for pain and seeing which body parts still function. A stream of blood, starting at my forehead and running down to my neck, had dried and matted against my fur, cracking and twisting into my skin every time I blink my vision to better clarity. My head feels inflated like a balloon and I press my palm against it to try and stop the swelling.

Where am I? Who am I? What happened, and why was everything the way it was? A thousand stimuli hack and gnaw away at each other for control over my thoughts. Frustrated, I sit back down on the heated pavement, rubbing at the abrasions on my skull and tonguing at a loose canine that hangs from the roof of my mouth. I remember the tavern, the thugs across the street and getting tossed into an alley, but the rest of the event blurs in and out of itself like the rest of my life. Suddenly I feel my balance disappear like an afterthought, and as I reach backwards against the ground my hand slides into something hot and metallic.

My tongue pops the loose tooth out and I taste fresh blood running bitter down my throat.

You see, nowadays they have this policy called "Don't ask, don't tell". And to make a short story even shorter, Mr. Ambassador told. We still had enough clout to weasel our way out of a dishonorable discharge, but there was little we could do to rout the system entirely. And to be perfectly honest, our careers as respected pilots would have been torn to shreds from the incident anyway. Once you've been labeled a "queer" no one takes you seriously. Often times I ask myself if it was really worth it. It was such a confusing circumstance. Maybe he took advantage of you? Maybe it's a non-consent issue instead?

The military was my newborn and this was my post-natal depression. Falco was the captor and I was just a victim of Stockholm. Excuses. All of them legitimate, but all of them false. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was something there. And it had been there from the start. All it needed was a jump-start from a cobalt avian in a ballroom lavatory.

A city bus pulls up against the curb ahead of me. I grab the ring of keys and rush to my feet in a daze. Like a drunk trying to make a run from a DUI accident I wobble and weave towards the doors as they screech open. Pressing my full weight against the handrail I heave myself up the three measly steps to the driver, an old greyhound who stares at me and wonders if I'm alright.

I snicker and a bit of blood and saliva leaks from the gap in my crimson-stained teeth. Fishing around my pockets, I come up with a few bills and some change, stuffing them into the small box next to the drivers seat and then heading towards the back of the bus. My leg bumps into a young woman who's struggling not to look at me and I almost fall into a concerned old priest, but I manage to grab the handrails along the top of the bus before I make a scene.

He's sitting at the far end of the bus, his face low and hidden inside a little orange book that's propped up against a duffle bag that's lying in his lap. His feathers are preened, and offset his musty leather jacket and jeans that still struggle to dry in the humidity of the bus. I'm a few feet away from him and he looks up at me through his wounds like I'm a total stranger.

What's the matter with you?

The bus grinds into motion and for a moment I almost lose my balance. The air inside is rusty and dead and his one good eye latches onto the stained and swollen orb that's fighting to leap out of my skull.

What do you want from me?

The key ring falls like a stone into his lap. He closes his little orange book and sets it aside with his luggage. The sun beats down on us through the dirty windows as the entire city flashes by like a movie in fast forward. My eyes lock onto his as he stands and shifts his weight while the driver shifts his gears. I can barely breathe through the humidity but still feel his breath against my face.

What now, fly boy? The bus grinds to a stop and his chest presses against mine. Passengers pass by like apparitions as he grins and licks his thumb, wiping the dried blood out of my eyes. I smile and rest my head against his shoulder.

Why do I even bother.