"Just a Damn Kid"

She just chuckled to herself. "Nineteen, actually," she said, cheerily, "no more a child than you are an old man."

"Cute," Fox grumbled back, apparently unamused.

Of course, she understood perfectly why he saw her this way. She was young, by nearly anyone's standards, though she had hoped for something of a different reaction.

She cocked her head to the side and asked, "Does it bother you that I'm young? I don't see why it should, what with you having been all of eighteen when you became a mercenary. Or am I wrong?"

"Sixteen," McCloud grudgingly corrected. The comparison clearly made him uncomfortable. She also noticed he wasn't making eye contact, but she believed she understood why. She was aware that men found her attractive, and they usually either openly stared or tried very hard not to. Funny, though, she hadn't thought Fox to be the bashful type.

"Ah, yes, sixteen then – my mistake," she teased, moving her bangs away from her eyes. That helmet always disheveled them, which was why she kept most of her hair in a short braid when she wore it. Still, there was no helping the bangs. They always managed to work their way into her eyes in little silver strands. Not enough to block her vision or anything, but still, annoying. "Now, let's start with my questions, hm? First..."

She stopped herself short as a thought occurred which made her laugh. She jumped up onto her feet from her sitting position on the couch, and brought herself squarely in front of McCloud, undoing her hair so that it fell down to her shoulders in soft white waves.

"Where are my manners? I completely forgot to introduce myself! Bloody difficult before, what with all the excitement," she said, apologetically, taking a moment to straighten herself up. She gently cleared her throat, covering her mouth with a hand as she did of course, and said, "My name is Fay," she paused to see if there would be any reaction to the name. He squinted for a moment, as if trying to recall something, but when he made no further reaction she continued, saying, "No need to introduce yourself, of course. I know all about my targets. Fox McCloud, only child of James McCloud and Vixy Reinard-"

She only saw it for an instant, but the flash of sadness that went through his eyes as she said those names made her pause.

"I'm…so sorry - Incredibly boorish of me. I wasn't aware you still-"

"You said you had questions," he flatly interrupted. He wasn't being rude, but obviously wanted to change the subject.

"Yes, well, on to that then," she said, feeling more than a bit foolish for bringing up Fox's parents. She should have known it would be a touchy subject, from what her uncle had told her. She took a moment to collect her thoughts before voicing her first and most pressing question.

"How is it you've healed so quickly?" she asked. Not five hours ago, he'd had a serious burn, broken ribs, and had been coughing up blood…among other, stranger liquids. Now there wasn't a scratch on him, and she could tell he wasn't in any sort of pain by the way he moved. People don't just get better that fast. Add that together with his savage behavior earlier, and something seemed very unnerving about the whole thing. "I didn't have a chance to see to you right away. Sig barely managed to get control of your ship's navigation systems in time to bring her out of warp in one piece, and afterward your ship's medical facilities were exposed to vacuum, along with several other areas."

"How bad is the damage?" Fox asked.

"Answer my question first," she said, "I'll have Sig give you a complete diagnostic once I've determined whether or not I can trust you at the moment. Now, how did you recover so quickly?"

He stared at her for a long moment, likely trying to think of a reasonable lie, before giving a resigned sigh and saying, "Look, lady-"

"Fay," she patiently corrected.

Fox raised an eyebrow, but continued with, "Look, Fay, but you wouldn't believe me if I told you, and frankly, I'd rather not try to explain something I'm not sure I understand myself."

"Well, that's rather cryptic," she said when he didn't go on, "but I suppose I can't force you to tell me. Sig has offered a few possible, if somewhat disturbing, explanations. One of which being biological 'enhancement'. He said they usually crop up in rare cases among pirates and other criminals. Apparently some of Andross's old scientists are making a living peddling bio-engineering services to those that can afford it."

Sig's voice came back over the com, "But, as I said ma'am, CDF records indicate that the few documented cases of bio-enhancement all produced some sort of visible, physical changes in appearance. McCloud shows no signs of this."

She watched Fox's face for any reaction, but he wasn't giving anything away. She shrugged and said, "I suppose it will just have to stay a mystery for now. Perhaps another question, then?"

"Shoot," Fox answered, obviously unenthused as he propped his head up on his free arm, hand loosely balled into a fist as his jaw rested on it. At least he was starting to cooperate.

"Who were you speaking to earlier?" she asked, for the second time, actually, "And please, a straight answer this time."

His face soured as he seemed to mull over whether or not to answer, but before he could say anything, his stomach growled loudly, and his face went blank and seemed to pale a bit. His eyes drooped until they were barely open, and she noticed for the first time that his cheeks seemed to be somewhat sunken. Had they been that way before?

"Alright," she resigned with a shrug, "I suppose we can continue in a moment."

She walked over to the kitchenette area of the room where she found a small refrigerator, which, upon closer inspection, was completely empty save two unsecured but remarkably intact bottles of beer. There were also several hermetically sealed food-storage compartments which looked to her like fancy cabinets. One after another, she opened them to find that they were all empty, save the second-to-last compartment she tried. In it were three unopened bowls of 'Deluxe Instant Noodles!' and two rather thick looking bars wrapped in flat green, unimpressive packages which said in blocky, plain, likely government print 'MEAL BAR'.

She selected the meal bar, tossing it across the room to Fox, who snatched it out of the air with his free hand. In an instant, he'd torn it open with his teeth, revealing an unappetizing, dense-looking brown bar which he proceeded to attack voraciously. He tore and chewed almost mechanically, and before even swallowing one bite, he was already tearing off another until the entire thing was gone, and he was flicking away the spent wrapper.

He leaned his head back and let out a satisfied sigh, then looked over at her as she walked back with what could almost be mistaken for gratitude, but that, like any other emotion he seemed to display, quickly went away.

"Thought I remembered a beer or two in the fridge…" he said, before she'd gotten too far from the kitchenette.

"Good memory," she answered, "maybe you can get up and get one if you answer my last question."

He smiled at that, which honestly surprised Fay. He'd been so uncooperative up until this point, now he was smiling? She supposed there must have been some truth to that old saying about men and their stomachs. Still, she didn't expect a straight answer.

A distracted look flashed across his features. His eyes shifted down and left and his head tilted ever so slightly, almost as if he were listening to something. Could he be wearing some sort of concealed communication device? No. Sig said he wasn't detecting any communication signals, though she supposed there were devices designed specifically not to be detected. Still, looking him over, she couldn't see anything on or around his ears. Wasn't exactly hard to see, what with Fox being Vulpan and all. She'd always thought they had to most handsome ears. Very dashing and stern, nothing like her own. Not that she didn't like her own ears. They were mostly hidden in her hair, but they were floppy, like her uncle's, but a bit shorter, more like her mother's were in the pictures, and honestly quite charming when she did her hair right.

"Alright," Fox said, bringing her attention back to where it probably should have been a moment ago, "Fay, was it?" Something about the way he asked that seemed almost sly, and for just a moment he seemed to scan her features for something, but he didn't seem to find whatever he was looking for. He just gave a short grunt and said, "I managed to download the ship A.I. onto my personal systems so he could walk me through bringing this bucket out of warp manually, but I never made it that far. He and my navigations robot helped me manage this ship, wouldn't be possible on my own. He was mostly filling me in on what happened since I blacked out a little bit after the bridge got hit, then you walked in. Good enough?"

She had been watching his face while he spoke for any signs of him lying, but if he was, then he was good at it. She couldn't tell either way.

"Sig," she said, "what does the ship's records say about an A.I.?" she asked aloud.

"This vessel was equipped with marginally sophisticated A.I. software which assisted in navigations and maintenance, among other supportive functions, but logs indicate the A.I. showed signs of error after the bridge was destroyed, and functionality became extremely limited after successive damage to the ship's systems during our deceleration from warp. I have overwritten what remained of said A.I. after my successful integration with the Great Fox's computational and navigation matrix."

"Were there any logs of Fox downloading the A.I. to his wrist unit, or any other medium?" she asked.

"No ma'am," her own A.I. answered, curtly, "but a great deal of this ship's logs were deleted once my infiltration had to become more open. This was once a military vessel, and it seems certain information within its mainframe is programmed for automatic deletion in the event of a large enough security breach. I was not fast enough to prevent the deletion, ma'am, my apologies."

"Understood," she answered. They'd had to be more aggressive when hacking the navigation matrix than before due to the urgency and the overall lack of time. "Oh well, I suppose I can believe you for now, Mr. McCloud, though I don't suppose this A.I. of yours has any information on how to boost this vessel's short range communications, does it?"

It was a pointed question. She hadn't filled Fox in on the extent of the damage to his ship, but if he couldn't answer the question, then it went a ways in poking a hole in his story.

He raised an eyebrow and said, "So the long range coms are down to? Makes sense, what with the warp drives ruined. Sub warp engines are dead too, by the sound of it, which means primary power is gone with it. Normally we'd have the distress beacon, but that was tied into the ship's I.D. transmitter and I can tell you that hasn't worked in a little over a year," he scratched at his head as he finished with a tired, "lot of budget cuts, lately. Basically, no, we can't boost the short-coms. Why? What happened to your ship?"

"Nothing happened to it, per say" she said, "it should be holding orbit around Bayoon as we speak, but without long range communications I can't send for it. Still, it certainly sounds like you know your own vessel, Mr. McCloud."

He shrugged.

"Spent more time adrift than on the ground," he said, nonchalantly, "I know what a working ship should sound like, but if you think that's impressive, you should've seen Slippy back in the day."

He was smiling as he thought of his friend.

"Slippy Toad, part mechanic, part engineer, and every bit his father's son," she said, as-a-matter-of-factly. When Fox's look turned inquisitive, she continued with a somewhat hasty, "I dug up information on all of your former team mates – in case they could prove useful in tracking you down."

In point of fact, when she was younger she dug up information about Star Fox the same way most people her age would dig up information about a favorite music band, or actor, or sports team. They had their idols, and she had hers. Still, she couldn't tell him that without seeming silly…or very, very strange.

"Well, we seem to be making good progress!" she said, happily, "You have my word as a lady that if you answer my next question to my satisfaction, then I will uncuff you. Though, I do warn you that the suit I'm wearing is-"

"Biotic exo-suit," Fox answered for her, "don't seem them much outside of special forces and the like, though they usually have the sense to conceal them under less conspicuous clothing. Makes them less of a target. The stuff's not cheap, especially for someone outside the military."

She couldn't help but smile. He really was impressive.

"How do you know so much about these things?" She asked, curious, "Not very many people even know they exist."

"...Is that it?" he asked, sarcastically, "I can answer that and you'll undo the cuffs?"

"No, but I'd like to know anyway," she answered, with mock sweetness.

Fox blew out a breath and said, "Well, Slippy's father was one of the guys who reverse engineered the technology from Andross's bio-weapons. He offered to float us a couple of the earlier models, for me and Falco. All we had to do was sign this nondisclosure agreement and a contract that said we were essentially guinea pigs for the project, and the suits were ours. We could even trade them in for newer models as the technology improved, but Falco wasn't comfortable wearing what he saw as Andross's personally tailored bio-skin, and, to be honest, neither was I."

That made her laugh.

"Never thought of it that way," she said, smiling, "Pity though. Bloody comfortable stuff, like Katineese silk, and it helped me school the great Fox McCloud one-on-one."

Fox blinked a few times, looking more than a bit confused as he said, "What?"

Fay raised her eyebrows innocently. "You mean you don't remember our scuffle in the passageway earlier? Or are you ashamed that you were beaten by a, oh how did you put it…a 'damn kid'?"

"Well, no, I've seen those suits in action. If we fought, then I don't think I would have put up much of a fight," he said, with a slightly disapproving look on his face, "Not the sort of mistake I'd make, though."

After a second, he did that thing where he seemed to be listening to someone, his frown deepened, then his expression returned to normal.

"I wouldn't say you didn't put up a fight," she said, placing a hand on her stun weapon, "honestly, all I know is fencing. If it hadn't been for the suit, I would have been in trouble. Still, you did seem a bit…off. Like the lights were on, but there was no one home."

"So," Fox said, clearing his throat and glancing at his cuffed wrist, "what's the last question, and while we're getting all friendly, how about you explain what you meant earlier by 'help each other'."

"Feeling more cooperative?" she asked.

"My ship is dead, and yours isn't coming. I understand we'd both be better off trying to get out of this mess together, and you have me at a complete disadvantage," Fox responded, wistfully, "the fact that you're even offering to help isn't something I can just shrug off, and besides, you fed me."

He put on a perfectly charming grin as he said the last bit.

"Right then," Fay said, pleased with, if a little mistrusting of the new direction the conversation was taking, "But I'm still not uncuffing you until you explain just what, in God's name, you're doing. Attacking government convoys? Running from the CDF? We both saw what happened in Sargasso, so what is it? What could possibly be worth causing this much of a commotion?"

Fox took a long breath, and let it out in a tired grunt. He looked down at the ground in front of him, and his eyes became distant.

"No easy answer," he said, sounding as tired as he looked. Or was it that he was tired? It could be something else, but Fay couldn't quite tell, "Hard times. Lot of things gone wrong. No money, ship was starting to fall apart, easy job came along offering good money and I didn't ask a lot of questions. Probably should have, but I didn't."

She stood there expecting more, but when it didn't come she said, "Is that it? It was just a job then?"

For a moment her stomach sank as disappointment began to build up. Could that really be all this was about? A bad job gone worse? No, something wasn't right. He wasn't telling her everything, she could see it in his eyes. She had always had a knack for reading people.

"That can't be all," she said, resolutely, "What aren't you telling me, Mr. McCloud?"

Anger darted across his face before it returned to an even mask, though his eyes still burned with his previous hostility as he said, "It doesn't matter. You said you might be willing to help me, but I don't think you really know what that could mean."

He was looking right at her now, and he wasn't doing as well at hiding his emotions as he had been thus far. He was angry, almost snarling, and she got the feeling it wasn't about what she said.

"The man who hired me?" He continued, tossing his angry glare back to the floor, "He tried to have me killed. No lose ends that way. Then he went and leaked my involvement with the convoy to LNS, so now the whole goddamn system is trying to either bring me in, or kill me. They're sending Agents after me now, do you know what that means? That means this isn't something they're going to let me walk away from. Agents don't play nice, and they don't take captives, not for long anyway. They drug you, drag you to someplace quite to extract information, then they leave what's left of you drifting in the vacuum. Space is a big place sweetheart. It isn't hard to make someone disappear in all that black."

"It sounds as though you've had personal experience…" she said after a short, quiet moment.

"General Pepper used to talk about them," he said. That wasn't what Fay had meant, but still…

"MacDane," she said, sitting down across from him on the far end of the couch with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

He looked over at her with a raised eyebrow.

She gave a weak laugh and said, "I know he has everyone call him Pepper, but that's his first name. His surname is MacDane, so technically that was the name he held the office as. He never liked all the pomp, you see, so most people just got used to calling him Pepper. Of course, the other blue bloods didn't much care for that, but then he never much cared for them, so…"

"Yeah," Fox said, staring at her intently, "I know all that but…how is it you seem to know him so well?"

She looked back at him and gave a resigned smile.

"You still don't remember me?" she asked, "I suppose I was pretty young back then…"

Fox's eyes widened as something seemed to strike him. He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing at his temples.

"Fay," he said, as if the name were the obvious answer to some sort of riddle, "Fay MacDane. You're Pepper's niece."

"Bingo!" she said, with false enthusiasm, reaching over to enter the code on the small pad of the omni-cuffs. They beeped rapidly, then unbonded from Fox's wrist as she said, "True to my word. You know, I thought you'd recognize me as soon as I took off the helmet, but I guess that was a bit silly."

Fox suddenly sprawled back against the couch, rubbing the base of his neck with his newly freed hand.

"What the hell?" he started, looking like he'd been taken completely by surprise, "What are you-? Last time I saw you, you were, what, seven? Eight?"

"Eight," she said, feeling a little embarrassed. She'd seen him a few times after that, when he occasionally came by to talk to her uncle.

"Yeah, you were barely higher than my waist," he said, shaking his head, "and didn't you used to wear a bow in your hair?"

Her face burned as she blushed deeply. She still wore it sometimes, but she couldn't believe he'd remember something like that.

"A big red one…" Fox said, staring off into space as if he were picturing her eight year old self right then and there. He shook it off and shot her a serious, somewhat frustrated look, "Fay, what the hell are you doing here?"

"You know," she said with an uneasy chuckle, "I'm, um, not so sure myself?"

Fox sighed, getting to his feet and walking over to the little fridge. He opened it, reached in, and pulled out one of the beers.

"One for me as well," Fay said, still a little warm in the face.

Fox raised his eyebrows and shrugged, pulling out the second beer and walking back over to the couch. He then reached down and pulled up his right pant leg, which had been bloused to his boot, revealing a rather long looking knife. Apparently he'd had that the whole time. Fantastic, Fay thought, glad he was feeling reasonable earlier. He pulled out the knife and used it to pop the caps off the beers before returning it to its sheath on the inner part of his leg with one hand and handing a beer to her with the other.

"I mean, I had a plan, of course," she defended herself, despite Fox having said nothing, "The idea was to capture you-"

"Mission accomplished," Fox said, sipping his beer while staring absently at the far bulkhead.

"-then," she continued, "of course I would determine your reasons for all of this mess, and then either help you clear your name or…well…um, turn you in for crimes against Corneria?"

She said the last bit with a forced smile, and caught herself tweed-ling her thumbs before forcing herself to stop. She'd still been debating the second option, and honestly she had imagined the first to be a grand adventure with her childhood hero, chalked full of thrills and possibly even... She stole a quick glance at Fox, then stared back into the bottle she held in both hands. Anyway, it was all terribly awkward now that the choice was actually on her. She wasn't sure she could turn him in, truth be told, especially now that he knew who she was!

She sipped her beer in as ladylike a fashion as one can to help ease the tense-feeling silence that had apparently decided to move in.

"So," Fox said, to her relief, "Bounty hunting, huh? How…uh, or when did you decide…?"

She just blew her bangs out of her eyes and said, "Truthfully…?" she began to blush again, but hoped it didn't show as she went on, "about eleven years ago."

A sort of half-grin-half-frown spread across Fox's face as he leaned forward and let out a breath that was very likely a suppressed laugh.

"Really?" he said, "THAT, made you want to be a bounty hunter, of all things?"

She straightened her back and lifted her nose just a bit.

"I was young and impressionable," she defended, "and it's not as though you didn't make a rather dashing role model. Besides, I'm not just a bounty hunter, I prefer to think of myself as a vigilante."

"And the difference, to you, would be?" Fox asked.

She smiled playfully and said, "I like the way the second one sounds."

"Ah."

The incident they had been referring to had happened when she was only eight years old. Her parents, whom she honestly had no memory of, had died when she was just a baby. According to her uncle, there had been a power struggle between her house and another, house Logain. Both her parents died in a car bombing. Her father had been the younger of the two sons of the current leader of their house, and had been far more accessible than her uncle, who was commanding a CFF cruiser at the time, and so she was orphaned before she was even weaned. Of course, she had been sent to live at her uncle's estate, and he'd cared for her like his own. Her cousins felt more like siblings, and her aunt and uncle were more like her de-facto mother and father.

In any event, her parents' assets were to become her inheritance once she turned sixteen. Somehow, when she was eight, this information came to fall into the hands of a certain criminal organization that specialized in kidnappings and ransom. They took her while she was on a trip to the family estate on Zoness, and she was held for nearly a week. In the end, her uncle, who was, by then, Consulate General, pulled strings to have her found. He couldn't openly allocate Fleet assets on a personal matter, however, because the Council wouldn't allow it, and so he had hired Star Fox to go in and retrieve her. When she was a bit older, she asked her uncle why he hadn't paid the ransom. He said he had agreed to, and they had asked for even more after that. He said that in that sort of situation they were either planning to take the money and kill her, or take the money and run with her so they could continue to extort the family, and that the situation had to be dealt with carefully.

She remembered being scared. They didn't hurt her, and they fed her, but they kept her blindfolded in a back room that smelled like cigarette smoke. It was probably the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to her. She couldn't tell how long she had been there, and she kept wondering if she was ever going to see her family again.

Then, one day, they had suddenly and with some urgency decided to move her. They'd threatened her and told her to keep quiet while they moved, that she'd be put in a large suitcase in the back of a levicraft, and that if she made a sound, they would beat her. She remembered how badly the inside of the suitcase had smelled, and though she didn't know what it was at the time, she could now identify the smell as 'rotten dead thing'. They were moving her when she heard muffled voices. Someone started to shout, there were a few 'thud's, a crunch, and the sound of someone gasping for air. Then there was two quick blaster shots, and nothing. Just quiet. Longest moment in her life, that quiet.

The next thing she new, she heard the sound of a zipper as the suitcase was opened, her blindfold was removed, and as soon as her eyes adjusted to the light, what should she see? Fox McCloud, twenty years old, having just saved the galaxy not two years before and yet there he'd been, surrounded by beaten up (though actually dead, looking back) bad guys, a confident smile on his face…and he told her everything was going to be alright.

"You gonna finish that," Fox suddenly asked.

"Hm?" she said, then realized he was referring to her beer. His was empty, and he'd set it on the small end table nearby. "Oh, right, sorry," she said, flashing a smile, "I was a little lost in memory."

A little over eleven years since the event, and he hardly seemed to have aged. She'd heard rumors about Vulpans, and she knew they tended to live a bit longer than other Lylatians, but still, he was just as handsome as she remembered.

"Yeah, well, stuff like that can stick with you," Fox said, seeming to refer to something else as that sad look briefly entered his eyes again, once it was gone he finished with, "but you look like you're doing alright. I take it Pepper doesn't know about any of this?"

"Lord no! It would kill him!" Fay said, blanching a little at the thought.

Fox gave a short laugh, scratched at the back of his neck again and said, "Yeah, well, he'd have good reason to worry, kid. This isn't the kind of life you should just pick."

"You did," she answered without looking at him. He didn't seem to have anything to say to that, so she got to her feet and went on, "Besides, what should I do? I can't live the life of a disenfranchised noblewoman. The best I can hope for there is a tolerable political marriage and a life of mediocrity. I've been doing this for almost two years…well a year and two months, but that isn't important. My point is I love it!"

Now she turned to face him again, "It's exciting, and I'm very good at it. You weren't my first target, you know. I know it's dangerous, but that's part of what makes it real! Life isn't safe, no matter how rich or secure you think you are. I learned that when I was young, so the way I see it, I can either hide from it, or face it head on. All you did was show me how much more interesting the latter was."

Fox gave up without anything close to a fight, shrugging and saying, "Don't want to be the pot calling the kettle black, kid. Life adrift has its up sides, but…" he fixed her with a serious look, eyes suddenly very cold and withdrawn, "you can't help me, and you can't come with me."

The words seemed to hang in the air for a second. He'd said them with such finality, like he was just dismissing her entirely.

"That isn't your choice," she answered, coolly.

"Not up for negotiation, Fay," he said, "I'm not dragging Pepper's niece into this shit. Right now we need to figure out a way of getting a signal to your ship, or, if we can't do that, then we need to find another way out of this mess, but as soon as we get someplace safe, we're going our separate ways, understood?"

Her blood was absolutely boiling at this point. After all of this, everything she'd done, he was treating her like a child! Well then, if he wanted to see what she was capable of, then so be it!

She got her anger under control, certain she hadn't shown it before, gently brushed her bangs aside, and said, quite clearly, "Mr. McCloud, there are only two ways you are getting off this ship. One is with my wholehearted cooperation. The other is as my prisoner. It's your decision."

Fox's shoulders slumped, and he rubbed at his temples again before saying, "I don't think you really understand-"

"I understand enough!" she curtly interrupted, "You've gotten yourself into a great deal of trouble, and I believe you have a good reason behind what you've done - even if you don't want to tell me what that might be. I understand that this is dangerous, and I understand what might happen to me if I'm caught helping you. I also understand that if it weren't for you, I would very likely have never seen my ninth birthday. I owe you, and…I want to help you, one way or another."

"Fay…" Fox started.

"What will it be, Fox?" she asked, "prisoner, or partner?"