Disclaimer: StarFox and all related concepts and characters are copyrighted by Nintendo. Please don't sue, it's all in fun.
This is my first fanfic, please be gentle and don't flame.
The afternoon sunlight streamed through the large plate-glass windows of General Pepper's office, illuminating the thick blue carpet. The panoramic view of Corneria City was quite breathtaking around sunset, but Fox had other things on his mind than admiring scenery. For now, he was sitting uncomfortably in one of the plush, high-backed chairs in the office. He never liked being here. He missed the cool metal of his Arwing's cockpit. To Fox, every minute sitting around for one of Pepper's tedious briefings was a minute that he could have been flying. A quick glance around his room at his wingmen revealed that they shared his opinion.
It had been two years since the destruction of Andross' core facility on Venom. The lizard army had been gradually withdrawing its forces back to Venom, with the Cornerian army flushing out any remaining pockets of hostiles still loyal to Andross. The parades and celebrations were now a distant memory, as well as the bounty money, which had mostly gone towards repairing the badly damaged Great Fox and paying off as many of the team's debts as possible. Peace broke out across the system, much to the relief of the beleaguered planetary outposts, but not to the mercenary companies fighting in the war. In just two years, the StarFox team had been downgraded from Heroes of the Lylat system to common mercenaries again. At least they were on good terms with General Pepper, who kept feeding them jobs to pay the bills.
"Hyperdrives have served us well in the past," said Pepper in his gruff voice. "With a hyperdrive, a ship can cross the entire system in less than two weeks. However, other star systems have been beyond our reach, due to the incredible distances involved. Until now."
Falco straightened up in his seat. This was beginning to get interesting.
"Our new warp drive is capable of overcoming the restriction of light speed, bridging the gap between the stars, reducing the time needed to travel light years to mere hours," Pepper said with a note of pride in his voice.
Slippy shook with excitement. "Ooh, i-is it the new dimensional-folding project I read about a few months ago? Or a-a tachyon pulse converter? Or a…"
Pepper held up his hand, cutting Slippy off. "That's classified, Slippy. Just know that it works. Last month the prototype ship reached the star Satori, five light years away, and returned safely three days later."
"So where do we come in?" asked Fox, drumming his fingers on the arm of the leather-upholstered chair.
"We've got a couple more warp drive ships constructed, but we aren't mass producing them just yet. I want you four to take one of these new ships and head for the star Akio," answered Pepper. "Our long-range telescopes have detected a habitable planet in orbit around there."
"Sounds like a job for scientists, not mercenaries," Peppy observed.
Pepper let out a sigh, clasping his hands in front of him on the desk. "It's a bit more complicated. Two days ago, the StarWolf team snatched the prototype ship and warped to Akio with it."
Falco's eyes widened. "StarWolf? They're still around?" They had crossed paths with StarWolf a few times during the war, and once shortly after the war's end. So far Fox's team had always come out on top, but the last fight, over a former Venom base on MacBeth, had been very close. Slippy needed a new Arwing and Peppy a new G-diffuser system after that battle.
Pepper nodded slowly, looking a bit embarrassed. "Yes, StarWolf has eluded us for some time now. We think that they've been hiding in some of the loyalist camps for the last few months. Eyewitnesses to the scene of the crime described their Wolfen-class ships very precisely."
Fox leaned forward in his chair, the leather creaking. "How much, Pepper?" He was never one for subtlety, and he was getting anxious to leave.
"Eighty thousand," answered the general. "If you can bring StarWolf in alive. We'll loan you one of our new ships. It's got a holding cell and a heavy cannon on it, but I'd like to see you take back the prototype in one piece, if possible. We've got a program that you can install on ROB so he can fly it."
Fox grunted. Eighty thousand credits would certainly help keep the loan sharks at bay for a while, and the repairs that the Great Fox needed were becoming too serious to ignore. And mercenary contracts were hard to come by these days. He looked around at his teammates, and they all nodded. "Alright, Pepper, we're in."
Later, in the comfortable lounge of the Great Fox, the team gathered to discuss their new mission. "So, what do you guys think?" Fox asked.
Falco was sprawled out on the lounge's black leather couch, his boots up on the table, an open beer bottle in his hand. "Should be a good fight," he said, tipping the bottle into his mouth. "We haven't had a real fight in months. I dunno 'bout you guys, but I'm tired of beating up the same Venomian cream puffs."
"I can't wait to see this new warp drive in action!" Slippy bubbled, bouncing up and down on the beanbag chair he was sitting on. The warp drive had been all that he had talked about during the flight back to the Great Fox.
"Settle down, Slip," Peppy told the excited amphibian. "This is supposed to be hush-hush."
"Yeah, and hey, Fox," said Falco, gesturing at Fox with his bottle. "You swear to me that you use the money to fix those goddam pipes this time." He finished off the beer and belched loudly. The drainage pipes which ran through the side of Falco's room had begun to creak and groan as of late, preventing him from getting a good night's sleep.
Peppy smiled, leaning back into his armchair. The pipes didn't bother him at all. He was looking forward to a few days away from Falco's guitar, which was too bulky to take along.
Fox got up and began to pace back and forth across the room. "Nervous, Fox?" asked Peppy.
Fox nodded. "Yeah. StarWolf is always a tough fight."
"What's the big deal?" Falco said. "How many times we kick their asses? Three, four?"
"Yeah Falco, but they had better ships each time. That last fight was a close one," Fox replied. Slippy shivered, remembering how Leon's lasers had blasted apart his engine on MacBeth.
"We'll take whatever they throw at us, Fox," Peppy said confidently. "And they don't have Andross building them new toys this time around."
Fox nodded, folding his arms in front of him. "Alright. We need to pack up, guys. We ship out in two hours."
Falco kicked his boots off the table, heading back to the fridge for another beer before going to pack.
Loaded with their luggage and ROB, the team headed out for their temporary home for the next few days, the C.S.S. Intrepid. They docked their Arwings in the hangar and looked around the ship. It was quite a bit larger than the Great Fox, however, most of the ship's size was reserved for the warp drive. The crew's section of the ship was much smaller by comparison and lacked many of the amenities that the StarFox team had gotten used to.
Falco dropped his suitcase on the floor as he looked around the rather cramped lounge and kitchen. "I'm homesick for the Great Fox already," he said, eyeing the room's threadbare furnishings.
"Military design," said Peppy. "If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Wait till you see the crew's quarters."
"Like sleeping in a closet?" Falco asked.
Peppy nodded. "And the beds are as hard as rocks."
"Hey, come on guys," said Fox, trying to lighten the mood. "It's not like we're going to be here for very long. Slippy, get ROB hooked up to the controls. Let's not give StarWolf a chance to slip through our fingers." Slippy nodded and headed back to the turbolift.
"Do you think they could be headed for deep space?" asked Falco.
Fox shook his head. "No, running away isn't their style. And Pepper said that the prototype warp drive only had two jumps in it. If they jumped again, they'd have no chance of getting back." He took another look around the lounge; plain gunmetal gray walls, metal floors and thinly padded furniture. "At least we have the place to ourselves, and we don't have to worry about some military pencil-pusher breathing down our necks." He lifted his duffel bag onto his shoulder and walked to the stairs on the far side of the room which led to the crew's quarters.
"Hey! We don't even get a stereo?!" shouted Falco from behind him. "And there's no beer in the fridge!"
'Hard as rocks' turned out to be a gross underestimate of the quality of the unbroken-in military beds. The StarFox team spent an uncomfortable day and night as ROB acclimated the new control program and brought the Intrepid to the periphery of the Lylat system so they could make the warp jump. Fortunately, the bottle of scotch that Falco had smuggled on board took the edge off of the experience. Fox had only half a shot for himself, but Falco had downed three before he was able to get to sleep. There were quite a few surly faces as the team lined up outside the ship's only shower in the morning. Slippy had gotten up first, and he always had to have an hour-long shower.
The crew gathered in the bridge as ROB made the final calculations for the warp jump. Fox gripped the arms of the captain's chair with anticipation as he stared into space, excited at the prospect of exploring a new star system, though his excitement was mingled with fear. Pepper hadn't been very specific on what the warp jump would be like. The ship's computer had locked the technical specifications of the warp drive, much to Slippy's disappointment.
Fox looked around at his teammates. Peppy folded his arms in front of him, looking as calm as always. Falco shifted nervously in his seat, staring at the ship's unfamiliar console. "Is this thing gonna work, Slip?" he asked impatiently.
"Of course it is!" Slippy squeaked as he surveyed the last of the calculations. His hands were shaking with anticipation. Getting to work with cutting-edge tech like the warp drive always excited him. "It's incredible; I can't wait to see it."
Falco grunted sourly, not very reassured. The tall falcon looked across the bridge to Peppy, who has closed his eyes. Falco inwardly cursed the old rabbit's Zen-like calmness. How could he relax at a time like this?
ROB's head swiveled away from the control console at Fox. "Course laid in. Awaiting orders."
Fox straightened himself in his chair and swallowed hard. No going back now. "Let's do it!" he shouted, trying to show some enthusiasm in his voice.
ROB turned his head back to the console. "Warp jump in five… four… three… two… one…"
There was a sound like thunder. White white white light filled the cockpit.
Fox blinked awake some time later, finding himself face down on the floor of the bridge. His muzzle smarted as he got to his feet. The groans of his teammates as they got up revealed that they too had been thrown out of their seats from the impact of the warp jump. Slippy was the worst off; he had been standing when they had jumped and he had skidded several feet away from the console, almost cracking his head on the wall of the bridge.
Fox rubbed his sore nose. "Seat belts next time, eh?" Falco shot him a dirty look. Fox just chuckled. "Status report ROB."
"Coordinates confirmed. We are in orbit over the only planet of the Akio system," ROB announced.
Slippy began to jump up and down, despite the pain in his back. "Yippee! We did it!"
"Whoop de-freakin' do," growled Falco, holding his wing over his face. "God dammit, I think I broke my beak."
"No time for small talk, boys," Peppy said. "ROB, where is the other ship?"
"The stolen ship is on the opposite side of the planet. Four life-forms detected on board. Plotting intercept course, Estimated time to intercept: nineteen minutes," ROB stated.
Slippy put his gloved hands on the window, looking down at the planet below. "Cool…" he whispered. Akio's only planet was a green, brown, and blue world which looked remarkably like Corneria, except for the dense patches of dark gray clouds which obscured about half of the planet. "Hey ROB, gimme a scan of the planet."
"Sensors detect a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere with an average pressure of 100.3 kilopascals," said ROB. "No hazardous gases detected in the atmosphere."
Peppy joined Slippy next to the window. "It's habitable, alright. How about conditions on the surface?"
"Insufficient data due to atmospheric electrical storms," ROB said. "Sensors cannot penetrate."
Peppy furrowed his brow. "How long were we in warp, ROB?"
"Ship's chronometers indicate that 27.3 hours have passed since engaging warp drive," said ROB. Slippy giggled with excitement.
Falco, meanwhile, was more interested in his wounded beak. He kept his wing in front of his face and crossed his eyes to look down at his beak. Sure enough, the tip was bent slightly to the side. It wasn't much of a difference, but it looked awful to him.
Fox reached up towards Falco's face with concern, but Falco slapped Fox's hand away, perhaps with a bit more force that he had intended. "Back off, Fox!" he snapped. Fox took a step back, and then nodded, abashed.
Falco sighed softly to himself. Sometimes you had to be careful around Fox. Sure he was an amazing pilot and all, but he was also still young. Even Slippy was older than him by a couple of months. Sometimes Fox could be a little thin-skinned. They had all agreed to make him the leader of the team because nobody else had wanted the job. Peppy claimed he was too old, Falco was too wild, and Slippy was a basket case half of the time.
Fox looked back over at Slippy and Peppy. "Come on guys, let's go say hello to our old friends. ROB, bring the Arwings online."
Falco muttered a few choice curses as he followed the team into the turbolift, keeping his wing over his beak during the entire trip down to the hangar. No one dared to make a joke.
Fox felt much more at ease once he was back in the cockpit of his Arwing. This was his place; it was where he truly shined. He went through his traditional pre-flight ritual of pulling on his flight gloves and strapping on his helmet, then he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small and very old photograph. It was a picture of himself at the age of ten, flanked on either side by his parents. He tucked the photograph into the dashboard of the cockpit, kissed his fingertips, and touched the picture. He never flew anywhere without his parents.
Fox leaned back as the canopy glass came down around him. The Lylat Wars seemed like ancient history to him. He didn't want the fame and publicity that was waiting for him on Corneria when he returned from Venom. He just wanted to be alone. He had slipped off by himself as soon as he could, and paid a visit to a small, quiet cemetery outside of Corneria City. He went to his parent's graves and stood there for a few minutes alone. Both graves were empty under the ground; his father's body was never returned when he crashed on Venom when Fox was fifteen, and there hadn't been any significant remains of his mother, when she died in a car bomb intended for James five years prior.
This is where he came to be alone. And remember.
He collapsed onto his father's headstone and cried for some time. Peppy had found him asleep there the next morning. Ever since then, he had just wanted to fly. It was his love, it was his passion. Getting his revenge after so many years had left him feeling hollow inside. Now that it was all over, what was he to do now?
Fox had wandered around the Lylat system for the last two years, taking the occasional mercenary contract to pay the bills. His friends had stayed with him, out of respect for him, but also out of their compassion for Fox. As long as he had his wings, and his friends, he could keep on going.
The engines of the four Arwings roared to life in the hangar. Fox turned on the anti-gravity plates and retracted the landing gear. "Okay guys," he said into the radio. "Launch on my count. Three… two… one…"
The four Arwings shot out of the cruiser, settling into their usual flight formation as they had done so many times before.
The prototype warp ship hung in space above the surface of the planet. Its design was similar to that of the Intrepid, but it lacked the smooth finishing touches that regular military vessels had. Fox's radar began to blink, indicating four incoming bogeys: Wolfen-class fighters.
"Alright guys, don't break formation until my signal," Fox said. "Slow to intercept speed, lock wings for low-orbit flight."
Fox flipped the radio to broadcast frequency. "Attention StarWolf: This is captain Fox McCloud of the StarFox team. Surrender yourselves immediately."
The radio cracked and a familiar voice spoke. "Nice to see you again, McCloud." It was Wolf O’Donnell, captain of StarWolf. "I had hoped I would get another chance at you." His voice lacked some of the arrogant self-confidence it had had in their previous encounters.
"You mean another chance to get blown out of the sky?" Falco snapped over the radio, ever the hothead.
The sibilant voice of Leon Powalski came in over the broadcast. "I've been waiting for another taste of you, Falco." Five years ago Leon had shot Falco in an alley in Corneria City as part of a gang war, then he held Falco down to drink the blood from the wound until Fox had discovered them and chased Leon off. Falco shuddered with revulsion at the memory.
The four Wolfen-class fighters began to spread out into attack formation.
Fox turned the radio back to his team's private frequency. "Here we go guys! Attack pattern beta, split up and watch your backs."
Fox was in his element now. He excelled in any type of spaceflight, but the dogfight was by far his favorite. Especially against a real opponent like StarWolf. The last quality dogfight he had was up against Falco in a VR game weeks ago, which Fox had won.
Fox immediately opened with a salvo of laser fire, breaking up the enemy formation. Fox hit the boosters and charged in, the rest of the team close behind. He pulled the stick hard to the left, following his preferred target, Wolf himself. The others likewise began to split into one-on-one battles.
Wolf tried to get Fox off of his tail with a quick horseshoe, but Fox wasn't fooled for a second, firing away as he turned, his lasers tearing apart Wolf's rear shields. Fox narrowed his eyes. Either Wolf was getting slow or…
Wait! There it was: a damaged thruster manifold. No wonder he was so slow to turn, he was flying a damaged ship. Fox broke off the pursuit and turned towards the prototype ship; it was time to raise the shakes. He fired a nova bomb at the prototype warp ship. The deadly bomb streaked towards its target, exploding on impact. When the flash cleared, the command deck of the ship was gone.
"There goes your ticket home, Wolf," Fox said over the broadcast. "Last chance to give up."
Wolf paused for a few seconds before replying. "Death before dishonor, Fox!"
Fox chuckled and turned back to the fight. He was kind of hoping that Wolf would say that.
The rest of the StarWolf team was faring little better against Fox's partners. No matter which way they turned, StarFox was right there behind them, slowly wearing away at their shields. "This is the life, huh Fox?" shouted Falco over the intercom as he sent several shots over the nose of Leon's ship. He loved a good dogfight almost as much as Fox did.
Pigma and Andrew were having their own troubles. In their haste to escape from Peppy and Slippy they both gunned their engines hard, almost colliding head-on with each other, turning aside at the last moment.
"Watch where's you're flying, Hamlet!" shouted Andrew. Pigma bristled. 'Hamlet' had been his nickname in school, and he hated it. Andrew had overheard him saying it in his sleep a few months ago. Hearing it made his blood boil in his fat face.
"Piss off, monkey-boy!" Pigma shouted back. He didn't have time to curse Andrew any further, as Peppy was back on his tail, and it took all of his attention to dodge Peppy's renewed attacks.
Fox just smiled. In a matter of seconds he was back behind Wolf. Wolf tried a barrel roll, followed by a quick bank to the right, but nothing could shake Fox. He lined up his gun's sights, aiming for the main engines, shooting to disable, not destroy. His finger squeezed the trigger.
Fortunately for Wolf, another ship streaked across Fox's line of sight. It was Pigma, with Peppy following close behind. Fox pulled his finger away from the trigger, losing his shot. Wolf took advantage of Fox's momentary distraction, diving hard and slipping away from Fox's sights.
"Dammit Peppy, watch where you're going!" barked Fox into the intercom.
Peppy didn't respond. He was too busy firing at the fleeing Pigma. The Arwing's laser blast broke through the last of Pigma's shields, neatly severing the ship's left wing. Pigma screamed as he spun out of control, his critically damaged ship falling towards the planet.
Andrew fared little better. As he turned his head to watch out for Slippy, who has been harassing him during most of the fight, the broken wing of Pigma's ship slammed into his fuselage. A moment later, Andrew followed Pigma's descent down to the planet, his ship trailing smoke as it fell.
"Uncle, why have you abandoned meeeee…!" wailed Andrew as his ship entered the planet's atmosphere.
Peppy chuckled. "Does that count as two for me?" he asked over the intercom.
Falco had seen the whole incident on his radar. Peppy sure could surprise you if you gave him the chance. Falco gunned his engines angrily, staying close behind Leon. "No way am I going home empty-handed!" With a mighty rebel yell, he blasted away at Leon's ship, scoring a direct hit on the stabilizer. Leon's ship went into a tailspin, flying out of control until it impacted on a large radar array on the top of the Intrepid. Both the ship and the radar were destroyed in the resulting explosion. Falco cringed. Then he began to swear.
Fox turned his head towards the Intrepid as Falco's curses came in over the radio, looking just in time to see the explosion on the cruiser. His hand tightened around the control stick. "Falco, what the bloody hell are you doing!?" he shouted. Falco swore again.
"Dammit Fox, you'd better get Wolf. If we don't have something to show Pepper besides a damaged ship when we get back you can kiss our paycheck goodbye!" Falco said with exasperation.
Fox turned his attention back to Wolf's now badly damaged ship. Wolf was getting desperate now; he was flying close to the planet's atmosphere in a desperation attempt to shake Fox. Fox moved himself into position and lined up the crosshairs, and with surgical precision he destroyed Wolf's main engine. The ship began to smoke and tilted down towards the planet. Wolf was refusing to eject.
Refusing to give up the chase, Fox dropped his altitude, following the trail of smoke. Wolf's damaged ship drifted into a dark cloud bank, and Fox lost sight of him. Fox looked down at his radar, but the radar was unable to find anything. He tried the radio again.
"Wolf, eject! You can't escape!" Fox's voice was met only with static. He suddenly flashed back to ROB's warning about atmospheric disturbances. That must be what was making his systems go haywire. He pulled hard on the controls, trying to turn out of the cloud, but it was too late to change his course.
The inside of the cloud was almost pitch black. There was no sign of Wolf anywhere. Fox began to worry, he was flying blind here. Blue lighting flashed in front of his face. Desperate to escape, he wrenched the stick back hard, looking for an escape. But the lighting was there, scoring a direct hit on his ship. A cloud of sparks shot out of the control panel, blinding Fox. He pulled the controls again, but nothing was responding. His engines shorted out, and he felt himself being pulled down by gravity, towards the planet below.
"Falco, I've lost contact with Fox!" shouted Peppy. "His transponder signal is gone!"
Falco pounded his fist against the side of the cockpit. "No way! It-it's gotta be the interference. ROB, can you locate Fox?" There was no response. "ROB!?"
Slippy's voice came over the radio. "We can't reach ROB, the communications radar is history! We gotta get back to the ship and take care of the damage."
Falco looked back down at the dark cloud where Wolf and Fox had disappeared. Swallowing hard, he turned his Arwing back to the Intrepid. "God damnit, Fox… If you're dead, I'm gonna kill you!"
As Fox dove out of the storm he got a good look down at the planet below. Brown and gray mountains were coming towards him at a frightening pace. He tried to restart the engines, but the ignition failed to respond. Panicked, Fox reached underneath his seat for the manual ejector lever, one of the few pieces of machinery that had no electrical components in case just such a situation occurred. He snatched the photograph from the cockpit, then he reached down and yanked the lever hard. The canopy glass blew off, and the Arwing's ejector seat shot out of the craft, the parachute deploying above him. Fox could only watch with horror as his Arwing crashed into the side of a cliff, exploding on contact. He lowered his head, fighting back his tears.
Fox came to a rather rough landing on one of the many cliffs of the mountain range, the chair tumbling onto its side. Fox disentangled himself from the seatbelt just as the parachute gently covered him like a shroud. Growling, he tore the parachute away from the chair, letting it drift off in the breeze. He pulled the emergency kit out of the back of the chair and stuffed it into his backpack. Fox stood up and surveyed the scene, looking back at the mountainside where his Arwing crashed moments ago. He felt sick to his stomach. He wanted to cry, but he settled for kicking the fallen ejector seat. He sat down on the bare rock, cradling his head in his hands.
Fox looked down at the photograph of his family. The sparks had made a small singe mark on the corner, near his father's head. His shoulders began to shake with repressed sobs. This had never happened to him; he had never lost his wings before. He pulled out the small radio from the survival kit, but found that it too was inoperable. The transponder in his Arwing was most likely gone; all he had now was the much smaller one he carried embedded in his dogtags, and a signal that weak couldn't reach space, even without the electromagnetic disturbance. He was marooned on the planet, with no way for his team to contact him.
Fox looked up and surveyed his surroundings. It appeared that wind had carried him for some distance, and he had landed in the foothills of the mountain range. Certainly not as bad as the mountains, but there was still very little sign of vegetation. The mountains extended in every direction except east, where they became a beach. A plume of smoke rose from a distant dot on the beach, and then Fox remembered; Wolf has been shot down as well. He stood up and secured his backpack, checking his blaster. He had a score to settle.
Falco, Peppy, and Slippy had gathered on the bridge of the Intrepid to survey the damage done to the ship. "Damage to sectors 4 and 5," ROB reported. "Main sensors and communications offline. Damage is irreparable with current facilities. Hull breach is imminent."
"Screw that," shouted Falco. "What about Fox?"
"No signal detected. Atmospheric disturbance and damage to sensors make detection impossible."
Falco roared in anger, slamming both fists into the window of the bridge, making it rattle.
"Falco, you have to calm down," Peppy told him. "Throwing a temper tantrum won't help find Fox."
Falco ground his teeth. "I'm goin' down there. Maybe my Arwing's sensors can find him once I get under the storms." He turned to leave.
"N-no, you can't," Slippy said timidly. "We need a repair station, and soon. The hull might breach at any moment, and if that happens, we can't warp."
"Correct," ROB commented. "Hull breach would require taking warp engines offline to protect crew safety."
Falco shut his eyes tight, letting out an exasperated groan. The look he gave Slippy made him cower in fear. "Alright. ROB, get us back to Lylat. Now!"
ROB nodded, turning back to the console. "Course laid in. Warp jump in 3 minutes."
The team began to strap themselves in to the chairs in preparation for the jump. Falco lowered his head, covering his face with a wing. No one else saw the tear running down the side of his face. "I'm coming back for you, Fox," he whispered. "I'm bringin' you back alive. I swear it."
The terrain wasn't difficult, but the sun had begun to sink behind the mountains as Fox approached the wreckage of Wolf's ship. Wolf had fared considerably better than Fox. The smoke coming from his ship's engines had stopped, and he had only lost one of the Wolfen's four wings when he had crashed. A long trench had been cut in the sand where the ship had skidded to rest. Wolf was sitting on top of a large trunk, staring out at the ocean. Fox's keen eyes saw him move behind the ship and he drew his blaster, creeping forward towards Wolf, darting behind rocky outcroppings and bushes of scrubby grass. The waves lapped lazily at the shore nearby, covering his sounds.
Fox slowly drew closer to the unsuspecting Wolf, waiting to make his move until he was close enough. He crouched low behind a small pile of rocks, checking his blaster one more time. Fully charged as usual. He took a deep breath, smelling the salt of the sea air. His heart pounded in his chest. Fox closed his eyes, silently counting to himself.
"One… two… three!"
Fox sprang out from behind the pile of rocks concealing him, his blaster outstretched" and was greeted by Wolf, who was a mere ten meters away, his own blaster drawn and ready.
"Hold it right there!" they both shouted in unison. Neither one moved. Another wave broke over the barren beach.
"Drop your weapon!" Again, perfect unison. Fox fought back an urge to giggle. This was absurd.
Wolf sighed, keeping his blaster pointed at Fox's head, his muscles tense. "Well, now what do we do?"
Fox tightened his grip. "I'm taking you in, Wolf!" he shouted defiantly.
"Taking me where, exactly? I saw the smoke, you haven't got a ship either." Wolf began to lower his blaster slowly.
Fox exhaled deeply through his nose. "You're right…" He still felt the shame of losing his first ship ever. "So, what are we gonna do?"
"You still want to fight me?"
"Hell yes! This is your fault!"
Wolf nodded slowly, his one good eye blinking. "Then fight me like a man. No weapons."
Fox tilted his head to the side, narrowing his eyes. "You mean… I drop my blaster and you drop yours, and we try to kill each other like civilized people?"
Wolf gestured at Fox with his blaster. "I could kill you know, if you wanted." Fox paused. He noticed that Wolf was about ten centimeters taller than him, and he was also quite a bit more muscular. Fox straightened himself up, taking his left hand off the blaster. "Alright, Wolf. Your way."
Wolf nodded, kneeling down and slowly placing the blaster on the sand. He took a step away from him. Fox watched Wolf move and mirrored him. A sea breeze ruffled his fur. He slipped the backpack off of his shoulders and dropped it next to his blaster.
Wolf cracked his knuckles once, and then held up his arms in a fighting stance. Fox gritted his teeth. It was Wolf's fault that he was in this situation. It was Wolf who made him lose his ship! Fox growled, the fur on the back of his neck standing up. Shouting a battle cry, he sprinted at Wolf, arms outstretched.
The sky had turned a dark purple overhead when they both finally collapsed on the beach. The purple of the sky was an almost perfect match to the shade of purple Fox's left eye was turning, thanks to Wolf's fist. He groaned, his ribs creaking from where Wolf had driven his knee into him. God, even his bruises felt like they had bruises. At least they had been fighting over a soft surface. If they had been fighting in the mountains, Fox would have had a few broken bones as well.
A short distance away, Wolf lay sprawled out on his back, rubbing his hand over his neck where Fox had tried to strangle him. "How're you feelin'?" he asked.
"Like crap," Fox moaned. 'Like crap' pretty much summarized his entire day. Wolf grunted, standing up and walking over to the large trunk he had dragged out of his ship earlier in the day. Opening it, he fished out a medical kit and took out an analgesic patch and a bottle of salve. He opened the patch and carefully applied it to the inside of Fox's forearm. Then he unscrewed the bottle, tipping some of the white gel onto his fingertips and gently massaged it into the swelling around Fox's eye. Fox just laid there and watched, too sore to put up much of a fight. "How about you?" asked Fox.
"I'll live," Wolf grunted, putting the medical kit away. He sat down on the beach, leaning his back up against the trunk.
Fox closed his eyes, feeling the medicine in the patch starting to enter his bloodstream. He hated to admit it, but Wolf really was a superior fighter. On several occasions Wolf had had the opportunity to hit him from behind, or to land a knock-out punch, but he didn't. "So... you gonna finish me off now?" he asked bitterly.
Wolf looked over at him. "Oh bite me, Fox. If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it a long time ago. I don't want to kill you."
Fox blinked. The pain suddenly wasn't so bad, but that was probably because of the patch. "Then why'd you fight me?"
"'Cause you wanted to."
Fox sighed. Wolf had a point. If he hadn't gone along with Wolf's idea to fight without weapons, one or both of them would be dead.
"Look Fox, I don't want to die any more than you do. I'm… sorry you hate me so much."
Fox tried to tilt his neck to he could look at Wolf. "Why'd you say that?"
"Because you do. When you see me, you see Andross. I'm not him, and I'm damn sorry for what happened to your father."
Fox closed his eyes again. It hurt, but Wolf was right. "Shut up! You still work for him!"
"Hey, maybe you haven't noticed, but Andross' checks aren't exactly cashing anymore. I only worked for him because Pepper wouldn't sign me. And believe me, three years with those morons I called wingmen wasn't exactly my idea of fun."
"W-why didn't Pepper…"
"'Cause Pepper would only hire people who went to the academy and had a pristine flight record. If word got out he was hiring shady characters, it would have been a scandal. I had a rap sheet when I was fourteen, so I couldn't get in. I had to learn to fly from another merc. I didn't particularly want to fight for Andross, but he paid the bills. Christ, I only took that new warp ship so I could get away from the Lylat system for a while, fat lot of good it did."
Fox sighed deeply. He thought about Falco, and how he had gotten kicked out of the academy for punching out an instructor. His association with Fox had surely saved Falco from a life similar to Wolf's. Fox wasn't sure he wanted to talk about this. "What about your teammates?"
"Well, guess it doesn't matter now." Wolf looked back up at the sky. "Leon was a sick bastard who got off torturing people to death. I've seen people die before, but what he did turned my stomach. He loved the taste of blood."
"Yeah, I heard about that from Falco."
"Yeah, well… And Andrew, well… let's just say that the rumors of his incompetence were dead-on correct. I only put up with him so Andross would pay us more and give us the high-profile jobs."
Fox began to relax a bit. The patch was definitely taking hold now, and he felt calmer, though he knew he would be stiff as a board come morning. "What about Pigma?"
Wolf spat into the sand. "God, I hated that fat bastard. You know, when I was your age… hey, how old are you, anyway?"
"Twenty-three… Holy shit, you mean you were seventeen when you beat Andross?"
Fox nodded. "And sixteen when I graduated from the academy. Youngest cadet ever."
"Damn, Fox… Well, anyway, when I was your age, or maybe younger, I worshipped James McCloud. He was the man. He was a god damn hero. And Pigma sold him out."
Fox's stomach balled into a fist as he remembered that day when he found out.
"I mean, James was brave, handsome, popular, and heroic, all things that Pigma was not. All that fat shit ever cared about was money. I couldn't stand the sight of him. If it wasn't for the fact that he was so respected by Andross and the loyalists I would have shot him out of the sky a long time ago."
Fox began to shake again. "So… what do we do now?"
Wolf stood up and took off his long overcoat, folding it up. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to sleep. Can I count on you not to do anything crazy, Fox?"
Fox nodded. Wolf walked a few steps away and lied down on the sand, tucking the coat behind his head. "We'll see how you feel in the morning."
Fox closed his eyes, fighting back the tears as he remembered it all. In one day, his world been shaken to the foundations.
Pigma woke up when he had fallen on the planet's surface. After his ship had crashed, he stumbled out of the damaged cockpit and passed out for several hours. Feeling his way along the side of his ship, he reached into the cockpit and pulled out a flare. He struck it, taking a look around. His ship was totaled; there was no doubt about it. At least his supplies were still there.
After salvaging as much as he could from the ship, Pigma raised the flare over his head. He saw another ship in the distance, one that was still smoking from the damage of the re-entry. He walked over to it curiously. It was Andrew's ship.
Grunting with the exertion, he pulled himself up to look into the cockpit. It wasn't a pretty sight. The heat shields protecting the cockpit had failed, and Andrew had been roasted alive from the atmospheric entry. A blackened smear of ash was all that was left of Andross' hair.
Pigma dropped back down with a heavy thud. So Andrew was gone. Good riddance, he never liked the whiny brat. The rest of his team was also likely dead; indifference. And then he remembered.
His money! His beautiful beautiful money! It was still in that stolen warp ship!
Pigma hadn't spent very much of the stash he got from Andross over the years. If anything, he had added to it. He would occasionally buy a few prestige-enhancing luxuries or a strong-stomached hooker, but he mostly just liked to hold the crisp, blue bills in his arms, rubbing his face in them.
Now they were gone!
Pigma shook his fists at the heavens and screamed. He screamed for quite a long time.
Fox awoke with a sudden start, his ears perked. He tried to look around, but it was pitch black. "Hey Wolf, did you hear something?"
Wolf's gentle snoring was the only response. Fox laid his head back on the sand and closed his eyes again."
Pigma's already laboring heart began to pound. His vision went blurry. Doubled over, he began to gasp for air. In a more merciful universe Pigma may have just had a heart attack then and there, but God saw fit to keep him alive a little longer. Slowly, his thoughts began to refocus.
Fox McCloud! Fox McCloud and his accursed StarFox team did this!
Pigma reached into his pocket for his PDA, which had somehow survived the crash, wondering if anyone else had crashed on the planet. He did a full sweep, trying every frequency within range. After a few minutes of searching, he found a weak signal coming from the distant southwest. Pigma didn't recognize the frequency; it wasn't one that StarWolf used. It had to be one of the StarFox men, maybe even Fox himself!
Shouldering as much gear as he could carry, mostly food, he set out into the wilderness, following the blip on his PDA.
"I'm comin' for ya, Fox. I'm comin' to get my money back."
The light of the warp jump had barely faded away when Falco unbuckled his seatbelt, standing up and walking to the command console. "Where are we now, ROB?"
"We are in the Lylat system, 5,000 kilometers from the nearest planet, Aquas."
Falco nodded. "Take us to Aquas. There's a base there, we can get this hunka junk fixed."
Falco turned to leave. "Where are you going, Falco?" Slippy asked.
"I'll take the Arwing," Falco said without looking back. "I can get there faster. You guys start packing; I want to get going as fast as we can."
As he had expected, Fox was very stiff and sore when he woke up the next morning. The sunlight shone into his unprotected eyes. He rolled onto his side, getting a mouthful of sand.
"Hey, rise and shine, Fox," said Wolf as he began to unpack the supply trunk. "We got stuff to do." He looked as if he had been up for a while.
Despite the protest from his muscles, Fox stood up and stretched, a couple of joints popping into place. He brushed as much sand as he could out of his fur, and was annoyed to find that some of it had slipped into his flight suit. He turned to look at Wolf, getting a much better look at him close up, and in broad daylight.
He was definitely taller than Fox, and broad in the shoulders. He wore an old gray trenchcoat over a faded Venomian uniform, the insignia and pips ripped off. His fur was gray, fading to white along his chin, and he still wore the eyepatch over his left eye. The cool sea breeze ruffled his fur. Wolf stood up, pulling out a small, portable radio. "Looks like this thing still works. You got one?"
Fox shook his head.
Wolf shrugged, turning it on to the common broadcast frequency and setting it aside. "Just in case." He pulled out a pair of ration sticks; high energy stuff, heavy on the carbohydrates, food that would keep you going for a long time. "I've got about a week's worth in here," he said, handing Fox one of the sticks.
Fox tore open the wrapper and bit down into the ration, amazed at his appetite. "Mmmph… me too, in muh backpack…" he said between bites.
Wolf chuckled softly, pulling more equipment out of the trunk; another first aid kit and a silver thermal blanket, thin but insulating. "I came pretty well prepared; the only thing I don't have much of is water." He smiled at Fox. "Ever been camping, Fox?"
Fox shook his head, taking another bite. He spent virtually his whole life in Corneria City.
"Well, just think of this like camping. 'Cept if you screw up, you die."
Fox swallowed the mouthful of ration. "What are you talking about, Wolf?"
"I'm talking about how we might be stuck here for a long time. Your friends can't find us with the storms going on, specially not after losing their main radar array."
"Hey! They're not gonna just abandon us… me."
"Never said they would. It just might take them a very long time. We'd better be ready for the long haul. You got a compass?"
Fox nodded. "On my watch," he said, showing Wolf.
"Okay. We need a water source. I don't have a filter that can handle seawater, so we need to find fresh." Wolf pulled an empty canteen out of the trunk, passing it to Fox. "You go south, I'll go north. Walk for no more than one hour, then come back." He handed Fox a flare gun. "Use this if you get into trouble."
"Hey!" Fox protested. "I can take care of myself, you know."
Wolf smiled. "Sure, sure. Just in case. Oh, and keep an eye out for driftwood and a cave. We're gonna need fire, and if the atmospheric conditions are any indication of the weather around here, my tent isn't gonna cut it." Wolf shouldered his backpack. "Ready?" he asked, offering his hand to Fox.
Fox nodded slowly, shaking Wolf's hand. "Ready."
Fox had plenty of time to gather his thoughts as he marched along the beach, heading southwards, moving closer to the mountains in search of a stream or a pond. He had been stuck on the planet for over twelve hours now, with no sign of any rescue attempt. As much as he hated to admit it, Wolf was right, they were going to be stuck here for at least a few days.
The memory of the previous night brought his world crashing down again. He couldn't believe this was happening to him, stranded on an unknown planet five light years from Corneria. With Wolf O’Donnell, of all people! How could he trust him? Wolf was a hardened criminal! He had led Venomian strikes on almost every planet in the Lylat system! He was a scoundrel who would gladly kill his own mother for a handful of credits! And Wolf's attitude! It was like… it was like being treated like a little kit!
And yet… Wolf had spared him the other night. And he did seem repentant…
No way. It had to be a ruse. As soon as help arrived Wolf would shoot him in the back of the head. He couldn't be trusted.
After fifty minutes of steady hiking and consternation over his predicament, Fox found what he was looking for: a slow moving stream coming out of the mountains. He knelt by the edge and looked down into the water. It was clear; he could see the bottom, as well as his own reflection. He did look a bit worse for wear though, and his eye was still a bit puffy from the last night. Fox looked upstream. Ferns and other small plants dotted both banks, thriving off of the water supply in this otherwise barren land. Fox didn't recognize them, it was likely that they were an alien species. Still, none of them looked like they were about to grow fangs and bite his head off, the water smelled and looked clean, and there we no signs of insects or other animals around.
Fox lowered his muzzle to the surface of the stream and drank several gulps, feeling the water flowing down his throat, cooling him from the inside out. He filled his canteen as well. He looked around once more to take a mental picture of this place, then he turned and walked back, using his compass to navigate back to the camp.
Falco hammered on the afterburners of his Arwing, flying as fast as he could to Outpost 11, in orbit around Aquas. He was in such a hurry that he almost forgot to ask permission to dock, and had to do a bit of fast talking when the base's guns locked onto him. He was out of his ship as soon as the hangar door sealed and pressurized behind him, sprinting into the base and bumping into a very surprised mechanic.
"Hey, you!" Falco said grabbing the frightened raccoon by the shoulders. "I'm with StarFox. We got a damaged Cornerian military ship coming in. Go tell the tower that they need an escort, their communications are down. You guys gotta get that ship fixed, and fast."
The mechanic could only nod. "Y-yes, sir…"
"And where the hell is the nearest communicator? I gotta make a call to Corneria City."
The sun glared down on Fox as the day progressed into afternoon. It seemed as though it was getting hotter by the minute. This must have been the crazy weather that Wolf had predicted; even though the morning started off cool, it had quickly become unseasonably hot. Fox was getting tired as well. He had always kept himself in excellent shape and he worked out regularly in Great Fox's gym, he could easily walk five kilometers without much fatigue, but today it seemed as if the planet's gravity was unusually strong. He didn't feel thirsty, just hot and tired. He opened up the canteen and poured about half of its contents over his head.
Wolf was waiting for him when he got back to camp. He waved at Fox from the supply trunk. "Hey Fox," he called out, "Any luck?"
Fox nodded, holding up his canteen as he walked closer. "Yeah, I found a stream." "Yeah, I found one too. And there's a cave about a kilometer and a half up the beach so… hey, are you okay?"
Reality began to spin for Fox. The sun was cooking him, frying his brain. His legs felt heavy, his vision blurred. As he tried to take another step, the ground treacherously moved out from underneath him, and he collapsed to the beach.
Falco stared into the darkness, his eyes bloodshot. In his hands he gripped a heavy wrench. "One more time…" he muttered, "And you get this. I swear to God I'll do it." He shook the wrench in front of him. "Just one more God damned…"
Falco leapt out of bed, flailing at the noisy drainage pipe with the wrench, chipping the paint but not doing much damage to the metal. They were back on board the Great Fox after having dropped off the damaged Intrepid at the Aquas orbital outpost. General Pepper had been less than pleased when Falco had told him what had happened to them and their ship. His face sagged even more than usual when Falco told him that Fox was missing in action down on the unknown planet. Pepper said that he had to meet with the Minister's Circle to discuss the ramifications of the mission, and that the StarFox team should report back to him in person in Corneria City the next day.
Falco switched on the lights, looking at the clock. 3:51 A.M. Shit. Even if the pipes did shut up for once, there was no way he could sleep. Not with Fox on his mind. For all he knew his best friend was wandering alone in a scorching desert, or slowly freezing to death in a crevasse or…
No way. No fucking way.
Falco sat down on his bed, rubbing his eyes, his fingers brushing over his still bent beak. His head drooped, and he sighed deeply. There was only one cure when you had the blues this bad. He brushed a few stray feathers out of his face, and reached under the bed.
Across the hallway from Falco's room, Peppy's eyes snapped open. Groaning, he took his pillow and covered his head with it as loud guitar riffs echoed across the hallway. Sometimes, having large ears was a pain.
The world spun madly, like an out of control gyroscope. Vague visions and sounds came from nowhere… the white light of the warp jump… the din of Falco's guitar… and… Wolf, kneeling down beside him, shouting at him, pounding on his chest and pressing his mouth to his…
Fox awoke from the nightmare with a soft gasp, and quickly broke into a brief fit of coughing. The sky was dark overhead. A warm light came from somewhere nearby. He was lying on the beach in the shadow of Wolf's ship, the thermal blanket draped over his body. Wolf's folded jacket was pillowed behind his head. He felt weak and sore, even worse than when Wolf had beaten the crap out of him the night before. He groaned feebly.
Wolf was there by his side a moment later, his heavy hand on Fox's forehead. "Welcome back," said Wolf, gently blotting Fox's face and cheeks with a piece of wet cloth. He struck a flare and set it in the sand nearby.
Fox closed his eyes, shying away from the light of the flare. His mouth tasted like sand again. "What… happened…?"
Wolf held up Fox's canteen. "Demographine. The water was tainted with it."
Fox let out another small gasp, feeling his stomach knotting. Demographine wasn't quite as deadly as botulinum, but it was faster acting, and could kill you just as easily. "Am… I dying?"
Wolf shook his head. "Not anymore. After you collapsed, I took your canteen and ran some of the water through my chemical analyzer. Once I found out what was in it, I gave you a shot of antitoxin."
"Chemical analyzers? Antitoxin? You keep all that in your emergency pack?"
Wolf looked back towards the trunk. Nearby it, the embers of a small campfire smoldered. "Yep. Believe it or not, it's a bit tricky to find a doctor who's willing to patch me up."
"What about the lizard loyalists?"
Wolf rolled his single eye. "Incompetents. I'd be better off in Leon's hands." He stood up and stretched his arms out. Fox noticed that a piece of Wolf's shirt was missing, revealing the white fur on his trim stomach. In the light of the burning flare, Fox noticed a long, thin scar was visible along Wolf's exposed belly. He looked up at Wolf's hand, and saw the cloth Wolf had been using on his brow was the same color as his shirt.
"Where did you get that scar?" Fox asked.
Wolf looked down at himself. "Oh, this? Knife fight, long time ago. This one was a close call; I came damn near to losing my guts that day."
Fox shuddered. "W…why?"
Wolf looked off into the distance. "I used to be a cage fighter when I was younger. I was good at it, and I needed the money. I got all kinds of scars; knives, claws, couple of blasters." He rolled up his sleeve, showing Fox three more scars along his forearm, two small, and one large, running up the length of his arm.
Fox nodded slowly, looking back up at Wolf's face. "Is that how you… uh…"
Wolf lowered his head. "Some bastard and his friends grabbed me in an alley after I had won a fight that night. They were pissed, they had lost a bunch of money betting on the fight."
"How come you didn't get a cybernetic eye?"
"I took too long to get to a doctor, and it got infected. The optic nerve was damaged; there was nothing they could do." Wolf shivered, staring at the ground. Fox knew this wasn't a memory Wolf was proud of.
Wolf took a deep breath, rubbing his hand over the top of Fox's head. "Get some rest. As soon as you feel good enough to travel, we'll head out to that cave and set up camp there."
Fox was asleep before Wolf withdrew his hand.
General Pepper stood up as the StarFox team, minus their leader, walked into his office. Peppy and Slippy were walking anyway, Falco looked more like someone on his way to a grudge match as he rudely slammed the door open. "Hello again, Falco, have a seat — did you get in another fight?" Pepper asked, noticing the slight bend in Falco's beak.
Falco continued his resolute stride up to the general's polished mahogany desk, getting right in his face. "I don't have time for this, Pepper. What's going on? I want answers."
General Pepper reached back for his chair as if to sit down, but thought better of it and remained standing. He was barely taller than Falco as it was, and he didn't want Falco staring down at him. "I talked to the council about your mission, and, well…" Pepper rubbed the back of his neck.
"Well what?!" Falco shouted.
"Well, first of all, they decided to stop payment. They said you hadn't delivered, and they're using the money to pay for the damages."
Falco banged his fist on top of Pepper's desk. "Bullshit we didn't deliver! You wanna find StarWolf? Why don't you scrape what's left of Leon Powalski off of the hull of the Intrepid?" Falco lowered his head and sighed with exasperation. "Look, screw the money. Just give us another ship so we can get Fox back."
Pepper's heavy brow furrowed. He did not like being shouted at, and he certainly didn't care for being ordered around, though he could understand Falco's anger. "Falco, listen… One of the warp ships" came back two days ago and exploded on re-entry. And…"
"And what?" Falco growled, his hands curling into fists again.
Pepper took of his thick sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. "The whole project is being put on hold indefinitely. We can't risk any more crews if the warp engines are unstable. There's… not going to be a rescue."
"WHAT!?" Falco screamed, pounding his fist on the desk again, knocking over a picture of the general's wife. "This is bullshit! How could you, Pepper? Fox is like a son to you!" Peppy and Slippy likewise showed signs of shock and dismay, though Falco's towering rage spoke more than their faces did.
General Pepper shook a thick, gloved finger at Falco. "Don't you think I know that?" he said, his gruff voice shaking. "I fought this thing tooth and claw! But the ministers control the money flow, and I couldn't convince them otherwise. You have no idea what this means to me."
"You sanctimonious prick!" cried Falco, reaching over the desk and grabbing Pepper by the lapels. "If you had any backbone you'd be halfway to Akio by now!"
Pepper slapped Falco's hands off of him. "Get out of my office, Lombardi," he growled, pointing at the door over Falco's shoulder. "And don't come back until you learn some respect!"
Falco snarled a few choice oaths at Pepper as he turned and left, slamming the door again behind him. Slippy had to dart in behind Peppy to avoid being hit by the wildly swinging door. Pepper slumped into his chair, rubbing his eyes again, feeling drained and worse. His secretary's voice came in over the intercom. "I heard shouting, sir. Should I call for security?"
Pepper straightened the fallen picture on the desk. "No, that's alright."
It was early afternoon by the time Fox had felt well enough to move out. Wolf dragged the supply trunk by himself, with Fox trailing along behind, picking up sticks of driftwood as they walked. Vague visions of his surreal dream from the previous night began to slowly come back to him. "Uh… hey Wolf, last night, did you, uh…"
Wolf smirked, looking over his shoulder as he kept walking. "Yeah, I gave you CPR. You stopped breathing for a moment, almost thought you weren't gonna make it." He put the trunk down and stepped closer to Fox, lowering his muzzle close to Fox's face. "Don't you ever scare me like that again."
Fox blinked slowly, his mind becoming cloudy again. "You saved me…?"
Wolf grunted. "Yeah, well, I don't exactly cherish the thought of being stuck here with nothing but your corpse for company." He turned and picked up the edge of the trunk, then he started walking again. Fox stood there for a moment, realizing the full impact of what had happened.
"Hey Fox, you comin' or not? The cave's not much farther, and the stream's right next to it."
Fox smiled. "No demographine this time?"
Wolf chuckled, but did not turn his head or slow his pace. "Yeah, it's safe. Checked it myself."
Peppy ran out of Falco's room as fast as his old legs could carry him, a coffee mug flying over his head, smashing to bits on the wall. More of Falco's colorful language accompanied Peppy as he ran back into the lounge of Great Fox.
"Has he calmed down at all yet?" Slippy asked.
Peppy rubbed his temples. "He's about done breaking furniture; I think he's about ready to get started on people now."
Slippy and Peppy were careful to stay out of Falco's way for the next few hours. At some point the falcon had shouted himself hoarse and run short on breakable things in his room, so he stomped into the gym and began to pound on the heavy punching bag, alternating between sending the bag flying backwards on it's chain and spitting out epithets on Pepper, the government, Fox, StarWolf, Andross, and the whole galaxy in general. Peppy just crept in behind him and watched Falco's rage play out from the doorway. Peppy knew that if he had the same strength in his arms, he'd be doing the same thing right now.
After almost half an hour of non-stop assault, Falco's arms began to give up on him. His punches grew progressively weaker, until the bag was hardly moving at all. He collapsed to his knees, the rage having drained him, his feathers matted with sweat. Peppy quietly stepped into the room at that point. The floor was flecked with blood from where Falco's talons had dug into his hands and where the skin on his knuckles had broken. The old hare gently rested his hand on Falco's shoulder, a move that would surely have earned Peppy a slap and a curt statement about not needing sympathy. But Falco instead collapsed into Peppy's arms, crying like a heartbroken child. Peppy sat down on the floor, holding the sobbing avian.
"God dammit Peppy…" Falco choked, "I want him back."
Peppy began to rub Falco's heaving shoulders. "I know. So do I."
The cave that Wolf had located was a short distance up the beach. It was located several meters inland from the shore, far enough away to be protected from the tides. However, it was not very large, and once the supply trunk had been dragged inside it was a bit cramped for two people. As Wolf had promised, a stream flowed quietly nearby, one devoid of any of the vegetation Fox had seen before.
Wolf pulled out a sheet of paper from the pocket of his coat, leaning down onto the lid of the trunk. "I had begun making a map of the area," he said, showing Fox. "Now we're here…" He pointed at a small circle on the map. "And I landed somewhere down here… Crap!quot;
The wind had picked up during the afternoon, and a powerful gust blew across the mouth of the cave, snatching the map from Wolf's hand and carrying it off towards the surf. Wolf grumbled, taking off his overcoat and handing it to Fox. "I'll get it," he said, kicking off his boots and running down onto the beach. Throwing Wolf's heavy coat over his shoulder, Fox ran along behind him.
The makeshift map fluttered on the wind, touching the water about ten meters from shore and floating on the surface. Without hesitation Wolf strode into the surf, wading in as far as his could, then lowering his head and diving under the water. With a few powerful strokes he had the map in his hands, and he turned back to the shore. Fox stood at the water's edge, the tide gently lapping at his boots as he watched.
Wolf was well drenched when he walked up to the beach. As he got his legs up underneath him, he covered his face with his hands. Fox stepped into the water, taking hold of his elbow to guide him back to the shore. Wolf grumbled softly, bowing his head.
"What's wrong, Wolf?" Fox asked, worried that Wolf had hurt himself.
Wolf turned away from Fox, still covering his face. "My patch… I lost my patch…" Fox saw that this was true; the black line of the patch's strap was missing from Wolf's head.
Fox put his hand on Wolf's shoulder. "Let me see."
Wolf growled, turning away again. "No… it's awful."
Fox paused, his hand still outstretched. "Wolf, please…" Wolf's shoulders rose, then he stood upright. He took his hands away from his face, and turned to look at Fox.
'Awful' was a pretty fair description of what was remained of Wolf's left eye. The empty socket had been healed over with scar tissue, making it look puffy and sunken. A deep vertical line was plainly visible across the wound; the mark of the knife which had taken the eye.
Bravely, Fox reached out and placed his hand on the side of Wolf's wet face. "It's not so bad," Fox said.
Wolf sighed softly, looking at Fox with a confused expression, though there was gratitude showing in his face. "Thanks," he said gruffly. He walked back up to the beach, pulling off the soaked shirt and vigorously shaking himself to rid his fur of the seawater. Fox smiled, shying away from Wolf as the water flew off of him.
"I gotta dry off," Wolf said. "I got a spare change of clothes in the trunk." He walked back to the cave, holding the wet shirt. Fox followed behind, reaching around his neck for his dogtags, rubbing them between his fingers, praying that someone, anyone, would find the signal.
The rations found in a standard emergency kit for fighter pilots can sustain a soldier in good health for a week. Pigma had gone through his supply in three days.
The long forced march had been the most exercise Pigma had received since his days in the Cornerian academy. He hefted his much lighter backpack, his body running with sweat. His stomach growled again.
Grimly, Pigma began to think of his money again. It was the only thing that made him feel better, except perhaps for what he was going to do to Fox McCloud. He fondly recalled the way the silver and blue eagles on the thousand-credit notes smiled at him. They never made fun of him. They never called him names like 'Hamlet' or 'Porko'. When he talked, they listened, and never asked for anything in return.
Pigma looked down at his PDA again. The blip was getting closer, slowly, but surely. With his memories of his money to sustain him, Pigma tightened his belt and carried on.
Falco stumbled into the lounge of the Great Fox late the next morning. After he had finished crying on Peppy's shoulder the night before, he had proceeded to drink himself insensible in order to sleep. Not even the groaning of the drainage pipes could cut through his drunken stupor. His feathered were ruffled, his eyes bloodshot, and he reeked of sweat and scotch.
Peppy looked up at Falco from the kitchen table, where he had been watching Slippy tapping away on his personal computer. "Good morning," he said pleasantly. Falco grunted and kneeled down in front of the couch, looking underneath it.
"If you've decided to live, Falco," said Peppy, "Slippy thinks he may have something for us."
"Yeah, what?" Falco asked, standing on his toes to look behind the big-screen TV set.
"Well, ROB's still got that control program in his memory banks," Slippy explained. "And he has an access code for the warp ships. I just checked, and that code still works. Evidently no one bothered to change it."
Falco looked over at Slippy with interest, walking over to the table, rubbing his sore eyes. "Oh yeah?"
Slippy nodded. "I think I've got a plan. How do you feel about breaking a few laws?"
"Slip, I'd break a thousand laws if it meant seeing Fox again." Falco hovered over Slippy's other shoulder, looking down at the computer screen. "Why's the screen so blurry?"
"It's not," Peppy told him. "You're hung over."
Slippy smiled, tapping on the computer again, showing them a picture of a warp ship floating in space in orbit over a planet. "The C.S.S. Glory, currently in orbit over Katina. It's abandoned, awaiting decommissioning. I checked the ship's manifest, and it's still got its fuel and warp drive intact."
Falco peered closer at the screen. "So you're saying we just sneak in there and steal it?"
Slippy nodded. "That's the plan."
Falco sighed, walking over to the sink and splashing cold water over his face. "Alright Slip. Go get ROB ready. I'll meet you in the hangar." He sniffed at himself. "Right after I shower."
Slippy got up and walked to the turbolift. Falco peered underneath the couch again. "Hey Peppy, have you seen my guitar?" he asked.
The corner of Peppy's mouth twitched. "Haven't seen it."
Fox and Wolf spent their fourth day of their isolation exploring into the foothills of the mountain range which surrounded their beach, searching for a source of food and more firewood. The previous night had turned bitterly cold, so they had taken the tarp from the tent and rigged it over the mouth of their cave to keep the wind out and the heat in. So far, the search had not gone well. There was no sign of any fruits or nuts, only sparse patches of scrub grass. The region seemed to be devoid of any topsoil, preventing the growth of all but the smallest mosses and lichens.
Wolf had changed into his spare suit, a plain cotton shirt and trousers. He had torn another strip from his Venomian uniform and wrapped it around his head in a makeshift eyepatch, but it slipped frequently. He still wore his trenchcoat, and he looked more like a mercenary than a Venomian captain now.
Fox had noticed a change come over Wolf during the past couple of days. The bitter rivalry that had existed between them during the war had been forgotten. A lot of Wolf's gruff, hard-bitten attitude had disappeared, and it was instead replaced by something resembling camaraderie and a sort of wary friendship towards Fox. Fox had watched him sleep for a while last night, gazing over his scarred upper body. Somehow, he didn't think Wolf had been blessed with many friends during his life. He wondered what was going through Wolf's head.
Wolf looked back at Fox as they walked, pushing the cloth on his head back into place. "Hey Fox, tell me about your team."
"My team?" Fox asked, a bit surprised.
"Yeah. I hardly know anything about 'em, 'cept that they're good pilots. It'll pass the time."
"Well… they're all great. Slippy's amazing with a wrench, I've seen him fix just about anything he can get his hands on. Peppy's the smart one, but he lets me call the shots. Says he's getting too old. And Falco, he… well, he takes some getting used to."
Wolf snickered. "Little rough around the edges?"
"Oh yeah. But once he warms up to you, you couldn't ask for a better friend."
Wolf chuckled. "Must be nice," he said, staring off into the distance for a moment. He pushed the strip of cloth back up over his good eye, but it slipped back down almost immediately. "Oh fuck it!" he shouted, tearing the cloth off of his head and throwing it away. He looked back at Fox, his scarred eye plainly visible. "You uh… don't mind, do you?"
Fox smiled. "Not at all."
Wolf smiled back at Fox. "Thanks. Come on, let's go back. It's getting late." He gave Fox a pat on the back as he walked past. They returned to the cave, talking along the way.
The three Arwings streaked through space towards Katina. They had left the Great Fox behind in an out of the way location, and set the auto-pilot to evade if any other ships approached. Slippy had loaded ROB into the back of his Arwing, and they were headed out towards the Glory.
Falco felt refreshed and alert again after showering. He kept his eyes sharp, looking out towards the planet frequently, and he kept an eye on his radar as well. This was the dangerous part of the mission. They were going into Cornerian military airspace without permission with intent to steal, and there was no way they could talk their way out of any trouble if they were caught. Falco urged his Arwing faster as the warp ship came into view around the edge of Katina. It had been clear sailing so far, they just needed a bit more time…
"Falco, we've got a squad of fighters coming in at two o'clock," Peppy told him over the intercom. Falco looked down at the radar and groaned. Six Husky-class were fast approaching him, moving to cut them off.
"Attention fighters," a voice over the broadcast spoke. "You are entering Cornerian military airspace. Please identify yourselves or… Falco?"
Falco felt a surge of hope. He knew that voice. "Bill? Bill Grey, is that you?"
"Hey Falco, long time no see!" said Bill.
"Bill, look… something's happened to Fox and…"
"I know, I heard," Bill said sadly. "Pepper told me."
"Yeah, well… look, we're going to get him back. I don't care what it takes, but we're bringing back. Alive."
"Falco, are you nuts? You're going to steal a ship that might explode underneath you from the military?"
"Well, Bill, I guess that makes me nuts then. And if you think you can stop us, you're doubly nuts."
A sigh came from the intercom. "Look, Falco…" There was a long pause. Falco held his breath, his hand tightening around the control stick, feeling the smoothness of the trigger.
"… You tell Fox that I said hello."
Falco leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Will do, Bill." The squad of fighters turned and flew off.
"Damn, Falco!" shouted Slippy. "You are one lucky bastard. When we get home, you go out and buy yourself a lottery ticket."
Falco chuckled. "Whatever I win, I'm sharing it with Bill. Let's just hope Lady Luck stays with us for a little while longer."
The wind had turned cold by the next day. It was difficult to tell if the seasons were turning without any visible change in the local vegetation, but there seemed to be a hint of winter in the air.
For Fox and Wolf, it was becoming even more urgent to find resources. Their supply of rations had begun to dwindle, and they had yet to find any likely source of food. Wolf had led Fox to the northwest today, searching where the mountains were less steep, hoping to find anything, but nothing seemed to grow in the barren land.
Fox wrapped his light jacket tighter around his shoulders. The wind was picking up again, biting at Fox though his clothing and fur. Wolf continued onwards, showing no sign of discomfort. If he was cold, he wasn't showing it. Perhaps he had a thicker coat of fur than Fox.
The search had taken their toll on the both of them. Day was wearing on towards afternoon, and all they had to show for their efforts was a small armload of driftwood, gathered from the beach. Fox was growing weary, but Wolf persevered, seemingly tireless as he hiked over the hills. "How're ya doing, Fox?" he called back to him.
"Cold," Fox said simply. "I don't think we're going to find anything today, Wolf." Wolf nodded, scanning the horizon. He closed his eye and sniffed at the air. "Yeah, maybe we should head back. We can try further into the mountains tomorrow."
Fox groaned inwardly. He watched Wolf turn and start to walk past him, staying close behind. The wind picked up again, making Wolf's trenchcoat flutter around his legs. They had only walked for a few minutes when Wolf stopped suddenly, looking up at the sky, ears perked. "Hey, you hear that?"
Fox looked up. "Hear what?"
Wolf pointed over the ocean to the east. "There!" A dark, black cloud was spreading over the horizon. It was many kilometers away, but even now they could see the tempest rolling, drawing closer to them. Fox heard what Wolf had heard: the distant rumble of thunder.
"Holy shit, Wolf!"
"Holy shit is right. We'd better run, Fox. I don't think we want to be outside when that thing strikes." Wolf started off as fast as he could over the rocky terrain, with Fox close behind.
Wolf drove a frantic pace over the rocks as they hurried back to their cave, and Fox had to work hard to keep up with him. He stumbled once, and Wolf doubled back to him, pulling him back to his feet and guiding him along, still moving as fast as he could.
They were still an hour away from the cave when the temperature plummeted and storm made landfall. The rain came at them hard, slashing at their unprotected faces. It was a hard, stinging rain, leaving a bitter cold trail as it soaked into them. Fox lowered his head as the rain stung his face. He reached out for Wolf's shoulder, holding onto him, letting Wolf lead them to safety.
In the last kilometer before they reached camp it began to hail; pea-sized pellets of ice came at them at incredible speeds, adding to the chill and sting of the storm. Fox hunched his shoulders up, trying to prevent the ice and rain from sneaking down the back of his jacket. Before long his eyes were completely closed and he was soaked to the skin, relying of Wolf to guide him.
It seemed an eternity before they reached their cave. Wolf pushed aside the tarp and sealed it back up as they darted inside, the rain and hail battering against the strong plastic. Fox sank into a corner, huddled and whimpering, his legs sore from the hard march. Wolf took off his wet overcoat and began to rub his arms, trying to strip the water off of him. He looked back over at Fox. "Fox, you okay?"
Fox had begun to shiver, drawing his limbs closer to him. The chill had sunk into his muscles; numbness had begun to set in to his extremities. "I-I'm c-c-cold, Wolf…" he whispered through chattering teeth.
Wolf moved quickly, taking their small stockpile of wood and gathering it together near Fox. He drew a firestarter from the trunk of supplies, lit it, and pushed the tiny flame into the wood. He leaned in close, blowing on the flame as it caught, the fire moving quickly to engulf the wood. "Come on, Fox," he said, peeling the soaked jacket off of Fox. "You have to dry off, or you'll freeze."
Fox couldn't move his arms. The great cold was all around him, bleeding the life out of him. Wolf unzipped Fox's damp flight suit and began to rub him down with the thermal blanket, trying to get him dry. "Damnit, Fox, stay with me here!" Wolf urged.
Fox's breath was shallow and ragged, the cold air burning his lungs. Instinctively, he leaned towards the source of the rubbing, feeling himself slowly drying off over his shoulders and arms. The first touches of dry heat from the fire began to stroke his face, warding off the cold. He steeled himself, fighting off the shivering of his limbs. "C-c-cold… Wolf… h-h-help me…"
Suddenly, Fox felt something squeezing his shoulders. Looking up, he saw that Wolf had wrapped his arms around him, hugging him tightly, rubbing his cold arms. Fox leaned in closer to him, feeling the heat which radiated from Wolf's body.
They sat together that way for a long time.
Pigma had been more fortunate than Fox and Wolf, he had found shelter almost an hour before the storm struck. He had gone an entire day without food, but he had more than enough fat on his body to continue walking. This bothered Pigma only slightly, he was now working on a pleasant fantasy of roasting Fox McCloud over a fire and eating him.
Pigma huddled in his cave as he waited the storm to blow itself out. With every step he took, he could feel himself getting closer to his goal. Now, the delay was making him irritable and impatient. He picked up a small, sharp stone off of the cave floor and looked around. Striking his last flare and setting it on the ground, he began to chip and carve at the cave wall with the stone. First a body, then legs, then arms, a head, muzzle, pointed ears, and a tail. It took him the better part of an hour to finish, but he kept at it, carving a rough picture of a fox on the wall. Pigma smiled, pleased with the likeness. He then drew his blaster and began to fire at the drawing point-blank.
"Die McCloud! Die! Die! Die!"
A flash of light later, and the Glory hung in space in orbit over Akio's only planet. Falco unbuckled himself from the captain's chair and looked down at it from the bridge's window. It looked the same as it had the last time he had seen it, five days earlier. But now Fox was down there, somewhere.
"Alright, here's the plan," Falco told his teammates. "Peppy and I will go down there and search for Fox. Check for both his Arwing's transponder and his personal transponder. We'll both send out radio broadcast messages too, see if we can make contact. Slippy, you stay here and keep an eye on that warp drive. If it looks like the warp drive might be overloading, shut it down. Get ready to jump as soon as we get back, set coordinates for where we left the Great Fox. Fox could be hurt, and we may need to get him to a hospital. Any questions?"
No one spoke. Falco nodded. He held out his wing to them. "For Fox!"
Peppy and Slippy placed their hands on top of Falco's. "For Fox!" they shouted.
Falco smiled, turning to the turbolift. "Come on, we got a leader to find."
Peppy and Falco got into their ships and headed for the planet, breaking into the atmosphere in a gap between the storms. They locked their wings for better control in the planet's atmosphere.
"Stay close to the ground, Peppy. Let's steer clear of the storms. Maintain radio contact at all times, and keep your eye on your radar for those signals." Falco instructed.
"Roger, Falco," replied Peppy. "Let's bring Fox home."
I just hope we don't all get thrown in prison when we get there, Falco thought. He set his radio to broadcast frequency. "Falco calling Fox, come in Fox. Fox, this is Falco, come in!"
Fox awoke in the morning, feeling considerably better. The wind was calm again, and the air did not seem as cold as it had before. He tried to get up, but something heavy was pressing down on his chest. He looked down and saw Wolf's scarred arm wrapped around him, with Wolf cuddled close next to him. Fox smiled at the sight, and gave Wolf a gentle poke. "Hey, wake up."
Wold grumbled softly and blinked, looking at Fox, then down at his arm, which was still holding onto Fox. He chuckled softly and pulled away, looking a bit embarrassed. "Hey. How're you feeling?" Fox stood up slowly and stretched. "Better, thanks." He did feel better, the feeling had come back to his limbs, and the weariness had left him. He also felt a bit more confident now, like he had just survived an ordeal.
Wolf nodded, sitting up. "Anything still numb?"
Fox wiggles his fingers, then stroked over his ears. "Don't think so."
Wolf got up slowly, looking Fox over. "Good, looks like you avoided frostbite."
Fox smiled at him. "Hey, thanks. You saved me again. What is this, the second time?"
Wolf chuckled. "I wasn't counting." He gave Fox another pat on the back. "Come on, time for breakfast."
Fox groaned at the thought of another day of rations. "Oh man, when I get back I am going to eat the biggest sandlot pizza Nina's can make."
"What's a sandlot pizza?"
"Hamburger, French fries, and barbecue sauce. It kicks ass."
Wolf arched his brow. "I'll take your word for it."
Fox chuckled. "I'd give a lot for a pizza from Nina's right about now. Best damn pizza place in Lylat. I can't wait to get back to Corneria City."
Wolf nodded. "Yeah, Corneria City…" He looked away from Fox. Fox remembered that as far as Corneria City was concerned, Wolf was still an outlaw.
"Hey, buck up, Wolf. Maybe we can work something out." Fox smiled at him, pulling aside the tarp and looking out at the gray beach. "Though I think I'll pass on the beach vacation. I don't want to see another beach for a long time."
"Sounds good to me," Wolf said, pulling on his coat and following Fox out of the cave.
Fox took a deep breath and stretched again, looking out over the now calm ocean. He smiled, feeling hopeful, thinking of the Great Fox and Corneria City again.
"What're you so happy about?" asked Wolf.
"I just got a feeling about today. Like something's gonna happen."
Wolf nodded. "Well, try to hold onto that feeling, 'cause we still got…" He looked over Fox's shoulder and saw something moving, and then he saw the flash of light on metal.
"Get down!" shouted Wolf, throwing himself into Fox, knocking him to the sand. Fox barely had time to react, but he saw what happened clearly; a bolt of blaster energy pierced Wolf's stomach where Fox had been standing a moment before. Fox rolled onto his side, looking in the direction the shot had come from.
There was Pigma, looking as if he had been through the wringer. His uniform was rumpled and torn, and his body was sweaty. His eyes gleamed with madness as he brought his blaster to aim on Fox again. "Die McCloud!!"
Fox didn't even think about what he had to do. He pulled his blaster from its holster and fired a snap shot at Pigma, catching him in the knee. Pigma squealed in pain and fell over. Snarling with rage, Fox continued to fire, emptying the energy clip, blasting eleven more holes into Pigma's unprotected side.
Fox came back to reality as he heard the empty blaster click as he pulled the trigger. His heart pounded as he remembered what had just happened. He scrambled to his feet and looked at Wolf. The powerful blaster shot had gone clear through Wolf's body, puncturing a hole almost two centimeters in diameter in the left side of his abdomen. Fox began to panic, shaking Wolf's shoulders. "Wolf! No, don't do this… don't leave me!"
Wolf did not respond. Blood continued to pour out of his body from both entry and exit wounds, soaking into the sand. Fox ran back into the cave and grabbed the first aid kit out of the supply trunk, moving as quickly as he could. He knelt by Wolf's side, opening a pair of trauma patches and sealing one over the hole in Wolf's stomach. Fox carefully rolled Wolf over, another spurt of blood dripping out of the wound in Wolf's back. He applied the other patch quickly, the antiseptic and coagulant medicines in the patches cleaning the wounds and helping to close them. But there was so much blood… Wolf's body was covered with it, it seeped into the sand, and it even covered Fox's hands.
"No… Wolf, DON'T LEAVE ME!!" Fox screamed, collapsing on top of Wolf's body, his eyes wet with tears.
"*ssshhkkk* … come in, Fox… *ksshhkk*
"*sshhkk* … Fox, this is Falco, do you read me? … *ksshhk*
Fox looked up from Wolf's body. He returned to the supply trunk and dug out Wolf's radio. "Falco, are you there?"
"*shhkk* … Fox, you're alive! Where are you? … *ksshk*"
"I'm on a beach somewhere," Fox cried, his voice on the verge of breaking. "Home in on my dogtag's transponder signal. Oh, hurry Falco, Wolf is dying!"
"*shhkk* … You got Wolf? Good job, Fox! Maybe we can…"
"No! It was Pigma! We've got to help Wolf, he's lost a lot of blood!"
The signal became clearer as Falco adjusted his radio. "Are you crazy, Fox? Wolf is dangerous!"
Fox growled. "Damnit Falco, we are going to save Wolf! That's an order!"
There was a pause. Fox had never used that term with Falco before. "Okay Fox, it's your fur. I've got your signal; I'll be there in a minute."
Fox sat down on the ground, hugging his knees close to his chest. He began to cry again.
Fox was in a poor mood for greetings when Falco and Peppy found him on the beach, still curled up near the fallen Wolf. With their help he had loaded Wolf into the back of Peppy's Arwing, trying not to jostle him too much for fear that his wounds may tear open even more. Fox jumped into the cockpit and took off, with Falco and Peppy close behind in Falco's Arwing.
It took them less than ten minutes to reach the Glory, but Wolf was fading fast. He seemed deathly cold as Fox and Peppy lifted him out of the ship and carried him to the ship's small medical bay. Falco stood back and just shook his head at all of this, his disapproval plainly evident. He didn't follow Fox and Peppy to the sick bay; instead, he went up to the bridge to wait.
Fox carefully lifted Wolf onto one of the sick bay beds and pulled off his bloody shirt as Peppy began to hook him up to the medical computer, fastening a series of bio-monitors to Wolf's chest, forehead, and side. Peppy took a pair of surgeon's scissors and cut opened the trauma patch on Wolf's stomach, exposing the wound. The chemicals in the patch had done their job; the wound was already beginning to clot. Fox held a sponge over the hole to prevent further blood loss as Peppy carefully injected a regenerative fluid into the wound, letting the thick liquid sink into him.
"Is he going to be alright, Peppy?" Fox asked for the sixth time.
Peppy finished applying a clean dressing and looked down at the computer screen as the bio-monitors recorded Wolf's vital signs. "It doesn't look good, Fox. The blaster didn't do any organ damage, but he's lost too much blood and we haven't got any synthetic to give him." He looked up at Fox. "He's not going to make it."
Fox's hands began to shake. "What blood type is he, Peppy?"
Peppy glanced down at the screen. "B negative."
Without hesitation Fox sat down on the other cot in the room, pulling off his jacket. "Do it, Peppy," he said, rolling up his sleeve.
Peppy looked gravely at Fox and nodded, reaching for one of the cabinets.
Fox rubbed his sore arm as he sat up, trying to get the feeling back into his hand. He felt dizzy and a bit sick to his stomach, but he refused to let Peppy stop, even when he had informed Fox that he was giving a dangerous amount of blood.
Peppy surveyed the medical computer's screen again. "It's working, Fox. His blood pressure is within the safe zone." Wolf did indeed look better, his face had lost the gaunt, emaciated look it had when he was brought in, and his chest was rising and falling slowly with his breathing.
Fox walked back over to Wolf, stroking his hand over Wolf's forehead as he remembered Wolf doing to him. He looked back at Peppy, his face a jumble of emotions. "Well?"
"Well what?" Peppy asked.
"Well, for starters, where the fuck have you guys been?"
Peppy sighed. "We ran into some trouble. We had to borrow another ship to get you back."
"Pepper gave you another ship?"
"Well… not exactly. There was a problem with the warp engine, and Pepper refused to let us come after you."'
Fox stared at Peppy. "What, so you guys stole an experimental military ship from right under Pepper's nose?"
Fox was silent for several moments, and then he began to laugh. "This ought to be a good story."
Wolf let out a groan and began to stir. Fox returned to his side, taking Wolf's hand in his. "Wolf, you're alive!"
Wolf grunted, his eye opening slowly. "Takes more than that to keep me down," he said weakly.
Fox gave Wolf's hand a squeeze. "How do you feel?"
"Like I've been shot." Wolf looked down at Peppy, then around at the room. "So, what happened?"
"We showed up right after you had gotten shot," Peppy explained. "Fox insisted that we bring you on board. He saved your life, Wolf."
Wolf looked at the bandage on the inside of Fox's arm, then up at Fox's face again. "So, guess we're even then, huh?" he said.
Fox grinned down at Wolf. "Not yet. The score's still three to one."
Wolf smiled, and then he coughed hard, his body wracked with pain. "Ugh… hey, what's a guy gotta to do to get some painkillers on this ship?" Peppy smiled, handing a patch to Fox.
Falco's voice came in over the ship's intercom. "Hey, what's the status down there? I'm getting tired of waiting."
"Falco!" Fox shouted back. "Wolf's awake now." He looked down at Wolf. "Do you feel up to warping?"
Wolf nodded. "Thought you'd never ask."
Fox looked back up at the intercom. "Anytime you're ready, Falco."
"Okay guys, hang onto something," Falco said. "Ten seconds to jump."
Wolf and Fox wrapped their arms around each other tightly. Peppy just smiled, sitting down on the floor and locking his hands around a metal bar.
The ship gave a familiar lurch as it returned to the Lylat system a short distance away from where Falco had left the Great Fox. "We made it, guys," he said over the intercom.
Fox stood up and looked down at Wolf. "You alright?" The dull throb in his arm was gone.
Wolf nodded, pushing himself up onto his elbows. "Yeah, actually, I'm feeling better already."
Peppy stood up and began to disconnect the monitors from Wolf. "You had a day to heal while we were in warp."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that," Wolf said.
Falco's voice came back over the intercom. "Hey, if you guys are done with the tearful reunion, we gotta split before the military comes looking for us."
Fox nodded, slipping his head under Wolf's arm, helping him get up. "Can you walk?"
Wolf nodded slowly, though he did lean heavily on Fox's shoulder as they left the sick bay.
It was a crowded flight back to the Great Fox as the five of them plus ROB squeezed into three Arwings. Peppy helped Wolf to their medical facility to change his bandages again while Slippy hooked ROB back up to the Great Fox's controls, speeding away from the abandoned warp ship. Fox sunk into the captain's chair, exhausted. He rubbed his hands over his face, then looked down and noticed he still had dried patches of Wolf's blood on his gloves. He peeled off the gloves and tossed them away.
Falco likewise slumped into his chair as ROB navigated the ship back towards civilization. "So, how come we had to save Wolf, huh?" Fox opened his mouth to retort, but the communicator began to beep. Fox accepted the call, and the holographic image of General Pepper appeared before them.
"General Pepper here… Fox! You're back!" Pepper said excitedly.
Fox narrowed his eyes at Pepper. "Yeah, no thanks to you," he said bitterly.
Pepper lowered his head. "Look, Fox, I'm sorry… I couldn't convince the council to go after you. I know I let you down."
Fox leaned his head onto his hand, looking unsympathetic. "Yeah, military protocol, right?"
"Well, at least I was able to talk the council into dropping the charges against Falco and the others for the theft of the Glory."
Fox looked back up. "How'd you pull that one off?"
"I pointed out that you were stealing a ship that was about to be decommissioned anyway, and then… well, I told them that if I was in Falco's position, I would have done the exact same thing."
Fox chuckled. "Maybe there's hope for you after all, General."
"Yes, well… Anyway, nice to have you back, Fox. Once you've settled in, send me a report of the planet. I would like to hear about it."
"Hey General, wait a sec."
"I want to negotiate a pardon."
"I told you, I took care of…"
"No, not for us. For Wolf O’Donnell."
"What!?" shouted both Pepper and Falco.
"Look, Wolf is just a mercenary. He didn't do what he did out of malice. And he knows where a lot of the loyalists are hiding out. Maybe you can work something out."
Pepper sighed. "Are you certain, Fox?"
"Yes, I am."
"Alright. I'll try to set things up. I'll let you know what happens. Pepper out." The hologram vanished.
Falco looked back over at Fox and smirked. "Oh, I can't wait to hear this one."
The five of them had gathered in Great Fox's sick bay to hear both accounts of what had happened. Peppy insisted that Wolf spend one more night under observation, even though Wolf had told Peppy, in no uncertain terms, that he was a quick healer and was ready to take on a whole SWAT team by himself. Peppy just smiled and patted him on the head. Peppy had found an eyepatch among their medical supplies and offered it to Wolf as a peace offering, which Wolf accepted gratefully.
It took the better part of the afternoon to tell the entire story, mainly because Falco kept interrupting. "You mean you used to be 'Wild' Wolf, king of the cage?" he asked as Wolf recounted his days as a pit fighter.
"Used to be. Not anymore." Wolf told him.
"Oh man, you were one tough guy back then."
"Hey, I'm still tough," Wolf said, sounding a bit offended. He sat up in bed and pulled off the shirt he had borrowed from Falco to show them his numerous scars.
Falco whistled softly. "Jesus."
Fox and Wolf continued their story, though Fox had to take over when they reached the part about Pigma.
"So," Peppy said, "You finally got Pigma."
Fox nodded. "Yeah, though I didn't even recognize him until I had stopped shooting." His recollection of the event was hazy; all he remembered was his rage.
"Good for you, Fox. I know I'll sleep sounder tonight," said Peppy.
"Yeah, well… anyway, after that, Falco made radio contact and, well, you know the rest." Fox sighed, the mere memory of the last five days left him feeling tired. "How about you guys?"
Falco began to tell them what happened, but when he claimed to have held off three squadrons of Venomian fighters by himself, Fox cut him off and let Peppy do the talking. Falco grumbled, but Peppy just smiled and obliged, glossing over the details of Falco's temper tantrum and subsequent fit of crying in Peppy's arms.
"Aww, Falco… I never knew ya cared," Fox said with a smirk. Falco grumbled and turned his shoulder away from Fox, folding his wings over his chest.
They were all quiet as Peppy finished his story. "So, what happens now?" asked Slippy.
"Well, I told Pepper that I wanted to negotiate a pardon for Wolf," said Fox.
Wolf sat up in surprise, staring at Fox.
"Well, you know where a bunch of loyalists are hanging out. If you give Pepper the details, he'd be willing to make some sort of a deal," Fox explained.
"You actually got him to consider this?"
Wolf slid back down on the cot. "You got some serious guts, Fox. I don't know of many people able to push around ol' Salt-and-Pepper like that. Why'd you do it?"
Fox floundered for a moment. "Because… because I wanted to, that's why."
Wolf turned his head to look at Fox. So did the others. Fox felt himself flush a little.
"Hey, I just thought of something," said Wolf. "Did you guys ever pick up that prototype ship?"
Falco, Peppy, and Slippy all exchanged glances. "I guess we forgot about it in all the excitement," said Peppy.
Wolf grunted. "Are there any more of those warp ships still in use?"
"No," said Slippy. "All of them were decommissioned. And the Glory just got picked up. Why?"
"Well, when we stole that ship, Pigma brought all his money with him. It's still there."
Fox suddenly felt like he wanted to throw up. "Uh… how much did he have?"
"He counted it every day. Twenty million."
Everybody groaned. Falco banged his head on the wall a few times.
Wolf smiled. "You wouldn't want it anyway. It all smells like pork."
Fox had gotten used to sleeping on cold, hard ground during the last few days, and he found himself tossing and turning quite a bit on his bed, which seemed softer than he remembered. It was also warmer than he remembered, even though he knew there was no temperature variance in the Great Fox.
Fox rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. What the hell was wrong? Everyone was back together again, they had survived the events of the last few days, and everything was back to the way it was before.
Then Fox realized what was wrong. He missed Wolf. For the last five days, Fox had found himself forced to rely on Wolf for survival. Now that they were apart, he felt lonely. That's what he was missing; he was missing Wolf's breathing as he slept.
More than once on the planet Fox had woken up with the horrors. He was trapped in his Arwing as it fell to earth and exploded on the planet. The ejector had failed, and he banged on the cockpit, powerless to watch as the deadly mountain drew nearer and nearer. Then he woke up, and he heard Wolf's breathing a short distance away, and he was lulled back to sleep.
Fox remembered how he felt when Wolf had saved his life. He never appreciated how much he had done for him, even taking a blaster shot for him. Without Wolf, Fox would never have survived; he would have died of demographine poisoning or exposure on the planet.
But why had Wolf kept saving him?
Frustrated at his inability to get some rest, Fox threw back the sheets and left the room. He walked down into the lounge and saw Wolf there, reclining on the black leather couch, his arms folded around himself. He looked like he was trying to fall asleep, and was having about as much luck as Fox had.
Fox walked over to where Wolf was lying. His eye was closed, but Fox could tell that he wasn't really asleep. "Hey Wolf, what're you doing up and about?"
Wolf opened his eye and looked up at Fox. "Couldn't sleep in there. I hate hospitals." He looked Fox over. "What's your excuse?"
Fox looked down at himself and blushed. He realized he had forgotten to get dressed when he got up, and he was still in his boxers; the ones with the tartan plaid. "Oh. I couldn't sleep either."
Wolf nodded, swinging his legs off of the couch. "Well, join the club then."
Fox took a seat on the couch. "Hey, Wolf…"
"You got any beer in the fridge?"
"Uh… yeah, help yourself."
Wolf got up and walked to the refrigerator. "You want one?"
Wolf returned to his seat, beer in hand. He twisted the cap off and took a long drink. "Best medicine there is."
"Are you sure you should be drinking?"
"Pssht. I spent half my life ignoring doctor's orders."
"Did it work?"
"I'm still alive, aren't I?"
Fox looked away from Wolf as he took another drink. God, why did this have to be so hard? "Wolf, I…"
"Is Falco always like that?"
"Falco. Tall guy, blue, feathered…"
"I know who he is, wiseguy."
Wolf smiled. "I saw him looking at me. All the warmth of a block of ice."
"He'll come around," said Fox. "Drink him under the table a few times, or tell him you play the drums. 'Course, that won't earn you many points with Peppy."
Wolf chuckled, leaning his head back as he took another drink. "Peppy seems okay. Certainly takes a shine to you. Maybe he sees your father in…"
"Wolf, listen to me!"
"Why did you save my life? The poison, the storm, you took a god damn blaster bolt for me, Wolf. Why??"
Wolf looked away from Fox for a very long time. "It was the right thing to do."
Wolf dropped the nearly empty bottle on the floor. "And… because I didn't want to be alone anymore."
Neither one of them said anything for several seconds. Fox finally broke the silence. "Wolf, I…"
Wolf lowered his head to his hands. "Ten years, Fox. That's how long I've been wandering. Every friend I ever had either stabbed me in the back or left me out to dry. I can't go on anymore, Fox. I've got nothing left."
Fox leaned in closer to Wolf, wrapping his arm around Wolf's broad shoulders. "I know how you feel, Wolf."
Wolf looked up at Fox, seeing the gentle compassion in his eyes, a trust which he had not known for most of his life. He pulled Fox into him, squeezing him in a fierce embrace. Fox grunted as Wolf's powerful arms hugged him tightly, but then returned the gesture, pressing himself up against Wolf's chest. "Damn it Wolf, I… I don't want to be alone either." They held each other there on the couch for several minutes, feeling the walls come tumbling down. It was conceivable that they would have held each other until the morning, but then Fox felt himself beginning to grow drowsy. He let out a large yawn.
Wolf looked down at Fox, loosening his grip on him. "You leaving Insomniacs Anonymous?"
Fox nodded, yawning again. "Yeah, I'm feeling a lot better now. You?"
Wolf also yawned. "Mmph… it's contagious."
"You gonna be okay out on the couch?"
"Yeah, I've been out in worse."
Fox nodded slowly, standing up and turning to leave. He paused as he reached the stairs leading to the crew's quarters, and then turned around. "Wolf?"
"You… remember how I said I didn't want to be alone?"
"This is one of those times."
When Wolf awoke it was still late at night. He craned his neck to look at the clock behind him. Almost 4:00 A.M. He settled back down, resting his muzzle on top of Fox's head.
The decision to sleep cuddled together had been a mutual one. Fox's bed wasn't very wide to begin with, and this was the best way to conserve space. Still, neither of them minded. They wanted to be close right now. Fox had snuggled himself down into Wolf's furry chest almost as soon as they had hit the pillows, and Wolf had only been too happy to wrap his arms around him. They had stayed in that position almost the entire night, with Fox's nose tucked in the crook of Wolf's neck.
Fox let out a soft whimper and began to stir in his sleep. Wolf stroked his hand down Fox's back and whispered "Shh, it's alright…" until the fit had passed, and Fox was quiet again. Wolf smiled, cuddling Fox back up against him. He had the feeling that Fox was the sort of person who had nightmares fairly frequently, and he found himself glad to be there to comfort him.
Being in this position was an entirely new experience for Wolf. He couldn't remember holding anyone like this before for any length of time, much less another guy. He was certain that he wasn't gay, but there was just something about Fox that brought out the big brother in Wolf, which was curious since he didn't know he had that sort of instinct in him in the first place. He looked down at Fox, admiring the way he had curled a bit towards him in his sleep. For someone who had stared death in the face and laughed so many times and almost single-handedly defeated the greatest threat the Lylat system ever knew, Fox was kinda cute.
Wolf closed his eye and drifted off back to sleep, feeling safer and more content than he had in years.
Fox came awake slowly, letting himself float in a comfortable haze for a while before waking fully. Wolf was still with him in bed, cuddled close to him. Fox smiled, content to snuggle back in and just sleep for a while longer.
For starters, it was warm, pressed up close like this. Fox had always been a habitual early riser, and the pleasure of sleeping late in a warm bed was often denied to him. It also felt safe in Wolf's arms. Fox worked out regularly, but he had always stayed lean, as was typically for his species. Wolf, on the other hand, carried a fair amount of muscular bulk in his arms and chest, and the feeling of having him hug him was a comforting one.
But what Fox most enjoyed was the feeling of strength. Not just physical strength, which Wolf had plenty of as well, but of security. For almost half of his life, Fox had been told that he needed to be strong. 'Your mother was in a car bomb, Fox. You have to be strong.' 'Your father was shot down and is missing, Fox. You have to be strong.' 'You're going to meet half of Venom's air force head-on, Fox. You need to be strong.'
For once it just felt good to let go of all of that and let someone else be strong for him.
Fox took a glance at the clock over Wolf's shoulder. It was late. Too late, in fact. He would be missed on board and so would Wolf. Crap.
Fox tried to get up, but was pulled back in by Wolf, who still had his arms locked around him. "Mine…" Wolf mumbled in his sleep. Fox smiled and leaned up, waking up Wolf by the simple method of licking his cheek. Wolf stirred and opened his eye, looking down at Fox.
"How're you feeling, Wolf?"
"Pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. You?"
"Fantastic. But we gotta get up."
"Uh, Wolf? You gotta let go of me."
Wolf released Fox from his arms and they both sat up in bed. "Hey Fox, are you gay?" Wolf asked.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, the whole sleeping snuggled with another guy is a good clue."
Fox chuckled. "Never really thought about it, to be honest. I just do what feels right." He pulled on a t-shirt and stood up, stretching.
"Sounds like a good policy. Have you seen my pants?"
"They're around here somewhere. What about you?"
"Nah, not gay," Wolf said, turning to look back at Fox. Fox gave him a nervous grin. Wolf smiled, rubbing the back of Fox's head. Fox smiled and opened the door to head out for breakfast, but Falco was there, his hand raised as if he was just about to knock.
"Oh, hey Fox. Have you seen—;" Falco stopped as he looked over Fox's shoulder at Wolf, who was still sitting on Fox's bed in his boxers. "What the hell are you guys doing?" he almost shouted, his eyes wide.
Fox frowned, feeling himself go on the defensive. "None of your business, Falco," he said, pushing past him and going downstairs.
Falco stood there, staring at Wolf with an expression somewhere between shock and confusion. Wolf stood up and walked over to the door. "Excuse me," he said curtly, closing the door in Falco's face.
Falco just continued to stare at the door, feeling utterly stunned, like someone had just punched him in the stomach. "Wolf and Fox? What's up with that?"
"They need each other," Peppy said, appearing from behind Falco. "They see something in each other that they're missing, and they hold together for support."
"It's all right, Falco. Fox knows what he's doing."
"What makes you so damn sure?"
"I can see it in his eyes." Peppy smiled. "Of course, a little telepathy never hurt either. Fox has always been like an open book to me."
"If Fox catches you snooping around his mind, he'll tie your ears in a knot."
"Then we won't tell him, will we?"
A sly smirk spread across Falco's face. "Where's my guitar, Peppy?"
Peppy sighed, his ears drooping. "Around the corner of the left air vent on the bridge."
Wolf had cleaned himself up and changed when he waited in the bridge, though he was still wearing one of Falco's shirts, which was a bit tight in the shoulders for him. He looked over at Fox with worry. "Maybe he's not going to do it."
"Don't worry," Fox reassured him from the captain's seat. "He'll come though."
The holo-receiver flickered to life in front of them. General Pepper's head came into focus. Wolf stood up from his chair. "Hello again, General."
General Pepper's disembodied head gave a sort of nod. "You're looking well, O’Donnell."
Wolf nodded in reply. "So, what's the verdict?"
"The council has agreed to pardon you in exchange for information on the hidden loyalist bases. We've decided that it's time to take some definitive action."
"Good. Well, shall we get started then, if this channel is secure?""
"Go right ahead, Wolf."
"Let's see… the main loyalist base is on Titania, near the south pole of the planet. They've been trying to rebuild their facilities on Venom, but it's going slow since they have to act in secret. They don't have the support of the whole populace anymore. There's also an underground network of refueling stations which are manned by people sympathetic to the loyalists, that's how they're able to keep moving around."
"Can you name them?"
"Hmm’ There's a couple I know of on MacBeth. A couple of lizards are running an operation out of an abandoned mine about fifty kilometers west of Whitefall. And one of your lieutenants on Base 38 is a double agent. I didn't catch his name, but I know he's a cheetah, and he walks with a limp."
It took almost twenty minutes for Wolf to list all the hidden bases, double agents, and future strike raids that he was aware of. Both Fox and Pepper were deeply alarmed at the incredible efficiency that the Venomian loyalists had hidden itself in the nooks and crannies of the Cornerian military bureaucracy.
"I, uh’ think we've got enough for now, Wolf. Thank you. Consider yourself a free man. Though I suggest you lay low for a while, it might cause a bit of a panic if you go strolling down Main Street in Corneria City right now. Wait until the word gets out."
Wolf smiled. "Thank you, General. Oh yeah, one more thing. I overheard one of the loyalists on Venom talking about something called Operation Grand Slam. I couldn't find out anything else about it, though. I got the impression it's pretty hush-hush. Might be worth looking in to."
"Good hunting out there, General. Great Fox out."
The hologram disappeared. Wolf let out a long sigh. He turned to Fox and walked over to his chair, leaning down and hugging him. "Thanks Fox."
Fox hugged Wolf back with a bit of bewilderment. "What for?"
"For giving me a chance."
The team had all gathered around the kitchen table to hold a council. "Come on, guys," Fox said. "Wolf is a good pilot, he's tough, he's smart, and he's in the mercenary and bounty hunter circles." Fox looked around, and gave a thumbs-up. "What do you think?"
Peppy looked at Fox intently. "Fox, I've always trusted your judgment. And I still do." He gave a thumbs-up.
"If he saved your life like you said he did, Fox, then he's okay by me." Slippy said, also giving a thumbs-up.
They all turned to look at Falco, who was leaning back in his chair, purposefully avoiding Wolf's gaze. His face was flat, as if he was trying to hide his feelings. "Fox… I think you're outta your mind, but damnit, I'd follow you to the end of the galaxy and back." He gave a thumbs-up.
Fox smiled and turned to Wolf. "Welcome to StarFox, Wolf O’Donnell." He said, offering Wolf his hand. Wolf smiled back and shook it.
Falco dropped his chair back down to the floor. "So, it's all over then, eh?"
"Well, not quite," said Wolf. "There was one thing I didn't tell Pepper."
"Oh yeah? What?" asked Fox.
"There's a bombing raid planned for the village of Coopertown on Zoness tomorrow night. I thought we might want to save that one for ourselves." Wolf said with a smile. "There's a bounty posted, and we do need the money, don't we?"
Falco grinned. "I like the way you think, Wolf. Just one problem, who's gonna fly? We only got three Arwings."
They all exchanged glances around the table. After a moment of silence, Slippy spoke. "Aah, I like building 'em better than I like flying."
Peppy nodded. "I'm getting too old to be cruising around like you youngsters."
"Okay," Fox said. So it's me, Wolf, and Falco. Oh, I forgot… can you fly an Arwing, Wolf?"
"Shouldn't be too hard," said Wolf. "The Wolfen was modeled after it. Just show me how the controls work."
Slippy got up from the table and headed up to the bridge to plot a course for Zoness. The rest of the team likewise split up to make preparations for the next day's battle, except for Falco, who stayed in his seat. "Hey, Wolf."
Wolf turned back to Falco. "Yeah?"
Falco stood up and watched Fox leave for his quarters upstairs. He leaned in close to Wolf, his eyes like daggers. "You break his heart, and I swear to God I'll hunt you down and kill you. Slowly."
Wolf nodded gravely at Falco. "I'll take care of him. I promise." He playfully punched Falco in the shoulder, and then followed Fox upstairs. Falco watched him go, rubbing his shoulder where Wolf had punched him.
Coopertown was a small ecological recovery town on Zoness, idyllic and peaceful in the middle of a clean zone. A sizeable number of people lived there, but they had few anti-aircraft defenses and there was no formal military presence there. For the Venom loyalists, it was a prime candidate for a slaughter.
The force that set out for Coopertown that night consisted of two squads of bombers and one squad of Invader IIs for cover fire. They were expecting an easy massacre. They certainly were not expecting StarFox.
Fox, Wolf, and Falco engaged the enemy about five kilometers north of Coopertown, over the ocean of Zoness. It was a quick battle. Fox flew in from the left side of the attackers, blasting apart half of the Invaders in his first pass. The bombers and remaining Invaders tried to scramble, but Wolf and Falco were not far behind. Bombers are weak in air-to-air combat, and without the Invaders to cover them, they were lost.
"Yee-haw!" shouted Wolf as he took another pass through the pack of enemy fighters. "Now I know why you love flying so much, Fox. This Arwing handles like a dream."
Fox smiled. "Nothing beats this, Wolf. 'Cept maybe a sandlot pizza from Nina's on a cool afternoon."
"Hey, come on you guys," said Falco. "Less goofing around, more beating up the bad guys." He aimed and fired again, finishing off the last Invader II.
It was a bad day for the Venomian loyalists on Zoness. The three Arwings mopped the floor with them. When the smoke cleared, the Arwings were undamaged, and the Venomian fleet was in ruins. Fox led them back over to Coopertown, where the townspeople came out into the streets to cheer their heroes.
Wolf smiled as he looked out of his cockpit down at the cheering crowds below. "I sure could get used to this, Fox."
"Roger that, Wolf," replied Fox. "Let's head down."
There was quite a party that night at Coopertown. The mayor had personally greeting and thanked them all, though he was a bit surprised to find Wolf O’Donnell among the members of StarFox. It took a bit of persuasion to convince the mayor that Wolf was on their side now. Peppy and Slippy came down to the planet in a transport shuttle, and a banquet was held in StarFox's honor. The town celebrated late into the night.
It was past midnight when the team returned to the Great Fox, tired, happy, and a bit tipsy. Falco almost passed out on the couch on his way to his room, and Fox and Wolf had to help him into bed. Fox turned off his alarm clock as he got into bed, rolling into Wolf's awaiting arms.
"You were pretty impressive out there tonight, Fox," said Wolf.
Fox chuckled. "Aren't I usually?"
"Yeah, but this is the first time I got to see you fly when you weren't trying to shoot me out of the sky."
This struck Fox as incredibly funny, and he began to laugh, rolling on top of Wolf as they wrestled playfully. Wolf wrapped his arms around the smaller Fox, holding onto him as the laughing fit ran its course. Fox giggled, sighing happily as he pressed his nose into Wolf's neck. "You look pretty amazing yourself, Wolf."
Wolf smiled as Fox held him down with his weight, but he was unprepared for what happened next. Fox begun to lick Wolf's neck, working his way down to his shoulder. "Fox, what're you…"
"Ssh… said Fox as he hugged closer to Wolf, rubbing his hands over Wolf's shoulders, then around to his sides. Wolf closed his eye and tilted his head back, relaxing as Fox played with him. Fox's hands rubbed around Wolf's chest, then down to his stomach, carefully avoiding the bandage which covered the still-healing blaster wound. Wolf felt his pulse began to quicken. Fox was slowly working his way down along his body, his hand reaching into Wolf's boxers, making him gasp.
"Fox… No… You don't have to do that…"
"I want to," Fox whispered.
Wolf really hadn't had the time or interest to maintain a steady relationship during or after the war. Having teammates like he had didn't particularly endear him very much towards any possible romantic interests either. But Wolf had placed his absolute trust in Fox, something he had never done to anyone in his entire life, and he let Fox do as he pleased. Three and a half years of enforced abstinence came to an end that night, and Wolf howled.
Down the hall, Falco mumbled in his sleep and rolled over, his wing hanging out over the edge of the bed. "Lousy pipes," he muttered, his fingers touching the metal of the wrench that he had left lying on the floor.
Everyone on the Great Fox slept late that night. When Wolf awoke, Fox was still on top of him, curled up with his head on Wolf's chest. Wolf had unconsciously cuddled Fox in his sleep again. He leaned down and gave one of Fox's ears a gentle nip. Fox stirred and opened his eyes.
"Morning," Fox mumbled sleepily. He rolled onto his side, still clinging to Wolf. The memories of the past night began to flood back into him, and he snapped awake, looking up at Wolf. "Oh God, Wolf, I…"
Wolf lifted Fox up closer to his face. "It's okay, Fox."
Fox held onto Wolf's shoulders for support. "Are you mad at me?"
"Of course not."
The tension began to uncoil from Fox, and he melted into Wolf's arms. "I thought you said you weren't gay."
"I'm not. Though in your case, I might be willing to make an exception. Is that allowed?"
"I think so."
"Good. You feel like getting up?"
Fox nuzzled Wolf's cheek. "Maybe in a couple of weeks."
"Heh. Come on, you lazy fox. I'm starved."
They dressed and walked down to the common area. Slippy was typing away at his computer as usual. Falco was stretched out on the couch tuning his guitar, and Peppy was trying to fit two pairs of earmuffs over his head.
"Hey Fox, good news," Slippy said. "The bounty from last night's raid has cleared. The mayor gave us a little extra for preventing any damage to the town."
"Cool," Fox said, poking his nose in the refrigerator. "I think it's time we bit the bullet and did some repairs around here, like those pipes."
"Kick ass," said Falco from the couch.
Slippy smiled. "We can go to Katina, say hi to Bill, maybe get a little vacation time while the ship's being worked on. Anywhere you guys want to go?"
"Anywhere but a beach!" shouted Wolf and Fox. Everyone laughed except for Peppy, who hadn't heard the joke.