AUTHOR'S NOTE: Let me say up front: I HATED Star Fox Command. Almost every way that the story ended, sucked. Plus, the villains were horrible, and Peppy was doing General Pepper's job instead of being in the Great Fox where he belongs. I thought the game sucked major donkey balls. However, I did like the setup. I liked the idea of Fox pushing away the entrie StarFox team, and the emotional effect it had on him. After playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl, I had an idea for this story, where we see not only Fox and how the absence of those important to him has affected him, but also tries to examine why Wolf acts the way he does (especially with that awesome Western accent he had in Brawl). And so, here is my version of how things went after StarFox Assault. Be warned that this story is knee-deep in violence, profanity, and some sexuality. But I'm sure you'll still have loads of fun reading it. Enjoy.

Space. It's not the final frontier anymore, but it still has its perks. There's this peacefulness to it. It's a kind of cold silence that you can lose yourself in.

I never noticed how quiet it was before. There was always Falco muttering some smart-assed comment on the comm., or Slippy giving some hyperactive cheer. Even Krystal would join in and let us know that we weren't alone.

They're all gone, now.

Because of me. I'll admit it.

It started with Krystal. I wanted her from the moment I saw her. As we grew closer, I began to love her. It wasn't just the way she looked or acted, or the way that we kissed or the way we made love, it was EVERYTHING about her. She set my blood on fire even more than a dogfight in an asteroid field. Krystal was an addiction. I was hooked.

Then the Aparoids invaded. Team StarFox was called in to save the Lylat System, yet again. And for once, I felt scared. Not for the lives of the trillions of people we were fighting to protect, not for the lives of Peppy, Falco, Slippy, or even for my own life. I was scared shitless of losing Krystal. She was the only woman I'd ever loved, and the thought of losing her to some star fighter's guns, the same way I lost my Father, tore my heart out.

After the Aparoid Invasion, I asked her to leave. I told her I didn't want her flying anymore, because I was afraid of what might happen to her. We argued, and I got cocky. I told her that she wasn't a part of StarFox anymore, and she left with a broken heart. Before she left, she told me that I was the worst thing that had ever happened to her.

Irony's a bitch, isn't it?

Things were all downhill after that.

General Pepper got sick and retired, and offered his job up to Peppy. Peppy took the job up, reasoning that we could take care of ourselves.

I never bothered to tell Peppy how much I looked up to him. If the man was good enough to fly with my Dad, then it actually means something for Peppy to say that my father would be proud of me. I never realized how hard it could be to lead the team without his guidance.

Slippy went on a 'temporary sabbatical' to propose and build a marriage with his girlfriend, Amanda. I let him go, happy that he could hold onto something that I couldn't for once. I kept giving him more and more time away to make sure he wouldn't screw things up and end up miserable like me. Eventually, Slippy stopped asking to come back. Maybe he thought I didn't want him back. Maybe he realized that StarFox was doomed, and got out when he had the chance.

Not that it matters any more.

Interestingly enough, Falco was the last to leave. Every time he saw me moping or drowning in self pity, he complained about how bored he was and demanded that we take the Arwings out for a race or something. Only now do I see that it was Falco's own way of trying to help me back to normal. The night before he left was Krystal's 'birthday'. She couldn't remember her real one, so we all just threw her a birthday party on the anniversary of the day she joined the team. I found one of the bracelets she must've left behind under my bed, and I got stone drunk in the hopes that I could just forget her for a while. Because of this, I always remember that night a little differently. Sometimes, I remember cool, sarcastic Falco breaking down in a way that I've never seen before. Sometimes, I remember Falco telling me angrily that if I wasn't going to forgive myself and stop flushing my life down the toilet, he wasn't going to watch me fall apart piece by piece.

Sometimes, I remember him just leaving without an explanation, a word, or even a goodbye. Sometimes it's all three.

Which means I'm alone out here, just me and the robot. Might as well be just me, though.

ROB was never that much of a conversationalist. And he never loses when you play chess against him.

They say that in space, no one can hear you scream. That's because, almost 99 percent of the time, when you're in space you're alone for a hundred light-years in every direction.

Even if I was in the middle of the Cornerian capitol, I would still be just as alone as I am out here.

The secluded planet of Temple, located about 162 parsecs from the outer rims of the Lylat System, was essentially a galactic dump.

For nearly a light year spreading out from the planet in all directions were vast fields of scrapped starships, battle cruisers and space stations, in addition to infinite amounts of random industrial garbage.

The planet itself, when first discovered, was a rather interesting archeological find.

Nearly the entire surface of the planet was covered in vast, very modern looking cities that appeared only a few decades or so behind in technology than that of Corneria, and yet the cities were dated at being at least a hundred thousand years older. The planet and its cities were also completely abandoned and derelict, having been unused for an unknown amount of time. All that remained of the species that may have lived on Temple was the occasional fragment of bone or depictions of large owls found in various places around the planet. Since owls as a species had been extinct in the Lylat System for thousands of years themselves, it was heralded that Temple may very well have been the ancient home world of the owls. Why the cities were completely abandoned was a mystery that was never solved. The most popular theory was that the owls had gotten so advanced that they ended up creating a technology so powerful that they could not control it, and were somehow wiped out completely while the buildings themselves remained mostly intact.

As fewer and fewer useful evidence was found and the years passed by, the Cornerian government began to lose all interest in Temple, and instead turned the space around it into a galactic junkyard, receiving much praise from the citizens of the Lylat System as a whole for taking care of the dangerous problem of having massive sections of space junk and destroyed starships floating out in open space for any innocent ship to accidentally run into.

Soaring through space, darting lazily between large pieces of space junk was a single Space Dynamics R64 Arwing star fighter, being trailed far behind by a massive Dreadnought-class space cruiser, also manufactured by the Space Dynamics firm. On both sides of the half-mile long ship's sloping tail was the red silhouette of a curving fox with wings.

Up ahead of the Great Fox, inside the Arwing, Fox McCloud held the control stick of the star fighter with a measure of disinterest, his mind distant.

His green eyes wandered between the far-off, diamond-like stars, the gargantuan floating masses of downed starships and assorted space junk floating all around him like an asteroid field, and the sandy grayish brown planet looming far ahead. The metal headset that crowned the back of his head and held a green scouter over his eye felt slightly uncomfortable as he shifted back in his pilot's seat.

He had no real reason to be out here.

Fox had come to Temple simply because it seemed like a place to seclude himself, to retreat as far as possible from everything in his life. He felt a connection, a familiarity to the abandoned, hollowed-out nature of the dead ships around him and the dead planet in the distance. It was as good a place as any to get away.

"Commander" ROB-64's voice called over the comm. unit.

ROB had stopped calling him by his name a while ago, only serving to emphasize the cold, inhuman nature of the android. Fox never bothered to ask ROB why he never called him by his name anymore; he was long past the point of caring about it anyway.

"Yes?" Fox answered, speaking into his headset's microphone.

"Sensors detect a cruiser-sized ship active in the area," ROB coldly informed over the comm.

"Did it just drop out of warp?" Fox inquired in a bored tone.

"Negative, Commander. Ship was inactive until recently. Previously indiscernible from the large specimens of debris in the area," ROB answered.

"What's the ship's handle?" Fox asked flatly, already losing interest.

"Unknown, Commander. Ship refuses to transmit any registry or cooperative telemetry data. Electromagnetic scan is impaired by surrounding obstacles. Visual confirmation impaired as well," ROB informed.

"Probably a salvage crew or smugglers. Maybe space pirates. No difference to us," Fox answered.

"Sensors detect the deployment of a single small-size personal ship. Probable star fighter," ROB warned.

Fox's eyebrow rose and he sat forward in his seat, feeling the sides of the instrument panels brushing against his chest as he flexed his hands over the control stick.

The clear canopy of the Arwing felt just slightly suffocating as Fox scanned the area with his eyes.

The area around him was nothing but cold, dead space, his only company being the hulking, still masses of derelict star ships.

The inside of the cockpit felt frigid and silent as the surroundings yielded nothing.

Fox felt the red fur on his back bristle up slightly as his eyes narrowed.

"I'm opening a public comm. channel," Fox informed ROB as he punched in a broadcast code for the comlink.

"This is Arwing TSF-1, calling all ships in the area. Please respond for proper telemetry data," Fox said into his microphone, sighing his way through the proper jargon.

Fox opened the full reception channel, waiting for five minutes as cold, dead air served as his only response.

"Arwing TSF-1 to all ships in the area. Please respond. For both of our safety. We're not military. We just don't want to run into you guys, wherever you are," Fox replied with a roll of his eyes.

Again, there was only silence on the public channel.

The large skeleton of an old Venomian battleship loomed ahead, its rusty maroon color giving Fox a nostalgic feeling of the old days of Andross. Things were a bit simpler back then.

"Proximity warning, Commander," ROB informed him, "Sensors detect single fighter ship approaching. Fighter is 200 kilometers and closing."

"Arwing TSF-1 to approaching star fighter," Fox called over the channel, growing insistent, "Respond with registry data and intentions immediately."

There was no answer to his request, and the space around him remained as still and as quiet as before as Fox's Arwing glided under the derelict Venomian battleship.

Fox's snout formed a vague frown as he grew ever more impatient.

"Listen," Fox warned, "Respond or I'm gonna take this as a threat. I'll consider you hostile and respond, and you REALLY don't want to be in a dogfight with me."

"100 kilometers and closing, Commander," ROB warned.

Where IS he?, Fox thought as he locked the fighter's wings in attack position.

With a vague whine that echoed into the cockpit, the Arwing's wings slanted slightly backwards, locking the fighter into a lethal arrowhead shape.

The scouter on his headset lit up into a comprehensive heads-up display, complete with targeting computer.

The Arwing's lasers were fully charged, however there were no bombs loaded into the bomb magazine.

Fox hadn't figured on entering into a sortie when he'd taken off from the Great Fox this morning.

"75 kilometers, Commander," ROB informed.

"Goddammit," Fox growled.

If it wasn't for all of the damn junk everywhere, he'd be able to see the fighter by now.

"Your funeral, pal," Fox snarled into the microphone, his thumb poised over the red firing button.

"Great to see you, too, McCloud," a familiar rich, gruff voice with a distinctive drawl called over the comlink.

Fox's heart skipped a beat and his eyes went wide as he recognized the voice.

"Wolf?" Fox breathed.

At that moment, Fox heard a series of high-pitched hissing noises as a pair of red laser blasts seared across his canopy.

The hair-trigger pilot's reflexes kicked in and Fox yanked his control stick to the side in a hard barrel roll to the left.

The inertial compensators in the Arwing made it so Fox didn't even feel the inversion or the spinning as the fighter rolled.

As soon as he finished his barrel roll, a red black and white VenCom B-35 Wolfen star fighter roared past him. With the Wolfen's green engines leaving a verdant trail behind it as it sliced through space, Fox gripped onto the control stick and gunned the Arwing forward, sending the fighter soaring overtop a gutted grey Cornerian support ship in the hopes of gaining some cover.

Wolf O'Donnell.

Probably Fox's oldest surviving foe and one of the most dangerous. StarWolf had been a wild card at best, a sworn enemy at worst, ever since the Andross days.

"Falco, cover my back, I'll…" Fox began, and then trailed off abruptly.

For a second there, Fox completely forgot.

It took him a moment to adjust to the fact that he would be completely alone on this one.

"Wolf," Fox called over the comm., hoping to distract him a bit whilst he figured out a plan, "After all this time, why pick now to try and kill me?"

"Do I need a reason?" Wolf inquired with a chuckle, "Here I am in between contracts; here you are doing whatever. Seemed like a good idea to me."

Fox wrinkled his nose in disgust, scanning his radar display for Wolf's position and finding nothing.

The guy was a true psychopath.

"Where's all your friends at?" Wolf sneered, "Usually I've got all sorts of things coming out of the woodwork, like that annoying frog or the bird that won't shut up. Or that blue chick…what's her name?"

Fox didn't even have a response for that.

His radar beeped and showed a red blip approaching fast from behind, just as the Arwing was rocked with the impact of a jolting laser blast. The Wolfen screamed over the canopy, its four bladelike wings in attack position.

"C'mon, McCloud!" Wolf taunted, his voice crackling with a touch of static over the comm., "I'm falling asleep here. Do something!"

Fox gritted his teeth and choked the stick, shoving it downward into the direction that the Wolfen had previously flown.

The Arwing soared over the curvature of the Cornerian ship, catching the Wolfen as it curved into a broad upwards U-turn, its dorsal surface fully exposed.

"Very sloppy, Wolf," Fox lectured, stabbing his thumb into the red firing button and feeling a rush of adrenaline as the Arwing's lasers let off a hissing bark and fired twin blue laser blasts right at the ship.

The Wolfen pulled into a fast triple barrel roll that put it facing the Arwing head-on, speeding towards the fighter for a point-blank collision.

Fox called Wolf's bluff and throttled the Arwing up as far as it could go, hearing the engines roar as he was pushed back into his seat.

The two fighters sped towards each other in a stellar game of Chicken, unleashing a stream of red and blue laser fire.

The Arwing's shields took the blows, absorbing the red blasts of light with crackles of diffusing plasma.

Just as the distance readout on the heads-up-display read 200 meters, the Wolfen pulled up and inverted itself, roaring over top of Fox's Arwing practically canopy to canopy.

A stunned Fox looked up and for a split second he could actually see a glimpse of Wolf's blue bionic left eye glowing softly in the Wolfen's cockpit.

As the two ships blew past each other, Wolf's laughing voice could be heard over the comm.

"There you go, McCloud!!" Wolf mockingly encouraged, "That's the spirit I remember! Lets see how long it lasts…"

Fox glanced at the shield power readouts on the instrument panels and saw that the hits he had absorbed put the shields at 25 percent.

The Arwing couldn't take much more punishment.

With no less determination than before, Fox pulled up hard on the control stick and sent the Arwing into a vertical loop backwards, turning the fighter right side up as soon as the ship was completely reversed.

Fox scanned the radar, seeing the red blip at his four o'clock, glancing up and seeing his view blocked by what looked like the remainders of a military space station.

He throttled down and followed Wolf's trajectory based on the radar, flying over the space station's mighty shell.

Right as the Arwing zoomed over the curvature of the space station, Fox could see the Wolfen lancing through space below.

The Wolfen was slightly faster and had more powerful lasers than the Arwing; however it paled in comparison to the Arwing's maneuverability and shield power. If Fox's shields were depleted from that standoff, then Wolf's had to be just hovering above dead.

Fox sent the Arwing roaring over the space station, its lasers flashing twice. Fox then held the firing button down and heard the power levels whirr upwards as the lasers powered up for a fully-charged shot.

The Wolfen took off as Fox released the charged shot, unleashing a massive blast of blue hellfire that snaked after Wolf's fighter.

As Fox tore after him, Wolf's ship took off at full speed towards the burnt-out husk of a massive trading freighter, just barely outrunning the charged shot.

The Wolfen spun into another barrel roll to the right, scattering the laser blast as its shields flared. Fox scowled and throttled fully up, coming up right behind Wolf's fighter, close enough that the Arwing began to flail a bit in the wake of the Wolfen's green engines.

He punched into the fire button again and again, pounding Wolf's fighter with paired laser blasts and watching as the green hue of the Wolfen's shields began to grow fainter and fainter.

Maybe just a shot or so more…

With a jerking blast of green fire, the Wolfen's engines blazed and the ship leapt forward on a crash course for the freighter right in front of them. At the last moment, Fox saw the red cone of a smart bomb dart out of the Wolfen's magazine and impact the freighter, blossoming with a brilliant, encompassing flash of an explosion.

The freighter began to blow into two halves as the explosion just began to dissipate, and Fox's jaw dropped slightly as the Wolfen tore through the quickly widening gap, diving straight into the pluming fires of the explosion.

There was no other option. Fox was going too fast to slow down, and banking to either side would send him crashing into either half of the freighter.

His only option was to follow Wolf through the fire.

Fox dug his fingers into the stick so hard that it hurt, holding on as the Arwing sped through the firestorm, nothing visible except for the plasma flames enveloping the canopy.

The Arwing shook with turbulence that Fox felt right in his spine, making it difficult to hold onto the controls. With no warning at all, the Arwing suddenly punched through the flames and out to the other side, swooping over the brownish-grey northern hemisphere of Temple.

Fox first glanced to his shield readout and noticed that his shields were completely dead from the damage wrought by the explosion.

"Think fast, Fox," Wolf menaced over the comm.

Fox looked up to see the Wolfen a few hundred meters away, and a smart bomb sailing towards his Arwing with a malevolent red trail.

Fox gasped and jerked the stick to the right, spinning the Arwing into a barrel roll away, then pointing into a downwards nosedive. The smart bomb exploded in the position that the Arwing had occupied a half-second ago, the shockwave spreading out and viciously smacking the fighter with full force.

Fox's head was whip lashed into the back of his seat as the instrument panels sparked under the rending of metal.

The orange glow of the explosion filled the cockpit as Fox felt the lurching feeling of freefall downwards.

As the explosion cleared, all that Fox could see through the canopy was the grayish brown of Temple; all that he could hear was the panicked beeping of multiple alarms.

In the heads-up display was the warning message in red: 'WARNING: ATMOSPHERIC RE-ENTRY IMMINENT'

Fox began to breathe hard as he scrambled his hands over the instrument panel in order to find out just how much of the ship had been destroyed by the bomb.

He quickly punched in a request for the damage readout, and was quickly shown a schematic of the Arwing from the top looking down.

On the schematic, it showed the left wing traced out in red, and one of the gravity-diffusion generators in red as well.

One of the Arwing's wings had been completely blown off, and one of the G-diffusion generators was inoperable as well.

Atmospheric flight, by way of either gravity diffusion or by gliding with the shape of the Arwing itself, would be difficult if not impossible. It made re-entry especially dangerous. The Arwings were made for both spaceflight and atmospheric flight, and were thus shielded for re-entry, but it was still the most dangerous thing a pilot could do next to getting into a dogfight. Regardless of how shielded the Arwing might've been, the wrong re-entry position could still melt the fighter into a ball of molten slag.

The alarms kept wailing as Fox gripped the control stick, trying his best to shift the Arwing into a nosedive straight down, to best take advantage of the fighter's heavily-shielded nose, praying that the forward heat shields that absorbed the abuse of re-entry were still functional.

The Arwing began to wobble and swerve through the air uncontrollably as a fiery orange flare began to grow around the corners of the fighter, along with a loud roaring of rushing air that pounded into the canopy.


"I heard you the first time!" Fox snapped for no reason in particular.

The Arwing continued to wobble, thrashing Fox around in the cockpit enough that he knew he would be getting bruises. His real worry was getting a concussion and blacking out.

"ROB!" Fox yelled into the microphone, "I could use some help here!!"

The only response was static, and Fox realized that either the damage or the re-entry had to be raising hell with the comlink.

He couldn't even hear himself think over the deafening roar of the resistant atmosphere, and the glow from the superhot air around was enough that it was nearly blinding him even though Fox was looking straight down at the instrument panel.

The distinctive squeal of yet another alarm was heard, the one that Fox had feared hearing: the temperature alarm. It meant that the Arwing was within about a few hundred degrees of melting point. In a short while, the Arwing would begin to break apart.

It was plain and simple: Fox was going to die if he didn't get out of this horizontal spin.

With one of the G-diffusers shot and one wing missing, that might be impossible.

Fox's loss for what to do was turned into a panic as he felt the cockpit begin to heat up and heard the temperature alarm increase in tempo as the outside of the Arwing burned hotter and hotter.

A glance at the diagnostic panel showed that he had 12 percent engine power remaining, giving Fox a last-ditch idea.

If he couldn't guide the Arwing into a steady trajectory, perhaps he could force it.

There was still enough engine power left for one large boost. If he timed it right, Fox could throttle all the way up and force the engines to give out one burst of speed with enough force to keep the Arwing on a straight path.

The only problem was that the Arwing's re-entry speed would increase about a few hundred kilometers per second more, which would put even more strain on the heat shielding. Not to mention the fact that it would make an actual landing even more difficult.

There was no time for hesitation, or even a deep amount of thought. Fox trusted his instincts and gripped the handle of the throttle, watching the artificial horizon readout as it spun in relation to the planet Temple below.

The split second came that Fox knew in his gut that the time was right, and he shoved the throttle forward with a grit of his teeth.

The engines gave off a blast that sounded more like an explosion than an acceleration, and Fox was once again shoved back into his seat as the wrecked Arwing leapt forward, however the first thing he noticed was that the spinning sensation was gone.

The orange flare of re-entry subsided a bit, confined instead to the tip of the Arwing's nose, which blazed red-hot.

The temperature alarms still sounded and Fox noticed with a small measure of distress that the damage readout was showing a slow deterioration to the nose, the added speed of the stabilizing boost creating too much heat resistance for the shielding to handle.

Fox prayed that it would hold; he still had more than his fair share of problems to worry about.

The altimeter was counting down almost too fast to see, and Fox could make out clouds below the Arwing. Gone now was the darkness of space, replaced by the daylight of Temple as the Arwing reached the mid-atmosphere.

With one wing gone, it would be a fight just to keep the Arwing on a straight path. And Fox still had to figure out how to slow down enough to avoid plowing into the ground at about 75 meters per second.

Up ahead, the nose was growing from red-hot to yellow.

Once more, the Arwing began to wobble and pitch as it lost speed.

Fox compensated the best he could, giving the control stick the slightest of nudges in response to the Arwing's tempestuous bucking. It was a constant battle of readjustment and correction, but Fox managed to get the hang of keeping the fighter pointed in one general direction.

As the Arwing sailed through a cloud on its fiery plunge, Fox was able to make out a vast, unmoving city with towering skyscrapers far below. He had perhaps a minute or two before he'd be within a few thousand feet of the ground and things got even harder.

Fox called up the damage readout again, ignoring the slowly continuing decay of the nose, and requested a full diagnostic on the remaining G-diffuser.

The diagnostic focused on the second, undamaged blue fin at the side of the Arwing's cockpit, showing that the G-diffuser was functional but quickly losing power, which was automatically being re-routed to the forward heat shields to prevent the nose from disintegrating.

Fox called up a list of the power distribution, quickly receiving a list of ship components with percentage markings. Since the second G-diffuser was off line, power was being rationed off to different parts of the ship to make up for the lack of energy. It wasn't enough, however, and across the board power levels were dropping.

Fox quickly scanned the list, trying to find a location from which he could divert power in order to get the G-diffuser as functional as possible. He'd need it to be in the best condition he could manage, or else the gravity brakes wouldn't work and he'd have no way to slow the Arwing's descent.

By now he'd completely tuned out the deafening growl of the rushing air outside, and the wailing of the alarms inside the cockpit. Fox was able to find some measure of focus.

He could divert all power away from weapons, but there was only a pitiful amount of juice remaining there. The only other source of available power that could possibly be sacrificed was the life support systems.

Careful to keep his hands on the control stick, Fox bashed the emergency panel to his right with his elbow, knocking loose the oxygen mask and air tank that was kept in case of a loss of life support.

In a split second motion, Fox took his right hand off of the control stick and pressed the mask to his mouth, fitting the plastic covering over his snout. He quickly grabbed onto the elastic band and stretched in order to keep the mask on his face, and frantically looped it over his head and let it snap securely over his headset. With a final movement, Fox pressed the button on the air tank to release the oxygen inside, and he breathed in a lungful of stale air as he selected both the weapons and life support and quickly diverted all power from both into the remaining G-diffuser.

He felt a cold feeling over his fur as the air rushing into the cockpit stopped, and everything inside seemed deathly still. Fox just tried to breathe calmly and carefully through the oxygen mask. On the power distribution list, the levels of the G-diffuser climbed up to 62 percent.

That was good enough for what he needed.

As the skyline of the city of Temple below grew closer and closer, Fox engaged the gravity brakes in full, and he felt a lurching scream as the brakes powered up and began to resist the blinding speeds of the Arwing's descent.

Fox felt his guts being scrambled by the opposing g-forces as the inertial compensators died with the rest of the life support.

Up on the nose of the Arwing, the flare of re-entry fires subsided and the surface began to change from orange to red as it cooled down.

Fox would've almost felt relieved if the ground wasn't so close right now.

With blinding speed, the Arwing sailed in between a pair of skyscrapers, blasting over row after row of lower buildings as it neared a massive central plaza.

That was as good a place as any to make a crash landing.

The buildings surrounding the Arwing flew by in a blinding blur, the ancient stone of the plaza coming up faster than Fox would've thought possible.

Fox pulled up on the control stick to make the softest landing he could, but forgot for a split second about the lost wing and the instability that its absence brought.

The Arwing dipped upwards slightly, doing a half barrel roll through the air so that its remaining wing was perpendicular to the ground. It then dived downwards, the wing being the first to hit the ground and absorbing most of the force of impact. The wing tore off like tissue paper, the metal screaming as it ripped.

Fox squinted his eyes shut as the wingless fighter spun through the air then came back down, skipping twice across the plaza like a stone across water, creating a storm of sparks and an opera of rending metal screeches.

The Arwing's wreckage came down one last time, smacking into the ground so hard that Fox's head was shaken like a rag doll, his head bashing into the back of his seat so hard that he could feel his headset crack.

The Arwing skidded along the stone, grinding to a sudden stop.

For a moment, Fox kept his eyes closed, only hearing the hissing and flowing of smoke and settling engine fluid as the alarms inside the cockpit still honked and buzzed.

With one final, large inhale, Fox tore the oxygen mask off his face and opened up his eyes, seeing through the soot covering the cracked canopy the trail of debris that the crash had left, including the scattered metal confetti that remained of the wing.

Fox then pressed the canopy release button, and to his surprise the hydraulics whirred and the canopy tranquilly lifted upward to allow him to exit. He half expected to have to blast the canopy off.

Clicking the small release lever in the safety harness, Fox felt a massive pain and a dizziness in his head as the assorted belts of the harness fell off of his shoulders and chest.

Fox stood up on the pilot's seat, carefully jumping off of the rim of the canopy, over the blue G-diffuser fin, and landing on the plaza's stone pavement. He was very cautious of how blazing hot the outside of the Arwing still had to be from re-entry.

His head was spinning at a million miles per hour, his feet still unaccustomed to being on solid ground.

Fox lifted himself up and stared around at the empty, quiet skyscrapers towering over him, their windows all vacant and dark.

Breathing heavily, Fox looked over to what remained of his beloved Arwing, seeing it scorched to the point that it was almost black, wingless and with the nose severely blunted and melted from the rough re-entry.

She would never fly again.

There was no question about that.

He didn't really care at this point, what with his brain feeling like it was being forced out through his nose. Fox put a hand to his forehead, brushing his nose, then brought it away to discover that his hand was smeared with blood. Fox felt his nose again, and his fingers came away with even more blood.

It wasn't just his head; Fox's entire body ached. His head just felt the worst.

Fox wiped the blood onto his jacket then stumbled back to the smoking Arwing wreckage, reaching back inside the emergency panel and pulled out a small cylindrical device with a red button on top. He promptly pressed the button, watching the button blink red periodically, and shoved the object into the breast pocket of his jacket. The emergency beacon would ensure that any passing friendly spacefarer would receive a distress signal. It would also let ROB know that he was still alive. Unfortunately, it was likely that Wolf also knew as well.

Fox glanced back up at the encroaching skyscrapers.

There was something eerie about how deathly still these abandoned buildings were. Almost like an entire city of ghosts, haunting the planet and going about their after lives, not even aware that they were dead. It made Fox feel very out of place, almost unwelcome, to be probably the only living thing within a hundred kilometers, if not on the entire planet.

Even if he was just barely alive at the moment.

As he gazed at the skyline above, something else caught his eye.

High above and in the distance, a flaming comet descended through the atmosphere above, trailing a tail of fire as it burned its way through the sky.

It took Fox a moment to realize that this was no shooting star: It was Wolf, likely following him close behind.

The ship would reach him, defenseless, in a matter of minutes.

Fox tried to run, to seek shelter in the nearest building, but only succeeded in stumbling and collapsing into the stone-paved ground.

He could practically feel the planet spinning below him.

As Fox picked himself up, he could feel the hot, rushing feeling of bile in the back of his throat. There was nothing he could do to fight it, and he promptly vomited into the ground.

His tongue burned with the harsh aftertaste of his own stomach acid, and Fox coughed as he wiped his mouth off.

Throwing up actually seemed to help just a bit.

Below the ringing sound in his ears, Fox could hear the hissing rumble of a flaming re-entry and the roar of an engine.

A look up showed the comet-like oncoming Wolfen getting ever closer.

Fox put his hands on his knees, steadying himself.

In the distance, the re-entry fires faded away from around the Wolfen, and Fox could just make out the sharp x-shape of the approaching star fighter. It caught the sun and glinted briefly as it screamed over the Temple skyline. It got closer and closer, darting in between the skyscrapers, until finally flashing into the plaza and unleashing a hail of red laser blasts that lanced over Fox's head and exploded into the Arwing's wreckage.

The heat and the shockwave hit Fox even from almost a hundred feet away, knocking him onto his side as the Wolfen swooped into the sky, flying far above and making a sharp turn to face the plaza once more.

He leapt to his feet as the star fighter bore down on the plaza, coming straight for him in a way that Fox knew he'd been seen.

His nerves were on a hair-trigger as the Wolfen zoomed out of the sky, closing the distance between itself and the edge of the plaza in milliseconds.

The lasers fired in rapid succession, and Fox took off running as fast as he could, darting towards the same direction that the Wolfen was headed.

It took some balls to run at the fighter instead of away, but that was the only way Fox could minimize the amount of time he'd appear on the target screen; Wolf would overtake him before he got too many shots off.

One of the laser blasts punched into the stone pavement just twenty feet from Fox, forming a massive circular crater and an explosion that launched Fox through the air and tossed him into the ground.

Fox landed in a heap as the Wolfen flashed overhead with a jarring sonic boom.

He looked up from the ground as the Wolfen came around for another pass, and instead of making an attack run Fox was surprised as the fighter dived lower and lower into the ground, gliding just barely a hundred feet over the streets between the buildings.

The Wolfen blasted over the streets and into the plaza almost too fast to be seen, pulling up just as it entered the edges of the plaza.

The canopy sprang up and a single figure leapt out of the fighter, landing hard on the ground with a slamming of feet as the Wolfen's autopilot flew the ship up to the roof of a nearby building.

The figure looked up at Fox from across the plaza, glaring at him with one narrow eye and one blue cybernetic optical implant.

Wolf O'Donnell rose up to full height, his pointed grey ears perking up and his rough tail slowly twitching. Even from here, Fox could see Wolf flexing those sharp claws of his.

They both stood still, simply staring at each other from across the plaza, silent and unmoving.

"It's a great day to die, ain't it, McCloud?" Wolf growled.

Fox didn't respond, only allowed his right hand to hover over his holstered blaster.

He saw Wolf's hand fly to his own holster, and Fox dived to the side as the blaster spit a glowing glob of green plasma in his direction.

The plasma bolt dashed over Fox's head and hit the wall of a building behind him, blasting a hole in the wall.

In a single, liquid movement, Fox yanked his blaster from its holster and swung it around to face Wolf, squeezing off three shots of crimson laser bolts that Wolf dodged with a leap into the air, running towards him with a determined charge.

Gripping onto the handle of his blaster, Fox ran in Wolf's direction, his heart beating in his chest.

At the risk of sounding speciesist, it can be said that wolves are the least evolved of all sentient beings in the Lylat System. Almost every wolf is dominated by some revenant, bestial impulse or compulsion, a leftover perhaps of the animal instincts that dictated behavior in the primal, savage world of eons ago. It is of little surprise, then, that wolves were among the most violent and rare of all beings in the galaxy, precisely because of the feral behavior that they frequently indulged and the lethal consequences that often resulted from such in a civilized galactic community. There exist only perhaps a handful of species naturally predisposed to beating a wolf in a fair fight. Foxes are not known to be one of them.

But then again, foxes are not known for fighting fair, either.

Fox closed the gap between Wolf and himself quickly, slapping his left hand to his waist, where the reflector device that Slippy had designed hung off of his belt loop. Fox pressed the button on the device just as he grabbed Wolf's wrist, and the reflector sparked to life in a glow of blue light.

Wolf cried out in anguish as the reflector's induction field shocked him with a wave of electricity, knocking him backwards as Fox fired off another shot from his blaster, hitting Wolf squarely in his metal shoulder plating.

Wolf lashed out with his left hand as he flew backwards, slashing at the sides of Fox's white jacket.

There was a tearing sound as a trio of claw-marks ripped into his jacket, causing Fox to leap back in surprise.

Fighting Wolf was sure to be tricky, especially with the spikes on his shoulder plates, the individual spike on each knee pad, and the sharpened claw on each finger.

Wolf hopped forward and jabbed, driving the heel of his palm into Fox's nose, sending him backwards with a grunt of pain. He clawed at Fox again, tearing his army green flight suit at the leg. Fox yelled, feeling the oozing of blood from the cuts in his leg that Wolf had inflicted.

Fox hopped forward and punched Wolf squarely in the jaw, eliciting a brief snarl from his archrival, then promptly grabbed Wolf's open, blue vest and kneed him in the gut, sending him backwards.

As Wolf stumbled, he yanked out his large blaster and swung at Fox wildly.

Fox moved his head just in time to dodge the wickedly curved blade that Wolf had mounted as a bayonet on the end of the pistol.

Wolf regained his balance and managed to fire off a shot, and Fox threw himself backwards as the green blast lanced over his head.

Fox landed on the ground and quickly leapt up as Wolf holstered the blaster and put his right hand behind his back, almost as if he was reaching for something.

Fox took aim with his blaster, firing off one, two, three, four, five more shots, watching as Wolf leapt from side to side to avoid them. The fifth shot hit Wolf on his left arm, and he let out a brief yelp of pain.

Fox's blaster was designed to be fired fast and to chip away at a person, almost unnoticeably, until they could be dealt with or avoided. He could charge it up for a killing shot, but he didn't really have time for that now.

Wolf rebounded and visibly crushed something in his hand, giving off a feral grin.

Fox leapt to his feet and rushed forwards, lashing out with his foot in a broad kick.

Wolf caught the kick with his hand, slapping it away and knocking Fox off balance. He then shoved forward and elbowed Fox in the gut, causing Fox to trip backwards.

As Fox attempted to regain his posture, he didn't realize how wide open he was.

In a blinding movement, Wolf raised his right hand and opened it up, blowing fiercely. A dull yellow powder flew from Wolf's hand and into Fox's face, sprinkling into his eyes and nose.

In his shock, Fox breathed in the dust, smelling a stale, almost flowery smell, squinting his eyes shut in panic as the powder stung his eyes.

There was a white hot pain as he was struck right between the eyes, and Fox screamed as he fell backwards.

He hit the ground in a heap, already noticing that something was wrong.

There was a sluggish, almost dizzying way that time seemed to slow down. It felt like it took five minutes for Fox to open his eyes.

He saw Wolf standing over him, his blaster aimed right at him. Everything seemed to be out of focus, like Fox was seeing double. The buildings behind Wolf were little but towering, malevolent shadows.

"It would be so easy, McCloud…" Wolf rumbled, his voice echoing weirdly in Fox's ears.

Wolf's body seemed to blur as he holstered his blaster with a crooked smile.

"Too easy. Hows 'bout we take a rain check on this thing, eh?" Wolf growled, "I think…I'll give you some time. Something tells me you'll be occupied, anyway. Do me a favor and try to stay alive in the meantime, alright? I'm gonna want to know what you see…"

Wolf's words were an odd, random soup of nonsense that Fox could barely process.

"Later, McCloud," Wolf chuckled, walking away.

Fox slowly blinked, for what seemed to take sixty seconds, and he could hear a faint slam as his eyelids smacked together. When he opened his eyes again, Wolf was completely gone.

If his head was spinning before, it was flying out of control now. It was totally different. He didn't know if he was lying down or standing up. He didn't know if Wolf had been gone for five minutes or five hours. The sun seemed to flicker on and off like a light, switching between night and day in a stuttering, irregular pattern.

He could barely remember who he was.

Where was he?

Was this Corneria?

Where were all the people? Was everyone dead?

Was he dead?

Fox might've been walking, but it was more like walking in a dream. He didn't remember getting up. He blacked in and out of consciousness, awaking each time in a different place. The ground under his feet seemed to change from stone to carpet to metal and back again.

The next moment that Fox regained some semblance of alertness, he was walking through a dark, grey-colored hallway. The cherry carpets on the floor looked like dried blood, and they distracted him from the window that overlooked the plaza he'd previously occupied.

Fox glanced outside slothfully, barely recognizing what looked like the exploded wreckage of his Arwing. Was he 3 floors up, or was it more like 20? The distance between the ground and Fox seemed to change each time.

He continued down the hallway, his feet sloshing on the carpet, his feet sinking in a little more than they should've.

Fox looked down and saw the feet of his boots soaked in a dark red, and realized that the entire hallway carpet was drenched in blood.

He stumbled backwards in shock and gasped, following the hallway up to the end, where a pair of round bodies laid on top of each other, their mouths wide open in a silent scream. Mirroring their gaping mouths, both figures throats and stomachs were slashed open viciously, wide agape like secondary and tertiary mouths of their own. The slash marks on their necks were dark and rimmed with crimson, like the painted lips of a seductive femme fatale. Spilling out from their stomachs like fat, phallic snakes were the coils of brown and pink intestines.

The two dead bodies were frogs, and Fox felt his heart rise up into his throat with terror and dread as he realized that he knew these people.

It was Slippy and Amanda.

Fox tried to breathe but found no air available, tried to move but found his limbs paralyzed.

Slippy's bulbous eyes stared out blankly down the hall at Fox, regarding him with a type of frozen terror and sadness. Amanda's dead, glassy eyes were locked solely on Slippy.

Fox's jaw tilted open in a look of silent shock, feeling a merciful intake of air. There was no way to make sense of it, even though the idea of the two of them dead and on this forsaken planet was ludicrous. There was only desperation, for there they were, gutted and stone dead, before his very eyes.

"Slippy…" Fox moaned softly, then took off running for his long time friend, screaming, "SLIPPY!!"

Fox nearly slipped on the blood-drenched carpet as he barreled for the two dead toads, devastation seizing both his head and his heart.

Fox cried out as he got close enough to smell the horrible, putrid stench of their rotting flesh, then tripped over his own feet and landed squarely on his chest.

"Slippy!" Fox cried out once more, looking up, then freezing in shock.

The two dead bodies were no longer there. The carpet, saturated with blood, was completely dry now, having returned to its ominous cherry color. There wasn't a drop of blood anywhere on his clothes, either.

Fox looked around the hallway, as if the bodies had moved, his jaw trembling in the remnants of confusion and devastation.

What the hell was that?

They had been right there. Fox had smelled their stench, he'd felt the wetness of their blood soaking his clothes. He'd seen their twisted faces.

And now it was as if they simply weren't. Had Slippy abandoned him even in death?

No, no that just wasn't possible.

Had he merely seen things? To see something so vivid, to have it dominate all five senses, it made him question which was the mirage; their presence or their absence.

Fox carefully picked himself up, his head still throbbing. His skull and limbs were so heavy, it was like walking underwater.

He took a step forward, only to stumble across the carpet and onto a flat door of taupe colored stone. Fox groped around the doorframe, pressing a small, faintly glowing panel to his left. The door slid up into the ceiling with a hiss. Fox staggered through the door into a dark, ancient-looking bedroom. Low to the floor was a rectangular, pit-like bed, dominating the small room. A pair of tattered, old curtains cast selective patterns of light around regions of the room, allowing only enough light to make the room just barely visible. The red carpeted floors were covered with dust and pieces of antique parchment strewn about the floor.

The entire room looked as if it had been either hastily evacuated or thoroughly vandalized.

It wasn't the most inviting place, but Fox could not deny the inviting, seductive nature of the bed before him. Hopefully, some sleep would put an end to this disorienting, trance-like state that he seemed to be in.

He couldn't be feeling this way just because of the crash. It had to be something else, but…but what had happened after the crash? The earliest thing he remembered was the Arwing skidding roughly across the plaza.

He definitely needed sleep.

Without the slightest measure of decorum or examination, Fox threw himself on the bed, collapsing into the soft mattress and it's odd, silky purplish-blue sheets. The sheets felt smothering, enveloping, almost malevolently so. They reminded him of Krystal.

Fox blinked his eyes only once, but in a blink of an eye he was somewhere completely different. He was standing up rather than lying down, and instead of the warm embrace of the deserted bed, he was in the grayish white, pristine and almost sterile chilliness of the Great Fox. Disoriented, Fox glanced around at the corridor surrounding him. He couldn't help the feeling that he was being watched, which was odd given the very white and lit-up nature of the corridor.

"Why, Fox?" a tender, sophisticated voice said from behind him.

Fox whipped around to face the voice's owner, and his heart halted in astonishment.

Those aqua-colored eyes of hers bore through him like a blade of ice, almost as if she could read his mind. In a broad sense of the word, it was highly likely that she was reading his mind at that very moment.

Krystal looked almost exactly like he'd remembered her, leaning with her back against the wall right next to the door to Fox's quarters. Her skintight indigo cat suit left only slightly more to the imagination than the bikini-loincloth outfit she had worn when they first met on Sauria. Her sensually-shaped face had the capacity for both pure innocence and carnal depravity. Krystal's lips and the practically perfect curves of her athletic body held the promise of a night to remember.

The only detail that seemed to be different was the areas around her eyes, which were darkened into nearly black, thin circles, as if she was constantly glaring or never slept. They gave her a vaguely enraged or malevolent look. Fox barely noticed it, moonstruck by her presence after so long of doing without her.

"Krystal…" Fox breathed, his jaw slack at the joyful illogicality of it all, completely disregarding how this could all be possible.

There was no sympathy or tenderness in her eyes, which looked about as soft as diamonds.

"I loved you," Krystal fumed.

"I love you, too," Fox sighed emotively, reaching to stroke her face.

"You sent me away," Krystal menaced, glaring venomously at his hand, as if daring him to touch her.

Fox paused and recoiled slowly, closing his eyes mournfully. He opened them again and felt a lump forming in his throat. He could feel her presence inside his head, barely perceivable like a shadow passing over the sun. Krystal had looked into his mind in a completely different way back when they were together. Before, it was a euphoric feeling, as if her very essence was inside of him and he was inside of her. Whenever she did it during sex, it was a torrid, raw, inflaming, frenzied type of catharsis unrivaled by anything Fox had ever felt, or ever would feel save for the next time.

Now, as Krystal looked into his thoughts, almost hypnotizing him with those eyes of hers, it was a total paralysis. There was no stimulus, or mutual exchange at any level, at any part of his body. He wasn't sure if he was even breathing anymore. If Krystal had stabbed him in the chest at that moment, Fox wouldn't have felt it. The only sensation that he experienced at all was a vague feeling of unease or eeriness as a spectral presence sifted through his thoughts, memories, fantasies and emotions like a stalker with a recently-pilfered diary of life secrets.

Somehow, Fox found the strength to speak.

"I'm sorry," Fox murmured.

Krystal's eyes narrowed, as if Fox had uttered a crass insult. He felt life returning to his body as Krystal released her mental grip and smiled at him acidly in a condescending way that he was taken quite aback.

"I just… I didn't want to see you hurt. I didn't want to lose you," Fox pleaded.

"That's what happened anyway," Krystal snarled.

Fox had imagined it like this in his mind several times.

Trying to somehow defend his actions, to justify what he did as Krystal skewered his heart and put it on trial.

Except now, it was even worse. Now it was real, wasn't it?

"You didn't care about me, Fox," Krystal hissed, "All that you cared about was not having to deal with it, if something did happen. I knew the risks. I took them. And you were fine with that, just as long as you didn't have to confront the possibility of losing me. If you'd rather push me away than lose me, it's because you're the one that was scared of being hurt. I never entered into the equation."

"No, I…" Fox trailed off.

Again, he felt the total lack of feeling; that infinite emptiness that seized him as Krystal gazed into his thoughts.

"At least have the fortitude to admit it. You cared more about getting hurt and losing me than you cared about me as a person. It was doomed from the start," Krystal interrogated.

Fox closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, unable to look at her.

"Yes," Fox whispered.

He felt the rushing feeling of relief as Krystal released him.

When he opened his eyes, he saw her much closer to his face. Some of the hostility seemed to be gone, but there was still a savage, unfamiliar air about her.

Fox was afraid to move. He felt naked, exposed, helpless.

When she put her hands around his neck, Fox almost drew back.

"Do you know what it's like to watch your home world destroyed? To know that every one you knew and loved was dead? And then, living with the guilt that you survived?" Krystal whispered in his ear, "And then, once you've forgiven yourself and opened your heart again, and found a new family, can you imagine being cut off and abandoned, again, except this time it's by the very person you'd loved? There's a walk in my shoes, Fox. You lost your father. I lost an entire world. And then I lost you. Who's got more of an excuse here?"

Fox closed his eyes again.

Part of him wanted to never let her go after losing her once.

The other part just wanted her to go away, for ripping away and exposing those awful truths he wouldn't even admit to himself.

"I know what's in your heart, Fox," Krystal breathed seductively into his ear, "I know what you want. Take it. Remember how it felt? Remember how I felt?"

She pulled back and looked hard and deep at him, those aqua eyes of hers looking less and less like the Krystal he remembered by the moment.

As much as he might've wanted to do everything to her that he'd been missing for the almost ten months she'd been gone, something inside Fox was telling him that this succubus before him was dangerous.

Before he could act, Krystal shoved her face into his, locking lips with Fox.

He considered backing away, maybe even running away, until he felt Krystal's tongue slip into his mouth. She tasted exactly the way he remembered her, almost like licking the ends of a plasma battery, except it was an enslaving sensation rather than painful.

Fox returned the action, grabbing Krystal around the waist, pulling her closer and forcing his tongue into her mouth, sliding it around the back of her tongue and just behind her teeth. He felt her breathing increase as she pressed up against his chest, and he shoved her roughly against the wall. Krystal's hands came down from around his neck and traveled down Fox's chest, her fingernails raking into him just a little too hard. Her hands worked their way back up, each one digging into the shoulders of his jacket. Fox took the hint and slipped each arm out of the sleeve, allowing the jacket to fall to the floor in a heap, exposing the sleeveless top of his dark green flight suit.

As Krystal went to work on untying the red scarf around his neck, Fox's hands traveled down Krystal's firm back and reached the edge of her buttocks, gripping the base of her tail and giving a light but firm tug.

Krystal gasped and dug her fingernails into his neck, while the tip of Fox's tongue worked its way from the back of the roof of Krystal's mouth to the front.

As Fox's hand moved from Krystal's ass to her upper thigh, Krystal responded by promptly wrapping her leg around Fox's waist. Just as Fox's hand moved to the front of her thigh and began to travel back up to her torso, Krystal pulled back a little, gripping Fox's bottom lip in her teeth. She proceeded to suck on his lip, digging her teeth lightly into his flesh to the point that the pleasure had tinge of pain to it. Just as Fox was about to make another move, Krystal opened her mouth and fully locked lips with him again. By now, Fox's scarf had been untied and fallen to the ground, and Krystal's hands were moving over his shoulders and down his arms, tracing her fingers firmly over the muscles under his fur.

Fox's hands moved up Krystal's stomach and to her chest, his forefinger and thumb scooping under the edges of her breasts. At that moment, Krystal broke off from Fox's mouth and put her lips to his ear, placing a hand firmly on the back of his head.

"Cut the foreplay and get to it," Krystal growled in a husky tone, sensuously licking the inside of his ear.

Fox didn't require any more encouragement than that, his hands snaking up her body and getting to the neck of her cat suit, fumbling with the clasp that would unfasten Krystal's clothes and allow her to just slip out of the cat suit.

With a quiet snap, the clasp unfastened, and Fox grabbed a handful of the cat suit covering Krystal's shoulders, dragging the fabric down off of her arms and fully exposing her neck, cleavage, and shoulders. Fox promptly shoved his face into her shoulders, running his tongue over her fur and stimulating her neck with a series of slow, passionate kisses. He could feel the sensation as Krystal's fur stood on end and she let out a low moan, digging her fingers into the back of Fox's head. As he nibbled softly into her neck, he began to notice just how hot Krystal was—temperature-wise.

First beginning to ignore it, Fox began to move lower, working his way down to her cleavage, where Krystal felt almost uncomfortably hot. Not about to let something so minor deter him, Fox worked his way back up her neck whilst dragging her loose cat suit further down her body, nearly exposing her breasts. Her neck was just as hot as her chest felt, and it was getting hotter—much hotter.

It was to the point where it irritated Fox's tongue to continue caressing her neck, and he pulled back with a level of confusion.

"What's wrong?" Krystal asked in a low tone, her breath short.

Before he could answer, she slammed her mouth into his and rammed her tongue down his throat. For perhaps the first moment or so, it was fine.

But afterwards, he felt Krystal heating up more and more, her tongue rising in temperature to the point that it almost hurt when she pressed it to one part of his mouth for too long. As Fox began to step back, Krystal stepped forward, shoving him backwards and pinning him to the other side of the hallway. Her lips were beginning to burn him; her tongue was like an overdone baked potato in his mouth.

Fox's breathing increased dramatically as he tried to push Krystal away, but found himself unable to make her budge.

Fox tried to grab Krystal's exposed shoulder, only to let out a muffled cry of pain as the flesh of his palms sizzled against her fur. No matter what, he could not dislodge her as she locked him in her incendiary kiss.

A distinct, low crackling sound could be heard as Fox noticed out of the corner of his eye the flesh on Krystal's shoulders beginning to sizzle and fry, bubbling in massive red welts and steam. He could smell the stench of her burning flesh. Still, Krystal continued to kiss him, oblivious to the fact that she was roasting.

Fox's heart was beating a million miles a minute as Krystal's tongue grew white hot and he felt it burning the back of his throat. He let out a scream of pain as the heat spread throughout him and enveloped him, cooking him from the inside out. The scream only came out as a muffled bleat of alarm, as Krystal's lips were blocking his.

His entire body was on fire, or at least it felt like it. Fox could feel every inch of his skin scorching and sizzling, growing hotter and hotter and hotter every second.

Fox pushed back against Krystal with all of his strength, trying to break free and escape.

Her only response was a moan of ecstasy, as if she didn't even notice it, and she held him with a cast-iron grip that would not even budge.

Fox began to helplessly spasm, his entire body convulsing as his blood boiled inside his veins. He could see the scalds and welts forming on his arms, popping up like parasites coming out of the ground.

Fox's eyes were being forced out of his head, and suddenly millions of tiny needles of pain began to press into his eyes as the moisture in his tear ducts began to boil, cooking his eyes like eggs.

Fox couldn't scream any more- his throat had been cauterized shut by the burning heat of Krystal's tongue traveling down his esophagus. He couldn't breathe, and that only made him panic more and struggle harder, which only seemed to make Krystal kiss him deeper with her searing flesh. Suddenly, Krystal's tongue withdrew, and she pulled away ever so slightly, gazing into his now blood-red, boiling eyes as steam began to waft from his tear ducts, indifferent to his suffering. A single hand grasped Fox's jaw in a stone-like grip; the other traveled down, in between his legs and fondled his genitals through his flight suit, searing his reproductive organs with fingers hot enough to start a fire.

"Do you love me now?" Krystal whispered softly to him, then kissed him again.

Fox felt Krystal's lips growing exponentially hotter to the point where he could feel his skin beginning to char, so hot that his body couldn't quite comprehend it anymore.

Krystal then gave a deep, orgasmic moan, and there was the whooshing growl as her back caught on fire.

She had no reaction, no response as the fire spread to every inch of her body, the flames consuming her until there was no part of Krystal still visible. The flames spread to Fox's body, and he writhed in agony, screaming as loud as he could as his fur burnt away in seconds, then as flesh turned black and shriveled. Fox's skin fell away like burnt paper, and all that he could do was scream as loud as he possibly could until it felt like his lungs were bleeding.

By now his skin and nerves were completely burned away, and Fox received a strange sensation as he felt nothing in contrast to the excruciating pain of mere moments ago. It was blissful to just feel nothing after so much agony, and Fox closed his eyes and surrendered, letting the flames consume him like a warm blanket.

There was only darkness and silence for a second, and Fox reflexively opened his eyes.

Initially surprised that he still had eyelids, Fox was further shocked to find himself lying in the tangled, purplish-blue blankets of the bed he'd collapsed into, seemingly so long ago. His clothes and the sheets were drenched in a deluge of cold sweat, and Fox breathed hard, feeling each part of his body, confirming that it was still very intact and not burned away.

A shroud of bewilderment and confusion sank over him, and Fox held his head in his hands as he desperately tried to make sense of it all.

What was happening to him?

The things he had seen were too real to be a nightmare, but far too nightmarish to be real. How did he know what was real if everything felt so real?

And why was he being tortured with these horrible images of all the people that he once knew and loved?

They had all left him, given up on him or not helped him enough in order to get back to normal after Krystal. That was it, right?

They had to have abandoned him.

There was no way he would condemn himself to a lonely hell like this.

Why was he seeing them so much?

Still breathing hard, his red fur matted with his own cold sweat, Fox threw the covers off of himself and crawled out of the bed, collapsing weakly onto the floor on all fours. He shivered in desperation, wrought on by incomprehension of just what the hell was happening to him.

Fox tried to stop his body from shivering, noticing that, now at least his head seemed to be clearing up a bit. He shuddered once and put his forehead down on the floor, trying to think back and maybe figure out what might be going on.

How had he gotten here? He knew that the Arwing had crashed, but he couldn't remember why. All that Fox could remember was the actual crash itself; how he had managed to fly the damaged Arwing in such a manner that he survived the crash was a mystery to him.

Had he hit his head? Is that why he was seeing all of these things?

No, if he had suffered that bad of a concussion, he probably wouldn't have been conscious for hours, let alone be able to move.

Fox began to crawl weakly across the room, noticing a dim, tiled room connected to the bedroom. Most likely a bathroom, which he could really use right now.

It wasn't so much that he had to go, but he so feared the idea of sleeping in a bed after the dream or whatever it was about Krystal.

He made his way to the bathroom, crawling along on his elbows roughly. He reached the tile and dragged himself along, feeling the cold, hard surface on his fur and skin. It was almost pitch black in the bathroom, and Fox couldn't find a light switch anywhere. The unfriendly surface of the floor was unforgiving to Fox as he gathered his feet up and put his hands around his knees, sitting in the darkness.

Fox squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shake the cobwebs out of his head. He only got an excruciating wave of pain that felt like his brain was sloshing around in his skull. Fox opened his eyes and noticed that the bathroom appeared to be getting lighter.

It was then that Fox realized that he was no longer in the bathroom.

The ground and walls were cold and hard, just like the bathroom had been, however the surface was black rather than the bathroom's light grey. The only door appeared to be a very heavy durasteel containment door without a handle on Fox's side. Also, he noticed that he was sharing the room with someone. Across the room, crouched on the black tile floor, a pitiful figure stared down at the ground. His clothes were tattered, and the arm of his white coat had scorch marks on them. The first thing that Fox noticed were the creature's ears: long and standing straight up, it was quite obvious that the figure was a rabbit.

Fox then looked closer at the figure, thin from partial starvation and it dawned on him that he would've recognized those grey and white markings anywhere.

It was Peppy.

But what the hell was he doing in here?

And why did he look better than he had in years?

The sound of approaching footsteps caused Peppy to look up with a visage of fear. His ears trembled a bit.

Peppy didn't appear to see Fox at all.

Fox's confusion was broken as the locks on the durasteel door snapped open and an ape in a maroon military uniform walked into the cell brandishing a blaster pistol.

His lungs were petrified as he found himself unable to breathe.

Of course.

Maroon military fatigues. A young-looking Peppy in a jail cell.

Somehow, he was on Venom.

And Peppy was a prisoner after Pigma Dengar betrayed him and James McCloud to Andross.

For weeks after he'd been informed as a kid that his father had been murdered, Fox had suffered violent, detailed nightmares of his father's death at the hands of Andross' torture experts.

He had never given too much thought to Peppy, who had the added trauma of surviving it and having to pick up the pieces.

"I don't know anything…I told you before. Pigma knows everything I know, and he works for you now, so just ask him," Peppy pleaded in his raspy voice to the ape soldier that stood over him, "Please, just don't take me back there again."

The ape soldier's simian mouth curled into a cheap, vulgar smile.

"Who said we weren't gonna torture you if you told us stuff?" the soldier sneered, "Now, there's just no reason to hold back, since you don't know anything."

A pitiful look spread over Peppy's eyes, and his ears drooped as his lips trembled.

"Please…" Peppy sobbed, "Please don't take me back there again. Please, just kill me if you want to, but don't take me back there."

The ape soldier's lip curled in contempt.

"Get up, you fucking pussy!" the soldier roared, kicking Peppy hard in the leg.

Peppy only wept.

"Please…" Peppy begged, tears streaming from his eyes, "I don't think I can feel anything anymore…"

"Then we'll really have to go to work on you," the soldier smirked, "Gotta make sure you feel it, then."

Peppy gritted his teeth and looked at the soldier with a mixture of weakness and scorn.

"Why are all of you doing this…?" Peppy croaked out.

"Because we can, bunny rabbit. Now get the fuck up!!" the ape roared.

Peppy tried to stand, only to be harshly elbowed in the gut by the soldier, who then grabbed Peppy's arm and began to drag him through the cell door.

Fox tried to tune it out and ignore it, but he could hear the scraping of Peppy's feet getting dragged across the black tile, and he could hear Peppy's sobs all the way down the hallway.

Then there was silence.

Fox prayed that he would wake up, that the dream would just end, but the hard cell walls and floor remained where they were.

Then he heard the screams.

They were loud enough that they sounded like the person making them was in the cell with Fox, sitting right next to him.

Fox knew that they were Peppy's screams, and the shrill sounds penetrated his very core, to the point that Fox tried to cover his ears and block them out, but he still heard them just as clear as ever.

They continued for what felt like hours, never ending, pausing only occasionally.

Fox grinded his teeth together as he felt his stomach churn and he put his head in his hands. Peppy continued to scream, and then Fox heard what sounded like begs for mercy. The begging was never answered, because the only thing that always followed was another scream.

Finally, there was one last, pathetic rattle of a whimper, and the halls fell silent.

Fox closed his eyes and put his head back against the wall.

When he opened them again, he was back in the bathroom.

Rather than being relieved that, in the end, it was just something he saw, Fox felt even worse, because he could still hear Peppy's screams in his head.

Fox hadn't noticed, but he'd been crying the entire time.

To be continued...

Please review. The more people review, the faster I'll come out with the next chapter. -TU