>>ENEMY MINE — CHAPTER ONE: CRAWLING::
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to fanfiction writers Wulf and Atroxumus. If it wasn't for them, I would never have become brave enough to write this story.
A dull, monotonous noise slowly cut into Falco's consciousness, and he moaned softly, rolling over and sticking his head out from under the blanket, just his beak and eyes showing, wincing as sunlight struck his eyes. The noise continued, and he realized that someone was pounding on the door to his apartment, moaning again. It was eleven on a Monday morning, who the hell wasn't at work? Actually, he had some pretty good ideas, and he had been dreading it. Hearing the security chain rattle as the pounding took a step upward, he shoved the blanket off and stood, pulling a shirt on over his sweat shorts and stumbling out of the room, automatically sidestepping the usual clutter.
Fox had been about to give up when the door opened halfway, Falco leaning on the frame and staring at him with a half-dead look. His feathers were mussed and stuck together at odd angles, and even as Fox watched he yawned wide enough to swallow a tennis ball. "Good morning, sunshine." He quipped, settling his hands on his hips.
"Bite me. I've gotten about five hours of sleep. What do you want?" Falco glared half-heartedly at his wing commander and stepped aside, popping his shoulders and arms absently as he closed the door, ignoring Fox's shudder.
"I've been trying to get ahold of you since last night." Fox replied in a peevish voice, stepping over a weight bar as Falco went past him and into the kitchenette. "Your cell phone is off, you don't answer your pager or email, and I suspect you purposely left your PC online to avoid the normal phone."
"Your point?" He pulled a mostly finished carton of orange juice out of the fridge and took a drink straight from the carton. "Besides, I wasn't here last night. As said, I've only been here like five, six hours max."
"Slob. Use a glass."
"Preppy neat-freak." He deliberately took another drink, almost laughing at Fox's scowl. The younger teen could be so damn comical when he was pissed. "So, what the hell is the problem? What's so important you come banging my door down and wake me up?"
Fox sighed and sat down at the table, pressing his fingertips together. "We're back in business."
"No kidding? We've got a mission?" Falco lifted his eyebrows as he threw away the now-empty carton. "What kind? Can't be large-scale, the systems been so peaceful I've wanted to start a riot as of late so we can have some interesting news."
"Search and destroy." Fox smiled when he saw Falco's eyebrows lift even higher. "Pepper gave us some intelligence that you may find interesting. Apparently, our old friend Star Wolf survived the war, and left the system to lie low for a while. The government's surveillance satellites picked up on it recently, and we're the lucky ones who get to go get them."
Falco crossed his arms. "And we're sure it isn't just their cruiser?"
"We're sure. I don't know many details yet, but apparently the satellite caught some radio transmissions. We know it's them. Don't ask me how they lived through that last fight." Fox watched Falco carefully as the taller man paced, apparently deep in thought. He knew that Falco's hate of their opposing mercenary team ran almost as deep as his, if not more. Because of this, he wanted to make sure Falco was thinking clearly about the matter at hand.
"What's the pay?"
"More than decent enough. It'll get us about halfway out of debt and give us enough leftover to coast on for five or six months, provided we don't splurge." Fox said honestly, knowing that wasn't a very long time, considering how calm the system was.
"Couple million, then."
"Our president considers Star Wolf a very large threat. Why, I'm not sure. From what we've seen, the cruiser is pretty beat up."
"They have fighters, or will this be a milk run?"
"That, we don't know."
Falco was silent for a long moment, mind rolling over the facts presented to him. Apparently, Leon Powalski was still alive. That pissed him off; he had worked so hard to shoot the bastard out of the sky in the first place that Leon's survival seemed like some sort of cruel irony. But he wasn't all that surprised, Leon didn't die easy. People who enjoyed pain never did… "When do we ship out, boss?"
"Seven tonight. Be on time at the launch cradle. That too much to ask?"
"You know you wouldn't have me any other way." Fox grinned and left the apartment.
Falco locked the door behind him, wandering to his bedroom to dig up his uniform, which had gotten buried in one of the drawers, except for the jacket, which he loved and wore everywhere. He pulled off the tank top and tossed it on top of the hamper, shaking off vigorously, causing a few loose feathers to fly off and circle to the ground around him. Yawning again, he looked at himself in the mirror, frowning. All that work he'd been doing lifting weights was finally getting somewhere, but he wasn't healthy. His slack eating habits had finally started coming through, his feathers lacked luster. Shaking his head with a sigh, he gathered his uniform and trudged to the bathroom, turning the shower facets all the way to hot after he had stepped out of the worn sweat shorts.
When was the last night he had gone without going to bar and getting at least a little smashed? It had been a while. He felt accepted in bars. There were always people willing to talk to him and a girl or two willing to dance with him. It wasn't healthy, but it was better then being lonely.
He sighed, scrubbing sweat and cigarette smoke out of his feathers, turning his face up to the spray. Hell, seeing Fox today had been the first time in over a month! And they were best friends? He guessed that they were, but Fox's social circles were a bit different then his. Slippy and Peppy were great friends, but they were working buddies, nothing more or less. And Katt… he didn't talk to Katt anymore. He hadn't since shortly after the war.
After rinsing out extra conditioner, he shut down the water and shook vigorously, water spraying around him. Feeling lightheaded but better, he grabbed a large towel and started drying off, preening a few feathers absently, letting that instinctive motions lull him into some semblance of being relaxed. Once he was reasonably dry, he got dressed, and stared at himself in the mirror. He looked tired, but he looked like himself now, which was always a good thing. Maybe his team members wouldn't rag on him, then.
"So, you finally found Falco?" Peppy asked, watching Fox pull his jeep into one of the transport garages of the Great Fox.
"He was hiding in his apartment." Fox hopped out and secured the car down absently. "Bill's right, he's been boozing it up a lot lately. I woke him up, and he looked half-dead when he answered the door."
"Falco's always like that when he just woke up." Peppy frowned. "Or do you mean literally?"
"Bloodshot eyes, greasy feathers, whole nine yards." They walked together up to the bridge. "He didn't get all uptight when he heard Star Wolf was still around, though. He just got thoughtful."
"That might be worse. Let's hope he's not planning something stupid."
"It's not our Falco if he doesn't." Fox smiled a bit. "But I'll make sure to keep a careful eye on him during the upcoming fight, if there is one."
"There will be." Slippy said, sitting behind ROB and making some adjustments, frowning thoughtfully, tongue hanging out of the corner of his mouth. Fox choked back laughter. "It's Wolf O'Donnel and company we're discussing here, Fox. Of course there will be a fight, and it'll be full of insults and jeering. As usual."
"Oh, I got the specs of the planet they're orbiting. Want them?"
"Let's hear them once Falco gets here, so you don't have to repeat yourself."
"Works for me."
Five minutes to seven that night, Falco's motorcycle flew through the air of the docking bay of the Great Fox, having just jumped the ramp. He landed and turned, leaving black streaks, and pulled off his helmet, grinning at Fox. "I'm on time."
"Nice jump. You look better. Park the bike, we're lifting as soon as we get clearance."
Falco rolled his eyes. "Mister Business." He parked the bike between Fox's jeep and Peppy's old truck, securing it down and cross tying it between the larger vehicles. Once this was done, he walked with Fox up to the bridge. "So, how are things with you and Fara doing?"
"Over a year and kicking." Fox grinned, looking more triumphant then when he had won the war. "I told you I wasn't a doomed bachelor."
"Whatever. That other chick still bothering you?"
"What, Krystal? She finally got the hint. I think she's bothering Bill now."
Falco laughed. "Good for Bill. He's worse of a bachelor then you were at one point."
"You can go to hell."
He was still laughing when the pair arrived on the bridge, Peppy reading over some of the surveillance reports, Slippy waiting for launch confirmation from the control tower. The Great Fox was a decent-sized ship, and it usually took a while to get things clear enough that they could launch safely. "You guys look bored."
"Usual stuff." Peppy smiled. "Hey Falco, long time no see."
"True enough, we need to arrange weekly meetings or something." He landed in his usual chair and sprawled comfortably. "So, God's in the details. Give me God."
"You are going to go to hell for that eventually." Slippy laughed, closing up the ship for launch. "Take over ROB, time or debriefing."
Peppy stood, watching Slippy bring up holographic displays. "Unfortunately, we don't know that much. Pictures are kind of grainy, but we know its Star Wolf's cruiser. They're orbiting a class N planet just outside of Lylat."
"Class N?" Fox asked, lacing his fingers behind his head as the ship lifted with a deep, bone-throbbing rumble.
"That's slang for an inhospitable planet. According to what information we have, the air's breathable, and there's water, but there are ET life forms that find us to be good eating." Slippy replied. "And NASA decided they didn't want to deal with it. It makes sense that Star Wolf chose that planet, because they can cycle their air vents frequently at a high altitude and not worry about a damn thing."
Falco looked at the holographic image, rubbing his chin. It showed a small planet, reddish green-blue in color, with the small cruiser orbiting it. "They're alone?"
"Completely. They might be all that's left of the Venomian force." Peppy confirmed.
"So what's the plan?"
Fox stood, looking at the holographic image, frowning thoughtfully. "What do we know from their radio transmissions?"
"Not much. We get the idea they've still got some fighters in stock, but their cruiser is pretty beat up." Peppy said. "Strategic advantage to us."
"Fast run then. We go in and hail from a distance, see if they're interested in turning themselves over. If not, we attack, take out the cruiser and capture whatever craft they bother to launch. Toss'em in the brig, hand them over to Pepper, get our paycheck. Easy."
"It's never that easy." Slippy pointed out. "Star Wolf won't just let themselves be captured."
"I know that, but if we can capture them, let's do so." He glanced at Falco and Peppy. "You guys good with it?"
"We're good." Falco said as Peppy nodded. "What's our ETA?"
"Just under an hour." ROB said automatically.
"All right, everyone be in the launching bay in forty-five minutes. Briefing over."
Falco was trying to remember the button combination to run diagnostics on his Arwing when he noticed Peppy standing nearby, cleaning his gun and keeping half an eye on him. He sighed, closing his eyes. "Yes?"
"How's Katt?" Peppy asked, trying to sound casual.
"Haven't seen her in ages. We had a falling out." Giving up, he closed the cockpit and leapt down, dusting himself off absently. "Why do you ask?"
"We're worried. We've been told that you're borderline alcoholic lately…" Peppy trailed off, seeing Falco's murderous scowl. "Christ Falco! We're just afraid that…"
"Don't be. I'm not an alcoholic Peppy. I just hang out in bars." He tried to walk away, and ground his beak in frustration when Peppy grabbed his arm. "Look, old man. Let go of my arm. I'm not in the mood for this."
"Just listen, Falco." When the younger man stilled, a scowl still on his face, Peppy sighed and continued. "You're drinking a lot, and yo 're not even legally able to drink. You and the girl of your figurative dreams haven't spoken in months. You're not even all that healthy. What's wrong? It'll be a whole lot easier if you just tell me."
"Look, maybe I don't have the same happy-joy ending you guys do, ok?" He growled, yanking his arm free. "After the publicity rush, there was nothing for me anywhere. Nothing. Katt and I managed to stick together for less then a month before the fights became too much and she took off. The war left me no better then I was before. I have nothing."
"You have us." Peppy's hand found his shoulder, trying to be reassuring, unable to believe this was coming out of once-cocky Falco.
Falco choked on laughter, shaking his head. "That doesn't count for much, old man. We only see each other when we work, and that's the way it's got to be. We're all in radically different social circles. Our friends would probably kill each other." Leaving that as his parting note, he went to his room on the Great Fox, hands shoved in pockets and head down
"He's depressed. Badly." Peppy sighed, watching Fox twirl his guns through his fingers like some cowboy of old. "He needs help, Fox."
"Yeah. I've been picking up on that." Fox replied quietly, staring off into space. Falco Lombardi, the biggest contradiction he knew. Biggest ego, deep self hate. Stunningly tall, habit of slouching. Player who didn't even bother staying with a girl long enough to get close to her in ANY way. "The problem is, I can't see him putting up with seeing a psychologist. He wouldn't stand for it."
"I know. But something needs to be done."
"I'm trying to figure that out." Fox holstered both his guns. He had always hated shoulder holsters, preferring boot or hip holsters. Currently, he wore double hip holsters at an angle. Peppy had an urge to start quoting John Wayne, hell, Fox already had the swagger down about half the time. "Think he's good to fight?"
"He'll throw a fit if we don't let him." Slippy pointed out, sitting backwards in a chair, wrists crossed over the back of it, tapping one foot absently. One of Slippy's nervous twitches, and Slippy was always nervous before fights, wired tight with energy. "Best we can do is keep an eye on him."
"How long before we get there, ROB?" Fox asked, looking toward the AI, which was running God-only-knew-how-complex diagnostics on the ship's guns, looking for any sign of an abnormality that could cause a problem during the upcoming fight.
"Twenty minutes until we're out of warp." ROB replied automatically.
"Dammit, I don't have time to talk to him." He moaned, passing a hand down his face. "Not anything worthwhile, anyways."
"Try anyway." Peppy said, pulling on his jacket. "We'll meet you down in the docking bay."
Fox nodded and took off down the hall, gun belts jingling softly in tune to his long stride.
Falco was just closing his room door when Fox arrived, easily turning the corner and practically running into him, the pair ending up nose-to-nose. Falco blinked and managed a half-smile. "Whoa there, boss. What's the hurry?"
"Wanted to talk to you before we launch." Fox replied, leaning a shoulder against the wall, twisting one ear to the side, trying to appear neutral. He knew he was failing miserably at that, he was a mercenary, but one thing he couldn't do at all was lie.
"Oh, don't tell me you're going to rag on me like Peppy did." Falco moaned and rolled his eyes. "Fox. I'm fine."
"The thing is, I don't think so. You looked like complete hell this morning." Fox frowned.
"I always do when I wake up. Thanks for pointing it out."
"You were badly hung over. Look, I… I've never been good at pep talks. I just know something, God knows only what, is wrong, and please, don't let it get you killed out there today, all right?" His hand reached out for a second, then settled on Falco's arm uncertainly. "Because I wouldn't be able to forgive myself for it."
Falco looked down at him, covering Fox's hand with his own larger one. "I'm not going to die anytime soon, so don't worry about me. Worry about you. Your girlfriend will skin the rest of us alive if something happens to you."
Fox managed to laugh, and after a moment Falco swept him into a brief, bone-cracking bearhug, making Fox choke and gasp.
"Besides, if I up and died, who would have the guts to torment you, huh?" Falco jeered, rubbing his knuckles briskly through the fur between Fox's ears as his commander struggled to get free and failed miserably.
"Falco! Let me go!" Fox fought the urge to bite Falco's arm, finally did so, and spat out feathers in frustration. "Like eww. You put conditioner in didn't you?"
Falco let out a full, booming laugh, dropping Fox to the floor. "Yes, yes I did."
"We're going to be out of warp in ten minutes…" Peppy's voice said, then he rounded the corner and stopped, staring at Falco laughing, with Fox on the floor, still spitting out blue feathers. "Do I want to know?"
"No. No you don't." Falco pulled Fox up. "Come on, you sorry excuse, let's go wipe the floor with Star Wolf."