Finally, the third and final part. Sorry for the delay – I got most of it written and then had to start working 14-hour days at the Emergency Operations Center thanks to major flooding. Couldn't do much besides work and sleep for a while.
Anyways, I just wanna say that this story has changed so much ever since I first started thinking about it. In fact, it kept changing up until I had most of it written, surprisingly enough. I don't think I've ever had an idea change so much, especially after I've begun writing it. I must say that it certainly made it more exciting for me as well, ahaha.
Also, thank you to everyone who's been reading! I hope that you've enjoyed it... if you can even use that term with a story like this.
Leon was the first one to notice when the air around them was beginning to thin, in fact, he could almost pinpoint the exact moment when he first sensed it. He'd breathed in a perfectly fine breath of air one moment, and in the next one, he'd had to breathe in slightly more in order to achieve the same effect.
It was starting.
He wasn't sure if he wanted to tell the others or not. They already looked dejected enough as it was – all of them sitting around the walls of the infirmary, heads lowered as they stared off into space. At this point, it probably wouldn't even have been worth it. They all knew it was going to happen eventually... why know any sooner than they had to?
Slippy and Peppy were both dead. The faces of the Star Fox team as they came back into the infirmary carrying Slippy's body still haunted in the recesses of his mind. It hadn't been long after that that Krystal had come out to tell them of Peppy's death as well. The blue vixen seemed to be taking the deaths the hardest of all. He'd watched as Panther had taken her into his arms to console her. Were they not on a ship doomed to suffocation, he might have actually felt happy for his co-pilot.
Falco hadn't said a single word since they'd come back. He sat against the wall, staring straight ahead. His eyes seemed to gaze off into nothingness, completely unresponsive.
Leon didn't want to ask what exactly had transpired down on the second floor.
He was already starting to slow his breathing. He'd spent enough time in his life having to calm himself down in intense moments or quiet himself when he needed to be completely silent that controlling both his breath and heart rate had become little more than an exercise. Hell, he could even stop his heart altogether if he wanted, though he'd obviously never gone that far before. He wasn't sure exactly how much time they had left before the entire ship would become inhabitable, but he might be able to lengthen that time just a bit.
"Hey Leon, you awake?" The whisper came from across the room.
He raised his eyes up from where he'd been staring at the floor, flicking his tail. "Mm."
"Could you look after Wolf for a little while? I need to go do something."
He pursed his lips. "I suppose."
He saw the shadowed outline of a body rising up across from him, slowly stepping out towards the middle of the room and into the light.
"Thanks. It shouldn't take all that long."
Leon didn't say anything, merely shrugging himself forward onto his feet. He watched as Fox headed over to the counter to retrieve a flashlight as he made his way across the room. Letting his head fall slightly, he glanced down at the sleeping form now in front of him.
He looked so pathetic like that.
With a little sigh, he sat himself down against the wall near the Star Wolf leader's head. He narrowed his eyes slightly as he watched Fox leave the room, heading off to an unbeknownst destination elsewhere in the ship.
It didn't take him long to settle back into his old position, leaning back with his arms over his chest, knees bent slightly while his tail wrapped itself in a neat circle beneath them. Nobody else had even looked up during their whole transaction – either in their own little worlds or, perhaps, sleeping. Leon couldn't tell which in some cases.
He'd sat there about five minutes when he sensed a shift in the form next to him.
He didn't move. "Sorry, wrong species."
There was a pause, and Leon guessed that he was now rather confused.
"Oh. Hey Leon."
"Don't sound so excited to see me." He glanced down to see Wolf rubbing the area above his eye lethargically.
The lupine was silent again for a few moments.
"Where'd Fox go?"
"Not really sure... had to step out for a bit." He gave a small smirk, even though he knew the other couldn't see him. "Don't worry. I'm sure your pillow will be back shortly."
This prompted another moment of silence, Leon not sure whether Wolf was more embarrassed or put-off by the statement.
"How's your eye doing, anyway?"
Wolf fidgeted down on the floor. "It's fine."
Leon would have rolled his eyes if it even made any difference in the darkness. "How's your sight?"
There was a sigh from the canine next to him. "Everything's just really dark... and kinda fuzzy too."
Leon was staring across the room now, eyes a bit unfocused. "That's just what we need, you know? We go from having a leader with no depth perception to one who's practically blind." He said it with a chuckle, softly biting his lip. "Now all we need is for Panther to get paralyzed and me to develop a deathly fear of wide, open spaces and we'll be the system's first special-needs mercenary team."
This instigated a laugh from Wolf. It felt good to laugh. They could forget about the slim-to-none chance they had of making if off the ship alive.
Leon took this opportunity to curl his tail in a tighter coil, shifting it to the side and slipping it under the other's head. He felt Wolf relax and settle into it, obviously relieved to have his head off the cold, hard floor.
"I've been a good leader... haven't I?"
Leon leaned his head back against the wall, letting his eyes travel up towards the ceiling. "I wouldn't have wanted to fly under anyone else."
Fox made his way down the hallway rather slowly. He felt no need to quicken his pace, and indeed, he wasn't much in the mood for anything faster than a listless walk. He held the flashlight loose in his hand, keeping it just high enough to give him enough light to see what was ahead of him. His footsteps were barely audible against the stillness of space around him.
His path eventually took him past the kitchen and into their living quarter, another hallway branching out with a number of doors lined along it. He shone his flashlight down, lighting up each one in turn before continuing his journey in that same direction.
He paused for a moment when he reached Slippy's door, a catch forming in his throat. Once he was able to tear his eyes away from it, he got himself the few steps further to his own room, reaching his hand out a bit tentatively to grasp the handle.
Upon pushing the door open and stepping into the room, he shone his flashlight inside, the familiar sense of returning home rising to his senses. Everything was the way he'd left it. Not that he could imagine why it wouldn't be, but for once it seemed as if he'd been offered some form of solace after his recent, repeated heartbreaks.
He let the door close behind him as he walked all the way to the center, the beam of his flashlight slowly traveling across all his belongings. His desk was as messy as ever: a number of papers strewn about, that coffee mug still half-full that Peppy had been harping on him about, the three letters he'd been meaning to read for over two weeks now... The bed was still a disaster as well, the covers having been put on a bit hastily with the pillows bunched up haphazardly at the top.
It was to this bed that he now made his way over to. After a few steps, he let himself fall backwards onto it, feeling it sink slightly beneath his weight. He sat there for a few moments, his breath coming out as a hushed tremor. When he sat here like this, he could almost just imagine that there was nothing wrong – that they weren't trapped like mice, slowly awaiting their own deaths. In fact, he could almost take his mind back to just a morning ago, telling himself that he'd just woken up from a peaceful night's sleep and was ready to take on the new day that awaited him.
After a few minutes, he let his shoulders sink slightly, then reached forward to grab for something beneath the bed. When his fingers came in contact with it, he pulled it towards him, hoisting it up onto his lap. The small book stared back at him from beneath its navy-blue exterior.
He couldn't open it at first, still just staring at its cover. He let one of his hands run silently over it, feeling its glossy surface under his fingers. When he reached the edge of the book, he let himself finally grip the edge, pulling the cover back and stretching out the binding.
The book was full of mementos, photos and other scraps that helped to immortalize his life – things that he'd picked up along the way... things that brought back memories of various things he'd done, people he'd met, experiences he'd had.
The first photo in the book was one of Star Fox. He immediately felt his eyes begin tightening. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
But no, this was the last time he'd be able to do this. The last time he'd be able to collect his thoughts, relive parts of his life, cherish the friends he'd made along the years...
The picture had been taken after the defeat of Andross, all of them looking exuberant and full of excitement. He actually gave a little chuckle – Peppy looked so young here. Then again, they all did. Had it really been that long? He could barely comprehend it.
The next page had his graduation portrait on it. He looked so regal and stiff wearing that academy uniform... it's no wonder he'd tried to avoid wearing it all through school. On the same page was a much more informal picture, though still from graduation day. He and Bill were grinning like small children, Bill with his arm around his shoulders, both of them giving semi-mock salutes towards the camera. He'd been so excited that day.
Tears were starting to well up in his eyes.
The next page held a much older picture – he was only about five or six, it looked like. His father was holding him in the air, obviously trying to get him still for the picture he was sure his mother was taking. He had a large, silver pot on his head, his eyes barely even visible beneath it.
When he turned the page again, he couldn't even make out the picture. Tears had started running down his cheeks. He brought an arm up to wipe at his eyes, getting a clearer view of both Falco and him showing off the new model-A644 blasters they'd got, but almost as soon as they were dry, they were wet again. He let out a sigh of defeat, allowing his shoulders to sag.
Maybe he couldn't do this.
He slowly closed the book, the sound of it shutting hitting him with a note of finality. He couldn't do any of this. He couldn't accept any of this. He couldn't...
But he did.
He did because he had to.
He did because he had no choice.
He did because he had nothing left in his heart to tell him otherwise.
He let his head sink down into his chest and cried.
As Panther was making his way back from the restroom, he couldn't help but notice how short of breath he'd become by the time he'd returned to the infirmary. Maybe if he'd been focused on something else, he wouldn't have noticed it, but as it was, it was the only thing he could focus on. How much air did they have left? How much time did they have left?
He felt himself become a bit nauseous.
Stepping back into the soft light of the lantern, he glanced towards the wall where he'd left Krystal. He wanted to smile, but at the same time, he simply couldn't. He wanted to cry, but he couldn't do that either. His emotions were caught up inside him, his mind somehow not able to determine which ones he should be utilizing.
He was both blessed and cursed: one of his greatest desires was finally given to him only to be snatched away just as quickly.
He wondered what it would be like to die. He could only assume the end would come slowly once it actually arrived. Suffocation wasn't exactly the quickest process. He felt his fur stand up on end a bit, thinking about it. How painful would it be? How frightening would it be?
You only die once.
Krystal looked so peaceful sleeping against the wall as she was doing now, almost as if the life wasn't slowly slipping out of them. Almost as if two of her teammates weren't already dead. He didn't want to see her suffer anymore. He didn't want to see anymore pain come to her.
But he couldn't provide that. They were both going to die, and the realization was finally starting to hit him full on.
They were both going to die.
Everyone around him was going to die.
He couldn't move for a second. His mind seemed to be fixated on that one thought, unable to tear itself away.
He actually felt strangely calm. He'd always thought that for someone like him, the end would come hard and fast. An explosion maybe... a bullet-hole in the side of his head. He was a mercenary after all. He shuddered a bit, the memory of Slippy's limp form lingering in his mind. He was the type who deserved a death like that, not innocent frogs like the former Star Fox member.
He walked over to Krystal, kneeling down in front of her. Ever so gently, so as not to wake her, he brought a hand up to push a bit of hair back behind her ear. Her face was so relaxed, not a taut muscle lying within it. In sleep she could find some solace. In sleep she could be somewhere else besides this decrepit ship.
Panther stood up, his eyes still fixated on her form. It took a few moments before he, quite suddenly, was walking towards the shelves. He shone his flashlight on them as he began opening the cupboard doors one by one, letting the orb of light trace across all of the contents inside.
It took until he reached the third cupboard for him to find what he was looking for. A grim, yet determined smile began to spread across his face as he reached up to grab it, silently turning it over in his hand. The small bottle made a rattling noise as its contents shifted.
A sudden paranoia entered his mind, and he turned his head quickly, glancing around the room. Falco was still in his trance, staring off into nothingness. Krystal was sleeping, obviously, and it appeared Wolf was as well, laying just a short ways away. Leon, however, was looking straight at him from his position against the wall.
His eyes met the chameleon's, locking on, both their gazes boring into each other. It was a strange look, the look his co-pilot was giving him now. One he didn't think he'd ever seen on him before, and one that he probably would have never seen altogether were they not in this situation.
It was a look of understanding.
His eyebrows weren't burrowed into his eye sockets for once, allowing his eyes to open a bit farther, his mouth remaining neutral. To anyone else it probably would have been interpreted as stand-offish, but to Panther, it spoke words between them that would never be said. Words that couldn't be said.
He felt his heart constrict slightly inside his chest, causing his breath to hitch. Without a single word, he slipped the bottle into an inside-pocket on his spacesuit.
Fox opened his eyes, turning his head up towards the sound of the voice. His eyes met Leon's, staring down at him, expressionless.
Leon nodded. He had his arms crossed over his chest, tail barely moving.
"Where did he go?"
"No idea. I fell asleep for about half an hour and woke up to find him missing." The chameleon gestured towards the wall where Falco had been not too long ago as if to prove his point.
Fox mused on this, silently chewing his lip. "Where the hell would he go...?"
"He's been gone almost an hour now."
"An hour? Why didn't you wake me up sooner?" Now Fox was beginning to get a bit concerned.
Leon shrugged, his face still not emitting any kind of emotion. "I didn't really think it was that important. There's only so many places to go on this ship."
Fox brought his hands up to massage the sides of his head, letting his eyes close for a few moments. He let off a small sigh. Wolf shifted in his lap, obviously having been disturbed either by the sound of their voices or Fox's movement.
"We should probably go look for him."
Leon's tail curled all the way up into a constricted coil. "I guess that would be a smart idea. Might take a while, though."
Fox didn't move for a second, staring straight ahead towards the opposite wall. Finally, he reached his hands down to slowly scootch Wolf's head off of him. The older canine made a few murmurs of discontent, but Fox stroked his hair slightly, whispering a few words of comfort. With a slight grunt, he then pushed himself to his feet, using the wall behind him to maintain his balance.
After making his way to the counter to procure flashlights for the both of them, he glanced over at Panther and Krystal, finding them both asleep. He didn't really want to wake them – they looked so peaceful, almost as if it would be a sin to disturb them. He and Leon could handle this by themselves.
He tossed one of the flashlights over to the chameleon before stepping out the door, shining his flashlight around.
"Should we split up?" Leon clicked on his own light.
"Probably... it's not like we really have anything to worry about in here." Fox let a small puff of air out of his mouth, ruffling the fur on his head. "I'll go ahead and search here... you take the second floor."
Leon didn't respond, simply starting off for the staircase not too far away. Fox watched him go for a second before turning to face the opposite direction, letting his flashlight cut its way through the darkness surrounding him. His eyes narrowed slightly, a bit of a chill running through him. It had gotten colder, and without his jacket he couldn't help but feel slightly uncomfortable.
But there were obviously more important things to deal with right now besides his comfort level.
He set off down the hallway, letting his flashlight trace the walls. He came across a few doors leading to supply closets, opening them simply to cover all his bases. He highly doubted that Falco would be in one of them, but it never hurt to be safe. The bird's current state of mind left him a bit worried. It changed the rules. It changed the way he had to think.
Nothing was the same as it had been before.
He passed the kitchen next, stepping inside to let his light scour here as well. The tables lit up one by one, the shadows they made rather haunting in the vast area surrounding them. He checked by the pantry as well, the doors still open from their earlier expedition. No one. Not a soul.
He couldn't really say he was surprised.
He exited the kitchen noiselessly, continuing on down the hallway. He couldn't help the slight feeling of déjà vu that he was getting – hadn't he just come this way not too long ago? Less than three hours ago, to be more exact, but Fox had never been that great with time. It gave him a strange feeling in his gut, as if he was tired. Only he wasn't. He licked his lips absent-mindedly.
As he was walking, it dawned on him that he might try calling out Falco's name. It seemed like a fairly smart idea, almost making him feel stupid for not thinking of it before. There was something that stopped him though... caught his voice before he could even start forming the sounds in his throat.
He didn't want to hear what his voice sounded like in those cold halls. Didn't want to hear it reverberate around into nothing, as if it would summon more than just his lost co-pilot. He'd never been afraid of the dark before, well, at least not since he was young, but all of a sudden the fur on his arms was beginning to stand up and he didn't have any other explanation for it.
Where was that damn bird?
He'd made it back to the living quarter, something about it seeming slightly off since the last time he'd been down this way. He looked around, not noticing anything with his eyes, only feeling it inside him as the light reflected off the metal walls of the corridor. Yes, something was clearly different. The silence was beginning to close in on him, but his voice was still stuck, locked away. He seemed incapable of making any noise.
He took a few steps down the hallway, seeing each of the five doors that were their rooms. His own door was still ajar from when he'd been in it before, the darkness from inside seeming even more black than what was around him.
He walked right past it, not stopping until he'd made it to Falco's room. There was suddenly no need to check all of them. There was no need to check places he knew he wouldn't be. He placed his hand on the door handle, his fingers tightening as he slowly pushed it down, feeling the click as the jam slid out. He opened the door without a second thought.
Fox couldn't remember all that many times in his life when he'd been genuinely surprised. He wasn't exactly the sort of person who got riled up over things. His teammates would probably have said otherwise, but in his own mind, Fox McCloud was a calm, collected leader that didn't let much get to him.
So maybe that was why he was so surprised now. No, not by the scene in front of him, grimly splayed out in the light of his flashlight, but by the fact that he wasn't surprised by what he saw. In fact, he didn't even feel his heart jump slightly, nor his breath hitch in his throat. All he did was bring a finger to his mouth, chewing on it silently.
Falco was sprawled on his bed, face-down in the covers, blood pooled between the folds of the sheets and on the floor where it had dripped. He was still clutching his blaster, arm hung over the side of the bed.
Fox stood there for a second, allowing himself to fully take in the sight. It wasn't often you saw two of your best friends dead within a twenty-four hour time period. It left him feeling strangely empty. Strangely emotionless.
He walked over to the bed, not even caring when his boot sank down into the blood-soaked carpet. He reached a hand out to calmly take the blaster out of his friend's hand, slipping it onto his own belt. The side of Falco's head had been stained a horrible, dark-reddish color, his feathers coated in slowly-congealing blood.
He let himself sit down on the bed, the feeling of wetness spreading across the bottom of his pants and along his legs. Carefully, but almost apathetically, he reached over to pull the bird's body towards him, bringing him to rest on his lap much the same as he'd had Wolf earlier. The blood dripped unrestrained onto his legs, soaking into the fabric.
His eyes continued to stare straight ahead, unfocused in the darkness.
When Krystal awoke, she had to catch herself before panic took over. She couldn't breathe. She clenched her eyes shut, willing herself to calm down, slowing her breaths. She felt herself shudder slightly as she let herself become adjusted to the thin air supply she had to try pulling into her lungs.
She remained perfectly still for a few minutes, letting herself just become readjusted to this new way to breathe.
When she finally did open her eyes, she looked up to see Panther glancing down at her in concern. She tried to played it off as if nothing was wrong, forming a rather forced smile on her face.
"It's alright – I know. Our time here is slowly coming to an end."
Krystal's face fell a bit at this, bringing her eyes down towards Panther's shoulder.
"I'm not sure what the pressure gauge is reading, but we've obviously reached the point where breathing can no longer be taken for granted."
She let herself turn slightly so that she was facing away from Panther and the wall, taking in the sight of the all-too familiar infirmary. She wondered how much longer she'd be sitting here, gazing around. How long before this view, slightly grating as it had become, would be simply a memory behind her closed eyes.
"Where did everyone else go...?"
It had taken her a moment to register the fact that the room was now empty save for Wolf's sleeping form a short ways away.
Panther glanced around, though only to emphasize the fact that he was considering her question. "I'm not sure... they were gone when I woke up as well. I don't know how long we've been asleep."
At this, Krystal let her eyelids fall for a brief moment. "I can't tell the difference between a minute and an hour in here anymore."
Panther didn't say anything, simply rubbing the side of her arm idly. His eyes seemed captivated by the glow of the lantern. Both of their thoughts rested on the question regarding the length of time they had left, but neither had the courage to bring it up.
"I never imagined that this would be the way I'd die."
The feline glanced down towards his companion, expression unchanging.
"There's so many things that I still wanted to do in my life... so many opportunities, experiences... so much left to live for."
He wasn't sure what to say. When there's nothing that can be done to change the inevitable, there's not much that can be said.
"I was so scared before... I couldn't... couldn't keep it bottled up inside me." She let her eyes unfocus, gazing out in front of her. "And now I can't even get myself to tear up." She turned her head, finally, to look back up at Panther. "Panther, do you... do you think it's because I've given up?"
He remained silent for a few more moments, bringing his eyes over to meet Krystal's. With one hand, he scratched absent-mindedly at the scar on his cheek. "I wouldn't say given up so much as accepted it. Accepted everything."
Krystal's eyes glazed over. She turned her head down, now staring at Panther's arm as if looking straight through him to the wall. "Accepted... death."
They both remained motionless, silent, hearing only the faint sounds of Wolf's breathing from his place along the other wall.
"How can you just accept death...?"
Panther's eyebrows furrowed, but he didn't turn to look at Krystal, so he didn't know if she was looking towards him or not. "I suppose if you have nothing else to accept besides death, it seems almost natural. We've been innately trained our whole lives to accept things as they come, whether good or bad. Once you eliminate everything else from your life besides that one constant of death then... well... is there really any other choice?"
Krystal didn't say anything. With her head tilted as it was, her loose strands of hair had come down to hang in her face, but she did nothing to fix them.
"Do you think it will hurt to... die?"
Panther turned his head to look at her, their eyes finally meeting again. He felt a slight chill creep up his spine. There was something in her eyes... something that...
He reached inside his suit, searching for that compartment he knew to be there. His fingers curled around the bottle he'd placed there not more than two hours earlier. Without a word, he brought it out, popping the top off with his thumb.
Krystal stared at him. Stared at the bottle. There was a string connecting both their hands together, invisible by all, but strangely electrifying.
Panther let his hand travel forward, stopping above her now spread hand. He tilted the bottle down, watching as the tiny caplets fell into her palm noiselessly. They looked so harmless – all glossy and blue, sitting in their small pile as if totally innocent. He poured the remaining half of the bottle into his own hand, the capsules seeming to burn like fire as they touched his skin.
They both seemed entranced by what they now held, staring down into their hands as if they contained untold secrets of the universe. Krystal let her thumb sift through the pills, watching as they spread across her palm and fingers, rolling over each other, bumping each other. Her next swallow came a bit hard.
Finally, as if broken from a trance, she got to her feet, looking around the room as if in confusion. Her eyes narrowed as they settled on the water jug only a few steps away. She let her feet guide her there without even thinking.
Once kneeling down next to it, she pulled a cup from the stack, pouring the contents of the now, almost-empty jug into it. It sloshed a bit, leaving small pools of water on the cold floor, but she paid it no heed, simply setting the jug back in its former position and standing up once more with the cup. She made her way back over to Panther, who had watched her keenly the entire time.
She brought her eyes up to meet his, searching, questioning. And yet, she knew that whatever question it was she felt rise up inside her had already been answered. They both knew it. They both understood it.
They both accepted it.
She brought her hand to her mouth, letting the pile of pills fall inside. They felt so strange on her tongue. They rolled around, playing off each other, their smooth textures allowing them to slide easily around the sides of her mouth. With a movement from her other hand, the water from the cup was soon inside as well, swirling them around like a tornado.
It took her a few swallows to get them all down. She wasn't exactly accustomed to taking so many, in fact, she wasn't all that accustomed to pills in general. She felt herself start to gag slightly and brought her head back down, pausing a moment before allowing her throat to open once more.
Panther watched her silently, his expression never changing. A small trickle of water had dribbled down her chin, wetting the fur before dripping down onto her knees. Once he saw that she'd finished, he brought his hand up to drop his own pile of capsules into his mouth. He had to shake his hand a few times to get them all to separate from his skin.
Krystal handed him the cup of water without question, and he took it gratefully, letting the remaining water fall into his mouth. It didn't take him long to get all the pills down his throat, though he did feel a slight catch a number of times, almost causing him to cough. His mouth tasted rather bitter afterwards.
He set the now empty cup down beside him, bringing an arm up to wipe any stray bits of water away from his mouth and chin.
He didn't look at her for a moment, simply gazing down at the fabric covering his legs. He wasn't sure what it was that he was feeling. Shame? Guilt? ...relief? There was a slight tingle at the back of his neck at this.
He let his head tilt upwards at last, his eyes meeting Krystal's. They looked so empty. Was it because of the darkness? They looked so black. So unlike how they normally looked.
Krystal smiled at him, though the expression had no joy attached to it. It was the saddest smile he'd ever seen, and he felt something in his chest stop, as if broken. Were he actually going to live much longer, he might have been afraid it would haunt him forever. The slight curve of her lips upward, her vacant eyes... he almost had to look away. It was the kind of look one hopes never to see in his lifetime.
He brought his arms up to her shoulders and pulled her into his chest. She came without any resistance, practically falling into him. He held her tightly, as if afraid she would suddenly disappear into the darkness. He couldn't even feel the warmth of her against him.
There were so many things they both wanted to say, but they were beyond the time that they could be said. So many questions they still wanted to ask each other, but no will for them to be asked.
Panther simply held her tight, both of them closing their eyes, only hoping to feel each other's presence as they went to sleep one final time.
He was so cold. He had his hands up, rubbing the sides of his arms, clutching them, but it wasn't doing any good. The look that Leon gave him as he stood up from his kneeling position seemed to echo somewhere deep within his mind.
The chameleon didn't say anything to him, just stood there, watching.
Fox had thought something was a bit out of place when they'd continued sleeping for so long, but this... was this really...?
He'd already lost his ability to cry somehow, so his cheeks remained dry, but for all it was worth, his already crushed heart seemed to sink even further in his chest. He looked at Leon, his eyes searching for something, anything. Answers? Remorse? Comfort? The other pilot provided nothing, his eyes as steely as ever.
Then again, he didn't know what he, himself, looked like. What could either of them do? Their own time was almost up, it was obvious... did it matter what they did as their friends and fellow pilots died around them?
There was something about the two against the wall as they sat perfectly still. It was something he couldn't quite place, something that simply caused his arms to twinge slightly, a shuddered sigh to pass unheeded through his lips. He didn't want to do this anymore. He didn't want to feel this way anymore.
What was he even supposed to do at this point?
Leon looked back towards Panther and Krystal, his tail seemed to be stuck in its half-coiled position. His eyes appeared a bit uncertain, but he made no other motions to move or say anything.
"So I guess it's down to three then, huh?" Fox's voice seemed to stick out in the silence around him.
Leon's eyes met his, still no change in his expression. If anything, his eyes narrowed even more. "Make that..." His voice came out a bit strangled. He let out a cough. "Make that two."
Fox felt his eyebrows furrow in confusion. Leon, however, simply took a step towards the vulpine, extending his hand. When both their hands met, the chameleon grasped it tight, his teeth clenched.
"Fox... you and your team aren't... aren't such bad guys." He wasn't looking him in the face as he said this.
Fox wasn't sure how to reply, now just looking down at Leon's face in the dim light.
With one last shake, Leon finally let his hand go, bringing it back to his side wordlessly. After a few moments, he began walking back towards the far wall.
"L... Leon? What are you...?" Fox took a step to follow him, his arm still outstretched from their handshake.
Leon simply turned his head back around, the smallest beginnings of a smile playing on his face. Fox stopped in his tracks.
With that last glance, he continued his walk to the wall, sitting himself down against it. Silently, he brought his legs up into a cross-legged position, tail curled around him and hands merely resting on his thighs. He let his head tilt forward atop his now slumped shoulders, closing his eyes.
Fox watched this, his gaze not leaving the other pilot. There was something so sad about it, something that sent a chill through his spine. The chameleon sat completely motionless now, save for the slight rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathed, but even that was beginning to slow.
He couldn't watch anymore. With all that had happened in the last couple of hours, he simply couldn't take it. He turned his back, wrapping his arms tighter around himself.
His own breath came out raspy and forced, his lungs constantly struggling to pull enough oxygen out of the thinning air to keep him alive. He glanced towards the pressure gauge that seemed to be the source of all their trouble. Less than a centimeter or so still remained of it.
Was it really that close already? Where had the time gone?
He brought a hand up to scratch at the top of his head, a rather depressing smile forming on his face. The silent, absolute emptiness that emanated from every region of the ship seemed so strong all of a sudden. It seemed to echo what he was feeling inside.
A part of him wondered how it was that he was even able to handle this, how he could still be standing here and not drowned on the floor in grief. He didn't have an answer, and for once in his life, he didn't care.
He let his eyes fall down to where Wolf was sleeping on the floor. His feet walked him over to the other's side, legs bending as he kneeled down slowly. With one of his hands, he began letting his fingers run softly through the lupine's hair, that sad smile still ever present on his features.
"...Fox... is that you?"
He hadn't realized the other was actually awake.
"Yeah, Wolf. It's me."
Wolf's eye stared up at him through the dim light, though it didn't seem to be focused on him. It couldn't focus on him.
"What's going on? What happened to everyone else?"
Fox let himself travel all the way to the floor, leaning backwards enough that he could fall back on his rear. He continued running his hand through Wolf's hair.
"Oh, it's... nothing. They're sleeping."
Wolf was silent now, staring up at the ceiling. His features looked blurred and a bit surreal in the light from the lantern.
"...hey Fox? Do... do you remember when my dad took me on that trip into Corneria City?"
Of course he didn't.
"It was the first time I'd ever been there... he took me to see the parade... you know, that big one they hold every year in the plaza?"
"Yeah, I know it."
"That was so much fun!" His excitement seemed to gather up for a moment. "It was... it... that was only a few days before they took him away."
Fox looked down to see the beginnings of tears forming in the other's eye.
"It... I... I called out to him, but he didn't come back..." His voice was coming out strangled now, throat constricting. "And mom just sat there... why... why wasn't he...?"
He was crying silently now, unable even to talk anymore. Fox didn't say anything, just staring at the wall.
"I called... every night..." The words came out between his choked sobs.
It was silent in the room, the glow from the lantern reflecting off the walls softly. Everything seemed so still.
"Fox... I... I can't breathe very well..."
Fox pressed his lips together tightly, eyes narrowing, but he didn't say anything. Wolf's breathing was coming out haggard and raked.
After a few moments, Fox turned down to look at his companion, the lupine's eye fixated on the ceiling above him as his chest rose and fell. He let his hand run down the side of his face gently. Moving forward, he leaned over until he was looking straight down into the other's eye, the sad smile from before returning to his own features.
Ever so slightly, he shortened the distance between them until their lips connected, pressing against him with an almost gentle force.
They stayed like that for a while, neither one wanting to move. Wolf gave a small sniffle, his sobs not having entirely disappeared yet. Fox had his eyes closed, trying to take in the moment as best as he could.
When Fox finally pulled away, he looked down into the other's eye, eyebrows furrowed. Wolf was looking up at him innocently, eye still wet with tears.
"What... what was that... for...?"
Fox did it before he could let himself rethink it. He brought his hands to the other's throat, clenching it with his fingers. Pressing his thumbs firmly into the center, he began squeezing as hard as he could.
Wolf instantly spasmed, feet kicking out wildly. His throat made sputtering noises as he tried calling out, tried saying something, anything. He brought his hands to his neck, trying to pull Fox's away. Fox could feel his fingers dig into his wrists, clinging desperately, scratching him.
He could no longer see – the tears he thought he could no longer produce had now filled his eyes, already falling down in streams across his cheeks. He clenched his teeth together, pressing down harder. Wolf's eye was now closed tightly, anguished, strangled cries the only noises he could make as he pulled helplessly against Fox's hands.
And all of a sudden his legs kicked out for the last time. His arms and head jerked a few times, the muscles inside them twitching, before falling down limply in Fox's arms. His body lay totally still.
Fox couldn't even see him through the tears. They were falling down freely now, soaking into his scarf, falling down onto his own jacket which Wolf still wore. A slightly choked sob passed through his lips as he let go of Wolf's throat, leaving unsightly red streaks across its entire length.
Fox's hands were shaking. He held them up, just looking at them, staring at them, crying at them. He sucked air into his lungs with a horrible gasp, barely able to get enough to actually do any good.
With his trembling hand, he reached towards his belt, pulling out Falco's blaster. It felt cold against his skin, cold and clammy. The entire thing was now shaking, a dark, black blur all that he could see through his watery eyes.
He was so scared.
He brought the gun to his mouth, opening it ever so slightly. It rattled against his teeth. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to rid himself of the some of the tears so he could at least see, but it didn't do much good. This was it. This was finally it. He was shaking as much from fear now as he was from grief.
He held his breath and pulled the trigger.
There was a clicking sound from the gun. Realizing, with a start, that he wasn't dead, Fox cocked an eye open, trying to look down at it. He pulled the trigger again. Click. And again. Click. It just kept clicking.
He pulled the gun out of his mouth, looking down at it. For a second he was silent, before another choked sob ran through his body. He couldn't even kill himself properly! What did this world have against him? He threw the gun at the wall, hearing the metal hit it with a clang before falling to the ground.
All he wanted to do was die. He had nothing left. He had absolutely nothing. No one. He brought his hands to his eyes, shoulders heaving as he let himself practically slump to the ground.
A shudder swept across the entire ship
He opened his eyes a bit startled, trying to see through the water in front of his eyes. An asteroid? Had another one hit them? Maybe someone was looking out for him. Blow the entire ship into oblivion!
There was a horrifying creak across one side of the ship, echoing throughout the room and ringing in Fox's ears.
Was this it? Now would he finally be offered solitude? He clenched his eyes shut, letting himself fall down on top of Wolf's body, his head buried into his stomach. It was all he could do to keep from crying out in anguish.
But nothing came. No more shudders or creaks. No sound of the ship breaking apart. No sudden rush as all the air was sucked out. Everything was exactly the same.
He didn't move. He couldn't move. This was too much – he didn't even have the will to live anymore. He would take the horrid, slow death, his lungs gasping for air until there was none left to breathe. He would clench his teeth, fighting for every last gulp of life as his body spasmed, desperately needing what wasn't there.
He just wanted to die. Let him die.
He wasn't sure how long he lay there, crying silently into the fabric of Wolf's shirt. It didn't matter to him anymore. Time was simply a hindrance before he could finally be in a world where there wasn't pain anymore.
He was so out of it that he didn't notice when footsteps came from outside the door, the sound of voices echoing off the normally quiet-as-death halls. They were rather slow moving for a few minutes, until, at the excited voice of someone towards the front, they began hurriedly making their way closer, before finally stepping foot inside the infirmary.
The figure in front took the contraption off his face as a gasp of air came out. "I've found them!"
More figures rushed in. Fox vaguely became aware that there were others in the room, raising his head.
"He's still alive!"
"Get him an oxygen mask."
His eyebrows furrowed as he looked about, seeing two of the figures rush over to him, picking him up by the arms and bringing him towards the door.
"Fox? Fox McCloud?"
He didn't answer, simply strained his eyes as he attempted to look around him. The lights they had were much brighter than either their lantern or flashlights had been, making it hard for him to see.
"Fox, we're here with Senator Kalray. Your ship showed up on radar as being dead, so we came to check it out. Are you alright?"
"...Senator... Kalray...?" He was beginning to become more aware of just exactly what was going on.
A few of the other figures were now shining their lights around the room, searching all the other bodies.
"This is horrible..."
"None of the rest are alive."
"Fox, are you with us? Stay with us! It's gonna be alright now, we're here to save you."
Fox looked around at the figures that were practically surrounding him now. "Save...? I'm gonna... be alright?" He held his hands out in front of him, looking down at them. He was starting to shake. "I'm gonna be... alright?"
It suddenly hit him like a bomb. He was going to be alright. They'd been rescued. They were being saved. They were going to be... alright...
He was shaking again, his eyes wide open now. He brought his hands up to hold his face, his knees threatening to give. He swung his body around as he glanced wildly about the room.
His breathing quickened to an alarming rate, practically hyperventilating.
"Fox, are you ok? What's wrong?"
He took off towards the other side of the room, tripping as he attempted to pull himself forward. He was now on the floor, crawling, as he continued to wobble uncertainly.
He made it to where Wolf's body lay, still splayed out as he'd left him. He clutched the front of his jacket, trying to pull him up, shaking him. Tears had already begun falling down his face again.
"Wolf, get up! They're here to save us!"
Wolf's head rolled a bit precariously before falling limply backwards as he shook him, panic and hysteria beginning to overtake the vulpine.
"We're gonna be ok, Wolf! Wake up, please, wake up! I didn't mean it!"
"Will somebody get him back over here?"
Two of the figures started towards Fox once again, attempting to grab his arms and pick him up off the ground. Fox let out an anguished cry as he struggled against them, finally jerking his way out of their grasp and back down to the floor. The figures both gave startled yelps as they were thrown off balance.
Fox immediately latched himself onto Wolf's body, burying his head into his chest. His whole body heaved uncontrollably as his sobs echoed through the small room. He wouldn't leave him. There was no way he was going to leave him. He was still... he was still...
The figures in the room had stopped what they were doing, now simply watching the canine as he practically writhed on the floor. They were silent, most growing slightly uncomfortable, none of them knowing what to say or do.
And still, Fox continued to cry.
The ride home seemed to last forever. The members of Senator Kalray's entourage tried to make him as comfortable as possible – they'd given him a blanket to wrap around his shoulders, sat him in the back of one of the ships where they had rather large, comfy chairs... they'd even offered him some food, though he just stared at them blankly when they tried to give it to him.
The entire time, he simply stared out the window near him, his eyes almost unblinking.
When they'd finally made it back to Corneria, two of the personnel made sure to stand right next to him as he walked off the ship, just in case he should collapse or something. His current state both worried and baffled them, as they weren't quite sure how to deal with it.
They'd called ahead to the Corneria City Municipal Hospital, believing Fox should be checked over to make sure that everything was alright. They'd also called General Pepper, believing him to be the best person to contact given the situation.
It was because of that that said general now stood just outside of the shipdock as Fox and his company exited the ship, along with Bill Gray and a number of other military personnel. Fox walked up to them, staring blankly ahead of him, arms simply hanging down at his sides.
Bill was before him in an instant, holding his shoulders. "Fox, bud, you ok?"
Pepper took a step towards him as well. "We heard the news and came right away. This is horrible, Fox... just horrible... we can't even imagine how you must feel."
Fox's head turned in an arc to take in everything, his eyes practically emotionless. Everyone was looking at him, staring at him, expecting something of him...
It was more a plea than anything else, and then he fell to his knees. Bill was surprised at first, but was able to catch enough of his weight that he didn't take all of gravity's force on the way down.
"Fox! Fox!" He was still holding his shoulders, trying to look into Fox's face for some kind of answer, but Fox just stared at him vacantly. Finally, he simply wrapped his arms around the other canine's neck, pulling him towards him.
"It's ok, Fox... it's gonna be ok... just hold tight..."
The hospital wasn't much better than the ship. They checked all his vitals, ran a few tests, had him up in his own bed... everyone was still staring at him, though. Their eyes were like beams of fire that threatened to burn through his head and into his brain.
Bill stayed with him a while, sitting next to his bed. He talked at him, trying his best to make him feel more comfortable, more at home, more... coherent. Fox didn't say anything. He now had the ceiling to stare at, doing his best to avoid the gazes of those who would invade his privacy with their piercing glances.
Why wouldn't they leave him alone? The feeling of their eyes on him made his whole body itch, but he didn't have any will to scratch.
A nurse came in to check on him. There was nothing wrong with him. He had a bruised shoulder – Fox suspected it was from when he'd fallen on the staircase – but nothing else. Maybe a slight cold. He didn't need to be in the hospital. It was all for good show.
The stark white of the walls seemed harsh compared to the dull gray of the ship.
Fox's hands still shook. They felt so cold, like all the blood was gone from them and they were cut off from the rest of his body. He could barely feel them. Why was he here?
General Pepper had stayed for a short while, maybe an hour. Maybe three. Or maybe it had just been ten minutes? Fox remembered his face, his jaw moving up and down as he said something. He couldn't seem to understand him though, but maybe it was just that he didn't want to understand. He hadn't really even looked at him – there was a small bug crawling across the ceiling that had distracted him.
They would probably send him to therapy. He knew they would. Everybody who was crazy went to therapy. Was he crazy? Of course not – he was fine! There was nobody who could tell him otherwise, but Pepper had this look on his face that reminded Fox of crazy people, so he figured that must be where he was going.
Where was he gonna go after this? Would they take him back to his apartment? He hoped so. He couldn't remember how to get there. It seemed like he hadn't been there for at least a year. Maybe even two! He hoped no one had messed with his stuff while he was gone. He didn't like it when people messed with his stuff. He could never find anything then – just like his lucky mug that ended up under the kitchen sink that one time he invited Falco and some of his friends over for drinks.
It was getting late now. He knew that because outside it was getting dark. Very dark. It reminded him of space.
He wanted to ask Bill to close the curtains but he couldn't seem to form the words in his throat. In fact, he couldn't really form anything in his throat at the moment. Talking seemed like such a foreign concept.
When Bill finally had to leave, he tried again. He didn't want Bill to leave. He would be all alone. He didn't think he could stand being all alone. But again, nothing. He tried and tried. He got his head to tilt so he could look at his former academy-mate, but his throat remained stuck.
Bill was just looking at him now, as if expecting him to say something, but when he didn't, his face fell slightly and he made his way towards the door. With one last goodbye and a promise to come again tomorrow, he left.
And Fox watched him, his eyes wide.
He was alone again. Alone. Entirely. Why did he have to be alone? He continued to stare after the door, but no one came. Not even a nurse.
Alone. He didn't want to be alone.
He tried crying, but he couldn't. He couldn't even get his face to form a depressed expression – his eyebrows simply twitched, moving slightly forward. He wanted to cry. He wanted to cry because he was alone. He wanted to cry because he couldn't cry.
But he couldn't. He couldn't do anything but bide his time as he stared at the ceiling, his insides torn apart and his mind calling out helplessly. The ceiling stared back at him with an unchanging expression.
Fox's eyes continued gazing straight ahead, unblinking.