A while back I started talking to tldrOtter about Star Fox. Since he actually wrote something and posted it here, I figured I ought to do the same. You can leave me feedback in the form of reviews or private messages, and if you'd like to look at some of the future chapters to give me feedback before I post them, feel free to ask. I'm a bit busy but I usually respond eventually.

Also, a note to new readers: I hope you enjoy! It's been a lot of fun writing this far, and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. Don't be afraid to leave me a comment or a review or a message if you want to chat. I always love hearing feedback on my writing.

I'll warn there's a bit of setup in the first couple of chapters, but I encourage you to stick with it! I have some great things planned.

Update, 6/26/2017: minor editing pass over the whole story.

By now he knew the routine. It'd been a decade now he'd been polishing the facade, on and off; compared to the politicians who'd spent twenty, thirty years doing the same, he was still an amateur, but everyone saw him through a rose-tinted lens that honed in on his war medals.

He knew where to drop subtle inflections. Where to add an embarrassed flick of the ears. Where to trail off and look thoughtful. Where to shake his head as if in sorrow of the system's great loss—a sorrow that necessarily had to be manufactured, lest the sobering reality strike too deep and leave him paralyzed. He couldn't risk that. No one could: the loss had been too real.

Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions.

Dull applause sounded as his last words died and a somber "Thank you" signaled the end to his speech. An old rottweiler gave him a nod and a mouthed "Good job" as he stepped off behind the stage into a bustle of military and politicians. To his right was the Zonessian governor, talking to Corneria military's chief of R&D. Farther down, he could see the chief justice of the interplanetary judiciary council. Scattered among the gaggle of military veterans being honored at the ceremony, he saw representatives from countless branches of the planetary government and caught more than a few nods. A few here and there waved him over for congratulatory words or spills of whatever the latest rumors were on the planetary alliance's next moves.

The first thing he did when he got a moment alone was to reach up and undo that damned neck-button that was nearly choking him. His eyes scanned around. In all the crowd, there was one he was looking for, but the short hare tended to get lost in the buzz of tall bodies.

Seven months had passed since he'd fired the self-destruct program into the hive mind, and Corneria was just starting to get itself back on its feet. It'd been a long and arduous process, but Fox had been prepared for it, this time. Lots of time spent meeting with the city council. Lots of time spent in courts. Lots of time spent in public ceremonies and speeches. Not particularly fun, but at least it was somewhat gratifying. At least he was doing something. It was too easy to go insane if all he could focus on was the lack of piloting jobs.

In that time, they'd rebuilt the infrastructure of the city enough for most citizens to resume normal life. It helped that they didn't have to begin from nothing: only around half the city had been damaged in the attack, and only around ten percent had been damaged to the point of inoperability. Most of the essential areas had been spared. Corneria Central Stadium hadn't been one of them, and the completion of its repairs signaled, at least in the public eye, the next stage in recovery.

Fox attributed much of Corneria's rapid recovery to the hare who was now just a few feet in front of him. He'd convalesced seamlessly and he'd done an excellent job of blending in to his new role:

"Hey, general."

Peppy clapped a hand down on his shoulder. "You did good."

"And you're a good speechwrite."

The two shared a brief chuckle, then stepped out the way as a group of veterans headed by them, out towards the stage. "I guess things are finally getting back to normal," Fox said. "Memorial stadium and everything. It'll be in the history books soon."

"So will we all," Peppy droned. His eyes followed the next crowd heading to the stage for a bit, then shifted back to Fox. "So, what have you been up to lately, anyhow? Haven't seen ya in ages. Been getting a little worried."

He wanted to say nothing, but it felt like too much of a confession. Too real. He combed his head for a moment, thinking. "I don't know. Lots of speeches and events. Banquets. Outreach events with the kids." He didn't want to say anything more, so he threw the question back at Peppy: "How about you?"

Peppy didn't even have to stop to think. He talked for a while, about how much military presence had been needed in the streets to prevent thieves from raiding the buildings that had been ruined during the attack, about the influx of space-pirate attacks on interplanetary vessels that had led to the current ban on civilian interplanetary travel, and about how damn annoying it was to fight the council on his every move. Unsurprisingly, the general of the Cornerian military was high on the radar of innumerable special interest groups. It was one hell of a high-profile job, and Peppy seemed hell-bent on proving that, despite his graying fur and severe injuries, he could still keep up on the level of his predecessor, General Pepper, who'd died in the war.

Fox listened to all this with mild disinterest. It should have been endearing, to see the subdued enthusiasm on his old mentor's face when he described a particularly clever move he'd made to outpace political stonewalling, but instead, it was just a bit sad to see the hare's enthusiasm directed towards something so far removed from Fox's interests.

Fox gave a curt nod and made a few cursory comments, but the same tricks that worked on officials and company representatives didn't work on his old mentor. The hare could tell something was wrong, and he paused in the middle of one of his stories. "Something's bothering you, Fox?"

"I don't know. I think I'm ready to get back to the grind. You've got a nice new job and everything, but I don't. I was actually hoping you might have something for me to work."

"Already anxious to get back in the air?" Peppy laughed. "I figured you would be. There's not a lot of good pilot work out there right now, I know."

"It's driving me insane, Pep, just sitting around. But, like..." He shook his head. "Yeah. All the jobs are shit, you know? And everyone else..." He trailed off.

"Well, Fox, it ain't easy to follow up on saving the world twice."

"It's not even that. Just... I'm bored outta my mind, and playing escort to a trade vessel isn't gonna fix it."

"Always a daredevil, aren't ya?" Peppy's eyes defocused for a moment, and he was quiet for a while. A few veterans walked past them, queuing up for the next round of honors. Peppy put a hand down on Fox's back, and started steering them towards a corner, away from the crowd. "Can't make any promises, Fox, but if you're interested... well, I've got something maybe you could investigate."

"I'm listening."

"Well, don't get your hopes too high. It's nothing official yet, but I'm sure I could cover expenses and probably scrounge up some decent pay for you in a few weeks' time. I'm sure you're well aware—Fichina hasn't been doing too well ever since the Aparoids hit."

He remembered the battle on the icy planet's surface. The scramble to capture Pigma, the anger as the swine infected the Climate Control Center with Aparoids, and the frustration of watching him fly away while Fox was stuck preventing the damn thing from melting down. Peppy had been there, too. Until the module was repaired, Fichina would essentially be uninhabitable. Not exactly good news for the planet's considerable population.

"Yeah. I remember."

"The civilians there have held up well, but supplies are running low, and we desperately need to fix the damn module so they can start sustaining themselves again with agriculture. We've been sending ships with repair parts. Expensive parts."

Fox sighed, thinking back to the news stories. "They were raided, yes?"

"Yep. Even the cargo ships we've sent with food have been attacked. People are freezing and starving and I don't know how much more they can take." Peppy braced himself with an arm up against the wall and sighed. He looked tired; his age was showing. "We tried sending escorts, but they were destroyed. Pirate activity is thriving and our military is stretched thin. Don't know how much more we can afford."

"So, you want me to join the escort?" Fox didn't much like the sound of this—if a full military escort had been wiped by pirates, it didn't sound like he'd have much of a chance himself.

"The next ship is in a couple weeks. If you want to join the escort then, there'd certainly be pay in it for you and it's more than likely you'd see fire. But in the mean time, I've got a hunch..."


"Based on the reports, it looks like our old pals Star Wolf were involved."

"...they're alive?"

The words came out automatically. The surprising thing wasn't Star Wolf was alive, or even that they were already allegedly back to crime; rather it was the feeling of relief that washed over him. It had been anyone's guess as to whether the exploding Aparoid homeworld had taken Star Wolf out with it, and it was something he'd found himself pondering more than once late at night when sleep wouldn't come.

Peppy nodded. "From what I've heard, yeah. They took a pretty big hit during the war. I wouldn't be surprised if they were using the cargo from these ships to re-establish their foothold in Meteo. Why don't you stick your nose in there, see what they're up to? If they're behind this, we got a problem."

Fox tapped his claws against the wall and chose his next words carefully. "...I'll need a team. I can't waltz into Meteo alone. If word gets out I'm there, I'll be toast."

Peppy frowned. "Well, I can't spare any troops, and I can't go, but there's the rest of the old gang. There's Falco. And... shit, everyone wants to fly with you, Fox. Hell, why not try to fill my spot? And Slippy's, too."

Fox didn't offer a response, but Peppy was still looking at him expectantly. Star Wolf hadn't really been something any of them had talked about, save Fox and Falco a couple times after a couple too many beers. Everyone owed Wolf their life, but Fox, especially: he could walk to the exact spot where Wolf had plucked him away from the Aparoids' clutches in less than fifteen minutes. Hell, the scorch marks from from his exploding ship were probably still there.

"Even if I could get the old gang, it just doesn't feel right, to think of them as the enemy. You were there—I don't know how much you remember after that crash—but we wouldn't have won against the Aparoids without them. Don't get me wrong. I've never liked them, but..."

"But isn't this right up your alley, Fox? You wanna do something big, well, here you go. And ya'd be able to finally figure out what happened to them, too."

Fox pursed his lips. "You know, maybe you're right. Why don't you write up something for me, and send it out as an official contract with all the details?"

"I'll get started right away." Peppy extended his arm; Fox clasped the hare's hand in his own.

"Thanks, Pep."

"So how's it been living solo?"

Falco took a moment to finish downing nearly half his beer in a single gulp before responding. "It's a lot quieter without you bitching at me all the time." It came down against the table with a loud clang that pierced through whatever garbage was playing on the holovision that neither of them were watching.

"Yeah. It's definitely quieter without your music. Or your shitty soap operas." Fox had barely taken a sip from his beer, instead fixating his gaze out the top-floor bay window that looked down on half of Corneria city. This wasn't one of the luxury spots that had a bird's-eye view of Corneria Park, but it was about as close to it as a mere mortal could hope to afford. At least, it made Fox's second-floor place four blocks down seem like a college kid's studio in comparison.

"Hell of a view," he muttered. The contrast between the real estate and the shitty beer the bird bought wasn't lost on him. "Guess the testing gig isn't treating you bad, huh?"

"Easier than merc work and pays ten times as much." Fox tilted his head, and Falco waved a hand. "Alright, well, it doesn't pay ten times as much. But you get a lot more pocket-money when you don't have a ship and a carrier to maintain."

"Right." Fox frowned. He idly fingered the side of the beer-bottle and found his claw cutting through the label. Falco looked thoughtful, like he still had more to say, and Fox wasn't sure he wanted to hear it.

"...it's such a shitty gig, you know. Being a merc. You don't realize it till you get out of it."

Fox remembered how, not even a month after the war had ended, he'd had countless mails from flight companies and the military R&D sector flooding his inbox. He hadn't even opened half of them. And even after seeing Falco's newfound life of luxury, he hadn't thought to go back and revisit them, not even once. "Doesn't it get boring, though? Being a test pilot?"

The couch shifted as Falco stood. He wrestled another bottle from the fridge and plopped himself down again with a grunt. "Nah. It's not so bad. Still get to fly."

"It's always the same shit, though. They offered me the same sort of job, and it's always... you know, test standard maneuvers, test timings, test gauges." He took another gulp from his own beer. He was approaching the three-quarters point on it. Ten years ago, he used to always keep pace with his feathered friend, but as the years passed by, he'd gotten slower. "I'd fall asleep and wreck the damn thing."

He expected Falco to laugh, but the bird just shrugged. "S'not completely brainless. There's obstacle courses and shit." Falco'd never been one to let his emotions bleed through into his words, but even Fox could hear the boredom and disinterest, there. And yet he didn't seem to care.

Ten years ago and Falco was the only other pilot he knew who had the same kind of borderline bloodlust he did in the sky. He lived for the dogfight; the moment one mission was over and he'd had his little customary fling planetside, Falco was gearing up for the next.

"As if pilots like us couldn't do any course the military could sling at us, even in a shit-tier ship."

"See, this is why I like living alone. Don't gotta listen to you bitching all the time."

Fox rolled his eyes. For a few minutes, they both faced the holovision. It was some drama about a group of scientists working on nanotech. The Aparoids had ruined nanotech for Fox; even if it was completely benign, it'd always give him the creeps. He'd never forget the purple haze creeping through the air, taking Pigma, the Fichina Climate Control Center, Pepper. Silence rolled on. Fox finished his first beer, and Falco finished his second, giving it a firm push farther back on the glass table.

There was an eerie tension in the air that Fox wondered if Falco felt.

"Look, Fox. Being a merc is great. Really. But that shit takes over your life. All your money goes to tech or you can't keep up. All your time goes to hunting out jobs. Can't ever live in one place, can't ever see a girl more than once before you're halfway across the damn system."

Fox leaned back and propped his feet up on the table. "You didn't seem to have a problem with that, back then."

"I didn't. It's just, that shit gets old. " He folded his hands behind his head. "I'm not retiring, just... it's been what, seven months since the Aparoids? How long did we just shoot the shit after Andross?"

"Three months and we were back in the sky." He shouldn't have spouted that out so readily or confidently. He'd obviously been dwelling on it, and Falco cast him a slanted eye. "You know, back then I didn't know what to do with myself. I was so young, and it was overwhelming."

Falco laughed. "I bet you got laid more times in those three months than in the rest of your life."

Fox ignored him. "But I'm not a kid anymore. I've had my time in the spotlight and I just want to get back to flying."

"I think you're just afraid of living a normal life. Don't tell me you didn't enjoy yourself back then."

Fox sighed. It was ten years ago, but he still remembered what it was like. Bar after bar, swarmed with fangirls and fanboys. Reporters knocking on his door and finding him on the street. He quickly learned not to say anything to any of them—inevitably he'd just drop some casual remark just for the sake of saying something, and it'd end up twisted and mangled out of context in the tabloids the next day. It was the questions about James that had gotten to him the most.

The fangirls weren't much better. Sure, it was nice having everyone so taken with him, but it was superficial at best. 'Get fucked by Fox McCloud' was high up on the bucket list of a surprising number of college-aged girls, and he'd taken advantage of that a few times-more often than not coaxed by Falco after a long night of drinking.

But whereas Falco would often see the same girl several times, Fox never saw a single one more than once. Not to say that he didn't have offers, but he never embraced the lifestyle as much as Falco did. He was just in it for the attention, not the sex: every experience that he could remember resulting from a bar pickup had always been drab and boring sex-for-the-sake-of-saying-I-fucked-Fox sex. He'd always figured all the over-the-top lewd stories Falco had told him had been lies and exaggerations, but no: Falco had always just been way more into it than Fox had. He had a hard time taking a girl seriously when the moment she thought his back was turned, she was texting all her friends to brag about what she'd picked up at the bar.

"Not really," he muttered at last. He sighed. "I wanted to see what the life was all about, y'know. I thought it'd grow on me, but it didn't."

Falco rolled his eyes. "Don't give me that kind of shit, Fox."

"It's not shit. It's—"

"You know what I mean. That 'I'm too mature for one night stands' shit. It's all about experience. You gotta put yourself in the game if you wanna find something good. And y'know what?" He grunted. "I've had the same girl for three months now."

Fox tilted his head. "Really? You didn't tell anyone?"

Falco shrugged. He looked a little sheepish, turning away to stare at the holovision once more. His feathers toyed with the opening of an empty bottle. "Not anyone's business."

He took that as a clue not to pry. He turned towards the holo himself, and sighed. Damn it. For all that conversation about girls wasn't exactly his forte, at least it let him procrastinate what he imagined was going to be a dead line of questioning anyway. "I couldn't date a fan."


"No, I mean it. Doesn't feel right. It's..."

"So what happened to Krystal? She's not a fan. And she's as much a bitch as you are. Chick was born to fight."

Fox shook his head, and met Falco's eyes. If he wasn't going to pry about Falco's girl, then Falco couldn't pry about her. He was silent for awhile. Peppy had always said James never had anything in his life but girls and planes. Fox didn't have girls.

"Why'd you come over, anyway? I know it wasn't to talk about girl problems."

Fox shook his head. "It's nothing."

"Bullshit. Speak up."

He sighed. "I was just... well, I thought it was obvious. Peppy offered me a mission..." He gave Falco a sidelong glance, and Falco shook his head, ever so slightly.

"Sorry, Fox, but I don't wanna get back into it yet. Just wanna... you know, enjoy civ life for a while. 'sides, I got flights lined up all next week and I can't blow 'em all off. Not saying I'm quitting the team for good, but hell..." Falco shook his head, and his next words were drained of some of their usual brashness. "We'll be thirty soon. It's got to stop being our whole life sometime."

It felt like a heavy weight settled on Fox's chest. He pursed his lips, trying to disguise the sadness. It was a moment before he spoke up again. "...what if it's a particularly juicy mission?"

Falco laughed. "I don't mean to be a dick, but what the hell could be juicy after saving the whole goddam system from those bug-freaks?"

Fox grinned. "Relief ships to Katina have been getting intercepted through Meteo by pirates."

"And my ass is blue. What else is new?"

"Pepper's got a hunch that one of our old friends is behind it. You know. Wolf. Panther. Leon."

Falco took in a deep breath and sighed. He was quiet for a while, eyes focused on the rolling credits of the nanobot-show. That wasn't exactly the reaction Fox had been hoping for, but by this point, it certainly wasn't a surprise.

"You really think they're the bad guys now?"

"Peppy thinks they're raiding relief ships. They don't get a free pass because of what they did in the war." His tongue echoed Pepper's sentiments of its own accord. "Honestly, I thought you'd be eager to join in. You hate Star Wolf."

Falco stood. Both of his beers went into the recycling. He leaned an arm down onto the back of the couch, staring down at Fox. "Yeah, well, I hated them because ten years ago they almost killed you. But it's been a decade. People change."

"You really think so?"

"Some people do. I have. Wolf has—hell, you saw him in the war." He turned and headed over to the coat rack to pick up his jacket and slip it over his chest. "You haven't."

Ten minutes later and Falco was ushering him out the door.

The official contract came two days later, beaming to his comm with an unceremonious chime that interrupted his morning coffee. The rest of his day disappeared into an abyss of musing and brooding. No Peppy. No Slippy. No Falco. And yet...

Fox had an idea.

It wasn't until that night that finally, he hit the reply button. I'll take the mission. Here's what I'll need from you.