With all the year long hiatuses I'd been taking, I thought I'd never finish this story, but after about 70 thousand words it's finally complete. Had I buckled down and written more consistently, this should have been finished in 2 months, but life distracted me numerous times. I'd love to be able to go back and edit the entire story (I might at some point when I have much more free time), but I figured at this point, it's best just to publish what I have. I'll do my best to take what I learned from writing this and apply it to my other writings.
I want to give a huge, special thank you for everybody that's stumbled across this fic at some point or another and reviewed it, favorited it, followed it, or even just read sections of it. Hearing feedback of any sorts, whether it's just a favorite button, a positive review, or an in-depth critique, helps my writing immensely, and I'm really glad that people are enjoying my stories.
Anyway, here it is, the final chapter of Reptilia.
I'll Try Anything Once
Sit me down, shut me up
I'll calm down, and I'll get along with you.
If the chalice was supposed to be a teleportation device, it didn't work this time. After dipping his face into the liquid in the cup, nothing happened. He looked around the room, but it was all empty white space, and then he peered around the chalice, looking for a switch of sorts, but nothing was there. He wondered how toxic the liquid could be because he was seriously about to drink it, but when he took a sip, still nothing happened.
So he was stuck in this stupid white room with no way out.
He sat down facing the pedestal, chalice in hand. A vague reminder flickered in his mind that he was supposed to go to Fichina. It was a detour after flying through Meteo, but Venomian soldiers were holding the Fichinian Climate Control Center hostage, and there were rumors of Andross's ace mercenary team being there. Taking them out at Fichina would make the rest of their journey to Venom significantly easier.
Those were the words of General Pepper. Not once was there an inkling of doubt in the hound's voice that McCloud and his team could carry out the mission. "Just take them out." Simple as that. But Pigma was supposed to be on the team, the man who betrayed his father — Fox felt his blood boil — and apparently, that wasn't even who Cornerian intelligence was worried about.
But how was he supposed to get to Fichina if he was stuck here? He didn't even have a chance to carry out the mission; he was going to fail and let all of Corneria down. With a yell, he hurled the chalice at the wall, and it shattered without any liquid spilling out.
He couldn't make sense of it, just as he couldn't make sense of the walls crumbling around him, the ground he sat on swirling underneath him, and his head spinning wildly in circles. When he regained his senses, he was sitting in his Arwing in some large hangar, gripping the joystick.
He had to get out and fight someone. Slowing his breathing to keep his heart rate down, he exited his Arwing and stood facing the enemy aircraft, blaster drawn. His adversary exited his aircraft and mimicked his actions. Approximately 6'2'', gray fur, more muscular than Fox but still lean, likely just as nimble. He knew not to underestimate or overestimate his opponents, but he couldn't shake the thought in his head that all else equal, this man should win a fight based on physique alone.
No matter. He couldn't have been as trained in combat as Fox was. The two inched towards each other, blasters pointed at each other's faces, until Fox noticed they were so close they could hear each other's breaths. Funny how Andross's purported ace in the hole probably passed him in the hallways daily in the Academy and he never bothered to notice—
A jab in the stomach left Fox keeled over, winded. He got distracted, damn it, and he wasn't going to let the second punch connect — he blocked it with his wrist and elbowed the man in the side. He barely flinched. Soon, an onslaught of kicks, punches, jabs, throws were traded between them. He could ignore the physical pain because he had to. He had to defeat his opponent.
His body took over, and conscious action gave way to instinct. His body noticed the important details, like the small hesitation after the man curled his fists, or the time it took for the man's weight to rebalance after a high kick. Fox found himself tumbling to the ground with his rival, and Fox found his bearings first. He straddled the lupine, one hand gripping his neck, the other hand in a fist wailing down into the lupine's muzzle. Each punch reverberated dull pain into his knuckles, and unrecognizable fury took over him.
He punched until he physically couldn't, then looked down. Fights in the school simulators never got to this point, where your opponent was a nearly unconscious heap of bloody fur underneath you. Fox wanted to throw up, but he couldn't. He drew his blaster at the man's chest. He'd won. Fox McCloud won. After this, he would return to the Great Fox, General Pepper would congratulate him for getting a crucial step closer to defeating Andross, and Corneria would revel in his victory. All that was remaining was to say a clever, heroic remark about the good of Corneria triumphing, and to pull the trigger.
He watched the rising and falling of his rival's chest as he took slow breaths. Fox couldn't muster the words. The man's once confident face was now expressionless. Two violet eyes, one scarred, stared back at him, into his soul, and the only thing Fox could manage to say was, "Wolf O'Donnell. You went to school with me."
An eternity must have passed in this position, with Fox sitting, tapping the trigger on his blaster but not fully depressing it. Wolf closed his eyes underneath him. "Do it."
The words were hauntingly calm. It wasn't a taunt; it was an act of resignation. Fox's muscles locked in place and tensed — he couldn't move his damn finger, and the words were echoing in his head. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.
Air whipped around him, and his blaster flew out of his hands. His face slammed against the ground. He thought Wolf was already slipping into unconsciousness, but the man apparently had the strength to now pin Fox to the ground, nearly choking him. Something pressed against the back skull, and he heard the dull whirr of a blaster close to him. "You should respect your enemies more," Wolf said. His voice was low and gruff. "They might surprise you."
"Don't fucking give me advice." Fox twisted his body and snatched Wolf's wrist, hoping to catch him off guard, but an immense force slammed his head back into the ground. That alone nearly made him slip out of consciousness, and when his vision cleared, he found himself staring into Wolf's eyes, face to face with the man who was about to kill him. Wolf's gun was pointed at his neck. Fox recoiled, bracing himself for the pain of death.
"If you want to kill Andross," Wolf said, his voice stressing the last two words. "You're going to need a lot more conviction than that." Wolf stood up and stared down at Fox, then walked away. The sound of boots stepping into the ground became more and more distant.. He scrambled to his feet, trying to assault Wolf, but the pain he'd been blocking out from the fight came rushing at him in full force, and he fell back to the ground. He inched his way forward to his blaster, but when he grabbed it and tried aiming it forward, his rival was already flying away in his ship.
He pointed it at the wall and pulled the trigger to make sure it wasn't him, to check that it was a faulty blaster that the military issued him that let Wolf O'Donnell walk away and not his own inaction. A red shot of heat and energy struck the wall with a dull thud, and Fox stared at the space in the wall before drifting into unconsciousness.
The dream made Fox wake up in a cold sweat. Instinctively, he kicked the covers off his body before the pain reminded him that oh yeah, he's not supposed to be doing that. Irritated, he glanced down at the bandages on his right leg. Nothing had actually broken, but the deep flesh wounds and torn muscles still required medical treatment.
Carefully, he sat up on his bed and made his way to the bathroom, and after showering, brushing his teeth, and finishing his morning routine, he ended up back in his room, staring at the calendar on the wall. It was the fourth day since his encounter with Pigma. The first day he alternated from the hospital and the police station. The second day, despite his doctor's warnings of working his leg too much, he replaced the destroyed pictures of his father and cleaned his apartment, going so far as to steam the carpet and change the window curtains. The third day, he learned that Ricky was going to only be charged with invasion of privacy. In and of itself, the Aparoid development wasn't illegal, and after hearing that, Fox sulked in his bed for most of the day.
Today, there were two red Xs marked on his calendar. One, he immediately knew, was for the Cornerian Air Force's annual appreciation banquet. He almost looked forward to it, if nothing else for the change of pace. But the second X didn't register for a while, and when it did, Fox frowned. It was to mark the first day of Wolf's trial.
He didn't even remember pencilling that in, or why. It was probably right after they came back from Zoness, when the two were on best of terms. Now, it seemed like an awful idea to show up there — except with that thought, Fox felt a pang of guilt. Without Wolf, Pigma would have killed him yesterday. He at least owed it to Wolf to go to the trial and put in a good word to get his crimes cleared.
But then, what after that? Fox started getting dressed, putting on a white button down and pants. Wolf might become a free Cornerian citizen, but then would he still be expecting the same out of Fox? If he'd known two weeks ago that his rival had a crush on him, Fox would have thought it to be first preposterous, and second a hilarious way to finally have the upper-hand on the man after six years. Now, the thought worried him that the feelings might be mutual. It already didn't make sense, and it would have been a hell of a lot easier for Fox to continue his normal life and ignore Wolf O'Donnell like he'd been doing for the past six years. Besides, why waste all the energy trying to get back on Wolf's good side if his hopes were going to be crushed regardless?
He didn't know which thoughts to believe, and he sat staring at a wall, feeling stumped. Maybe just talking about his feelings would help get his thoughts in line. He never enjoyed the feeling of asking for advice — Fox felt like he should be able to deal with his own responsibilities without putting the burden on others — but he figured he'd suck it up, just this once. Falco would just dismiss his problems and tell him to get laid, Krystal would probably just read his mind and make him even more confused, and Peppy ought to be the most understanding — except his phone was off, and his new phone didn't have Peppy's office phone saved as a contact.
So he decided to call Krystal. At least her insight shouldn't be as strong if they weren't face to face. It took a couple of rings, and Fox worried that she wasn't awake yet or he'd dialed the wrong number, but finally the phone picked up, and the vixen on the other end of the line spoke. "Hello?"
"Hey, Fox." He couldn't see her, but he imagined her smiling. "What did you need?"
"Am I that transparent? I only call you when I need something?"
Krystal laughed. "Well, no. But I figured you wouldn't want to just chat away. Most people text for that. So what's bothering you?"
Fox rummaged through his tie drawer, absentmindedly staring at the colors while he tried to think of how to present his thoughts. "If you weren't on the team right now, what would you be doing?"
There was a pause. "I'm not sure. I'd probably be working in the military or air force, though. Most of my knowledge comes from combat training, so I can't imagine a life without that. What about you?"
Something in the drawer caught his eye. "The same, I figure."
"Were you thinking about disbanding the team?"
"Gods, no," Fox said, maybe a little too quickly.
"Sorry, I'm not sure what you're thinking."
Fox picked up the crimson red scarf from the drawer and dangled it in front of his face. "Now you know how the rest of us feel." It was his father's signature scarf, the one that Peppy returned to him from Venom after the news that James was left for dead. He hadn't worn it in years, but he couldn't help himself from putting it around his neck. "Okay, I'd be lying if I said I never had thoughts about Star Fox disbanding. We don't do a ton aside from the occasional mission for the government."
"And saving the world."
"We could always come together when Lylat needs us." The scarf was a bit tight, and the wool was rough — how the hell did James wear this nearly every day? — but despite it being uncomfortable, Fox wanted to keep it on. "But I wasn't seriously considering disbanding any time soon, and besides, that's not why I called."
"Then what is it, Fox?"
He headed to his bathroom. "Can you imagine not being associated with Star Fox at all? Not being one of Lylat's heroes?"
Krystal paused. "You saved me on Sauria, so I can't imagine not being part of the team."
"But what if you never accepted my offer?"
"Star Fox is a part of me. Even if we disbanded, I wouldn't be able to forget about it. I don't think anyone could."
Fox stared at himself in the mirror, clad in an olive field jacket and his father's red scarf. It probably was too informal for the banquet that evening, but all the ministers and generals could deal with it. All the outfit was missing was sunglasses, and some witty quote about how to never give up, trust your instincts, and he was practically James McCloud.
"I know Star Fox is a part of me," Fox finally said. "But sometimes . . . I wish it wasn't. Like, I can't even fathom running away on vacation for a month, or quitting the team and doing some menial job somewhere, because that's not who Fox McCloud is to everyone else, so that shouldn't be how the real Fox McCloud is. And the whole shtick of me being a hero and being impervious to failure gets old quickly."
"Not many people will get to know the real you, and that's fine. But you still love helping others, right?"
Fox paused in thought. "Right. And I love my job, and I love flying. I like being Fox McCloud I guess — I'm not depressed or anything, honest. But I hate how other people see Fox McCloud, and I hate how other people use me for nothing more than my status."
"People like Ricky?"
"Yeah, people like him who tell me I don't matter in the grand scheme of things, then come crawling to me the instant anything goes wrong. But it's not just him . . ." Fox felt his muscles tensing. "Even this fucking banquet — sorry — but what is this banquet honestly for? We don't need to be celebrated for the fifteenth time and there's a hell of a lot more productive things these organizations could be doing. But it's just an excuse for some stupid ministers and cabinet members to shake my hand and ask us to help them with whatever projects they're doing."
Silence. Then Krystal spoke, a bit softer. "It comes with the territory, Fox. You are an interplanetary hero, and while I'm sure people may be trying to manipulate you, a lot of people genuinely like you and simply want to talk."
"A lot of people like the idea of me." Fox stared at himself in the mirror, green eyes gazing back at him. "But I'm sure if people knew I was just a bitter asshole, I wouldn't be so well-received."
Krystal chuckled. "I think you're a lot less bitter than you let on. Think of the things in life that made you happy this past week."
"Actually do it. Close your eyes and visualize."
Fox closed his eyes and tried. It was technically about a week and a half ago, but the first thing he thought of was walking into Peppy's new office, seeing his old friend enjoy his new life. Then of course, was flying, and granted he was out of form taking down those bandits for Ricky, but the feeling of soaring in his Arwing was indescribable. And back then, Ricky wasn't some scheming little canine but was a genuine man who Fox was helping, and advancing on their mission made him feel like he was doing some good.
And there was Wolf O'Donnell. His former rival transformed from a man who mysteriously saved his life to a sarcastic friend. He remembered playing — well, beating him in pool, and practically taking him on a date in Zoness, rowing a gondola idly across the river. Even though he tried to shun out the thoughts, the sensations of making out with him twice came back to him. Sure, it didn't make sense, but he couldn't deny the elation he felt, that he'd never felt that blissful kissing any of his former girlfriends, and that made him happy no doubt, but also confused, frustrated, nervous, and a slew of other emotions that Fox couldn't sort out.
"Now think of how all of that happiness outweighs the negatives you felt last week," Krystal said. "I couldn't think of a worse week for you, with you having to deal with Pigma wanting to kill you, but even then, I'd wager that you've felt a whole lot more good. You just never took the time to realize it."
"I hate to ruin your counseling trick, Krystal, but the problem is that one of those things that makes me happy isn't exactly . . . compatible with the rest of my life."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean if people knew about . . . that aspect of me, it would shatter their perceptions of me. I wouldn't be Fox McCloud to them anymore."
"But you've been saying that people don't know the real you. So if that's an aspect of you and their perceptions change, it's their problem. Don't conform to their expectations."
Damn it, it made too much sense. "As much as I'd like to ignore everyone's opinions of me though, I can't. My life is kind of based around all of these people's perceptions of me, and if they saw me with h— with that person—" Shit. He already slipped up. "—then I don't know what my life would be like."
"Your life would change, sure, but that's a part of life. You seem to be afraid of change, and to some extent, everyone is, but you also don't seem to enjoy the state your life is in right now. You have to decide which direction your life will go and whether or not you'll risk change." Krystal paused, and it gave time for Fox to consider her words. Krystal saw her home planet completely destroyed, yet she was somehow more mentally put together than Fox was. The prospects of change haunted him, but he wasn't sure if he was being petty or if his concerns were legitimate. "It's up to you. I think you'll be fine either way, but if he makes you happy, then go for it."
Fox blinked. "What? How?"
He had to move the phone away from his ear because the laughs were so loud. "You're more readable than you think, Fox. I don't have to be there in person to pick up on the hints."
Fox felt his ears sinking back into his head. "So you don't think it's strange?" he asked. When Krystal didn't say anything in response, it was like she was forcing him to say the uncomfortable words. "That I'm attracted to him?"
"I don't think it's particularly strange, no. Although it would explain why our relationship didn't work out too well."
Fox gritted his teeth. "That wasn't why — it's never been about women, or men, or anything. It's just Wolf. It doesn't make sense, I know, and . . ." He let out a strange whining noise. "I don't know if it can work."
"Are you asking me?"
Fox nodded, then realized Krystal couldn't see him, but she went on anyway. "If you're calling me about this, then I think you already know the answer to that. Whether or not it works is in your hands."
It seemed like a cliché answer, but when Fox bit his tongue and stopped himself from coming up with a complaint, he realized Krystal was right. It was his decision to do whatever the hell he wanted, and if that meant exploring a potential relationship with Wolf O'Donnell, as inane as it sounded, why not? "Thanks, Krystal," he said. "I'm glad we could talk."
"I'm glad you're glad," she replied. "And you're finally opening up."
The phone shut off with a click. Fox peered at himself for a second, the unmistakable son of James McCloud, before taking his keys and heading out the front door. He couldn't control people's thoughts of him, but he could control his own actions, and suddenly he found a new resolve to do what he needed to do.
That resolve dwindled the second he stepped into the Cornerian City Courthouse. Portraits of past Cornerian heroes hung on the walls, adding a touch of nationalistic fervor in the otherwise plain building. The secretary, the formally dressed canines walking by, and really all of Corneria weren't going to understand that Wolf wasn't an enemy to the Cornerian state, and even if he was acquitted of his past crimes, Fox couldn't shake the feeling that what he wanted would be shaming the nation.
The secretary directed him to the courtroom Wolf was in. Fox walked to the small lobby, and the only other person there had their face buried in a newspaper. The double doors were locked, and Fox was wondering if it was poor etiquette to walk into a trial midway through, when the man spoke to him. "Fox McCloud! What brings you here?"
It was Richard Keith who was reading the newspaper and was now smiling at Fox. "Hey, Richard. I just wanted to stop by and put in a good word for Wolf, maybe convince a couple of jurors."
"Even if this were a real trial, your plan wouldn't be legal," Richard said, setting his newspaper down. "Jurors are supposed to be impartial."
Fox frowned. "Then what is this?"
"There's no question that Star Wolf led criminal activity in Sargasso over the past years, and if those crimes were tried, they'd be jailed for life. Peppy and I had to convince Sabas and other Cornerian officials to hold this — really a debate between judges and public lawyers on whether or not to try the crimes in the first place or let them be absolved because of their heroic actions during the Invasion." Richard went back to his newspaper. "The general public would be upset that we're considering letting some of Corneria's most wanted free, but I feel that it's the morally correct thing to do."
Fox sat in a chair across from Richard, listening to the soft rumbles of voices in the room. "Do you think they've changed enough to be let go? That their actions during the Invasion weren't a one-time thing?"
"I've wondered that. Sabas always said anyone would have done what they did in their position. But I think Corneria owes them a chance. Wolf isn't the most likeable person I've met, but he has a good heart. Saved your life, after all."
Thinking about it, he and Wolf saved each other's lives countless times, especially for being supposed bitter rivals set to kill each other. "Yeah," Fox replied. "Are you waiting on Sabas?"
"Yes. Regardless of the outcome of this case, I need to talk to him about Ricky Von Spitze's case."
"Seeing if you can get more than just invasion of privacy?"
Richard shook his head. "Still doesn't look likely. But the breadth of his privacy invasion spanned across more of the company than we thought. He bugged countless workers, threatening people to keep his plan under wraps. Paranoid, ambitious little canine."
Fox nodded. He figured if Richard was waiting for Sabas, then the trial was close to over. He grabbed a newspaper, his eyes glazing over the words, not really comprehending anything he just read. A short while later, Maxwell Sabas and Wolf O'Donnell emerged from the double doors, the former wearing a scowl, and the latter wearing an impeccable charcoal suit with a deep, purple tie. In another universe, Fox would have commented on how handsome he looked in it, but considering their past, it would be better to keep his mouth shut and avoid the awkward scenario.
Richard rushed to greet Sabas, and Wolf approached Fox, eyebrow raised. "Why are you here?"
He almost expected more animosity, but the words still stung. "Geez, Wolf. Back to hating me again?"
His attempt at playful humor fell short. "I figured you were the one that hated me," Wolf said, fixing his cufflinks. "You didn't return my calls."
"I didn't even know. I destroyed my old phone so Pigma couldn't track it, so I have a new phone and number now. And I don't hate you. I was going to put in a good word for you to Sabas over there — figured it was the least I could do. But uhh, I was a bit late for that."
Wolf brushed fur off of the lapels of his suit. "Didn't end up mattering anyway. Everything got cleared."
"Great!" Fox didn't mean to say it so enthusiastically — it just happened. His reaction made Wolf smile, and Fox wanted to savor the momentary feeling of elation, but he knew he had to keep talking. "And I also came because I wanted to give a formal thank you for saving my life." He scratched the back of his neck. "I guess I'm bad at asking people for help."
Wolf scoffed. "You figure?"
He resisted the urge to come up with some excuse about why he didn't want to endanger anybody else or how he was fine killing Pigma alone, and he only said, "Yeah. I'm trying to work on it."
Glancing over, he saw Richard and Sabas leaving around the corner in heated conversation, leaving Fox and Wolf alone in the lobby. Maybe the silence didn't make Wolf feel uncomfortable, but it sure as hell made Fox feel that way. Wolf didn't have Krystal's supernatural insight, so it wasn't as if Fox had to protect his thoughts, but he didn't want to commit to thinking about what he truly came here for. It was as if Wolf's heterochromatic eyes were peering into his brain and reading the thoughts in his mind.
"Did you drive here?" Fox finally committed to asking, and when Wolf shook his head no, he followed up with, "Can I take you home?"
Wolf furrowed his eyebrows. "You don't have to."
"I want to," Fox said before he could rethink his word choice.
" . . . fine, then."
At least a long car ride would give Fox time to get his thoughts in order. They walked out of the courthouse and back into the chilly, dry air outside. "How come you never drive, anyway?" Fox asked. "I'm always taking you places."
He heard footsteps stop behind him. "Honestly, I can just take the subway back."
"Relax. It's the least I could do after you rescued me the other day." They both started walking again, getting close to Fox's parked car. "I was just curious, is all."
"Driving sucks; I already told you I'm awful at it. I nearly killed you that time you, uhh . . ." The words seemed to die on Wolf's lips, and Fox didn't know what to say to break the silence. He opened the car door and flopped in. It wasn't as if he could go his whole life ignoring that at one point, he and Wolf nearly had sex, but the reference was still strange.
It wasn't until they drove off and were nearly on the highway until Wolf continued his thoughts. "What I did the other night at the bar . . . was really scummy. I knew what I was doing, but still . . . I get stupid horny when I'm drunk." He let out a forced laugh. "I shouldn't have kissed you."
That was as close to an apology as he was going to get with Wolf O'Donnell — Fox accepted it all the same. "You shouldn't have to apologize for having feelings for me." The words sounded as weird as Fox thought they would. "If anything, I should be apologizing for being an asshole in your house."
"I was the bigger asshole that night too."
"We're both awful people, how about that?" When Wolf didn't respond, Fox risked glancing over, but Wolf's eyes were glued forward on the road. "Listen, Wolf—"
"Drop it. I know what you're going to say." He heard an exhale. "Yeah it's weird between us, but this is honestly better than what I was expecting. I'm fine with how things are now."
It was so easy in his bathroom mirror to know what he was going to say, but faced in the moment, it was as if his vocal cords didn't work. "I guess I was stupidly horny too," he managed. "And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel something then, but uhh . . . damn it. Anything serious would be difficult, and—"
"I said I'm fine with how things are now."
Wolf stated it with an air of finality, and Fox gave up stressing his mind. He cursed himself for being weak, for missing his golden opportunity to tell Wolf that he reciprocated his feelings.
But at the same time, Wolf gave him a free pass out, and in some way Fox thought that could have been what he wanted. Maybe his drunk self was confusing his pent up sexual frustrations with his platonic interests. Wolf didn't have to be a romantic partner for Fox to see him as just as interesting, to laugh at his sarcastic humor, or to enjoy his presence. Besides, as Krystal said, his life was fine how it was. No use throwing everything to the wayside to risk a nonsensical relationship that wouldn't work.
He almost believed those thoughts and hoped that they would give him closure, but of course it was futile. Never give up, trust your instincts. Except he didn't even know what his instincts were, his fur was still prickling in confusion, and strange thoughts were digging into his brain. "You're not in a rush to get home, right?" Fox asked. "'Cause there's a nice coffee shop on this side of town, and I could really use a pick-me-up."
Wolf glanced at him for a few seconds before replying. "Sounds fine."
He turned off the highway, hoping it would be easier to talk over coffee, or at least out of his car. For a while he worried if the shop was still intact — he hadn't been there in months, since the Invasion — but a few minutes later he pulled up to the unassuming brick building of Oak and Willow.
"This place?" Wolf said, getting out of the car. "Well isn't Fox high-maintenance."
Fox laughed. In hindsight, paying upwards of 12 credits for a cup of coffee probably wasn't worth it, but when the aroma of ground coffee and vanilla hit his nose, he changed his mind. The barista, a small otter, beamed with a smile when he saw Fox enter.
"Well well well, if it isn't Fox McCloud!" He turned, and his smile faded just a little. "And I swear you look just like—well, if you had the eyepatch anyway . . . "
If Wolf was bothered by this, he didn't show it. After the otter returned with their drinks, they sat outside on the patio. This part of town was rather quiet, and save the occasional chugging of tires against half-melted snow, the loudest sound was the sizzling of their coffee.
Wolf glanced down at Fox's drink — a latte macchiatto — and smirked. "Seriously? That's not coffee, that's sugar and whipped cream."
Fox took a sip and exaggerated a pleased sigh. "It's good sugar and whipped cream. What'd you get?"
"Just a dark roast."
"Trade." Wolf raised an eyebrow, and Fox worried that Wolf would misconstrue his intentions, but they swapped cups and Fox took a drink of the bitter, black coffee. The taste wasn't intolerable, but he couldn't imagine drinking a cup of the stuff. It was Wolf that visibly shuddered and put down the drink.
"Gods, that's awful," he said, handing Fox his sugar-and-whipped-cream. Fox could only laugh, and they sat there for a few moments in silence, drinking coffee. It gave Fox time to think, which probably wasn't for the best. Talking with Wolf felt comfortable as ever, but it was only when it was silent did Fox's brain overanalyze every movement he made and fret about what he was going to say next. Lost in his own thoughts, Fox wondered if Wolf was as cautious in his actions or how realistic their current "friendship" was going to—
"Hey," Fox said, getting his brain to shut up, "what are you going to be doing now?"
"I mean, you're a Cornerian citizen with no criminal charges. You don't have to worry about living under the wraps like at Sargasso. You can just do whatever." Fox glanced over to the wooden doors of the shop. "Hell, you could be a barista."
Wolf scratched his chin. "Haven't thought of it much. And I'd kill myself before I did anything as trite as that."
"Hey, someone has to."
"Do you know how embarrassing it would be, for the great crime lord Wolf O'Donnell—" at this, Wolf pointed at himself, "—to be serving cheap Cornerian coffee?"
Fox chuckled. "Alright, so what important jobs can Lord O'Donnell fill?"
" . . . well I dunno. Public policy is probably out of the question, considering my past."
That was the first sign of him being at all bothered by the barista's actions earlier. "There's a chance. The Cornerian Secretary of State cheated on three different wives," Fox said. "And there's a guy accused of two separate murders who's still a senator."
Wolf glanced at him. "None of them worked for Andross and nearly cost Corneria the war."
"None of them saved Lylat's lives against the Aparoids."
A smile started to form on Wolf's muzzle. "I suppose. But do you honestly see me as a senator?"
His charcoal suit made it easy for Fox to imagine it — Wolf standing at the floor of parliament, bickering with other MPs about some silly political issue — and he chuckled more than he thought he would. "Kind of. You'd beat most of them in arguments, at least."
"I'd probably punch most of them out before I listened to them talk for half a minute."
"Keep trying to act tough, crime lord," Fox said, drawing out the words, "but from what I know, you're all bark and no bite."
Wolf raised an eyebrow and gave Fox a quizzical look that said, "Really?" and Fox nodded, laughing. Both of their smiles lingered for a bit too long, and for a brief moment, Fox felt those unidentifiable, elusive thoughts digging at his mind again, but he dismissed it. "Anyway," Fox continued, "what else do you do? What hobbies do you have?"
Wolf brought a paw to his muzzle, thinking for a second, then looked back at Fox. "You wouldn't believe me, but before the Lylat Wars, I used to be a journalist."
Fox blinked. "You're right. No way in hell do I believe that."
"Fine, I used to be an intern at a newspaper."
"That's completely different," Fox said, and Wolf roared in laughter. "Besides, I can see you being prime minister before I see you as a Dan McHollan type journalist."
Wolf shrugged. "Maybe. But, well . . . shit, I can't think of much else I've done besides mercenary work and maintaining Sargasso. I suppose Star Wolf can just get contracted on missions, but only sketchy people will hire us."
"He's the best we've had in a while," Wolf said, and when Fox looked taken aback, Wolf continued. "At least he paid us."
Fox never thought of what most considered the real underbelly of the mercenary world, where teams often got scammed or turned in doing dirty jobs. "I'm sure I could put in a good word with some government officials for you guys."
"That's doing too much." Wolf paused for a second, contemplating. "Besides, I'm not even sure about that. Panther'll probably quit the team, go back to whatever his old job was. And I never know what in the hell Leon's doing."
"Our team isn't as close together as you might think," Fox said. "I mean, we've never lived together outside of missions, so I'm not really sure what Falco, Slip, or Krystal do in their free time. But we still come together every couple of weeks for random missions. I'm sure the mercenary thing could still work out for you guys."
Wolf took what sounded like the last drink of his coffee and then looked at Fox for a while. "So what about you? What do you plan on doing after this mercenary stint's over?"
"Over?" Even during the times Fox thought about disbanding the team, he never thought he would stop doing mercenary work. Flying was his life. "My father was in his 40s," he said, tugging at his scarf, "and he was the best pilot in Lylat's history."
"You're a hell of a lot better," Wolf said, and for a moment Fox didn't recognize the honest compliment. "But were you planning on being a mercenary into your 40s?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'd go teach for the Academy, or something."
"So more of the same. Still flying, huh."
"It's kinda who I am." Fox started adjusting the scarf around his neck, memories of his father coming back to him. "You want to know something lame? I never considered even being a pilot until right when I turned twelve. Everyone in primary school kept comparing me to my dad, and I was tired of it; I just wanted to be like most other kids and be a firefighter, or a mathematician, or something."
Wolf scoffed. "Do most young foxes dream of being mathematicians?"
Fox ignored that. "It wasn't until my dad took me on a flight around Corneria City on his Arwing that I realized how amazing flying was. Soaring in the air, with everything spinning underneath me. It felt surreal, and I begged my dad to let me apply for the Flight Academy instead of secondary school. I finished my application two days before the deadline, and I had below average scores on most of the physical exams, but I was still accepted."
Wolf sat in silence for a bit, looking down at the table. "It's crazy," he finally said, "how inconsequential shit like that snowballs into something huge. If James never took you on that flight, we'd probably all be dead."
Even though he tried to say it jokingly, Fox picked up on the sincerity in his words. "Have you ever thought about that? Like in your past, what if something stupidly small but different happened, and you never ended up where you are today?"
Wolf seemed to ponder for a bit, but he then shook his head. "No point in thinking it, really. The past is done; you just have to make what you can out of now."
"True, but have you ever just had the thoughts?"
Wolf paused. "Yeah." He shifted in his seat and dodged Fox's eye-contact. "Sometimes I wonder, I could have ended up in the Cornerian military. Or . . ."
He didn't finish his thought, so Fox interjected. "Because I've thought about it before. I never talked to you in the Academy, but if I had sat with you at lunch one day. Or I don't know, some other inconsequential shit—" Fox mimicked Wolf's word choice "—maybe you'd be the fifth member of Star Fox. Or at least, you wouldn't have been my rival for six years."
He waited for a response. "Yeah, I've thought of it," Wolf said. "But honestly, I was an arrogant little bitch in the Academy, so I wouldn't have listened to you anyway."
Fox smirked. "Are you saying you aren't still an arrogant little bitch?"
"Ouch, Fox." Wolf returned the smile. "Fair enough, but I was even more arrogant and more bitchy back then. Serious, you wouldn't recognize me."
"Well, until two weeks ago I never knew what to expect from you. With all the headlines I read about the Fox McCloud of Venom, I thought you'd be some despicable, evil bastard. Not a sarcastic wolf trying too hard to be badass."
"Hey," Wolf said, huffing his chest. "I am a badass."
They erupted in laughter for what seemed like the millionth time. Looking into Wolf's eyes, Fox felt almost ashamed — how could he have been misunderstanding Wolf for so long? Sure, they were on opposite sides of a conflict six years ago, but they were more similar than he'd expected. His dream from the past night flickered back into memory, and he wondered if Wolf was just as naive as he was during the Lylat Wars.
"Do you remember," Fox started, "when we first fought each other? In Fichina."
Wolf's smile started to fade. "Yeah."
"You had a blaster to my head. You could've killed me."
" . . . yeah, could've. Didn't."
Fox scratched his arm, looking for the words. "I don't think I ever got over being outplayed like that."
Wolf crossed his arms. "You mean your reason for the entire rivalry was cause you were pissed that I didn't kill you?"
"Not exactly, but kind of." Wolf frowned, and Fox tried to explain himself more. "I mean, how was I not supposed to be pissed off? My entire life everyone's telling me that I'm great, I'm Fox McCloud, I'm James McCloud's son, and the planet's relying on me for the war, and I failed my first test—"
"Stop," Wolf interrupted. "You aren't your father."
Fox became aware of the red scarf scratching at the fur on his neck. "I know, it's just—"
"I'm serious. You're the best damn thing to happen to Lylat, and I'm not just saying that because you keep saving everyone's lives. You don't have to be the hero all the time. You're already incomparable."
Wolf glanced back down and played around with his empty coffee cup, leaving Fox there staring at the space in front of him, mouth agape. He couldn't ever imagine Wolf saying such a genuine, kind thing so casually. Fox tried opening his mouth to thank him, but he wasn't sure if he could without his voice cracking and him embarrassing himself, so he sat in silence and lost himself in thought.
The words he said to Krystal earlier today replayed in his ears. "Is it weird that I'm attracted to him?" He mulled over the word attraction and its implications for a few moments before finally, the elusive thought nagging at his brain all day set in — Fox wanted to punch himself for not noticing earlier. He hadn't been enjoying their time together in spite of it being Wolf, he had enjoyed it because it was Wolf, and at that realization, he smiled.
"Thank you, Wolf," he said. "For everything." They'd finished their drinks for at least fifteen minutes now, and when Fox checked his watch, it was already 5:35. He'd probably be late for the dinner, which wasn't a huge deal, but he figured he'd better get going by now. He stood up, and Wolf followed suit. "Ready to go?"
Wolf nodded, and they headed back to Fox's car. On the road, Fox noticed his own demeanor changed a little. His posture was better, his tail moved more freely — but if he was acknowledging full well that he was attracted to Wolf, why couldn't he just say it? Krystal picked up on his interest in Wolf over the past week, and maybe other Cornerian leadership would too, although they'd think his interest was for entirely different reasons.
With horror, he noticed that they were already parked at Wolf's house, and Wolf was taking off his seatbelt. His chance was slipping away from him. "Thanks for the coffee," Wolf said, opening the door. "And let me know before you accept any missions from strange businessmen, so I can save your ass again."
Fox forced a chuckle, but Wolf was already out, closing the car door. Shit. He stared forward at the road, rolling expanses of snow in the horizon. He figured this wouldn't be his last encounter with Wolf, but right now he couldn't help but remember his first real encounter with Wolf. Not during the Lylat Wars, when he saw only in Wolf the personification of an evil enemy, but during the Invasion, when he actually started to consider who the real Wolf O'Donnell was.
When the time comes, don't hesitate, just act.
Heart racing, Fox got out of his car and sprinted to Wolf's front door before Wolf himself could get there. He turned his back to the door and spread his arms, blocking it. When Wolf raised an eyebrow, Fox explained himself. "You never gave me your number for my new phone," he said. "So if my ass needs saving, I'm kinda screwed."
Wolf bit his lip. "Honestly, I didn't think you'd want it. After, uhh . . . "
The perfect words seemed to appear in front of him. "I thought I've been painfully obvious this entire time," Fox muttered, mimicking Wolf's low voice, and at this, Wolf's eyes widened. "But I guess you can't take a hint."
Before he could overthink it, he pulled Wolf's face closer and met his lips for a kiss, drinking in the sensation. It was like the final takeoff, like soaring back home after a long, successful mission. It was that, times a thousand. Fox moved his hand under Wolf's blazer, tracing the defined muscles underneath his shirt. He was pushed against the door as Wolf's lips pressed harder, and his hands wrapped around his waist.
It was Wolf that finally pulled away from the kiss, leaving Fox with what he knew was a really dumb smile on his face. "What . . ." Wolf looked at a loss for words. "You were the one that said it would be difficult."
"Defeating the Aparoids was difficult," Fox said. "But I still did it."
Wolf snorted. "Gods, Fox, I can't take you seriously." The lupine looked like he was containing his excitement, trying to pull off the tough Wolf O'Donnell persona, but his adorable, wagging tail was giving him away. "Why the change of heart?"
"I'm tired of overthinking what will happen next, or what will change in my life." Fox placed a hand on Wolf's shoulder. "My instincts have gotten me this far. I'm just going to do what makes me happy. And you said it yourself. I'm done fretting about what people think is acceptable behavior for Fox McCloud, or if makes sense for me to like you, or—"
Wolf interrupted him with a kiss of his own. It was short, but afterwards, Fox was pulled into a tight embrace. "Well, you've made pretty damn happy," Wolf said, and Fox felt his voice reverberating through his body. He sat there for a moment, taking in and enjoying the lupine's distinct, masculine scent.
Fox pulled himself away briefly and handed Wolf his phone. "But seriously," he said, "I need your number. Who knows if I run into a strange businessman this week, or if I get crazy plans for dinner with a certain lupine tomorrow evening."
"Are you asking me on . . ." Wolf stopped himself, then put his number in Fox's phone and smiled. "I'm going to have to check my busy schedule. I'm pretty booked, you know."
"Alright, alright," Wolf handed the phone back to Fox. "As long as you pick the restaurant." Wolf made a motion for the door handle, and Fox scooted out of the way. After unlocking the door and opening it, he turned back to Fox. "See you later, then," he said, and after thinking a while, added, "pup."
Fox laughed. "I'll call you tomorrow, badass."
Soon, Wolf disappeared into his house, but his scent and the sensation of the last couple of minutes lingered in the air. Fox forced himself to walk back to his car, and once inside, he couldn't resist shouting in joy. His mind was still whirling, and even though he was concerned about the logistics of their relationship, or how in the hell he'd control himself at the banquet in an hour, he knew he made the right choice.
As he started the car and pulled out of the neighborhood, Fox tried to control his ecstatic feelings and think why the hell he'd been wallowing in his own bitterness for so long. Over the past month he'd been only focusing on the negatives, but now he realized Krystal's technique was effective; when he looked at the positives, he couldn't have asked for a better January. He saved the Lylat System from an Aparoid Invasion, watched a close friend become General of the Cornerian Army, uncovered an enormous aerospace industry scandal, killed Pigma Dengar, and had the most explosive kiss of his life with none other than Wolf O'Donnell.
What a month.
It's been my mission this past month to finish this story, and it's all over now. Thanks again to all of my readers! I love all the feedback you can give, and don't be afraid to let me know what you enjoyed or what was questionable,
If you're interested in my writing, I do have stories I'm working on after this. One is sort of a continuation of Reptilia that keeps the focus on Fox and Wolf's new relationship and the massive political problems that come in a post-war solar system (probably with heavier focus on the latter), and the other is a detailed account of Wolf's life before and leading up to the Lylat Wars, how he became the leader of the system's most feared mercenary team, and how an entire solar system descended into a massive war. I'll probably be posting chapters of both and updating them at the same time, so be on the lookout for that if you're interested.
Again, thank you for reading!