Author's note: I'M STILL ALIVE! Geez this one's long and I worked on it for a long time, obviously. Hope it's not too bad, and I hope to GOD you people enjoy it. PM me if there's something you don't like. POSITIVE criticism is always appreciated

CHAPTER 7

Fox's alarm jolted him awake at 9:10 a.m., just several minutes before the Great Fox was projected to arrive in Sauria's orbit. Fox sat up in bed and tilted his neck to either side of him, nearly losing his balance as he popped the tension out of the bones inside of it. Fox walked over to the closet and got dressed in his full battle outfit. Same features as his flight outfit, but it was slightly less comfortable, considering the plates of Kevlar inside of his jacket.

Running a hand through the fur on his head as he walked out the door of his quarters, it was a meager attempt to straighten it out as he headed for the bridge; but making several planned detours prior to his arrival. Fox made a quick turn down another hallway that lead away from the bridge, and down towards the aft end of the ship, into the armory. While walking down the hall, he fumbled through his pocket and exposed the ring Krystal had given him. Fox placed it around his finger and felt a surge of relief come over him.

After scanning his retina once again, the armored double doors slid open, and Fox, almost instinctively, walked over to the shelf with several GI Cornerian automatic rifles lining its slots. Fox was just about to pick one up until he noticed that one of the slots was empty.

"Hmm…Falco must've gotten one already…He's always had an itchy trigger finger." Fox thought as he picked one up and gave it a look. Shouldering the weapon, he found it to be a perfect fit. Right when he placed it onto his shoulder, he got a clear look down its 3x power red dot sight.

"This'll do nicely." He thought as he slung it over his right shoulder. Just as he was about to walk over to where the ammunition was kept, he heard an extremely loud clang behind him. Whirling around, he hoped inside of his mind that he wouldn't see a firearm on the ground firing wildly in circles.

Instead, the only thing he saw was Krystal, standing about five feet behind him, laughing as Fox became to capture himself from the scare she had given him.

Fox was surprised to see her out of her flight suit, and into a uniform that almost exactly resembled the one Fox was wearing now: Vest, loose black shirt, thigh holster, and jean shorts. Fox's reached down to his thighs, for air circulation on Sauria's climate, while Krystal's were several inches above her knees.

"Good job…" He said as he walked over to her, standing almost directly in front of her, with a playful smile on his face and a bright shade of crimson under his fur.

"Krystal…I don't trust you with any of these things anymore." Fox said, playfully trying to wrestle the empty rifle out of her grip.

"You weren't saying that when I saved you at the Sargasso colony, Foxie." Krystal said as she jerked back, taking the rifle out of Fox's grip. Fox smiled and kissed her, knowing that he had lost this little argument.

"You've got a good point."

"Who knows, Fox? Maybe you'll end up saving me next time." She said. Fox hugged her tightly and stroked her hair.

"Let's just hope that won't be the worst-case scenario down there." He said as he let her go, arms still around her waist.

"Yeah…" Krystal said. "It's not like this'll be worse than the asteroid field."

Fox sighed. "This is getting too somber." He said as he wiggled his claws under her arms. As he expected, she burst out laughing.

"Come, on Fox. Hahahaha cut it out! All right it's not somber anymore; you win. You whihihihihin! Come on let me go!"

Fox grinned, deciding to be merciful this time to Krystal.

"You're such a jerk, Fox." Krystal said, slapping him lightly on the arm.

Fox put on an evil grin. "I know." He said as he swept her off her feet and into his arms. Krystal giggled as she put an arm around his neck.

"But you're a handsome, lovable jerk." Krystal said, resting her head on his shoulder. Krystal turned her head towards Fox's, giving him a passionate kiss, neither of them pulling away. Fox thanked Heaven for his fur, because his skin was a burning scarlet underneath it.

"You're not much better." He said with a grin as he put her down. Krystal giggled that quick laugh that Fox loved so much, and her mouth dropped open with a look of playful shock, giving Fox a false punch in the arm. Fox grabbed his arm, pretending it had really hurt.

"Come on, Krys. I'm kidding. You're…you." Fox said as he let go. Krystal took several steps toward him, coming face to face.

"What, my dear Fox, do you mean by that?" She asked, a playful/seductive smile across her face as she ran her finger up his chin to his bottom lip.

"Why you outta know. You're the most beautiful thing I've laid eyes on." He said, struggling with all his might not to let his voice break up or stutter mid-way in sentence.

"I practically fell in love with you the day that I met you." Fox was blushing along with Krystal, as a lovesick grin spread across both their faces. He stroked his hand through her hair, and Krystal, her arms around his neck as he held her, did the same.

"Well, Fox. That's quite the gentlemanly thing to say to a lady." Krystal said, moving her tail to meet his. Fox nearly jumped, but kept his cool, only raising an eyebrow, smiling menacingly at her. Krystal wore a rather playful smile, wondering what Fox may try to do next. Before he had a chance to act, she spoke up.

"Well, Fox McCloud, you're yourself too, to say the least. But, let's not spoil our date standing here in the oh so user-friendly armory. Perhaps over dinner after we get done with Sauria. That should slow 'em down long enough for a night out, wouldn't you say?"

"God I hope so, and..er..what?." Fox said. Krystal grinned and Kissed Fox on the lips tenderly.

"I think we need to go out after this…y'know? Something relaxing, for once. I mean, something traditional for once, after all. I don't think that first kiss we had when you were having that flashback about your parents is exactly what either of us would like to remember as a first kiss." Krystal said. Fox smiled back at her, a smile not of playfulness or greeting. Just a smile of pure love to Krystal.

"That'd be great, Krys. I was thinking the same thing myself. But isn't the gentleman supposed to ask his lady out on a date?"

"Fox?"

"Yeah?"

"Shut up." She said playfully. "Remember? I'm telepathic, and I know you've had it in your head for a while now, so technically, you did." Krystal said with a giggle. Fox shrugged his shoulders.

"So, leave it at that, Foxie." She said.

Fox hugged her tight, not saying a word. Some sixty to seventy seconds later, Krystal walked over to the shelves, picking up several weapons and inspecting them, before choosing her weapon of choice; a sub-machine gun, firing the lighter-recoiling pistol rounds, but with the full-auto stopping power of an AR.

Fox picked up several magazines and several more boxes of rifle ammunition and shoveled them into his pocket.

"Y'know what, Krystal?" Fox asked. Krystal glanced at him while stuffing a pistol clip into her pocket. "Yeah?"

"I think we need to go out after this…y'know? Something relaxing. I mean, after all. Sargasso wasn't exactly what I'd like to remember as a first kiss." Fox said. Krystal smiled back at him, a smile not of playfulness or greeting. Just a smile of pure love to Fox.

"That'd be great, Fox. I was thinking the same thing myself."

"We don't have long before we hit Sauria's orbit; about six minutes by my watch. Grab some gear, and a lot of ammo. I've been sensing a lot of enemy life-force again." Krystal said.

"What? Do you mean like Pigma in the meteor field?"

"No, Fox…I'm sensing great numbers, not one massive being."

Fox smiled. "Good. Then they'll be easier to take out with a rifle."

Krystal laughed. "Well, that's a good way to put it."

"We probably need to head up to the bridge. The team's waiting, and if I know Falco, he'll start a rumor." Fox said with a grin. Krystal nodded as Fox put an arm around her shoulders and they walked up the corridor to the Great Fox's bridge.

With the doors sliding open, Fox noticed that a face was on the VAC; it was a face that Fox had seen somewhere before.

"Hey, Fox. Long time, no see, pal."

"Same to you, Katt." He said back with a grin.

"It's been a while."

"Pfft…not long enough." Falco said with a laugh as he stood up from Fox's chair in the center of the bridge. Katt rolled her eyes at Falco's remark. Fox looked around to see who was on the bridge, and Peppy nodded his head in greeting as Fox's eyes met his for a second. Fox nodded back, and introduced Krystal to Katt Monroe.

"Oh yeah…I've heard so much about you from General Pepper." Katt said with a smile. "It's great to see you. I guess we'll be able to meet in person in about…oh…five minutes."

Falco's eyes shot up at the screen instantly at her statement. Katt glanced at him and raised an eyebrow with a grin.

"Yeah, I'm coming up to see you, Falco. Get over it. How could I leave you guys hanging when the Lylat System is in this much danger? I didn't ditch you when Andross was trying to screw everything over, did I?" She said. Fox was about to speak, but Peppy stood up from his seat.

"Well, Katt. Your arrival will be a much needed one, to say the least. Any and all help for Sauria is greatly needed. I hate to cut you short, but we have an incoming transmission on a military frequency. I'll see you in a few minutes." Peppy said.

Katt nodded and cut the transmission. The next face that showed up after the brief static was one that Fox had least expected to see.

"Lanshius to Great Fox. I heard you needed some assistance."

Fox was the first to speak. "Captain. Wow, it's good to see you again. What kind of assistance can you offer us? You should know by now that we'll take whatever you offer."

"Well, Commander McCloud, I've been granted a fleet of Cornerian cruisers, especially put aside for until the Aparoid offensive is destroyed. Three to be exact. Perhaps that may offer some help. Your old pal Bill Grey has also docked on my lead cruiser as well. He'll be leading the squadron of fighters I brought along, just in case."

Slippy nodded, Krystal put her hand on Fox's shoulder, and Peppy let out a great sigh of relief as they heard the news. Fox nodded, a grin spreading nearly ear to ear.

"Think of it as a repay of debt from Fortuna, Fox." Trent said.

"Acknowledged, Trent. We'll meet again at Sauria." Fox said.

"Acknowledged. Over and out."

"Well, that's great news to hear." Fox said as he walked and sat down in the central bridge chair, rifle still slung to his back. "Pep, how long until we reach orbit around Sauria?"

"We'll be there in about fifteen minutes, Fox. I recommend that you and Krystal head to your Arwings. "Ok. I want you to give me updates on the aerial battle as it progresses. Krystal and I will do the same on the ground."

Peppy interrupted. "But…Fox; there's something you need to see." Peppy said in a suddenly dark tone. "Follow me. Slippy found those pictures…" He said, walking to the bridge. Fox's heart sunk slightly, wondering what it could be on those pictures that Peppy has to show him.

Darkness seemed to engulf the bridge as Peppy and the team walked onto it in complete silence, with Peppy sitting down in Fox's chair, tapping commands into the computer. What broadcasted on the main view screen terrified Fox, and Krystal let out a gasp, covering her mouth with her hands in total shock.

A thorntail, one of the shorter creatures of Sauria. Several feet taller than Fox, and the most peaceful inhabitants of the planet. Fox had personally acquainted himself with one who opened the gateway to Dragon Rock, one of the final and most crucial chapters of the expedition.

The thorntail was lying on its side, breathing heavily, in its own blood. There weren't any aparoids nearby, but the damage had been done. On its side, near its head, were bright blue spots, almost like a cancerous growth, spreading from its head, down to its neck, stretching across some of its back down to his underside. Clearly this was what Fox and the team were fighting with in the asteroid field…this is what had happened to the Cornerians in the base. Fox felt his fists begin to clench tightly in rage, his fingernails nearly drawing blood from his palms.

"This…this…" Fox whispered under his breath.

"Fox…It…It's horrible." Slippy said quietly.

"Oh my God…" Falco said as he took a step back in horror from the image.

Krystal let her breath out slowly, still saying nothing at all. Fox couldn't hear any thoughts, even with his ring still being on his finger. Krystal was speechless, even in her mind. Fox walked behind her and wrapped his arms around her neck, pulling her to him, trying to ease her apparent pain. Fox could feel her heart, nearly pounding itself out of her chest.

Fox could feel his heart pace begin to quicken and rage engulf him as he looked back up at the view screen. The rifle suddenly became heavy on his back as Fox knew that he'd need a lot more ammo than expected. He was going to personally make sure that every one of the aparoids was dead by the end of the mission.

"This…this is unforgivable." Fox said quietly, trying to keep himself from yelling, and shooting the view screen with his pistol.

Fox took a step back from Krystal, bringing all the eyes of the team to him as he walked near the screen. Fox looked at it, then to the floor, feeling the anger pulse through him just as fast as his blood was. Fox turned around and looked at the StarFox team before him.

"We…We can NOT let them have this planet. I don't give a damn if they kill me too, but they're not taking Sauria…Hell…they can't even fight back. Some damn way for a mighty force to fight. To kill creatures that can't EVEN FIGHT BACK!" Fox yelled, startling the team before him.

"We're NOT going to lose." He said, eyeing each one of the team members, waiting for a response. Krystal was the first to step forward. She walked right in front of him, neither of them saying a word for several seconds. Fox staring at her, trying to smile, Krystal staring back with tears in her eyes, also possessing a weak smile. She turned around, withdrew her rifle, and racked the charging handle back with force, letting it fly forward with a loud clang.

The rest of the team quickly got the hint. Falco picked up his helmet he had set down on the floor and placed it under his arm. Slippy did the same, and Katt walked into the bridge just as the team, with the exception of Peppy, was about to make their way down the hall. Katt had a smile on her face, and mischief in her eyes.

"Come on, Fox. Don't hog all the fun. It's not just you guys kickin' tail." She said. Fox's old friend and alibi in the Venomian offensive, Katt Monroe was standing before him carrying an older model flight helmet, in an older Zonessian uniform, one that slightly resembled Fox's, from the time before the planet was destroyed by Andross. Despite all the pain and suffering these years had to offer her, she still looked the same as Fox had seen her last. Her fur, still as pink as it was those years ago, and her eyes still hadn't lost their yellow luster.

"Katt, it's great to see you again. How've the years been treating you?" He asked as he gave his friend a hug.

"Oh…fine, I guess. Haven't seen much action lately, but I'm still staying in touch with Falco." She said with a grin as her and team began to walk together down the hall to the hangar. Falco rolled his eyes and grinned as he walked up to her and gave her a hug.

"You just really don't like to show that you have a soft spot, do you Falco?" Slippy asked.

"Keep croakin', toady. Watch what happens up there if you don't shut up." He said with an evil grin turned towards Slippy. Slippy turned around and didn't say another word.

"Well unfortunately for you, Falco, I'm going to be airborne for this one. See the hardware?" She said as she pointed to her helmet. Falco nodded. "My old ship's in the hangar.

"Pretty old model, though, isn't it?" He said.

"Yeah, so? I'll make a bet with you. I bet you a hundred credits that I kill more Aparoids with that old rust bucket than you do with your brand new Arwing." Katt said. Falco nodded and shook her hand.

"Done bet."

Fox grinned. "Sorry to cut you two out of your gambling ring, but we've got some Arwings to climb into. Let's get this over with." Fox said as he got up and began walking to the exit of the bridge.

"Right behind you." Krystal said as she met up with him and placed her hand in his as Fox walked beside her. Fox felt good about this mission awaiting him, but he still felt that something was awkwardly wrong…

"All right, team. Do we have all necessary gear? Guns and all?" Fox asked over the comm frequency as the airlocks hissed and the canopy slid shut with several clicks and whirrs of the mechanism.

"Yeah, Fox." Falco said.

"I think twenty clips ought to be enough." Krystal replied.

"I think I've got everything…" Slippy hesitated.

"Clear, Fox. It's good to be back." Katt said.

"Yep…just like old times." Fox said with a grin as ROB's voice sounded over the ship-wide comm.

"Weapons primed, Engines at nominal. Life-support systems optimal. Alpha interface supported. All systems are go. Arwings are ready for launch."

"Here goes nothing." Katt said, sounding slightly nervous.

"Three…two…one…launch."

Fox let out a whoop as his head was accelerated into the leather cushioned seat of the Arwing from the force of being thrown out of the hangar at near-light speed.

Fox took a deep breath as he looked around, noticing the stars and the illustrious glow of the fiery Sector Z nebula in his northwest corner of view. It gave him a sense of relaxation; the bright orange and yellow lights of the z-shaped hovering nebula, illuminating his Arwing with a faint orange glow.

Fox remembered that battle he had won in the nebula, within its orange and yellow lights. The attack directed mainly to the Great Fox, but it was not directed with enemy fighters mainly. It was directed with thermonuclear warheads. Like the battle Fox was about to face before him, if he lost, there would be insurmountable consequences following the wake of the defeat.

Fox's eyes turned suddenly forward as he felt a tremor go through his Arwing. Fox expected to see the usual fire lapping around the nose of his Arwing, but what he saw made his blood run cold.

"Evasive maneuvers!" He yelled as he threw his Arwing into a sharp barrel roll, trying to dodge hundreds of glowing beams of pure energy being fired from some unknown source on the surface. "The Aparoids must have set up turrets" Fox thought, but how they set up hundreds of them, he'd never know.

"Crap! Keep your senses up, everyone! Keep maneuvering. If one of these things even clips your ship, you're dead."

A chorus of copy's came into Fox's cockpit over the deafening noise of the vibrations from the beams of glowing energy scorched the near sides of his ship left and right.

"Damn…" He mumbled as he began banking from left to right, desperately trying to dodge everything he can.

"Fox! The enemy fire…it's too heavy. We've got to abort!" Falco said into the comm, mixed with a faint sound of explosions in the background of the frequency.

"I've NEVER stopped a mission, and I am damn sure that I'm NOT going to quit this one!" Fox yelled back into the comm as he went further and further into the atmosphere, along with the rest of the team following behind him, zigzagging every way possible to avoid the hundreds of thousands of colossal blue blasts emanating from the surface of the once peaceful Sauria.

"We're almost there; just a few hundred more kilometers." Fox said, gritting his teeth as the numbers ticked down on his HUD console. 243.76 km…187.53 km…

Fox could only wish that the numbers would move down much faster. Every beam that flew by him could be the last thing that he saw.

"Where the hell is Trent! We need some cover!" Fox said to nobody in particular as he pulled a somersault, dodging a beam that would have ended his life.

Beads of sweat dripped off of his head and stung his eyes as Fox pulled great amounts of G-forces with every twist and turn he made in his ship. For something so large, Fox couldn't help to admire the quickness of its controls, especially in such a dire situation as this.

Fox glanced at his HUD readings, seeing that the numbers had not changed much since he looked at them last. Fox grunted in frustration as he realized that he hadn't even been trying to get to the surface.

"Everyone, point your noses at the surface of the planet. We're gonna break through this barrage." Fox yelled over the comm.

"What! Are you freakin' insane!" Falco asked.

"Are you serious?" Katt asked.

Fox sighed. "Maybe I am, but I'm damn serious. All right. Team, form up on my six, and follow my lead. Keep tight, people. Let's move!"

Fox closed his eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath.

"Don't worry Fox. They, we all trust you." Came Krystal's voice telepathically to Fox.

"I know…I just hope I know what I'm doing…"

Fox aimed the nose dead at where ThornTail Hollow was located, and jammed the throttle all the way up to its maximum speed.

"Hang on!"

Fox was pulling the flight stick nearly every direction, making sure the beams didn't knick the wings as the came flying by his Arwing, parallel to the wings. If one hit him dead on, at least he wouldn't feel anything.

The numbers began to tick down by the twenties, and the G-Forces in the Arwing began to build up just as fast. Fox was gritting his teeth and grasping the controls with all his might as he began to get light-headed from the G's.

The HUD was in the 80 km. Range when Fox cut the speed and breached the enemy Anti-Aircraft and the atmospheric resistance. Fox, and the whole rest of the team breathed a sigh of relief as their adrenaline rush left them, calming their senses and re-orientating them from the pull of the G-forces.

"There's not enough room in the Hollow for five ships. Krystal and I will take the surface; the rest of you, watch the air and give us cover. If one of us fails, we all will. We can't lose this mission."

"Copy." The team replied.

Fox nodded. "Good. Fox out." He said and engaged the landing mechanisms in his cockpit.

"Radar's starting to send in a bunch of bleeps. They're concentrated inside of Thorntail Hollow and the Walled city. There's nothing in Cape Claw, and minimum contacts in Moon Mountain Pass. Krystal, land your ship at the city and I'll meet up with you. Will you be ok?"

"Don't worry about me, Fox. I can hold my ground."

"Yeah I know."

Fox opened up the canopy, and as soon as it opened, he jumped out and grabbed the rifle from the undercarriage compartment, loading a fresh round in the chamber, and firing it at the first aparoid that came crawling towards, followed by many more behind him.

"Fox…Something's wrong." Krystal said. Fox's ears swept back. "I…I don't see any dinosaurs anywhere yet. No Earthwalkers, nothing. I can't even sense a thought pattern."

"Not anything?"

"No…there's nothing now…wait…Oh Fox. They…there's a few around here, but they're dead. I guess you were right. They couldn't take the virus."

Fox's heart sunk. "Well…at least we won't have to kill them ourselves."

"I hope Tricky was one of the luckier ones…I hope he survived."

Fox's heart quickened. "Maybe…they found shelter somewhere. We've got to hope for the best now. That's all we can do."

"Understood. Krystal out."

"Falco, how's it looking in the skies?" Fox said into his wrist comm.

"Well, we're near the mountain…I'm sure you don't see much, but we're getting bombarded up here!"

"Yeah, I see you guys, Can you hold 'em off for now?"

"Sure we…"

Fox raised an eyebrow as he looked towards Ice Mountian, seeing blue and green lasers being exchanged back and forth between the three ships and the aparoids.

"Yeah, Fox. We'll be just fine." Falco said with a mischievous tone in his voice.

"Umm…Ok, Just watch your-" Fox began, but heard a gigantic explosion overhead accompanied by a familiar voice over the radio, and seeing a Cornerian BattleCruiser flying overhead, towards Falco's position.

"Heck yeah, Fox! How'd you like that. Those turrets that gave you some trouble are history now, man. Lucky they were outside of the Walled City and away from any of you guys, so what else could I do. I dropped a rather…medium-sized… bomb." Trent said with a laugh as he stood up from his chair on the bridge. Trent turned to his first officer, a young arctic Fox, several years younger than him.

"The bridge is yours, number one." He said and walked off the bridge to the hangar, where a Cornerian fighter was awaiting him.

"All right, Trent. That's good to know. Launch some fighters out of that ship of yours. We could sure use a bit of reinforcements. This isn't going to be easy."

"Acknowledged." Trent said he strapped on his helmet and his the cruiser began to ascend into Sauria's orbit, but not before releasing a whole squadron of Cornerian fighters, with one in particular that caught Fox's eye as it descended.

"What's up, Bill. Nice to see you finally got here." Fox said.

"How's it hangin, buddy? Leave me some down there."

"Not a chance, Bill."

"All right, Fox. This should even it out a bit. I just hope I can still fly this fighter as good as I used to." Came Trent's voice over the radio.

"Nice to see you've joined us on the front." Fox said. "Just don't get killed."

"Will do." Trent said, opening fire on any airborne aparoid specimen that was unfortunate enough to cross into his sights. Trent put on some shades over his white fur and switched his laser cannons to full auto. He grinned, squeezing the dual triggers and letting everything fly at once.

Five nova bombs flew out of the end of his fighter, accompanied by a woop on the radio from him as they all found marks in one enemy or another. Fox took a quick glance at the tip of Ice Mountain, seeing the four ships against a countless swarm of an aparoid armada. As hopeless as it seemed, Fox still had that gut instinct that they would pull out of this one okay, even the dinosaurs of Sauria.

"All right, Fox. We're keeping them busy up he--Oof!" Trent said.

"Trent, come in." Fox said, still letting rounds fly continuously out of the end of the AR, trying to break through the mob and get to the hatcher across on the other side of the well in the southern end of the hollow.

"Damn, I'm hit. Havin' problems here, but I'm okay." Trent said.

"Take it easy, man. We need you and your squadron for the rest of this. Don't get shot down, because I'll kick your tail." Fox said with a laugh over the comm.

"Acknowledged, Fox. I'll be--" Trent said. Fox heard an explosion, and a Cornerian fighter hurtled out of Fox's sight, towards the surface of Moon Mountain Pass.

"No!" Fox screamed, realizing that it was Trent's fighter. He came to a stop as he realized he was backed up against a cliff of the hollow, with no place to go.

"Great…I'm screwed now…"Fox thought. He kept his rifle aimed ahead as the aparoids walked ever so slowly towards him. He knew that they were going to enjoy trying to take him out. They've been trying to after all for this whole offensive.

Just when Fox was about to provoke them by opening fire, he heard a whine coming from the southern side of the Hollow. A battered fighter, engulfed in flames, emerged, flying rather slow, from the area around the Snowhorn Wastes near the mountain. Fox dove under cover, any piece of rock he could, and hoped that the fighter didn't hit him and splatter him all over the cliff.

Sounds of laser blasts filled the air, and Fox felt the stinging heat and wind of multiple explosions no more than thirty feet from where he was. Then the ground shook as the unknown fighter careened into the dirt, further taking out any other aparoids in the immediate area.

Fox stood up, dusted off his suit, and walked over to the fighter, considering nothing else was left in the hollow to shoot at for the moment.

The canopy hissed as its mechanisms released and opened up the bubble, and the pilot threw a flight helmet out.

"That was some shooting, to say the least. You saved my life." Fox said, walking up to greet the pilot, though still glancing around, wary for any other signs of enemies.

"Well, glad I could help." Came Trent Lanshius' voice as he climbed out of the cockpit and jumped onto the soil of Sauria.

"Wow, Captain. You're just as burnt up as the first time I saw you at Fortuna."

Trent exposed a high-powered pistol from his thigh holster. "Seems history has a way of repeating itself." Fox nodded.

Fox heard a scraping above him as he racked the bolt forward on his rifle, and knew that something was about to go wrong. Four aparoids had jumped from the cliff, trying to surprise Fox. His instincts kicked in, as well as Trent's.

Fox caught the sound of the enemy in his ears and took a quick running start, whirled around, diving to the ground on his back. As he dived, he squeezed the trigger on his rifle and let as many as 30 rounds fly on full automatic. Most of them found there mark, but there were two alive. Fox gathered himself as he stood up and shouldered his rifle. Trent fired several aimed shots, killing the two remaining enemies where they stood, feet from where Fox and Trent were standing.

"Nicely done, Captain." Fox said. Trent nodded and lowered his pistol.

"Close one…How are you holding out, Krystal?" Fox thought as he glanced at his ring to make sure it was on his finger tightly, making a quick run for the hatcher across from the well, Trent facing behind him, covering his back for any surprises.

"All right. There's a bunch of 'em though, Fox. Some air cover would be nice soon." Krystal thought back as she dove into the Sun temple, narrowly dodging a blast from one of the same enemy on Katina that emitted the hurling orbs of dark energy. Krystal got up, shook her head clear, and picked up her high-powered automatic pistol and her sub-machine gun. She closed her eyes and concentrated on where its thought patterns were emanating from. Strapping the SMG on her back, she made her way to the top of the temple's red and white stone pyramid, vanquishing a few on the way.

"Ha. Got 'em." She said to herself with a grin as she flipped up the target sights on her pistol and adjusted them to 200 meters; her estimate on where the enemy was, on a cliff clear on the other side of the city, some 150 feet above sea level. Krystal now regretted for this one second not picking up an AR. The SMG just didn't have the accuracy. Krystal dropped the clip, showing enough energy for one more shot left. She knew if she missed this shot, then she'd be dead for sure.

Taking a firm hold of the grip in her right hand and controlling it with her left, she put gradual pressure on the trigger until it broke, releasing the shimmering laser blast out of the end of the barrel. Krystal stood up as she watched the colossal aparoid plummet to the ground below. Krystal clenched her fist and let out a 'yes' of excitement, as she didn't expect to make that first shot.

"Fox, I think I'd give you a run for your money in shooting." She thought back to him.

"Sure you would…what'd you do? Make a hundred meter shot with a pistol?"

Krystal laughed. "Nope. Two-hundred."

"Ouch…"

Krystal withdrew her sub-machine gun, storming out of the Sun temple's entryway with the barrel moving in almost every direction on full-auto fire, with nearly every round finding its mark in one aparoid or another, considering the great number of enemies amassed against her. Krystal dashed to the center stone pyramid, enemy lasers flying all around her body, just as her gun expended the last round in the magazine.

She pulled out a fresh 50-round box out of her back right pocket of her battle uniform and rammed it into the well just as the empty one hit the ground with a flick of her thumb to the mag catch.

Just as it clicked in, she gasped in pain as she clutched her right arm with her other hand. There was a sharp, searing pain on her arm near her shoulder about the length of her hand, and it was oozing her Cerinian blood onto the Saurian soil.

She instinctively dove to the ground and turned around to see what was behind her. An aparoidan entity, resembling a somewhat scaled-down version of the landmaster, had fired a laser, impacting her arm. Krystal aimed her SMG at it and fired, emptying the magazine and destroying the aparoid.

Krystal gritted her teeth as she began to tear off the fabric from her shirt, just under her neck and just above her chest.

She grinned through her swelling pain, wondering what Fox would say when he saw her without the fabric covering, and showing just a small bit of there as she wrapped it tight around her wound and pulled it, tying it into a knot. Krystal pulled the piece of shirt with her teeth and racked back the bolt on her SMG. A crude field dressing, but it would do for now, she thought as she repositioned the sub-machine gun in her left, and weaker, hand.

Fox pulled out a hand grenade from one of his several vest pouches and hurled it into a cavern across the lake of Thorntail Hollow, where several enemies had appeared from inside the past few minutes.

Taking a glance at the cavern, he fired several rounds into it to ensure that any aparoids attempting to exit the cavern were killed as he glanced all around him, trying to hold off the dozens of the insectoids charging him from nearly every direction. On top of that, he and Trent were still dodging enemy laser blasts from turrets and mobile creatures alike at the same time. It just now occurred to Fox how much of a hopeless situation he seemed to be in.

"Damn, this is pretty hopeless." Trent said, reloading his pistol.

"Don't quit fightin' until the fight is done, Trent. It's not over yet."

The grenade exploded inside the cavern after emitting the light from its fusion core, sending fragments of rock in every direction. Fox winced as several pebbles struck him on the head, falling from the massive explosion.

"Well, that was easy, but…I think I've been in there before…Aww crap!" Fox said to himself, realizing that what he had just totally obliterated was one of the magic caves, a place he had gone to upgrade the power of Krystal's staff when he had it. "Whoops…" Fox thought as he glanced at his radar, seeing nearly two-dozen of the yellow contacts go off screen along with two hatcher contacts.

"Nice shootin', Fox. How'd you manage that one?" Peppy asked over the comm from the Great Fox Bridge. Fox ran over to the partially demolished Thorntail Store, a place where Fox had acquired objects vital to his expedition, and braced his back against a pile of rubble near the entryway as he dropped the magazine out of his assault rifle and pressed in a fresh 50 round box.

"Peppy, It's called fragmentation." Fox said rather loudly into his wrist comm over the heat of the battle. Fox could hear Peppy and Trent laugh, but that noise was drowned out as he fired three-round bursts into the crowd of enemy trying to charge him from across the creek.

Fox glanced at his radar as he hurled a grenade into the mob, trying desperately to see the red dot on his radar indicating the presence of a hatcher.

"All right, Fox. There's only two of 'em left now. You've almost got it." Peppy said over the comm.

Trent dove behind cover, behind a rock barrier at the small temple near Fox's position, as he fired blindly into the still oncoming mob. Fox dove behind the cover where Trent was and studied his radar for a quick second as he fired bursts blindly over the top of the stone.

"There's still on in the Walled City. They keep coming over that cliff. It's the only place." The last one was indeed in the Walled City, over the cliffs that surrounded the Hollow on its south side. Trent nodded.

"But how do we get over there?" Trent asked.

"Over the cliffs. Krystal's holding 'em off for us."

"Are you sure? there's a whole army coming just for us." Trent asked inquisitively.

"Trust me, man. If anyone can fight off a whole army, she can."

"How you holding out, Krystal?"

"Good for now. There'll be more coming here soon, and I need your help, but for now, I'm sensing another being coming into your area. Its patterns are getting stronger by the minute."

Trent fired into the mob coming over the cliffs with his pistol, as Fox did the same with his AR.

"Can you tell what it is?"

Fox covered his head, attempting to shield himself from the blasts, when all of a sudden, they went silent. Fox looked around, his AR packed tightly against his shoulder. Fox stuck his head over the rubble just far enough for his eyes to see over, and the smaller aparoids were beginning to just walk away from his position. Fox stood up, but none of them fired a shot. "Maybe they surrendered…no, that's not possible…" Fox thought.

"I can now…Oh no…Fox…you're about to get a BIG welcome…" He heard Krystal's voice telepathically.

"I…what?" Fox began to say, but heard the ground shake beneath his feet. It shook, about every three seconds, and each one became louder than the last.

"What the…?"

"Fox, I don't know what it is, but it's Saurian. I hope for everything that it's not tricky." Came Krystal's voice.

"Oh God…" Fox said to himself, contemplating this possibility in his mind, the footsteps becoming ever louder. Fox turned to face the Northeastern side of the Hollow, towards Cape Claw, and saw one of the worst things that could have come to mind.

"Oh you've got to be kidding me…" Trent whispered, seeing what was perhaps the most majestic tribe of all the dinosaurs, and, as luck would have it, the last of its kind. The only high-top, that Fox had met himself, had been absorbed into the aparoid forces already. Fox knew before the engagement that one of them most likely would have accepted the virus, but this was the last one that Fox wanted to see like this.

Fox lowered his rifle as his jaw dropped in horror. It had been severely affected, viral infections spreading down from its head to its neck, and also possessing irregular, large colored splotches in globs across most of its entire body.

"No…" He said as the behemoth let out a cry of agony that curled the hairs of Fox's neck. It swung down its neck, trying to knock Fox off his feet, but he dodged, jumping backwards and landing on his back on the Saurian soil. Trent fired a round into it and dove into the entryway of the Throntail store, trying to hide his position from the high-top.

"Don't shoot it yet!" Fox yelled over the sound of the beast. "Hold on for a second, Trent!"

"What!" Trent yelled, but Fox didn't respond.

"Krystal…Is there a way I can avoid killing it? I…I know this one personally…"

"Fox, you said it yourself…It's them or us. I'm sorry."

"Okay…" Fox said to himself, raising the rifle at nearly a fifty degree angle to get the sights in line with the affected portion of the beast. Fox reluctantly took aim for the high-top's head, and squeezed off a round.

Trent followed Fox's lead. He fired also, and their shots found their marks, but the dinosaur still stood. Fox cursed under his breath as he switched the AR to full-auto. "I'm sorry." He said to himself, and mainly the high-top, as the rifle spit out rounds at the dinosaur's flesh, and as the high-top fought back, swinging his great neck down, trying to knock Fox and Trent off their feet, while making attempts to step on him at the same time.

Several rounds hit before it finally stopped fighting back. The gun stopped firing, out of ammo but Fox's finger still squeezed tightly on the trigger involuntarily, waiting for something to happen.

The colossal dinosaur swayed, let out a dying moan, and fell to the ground, its breath and life having left him. Without thinking, Fox dove back behind the rock border where Trent was barricaded as he heard the aparoids begin to regroup from his right, onto his position once again.

"Dammit, there could've been another way." He said over and over again to himself as he switched out magazines on his AR and re-situated himself behind the rock, next to Trent.

"Fox…I'm in some real trouble here. I'm being overrun" Came Krystal's voice through the comm. Fox was surprised he had heard it through the noise.

"I'll be there as soon I can." Fox said into his comm and tapped Trent on the shoulder to let him know of the situation.

"What's up, Fox?"

"Krystal's in trouble. Hold out here, Trent. Enemy forces are starting to go down because of that hatcher I demolished, and there's not much left around here. But they're overwhelming Krys in the city." Fox said as a laser blast hit the ground some ten feet away from where he was crouching. Trent fired several rounds at the source of the blast, hunkered back down and nodded to Fox.

"Will you be okay?" Fox asked. Trent fired over the rubble, his rounds finding marks in several insectoid and tank-like specimens alike.

"Go save her, Fox. I'll hold my ground here."

Fox took a deep breath as he climbed from behind the rubble, blazing with the assault rifle in every direction. He saw a break in the aparoid's lines and he set off in a run towards his Arwing, tapping buttons on his wrist unit, signaling the ship to start up automatically.

Right before Fox got to the ship, the commands he had entered had begun starting up the ship. The engine began to warm up and all systems were online as he jumped into the cockpit and strapped himself in.

"Krystal, there's an underground cavern on the north side of the big center pyramid, several meters in front of its base. Get inside of it as quick as you can; I'm gonna do a flyover and strafe everything I can." Fox said as he lifted the Arwing up, firing some shots with his rifle before the canopy closed.

"Sure thing, Fox. Hurry." She said weakly.

"Krystal? Are you okay?" Fox asked into the comm, his heart sinking.

"Yes…I'm holding out for now. It's been a toll, but I'll make it. I just need you here." She said back.

"I'll be there shortly. Find some cover, Krys. I love you. Fox out."

"I love you too, Fox."

Krystal lowered her left arm from in front of her face as she radioed her last transmission and fired her SMGs last rounds of ammo into the continuously oncoming crowd of enemy forces approaching her from the moon temple, clear across the other side of the city.

She threw her gun at the enemy and drew her pistol, setting off in a run towards the center pyramid's north side, clutching the wound on her left arm. Krystal herself was not even sure that she would be able to make it to the cavern. It was still bleeding, and she had lost a lot of blood by now…

Falco Lombardi swooped his Arwing down low and glanced from outside his cockpit to see the scene below in the city. His eyes narrowed at what he saw.

A single blue dot, running and zigzagging from what looked like a whole cloud of darkness, being the aparoid forces not far behind her. "Dammit, if I shoot I'll probably hit her or something…Come on, Krystal…Get to some cover; Fox and I'll bail you out." He thought.

Falco turned his attention back to the aerial battle over Ice Mountain, which he and Slippy seemed to be doing well in, but with a cost. Falco's shields were at about 10 and Slippy was doing just as bad.

Though Falco and Slippy had been raking up massive kills, they just kept coming in from all directions. Falco even had trouble choosing a target, there were so many. His mind was racing and his eyes darting in all directions, desperately trying to think up some kind of plan for the situation, which was deteriorating rapidly before him.

Krystal, with what little strength she had left, dove into the cavern in front of the City's pyramid and aimed the pistol at the door, waiting for something to try and get in. She had figured by now that this was the end, but she wasn't going to go down without taking as many of them with her as she could.

Seeing no immediate threat, she scooted herself against the back wall, beside a shrine-like object, about her full height, with a gold tooth in its mouth. Krystal took a deep breath, prayed for something, anything good, and waited for Fox's air cover.

Hearing the tell-tale sound of aparoid footsteps, she aimed her pistol at the entryway of the cavern. Several aparoids stuck their heads around the side, trying to enter. Krystal fired, hoping her ammunition wouldn't run out at the wrong time. She reached over her shoulder, and fumbled for the metal protrusion on the top of the back. Grasping it, she exposed her staff, and extended it to its full length, about six feet.

Krystal knew right when she took the staff out that everything had just gone straight to hell. She heard more foot steps, and gripped the staff tighter as they came into the door. Krystal let out a war cry that sounded like bloody murder, and jumped on the first one that came in, ramming it through the head, and she unclipped her pistol and shot the second one in the eye. They just kept pouring in from that entrance one by one, and they wouldn't stop coming.

One fired a laser through its head towards her, and she dodged it and slid under its body on her knees and impaled it in the abdomen. The only thing she was concentrating on was to make sure that every one of these things that came in wouldn't get out.

Fox, flying over the city, saw his version of hell, noticing the aparoids moving into the cavern where Krystal was located. Several dead Earthwalkers lay around the city, some of them massacred, the others' bodies had obviously not taken to the aparoid virus very well. Even from the air, Fox could notice their irregularities on their skin. "Here it comes." He said launching a nova bomb at the hatcher settled on top of the moon temple.

"Yee-hah!" Fox yelled, firing his lasers as fast as his paws could press the trigger, stirring up great clouds of dust as well as aparoids in doing so. He concentrated the brunt of his firepower at the entrance of the cavern where Krystal was, vaporizing everything that was standing there, about fifty to sixty of all the aparoids Fox had faced so far. Fox glanced up, seeing Falco being tailed by three airborne specimens, each twice as large as his own arwing. Fox shot at the city until nothing was left moving under him. Dropping one extra nova for insurance, he pulled off for a second to help Falco fend off his attackers.

Fox locked on to one of them, and yelled for Falco to roll left and clear the path. Falco acknowledged, and as Fox's hyper laser blast flew towards the center attacker. Just as it had exited the cannon on his arwing, Falco fired retros, banked low and to the left, and slammed the throttle all the way forward, sending him flying at near-light speeds to safety as the aparoids were quickly eliminated. Fox began gunning at everything that was moving in front of him, sending several dozen aparoid life forms careening to Sauria's surface.

He took a deep breath as he stopped firing, considering his cannons were beginning to overheat. He let go of the trigger, realizing that he had cracked some of the polymer material because he was pressing it too hard.

"Falco. Can you handle it up here?" Fox said, sweat pouring from his brow as he looked at the city, with nothing moving at all now. Hatcher, and the Moon Temple it rested on lying in ruins.

"Fox, shut up and save your girl." Bill said over the comm. Fox grinned.

"We're fine, Fox. You heard the man." Slippy said back. "Tide's beginning to turn."

"Ok." Fox said and sent his Arwing in a kickspin, having it face back towards the Walled City.

"Krystal, can you hear me?" Fox said. No response. "Krystal!"

Right when the ship had landed, and before the canopy had even opened fully, Fox had jumped from the ship, pistol in hand, and rushed into the temple where Krystal had gone for cover.

There Krystal was…standing boldly, staff in hand, staring at Fox, with a weak, loving smile, being she was glad to see him. At her feet lay tens of twenties of vanquished Aparoid ground forces, and an empty pistol lodged inside one's thorax. Krystal wasn't in much better shape herself. She was still oozing blood from her arm and many more abrasions and wounds across her body.

Fox saw the field dressing on her arm and his eyes widened almost involuntarily. Clearly he had had the easier portion of this whole offensive. Krystal had lost a lot of blood, as evident on where she had slid across the floor to the wall; and as Fox began to walk towards her he saw that she was burnt, torn, battered, and scarred. Her adrenaline rush was beginning to leave her, and she was swaying slightly to either side.

"Dear God…" Fox said, running to catch her as her eyes closed and she began to fall to the stone floor of the temple. Fox caught her by her arms and gently set her on the ground, still holding her head, cradling it in his hand. Fox feared for the worst. He raised his wrist comm to his face, but before he could speak, he was interrupted by Peppy's voice from the Great Fox

"Fox! We've done it! You've knocked out all the hatchers, aerial numbers are starting to decline thanks to Trent's reinforcements, and I'm picking up some friendly contacts on radar near Moon Mountain Pass; they're beginning to start fighting back now. Congrat--"

"Peppy…We've…I…we need a medic." He said, his voice breaking up. Tears were forming in his eyes, blurring his vision every time he blinked, and he was beginning to get shaky.

"Fox…what happened?" Peppy asked. "Just…Peppy, just get the ship down to the Walled City, now." Fox said back into the comm. Peppy was silent for a second, perhaps a bit of shock setting in, but Fox didn't have time to wait for a response, so he took the comm away from his face, threw his gun down and gently set Krystal's head on the floor, ripping off a piece of his shirt, and wrapping it tight around her arm to keep pressure on the wound. Just as he wrapped it around her wound, he just noticed that there was a bit of extra fur showing above her midsection where she had ripped her shirt to bandage her arm.

Fox pulled the knot as tight as he could , hoping it would be sufficient until help arrived, and picked her head back up, stroking her hair, smiling at her weakly, hoping and praying that she would regain consciousness. "Krystal…Come on…you can't die on me." He said several times, trying to reassure himself that everything would be all right.

"Sure thing, Fox. I'll get the ship down there as quick as I can." Peppy said. Fox barely heard it through the sounds of the aerial battle overhead.

"Good." Fox said and picked his beloved Krystal up, with a tear running down his cheek as he exited the tunnel, pistol still in hand, an itchy finger on the trigger, waiting for anything to move out from the shadows.

Fox heard a loud whine of a ship's engine overhead as he neared the field, and looked up to see Bill Grey's Cornerian fighter docking just several dozen yards from where Fox was standing, creating a windstorm where Fox was. Fox shielded his eyes and as the wind died down Bill jumped out of the canopy with some kind of kit in his hand and nearly stopped in his tracks midway there when he saw the condition Krystal was in.

"Geez, Fox. Is she still alive!" He asked, his eyes running from head to toe on Krystal's bruised body. Fox nodded, unable to speak.

"Well, set her down here, man." Fox did as Bill said, placing her on the ground as Bill took off his jacket and folded it into a makeshift pillow for her head to rest on. Fox grabbed the first aid kit from Bill's hand as he began to open it.

"Lucky I took battlefield medicine in the academy." Fox said somberly, ripping a portion of gauze tape off its roll with his teeth.

"Yeah it is."

"Bill, you got any water?"

He pulled out a small plastic bottle and handed it to Fox as he patched up one of the larger wounds on Krystal's left hip that was bleeding the most, and re-dressed the one on her arm. Bill lifted her head up, and Fox let several drops of water drip onto her mouth, hoping that it might wake her up.

"Damn, Fox…I don't know." Bill said quietly as Krystal still didn't move.

"Shut up, Bill." Fox whispered.

Fox kneeled down and took Krystal in his arms.

"Come on, Krys. Don't die on me. Remember? I said I'd save you this time." Fox said to her as she lay, breathing but motionless.

Fox stood up, running a hand through the fur on his head, nearly pulling some out of his head due to this overwhelming stress. He closed his eyes, trying to hold tears back as he began to feel his heart pounding madly in his chest, and he saw portions of his life flash before his eyes. The time when he had first met Krystal on Sauria, that moment when she walked to greet him on the ship, their first kiss on Sargasso, and now this…

Fox was beginning to feel as if he was losing it, when he noticed she moved. "Krystal?" He said as he kneeled back down and took her in his arms. Her eyes shot open and her pupils were so shrunken out of fear it was almost unreal as she took in a huge gulp of air. Fox smiled, tears of joy falling down his face as he saw that his love was still alive after all that this hellish mission had to offer her.

"I thought you were gone." Fox said, pulling her to him in an affectionate hug, staining his vest slightly with drops of blood.

"Relax, Fox…I wouldn't let you get off the hook that easy." She said weakly with a smile. Bill took a great sigh of relief, and exposed a rather small flask from his vest pocket.

"So…Fox." She began weakly.

"Yeah?"

"Wh…what do you think of my shirt. Would that be okay to wear for the date?" She asked with a smile. Fox chuckled and rolled his eyes, bringing them to look into her own cerulean blue ones as he leaned down and kissed her.

"Whatever you want to wear, Krys. Right now, just get back to the ship alive so we can actually have our date." Fox said. Krystal gave Fox a loving smile and kissed him back.

"Ahhhh…" Bill said. Fox and Krystal turned their attention to the dog pilot, who was grinning ear to ear as he removed his shades, his dark green eyes coming into view.

"Well Geez, Fox. It's been a while since you too met, and now you ask the love of you life out on a date? 'Bout time, and what a hell of one to pick." He said. Fox grinned.

"Shut up, Bill. We planned it before this." Fox said. Krystal smiled and laughed.

"Drinks all around." Bill said and reached into his vest pocket.

Fox raised an eyebrow and Krystal squinted her eyes slightly as she saw the reflection of its chrome-plated side in the sun. Bill took a swig, who handed it to Fox. Fox took a small sip, considering it burned his throat on the way down.

He handed it back to Bill as he made perhaps the most wrinkled up, cross-eyed expression possible.

"Cheers, mate." Bill said in a bad accent as Fox broke out into coughs.

"Good grief, Bill. What is that?" Fox asked, recovering from the bite of the liquid.

"About three-fourths Cornerian ale, the rest is a bit of carbonation, with…several…drops of alcohol in the mix, just to liven it up."

"Well, I'll remember that." Fox said with a grin.

Fox's looked up to see a small vessel overhead, one of the Great Fox's standard escape shuttles. He and Bill raised an eyebrow, being that the only reason that any one of those would descend is that the ship had been destroyed. Fox looked at Bill, who shrugged his shoulders. The shuttle landed, and Peppy stumbled out, a first-aid kit in hand, slightly larger than the one Bill was carrying. He kneeled down beside a conscious Krystal, and threw the pack open.

"How is she?"

"Pep, she's doin' Ok. Me and Bill took care of it. He had his own kit." Peppy smiled and closed his kit as he looked Krystal over, making one last check to see if she was still bleeding. Fox, and Krystal, almost laughed when Peppy did notice the rather large portion of her shirt missing where she had made the field dressing earlier in the skirmish.

"Ok, Fox. Everything seems to be good here. Mind if I go ahead and return back to the ship? We've got some damages to work on." Peppy asked, standing back up and brushing his ears back.

"Sure thing, Pep. Hey, would you do us a favor?"

"Anything." Peppy said.

Fox picked Krystal up off of the Saurian soil and walked over to Peppy.

"Got room for one more?" Fox asked. Peppy nodded and Fox walked over to the medical shuttle and folded, or more so kicked, one of the beds out with his foot, considering his hands were tied. He gently laid her on the bed and gave her one more kiss.

"I'll be up in ten minutes; I promise. Just a few more to take care of down here. Will you be okay?"

Krystal nodded. "You of all people should know by now I can hold my own." She said with a playful grin. Fox nodded in agreement.

"And when you're able enough, maybe we'll come back for some 'us' time down here on Cape Claw before our little date, Krys. It's untouched, thank God. Still in the shape it was when I was there last. Sound good?" Fox asked, nuzzling his nose to hers.

"It sounds perfect, Foxie." She said back.

"I love you."

"I love you too, Fox. Now you've got some more problems to take care of out there, and I'll be okay in here. Go get 'em."

Fox nodded, gave her a soft, long kiss, and exited the shuttle to a waiting Bill Grey and an Arwing. "Take her up, Pep. I'll see you all soon."

"Will do, Fox. Have fun target shooting." He said with a grin.

"You know it."

Fox jogged over to Bill and picked up his jacket off the ground and handed it to him.

"So, Fox…what kind of plan have you got for this little date of yours?" Bill said as he placed his helmet on his head.

"Y'know Bill, I'm not really sure. I figured I could improvise."

"Well, I've got an idea. I meant to tell you earlier, but me and a few other friends of mine have our own rock band, and we're playing at the Grand Cornerian Hotel tomorrow night for a dance. Bring her along, I'm sure she would love the tuneage. How 'bout it, lover boy?"

Fox pondered, rubbing his chin in thought. "Sure, sounds okay. Two things, though. Your guitar player better be good, and what kinds of music are you playin'?"

"Oh don't you worry, my friend. I'm the lead guitar." Bill said as he climbed the stepladder to the cockpit of his fighter. Until now, Fox had never known that Bill had ever played an instrument. Fox himself had played when he was younger, before his dad died, and he had actually become quite good when he was a pup.

"Geez…hope I can still play a little something…"

"We're not gonna be putting out the new rave-type stuff, though."

Fox felt relief flow over him. He hated most of the newer music that blared over the speakers of his radio. It had no soul, like the old stuff did. "We'll be playin'all the old classicsand hey, maybe you can play something too." Bill said.

"Sounds good, Bill. I've got a tune in mind as well." Fox said as he climbed the ladder to his own cockpit and strapped himself into the seat.

"All right, guys. Everything seems to be done here. There's nothing left to clean up anymore that's flying." Katt Monroe said over the radio.

"Good. Falco, who won that bet?" Fox asked. It took a few seconds for him to respond.

"…She did…" He said.

"How's Krystal?" Falco asked, trying to get off the subject.

"She's doin' fine. She's got some pretty big scratches and marks on her, but she's already back up to the ship for one quick checkup, just in case."

"That's great to hear." Katt said.

"Yeah…It is." Fox said, turning his ship back around to the Great Fox's coordinates, feeling the air in his Arwing turn cold as Goosebumps dotted his skin, realizing that she could have very well died, but she didn't…It was a miracle in Fox's eyes. He looked up to the sky in silent prayer and thanks, still overly glad that he hadn't lost her.

"Trent, you need a lift?" Fox asked, lifting his ship off the ground.

"Negative, Fox. I've got my own ship to look after. Job well done, man. Take care of yourself."

"Same to you Trent. 'Till next time."

"Yeah…and I bet you fifty bucks we'll be seein' these guys again." He said, waving at Fox's Arwing as it flew overhead, gaining speed to break the atmosphere of Sauria.

"I don't doubt it."

"Let's go ahead and get back. I'm 'bout tired of looking at this blown-up little hell-hole here, and I really need a daiquiri." Fox said.

"Amen to that." Bill replied.

Back on the ship, the standard procedures were executed regarding returning from a combat mission: retrieving Krystal's ship via tractor beam, disarming the weapons systems on the Arwings, re-engaging the lift locks, the works. Soon after that was completed, and after Fox and Bill had his small portion of the strawberry daiquiri he craved, he took a quick trip to the medical bay only to find it empty, except for ROB, who was cleaning up, placing medicines and other items away and resetting the area after a checkup.

"How's she doin' Rob?" Fox asked the robotic crew member.

"Her status is nominal, and she is recovering in her quarters."

"Good. Well, I'll go check up on her. Thanks a million, Rob."

"No problem, Fox."

He exited the bay to Krystal's ship quarters, setting off in a brisk walk, in a little bit of a hurry to see how she was doing. Fox turned the knob to open the door of her quarters, figuring she was in her bed resting and regaining her strength and him not wanting to aggravate her with knocking.

Slowly turning the knob, he creaked the metallic door open, to find the bed empty, where he had figured she'd be asleep, and Krystal sitting on the cushion in her bay window, looking outside to the stars, wearing the same white tank-top and light-blue sweat pants she had worn those several nights ago. Fox walked over as quietly as he could, trying not to disturb what looked like her daydream.

"Hey, Fox." She said when he had tiptoed behind her and sat down beside her.

"Hey, Krys." Fox said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek and rubbed her shoulders forcefully, easing some tension that he was sure had accumulated over the days of fighting.

"Ohh…Wow I need that." She said with a giggle as she moved her upper body to Fox's massaging.

"Yeah…anybody should after something like that." Fox said.

"Fox…there's something that I haven't had time to explain to you, through the fighting and all. I figure now's a better time than ever."

Fox pulled her closer to him, and she rested her head on his shoulder as he stroked a hand through her cerulean blue hair.

"What's up?"

"Well, first, I'm pretty sure that you can guess that I'm…well…kind of unpredictable." She said, rolling her head over to look at him.

Fox nodded, a smile on his face.

"Yeah. That's what sets you apart from everybody else I've known. You're something else."

Krystal smiled and nuzzled her nose to Fox's.

"Well, here's a little something else that makes me even more different from the rest."

"I'm all ears." Fox said, a slight tinge of crimson forming around his cheeks, wondering what else she could possibly find to startle him with.

Krystal stood up, and lifted her shirt just a bit above her waist, where her largest wound from the fighting was, but to Fox's complete surprise, it had completely vanished. Not even a trace of scarring or even having the wound itself was there.

Fox was, to say the least, startled at this new find. He stood up, eyes rather wide, as he studied the area where the wound had just disappeared.

"Interesting, isn't it." She asked with a giggle.

"Hmm…it is. Where'd it go, Krys?" Fox asked playfully, poking at her waist where the gash had been, trying to get her to laugh that laugh Fox loved so much. She did, and Fox knew he had her right where he wanted her.

"Fox, stop. That tickles."

"Bingo." Fox thought. He poked and wriggled his claws around both of her waists and she erupted into laughter, walking backwards trying to get away from him.

"Oh crap not again." She said between laughing, trying to catch her breath as she fell back on the bed, having forgotten it was there as she walked backwards away from Fox.

"Come on Fox! Stohohohop it! Let mehehe go!"

"Nope, not this time, Krys." He said, standing over the bed with her laying on it, trying to escape his grasp.

"Haha okahahahay." She said, still laughing. Krystal lifted her leg even with Fox's chest, and pushed him away with her foot, just hard enough to get out of his grasp and to get some distance between him. Krystal was still catching her breath as she stood up from the bed.

"Come on Fox, you know I can fight." She said, a playful grin spreading across her face.

Fox backed down, raising his arms in surrender.

"Yep, you're right on that one. I'll back down." He said, putting an arm around her shoulders.

"So what'd I miss on Sauria earlier?" Krystal asked, resting her head on his shoulder. Fox yawned widely. Fatigue was beginning to set in as his adrenaline died down, and besides the fact that it was a late hour on Cornerian time, though it was near high noon on Sauria.

"Well, victory is ours, and Falco and the rest of the guys took care of the airborne problems we had. The ship, along with Trent, is staying in orbit for a while to aid in relief efforts, along with Trent's battle cruiser. The planet should be in great shape, aside from some of the friendly causalities, once relief is under way."

"And how long should that take?" She asked, a different, playful tone in her voice. Fox knew what she was getting at. She and Fox wanted a bit of 'them' time on Sauria, with the same goals in mind: a few hours to themselves, just to get away from it all, to relax and be with each other.

"Not long…a day, maybe two tops. There weren't that many areas hit hard."

"That's good to hear." Krystal said, shifting in his embrace slightly, stretching her arm out and yawning widely.

"Yeah…I probably ought to get some sleep myself." Fox said as he took began to take his arm from around her shoulders, but was met with a forceful impact from a pillow she had picked up while she was 'stretching' her arm across the right side of the top of the bed, close to where the two were standing. Fox looked at her with a look of playful shock on his face and she began laughing at his expression.

"Come on, Fox. There hasn't been much time to have some fun for a while. Let's take advantage of it." She said as she took another swing at Fox, missing him as he bent backwards slightly to dodge the hit. Fox caught the pillow as she swung again and clasped it in his hands, trying to wrestle it out of her grasp.

Fox felt Krystal tugging hard on it, trying to keep her only means of defense, and Fox let it go with Krystal flying backwards on the bed, laughing as she flew. Fox jumped on top of the bed, kneeling to keep his balance with Krystal under him and grabbed the pillow out of her hands as she lay laughing. Fox took it and held it over his head with a grin as she began to stop catch her breath.

"Give up?" He asked. Krystal took a hold of his vest and tugged him down to her forcefully, knocking him down directly on the bed, with them nose to nose. Krystal was wearing a sleek seductive grin across her face.

"I think I've won, Foxie." She said, giving him a quick, tender kiss.

Fox returned it, and set the pillow down beside them as they lied down, their eyes fixated upon one another in their love embrace. Fox nodded as he leaned in and affectionately gave Krystal a kiss, though it lasted longer than the last one. Krystal returned it and she could feel his hands caressing through her hair as she did the same. Fox also slightly noticed that his temperature had once again shot up, just as ROB had said earlier. Lucky for him, he wasn't there to say it this time. Krystal was also noticing the same thing, but that wasn't even close to the main thing she had on her mind at the moment.

"Wow…never realized how good of a kisser he could be." She thought.

"Same to you." Fox said quietly. Krystal pulled him tighter to her, and to her surprise, Fox worked his arms to her back, and she let out a giggle as he suddenly flipped her over on top of him.

"You're lighter." He said, kissing her again. Krystal giggled, and the two vulpines were both completely absorbed into one another, oblivious to the world around them, simply caught up in their tremendous love they had for one another.

Fox felt like he was crashing to the ground in flames when he heard an unwelcome, ear-piercing 'BEEP-BEEP' sounding from what he very well knew to be the VAC.

"It…never…fails." He said under his breath as Krystal got up to press the switch near her bedside.

"Yeah, I know…We've got our date coming up though. Just you and me, nobody else, Fox." She said, pressing the switch, which in turn placed Slippy Toad's face upon the screen.

"Krystal I've got some good new…--Oh…am I interrupting something?" He asked in a shocked and somewhat suggestive tone. Fox rolled his eyes as he sat up on the bed, resting his back against the wall with his arms folded behind his head.

"Oh my God…" Fox said under his breath as he adjusted himself on the bed.

"No, Slip. Can't we just have some time to ourselves without somebody thinking we're…no, forget. What 'cha need?"

"I'm sorry Fox, I just thought that you and Krystal would like to know that the relief efforts are starting to progress, and already I've found Tricky's signal show up on the planet. On visual record, we found him to be in good shape. However, regarding the planet itself, it may take a bit of extra time to totally clear up your…renovations…with the explosives, Fox."

"Okay Slip, no worries. Thanks for the update. Do you want me to help on the surface?"

"Don't worry about it, Fox. After that kind of hell you two went through, I don't think the relief team wouldn't mind if you sat it out." Slippy said.

"You're sure?" Krystal asked. Slippy nodded.

"Get some rest. You too lovebirds need it the most." Slippy said and cut the transmission. Fox rolled his eyes as Krystal came and set beside him on the bed and laughed.

"Slippy's something else, isn't he?" She asked as she leaned back, resting her back against Fox.

"Yeah…a bit. I just wish my luck was better than to see him when we finally got some alone time to ourselves."

"I understand. He means well though. Falco would probably get rumors like wildfire just for fun."

Fox nodded his head in agreement.

"Well, seeing as how the moment has been destroyed…" Fox said sarcastically as Krystal laughed.

"I'm heading back to my room to get some rest and I'm guessing that you need some too." He said, sitting up on the bed as he stretched his back, popping it in several places.

"Yeah…I'm feelin' a little drowsy myself."

"I'll let you get some rest. You're probably going to need it for tomorrow." Fox said menacingly as he gave her a hug.

"Oh, really?" She asked with a playful grin.

"Oh yes…and I've got plans for us, so don't get inside my head and find out. It's a surprise for you. I'll just say this…I hope you can dance."

Krystal laughed. "I won't, Fox. I'll just shut my telepathy off for tomorrow; make it normal for the both of us. And yes, I'm pretty sure I can dance, for whatever reason you need me to."

"Sure that'd be great."

"I love you, Foxie." Krystal said, giving Fox a tender kiss. Fox returned it and pulled away several seconds later, Krystal still in his arms.

"I love you too. See you tomorrow?"

"Sure thing. Just the two of us tomorrow after that little 'dance' I've got planned."

Fox gave her a quick kiss again, a slight tinge of red forming under his cheeks as he remembered what plans he had for tomorrow. Bill had told him of a gig that his band was playing tomorrow for the dance at the Grand Cornerian Hotel, the most expensive and prestige gig-magnet in the city. Everybody wanted a time to play. Fox wondered how Bill had gotten the spot.

Fox was almost boiling over with excitement for what he had planned tomorrow as he walked to the hangar, hoping to meet up with Bill Grey. To Fox's surprise, he was still in the hangar, working on his ship.

"She's got some years on 'er, doesn't she." Fox said, looking up at Bill who's lower body was partially hanging out of a hole from a removed panel on the undercarriage of his ship.

"Yeah, but she's got some left, though. Just because she's old doesn't mean she can't knock something down."

"That's true. Hey Bill, I've got a question for you."

"What's up?"

"Ok first off, Krys and I will be at your gig tomorrow. You sure you can get us in? I mean…the Grand Hotel, not an easy place to get into."

"Relax. I've gotcha covered. As long as you two meet up with me, you're in free."

"Good, and one last thing. I'm going to need a guitar."

Bill stopped immediately and bent his head over to look outside the hole, a grin spreading from ear to ear on his face.

"You goin' to serenade her, Fox?"

"Yeah…you'll see." Fox said as he turned and walked back to his quarters, a grin spreading on his face as he waited for what Bill would say next.

"You got it, Fox." He said as he crawled back up into the inner-workings of his ship. Fox nodded as he continued walking, to get some rest and to play some old tunes he had collected over the years.