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>>reanimation — chapter two: simon says::

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Falco's apartment was buried inside a blur of suburbia, on the opposite side of the city from where his parents lived. From the space docks, it took over half an hour to get there, and he was speeding.

He pulled the motorcycle into the apartment complex's parking lot and leapt up the concrete stairs to his, swallowing a lump. He hadn't seen his sister since before the war, but there had been reasons, mostly having to do with his refusal to ever go home again.

"Falco!" A flying streak of cream-and-grey feathers landed in his arms, and he laughed, joy bubbling up as he hugged his younger sister, noticing with a little annoyance the heavy pattern dying and a silver eyebrow ring. "Where the hell were you! I've been waiting here for ages!"

"Sorry, Vic. Sorry. My phone wasn't on, so I didn't get the message until I got back to the Great Fox. I sped my ass off on the way here." He pushed her to arm's length, looking at the clunky black shoes, black skirt, and red crop top. "Still not completely Goth, eh?"

She huffed. "I like the Goth beliefs, I just can't wear only black all the time. Jesus, Fal! How much weight have you lost?"

"Too much. Listen, it isn't like there's food here, want to ride back to the Great Fox with me?"

"Sure!" Her eyes lit up, and she grabbed a bulging backpack from his doorstep, skipping down the steps behind him.

"How did you get here, anyway?" He asked, trying to sound casual as he tossed her his extra helmet. She caught it automatically, putting it on, the chin strap flapping.

"Caught a cab. It cost a fortune, but I needed a break."

He put his hands on his hips. "Victoria Kathleen Lombardi, it is two o'clock on a Tuesday. Why the HELL aren't you in school? I know it isn't summer vacation anymore."

She chewed on her lower beak, looking at the cement, feet rolling a bit so she was balanced on the outer edges of her shoes. "Because I don't want to see dad or his friends again. Ever."

"Ouch. That I can understand, but are you going to tell me why?"

"Can I tell you later? I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast."

"…" He sighed, looking down at her. They had always been pretty close, since they were only three years apart. Hell, they had practically raised each other. So, if anything, he trusted her to spill later. "All right, Vic. All right." He pulled on his helmet and got on the motorcycle, turning the key as she stepped on behind him, settling in from habit, one hand at his side to steady herself.

The ride back was silent, the motorcycle's engine far too loud on the highways to allow decent discussions. By the time he got back to the Great Fox, yet another car had been added to the getting-crowded launching bay, he recognized it as Fara's sedan, and laughed to himself.

"What's so funny?" Vic wanted to know, pulling off the helmet and looking around the docking bay. "You know, this is my first time here?"

"Welcome to the Great Fox, we're still paying for it so don't touch if you don't know what it does. As for what I'm laughing about, let's see if I'm right…" He shook his head, gesturing for her to follow as he left the docking bay.

Leon swallowed laughter, shaking his head as he flipped burgers. He wasn't a wonderful cook, but with Peppy's assistance they had worked something out for the gradually growing group on the cruiser. Fara had just arrived, and Krystal was about two steps from stomping out. The animosity between the two was pretty tangible. Everyone else just tried to keep it at a manageable minimum.

"So, what are you going to do for the next few months anyway?" Fara asked, leaning back comfortably in her chair.

"Relax, mostly." Slippy replied, fidgeting, debating between his want for food and his general want to stay away from Krystal. It wasn't that he didn't like her, he just never knew what to say around pretty girls. "Personally I have a job lined up at Arspace. My dad usually keeps an internship open for me."

"I usually am kept on the government's payroll. Tactician." Peppy shrugged.

"Falco and I haven't figured out anything to do yet." Fox said, voice frank.

"The one problem with a mercenary's payroll, eh boys?" Krystal said, smiling sourly. "Not like I'm any better, I'm paid as they need me."

As conversation fell to that, Fara rolled her eyes. She was paid regularly, and thus she was an oddball. She stood and walked over to Leon, leaning on the counter. "Do you want any help?"

"Sure. Grate some cheese." He nodded off to one side, and she picked up the grater and started. "You don't like me much, do you?" He said this as a statement, very quietly, flipping burgers with practiced turns of his wrists.

"I don't know you. Only the rumors. The urban-legend you, so to speak." She sighed. "And I've talked to soldiers who came limping back … after you."

"I do what I'm good at." He slid her a side look, eyes narrowing. "No different then you."

"I don't hurt people."

"I'm not a sadist."

"There are plenty of people that say otherwise."

Leon banged the spatula down with a sharp ringing noise, making everyone look at him, sudden silence filling the galley. He spun to look everyone, eyes glaring yellow-green in anger. Fara leapt back, hands up to defend herself, eyes wide.

"Is she a slice of normal civilization's opinions?" Leon wove his hands at Fara. "Is this what everyone thinks?" When no one answered, he hissed, stepping forward. "Answer me!"

"Public opinion is that you shouldn't have been pardoned. At all." Peppy said very quietly, folding his hands in his lap. "I've been told … that some are petitioning for you to be arrested and put to death for treason and extreme violation of the Geneva Convention."

He laughed weakly, rubbing his eyes with shaking hands. "Dead man walking… I'm glad I am so damn plain. If I wasn't, I would never be able to leave this ship…" Ducking his head, he bolted, skidding out the door and running straight into Falco, who caught him as he was knocked back.

"Whoa! Whoa there! What's the hurry?" Falco sputtered, wheezing as he put air back in his lungs. Vic stood there and blinked, watching her brother move Leon's head to face him. "You're crying. Great. Vic, go in there and bullshit with the others. Don't let them follow."

"Uh, what's going on?" She blinked at him, frowning.

"I'll tell you later if I find out. Just do it." He said over his shoulder, half leading, half dragging Leon down the hallway.

Falco closed the door, watching Leon flop onto his bed and curl up tightly, shoulders jerking and refusing to look at him. He shook his head. Today was just one disaster after another. His sister, skipping school and refusing to go home, and now Leon being hysterical. Maybe the world was set on abusing him. "Care to tell me what happened?"

Leon didn't answer, stirring slowly when Falco sat on the bed, moving to curl up against his chest, hiding his face below his collarbone. Falco sighed, reluctantly hugging his friend close, rocking instinctively, cooing softly.

"You going to tell me?"

"Fara started helping me cook lunch." He replied, voice muffled thanks to Falco's chest. "… She doesn't LIKE me, Falco. She's scared of me. I asked her why, and… she thinks I'm a sadist. A sadist! …I guess I freaked, and Peppy told me that the general public wants me dead, and…" His voice reached a high panicked tenor, and Falco started cooing again, resting his chin on top of Leon's head, sighing.

"You committed some serious crimes, friend. Even you can't deny that."

"I know. But I didn't do it because I wanted to. I hated it. It's awful. But… for some reason I'm good at it, and Andross made me put it to use."

"That's what I figured."

Leon blinked, lifting his head a bit. "Why do you say that?"

"Because no one who risked his life in a snow storm to save the life of arrogant idiot Falco Lombardi can be all that bad." He let himself smile a bit, wiping at the tear streaks, sighing when Leon whimpered weakly. "Let it out." He commanded, moving the hand back to Leon's back, shaking his head. This was doing nothing for his general confusion, but he couldn't stand having a friend in so much pain.

"What the hell was that all about?" Fox asked, hugging Fara to his chest, trying to calm her down.

"Got me." Peppy said, saving the burgers and sighing. "I'll go talk to him. I'm the one who upset him."

"Uh, Falco doesn't want you to do that."

For the second time, everyone jumped, blinking at the new arrival in the galley, who stared back neutrally, shifting, then giving them a bright smile.

"This is like, so cool! My friends are so going to die. I'm actually on the Great Fox talking to celebrities."

"God help us all." Wolf grumbled to himself, wanting to beat the new girl with a pom-pom. "Who are you exactly?"

"I'm Victoria. Falco's sister. And he told me that none of ya'all are supposed to follow whoever that was. He's got it covered." She shrugged, rolling her feet again so she balanced on the outer edges, head tilted to one side. "I won't ask what happened, seems like a touchy subject. Need some help finishing up lunch? I'm an ok cook. Not great, but ok."

"Sure, why not?" Peppy smiled a bit. "So why are you here?"

"Call it a sanity break." She replied, dropping her backpack and walking over to the stove. "My father is from Hell."

"No kidding?" Fox said, then saw her look. "… Oh. You're serious."

"Can't be more serious. Hand me the cheese."

An hour or so later, Fara tapped on Falco's door, then slowly opened it. The room was dimly lit, and she turned the lighting up a bit. "Falco?"

"We're here." He replied, perking up when he smelled food. "You're an angel, girl. I'm starved."

She slipped the rest of the way in, and saw Leon asleep, head cushioned on one of Falco's leg. "He doesn't think so. How is he?" She asked, handing Falco a plate laden with two hamburgers and fries.

"A bit better. I think he's had a harder life then me." He took the plate and dug into one of the burgers eagerly, glancing down at the comatose subject of discussion. "It's pretty obvious he's ashamed of what he did."

"Well I guess that's one step in the right direction." She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. "He scared the unholy crap out of me, Falco. I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to, but he still did."

"Fara, take a good look at the kid."

She blinked at him, then looked down at Leon, curled up asleep, breathing softly.

"He weighs about 140 pounds soaking wet. He's a year younger then me, scared, and without family. He needed money." He shook his head. "He's not a bad guy, he just carries this wicked image which is all in everyone else's head but his."

"And why do you say that?"

He looked at her. "Because it used to be in my head too."

There was a long silence, then she shrugged weakly. "I'll have to get to know him before I know anything else, but I guess I can see your point. You guys going to be ok?"

"Sure. Vic crashed on a couch somewhere?"

"She's beating Fox into the floor at some computer game. He's getting more and more indignant about it, too." She managed a smile. "You've got a cool sister, Falco."

"Yeah. I guess she is."

Fara left, and Leon opened an eye, flicking his tongue out absently. "One of those burgers for me?"

"I thought you were asleep." Falco looked down at him, blinking.

"No rest for the wicked." Leon lifted an arm, levering himself up and devouring the other hamburger. "She seems ok."

"She is. She just doesn't know you very well."

"Um, can I sleep here tonight? Please?"

Falco sighed, looking at him. "I'm not sure that's a good idea… and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with it."

Leon echoed the sigh, sitting up the rest of the way and stealing a fry. "That's ok. Take your time."

"It's appreciated."

Ten minutes later, Leon slipped out of the room, and Falco flopped back on the bed, staring at the ceiling blankly. It had felt perfectly natural to comfort Leon as he cried, but somehow, the idea of sleeping against him was scary now. Everything was changing and he felt like he didn't have a chance in hell of keeping up.

Eventually, the door was knocked on, and Vic slipped in, perching on the edge of the bed and looking at him. "Your friend ok?"

"Yeah. Seems like it. Here to fess up?"

"I guess so." She fidgeted for a couple seconds. *quot;You know how dad and his buddies have poker night weekly. Well, mom doesn't really have a say in anything, and they've gotten into the habit of getting pretty hammered during it. It isn't usually during a school night for me, or anything, so I usually just hide in my room. But…" She chewed on her lower beak. "One of dad's friends has been putting the moves on me, really bad. He doesn't do anything to stop it, and last time I had to hurt the guy to make him stop. They were going to have another card night tonight, and I couldn't take it anymore."

"Jesus, Vic." He sat up and gave her a hug, and she returned it with a sigh. "God, if I ever see him again, I'm going to break his arm. And I'll kill the guy who did that to you."

"I don't think dad's even really aware of what you did during the war. All he knows is that you were gone. Last I asked him, he said you were no son of his."

"Works for me." He managed a smile, covering the rage that nearly choked him. His poor innocent sister, hurt by some random jerk. He hated the world. "I'll talk to Fox. We should be able to work out you staying here, or at my apartment. I only have a one-bedroom though, and Leon's already trying to move in with me."

She put him at arm's length, looked at him, and smiled evilly. "Praise god, have you finally got a boyfriend?"

Falco squawked and fell off the bed, hands up. "No! Not at all! We're friends and he has nowhere to go!"

"Methinks you doth protest too loudly." She replied, smiling smugly. "Oh come on, you turned twenty last month and don't even know yourself? Shameful!"

He blinked and looked at his watch. "I guess I am twenty now aren't I? Damn. I missed my own birthday thanks to my unintended vacation." He shook his head. "Where do you get off thinking I'd have a boyfriend?"

"Because you're gay, you idiot." She rolled her eyes and left the room.

He stared at the closed door, that bold statement sinking in, and hugged his knees to his chest, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach. Why did she think that? He had always dated girls, he had been one of the toughest kids on his block as a kid. Why did she just presume that? And if she did… who else did? Were there rumors behind his back the entire time he hadn't heard?

He kicked off his boots and crawled into bed, hiding under the covers and hugging himself, shivering. Maybe he could just hide in his room a week, but he doubted it. Everyone would want to know what was going on, and he'd eventually have to sputter it out: he was having an identity crisis on a huge scale. Of course, his sister could be wrong. She wasn't always right. That made him feel a bit better, and he rapidly drifted to sleep, still fully clothed.

"Life isn't very fair is it?"

"Hmm?" Krystal glanced at Wolf, taking a drink of one of the beers they had taken from the fridge. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know anymore… I just hate being alone and having it shoved in my face all the time." He slouched into the chair. They were the only two people in the den, having been talking for an hour or so. They got along, if anything they understood each other somehow.

"Addicts always know other addicts." She sighed, turning the bottle in her hands. "Am I right?"


"You know how I feel about Fox… you feel the same way, don't you?"

He blushed, staring at the ceiling. "Yeah. Bisexual. Can't help it."

"Doesn't bother me any." She reached over and clinked bottles with him, sharing a bitter smile. "Misery loves company."

"Yes. Yes it does. And you're welcome to find my company any time you like."

Krystal laughed weakly, sighing. "Wasp's nest in a beautiful chamber, paper webbing on the beautiful wood, cobweb heroes, the lies of love. Lee Ranaldo."

Silence fell between them, comfortable and companionable. Wolf looked across at her, and saw the loneliness beneath the upbeat mask. They were, he knew, truly stuck in the same boat. Well, he figured, the least they could do was keep each other company while it sank.