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>>reanimation — chapter six: bubble song::

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>>REANIMATION — CHAPTER SIX: BUBBLE SONG::

Ringshadow

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

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Katt crossed her arms, face turned toward the sky as she watched the Arwing slowly land, gear thumping down and steam hissing as the engines vented. It had been a while, she admitted, since she had seen an Arwing. Her ties with Star Fox had gone when she had broken up with Falco. Theirs had been a weird relationship, tense, and only afterward had she realized that what she had seen in Falco's eyes had been flat-out fear of the unknown. She still didn't understand it, but now she was going to get a chance to.

She had got the voice message only an hour ago, Falco's low voice asking if she'd be willing to talk to him, saying he needed help sorting out some things and she was about the only one he could turn to now. She wasn't sure what he meant by that, but she still smiled when the cockpit popped open and he leapt out, landing on the tarmac with a bag swung over his shoulder, grinning when he saw her. God, he hadn't changed much, his stride was still long and proud, still handsome as anything, but so skinny now it stunned her.

"Hi kitty." He swept her into a hug with a grin, and she returned it.

"Hi feather-head. I got your message."

"So I gathered."

"What's up?"

His expression died back, and he sighed, looking away from her. Her eyes widened, seeing the pain hidden in his gaze, both old and new. "It's a really long story. Would you care if I crash at your place for a day or two? I won't trash it like last time."

"I wouldn't care if you did. You need someone to lean on, looks like." She reached up and wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked to her sports sedan.

"How have things been here?"

"I'm good. I teach basic flight instruction at the local air base. Nothing glamorous but its ok pay. I live alone now."

"Roomie moved out?"

"Roomie got married." She rolled her eyes. "Thank god."

He laughed softly. "Never liked her either."

The rest of the trip was silent, him slouched and staring out the window, feathers ruffling softly with the wind. She glanced at him constantly, cussing herself out for not seeing immediately how much he was hurting.

"What happened to you, Falco?" She finally asked, parking the car and looking at him.

"Lots." He replied, picking up his bag and following her inside the small house, smiling weakly when he saw her familiar décor. "Where do you want me to start?"

"The beginning would be the logical spot." She replied, watching him flop onto the couch, eyes blankly on the ceiling. "Do you want some coffee?"

"Yes. Biscotti?"

"You know me, of course." She came back a few minutes later, handing him a mug and setting a plate of the hard cookies on the coffee table. "So, whenever you're ready…"

He sighed and nodded, and began to talk.

"… he just up and left. Didn't say where he was going, either." Leon said, staring at the keys in his hand. "Said you knew where his apartment is?"

"Yep." Vic nodded. "We'll guilt Fox into giving us a ride later or something. Don't worry about Falco, I bet he'll be back soon. He did this all the time when he was younger, he just didn't go so far as to leave the planet."

He shook his head. "I think I did something, I'm just not sure what. Am I wrong to hold someone who's in pain and flashing back?"

"He's having flashbacks?"

"Yeah. I think so. Old pain, I think, but there was a lot of hurt in his eyes." Leon sighed. "Your guy's dad?"

"Probably. Slippy thinks I should turn the old bastard in."

"Probably a good idea. So, you want to help me get Falco's apartment in order?"

"Sure. I say we buy a queen bed, not oversized bunks."

"Much as I love that idea, it would probably get me shot."

Vic laughed.

"Hi Wolf." Fox glanced up from his book, blinking. "You just get in?"

"Yeah." Wolf replied, getting a soda from the fridge absently.

He lifted an eyebrow, closing his book after a few minutes. "Do I want to know?"

"I stayed the night at Krystal's. Nothing interesting happened. Had a few drinks, that's about it."

"You and Krystal are together? Cool. Congrats to both of you I guess." Wolf looked at him, and Fox felt his hackles slowly rise in response to the animosity in his friend's eyes. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Yes, yes you did." Wolf turned his back, walking across the kitchen to the pantry. "You really DON'T understand, do you?"

"Understand what?" He blanched, ears turning back.

Wolf laughed bitterly, closing the pantry and looking back at him. "How many people are in love with you."

"Now, wait just a damn minute…"

"No, you don't get it at all. You're beautiful, you're charming and funny, you get under everyone's skin like some sort of horniness-causing virus." Wolf slammed the soda back, tossed the can down the chute, and got a beer without realizing it. Ignoring Fox's look, he plowed on, the words flowing out without thought. "You've got an underground following online. Hell, did you even know you got like third in People's sexist guy contest? No, you didn't, did you?"

"I wasn't even aware… I…" Fox blinked. "People did call and say they were entering me in something, but…"

"Keeeerist." Wolf snarled, rubbing his eyes. "I'm in love with you, you asshole. So is Krystal, so is half the planet by now, and you don't even know it. Krystal and I are not together because we like each other, or because we're attracted to each other." He strode over to Fox, slamming the bottle down on the table and leaning over Fox, one arm on either side of his friend, basically trapping Fox against the table. "We are together because neither of us can have YOU." With that, he grabbed his bottle and stomped out, ignoring Fox's questions as he retreated to his room for the remainder of the day.

Fox stared after him in shock, those angry words echoing in his head, unable to believe what he had just heard. He had always known Krystal had liked him, and Wolf too, but the depth of those feelings had never really clicked. He moaned and held his head in his hands, unsure of what to do. Wolf was his friend, but there was obviously an undercurrent of discomfort there, something he couldn't get rid of, and it scared Fox to no end. He didn't want to make Wolf hate him again, he hadn't even meant to hurt him in the first place, and yet he was just by existing.

He didn't even know Peppy had come in until he heard someone clearing his throat, and looked up, eyes blank and confused. Peppy crouched in front of him, frowning, then finally asked, "Fox? Are you all right?"

"Am I really that horrible of a person, Pep? I'm making Wolf hate me again, and I'm not sure I'm even doing anything." He hugged himself, shivering.

"You're probably one of the most selfless people on the planet." Peppy replied gently. "But Wolf's just living with the fact that he can't control who he loves."

"How did you…"

"I'm the only adult on this ship. I know practically everything."

Fox blinked at him. "Some of that must be scary information."

"No, just interesting, for the most part." Peppy sighed, and stood. "Just be kind to him, Fox. He'll heal."

"I hope you're right."

"…and so my mom just out and bitchslapped me with the facts as she saw it! I mean, I had dinner with someone she says I loved and I wasn't even aware when I did it!" Falco had his face in his hands, leaning so he was propped on his knees, shoulders jerking with each breath. Katt was just listening silently, fighting shock. The past hour and a half had been nothing short of a confession of Falco's soul, dumping out everything that had happened while he had been stranded with Leon, the strange need to protect his former enemy, his family's thoughts, his fear of what they said.

"I mean, I guess it makes sense, that explains why he kept looking at me funny, I thought he just thought I was cute or something, he told me flat out he was gay, but … but… dammit, I know what mom said was true!" He choked on a sob, voice choking off. "He was so familiar Katt. I don't even know him anymore. Everything I know is what I've remembered in the past twenty-four hours, it comes back like a flashfire, burns me with pain, its horrible and it hurts and its ripping me apart inside. I'm flashing back on beatings! Beatings! I'm remembering my dad hitting me, hitting Joey, like I'm there and it's agony and I don't know why."

She moved over and sat next to him, hugging him close, trying to sooth him.

"I always knew I was abused, but it's like… I forgot how bad it was… numb to it or something…" His voice trailed off, and he moaned. "Leon did this, right before I took off. Almost fell asleep with him again." He looked at her, near hysterical tears. "Katt, am I gay? How the hell didn't I know before?"

"Falco, I…" She trailed off, and sighed, pulling him to her chest and rocking him. He accepted the hold, shaking hard. "I don't know, baby boy. I don't know."

There was a very long silence, and Katt found herself purring for Falco, trying to sooth him. He accepted it, returning her hug, eyes half-closed, tears gathered at the corners.

"Even if you are, baby. I'm here for you. I always will be." She finally whispered, leaning her chin against the top of his head. He sighed weakly, nestling in, knowing he felt no attraction to the girl holding him, just mild affection for someone he knew he could always trust.

There was a very long silence. Katt sighed to herself, running the fingers on one of her hands through his feathers softly, wondering why she hadn't picked up on this ages ago. She had always considered herself good at noticing things like this, being able to nail someone's alignment within minutes of meeting them, but Falco had always been a big question mark in her mind, and she was beginning to understand why. He didn't even know himself.

"Do you know what I think?" She finally remarked, nuzzling his brow to catch his attention.

"Mm?"

"I think we should go to a club tonight."

He lifted his head to look at her, blinking. "That's a sudden change of subject. Why?"

"Because you need to relax. This is Zoness, for god's sake. Every club I go to is friendly to people of any alignment." She put him at arm's length, making him sit on his own. He just looked at her somewhat listlessly, obviously not all that eager. "Oh, come on. You used to love to dance."

"Yeah… I did…" He looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. "But that was before my life went to hell…"

"Please? Moping around isn't going to do you any good."

"I didn't bring anything club appropriate."

"We'll go shopping."

"That scares me."

She laughed.

"So, you know my story." Vic said, sitting on the counter and loading food into a cabinet. Leon was putting stuff in the fridge. It had taken over an hour to clean out the kitchen before they shopped, because the food from before had taken on new life. "What's yours?"

"Not much better then you and Falco's." Leon replied. "I've been on my own since I was twelve. Runaway. I don't know where my parents are, don't really care either. I accepted the gang's protection because it was the only way I was going to be able to survive. The leader let me crash at his place, found out early on I was good at hurting people without caring." He paused, staring off into the distance. "That was pretty much life until I got an email from Andross."

"He emailed you?"

"Yes indeed. Don't ask me how he found out my address, but whatever. By that time I was known on the streets. Name spoken with fear, all that. The money he offered was pretty much irresistible. You know the story of the war and how I got to be here." He shrugged.

"There's got to be more to it then that."

"Not really, no. Though I admit your brother always threw a wrench in my life." He closed the fridge, folding up the grocery bags, mind far away. "We've always had a really weird relationship, though. We had such a hatred for each other on the streets, but I wonder now if it was really hate. We fought, we fought viciously, but we never struck fatal wounds… I can remember the knife fights, being so close… I think maybe it was just a way to be close to each other because neither of us understood what was really going on. I mean, yeah, I'm gay and known it for ages, but falling for a guy who seemed straight and was my worst enemy? Heh, like that was going to happen right?" He sighed. "He acts so tough but there's someone very kind and very scared underneath it. I'm not sure why he hides behind all those walls."

"Well, as I said. He's scared." Vic said. "Being beat up by an asshole of a father does that to you."

"You don't seem scared."

"What, to care for someone? Never had a boyfriend in my life."

"Hmmm. Wish I could say the same. Did we buy chocolate chips?"

"I put them in the freezer. Had some bad relationships?"

"No, not really… just too many, and none lasted very long."

Vic watched him gather the needed supplies for cookies, looking at his gaze, at how distant his eyes were. "I don't think he cares for you any less for that."

"I don't think he knows." Leon replied, voice bitter. "He knows a lot of other bad things about me, but not that. I'm changing, Vic. But my track record leaves a lot to be desired."

"I doubt he'll think much of it."

"I think he will. He's saved himself this long, and I haven't."

She sighed. "He loves you, Leon. That doesn't change on the fly."

Leon looked at her, a timid smile crossing his face for a moment. "You think so?"

"No, I know so. He's just scared." She patted his shoulder. "Need the vanilla?"

"Wolf? He's hiding in his room. Hasn't come out since this morning." Peppy said, having to smile a little at Krystal. He knew she was a sweet girl, he could sense it, but then again, he had heard stories of what happened when she got pissed. Rumors flew about her hospitalizing one of her bosses for blackballing a few of her crew members. "He and Fox argued a bit, and he shut himself in."

She sighed, rubbing one of her temples. "Think he'd talk to me?"

"I'd like to think so. You know where his room is?"

She nodded, and he watched her walk down the hallway. There were many, he knew, that thought he should leave Star Fox purely because of the age gap between him and every other crew member, but the 'kids' would never have it, bless their hearts. Peppy knew he was the voice of reason in the craziness, in the pit of raging hormones and flaring tempers he kept them from killing each other. But he also knew there were some things he just couldn't fix, and the rift between Fox and Wolf was one of them.

Krystal sighed, tapping on the closed door, not surprised when she didn't get the answer. She had a guess about what Wolf had blown about, and had almost been expecting it. "Wolf?"

There was a pause, and the door slid open, Wolf looking at her in surprise. He was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a tank top, looking weary. "Hey. What brings you here?"

"I need to talk to you."

"Sure." He stepped aside, watching her pass and closing the door behind her. "What's up?"

She sat down on the edge of his bed, rubbing her temples. "Remember how I said I was in command of a colony ship for Diamond Sky?"

"Yeah, I remember." He sat down next to her. "Did something happen?"

She sighed, looking at him. "I have been dishonorably discharged." Her voice cracked, and she burst into tears. He wrapped his arms around her and held her, bewildered by this confession, feeling the rage tremble through her as he rocked her softly. She was crying from sheer anger as much as just being upset, hands clutching his tank top, shoulders jerking. "I'm sorry… I'm not sure I should have come here…"

"No. No. You were right to." He said gently, wiping her tears away with one of his thumbs. "When did you find out?"

"I went into work a few hours after you left. My boss called me into his office." She let off a strangled whimper, resting her muzzle on one of his shoulders.

"Did he say why?"

Krystal nodded weakly. "He found out I've been allowing stowaways sometimes." Catching his look, she laughed a bit. "Yeah, I know, a bit unbecoming for a commander, but usually we got a runaway or someone otherwise bad off, unable to pay for the colonization permits and wanting a new life. Kids mostly. There was always a legal colonist willing to take them under their wing so to speak, and we'd find a way to get papers set up, mostly forged yeah but it got them on the ground. I keep track of most of them through email."

He sighed, shaking his head. "So he discharged you on misuse of company property and forgery? That's kind of a small offense for a dishonorable account."

"This is the same guy I broke the nose of. He's been looking for an excuse for a long time to get rid of me. It's within the constraints of company law."

"Jesus, that is bullshit."

"I know. I have to wonder how they're going to break it to my crew. They didn't even let me tell them. 'You are no longer an employee, so you are not allowed to enter the ship bays.'" She choked back a sob. "Dammit! Not even allowed to say goodbye to my crew! Not even allowed to see my ship! No one will hire me, Wolf, and flying is all I can do…"

"Shh…" He held her close and started rocking again. She accepted the comfort, and he fell into deep thought. She was facing bad odds. Pilots who got dishonorable discharged generally never flew again, at least for any reputable company. That was the equivalent of blacklisting. ArSpace, perhaps? Probably not, Beltino was Star Fox's only real contact and he only dealt with engineering and design. Who else did he know…

She blinked when he suddenly sat back, rubbing his chin. "What?"

"I know someone you could talk to, I think."

"Who."

"Fara Phoenix."

"What?"

"Her parents own and operate a line of cruise ships, but they also run transportation in general, small and large, mostly in-system." He tilted his head to one side. "Right?"

"I'm not following."

"I'll explain in a second. How loyal is your crew?"

"They're going to go nuts when they find out about my discharge, more then likely, but…"

"Here's the plan." He started ticking off on his fingers. "First, call Fara. Tell her what's going on and ask if her father could use a complete crew with an experienced commander, ship not included. Chances are, yes he will, and she'll give you his number. Second, call her father and get something lined up with a guarantee. Third, let me get into uniform and bully the security guards into talking to your crew. If they're that loyal, they'll quit if you've got something lined up."

She gaped at him. "You're serious… that just might work."

"I just so happen to have her work number." He dug his wallet out of his jeans and handed her the business card. "Call her now."

She looked at the card for a long moment, then tackled him, arms around his neck. "You are the best."

He laughed, hugging her back. "Glad I could help."

Falco yelped as he was tugged into a store, shoulder nearly coming out of joint. "Katt!"

"Oh, quit complaining." She let go of his hand, looking around. "So, how often do you shop in Hot Topic?"

"Only sometimes…"

"Well, we are going to buy you a new outfit." She leaned on the glass countertop, smiling at the girl at the register. "You guys make commission?"

"Yes indeed." The girl, a dog hair streaked in many colors, blew a bubble absently. The gum was neon green.

"See the grouch over there?" She pointed at Falco, who was skulking around, reading shirts.

"He's hard to miss."

"Indeed. Well, he needs clothes for a club, nothing too gothy but not chic. Willing to help me out?"

"Sure. He wear leather?"

"Falco, come here. You wear leather?"

He looked at Katt, then at the girl at the register, and sighed. "As long as the word kinky isn't associated with it."

"Good, then. This is going to be fun."

Falco moaned as he was drug to the back of the store, and ground his beak in frustration as he was subjected to holding clothing, trying to shut out the comments of the two girls. Apparently this clerk had already concluded he wasn't straight, and he fought the urge to bite her head off as he was pushed into a dressing room. What the hell had he done to deserve this anyway?

Still, an hour later, he was pretty happy with the results. He had always liked gothish clothing. They had let him keep the boots, and now he was in leather pants with multiple chain belts, and a loose mesh muscle shirt, wrists loaded with bracelets in red and black. The clerk had even nagged him into letting her do some pattern dying, warning him the dye was temporary, but the looping gold patterns behind his eyes and trailing down to his neck was still a bit surprising.

"So, you dressing to please someone?" The clerk asked as Falco ran his card through the machine, mournfully thinking that he really, really needed to get a job.

"… Not exactly, no." He sighed, and followed Katt out of the store.

The rest of the afternoon passed slowly, him flopped on the couch in his new outfit, staring at the ceiling blankly. He was getting the idea that Katt had something planned for him tonight, and he was almost dreading it. In a way, even though he needed this time to think, he wished that Leon was here, just to have someone he could hug.