This was mostly written back in prehistory, but I did some revisions and added several pages during the last few days post–band camp. In other words, when I got home I felt like crap and couldn't do anything but sit in front of the computer (not like I usually do much else), and it seems I have a habit of writing away my stress. So, I somehow always write the most when I'm going through the most difficult parts of life. ./shrug Go figure. (Also, it took me like two days to upload this since FFN broke.)

One chapter remains.


"say dem words."

(Some pit girl.)


Fire.

It was the first thing Fox noticed when he woke. He figured he must be crazy, as there would be no reason to light a fire in a desert...

He shivered and moved closer to the flames, noticing for the first time how cold it was. A quick look around the place revealed that he was in a cave, and he could see Wolf leaning against a rock on the other side of the fire, not quite facing in Fox's direction.

Fox remembered heat. There had been heat, and there had been walking. Lots of walking. Then, the cave—that was probably where he was at now. Then, there had been more heat and more walking. Then, there was... he glanced over at Wolf, trying not to give himself away. When his eyes settled on Wolf, the lupine stared back at him. He felt his ears go down and he turned away. There had been that.

"You're up."

Fox wasn't sure if that was relief or remorse in Wolf's voice. He half-wanted to thank Wolf for not abandoning him and half-wanted to run before the other would have an opportunity to do anything. He stared at the fire, waiting for some kind of sign.

"Feeling better?"

There, that was it. Fox looked up at Wolf, being careful not to make eye contact. "I'm okay." He felt much better, actually. Stronger than he had felt in a long time. The drugs must have worn off.

He continued to stare into the darkness just behind Wolf, biting his lip. He could feel the tension like a tangible object. "I'm sorry. I dunno what came over me..."

Wolf was looking at him now with the most serious expression Fox had ever seen. "Don't be sorry. I don't like hangin out with sorry people." A few moments after he said that, the lupine broke down, giving a few short spurts of laughter.

Fox grinned, taking that as a sign that he had been forgiven.

Wolf said, "I guess I can understand, considering everything that'd happened up to that point. I guess it was kinda my fault, too..."

"But—"

"Don't give me any of that crap. You're supposed to be glad when someone else takes the blame."

Fox frowned into the fire. He noticed that it wasn't like a normal fire, with wood and flames, that it was generated by some kind of mechanical, box-shaped device.

Fox hovered his hands above the flames, turning them back and forth. He still felt a bit awkward after what had happened, but if Wolf was going to let it go, he might as well go with it. "Are we moving soon? You said we were gonna go in the night, right?"

Wolf shifted his weight. "Yeah, but I'm still tired." He looked over at Fox. "I kinda had to carry you over here, you know."

Fox felt his ears wilt, and he brought up a hand to scratch at them. "Oh."

"We'll get moving before the sun's up, though... we don't have any time to waste." He paused, fixating his gaze on the fire, unmoving. "You do realize that we have limited supplies, right?"

"I know."

"You do realize that we're probably going to die here, right?"

Fox winced, his hands trembling over the fire. "I know."

"But I don't see the point in us killing ourselves. It's not really that far back to Alcis. We can make it there with no problem... but if nothing's there, we're going to die no matter how quickly we get there."

"But the team..."

"Fox," Wolf said, "I already told you, there's nothing we can do to help them. We're too late. What's happened has already happened, and there's nothin we can do to change it."

"I know, it's just..." Fox leaned back, his eyes drifting up to the dark ceiling of the cave. He could barely hear his voice when he spoke. "I hope they made it out alive."

"You should worry about yourself more."

Fox closed his eyes. The funny thing was, he didn't really care about himself anymore. He was past that stage—deep down, he had known since being taken captive that he was going to die. Maybe it was that... or maybe...

He rested his eyes on Wolf, trying not to be too obvious. They'd tried to kill each other several times in the past—Fox had tried to kill him not even a couple of hours ago. Sheer luck was the only reason why they were both still alive after all that. They hated each other—no, they were supposed to hate each other—so why, then, did Fox feel so right whenever he was with him?

Shifting around the fire, Fox settled himself beside Wolf, leaning his head against the lupine's shoulder. Closing his eyes, he brought around a hand to rest on Wolf's other shoulder, drawing him into a light embrace. He held his breath, waiting for a response.

"Fox..."

Fox looked up to see Wolf staring down at him, the light of the flames casting deep shadows across his face, outlining his features. In his folly, Fox has almost lost him—and now the guilt hit him. He imaged what it would be like to be stranded here alone. And then he realized that this entire time, he had been staring at Wolf, and he couldn't make himself look away.

Before he knew what he was doing, Fox was on top of the lupine, pressing his lips against Wolf's own. When it ended, Fox leaned in, his hands moving of their own accord down Wolf's back.

Wolf stiffened. "Uhh, Fox..."

That was when he realized what he was doing. Fox tore himself away, turning his back to Wolf, his ears pressing down against his skull. "Sorry."

There were a few minutes of silence, then: "What'd I tell you about saying that?"

Fox felt a strange urge to laugh. "Well..."

"Nevermind." Then, in a more serious tone: "Don't feel bad about it. You can't be thinking right. I mean, you just tried to kill me a few hours ago. It may be a while before you can control your mind again—you had pretty serious heatstroke."

Fox couldn't help feeling a sting. He stared into the fire, feeling as if Wolf was scrutinizing his slightest twitch. Both he and Wolf knew that he had been in complete control of himself—of that Fox was certain.

When Wolf spoke, his voice had a much different timbre than before. "You know how I feel, right?"

Not taking his eyes off the fire, Fox nodded. He'd been wanting to hear that for a while.

"And, I'm sorry, Fox, but, as much as I'd like it to...."

The words felt like an icy dagger pressed against his throat.

"Let's agree to save all the personal crap until later, alright? Right now, we have to do our best to get out of here, and we can't let anything get in the way. Okay?"

Swallowing, Fox managed to say, "Okay." He leaned back against the wall of the cave and stared into the fire, trying to make sense of it all.

Things had certainly changed. Or maybe they hadn't.

By some cruel twist of fate, the one person Fox cared about was the same one that he was supposed to hate. Since the start of the Lylat Wars, it had been ingrained in their minds that they were meant to kill each other, but underneath, they had been nothing but tools employed by either side, and had little choice in deciding their disposition.

Before they had met as people, not tools, they had been forced to hate each other and believe that they were sincere about it. Fox did not hate Wolf, or even Andrew, though—he hated the tools of the enemy. Now that the enemy was gone, the hate had vanished... or had it? he thought, thinking back to what had happened in the desert. No, the hatred was still there. Maybe buried, but there nonetheless.

Even if they overcame that, lived through the desert, and Fox could convince himself to approach the subject again, even if the other agreed...

Nobody would accept it. He would have to hide it. And then what would it be but a burden?

It was so tantalizing—Fox had discovered a path to contentment, yet what was and what had been prevented him from following it.

Looking over at Wolf, Fox and saw the same introspective look that he would've expected himself to have. Maybe the lupine was thinking about the same thing he was.

It seemed that, no matter how many willed them to, some things were not meant to be changed.


They moved in the night. Fox managed to keep pace with Wolf for the most part, but he suspected that the lupine was going slower to accommodate him. The last canteen of water ran out as they were approaching the base.

Alcis looked much bigger now than he remembered. The central building towered over the walls, dwarfing the smaller buildings that surrounded it. Portions of the wall were charred and looked as if they'd been blasted away—that caused Fox's heart to bang against his chest a few times.

There was still hope. There had to be.

Fox followed Wolf towards one of the burnt-out sections of the wall, shivering a little. The lupine turned around and faced him, crossing his arms and exhaling a cloud of mist.

"Okay... well, we're here."

"I figured that much."

Wolf was quiet for a moment. He leaned back against the wall, resting one leg against it and looking off into the distance. "I'd be willing to bet this is a trap..."

"Probably," Fox said. "But it's not like we have any choice, is it?"

A look of resignation. "...not really. Just be on the lookout. I don't really want to have to drag your carcass when this is all over with." He gave a lazy smile, but in it Fox could see no emotion save sorrow. It seemed almost like a final farewell.

Fox forced himself to grin, and he imagined it looking the same as Wolf's had. "Right back at ya."

"Then let's go." Wolf stood upright and drew his blaster, gesturing at Fox. "Cover me."

Fox nodded, drawing his own blaster and making sure it was fully charged. He kept his gaze low, moving along at a steady jog as he followed the swishing motion of Wolf's tail. The lupine stopped several times to look around and be sure that there was nobody watching them—not like he could have done anything if he saw someone.

The trek passed swiftly. Before long, they were at the door to the central building. Up close, it looked even larger, and it seemed to radiate a sense of foreboding doom. Fox swallowed.

Wolf was looking back at him, waiting. Fox nodded, then motioned towards the door.

In a few seconds, they were in. It was dark—much more so than Fox was prepared for. His eyes had just began to adjust when—

Light. Blinding light. He shielded his eyes, the image of white burned into his vision.

"Oh, shit."

That was Wolf. Fox drew his hands away from the light, wincing and squinting along the way. He blinked a few times, then saw exactly what Wolf was oh shiting about.

Fox's body tingled as if icy needles pricked every inch of his skin.

They were not alone in the room. Four others were there—two Cornerian soldiers, armed with blaster rifles, one pointing at Fox and the other at Wolf; one Andrew, the cruel look replaced by one of smug satisfaction; and one other that Fox didn't know. A vixen.

"Who..."

The vixen shook her head. "Fox McCloud, you are under arrest."

His jaw dropped, and his tongue tangled in his mouth for a few seconds before he could respond with, "On what charges?"

"The murder of Wolf O'Donnell."

A rifle hummed and fired, the bolt hitting Wolf's chest, knocking him over. Fox yelped and started to walk towards Wolf, but stopped when the two rifles locked on him.

The vixen spoke again: "Drop your weapon."

There was a clang as Fox's blaster struck the ground.

"Come with us peacefully and you will save yourself a lot of trouble."

Fox could feel the adrenaline flowing through his veins. His heart rate was faster than he'd ever remembered in being in his life. He tried to calm himself and make sense of the situation.

He was surrounded by people who all wanted to kill him. The only person who could save him was probably near death. Looking around, he could see only one exit, and that wasn't an option. There were corridors to his left and right, and one directly across from the exit...

He had to make sure Wolf was okay, but at the same time he had to save himself. He didn't stand a chance of doing the former against these odds, so...

Fox had an idea.

He sprang towards the corridor to his right, going into a roll to avoid blaster fire. One of the shots seared the skin on his right arm, but he ducked into another corridor moments later, flatting himself against the wall, straining to hear.

At first, there were footsteps. Then, a voice, the damned vixen again:

"No. Get our evidence to the ship. We'll handle this."

"But Gen—"

"I don't want to hear it."

A pause, the sound of boots scuffing the floor. "You sure you can do this?"

"Go!"

There was a sigh, then slow footsteps.

"Find him." Fox knew she was speaking to Andrew. "When you have him, do not engage. Come get me and we will handle him together."

Biting his lip, Fox began creeping down the corridor. He knew what he was looking for—the problem was, he didn't know where he was supposed to be looking for it. He jogged through the corridors as quickly as he could without making too much noise, changing direction every once in a while when he heard someone nearby.

And that was when he realized that it was all beginning to fall into place. Like pieces in a puzzle, he finally knew what was going on. But now wasn't the time to dwell on it. It was time for action.

Fox had to restrain himself from yipping when he found it. It was just like he'd imagined, just like the one back in Orrin with all the screens lined up on a wall. He eased the door shut behind him and locked it, then began fiddling with the keyboard. A menu popped up on screen:

[Alcis central database: flight shift record...]

Gritting his teeth, Fox closed it, then navigated through the interface for a few more seconds.

[External database backup options]

[back up] [restore] [settings] [cancel]

And that was when he realized that he had no clue what he was doing, or if what he had in mind was even possible. He spend several minutes digging through the terminal, and with each useless menu that popped up he felt more and more like punching the screen in.

Click.

Fox froze.

Click.

There it was again—there could be no doubting it now. Someone was trying to get in, and that wasn't the sound of a doorknob. He rested his head in his hands, tapping his fingers against the side of his skull. Think, Fox, think...

He began banging his fingers against the keyboard, opening every menu he could find.

Click.

Finally, it popped up:

[Radio transmission options]

[send signal] [decode signal] [settings]

Click.

He pressed the [send signal] button and began entering the specifications for the message. With any luck, it would go through and—

Click.

A horrible, booming sound erupted from the door behind him. The blast of hot air made him lurch forward, ramming his face on the control panel. He could taste blood. He jerked himself up and entered the final letters of the message, then hit the [send] button.

Someone tugged at his shirt. Fox spun around, lashing his legs out. They contacted with the other, eliciting a howl of pain.

It was Andrew.

There was no way Fox could do this. He didn't stand a chance. Gritting his teeth, he stood, grabbing the chair and hurling it at Andrew.

The ape collapsed under the chair's weight. A few seconds later, he was back on his feet again and heading once more towards Fox. The vulpine kicked and punched, trying to avoid the inevitable. Andrew ignored the blows and grabbed Fox, pinning him against the control panel.

Fox could feel Andrew's breath as he spoke. "Any last words, Fox McCloud?"

Words—that gave Fox an idea.

"Why are you doing this?"

If Fox hadn't been so concentrated on it, then he probably wouldn't have noticed, but it was there—Andrew's grip loosened the slightest bit. "Duty."

"What duty? To who?"

The grip tightened, and Andrew shook Fox, sending the vulpine's head banging into the panel. "What do you mean, to who? You're a murderer, and deserve everything you get."

The world appeared blurry for a few moments. Fox wanted to close his eyes and let the world collapse in on him, and he probably would have if he didn't have that image of Wolf still ingrained in his mind.

"What did Andross ever do for you?"

"You have no idea what it's like..." Another loosening of Andrew's grip.

"Andross killed my father," Fox said. "I know what it's like.

Fox gasped as Andrew's grip redoubled, the ape's hands clasped around his throat. Andrew's face hovered inches away from Fox's, the ape's spittle flying out at him. "I see what you're trying to do. It won't work."

Fox's peripheral vision faded. He strained against Andrew's hands, taking in as much air as he could. "I stopped caring about my own life a long time ago. But if we don't act now, Wolf is going to die."

"I don't care about Wolf."

Fox managed to pry Andrew's hands up enough that he could get a decent breath. "How can you say that? Wasn't working with Star Wolf better than all this? I'd be willing to bet Wolf was better to you than Andross ever was."

Andrew's eyes stared off into the distance for a while before he slowly drew back his hands. When he spoke, his voice was almost inaudible. "Uncle Andy wasn't always like that..."

Fox kept his motions still, afraid that interfering may remind Andrew of who he was in the room with.

"He always brought gifts. He... he took me when my parents died. But..."

Fox blinked. "Then the 'Andy' you knew was dead long before I ever saw him."

And to Fox's astonishment, Andrew brought up his hands and buried his face in them. Realizing his opportunity, Fox tried to overcome his shock.

"I know what you're going through. But you can't... you just have to let go, you know? The past is the past, and the more cling to it, the worse it'll make you feel. Trust me, I know."

Andrew held that tableau, unmoving. He looked so small now, as if some heavenly force had cut out half of his height and weight.

Fox took a few deep breaths, letting them out as slowly as he could manage. He couldn't remember a time when air had tasted so good. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, waiting on some sort of response from Andrew, but, eventually, the ape looked up, his eyes locking onto Fox.

Taking that as a cue, Fox said, "You gonna kill me over what can't be helped or help save your old captain?"

Andrew frowned, then said, "I hate you. I want to kill you and make you suffer like you did to Uncle Andy."

The ape sighed. "But... that wouldn't help anything. You're right—and that makes me hate you even more. I'll help."

"Deal?" Fox extended a hand.

Andrew hesitated for a moment before accepting the handshake. "Yeah, whatever. Just shut up and tell me what to do before I change my mind."

This was part of the plan, too, Fox realized. He was shaking so much that he had to take a few seconds to calm himself before saying, "Okay. You got a weapon?"

Andrew responded by holding up a blaster pistol, then a knife.

"Good. Give me the blaster, I'm useless with a knife."

Andrew shook his head and grimaced, but handed it over nonetheless. "You owe me big time for this."

"Whatever. Here's the plan: we're going to sneak out and get to Loras's ship, dispatch the guards, and save Wolf. Then, we wait."

"Uh, wait? Are you crazy? And what about Loras?"

"Worry about her when the time comes. And I sent out a distress signal to—wait," Fox said, "Do you know anything about Star Fox?" Please, he thought, let them still be alive.

"Nope," Andrew said, pointing a finger at Fox. "I got what I wanted."

Fox sighed. "If they're still around—which they probably are—and still alive, which I hope they are... then they should be on their way now. If not, we'll have to use Loras's ship." He took another glance at the screen, then back at Andrew before starting towards the door. "Let's go."

"Won't we run into Loras if we go out the main door?" Andrew said as they walked through the halls.

"No," Fox said. "Because Loras wants us to rescue Wolf."

Andrew cocked an eyebrow, then snorted. "What are you talking about?"

"I'll explain later. Just follow me."

Just as he'd thought: Loras wasn't waiting for them. Loras was nowhere to be found. Again, all part of the plan.

Fox was out into the cold, desert air again. He had to ask Andrew where the ship was, but finding it was pretty easy, since it wasn't too far from the building.

The ship was about the size of a small tanker, probably big enough to hold three or four crew members. That was good, Fox decided. That meant it probably had its own medical bay.

The door was open, so he entered without difficulty, motioning for Andrew to follow him. As Fox maneuvered through the ship, his breathing seemed abnormally loud, and he tried to silence his footsteps. When he found the medical bay and peered in through the door, he had to stifle a gasp.

The two soldiers were in there, looming over Wolf's body. There was a large red stain that had spread throughout part of the lupine's clothing; the sight almost made Fox whimper.

Stifling his emotions, he lifted the blaster to eye level so that he could aim.

Right before he pulled the trigger, he saw the soldier that he was aiming at cast a glance his way, then saw the look of panic on the soldier's face before the shot ripped into him and he collapsed on the ground.

The second soldier had his rifle up by then and was aiming at Fox, who ducked out of the doorway just in time to avoid a shot. He could still feel the heat from the bolt as it collided with the wall.

Fox made a gesture with his head over at Andrew. The ape nodded, steeled himself for a minute, then darted into the room. Fox heard a strangled scream and the sound of a blaster clattering against the floor, then silence.

He was in the room a moment later, leaning over Wolf, hands tracing gentle patterns in the lupine's head fur. "You alright?"

There was no response. Probably unconscious. Hopefully unconscious.

Growling, Fox turned to Andrew. "I'm going to go to the control room," he said. "Gonna try to make contact with the Great Fox. You stay here and make sure nothing happens to Wolf."

Andrew didn't acknowledge that he'd heard, but Fox knew that he'd made his point. He was out of the room and in the control room a moment later, tapping at the keyboard. A few minutes of digging through menus, then he had a transmission window open. He configured the utility to make contact with the Great Fox, then—

"Look how the tides have turned."

Fox whirled in the chair, gripping the blaster and raising it to eye level.

It was Loras. The vixen wore the typical soldier uniform, but had a badge that marked her as a general tacked to her breast. He would have been astounded by her simple elegance had the circumstances been different. What occupied his attention the most now was the blaster pistol that Loras had drawn, aimed directly at him.

He didn't flinch, though. Just waited. When the sound of the blaster filled the room, he didn't jump. It missed him, and instead hit something on the wall behind him. He didn't have to turn around to know that it was a camera she'd just blown.

As soon as the camera was out, the blaster dropped from her grip, clattering against the floor. She looked much weaker now.

"So you're the one who's been doing all the plotting," Fox said.

She nodded, eyes on the cold metal floor. "I could have killed you," she said. "I had so many chances it was unreal. But I didn't. I convinced him that I was doing the best I could, that you were much tougher and smarter than you were. I still had to do the big things like arrange the ambushes, but..."

"Who's him?"

She blinked. "He has my husband and both of my daughters. He promised he would torture and kill them if I didn't do what he said. You have to understand, I didn't have a choice."

Fox growled. "Who is he? Tell me!"

"Dengar."

Fox clenched his fists, claws digging into the skin underneath his fur. Of course. Only Pigma could be so cunning, so ruthless, and so cowardly at the same time. Only he would sink this low.

"I've caused you so much grief," the vixen said, "but it had to be done. I hope you understand the risks I've taken by doing this."

"You won't be forgotten, Loras."

She grimaced. "My name is Serena Loras, and let me tell you that I'm not doing this for you, Fox. I want to see that pig behind bars. If you can't promise me you'll do that, then..." She produced a switch. "I can follow my original orders, and press this button. I don't care if it takes me out too—I've got nothing left to live for."

He recognized it. It was a radio transmitter, most likely a self-destruct switch.

Fox swallowed, feeling himself sweating. "I promise. This can't go unpunished."

"Then call your friends. Tell them to hurry. The guards are out and I haven't reported in a while, so it's only a matter of time before he tries to contact me."

Fox nodded. In just a few seconds, he had a communication link up with the great Fox. Peppy's face appeared onscreen, looking worried—but oh gods, it was Peppy.

"Fox? Is that you?"

Fox let out the deep breath that he hadn't realized he'd taken, then burst into laughter. They were alive. "Yeah."

"Thank the gods you're alive. Where are you? We just got a signal from Alcis and are on our way there now, but... I don't know, it could be another trap."

When the gravity of the situation hit him again, Fox shook his head. "No, Peppy, that was me. I'm on Loras's ship now." He sent a glance back towards the medical bay before hunching forward in his seat. "Please, Peppy, hurry. Wolf is dying."

The hare flinched at the mention of Wolf. "We just left Kanburg, so it will be a few minutes. We'll head to your current location, okay?"

Kanburg... if memory served, it was the nearest town, a good place to stock up without going too far from the base. "Okay," he said. "Hurry."

"Peppy out." There was a flash of static as the link cut out, then the screen was blank.

He ignored Loras's eyes trailing him as he made his way back to the med bay. He noticed that Andrew was still sitting in the same place as before, as if he hadn't even breathed since Fox had left.

"You can go to the bridge," Fox said. "Loras is there, but she's not hostile. I'll... stay here and take care of Wolf."

"Seriously, what is going on?"

"I'll explain later. Right now, we just need to worry about getting out of here alive, okay?"

Andrew hesitated, nodded and was out the door in a few seconds. For a moment, Fox felt that maybe it wasn't such a bright idea having Andrew and Loras in the same room, but he dismissed that thought when his gaze fell on Wolf.

He was laying on what looked like some kind of tiny bed. His chest rose and fell at regular intervals, causing the spot of red on his shirt to appear to move. If not for that, Fox would have almost been able to imagine that Wolf was sleeping.

Fox got on his knees and leaned over the bed, hand instinctively going to the other's forehead to check for temperature, then to the neck to check for pulse, not like that did him any good. Fox fidgeted with his claws for a minute before deciding that it would be easier if he just got Wolf's shirt off. It took a bit of mental steeling before he could bring himself to do that, though.

Fox sucked in a breath of air at the sight, then darted around the room, searching for some kind of... something. The wound wasn't extremely large, but was still a nasty-looking burn that had seared off all the fur in the area, overall one of the worst that Fox had seen.

He found a few containers of name-brand antiseptic and analgesic. Picking up a nearby container of cotton swabs, he took one out and soaked it in antiseptic. He gently placed it against the wound and rubbed it around, then repeated the process for the analgesic and whatever else he could get his hands on, trying not to wince as the pad connected with the exposed flesh.

His worries from earlier were gone, superseded by stronger ones. He wanted Wolf to wake up, wanted to see those purple eyes again and hear the gruff voice. Anything other than that no longer seemed to matter.

When he was done with that, Fox lifted the other's head and began feeling along his skull, searching. He had a hunch that a blaster wound alone wasn't enough to knock Wolf out. It took a bit of probing to find the bump, but when he found it, it was painfully obvious. He rolled his fingers around it, trying to gauge how big it was and if there was going to be any serious damage.

"Ouch. Y'know, that doesn't, ugh, feel very good."

Fox had been so concentrated on the wound that he hadn't noticed the movement at first, and Wolf's voice took a while to register.

Fox grinned up at the other. "You're awake!" He ruffled the fur on Wolf's chest and smoothed it again. "I was worried for a while."

"Well..." Wolf's eyes darted around the room. "Wait, where are we? What's going on?" He tried to get up, but he winced in pain and Fox placed a hand on his shoulder, gently easing him back down onto the bed.

Just then, Fox heard the familiar sound of blaring engines coming from outside, eventually dying down to a familiar deep rumble.

"Just stay calm," Fox said, still stroking Wolf's fur, avoiding the burn. "Everything's going to be okay. It's over, Wolf. It's over."