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>>reanimation — chapter four: get inside::

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>>REANIMATION — CHAPTER FOUR: GET INSIDE::

Ringshadow

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

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Vic smiled to herself, striding out of the school, boots creating a light tattoo on the cement. It had been a good day so far… Glancing around, she spotted Slippy's sports sedan sitting by the line of busses, and grinned, but then her gaze wandered further, and she saw the worn SUV that her father drove. Hell. She ducked her head and hurried for Slippy's car, praying she wouldn't be noticed.

Then a hand roughly caught her arm, and she found herself staring up at her angry father, his fingers right around her wrist, putting so much pressure on it hurt. She pulled against him helplessly, and he scowled. "Where have you been, girl?" He demanded.

"With Falco!" She replied defensively. "That's all!"

"You missed a day of school."

"Like you ever cared before! Let me go!"

"You're coming home. Now."

"No, I'm going with a friend. Let me go."

Slippy, who had seen this from the car, reached under the passenger seat and unlocked the case there, pulling out the drawer and calmly checking the ammunition on the heavy handgun there. Computer geek or not, being a mercenary entailed some odd things, like always having guns on hand. Hearing Vic cry out, he growled and leapt out of the car, striding over and shoving the long barrel of the gun into her father's back. "Let her go."

There was a frozen moment as everyone left on the school yard stared at this scene, and Vic's father let her go after a second, looking over his shoulder. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Slippy Toad. Your daughter is my friend." He lifted the aim of the gun so the older man was staring down the barrel, which measured almost a foot in length. "And this is a Desert Eagle .50 with armor-piercing shells." He felt Vic's presence behind him, and he made a gesture one-handed for her to go to his car. "It's only got three bullets in it right now, but the next time I see you as much as lay a finger on your daughter, I'll make sure it's fully loaded, and I'll even carve your name in the bullets. Are we clear on this?"

"She isn't even a legal adult." He almost shouted. "She ran away."

"From a potentially endangering situation. Can it." Leaving it at that, he walked away, keeping the gun out the entire time and getting into the car. Vic was already sitting shotgun, watching in shock as Slippy rested the gun across his lap and revved the engine, peeling out of the parking lot at double the speed limit. "Sorry, Vic."

"No. Thank you… I'm sorry you had to see that."

"It's all right. It isn't your fault." He pulled off and unloaded the gun, dropping it back into the glovebox and securing it. "You were smart to find Falco. I'm just wondering if I'm going to get in trouble for it."

"I'm sorry if you do." She caught his hand for a second, practically clutching it. "But thank you. Thank you so much."

He smiled, rubbing her fingers for a few seconds then letting go. "Anytime Vic. Anytime."

"Leon?" Peppy frowned, walking into the medbay and staring at the lizard perched at one of the terminals. "What are you doing here?"

"Brushing up on the finer points of anatomy. You?"

"Vitamins. Getting a stuffy nose again, so I want to take some C. It works sometimes." Peppy grumbled, digging through a cabinet and finding the right bottle after a while. "Do I want to know why you're reading medical stuff?"

"A good reason, actually. I'd like to get certified as a field surgeon by the Cornerian Army."

He almost dropped the bottle, eyebrows lifting. "You're kidding me."

"No, not really. Hit me while I was working out. I admit I used to kind of enjoy the whole interrogator gig, but there isn't really any finesse to it. Any twit off the street who has a dull knife and salt can be a torturer." He shrugged. "Putting people together has a lot more rewards then taking them apart."

After swallowing a few of the tablets and replacing the bottle, Peppy said, "Ok. I suppose I approve of that. Why the sudden change of heart?"

He hesitated, then said, "I suppose it took a while for me to see the damage I was actually doing."

"Well, good luck with it." Peppy left the medbay, shaking his head in amazement. Well, at least he had found something to do with himself.

"Um, hello, is Joseph Warner there?" Falco asked, pinning the cell phone between his cheekbone and shoulder as he studied the note again, memory going in circles. "Tell him it's Falco Lombardi. He's been trying to contact me."

There was a long pause, then he heard the phone click over, and a new voice picked up, a light male's voice. "Joseph Warner speaking. Falco? Is that really you?"

"In the feathers, but I've been wracking my brain for an hour and I can't remember you. I was hoping you could jog my memory."

The faceless voice laughed softly. "I was afraid of that. A decade is a pretty long time. Are you free for an early dinner?"

"I'm not doing anything. If we're doing dinner, can you at least describe yourself?"

"I'm a skunk, about 5'11", slender. Believe it or not I'm a model now. I was pretty much fluff and bones when you knew me, mostly tail."

"That sounds familiar… Did one of us move or something?"

"No. Your dad forbade you from seeing me."

"Sounds like him. Well, you suggested dinner, where at? Nothing fancy I hope."

"Nah, how about a pub?"

"That'd be great. Give me some minor directions?" A few minutes later Falco hung up the phone and stared at it, unable to believe he had just arranged a meal with someone he didn't know. Well, with someone who sounded familiar, but he couldn't find a face. After a few minutes he sighed, leaving his room and wandering through the cruiser until he found Leon. "Hey."

"Hi." Leon smiled at him in surprise, looking up from the screen. "What's up?"

"You have your cards?"

"Yes, of course."

Falco sat on the edge of one of the medical beds, pressing his fingertips together. "I need you to get inside my head."

Leon lifted his eyebrows, stunned. "Are you sure?"

"I think, uh… I think I forced myself to forget something. What is that, repression?"

"Yes, that'd be the term." Leon moved to sit cross-legged on the bed, shuffling his cards, sliding toward that Zen place where he was in tune with his deck. "What do you think you're repressing?"

"I just spoke to someone who supposedly used to be a friend of mine. I can't remember him at all. He said my dad banned him from seeing me. I don't think that was it."

"All right." He nodded to himself, happy somehow. He had wanted an excuse to get inside Falco's brain and look around for a while. He knew the abuse had done a lot to the man he loved, he just wanted to know how much. "I'm going to use Celtic Shield. It covers everything."

"Do what you have to." Falco watched Leon set the deck down, popping his knuckles nervously. "Promise to keep whatever you find to yourself?"

"Of course. Draw a card."

Vic sighed, rubbing the back of her neck as she took a sip of her coffee. Slippy's father didn't pull the stops on small pleasures, the roast was dark and smooth, and probably had cost a fortune. On the other hand, he had a very laid-back, happy bunch of engineers and designers working for him, so she supposed some things worked hand-in-hand.

Most of what she had been doing was minor things, finding tools and files, helping screw things down, but she was enjoying herself so far. The crew here seemed to like her too, but she was the only girl, so it was almost a given.

"So what are you going to do about your parents?"

She glanced at Slippy. "I'll have to get my clothes while my dad's at work. My mom's a good woman, but dad has her under his thumb. She's too scared to defend me anymore. I don't know what to do about my bastard of a dad. I'm tempted to turn his arse in."

"Wouldn't be a bad idea." He replied. "But in the mean time, I think you've got all of Star Fox protecting you."

She smiled. "I'm happy for it. First time anyone's tried to do so since Falco moved out."

"Speaking of which, what's up with him? He's been a grouch since he came back from his unintended vacation. You'd think he'd be happy to be home, but no…"

"He's having an identity crisis." She replied, glancing away.

"Say what?"

"Slip, it's not my place to say."

"… Oh. Well, I'm not going to ask him. He'd probably kill me."

"More like maim. He can't kill his friends."

Slippy laughed weakly. "Sometimes I doubt that. But then again, he's pretty close to Leon, and they used to hate each other."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Worst enemies. Now they hang around together." He shrugged. "Things change."

"'Things are changing, but nothing changes, and still there are changes. Le roi est mort, vive le roi.'" She recited, smiling a bit.

"Enigma. And here I thought I was the only one who had heard of them."

"You'd be surprised." Returning his smile, she was quiet for a few minutes, then said, "I'm like the only girl who's ever really been nice to you, aren't I?"

"Yeah. One of the few. I mean, there's Krystal, Fara, and Katt, and a few girls here at Arspace, but that's it. I've never been on a date."

"Well, then I'm going to have to take you to dinner." With that she left the break room, grinning to herself when she heard him sputtering.

Joey smiled at the bartender in thanks, picking up his daiquiri and sipping it, turning the glass in his hands. The pub's lights were low and flattering, the clientele various, from working class to movie stars sometimes. Such was the draw of cheap, good food and drinks.

He knew he was nervous. He hadn't seen Falco in literally a decade, besides on TV and in newspapers. The once slender, gangly youth he remembered so warmly had grown up well, he mused. The avian had always been ungodly tall at any age, always a head above him, but hey that made him fun to hug once upon a time. Playmates, best friends, endless Saturdays watching cartoons. Good memories. That was at least until Falco's father had intervened.

Hearing the subtle shift in volume that meant someone new had entered the pub, he turned on the barstool, lifting his eyebrows as he took another sip, smiling. It was Falco, all right, larger then life, or perhaps just taller. The boy had to be 6'5", wearing black jeans, boots, a silver-grey shirt, and a black leather duster that had probably cost a fortune due to the length of it. He towered over the hostess, speaking for a moment, then walking over to him, smiling nervously, running long fingers through the feathers on his scalp.

"You made it." Joey said, setting his class down and allowing a smile. "I'm glad."

"Yeah. Stand up." When Joey had, Falco looked down at him, and smiled slowly, a real smile this time. "This seems familiar. Haven't you always been shorter then me?"

Joey felt himself light up. "You remember?"

"A little… I guess I smashed it all out. A friend of mine helped me dig it all up." There was another pause, then Falco whimpered helplessly, yanking him into a spine-cracking bear hug, ignoring the fact that he was in a public place. "I'm sorry my dad hit you. I am so sorry."

Joey returned it, letting his mind wander back a decade, and found there was no real difference between being hugged then and now. "It was a long time ago. I'm over it. You hungry?"

"Starving." Falco set him down. "What do you recommend?"

Wolf walked into the den, only halfway paying attention due to the book he was reading, and blinked when he saw Leon curled up on one cushion of the couch, staring into the distance, an empty bag of chocolate chips on the coffee table. "Your skin is going to suffer for that." He remarked, sitting down on the couch, closing his book. "What's up, Leon?"

"'I, uh…" Leon looked away, hugging himself.

"I can tell when you lie. You aren't very good at it. Spill."

"Well, basically, I just did a pretty thorough tarot reading on Falco. He wanted me to get inside his brain and help him sort some stuff out, so I did."

"Found out things you didn't want to know?"

"Found out I have competition."

"What?"

Leon sighed, staring at the ceiling. "Wolf, you know I'm gay right?"

"For ages… wait, are you saying that Falco…" He trailed off, blinking. "Oh my god. That makes sense."

"I love him." He forced the words out, hating himself as he said it, turning his face away to hide his worry. "But what he wanted me to help him dig up was a repressed memory of a childhood friend. I think he's known what he is for a long time, but his father beat it out of him when he was ten. Before that he had a friend he was pretty close to…" Leon choked off. "God dammit. Falco's having dinner with his childhood crush and I'm stuck here alone. It's not fair."

Wolf pulled him close, giving him a shoulder to lean on. "I understand that thoroughly, believe me. But do you know it's still like that with them?"

"They haven't seen each other in a decade. I don't know. The cards kept suggesting we'd be together, but Falco's closeted and scared to even peek out. After what his dad put him through…"

He rubbed Leon's back, sighing. This was rather a shock, considering he hadn't had a clue what was going on before this, but he took it in stride. He understood, sort of, he was still feeling pain when he looked at Fox, the pain of seeing something he wanted and could never have. "Give him some time. Who knows, maybe he's just trying to reestablish a friendship. But let me ask you this: now that you've been in his head, do you care for him any less?"

Leon shook his head, and the pair sat on the couch for over an hour, eventually shifting so they were leaning into each other's shoulders, both reading, minds on separate things.

"Been some interesting things going on while we were gone." Vic remarked, stepping out of Slippy's car and stretching absently.

"How can you tell?" Slippy asked, glancing at her as he also got out.

"It's a girl thing. Tense air." She glanced around. "Falco's off somewhere, apparently, so whatever it was probably wasn't his fault."

He shook his head in wonder, going to the galley to snoop around for food.

"So how well does being a mercenary pay?" Joey asked, walking down the street easily, hands tucked in his pockets. His long tail was up, curled behind his shoulders in a graceful question-mark shape. After dinner they had started wandering aimlessly, waiting for their drinks to wear off so they could drive home safely. Talking had been awkward at first, but wasn't so much anymore. They had discussed their childhood friendship somewhat, Falco trying to get his memories straight, and Joey was eager to help.

"Not as good as a lot of other jobs. Most of our money goes to paying off our cruiser, and it's going to be that way for a long time." He sighed. "Peppy and Slippy have picked up other paychecks to help themselves stay stable. Fox will probably end up teaching at the academy, be the youngest flight instructor ever or something."

"And you?"

"I don't know. I don't have any skills I can use. I'm too risky a pilot to teach that, and I don't really know anything else."

Joey paused, stopping and looking Falco up and down slowly. Skinny, way too skinny. Once he got a little more filled-out, though… He smiled, digging into his wallet and taking out a card. "Once you gain fifteen or twenty pounds, call the modeling agency I'm working for." He closed one of Falco's hands around the card. "They're looking to expand more into Goth and punk clothing. You'd be a wonderful model for that."

"You can't be serious." Falco scoffed, looking at the card. Crystal Silhouette Modeling Agency. "I'm not that good looking."

Now Joey scoffed. "Falco, stop that. You're very handsome, and your height is striking — borderline shocking, considering how thin you are. As said, a little more weight on you and you'd be great on the runway."

He looked down at his friend, and sighed. "You're gay aren't you?"

"Happily so. I'll never parade around in a rainbow shirt or anything though. Just take it under advisement, all right?"

"I guess." He tucked the card into his wallet slowly, shaking his head. "It'll probably take me a little while to gain the weight and keep healthy while doing so, mind you."

"Hey, I understand."

The pair fell silent, walking side by side down the street.