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>>enemy mine — chapter four: a place for my head::

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"What do you mean, we're not getting a search team?" Fox shouted, hands curling into fists.

"Something's happened back on Corneria. We get the idea it's something bad, but we haven't been told much. All we know is that we're needed there and that they can't spare a cruiser to rendezvous with us." Peppy replied, voice strange, looking away. "They're more then quadrupling the paycheck for us to come back. Time period is unknown."

"But if we leave… Falco is stuck on that godforsaken planet." Slippy said.

"And Leon. Though he'll survive." Wolf added, trying to keep his voice neutral.

"We do NOT leave a fallen comrade." Fox snarled.

"Check your own definitions. 'Fallen' suggests dead or wounded." ROB said, bringing up the loose rules of Star Fox on one of the screens. Fox growled at the robot. "Falco is alive and well, and we'll still be able to keep tabs on his life signs while in Lylat. There will merely be a delay."

There was a long silence, then Fox snarled. "I don't like it. We're still leaving him. Even if we know he's ok… and we don't even know that. He could be in a coma from the crash, even."

"I doubt that." Peppy said, setting a hand on Fox's shoulder. "This is Falco we're discussing, Fox. He's stubborn. He can survive a few days."

"And if it takes longer then days?"

No one had an answer to that.

"I don't want to leave him…" Fox said in a helpless voice, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and ducking his head. "He'd never forgive us, guys…"

"All transponders are out. We have no idea where on the planet they went down, so we'd have to comb the entire thing, since we don't have the equipment to do it. It'd take at least a week." ROB said very patiently. "We need a search team to find Falco, and to get that search team, we need to go back and find out what the problem is."

Fox slumped into his chair, hugging himself and refusing to look at anyone. "I agree to this under protest. But if we come back and Falco isn't alive…" He left that open, but everyone felt the threat. If Falco died because of the delay, it'd be the fault of their government, not Star Wolf, and Fox would not spare the bullets in his resulting payback run. Honor and revenge rarely went together, but Fox always made it work.

The others slowly settled into chairs, glancing at their Commander, who still refused to look at them. Wolf, awkwardly sitting by one of the weapons stations, watched Fox with worried eyes. He understood, because if anything, one of his friends was being left as well.

The cruiser leapt into warp, the roar of the engines the only noise on the ship.

Falco walked slowly, watching the ground warily. On such a virgin world, it was fairly easy to note where he and Leon had gone, even though they weren't doing anything destructive. He was no tracker, but he could tell Leon's ambling walk as it cut a softly waving line through the knee-high grasses.

He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. This was just too surreal. Had they been in a city, walking alleyways, stalking each other, it would have just been another day in his life, and he would have been fine. But now, with sunlight beating down on his back and soft dirt and grass under his boots, everything seemed a bit out of place. Especially since the fight had progressed to guns. It had been his choice, of course, but he wasn't sure if it was a good idea. He just didn't want to be close to Leon again. The very thought made him shudder, partly from fear, partly from something he wasn't sure he understood.

He jumped when he heard the crack of a gun, staggering back and looking down at the place that used to be right in front of him. Two hissing holes were in evidence. Leon had gotten the drop on him. He looked around, saw no one, and made a break for the nearest cover, which was a stand of trees. A few of the small six-legged ponies he had seen the day before startled and ran as he plowed through and ducked behind a tree, composing himself. Where had Leon been shooting from? Obviously a good hiding spot, as Falco hadn't seen him at all. Then again, the bastard could change color fairly fast.

He had moved to the edge of the treeline and was looking for a vantage point when a thick staff cracked him across the back of his skull, and he cried out, crumbling forward as fireworks exploded in front of his eyes and he slid into unconsciousness. Only then did Leon slide down from the tree, leaning on his soon-to-be spear and looking down at his crumbled enemy. "Idiot." He whispered, crouching down and brushing his fingertips across the mark he had left. "Did you really think that I would stoop to using guns?"

It took Leon half an hour to get the taller, heavier avian back to his campsite, luckily Falco didn't wake up during that awkward journey. Once there he lowered Falco to the ground next to the fire, tied his hands at the wrist, and saw about getting something to eat, munching on one of the fruit as he sat on the sandy ground, staring thoughtfully at his captive. It was a sin, he finally decided, shaking his head, that someone who was so much a jerk could be so soft and innocent when asleep. Part of the fruit still hanging out of his mouth, he took his cards out and started shuffling, then on an impulse pulled out the Knight of Wands, setting it on the dry ground softly and looking over at Falco, then after a moment reversed it. One mystery down: the card was representing Falco, and it fit. Thoughtful, but angry and withdrawn.

Card after card played out after that, each piece slipping into the puzzle and fitting flawlessly. Nothing he could be completely sure of until he decided to ask, but it did work. A neglected childhood, before he had met Leon, then the fights. He got the idea that Falco was depressed lately, very depressed. And alone: from what he could tell, Katt had left Falco fairly recently. When he reached the future, he hesitated, flicking his tongue out in thought. He never liked looking at the future without having that person's permission, but…but… oh, hell. Like Falco would ever agree anyway. He tossed two final cards down, and nearly passed out when he felt his head go light.

The lovers, neutral, and the two of Cups.

Surely the cards didn't think…? That they…?

He moaned, feeling ill, looking across the fire at his prisoner, who seemed to be breathing lighter: he'd be waking up soon. He forced himself to look away, swaying, deep in thought. He'd never really thought about that, after all, whenever they met they ended up locked in combat, trying to kill each other. Besides, Falco only dated girls and broke the noses of those who questioned his alignment.

He doubted that Falco had even noticed his rival's alignment. Leon couldn't help it really, it was just the way he was and he enjoyed it. Of course, it wasn't like the two had ever sat down over drinks and had a long talk about their relationships. As to that, Leon hadn't had that many relationships anyway. Most people just thought he was too scary to bother with and didn't try to see his other sides. So Leon had passed his time alone, his short relationships only a vague comfort. But then, the way he understood it, Falco wasn't too much different.

"All right, General. This had better be good." Fox scowled across the desk, arms crossed and ears pinned back.

"Drop the attitude for a few minutes and listen with a clear head." Pepper instructed, looking haggard. "We have recently made discoveries that more of the Venomian forces are alive then we thought."

"Oh? Where are they then?" He tilted his head to one side, thoughtfully. Maybe they did have reason to call him back.

"That's the problem. They're within our own military. We've found records that suggest at least the majority of one cruiser turned coat during the war, but never did anything to arouse suspicion. The problem is, we don't have names, which means there are potentially over a thousand supporters of Venom in places that we can't let them be."

"Damn." Fox was quiet for a few moments. "And what am I supposed to do?"

"Help us track down who's not on our side and get them out of top-secret areas. We can't arrest without proof, but we can at least make sure no damage is done. You're probably one of the best people to help us."

"What, because I'm Venom's worst enemy?"

"That, and you have a former Venomian on your cruiser." Pepper's voice turned wary. "Coming to that… is he behaving?"

"Wolf? Been a perfect gentleman. Nervous, but he hasn't done anything or said anything to make us suspicious. I'm starting to wonder if he was really in favor of Venom, or just getting a decent paycheck. I'll talk to him for help with this if I need it." Fox stood. "Where do you want me to start?"

"Well, we've already removed all military personnel from Arspace… Start at our local ground base, we have a lot of projects there. You're good at seeing things that are wrong before anyone else does." Pepper was carefully not looking at Fox. "That said, keep an eye on Wolf."

Fox walked to the door, and paused, hand on the knob. "Keep in mind, General. Being you're the man that made me leave my best friend behind, I probably won't take your advice." With that he was gone, the door clicking shut behind him softly.

"Venomians within the Cornerian Military?" Peppy's eyebrows lifted. "That is serious."

"Yes indeed, and we get to help root them out." Fox said dryly, sitting on one of the many computer panels on the bridge. ROB, used to it, had locked the keys out so nothing could get damaged. "I know where Pepper wants us to start, but I'm not sure how he wants us to do this. Just look around, I guess. Do some digging."

"If they're Venomians, they'll want a leader." Wolf's voice startled everyone, and they looked over at where he was standing, leaning against the wall. "We could always use my existence as bait. Draw them in like the cult they are."

"That's too damn dangerous, Wolf." Slippy protested. "And that might kill your chances of a pardon."

"If it isn't real, why would it?" Wolf asked. "I don't want anything to do with Venom anymore, I was stabbed far to many times in the back thanks to Andross. But if word isn't out yet that I'm with you guys, why not just play it cool and use that to our advantage?"

There was a long silence. Fox rubbed his chin, shaking his head. "Look, Wolf, let us do some scouting first, all right? If it comes down to it, we'll go through with it, but in the mean time, it's much too risky. You could get yourself killed. No one else knows you're on our side now."

"That's what disguises are for. I'll need to see about getting a fake eye, though." This was more to himself, absent-minded.

Slippy choked. "There's… there's actually an empty socket under that patch?"

Wolf gave him a 'are you really that slow' look, and looked mildly surprised when Slippy gagged and nearly got sick right then and there. "Sorry. I won't mention it again."

"Why the hell leave it empty though? That's got to be a place for infection to come through." Peppy frowned.

"Well, you know what they say old man. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Falco woke up with a start, eyes snapping open and looking around. He was laying on his side in the sand, wrists bound in front of him. He had apparently been out for a few hours, because most of the light was being cast by a fire. The back of his head hurt like a bitch, pounding with every heartbeat. His whole body lurched with nausea for a second from the rush of lifting it, and he lowered it for a second, gaining control of himself again.

"About time you woke up." Leon remarked, sitting lotus style on the other side of the fire, fingertips pressed together, looking at him thoughtfully.

The casually smooth voice of his enemy jolted him, and he sat up, scowling across the fire at Leon. "You didn't kill me. I'm stunned."

"I have no reason to kill you." Leon studied his nails, voice neutral.

"We're enemies. You have every reason to kill me." He frowned.

"Believe what you may." 'Even if I was going to, I'd want to figure out what the cards meant first.' He thought, then stood and walked over, kneeling beside Falco. "Sit still." He instructed, lifting his hands.

Falco jerked away, bound hands up in a defensive position. "Get away from me."

"I want to check your bump." Leon set his hands on his hips, sighing heavily. "I had to hit you quite hard to knock you out. That hard head of yours is good for some things, like protection."

"Screw yourself. I don't want you near me. I know what you can do to people, even without your torture chambers."

He sighed and stood, pacing back around the fire. He was wearing his uniform pants and a tank top, boots off and sitting next to the entrance to his tent, claws hissing through the sand softly. His scales glittered a bit thanks to the firelight, and the extensive tribal tattoos on his arms stood out more, boldly black. "Rumors are nasty things."

"I've seen your work in person, Powalski. You know as well as I that they aren't rumors. You get off on hurting people."

"Perhaps." He narrowed his eyes at his captive, letting the confusion and emotion of earlier fade away into the back of his mind. "You're mouthy for a prisoner."

"And I've got what to lose?"

Their eyes locked, and Falco felt his feathers slowly bristle, a shiver going down his spine. There was no such thing as winning a staredown against Leon Powalski. His eyes were too cold, too barren of caring. "You've got plenty to lose, Lombardi."

Falco tore his eyes away, tucking his arms to his chest, feathers still on end. "What the hell made you so cold?"

That seemed to catch Leon off guard. "I'm a cold-blooded species."

"I've known other cold-bloods. They aren't like you."

There was a long silence, then Leon shrugged. "Life did, though I don't see how it's any business of yours. Get some sleep. Tomorrow I want to see where your ship wrecked, and where you're keeping your supplies."

"Like hell I'm telling you that."

"You will." Leon said with certainty, settling down in his tent in a way that he could watch Falco, stretched out on his stomach, chin propped on arms.

"You know that I won't be here in the morning."

"Only if you're more stupid then I think you are. I saw some large predators last night. They only stayed away because of the fire. How much do you want to bet that they think we're prey?" He sighed and let his eyes flutter shut slowly, relaxing muscle by muscle. The fact that his old enemy was only a yard or two away didn't bother him, because he knew that Falco had enough honor that he wouldn't attempt something stupid.

Falco watched Leon doze off, wondering if that had been a bluff. Probably not, he had seen his share of the large creatures as well. Either way, Leon had never been this trusting, at least not that he remembered. He looked around at the equipment, and after seeing that a radio setup was absent, sighed. Either way, they were both stuck on this godforsaken planet for now.

He curled up in the sand, tucking his tied wrists to his chest since he wasn't able to hug himself, which was honestly what he wanted to do. Leon was just too close for comfort, even if he had already expressed that he had no intention of hurting his would-be prisoner.

Leon opened his eyes to slits, waiting until Falco was asleep, then stood again, walking over silently and kneeling to check over the bump, brushing feathers aside. No long term damage, at least. He froze when Falco stirred slightly, relaxing when his prisoner relaxed again, brushing his fingertips over a scar that crossed Falco's left eye. A scar he had given, and that Falco would always carry. It was thin as a razor, a soft white line breaking the night-blue of his feathers.

He had been kneeling there a few minutes when he realized what he was doing and drew his hand away, returning to his tent. He needed to sleep, he told himself, settling down again in the same position as before, poking the fire with a stick he kept nearby for the purpose. If anything, so he could wake up before Falco and not have problems in the morning.

Falco sighed, walking back down the path he had blazed between his and Leon's camps, casting side-glances at his smaller captor. His hands were still loosely tied, he now had eight inches of strong cord between them. It didn't make him any happier. Leon had both their guns, and was using a rough spear as a walking stick: he guessed that was what had cracked him across the skull the day before. He briefly pondered the chances of overpowering Leon, then dismissed it. The smaller man was faster, just as strong, and had a lower center of gravity. Falco's tied hands were simply too much of a hindrance to bother.

They arrived in the little clearing, and Falco gaped. His camp was shredded, and he guessed that whatever did the damage had had large claws and teeth. The remains of the tent had been drug over ten feet. The metal case of rations, though, was unbroken, though it had been drug through the campsite.

"Looks like something got here before we did." Leon said, eyes narrowing, slipping the spear between his back and the pack he wore. "Looks like you got off lucky, Lombardi… By the size of these tracks, this thing had to be bigger then a rhino." He glanced over the campsite, and quickly came to the conclusion that the only things worth salvaging was what was in the lockbox. He easily picked it up. "Let's get back to my campsite…" Seeing Falco's look, he frowned. "What?"

"I have trouble carrying that thing…"

"Then you're not carrying it right. The knees, not the back."

"Oh, please, you sound like a phys-ed teacher." Falco snorted.

"Psh. Come on. It doesn't feel safe here."

They doubled back, Falco walking beside Leon, who barely slowed down while carrying the box. It boggled Falco's mind, there wasn't that much visible muscle on the shorter man, yet he hefted the awkwardly-shaped hundred-pound lockbox with ease. He sighed, watching his captor out of the corner of his eye. Leon wasn't even making an effort to keep an eye on him.

"Why are you so trusting?" He wanted to know as their feet hit sandier soil, now in the entrance of the little clearing Leon was using. "You've got no reason to trust me."

"I have no reason not to trust you. We're both out of our element, therefore, we have to trust each other at least a bit. We'll live longer if we do."

"And yet…" Falco held out his bound wrists.

"You'll go for your gun in a second if I let you go right now, and don't argue that. Maybe once you mellow out I'll cut you loose." He kept his voice mild, glancing at Lombardi, catching his prisoner's eyes in the process. Falco was watching him, and it made him feel self-conscious somehow. The height difference didn't help, what was for sure. He turned his eyes back down to the metal case, which was marked with an assortment of dents. Teeth marks, he realized. It seemed the creature had marked it with musk or something as well, because he could smell the wild scent floating off it, not as strong as it had probably been last night, but still there. He let it drift through his nostrils, listening to the birds around him, then blinking when he realized that they weren't singing anymore.

He froze, turning his eyes back and forth, mind racing. It was morning, but the sun was up. He had been assuming a nocturnal predator had hit Falco's camp, but what if he was wrong? Had it been during the day? Either way, the creature had marked the chest as his, and the scent was strong enough his nose caught it. He hissed in annoyance, flicking his tongue out, ignoring Falco's gape as he tasted the scent, rolled it over his tongue. At least sixteen hours old. It had been a daytime attack.

And he was holding what the beast had marked.

"Leon? Leon? Corneria calling Leon." Falco said, gradually increasing volume.

"Shh! Shut up!" Leon said, turning his head and flicking his tongue out again, shivers clutching at his spine. "Dig up your city senses and force them to listen. Are we being watched?"

Falco frowned, then felt the icy finger up his spine. "Feels like it, but there isn't anything out here to watch us."

He hissed again. "How strong is this lock?"

"Heavy duty. Airtight. Why?"

"Run. Run straight for my campsite. Now." Leon's tongue snaked out again, tasting the scent, brand new this time, on the wind. Crap, they were being hunted. "NOW!" He shouted, and Falco staggered backwards as Leon spun, swinging the case up with enough force to knock someone's head off as a huge six-legged carnivore left its hiding place and landed practically on top of Leon. The box connected, snapping off one of the beast's horns at the base, which only seemed to anger it more as Leon slipped under it and away, tossing away the light pack and twirling his spear, grinning without humor.

Falco scrambled backwards a few more steps, watching as Leon used the spear to fault of the way of the beast's lunge, then spun and drove the spear into the thing's rear. He doubted that Leon would find that thing's weak spot without getting hurt. Was he going to let that happen? He watched unmoving, then sprinted and grabbed the discarded pack, fighting with the catches to get it open, at last finding his knife. No gun? He cussed, Leon must have left it at his campsite. Oh well…

Leon had just ripped his spear free in passing when he heard another war cry, snapping his head around to see Falco leaping through the air, landing on the monster's back and digging in his combat knife to the hilt. The monster roared and turned on itself, snapping at Falco's legs, who responded by kicking hard enough to knock out a bloodstained tooth out of the struggling carnivore's mouth, keeping himself in place by wrapping the rope connecting his wrists around the planted hilt of the knife.

Leon dove, sliding on his stomach in the dust and rolling, thrusting upward mindlessly, turning his head to avoid blood as he drove the spear in. He heard Falco cry out as the beast struggled, and yelped as one of the huge claws connected with his shoulder, both gashing and kicking him out of the way, vision blurring as he watched Falco dodge snapping jaws, loosing feathers in passing, finally shoving his knife home into the beast's throat.

Silence followed the chaotic noise, and Falco stumbled over, rope ends dangling as he had just cut himself loose, knife loosely held in one hand. "Powalski." He said, dropping to his knees beside the smaller man. "You still alive?"

Leon smiled weakly, struggling to sit up, gesturing at his shoulder. "Yeah… dunno for how much longer…"

Falco sighed, standing back up. "Ever ride piggyback?"

"What…?" He watched Falco haul the battered box and backpack back over, grunting as he set the box down, accepting the pack back.

"You owe me one hell of a shoulder massage. I'm going to be carrying both you and this god damn box."

Leon tried to keep a straight face, but it dissolved into a gale of adrenaline-rushed laughter. "Looks like I didn't have to cut you loose after all."

"Yeah, whatever. You're still a jerk."