Rain poured onto Corneria City. Flashes of lightning cut the bruised sky. Thunder sounded low in the distance. Few street lights were lit, and those that were gave barely any light. All this was lost on the small figure who was running down the street, shivering, soaked to the skin, and broken hearted.
Krystal attempted to blink the rainwater and tears from her eyes, trying to see where she was going, but not really caring all the same. All she wanted was to get away.
A horn sounded. She jumped aside, barely avoiding being hit by a car. The driver stuck his head out of the window.
"Watch where you're going!" he snapped, scowling at her.
"Sorry," mumbled Krystal. The car pulled away with a screech of brakes.
She ducked under an awning and leaned against the wall of the building that supported it, listening to the rain above. Water dripped through several holes in the awning, forming puddles. Krystal stared down at one. Staring back at her was a blue vixen, wearing a small tiara and a necklace. A necklace. It had been a gift from Fox after she had joined the team. She had been wearing it that night. The night he had forced her to leave the team.
Krystal, I need to talk to you.
She knew something was wrong at once.
He sighed deeply.
I hate to do this, but I don't have a choice. I need you to leave the team.
She had been wearing it when Star Wolf had approached her, asking for a new pilot.
What do you want, Wolf? If it's something from Panther, tell him no, and that I'm tired of finding roses on my front porch. Just because I'm no longer with Fox doesn't mean -
No, it's nothing from Panther. This is business. Fox kicked you off the team, right?
Yes. He said he was afraid I would be hurt.
Well, since you don't seem to be doing anything right now, how about joining us?
She had been wearing the necklace during the whole war with the Anglars. She had never thought about it… until now. If Fox had been willing to swallow his pride at the beginning of the war and ask her back, everything could have been so easy. She would have come back All he had to do was admit to being wrong – in front of the team – and he could have her back. But now… everything was so different. He'd said he didn't want her hurt, but he'd wounded her more deeply than any war could have.
Krystal tore the necklace off and threw it into the puddle, rippling her reflection. Fox McCloud wasn't a part of her world anymore. He could thank himself for that.
Fox, I can't take this anymore. I'm going back.
To Star Wolf.
And that was what she intended to do. She stumbled to a phone booth, slamming the door behind her, and dialed the number.
"Hello?" asked a deep voice. Panther Caroso.
"Panther, it's Krystal."
There was a long pause.
"Did you… want something, my little space rose? You sound absolutely dreadful."
"I want back. To Star Wolf."
Another long pause. Krystal pictured him on the other end, trying to decide whether or not she was serious.
"But you're a part of Star Fox."
"Not anymore. I want back."
"Uh, okay. Just a moment."
Krystal waited. She assumed he would be whispering with his teammate Leon Polwaski and his boss, Wolf O'Donnell, trying to decide whether or not she could rejoin.
"Where are you?" he asked at last.
"I'll be there as soon as I can, my dear."
"No, really… don't."
The last person she wanted to talk to at the moment was Panther Caroso.
"I'll fly in my arwing," she said.
"Oh, don't worry. I'll meet you at your hangar. But I did warn you about Fox, my dear. I told you to stick with Panther."
"You were right," said Krystal. "I suppose I'll see you soon. Goodbye."
She hung up and burst into sobs.
Fox paced nervously. Back and forth, back and forth, across the floor. His shoes squeaked on the tile floor. She had to come back, she just had to! Peppy Hare sat in an easy chair nearby, watching him. The rest of the Star Fox team stood by, watching him.
"Why don't you go after her, Fox?" he asked at last. "It'll save your boots from wearing out."
Fox whirled to face him. The hare seemed so calm. How on earth could he be when Krystal had just left the team?
"Because she'll just be more upset with me! You heard her! She's made her decision, and I can't stop her!"
"Fox… she might not have contacted them yet. You still have time."
"I won't go out there and beg for her to come back."
"He's right, you know," said Falco Lombardi. He put an arm around his girlfriend, Katt Monroe. The pink feline was not a member of the team, but was close to them never the less. "When I left Katt, I knew I should have gone out after her, should have apologized. And look what it almost cost me."
Katt smiled up at him.
"But I wasn't responsible for this. Krystal was," protested Fox.
He knew he should go out after her, beg her to reconsider. The desire to do so squeezed at his heart. But he knew she wouldn't agree. Not after everything that had happened.
"Excuse me," he muttered and walked to the door. "I need some fresh air."
The air outside was bitterly cold, and the rain still poured down, but he didn't notice. He was already numb. The hangar of arwings was on the other side of Corneria City. Something compelled him to walk in that direction. Eventually, he found himself staring through the gate at the landing strip. He entered the code and wandered in. On one side was the hangar. On the other was the strip. He walked to the large, rundown building, suddenly realizing how cold he was.
The hangar stood open a crack. He pushed it aside and blinked at the light. Whoever had been in last must have forgotten to turn it off. The arwings stood in a line, ready to be moved out at a moment's notice. The Great Fox hangar was undergoing repairs, so they had moved them down there.
He advanced into the room. Several tables at the back were scattered with blueprints and parts. Slippy Toad, an absent member of Star Fox, had been upgrading the arwings before his honeymoon, and hadn't had time to clean up before he left.
Fox walked over to her arwing, next to his, the way they had always been. Would they ever be like that again? He walked around to the other side.
A female voice let out a little yelp. Krystal stood next to her arwing, attempting to ready it for flight. She was dripping wet and shivering, but she still looked beautiful.
"Fox! I…didn't see you."
"Krystal I – I want you to reconsider."
"Who's talking here? My commander or Fox?"
Her voice was unemotional and cold, as if she was addressing a stranger. Her blue-green eyes showed traces of tears. Somehow, that made Fox feel even worse.
"Fox," he replied.
"I make my own choices, Fox. About what I do and who I choose."
"Please, Krystal! Is this really how it is? Do you choose Panther over me?"
There was a long silence. Fox thought he saw tears in her eyes. He was struck by a sudden pang of remorse and reached out.
"No!" she snapped, jerking away. She glared at him, eyes full of flames. "You ordered me off the team because you were afraid I might get in your way. You knew I had no one to turn to, Fox. My parents are dead, and the only family I had was Star Fox. You knew it better than anyone. What else could I do but join Star Wolf? I made it so easy for you to get me back – just one little apology. That was all I asked for, Fox. Was it that much for you? But it was. I rejoined anyway, and look at all the attention that got me. You've seen what's happening. People hiss and mock me where ever I go. I've seen you, standing in the crowds, watching, too afraid to do anything because you value your reputation more than me! I'm not as important as you as any of that, though it's taken me an awfully long time to figure it out!"
"Krystal. This isn't like you. We defeated the Aparoids together, the Anglars. We've pulled each other out of dangerous situations more times than I care to remember. And you're throwing it away – for Star Wolf and Panther? I thought you had better sense than that."
"Stop it, Fox. Go find some other girl to pester!"
Fox felt as if he had been physically punched in the stomach.
"Do you… mean that?"
Krystal made direct eye contact. She had no tears.
Fox stumbled out of the hangar. He made it to the gate and leaned his head against it. How could she just brush him aside like that? Or had she always felt that way? He wandered away, oblivious to the wet and the cold. Finally, he stopped, leaning against a wall for support. He stared down at the puddles. Something glinted in a nearby one. He walked forward and bent under a low awning. Stooping, he scooped up the object. The necklace he had given Krystal lay in the palm of his hand.
Hiccup scratched Toothless's neck. The dragon shuddered with delight as Hiccup's expert fingers found the spot that its own claws never quite could.
"Easy boy. That's it," coaxed Hiccup. He mounted his dragon, keeping his eyes on the blond figure in the distance and hoping she didn't glance in his direction. She sat on a rock across the square, next to one of the houses, honing a knife on a stone.
Toothless took off in a rush of wings. Hiccup grabbed her as they rushed past and pulled him on behind him. She screamed.
"Hiccup! What exactly are you doing?"
"Hold on, Astrid!" he yelled.
She gripped him around the middle as they shot toward the clouds. Toothless extended his wings into a glide, and they floated above the clouds, moving as effortlessly as if they were sliding on ice. Astrid breathed slowly, probably trying to calm herself after her sudden shock.
"If you wanted to go flying, Hiccup, why didn't you tell me? We could have brought the gang along."
"Yeah, well, Snotlout's on restriction for practicing his swordplay on the supports in his parent's basement, and Fishlegs wants to read through the dragon manual before he tries to fly again. And besides, I wanted to be alone. With you."
Astrid giggled. Hiccup watched her out of the corner of his eye. She is so pretty. Why did she decide to date someone like me? It wasn't for my being tough, he thought with a grimace. At fifteen, he looked more like a fishbone than the son of a Viking chief. If she wanted a strong, manly type, she'd date Snotlout. Not me.
They turned around to view Berk, Hiccup and Astrid's home. It was a tall island, with a mountain rising up out of the middle. Fleecy sheep and new wooden houses dotted the hillsides.
"Where were you planning on going?" asked Astrid.
Toothless dove suddenly, swooping toward an uninhabited part of the island. They skimmed the treetops until they reached a large open area, which dropped off suddenly into a deep valley. Most of it was occupied by a lake, sparkling turquoise in the evening light. The rocks and the few scraggly trees cast long evening shadows.
Hiccup landed there. He jumped off Toothless and walked a few yards to the water's edge. Astrid stood beside him, watching the last sunlight flicker off the ripples.
"You were right. We are alone here," said Astrid.
"Do you remember when we first met here?" asked Hiccup. "You were angry, because I had been doing better than you in dragon fighting. You saw me in that apparatus I made for riding Toothless and were instantly suspicious. Then Toothless showed himself, and I had to grab you so you wouldn't go blab about him to the tribe."
"Yes. And Toothless started spinning and doing all those crazy things to scare me into apologizing to you! That was amazing, Hiccup. If it weren't for you… we wouldn't have dragons here. We would still be killing them. That seems to be the Viking way, doesn't it? If something scares us or makes us uncomfortable, we make it the enemy."
"You're right about that," said Hiccup. He had encountered that kind of thinking many times during his life, not exactly being an ideal Viking. "I got you something. Here."
He removed a small lump of white cloth from a satchel at his side and handed it to Astrid. Please let her like it. She unwrapped it to reveal a small length of cord. Hanging from it was a tiny black dragon silhouette. She sucked in a breath.
She hugged him. Hiccup's face was gripped by a wave of heat.
"It's nothing… really," he said. His heart thumped madly.
"Thanks," she said. "It's beautiful."
The sun set. Slowly, the sky faded to black. Stars began to glint, and the moon rose in the sky. Astrid and Hiccup sat by their small fire, whispering in the stillness.
"We should probably go," sighed Astrid at last. She was sad to see their evening together come to an end so soon. She walked to Toothless and mounted. The dragon seemed to hum with eagerness to start moving. Hiccup put out the fire and walked over to her.
"Hey, Hiccup!" said Astrid.
He looked over. She punched him in the arm. He winced visibly.
"What was that for?" he demanded.
"That's for scaring me in the way you do so well!" she snapped.
She leaned in and brushed his cheek with a kiss.
"And that's for… everything else."
Hiccup laughed and mounted Toothless.