Note: This story has been given a PG 13 rating as it contains some pretty violent and imprinting scenes and a lot of profanity! If you want a lighter story, please go back to FanFiction and choose another one! Thanx for listening, and I hope you like the 'story' -.-

Is it worth it...?

Falco woke drenched in a cold sweat. Glancing at the wall chronometer, he realised, much to his annoyance, that it was only 4:30am. That meant that he would have to survive three more hours of nightmares before the wake-up call from Rob64. He didn't like the sound of that.
For almost a week now, he had been plagued by reoccuring dreams. Sometimes the themes were different, sometimes they were identical to the night before, but they all had one thing in common. They were all events that had happened to him when he was a kid.
Falco rolled over and tried to find a cool spot on the sheet, but it was too warm.
In frustration, he kicked the duvet off his bed completely and closed his eyes. But now there was an annoying draft from under the door.
Cursing under his breath, Falco got up to fetch his duvet from the floor where he had kicked it and sat down on the edge of his bed.
There was no point trying to get to sleep again now. He was fully awake.
He leaned back a little against the backboard. Turning on the light hurt his eyes too much, so he sat in the darkness, thinking.
He had had bad dreams before, but nothing quite like this. The nightmares he had suffered as a kid were the sort where you wake up screaming and are too terrified to sleep in your own room for the rest of the night incase there's something lurking in the shadows. But by the next morning, you can't even remember what you dreamt about, and you can laugh about it.
But this wasn't the same.
Falco could remember every detail of every dream he had had recently. And the dreams didn't scare him once he was awake, because he was an adult then. Well...21. But in the nightmares, he was terrified. Because the moment he closed his eyes, he was a kid again.
Falco shuddered, and tried to push the vivid images of a car crash he had been involved in out of his mind.
He had been 15 at the time, and very drunk. He and some Hot Rodder friends had hijacked a car and were joy-riding around the backstreets of Corneria City.
Falco almost smiled at the memory of the thrill of the chase. The wind rushing through the open roof, the adrenaline rush when they pulled around a sharp corner or through a red light, the fun of the moment.
But the good feeling faded as his mind played back what had happened next...

"Yee-hah!" Beaver Reckley yelled, pushing the throttle of the sports car into top gear again, straining it's capabilities.
"Are they still following us?" a worried Falco asked.
"'Course they are, duh-brain!" Lesley Drayk yelled over the sound of the engine, "Them coppers don't give up so easy, kid!"
Falco soon forgot about being worried as they picked up speed again and Beaver turned the radio up to full volume.
They were cruising so fast that the engine noise and the radio drowned out all other sounds, so that they couldn't even yell to each other.
Falco was content to let the G-Force push him back in his seat as they raced through the crowded streets of the city central. It was bliss. It was the reason he had joined the Hot Rodders in the first place. And he was loving it.
Then suddenly there was an irregular jolt through the car's regular motions, and Lesley turned to see what it was.
"Oh my god!" she shrieked, "Them cops is gonna tail us off! We're dun fer!"
"What??" Falco yelled, unable to hear her over the background noise.
She grabbed his arm and yanked it, so he turned around to see.
"Bloody hell!" he yelled, "They caught up! Beaver, go faster, pal!!"
Beaver didn't hear, and there was no way that Falco could pull away from the G-Force to lean over his seat and prod him.
"BEAVER!!" Falco yelled, but Beaver didn't notice the state police until one car drew along-side and bumped into the car, nudging it towards the hard-shoulder.
"Ahhh! Stupid cops!"
Beaver gave the cops in the car beside theirs the middle finger and then pushed their own car even faster. He was so busy pulling faces and swearing at the cops that he didn't keep his eyes on the road...
"BEAVER LOOK OUT!!" Lesley screamed.
Falco screwed his eyes tightly shut and prayed to a god he didn't even believe existed.
Beaver didn't hear and it was all over.
Beaver looked up at the last moment and saw the signpost looming ominously ahead. He tried to swerve the car away, but it was too late.
The sports car crashed into the concrete monster of a power conduit base and there was a sickening crack as Beaver's head smashed straight into the dashboard. He hadn't been wearing a seatbelt.
Falco eased his eyes open a fraction, and realised he was still alive. He ached all over, but he knew it was nothing serious.
Beside him, Lesley was shaking uncontrollably and sobbing.
Falco felt sick.
There was blood all over the front seat of the car. Badger was sprawled half in, half out of the car, thick blood oozing down his face. His eyes were wide open and his face twisted in an expression that was somewhere between surprise and terror. He was dead.
The world around Falco started to grey out. Voices came closer, a body bag and an ambulance team, but Falco kept staring at Badger's corpse.
That wasn't meant to happen. He wasn't meant to die...

"BEEP!! BEEP!! IT IS 7:45 am!!"
Falco woke with a start and sat up, his heart pounding.
He hadn't meant to fall asleep again, and he had slept right through the first wake-up call.
But he didn't feel like he had gotten any sleep whatsoever.
Somehow, he managed to crawl out of bed, pull his clothes on, and stagger down to the kitchen where Fox, Slippy, and Peppy already were.
"Hi Falco!" Slippy called from the table, where he was eating cornflakes.
Falco groaned, not able to take Slippy's cheerful enthusiasm so early in the day.
"So you finally decided to haul your tail down here," Fox grinned, "And what's up? Got another hangover?"
"No. I aint even been to a pub or night-club last night," Falco told him.
"Oh, that's a first!" Fox joked.
"Haha very funny," Falco said sarcastically, whilst rummaging through the cupboard, "Now where's the coffee?"
"Coffee?" Peppy asked, looking up from his newspaper, "You never drink coffee, Falco!"
"I don't care, I just want to know where the hell it is and I wanna know now!" Falco told him.
"Fine, suit yourself," Peppy sighed, "There's some on the shelf behind the biscuit tin but mind you, it's strong stuff!"
"Good," Falco grumbled.
He made himself a mug of black coffee (and almost choked on it, not expecting it to be quite so strong) and went into the lounge, turning on the HV.
Slippy emerged from the kitchen and sat down on the floor in front of him. There were a couple of lame, early morning cartoons, then there was a news flash.
"Millions unemployed!" the news-dog read out, "and there's been another dramatic turn of events for our planet's shares and interest rates. This could put potentially jobless folk in a sticky financial situation."
"We're still unemployed," Slippy commented.
"It doesn't look good, huh Slip?" Fox agreed, seeming to appear at the doorway from nowhere. "Oh and by the way, last time you checked our financial status...?"
"All losses and no gains," Slippy sighed, "And you're still paying back that loan! We might have to mortgage Great Fox!"
"It can't be that bad," Fox said, but he was a little worried because Slippy was usually so optimistic about things.
"I guess Corneria doesn't need us in a time of peace and prosperity," Peppy said wisely.
"Oh just cut the crap and start a war so we can get paid again!" Falco snapped.
Fox chuckled.
"It isn't that easy..."
"Oh sure...! Bloody hell, you're useless! We're gonna be broke!"
Falco glared at him then stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Woah! Tetchy!" Slippy cried.
"I guess he didn't get much sleep last night," Peppy deduced.

* * *

"Yes. Right. Sure. Thanks!"
Fox closed the com channel and turned back to Slippy and Peppy.
"We've got an appointment at the bank set for 10:30, that's in one and a half hours time," he informed them.
"Okay," Slippy replied, running a small wind-up car that came free with his cereal along the table top.
Peppy grunted an agreement over his newspaper.
"We should leave now," Fox suggested, "It's in the centre of town and we want some time. Besides, if we're early we can take a walk around the mall or something. Someone go get Falco, tell him to get his tail over here or he'll be left behind."
"Okay!" Slippy piped up, and went to look for Falco.

Slippy knocked timidly on Falco's door, which was ajar. When there was no response, he pushed the door open. Falco was sprawled out on his bed, asleep.
"Falco..." Slippy ventured, "Falco wake up!"
Falco rolled over and buried his head under a pillow. Determined, Slippy walked over and shook the avian firmly. "Wake up!"
Falco sat up suddenly and yelled "Carrie no!!! Carrie!!!!"
Slippy leapt backwards.
"Woah! Calm down Falco, it's only me!"
Falco dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his temples.
"Sheesh Slippy, don't ever do that to me again! I thought you were... I thought you were..."
He didn't finish the sentence.
"Who?" Slippy asked, "And who's Carrie?"
There was a long silence.
"It doesn't matter..." Falco finally muttered.
"Oh... okay," Slippy murmured, fearing he might have touched a sensitive subject.
"Anyway..." Falco said, getting up, "What do you want?"
Slippy grinned broadly. "We're going to the bank!"
"Aw no way!" Falco groaned, "You woke me up to go to the bank?!"
He flopped back onto his bed and closed his eyes but Slippy was having none of it.
"Rob64: activate emergency wake up call 3!"
Before Falco knew what had hit him, alarms were blaring at him from everywhere.
"Alright!! Alright!! I'm awake!" Falco yelled finally, "Just turn that bloody thing off!"
Slippy smirked.
"Rob64: deactivate emergency wake up call 3."
"Evil little bastard..." Falco muttered under his breath as he begrudgingly followed Slippy back to the others.

* * *

"That's brilliant!"
Fox emerged from the accountant's office with a huge grin plastered across his muzzle. Behind him, Slippy, Peppy, and Falco followed.
"Who'd of thought that we still had a cheque from General Pepper that we hadn't cashed yet?" Fox continued, "There's enough here to finish paying of that debt and we'll still have some credits left to spend ourselves!"
"Yippee!" Slippy squeaked enthusiastically. Peppy had a broad grin of satisfaction spread across his face. Falco didn't even seem to be paying attention. Slippy nudged him. "Hey Falco, don't you think it's great? You'll have enough money to take out another subscription to that Playbird magazine you read!"
Falco surprised Slippy by not retaliating to the obvious tease.
"Yeah... it's great," he replied in a dry, weary monotone.
"Don't sound so pleased about it!" Fox jibed at him, "What's wrong with you? Are you sure you haven't got a hangover?"
Falco looked at Fox from under heavy eyelids.
"I'm tired."
"Tired?" Fox didn't seem to comprehend, "But you slept all morning!"
Falco yawned.
"So? I'm still tired."
Fox shrugged. "You should try taking a 5 mile hike. That oughta wake you up."
"No sweat..." Falco replied, a spark of his good-natured sarcasm creeping back.
Fox grinned. "Okay guys, how about we celebrate our turn of fortune by hitting the pub? Drinks on me?"
Peppy nodded.
"That sounds good."
"Slippy?" Fox asked.
"Yeah... just nothing more alcoholic than a shandy this time!" Slippy cried, referring to the time when Falco had spiked his orange juice with vodka and Slippy had gulped it all down and then slid under the table.
Fox chuckled. "Of course. Falco?"
Falco scuffed the kerb with his foot.
"I'd rather go home..."
Fox feigned checking Falco's temperature.
"You'd rather go home than go to the pub? Are you feeling okay?"
"N... Yeah I'm fine," Falco sighed. "Okay, lets go to the pub then. But a request: can we check in to the chemist on the way and get some sleeping pills? I need something to knock me out..."
Fox raised an eyebrow. "Not been able to get to sleep? Too bad."
Falco nodded. It wasn't actually getting to sleep that he had a problem with, it was the nightmares he had when he did that turned quality sleep into no use at all, using up all his energy reserves. But he didn't feel like explaining that to Fox right then. Besides, he had heard that you don't dream when you're on sleeping drugs... it might just solve all his problems...
"If you're suffering from insomnia perhaps you should see a doctor," Peppy suggested.
"I don't need to see a fuckin' doctor!" Falco snapped angrily. His tone was as sharp as ever but lacked the usual good-natured undertone.
"Calm down, Falco," Fox said quietly, a little concerned by his friend's OTT reaction.
Falco folded his arms then looked down at the ground.
"I... um... yeah sorry."
Peppy nodded.
"No harm done, Falco."
They turned the corner and arrived at the "Ferret and Llama", the local pub named after its founders.
Fox found a table and went to get the drinks, Peppy accompanying him. Slippy sunk into the leather cushion on the booth bench, almost disappearing into it.
Falco put his head on the table and dozed off. He was still asleep when Fox and Peppy returned with the drinks: a lemonade shandy for Slippy, champagne for Peppy, a vodka and orange for Fox, and also one for Falco but with slightly more vodka and slightly less orange.
"Oi Falco wake up!" Fox said, putting the vodka and orange in front of him and then prodding him with a paw.
Falco opened one eye. "Wha'? Oh... thanks Fox."
He managed to down the whole drink in one go and got up to get another.
"Are you sure that's wise?" Peppy asked, "I don't want you passing out drunk."
"I don't bloody care," Falco told him, stalking off.
Fox looked at Slippy and then Peppy and shrugged.

When Falco hadn't returned after 15 minutes, Fox went to look for him. He wasn't surprised to find his friend at the bar ordering another drink. Fox intercepted him, and pushed his drink away. Falco scowled.
"What'cha do that for?"
There was a slight slur to his voice that confirmed that he was already slightly drunk.
Fox sighed.
"How many of those have you had already?"
Falco thought about it then shrugged as if it didn't matter.
Fox shook his head.
"I told you not to get drunk!"
"I'm not drunk!" Falco insisted, the slur in his voice contradicting his own statement.
Fox rolled his eyes.
"Come on, we're leaving now anyway."
Falco was about to say something extremely profane in response when another voice cut through the air, more like a rusty blade than a sharp knife.
"Hey Falco! Buddy!"
Falco spun around.
The leopard grinned. "None other. Woah, it's bin ages!"
Falco nodded dumbly.
Ricky's grin got even wider.
"So how's things, buddy?"
"Just fine..." Falco's voice was hoarse, Ricky was the last person he had wanted to see today.
"That's great, mate," Ricky grinned, "You ended up on StarFox... How in fuck did you manage that?"
"Just lucky I guess," Falco muttered.
"You seem to have an awful lot of luck!" Ricky remarked, not at all bitterly.
"Yeah..." Falco agreed, not really believing it himself. After all, he'd just been unlucky enough to run into Ricky Jetsal, the guy who'd been responsible for the death of someone Falco had liked very much. Loved even. And Ricky was acting as if he and Falco were the best of pals!
"Yer gonna hafta drop in an' visit us someday," Ricky said, "there's 12 of us now!"
"Not bloody likely..." Falco told him.
Ricky looked surprised.
"Why not? Can't you hack the streetlife any more?"
Falco blinked.
"Ricky, you killed Carrie! Why should I do anything for you?"
"That was an accident..." Ricky murmured, "You know that!"
"Do I?" Falco narrowed his eyes.
"Yeah... of course!" Ricky almost stammered, "It wasn't my fault she died!"
Falco didn't answer immediately. Instead he closed his eyes and an image of Carrie flashed before him. She was a squirrel, full of life. Her red hair flowed flawlessly down her shoulders, her emerald eyes shimmered with perfection. On the day she died she had been standing with Falco by a crystal clear lake, posing for a photo...

Carrie Carma giggled and flashed Falco a smile.
"Stop fidgeting! I want this to be a good photo!"
Falco made an effort to stand still and Carrie slipped her arm around his waist. The camera flashed then the two of them fell into the grass laughing. Carrie grabbed a handful of grass and threw it into the air. For a moment it hung like a green cloud, then a gust of wind grabbed at it and scattered it everywhere. Falco grabbed another handful of grass and threw it at her, triggering a grass-fight that left them both with grass stains and mud all over their clothes.
Carrie got up and extended a hand to Falco to help him up too. She was surprisingly strong for her size and build.
"Aw look Falcs, my dress is all dirty!" she complained lightly.
"I'm sorry..." Falco told her, "I didn't mean to..."
Carrie shrieked with laughter.
"Stop apologising! It's all you ever do!"
"Um... I'm sorry..."
That set them both of laughing again. Carrie's constant bubbly temperament was unsinkable and Falco couldn't remember a person he felt happier with. He had met her at a night-club and she had stuck to him like glue after that.
Carrie walked over to the lake and stared into the rippling water. Kneeling down, she tested the temperature with her paw.
"It's lovely and warm. We should go skinny-dipping!" she joked.
"Hey! Don't tempt me like that, it's not fair!" Falco grinned.
"Sorry," Carrie smirked, "So... don't you think we should go find the others?"
"No need. Looks like they found us!" Falco said, indicating to the gang of teenagers charging across the grass towards them. Heading the pack was Falco's buddy Ricky. He skidded to a halt in front of them.
"Sorry I took s'long," he grinned, "Got inta a bar fight. I think they're still afta us."
Falco rolled his eyes. "Why? What did you do this time?"
Ricky smiled almost proudly. "I tried it on with some bloke's gal and he got lairy."
Suddenly there was a roar of motorcycles from the distance.
"It's 'im!" Ricky yelped, whipping a gun out from his jacket pocket.
"Don't do anything stupid, Ricky..." Carrie said, putting a paw on his arm. Ricky brushed it off. "Don't worry yerself, sexy."
The motor cycles roared across the grass towards Ricky and his pals. Ricky fired, and there was a clang as the bullet ricocheted off metal. From the bike, the rider returned fire, missing Ricky by inches. Ricky dived and shot again, hitting another biker.
The next few seconds happened in horrible slow motion. The motorcyclist flew off his bike and hit the ground with a thud, and somehow managed to squeeze the trigger on his pistol. The bullet whistled threw the air and seemed to hover in front of Carrie for what seemed like an eternity but was in fact less than a second. Then the bullet hit home. Carrie screamed and staggered backwards, into the lake. For a few seconds she seemed to float, then her body slid beneath the water leaving only a mist of red blood hanging in the water and tingeing the surface.
"Carrie no!!!" Falco yelled, dropping to his knees and sobbing, "Carrie..."
Staring into the water, two dead eyes from beneath the water stared back lifelessly.
Falco tasted bile and swallowed back a surge of nausea. He couldn't look at her any more. From behind him, Ricky muttered an apology.
"Sorry mate. But hey! I got the bastard on the 'bike!"
Falco stood up feeling cold and sick and empty.
"Go to hell Ricky," he whispered.

Falco opened his eyes and realised that he was hyperventilating. Catching his breath, he caught Ricky's eye.
"How could you do that to me, Ricky? I... I loved her." His voice came dangerously close to cracking near the end of the sentence.
Ricky curled his lip in a nasty half-snarl.
"That was ages ago. Get over it!"
Fox was watching the whole conversation from a distance and felt an urge to punch the living daylights out of the heartless leopard, but this was Falco's fight, not his. And it was getting heated.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you're a total bastard?" Falco almost hissed.
Ricky folded his armed and leaned against the bar.
"Am I? Really? I seem to recall my parents were married when I was born. Were yours? Didn't think so. I guess that makes you the bastard, orphan-boy. Do you even know you your parents are?"
Falco flinched as if the insult had dealt him a physical blow. Ricky grinned with satisfaction.
"You're a git, Ricky. A total asshole. You don't deserve to live," Falco said quietly, but with enough anger in his voice to compensate for the volume.
"What? Just cuz of something that happened five years ago? Something that wasn't even my fault?!" Ricky gaped in what looked like disbelief.
"Not your fault! CARRIE DIED BECAUSE OF YOU!!!" Falco screeched, launching at Ricky. Ricky leapt to his feet and pulled a dagger out of his belt. Falco grabbed an empty champagne bottle from a nearby table and swung it at Ricky, catching his muzzle. Ricky didn't even seem to acknowledge the blow.
"Yer gonna get someone hurt nae," he said calmly.
"Damn you Ricky!" Falco yelled, grabbing Ricky by the scruff of the neck and trying to smash his head into the wall. This time Ricky did retaliate, by swiping out with his dagger. Luckily he missed. Falco let go of Ricky and looked for something he could hit him with. Ricky now had a dangerous look in his eyes, but Falco didn't even notice. The moment Falco turned his back, Ricky lunged forward with his dagger. Falco saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and managed to spin around in time to avoid getting stabbed, but the blade managed to slice a neat line across his arm anyway. Ricky swore and swung the knife again. Falco grabbed the blade as it came towards him and yanked it out of Ricky's hand. Ricky blinked in disbelief. Only a complete nutter grabs a knife by the blade!
Falco chucked the dagger onto the table and looked down at his hand which was bleeding, not surprisingly. Blood welled up from the deep gash and Falco clenched his fist to stem the flow. He had seen to much blood in his life to really be bothered by the sight of his own. The cut on his arm was only superficial and he had hardly noticed it.
Ricky was unscathed but looked peeved.
Fox came up behind Falco and tapped his shoulder gently.
"Are you okay?"
"I guess so," Falco muttered without turning around.
Ricky got up and started towards the door. On the way he gave Falco a look that was almost apologetic but Falco wasn't in the mood.
"Go to hell you fucker!" he yelled after him. Ricky shrugged and left.
As soon as his was gone, Falco sat down looking totally depressed.
Fox sat down opposite him.
"Um... I'm sorry," he offered.
Falco didn't look up.
"Don't be. It aint your fault."
"I know what it's like to lose someone close and then deal with the person responsible face to face..." Fox said. "I didn't know about Carrie... but I won't tell anybody if you don't want me to."
"Yeah, thanks Fox, but don't worry about it," Falco muttered, "You can go back to Great Fox if you want, I'm gonna stay here a little longer."
"I'm not leaving without you." Fox was adamant.
Falco didn't have the energy to argue so he followed Fox back to the others.
"What took so long?" Peppy asked, "I heard some sort of commotion but there were too many people and I couldn't get close enough to see what was happening. What was going on?"
"Nothing," Fox said quickly.
"Don't bother," Falco said, "There's no secret. I got into a fight with Ricky Jetsel, the asshole who killed Carrie."
Peppy blinked. Slippy looked shocked.
"Killed Carrie?"
"Yeah..." Falco kicked a barstool over, "He got her shot."
"Um... why don't we get back to Great Fox," Fox suggested, "It's been a long morning."

The walk back to the Arwings was a long one, but there was a short cut through the mall. The mall was strangely deserted as the four pilots walked through. Slippy skipped ahead, watching his reflection in the polished marble floor. The other three pilots walked slowly behind. Peppy was looking at all the displays in the glass windows of the shops. Fox was admiring the fountain on the ground floor which was as tall as the floor they were on- ground 3. Falco was kicking a soda can across the floor.
It was deadly silent except for the sound of footsteps and the sound of the soda can rebounding off the wall. Then suddenly there was a loud clang that startled them all.
"W-what was that?" Slippy asked.
"I don't know..." Fox answered honestly. There was another loud clang, like a door slamming, and a low electrical hum like something powering down. Then the lights dimmed.
"What the hell's goin' on?" Falco demanded hotly.
Then Slippy suddenly exclaimed, "Oh no!"
"What?" Fox asked.
"The mall shuts early on Wednesdays!" Slippy cried, "We're locked in!"
Horror dawned on Fox's face as he realised Slippy was right.
"Oh Gods..."
"Oh Gods?" Falco queried, "We're locked in the fuckin' mall with no chance of getting out 'till Friday cuz it's shut Thursdays and all you have to say is Oh Gods?!"
"Profanity won't improve our situation," Peppy pointed out, "We need to think about this..."
"Maybe there's a window..." Slippy piped up.
"I think they've been double glazed and made unlatchable since the break-in last year," Fox said depressedly.
"Can we pick the lock on one of the doors?" was Slippy's next suggestion.
"We'd set the alarms off," Fox answered.
"Great! Then they'll come rescue us!" Slippy squeaked excitedly, "We can explain. They won't bang us up for a mistake like this. Come on!"
"There's one problem," Peppy started.
"What?" Fox, Falco and Slippy asked simultaneously.
"Um... these doors are armed with the latest technology."
"Meaning?" Falco enquired impatiently.
"Meaning that if we try tampering with the door, we'll get our tails blown to the 7th layer of hell," Peppy stated simply.
"Oh," Fox said, "I see the problem with that plan then."
"Oh great!" Falco gave Peppy a nasty look as if implying that by informing them of the security system, Peppy had caused it to exist and thwarted their only possibility of escaping their confines.
Peppy shrugged as if to say Hey! It's not my fault!
Fox sighed, blowing the air out slowly and painstakingly. "I guess we're sunk then, guys."
"Yeah and it's all your fault!" Falco snapped.
"Uh... why?" Fox asked calmly.
"You chose this stupid shortcut through the mall!" Falco practically shouted, "And now we're never gonna be able to leave! It's like a bloody nightmare, stuck in the middle of a load of fuckin' china shops for three days!"
"I'm sure we'll get out before then," Peppy said reassuringly.
"Yeah sure..." Falco muttered, "I bet'cha we don't. I bet we never get out! They'll close the mall and bulldoze it down to build a new one, and they'll never even know we were here until it's too late!"
"Now you're just being paranoid," Fox said, frowning slightly. The atmosphere dipped again to an all time low as the four pilots stood desolately in the centre of the mall on floor 3. None of them had even considered how the site management had overlooked the fact that there were still four people in the mall, it was rather irrelevant at that moment. It was such a ridiculous situation that the amount of trouble it was causing them was almost amusing. But no-one was seeing the funny side of it, they just wanted to get out of the mall before Friday.
Standing became tiring and eventually the troop found a nice couple of benches to sit on. The afternoon (time passes quickly except for those caught upstream!) dragged by with the fever of a snail on sedatives, but eventually the darkness of evening began to set in, evident by the pale red glow from the glassed over roof that indicated Solar slowly moving away. A small artificial security light gave them enough to see by, though. Conversation was scarce. Fox and Peppy were out of uplifting ideas and didn't want to further depress the situation by passing any negative comments, Slippy was afraid to speak incase Falco leapt at him and slit his throat (he wouldn't put it past him in this mood and Slippy knew that being enthusiastic and optimistic was exactly the wrong attitude in this kind of hopeless situation!), and Falco was just staring sullenly at the floor as if all the answers lay there.
With the silence, a sort of tension began to rise, its ugly head pushing up from beneath them all. Eventually Fox knew he had to break the curse before it swallowed them all whole.
"Uh...guys, it's 21:30. I guess we're going to have to think about sleeping arrangements. There are only two benches but I don't mind sleeping on the floor if someone else wants a bench."
"We're sleeping here?!" Falco didn't like the sound of that.
"Well yeah... unless you want to stay up all night," Fox replied, "Because there's no chance of us getting out before tomorrow."
"Crap," was the only thing Falco could think of to say.
"I think we should let Peppy have a bench," Slippy opted, "What about you guys?"
"Thanks Slip," Peppy smiled, "My back isn't what it used to be and neither are my lungs. Sleeping on the floor might be hazardous for me."
"Bullshit," Falco muttered, but no-one paid any attention.
Another period of silence ensued, until about 23:41 when Fox broke it by yawning loudly.
"Well I don't know about you three, but I'm going to get some kip," he suggested, "What are the arrangements for the other bench?"
When no-one answered, Fox frowned. A closer glance revealed that Slippy and Peppy were already dozing. Fox felt a small grin tug at the corners of his muzzle.
"Awww... will ya look at that?"
"Yeah, very nice," Falco said scornfully, "But it looks like Slippy got the bench cuz you won't let me wake him up!"
"It won't hurt you to spend one night sleeping on the floor," Fox told him, "And Slippy looks so peaceful... it would be a shame to wake him."
"How did I know you'd say that?" Falco asked rhetorically.
Fox yawned again, opening his jaws much wider this time, like a chasm, then snapped his jaw shut. Then he got up and gently lay Slippy down along the bench before sitting against the wall by the bench. Falco got up and sat down next to him. For a long time the two stared into the darkness of the mall in silence, the only sound being Slippy's rhythmic breathing and the occasional snort or grunt from Peppy. Fox grew steadily sleepier and eventually felt his eyelids closing and his head drooping. It wasn't too long before he was asleep, his head against his knees in silent slumber.
Falco cursed quietly, realising that he was the only one awake now. Only hours earlier he had been tired enough to sleep anywhere, but now he felt wide awake. It just wasn't fair. As he sat there, the silence seemed to get gradually louder, enveloping him in its muggy grasp. An almost indistinguishable sound, the ticking of Fox's wristwatch (an old-fashioned non-digital one with an hour-hand and a minute-hand) caught his attention, annoying him terribly. It was only a soft noise, but to Falco it sounded like a loud gong. Eventually the noise got to him so much that he couldn't take it any more. Quietly and slowly, so as not to wake the sleeping Fox, he got up and crept away. A little way down the corridor was a shop with a step just big enough to sit on, so he sat on it. Involuntarily he yawned. His body was tired, even if his mind wasn't. He leaned back against the door of the shop (it was a candle shop incase you were wondering) and closed his eyes. A rush of colours flashed across his eyelids, fading into darkness. Falco was content to let the warm feeling of drifting of to sleep wash over him, welcome after such a long and tiring day. In fact, it felt a little weird sleeping on the floor again because the last time he had slept rough was over three years ago. Probably about four years, actually, possibly more, when he was on the run with a group of Hot Rodder mates who were evading the cops whilst trying to keep a chain of shoplifting going. Only because they had to have something to eat or else starve, Falco reminded himself.
They had slept where ever they had the chance to, often going two or three days without sleep. The porch of a large, seemingly deserted, house was particularly comfortable as it was padded (heaven knows why!!) but they'd been caught by the owner and chased off. Being woken up in the dead of the night by a screeching woman and a guy with a loaded shot-gun isn't the most pleasant experience, but not a patch on some of the experiences Falco had been through whilst with his somewhat less than moralled companions. Such as the time when Radly and Jetsal (yup! him again!) had been caught trying to escape from a high-street store with a load of designer label clothes...

"Sayonara me lassies an' lads!" Radly chuckled over his shoulder as he and Ricky made their way confidently towards the shop exit. The two had removed the tags from the clothes and expected no hassle at the security barriers. Outside, the rest of the Hot Rodders were waiting for them.
"Here we come, lads!" Ricky Jetsal grinned, pushing through the barriers and slipping outside. Behind him, Radly had caught his bag on the barrier and was trying to pull it free.
"Hurry up you imbecile!" Ricky hissed. Radly tugged harder and suddenly he was free, but before he could rejoice, events turned on them and the security alarm went off.
"Ohh fuck..." Radly muttered, suddenly losing his northern accent in favour of a darker, more effective tone of despair.
"Uh oh!" Ricky yelped, "Run!!!"
Falco was pushed into running by the crowd ripple behind him as the gang took off across the street. He was aware of something being chucked at him.
"Take this!" Ricky yelled, tossing him the bag of stolen clothes. Come to think of it, Ricky had always been like that. A total bastard. Not willing to take the blame but willing to get a friend in serious trouble just to save his own arse.
Behind him, Radly was struggling to catch up. He was a younger member of the gang, only 13, and was terrified. Falco slowed his pace a little to let him catch up.
"C'mon Rad, get a move on! They're afta yer ass!"
Radly's eyes widened and he put on speed. He'd stolen before, but never been chased. Falco had never allowed himself to get involved in actually stealing, but usually ended up as an alibi.
The gang approached a busy road. Hovercars, transports, and even heavy cargo vehicles, were constantly thundering by at alarming speed, but the Hot Rodders didn't have the common sense to even look before charging across.
Falco dodged a car and winced as another swerved inches from a collision. Across the road, Radly had stopped and was staring at the traffic in absolute terror. Behind him, a group of dogs in security gear were catching up.
"For the Gods' sake, cross the bloody road!" Falco yelled.
"I... I can't!" whimpered Radly.
"Just do it!" Falco shouted, getting increasingly agitated. The other Hot Rodders were almost out of sight now, not realising that two of their members were not with them.
"I'm too scared!" Radly was sobbing.
"You hafta cross!" Falco insisted, "Look, if I tell you when, will you cross?"
Radly blinked eyes wide with fright. "Okay."
Falco waited for a break in the traffic. At last a small gap appeared between a hover-truck and a banking road-jet (a jet licensed only to fly at road level).
"Now, Rad, NOW!"
Radly froze for a second, then launched into the road. But the moment's hesitation was one moment too long. A hovercar seemed to appear from nowhere and suddenly Radly screamed, dropping his bag of clothes and standing stunned by the glaring headlights.

"No!" Falco gasped, flinging himself into awakeness before the nightmare could carry on to the next level. Falco didn't want to re-live what had happened next. Radly's death had been something he had blamed only himself for. If he hadn't had told Radly to cross the busy street...

The car slammed on its brakes too late. A sickening thud resounded across the street as the bonnet made contact with Radly's small framed body, flinging him across the road onto the curb only meters from where Falco was standing.

Falco shook his head furiously. He wasn't going to let flashbacks get him either.
He had to stay awake, so he got up and walked over to the railing that prevented people from falling from level three to their death several floors below. It was a long drop.
Falco was so busy staring into the depth below, that he didn't notice Fox approach silently from behind. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he drew in a sharp breath and spun around. The moment's panic subdued as he recognised Fox, but his companion had seen the split-second of fear in his eyes.
"Hey Falco, you okay?" Fox looked a little worried.
"Erm... yeah," Falco tried to sound convincing. He was already pretty sure that he was cracking up, but he didn't want Fox thinking that too.
"Are you sure?" Fox furrowed his brow.
"Of course I'm sure!" Falco snapped violently.
Fox didn't flinch. "You don't seem okay."
"It's midnight, whaddya expect?!" Falco glared at Fox.
Fox sighed. "I know it's been tricky today, with Ricky and all that, but this has been going on for a lot longer."
"What do you mean?" Falco challenged.
"I mean, you haven't been yourself for weeks," Fox said, "Is something bugging you?"
Falco cursed inwardly, he hadn't meant to stammer.
Fox raised an eyebrow and Falco got the feeling that he wasn't going to leave him alone until he got a better answer. He wasn't wrong.
"I don't believe you." Fox folded his arms.
"That's up to you," Falco told him, making an attempt to walk away, but Fox grabbed his arm. Unfortunately for Falco, that triggered another flashback.

As Falco stared at the body of Radly, who was lying face down on the edge of the road, he was suddenly grabbed roughly by the arm and pulled back. The officer slammed him against the policecraft and searched him, but Falco kept staring at Radly.
Another officer finally approached the body and rolled it over, and Falco caught a glimpse of Radly's smashed face. The teenager's snout was crushed, his nose a bloody mess, and blood was trickling from the ears, mouth and eyes. But worst of all was the expression that rigor mortis had set into it. It was an accusing snarl that the living Radly was never capable of, and one that Falco would never forget...

The vivid flashback ended as suddenly as it had began, leaving Falco feeling faint. For a second he had to grab onto Fox's shoulder for support or he would have fallen. Fox grabbed his arm and supported him until the feeling that he might pass out faded and Falco pulled away.
"Oh God..." Falco muttered, rubbing his eyes viciously.
"What happened?" Fox asked, "Are you alright?"
"A carcrash happened," Falco said.
Fox looked confused and Falco had no intention of enlightening him further.
Suddenly Fox fired an unexpected question out of the blue.
"Falco... you're not taking drugs are you?"
Falco blinked at him.
"I said are you taking drugs?" Fox repeated.
Falco looked stunned. "No! Of course not!"
Fox read his expression, the mixed anger and hurt at the accusation, and realised that he was telling the truth.
"Okay...okay. I'm sorry."
"You damn should be!" Falco told him, "How could you even think I'd do something as stupid as that?!"
"Well... I'm just looking for a reasonable explanation for the way you've been acting recently!" Fox answered honestly.
"I wouldn't take drugs if my life depended on it..." Falco muttered, "I made that mistake before."
"Okay, I believe you," Fox said, "But what am I supposed to do when a close friend is obviously upset-"
Falco shot him a nasty look so he changed the wording, "-okay, worried about something and they won't tell me what it is?"
"You're supposed to leave them alone to sort it out," Falco said.
"You haven't had much luck so far," Fox pointed out, "Whatever it is, it's not getting any better."
"Bugger off," was the only retort Falco could think of. Unfortunately, Fox stayed exactly where he was.
Falco felt his breathing speeding up again and he knew that he had to get away from Fox before his emotions got away with him again. Right now, his instincts were telling him to punch the sturdy fox who was barring his escape route like a humanoid pillar, and he was scarcely able to keep the feeling on a leash.
He tried again.
"Fox, let me out. I can't breathe. I need air! Gooo away!!!"
Fox blinked.
Falco's thin line of self-control snapped.
"You fuckin' freak! Get the hell out of my way! I hate you! I don't want to live any more!!!"
What happened next happened almost too quickly to account. Fox saw the blur of movement that indicated that Falco was about to attempt to jump the security barrier behind him. Fox made a mad grab at Falco's sleeve to try and pull him back, but the avian was too fast and he ended up grasping thin air. Falco spun around with a manic look in his eyes and then time seemed to slow to a crawl through Fox's eyes. Falco gave Fox a glare that could whither a titanian cactus-shrub, then closed his eyes and hurdled the meter-high barrier with a tremendous leap. Fox cried out and ran towards the railing, prepared to jump after his friend, but a hand on his shoulder pulled him away. There was a loud crash and then silence. Falco had fallen almost three storeys but he hadn't even yelled on the way down.
Fox turned sharply to see who had prevented him from leaping after his friend. Peppy looked impassively at him then nodded towards the escalators (powered down, obviously). As they bounded down the frozen escalator steps, a half-asleep Slippy tagging behind, Peppy managed to ask, "What in blazes just happened?!"
"Falco jumped!" Fox still couldn't believe it himself.
On the first floor, a china shop was in ruins. Falco had 'chosen' to jump from floor three at the one point along the first floor where there was an overhang with a shop on it, overlooking the ground floor (If you want a layout of the shop - it's confusing I know!- just email me -.-). The roof of the shop had been glass ten minutes ago, but now that was shattered. Fox ran around the side of the shop and kicked down the door to get in. A siren blazed loudly but Fox didn't even hear it.
Falco was sprawled out on the floor, unmoving, unconscious. Fox knelt down beside him and checked his neck for a pulse. It was racing.
"Thank the Gods' he's not dead," Fox muttered. Peppy gently ushered Fox aside and quickly checked Falco over for serious injuries. Surprisingly, there were only minor scratches.
"I don't think he got knocked out when he hit the glass," Peppy eventually murmured, "I think he passed out almost as soon as he jumped. I don't know why he did it, but he obviously needs the sleep. I wouldn't wake him. He'll come round soon enough, once he's recovered his lost sleep."
Fox frowned. He felt partially responsible for what had just happened, and now he felt helpless too.
"So what now?"
Peppy looked up briefly, before returning to removing sharp and potentially dangerous shards of glass from the floor area around Falco.
"Now... Now we find a way to get out of this god damned place."

It was dark. Not just dark like in an unlit room, but dark like everything around has been cut off. Falco was alone in the darkness and he knew it. He was aware that he couldn't move, his body felt drugged, paralysed, but he was also aware that he had no wish to move. The nothingness was peaceful. No light. No sound. No anything.
Falco floated along the gentle tide of emptiness for a while, then he realised that something was changing. Above him, a ball of light had appeared and was slowly growing larger until finally he was entirely enveloped in its warm, soothing glow. Then, from the centre of the light, a soft, feminine voice spoke, washing over him like liquid wax.

Falco Lombardi, do you really want to change your past?

Falco felt a warm tear slide down the side of his face as he stared up into the ever-shifting light, but when he spoke, his voice was as clear and decided as could be.
"Yes. I do."
Then, suddenly, the light vanished and Falco was thrust back to total awareness and the realisation that he was lying on his back on a hard, concrete floor.
"Eurrgggh...." Falco groaned and levered himself off the ground. Staggering to his feet, he squinted against the light that shone directly down on him from above. As he slowly took in his surroundings, he realised that he was standing in a back alley not far from where he had lived as a child.
"Then am I..."
Falco's voice trailed of as he realised the implications of the thought.
I'm eight years old... again...
Falco tried to deny it, but the sound of his own voice - a child's voice - told him cruelly that it was true. Falco sunk back down to the ground and closed his eyes. It only took him a moment to figure it out.
I'm being given a second chance to live out my life! To correct the mistakes and stop the disasters! To change my past...
Leaping to his feet, Falco spun around in a full circle, grinning broadly. For several minutes he just basked in the feeling of freedom, then suddenly he felt an urge to explore. He knew how to get home from here, but there was a place he wanted to visit first. The park...
The park was a spacious area of grass, rimmed with trees and with a fenced off playground slap-bang in the middle. Falco had played there everyday as a pre-schooler and then at least once every week after he started 1st Grade. But when he was twelve, vandals had broken in over night, tearing down the equipment and spraying graffiti over the tarmac and fences. Since then, the playground had been totally replaced by a water fountain in the shape of a sea-horse. Falco had felt bitter about that for several years, the playground had been a great place to hang out and there weren't very many 'child-friendly' areas in the part of Corneria City he lived in. But if the playground was only ripped down when he was twelve...
"It's still there!"
Falco felt a weird rush of sensations as he stood at the edge of the park, staring at the metal climbing-frame and swing structures that rose above the height of the playground fence. Almost laughing with nostalgia, Falco raced across the grass and almost hurdled the gate, but remembered in time that he wasn't tall enough to do that yet. So he unlatched the gate and walked through instead.
"Hey Falcs!"
A voice from the top of the Adventure Jet shaped climbing-frame caught his attention.
"Marcus! Mate!"
Falco ran over.
Marcus grinned.
"I can't believe we're starting main-school tomorrow! Isn't it cool! We won't be Juniors any more!"
Falco blinked.
"Sorry? School? Huh?"
Marcus laughed. "Yup! And we're in the same class! Pity we got stuck with Miss Grouchy though..."
Miss Grouchy... Falco didn't remember that nickname of the name of the teacher to which it referred. But he didn't have time to ponder it as another voice caught his attention from behind.
"Hey kid! Nice jacket you got there!"
Falco looked down at what he was wearing and then up at the stranger: a kid who was possibly ten years old, maybe slightly older.
"Who are you?" Falco asked bluntly. Then he noticed something about the kid that seemed familiar. The kid... he was...
"I'm Ricky, hey you got a lighter on you? I need a fag..."
The ten-year-old Ricky Jetsel pulled a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to Falco. Falco's mind raced. This was the point when he had met and become friends with one particular Ricky 'Trouble' Jetsel. And if he could stop that happening... not become Ricky's friend... then...
"Sorry. I don't have a light." Falco barely managed to stammer the sentence before he was running, as fast as he could and as far away from the leopard as was physically possible.

* * *

"Hey guys! I found something!"
Slippy charged down the escalator and almost collided with Fox, who was sitting on the floor, half-asleep, with his StarFox jacket draped over his lap for warmth. Slippy's enthusiastic tone woke him abruptly.
"What? What have you found?"
Slippy beamed.
"A payphone!"
Fox jumped to his feet.
"Why on earth didn't anyone think of that before?"
Slippy shrugged. "I didn't know there even was a 'phone in here. But there is! And we can call for help! I have some credits..."
"Right!" Fox decided, "Lead the way Slip, we're going home!"
Slippy bounded back up the stairs, doing a pirouette of triumph on the final step, before running to the payphone (almost hidden in a slot in the wall) and jumping up and down in front of it.
"Here!" he squeaked.
Fox took the handful of credit chips that Slippy offered and pushed one in to the credit slot. It fell straight through, clanging loudly into the 'reject' box. Fox frowned and tried another one. The same thing happened. Fox's palms began to sweat.
"This can't be happening..."
Slippy peered agitatedly over Fox's shoulder, as the team's leader tried yet again to make the machine accept his money. Then he spotted something.
"I know what's wrong! The phone's been disconnected overnight for security purposes!" he exclaimed.
"Well reconnect it then!" Fox snapped, his patience wearing thin as the idea that they were still trapped after getting so close to escape began playing in his mind.
"I can't!" Slippy spread out his hands in defeat, "I don't know the security override code!"
"There's got to be something you can do!" Fox persisted.
"Perhaps it just needs to be switched back on at the mains," an older voice piped up.
"Good thinking, Peppy!" Fox cried, "You go check for the mains supply. Slippy, you stay here and see what you can do from there."
"Okay!" Slippy yelped happily as team moral picked itself up slightly from the dusty mall floor.

* * *

Falco found himself standing outside his front door before he'd even realised that he's stopped running. Looking up at the red paintwork and the gold number 104 above the frame, he felt like a stranger. Oh, he remembered this place alright, but it didn't feel real. Almost shyly, Falco tentatively reached out to ring the bell. The chime, a musical bar from the National Cornerian Anthem, rang out, making Falco feel woozy from the powerful feelings that accompanied it. There was a soft clicking noise as the door was unlatched from inside and a suspicious face peered out.
"D-dad?" Falco stuttered. The tall brown eagle stared down at him, his craggy features breaking into a wide smile.
"Son! You're back just in time for supper! It's your favourite, come on in!"
Falco mutely followed his adoptive father into the expansive hall. Since Falco had been adopted at age three, it was only logical that he couldn't change that. But he liked his 'new' parents much more than he had liked his biological ones, so it didn't really matter. His father was just as he remembered him (had it been that long since he'd seen him?), protective, strong, but with a permanent frown of concentration wrinkling his forehead, as if he was always involve in deepest contemplation. And the other thing that Falco remembered was that neither of his parents had much time for him. They were always too busy. But he couldn't deny the fact that he had been a problem child. Maybe if he were better behaved his parents would appreciate his company more.
Falco tagged into the living room/dining lounge where the table was all set for dinner.
"Hello love," a purple feathered avian, much shorter than Falco's dad, smiled at him from the doorway, "Had a nice day?"
Instinct kicked in, and Falco had replied, "Yes mom," even before he had taken in the question.
"That's good," his mom continued, "Now sit down and eat up, you have a big day tomorrow!"
Falco didn't feel much like eating, but he sat down and picked at his food anyway. Quorn burgers and spaghetti hoops? That was my favourite meal when I was a kid?! Sheesh, yuck! he thought to himself, trying to swallow a mouthful of food without pulling a disgusted face.
"So how do you feel about starting 'Big School'?" his mother interrupted, snapping Falco out of his dazed thoughts.
"Um... Err..."
Falco shrugged. His father chuckled.
"It's okay to be nervous, but you'll be fine!"
Falco excused himself from the table and went upstairs to find his room before his parents asked anymore difficult questions. He couldn't say how he felt about starting a new school because he had never gone to that school. He had met Ricky Jetsel and started bunking off and only spent about three days in school out of the whole academic year. But this time he had made up his mind.
If I don't skive and I go to school, make friends, and get good exam results I'll be able to get a job when I'm 16 and I won't have to shoplift for money!
It seemed perfect. He had made his choice. But he never got to see it through because a bright flash of light overcame him and the next thing he knew, he was standing in a hall full of students and he was fifteen years old.

* * *
"Any luck Slippy?" Fox called up the stairs to the frog, who was tinkering about with the wires at the back of the payphone.
"None yet!" Slippy yelled back, "Have you found the mains supply?"
"I think so!" Fox replied, "But I'm not sure! Peppy's going to turn on the power switch we think is connected to the phone. Yell to me if anything happens!"
"Okay!" Slippy cried, turning back to the payphone monitor.
Downstairs at ground floor level, Peppy prised open the door in the wall, with a little help from a pocket spanner Slippy had kept in his pocket for emergencies (Heaven knows why!). Staring at the rows of switches and displays, Peppy wondered if this was even the right power outlet. None of the switches were named, only binary coded. Peppy took a deep breath and switched them all.
"We have light!"
Fox's delighted cry echoed round the mall as the central lights flickered and came back on.
"Hey!" Slippy called, "Something worked, the display just came on!"
"Great!" Fox cried, racing upstairs to where Slippy was staring squinty-eyed at the phone display monitor. Fox's heart sunk down to the tip of his tail as he read the four words that flashed on the screen.
Please Enter Security Passcode:
Slippy's fingers flew over the keypad as he tried a few basic hacking tricks, but the only response the computer gave was a violated 'beep!!'.
Eventually Slippy sighed sadly.
"I don't know what else to try."
Fox hung his head.
"Well done guys. That was a good try. But I guess there's nothing else we can do."
Slippy looked up, a small optimistic smile playing on his face.
"It's not too bad. There's a bakery on the fourth floor that we can break into if we get really hungry!"
Fox managed a weak chuckle.
"I suppose that's true..."
"Let's not give up yet!" Peppy suddenly said, "I just had an idea..."

* * *

Falco tried to get his bearings. This was the Cornerian Flight Academy's Graduation Hall, the banner on the wall said so, but why was he here?
On the large stage at the end of the hall, the short, stumpy figure easily recognisable as the Head of the CFA stepped up, followed by someone Falco recognised well. General Pepper of the Cornerian Army.
The first figure spoke into the microphone positioned at the front of the stage.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Cadets and CFA students to be, I welcome you all to what is probably the proudest day to fall upon this year's calendar. Today, thirty young men and women will be graduating from this school into the Cornerian Army and Airforce. May we all with each of them the best of luck on their new voyage, and the best success in their chosen careers. I now hand you over to General Pepper. Sir, if you would like to say a few words?"
General Pepper nodded sternly. "It is my pleasure to once again recap the..."
The rest of the General's speech floated over Falco's head as he tried to get a grasp on what was going on.
I never joined the Army! he thought frantically, I joined StarFox! What's going on?!
Then it hit him like a ten tonne weight.
I can't join StarFox because I never met Fox! And I never met Fox because I never became Ricky's friend and bunked off school, so Fox never bumped into me on his way home and convinced me to go back to school where we became friends. Fox doesn't know me and someone else is going to join StarFox in my place!
Falco felt like crying. It was desperately unfair.
"...and so I'd like to again thank all of you for being here and wish our new graduates all the best," the General concluded his speech and there was a tremendous upsurge of applause from the crowd. The boy standing next to Falco nudged his arm and Falco recognised him as Marcus from the playground.
"Well done, I can't believe you're going into the airforce!"
Falco let out a long, slow breath. "Neither can I..."
Then there was a flash of light and the scenery changed again.

* * *

"I'm still not sure that I understand..." Fox commented, as he watched Peppy placing the small pocket-mirror on the floor by the huge security doors that kept them locked inside the mall. Slippy murmured something and Peppy changed the mirror's position by a couple of inches. Slippy grinned an A-Okay.
"Right, we're all set!" Peppy cried, whipping out his StarFox blaster pistol, "Do you want to make the shot, Fox? You probably have the best aim!"
"Okay..." Fox muttered, taking the gun, "But if this doesn't work..."
"Then we get fried," Peppy said, finishing the thought grimly.
"It has to work!" Slippy cried, "It's our last hope!"
"Then let's do it," Fox decided determinedly. The trio took a step away from the door and Fox narrowed his eyes, pinpointing the small security sensor above the metal door. Fox took a deep breath, counted silently to five, and fired.
The reaction was immediate and impressive. The small device above the motion sensor shot out a fiery ray of laser light and Fox evaded it my centimetres. The laser beam followed Fox as he hopped, skipped, and jumped in a circle around the mall entrance. Finally he stepped on the mirror and leapt away as the laser tracked his movement, hitting the mirror. The mirror instantly reflected the ray back the way it came, missing the sensor by millimetres.
"Oh crap." Fox forgave himself the unnecessary curse as this was a dire situation. He quickly darted in and gave the mirror a slight nudge with his foot, redirecting the reflected beam by a few degrees. There was a fizzling noise, followed by a satisfying crackle of metal melting and curling. Then the acrid stench of burning circuits filled the air, causing them all to cough and gag. As the air cleared, all eyes were on the motion sensor and laser equipment, all burnt and warped beyond recognition. Cautiously, Fox stepped towards the door. Nothing happened. The security device was irreversibly dead.
Fox whooped, Slippy danced, and Peppy grinned like a drug addict on a particularly exhilarating trip.
After the moment of joyous ecstasy had faded a little, Peppy spoke up.
"Now all we have to do is find a way to pick the lock."

* * *

The next thing Falco was aware of was standing, again in line, inside a room that appeared to be part of the CAF HQ. A rather strict-looking rat was pacing up and down in front of the line of po-faced officers, occasionally rapping one in the stomach of clipping another's ear to make them stand taller and straighter.
"You are all officers representing the Cornerian Airforce!" the rat bellowed, "And you are all expected to impress StarFox when we fly with them! You are honoured to be chosen to assist them, and I want you to show them how good you really are!"
Then Falco's worst nightmare opened like a gaping chasm. The rat left the room and returned moments later with...
"StarFox..." Falco breathed. The four pilots walked across the room and stood in front of the new officers. One a foxanian, one an anphiboid, one a Pandoran, and one a... dog?
Falco blinked. The dog, clearly recognisable as Bill Grey, was wearing the #2 flight jacket.
My jacket... Falco thought sadly.
Fox walked over to the end of the line, followed by the rat.
"Let me now introduce you to your cadet mirror-squad..." the rat began, "Squad Leader Angelo Yasmin..."
Fox nodded.
"Second in, Klasini Maydox..."
Fox nodded again, as he and the rat walked along the line of cadets.
"Gader Hu, Osbin Rabbit, Lynx Radi..." the rat continued, finally reaching Falco.
"...Falco Lombardi..."
Falco looked Fox straight in the eye.
Please remember me! he thought desperately, You have to! I'm your buddy, remember?
But Fox just nodded and walked by as the rat continued to scroll out names.
"Now we fly!" Fox smiled, "You have a good team of sturdy looking pilots. I have never met any of them before, but I'm sure they'll do the CAF proud!"
Falco groaned inwardly. Fox didn't know him, and probably never would.
"Ten Hut!" the rat cried suddenly, noticing some of the cadets relaxing. Obediently the squadron saluted StarFox. Falco could only think how ironic it was that he was saluting the team that he belonged to. No... the team he would have belonged to if only he hadn't...
"Squadron BountyFire to your jets!" the rat commanded, and Falco found himself being rounded up with all the others and climbing into his assigned jet. Then there was a thunder-like roar as all twelve BountyFire members took to the air, right behind StarFox.
"Remember to KEEP IN FORMATION!" the rat bellowed down the comlink. Falco banked his ship into ninth position in the arrow formation and wished with all his might that he was somewhere else.

* * *

"Could these be of any help?" Peppy asked, handing Fox an assortment of tools, some blunt, some sharp, and some that didn't look like they even belonged in a tool-kit.
"I don't know," Fox said, examining the collection of metallic items and finally selecting a long, thin rod. He slotted it carefully into the card-key hole and yanked it firmly. The doors remained wedged shut. Fox tried again, this time putting all his strength and weight into effect. The effort brought beads of sweat to his forehead but there was no change in the doors' position. Fox let go of the rod and sighed deeply, the muscles in his arms aching and his head too. Peppy had gone to check on Falco, and Slippy was on the top floor (Fox didn't have the energy to shout to him) so he leaned heavily against the doors to wait for one of them to return.
Slippy was the first to arrive back at 'base', carrying a small plastic rectangle in his tightly clenched fist. When he saw Fox, he thrust the item into Fox's paw and launched into a stream of indistinguishable babble.
Fox waved his free hand to try and stop the frog.
"Woah Slip, calm down and slow down! What have you found?"
"A keycard!" Slippy blurted.
"Where for?" Fox asked, his interest suddenly soaring.
"The bathroom!" Slippy exclaimed.
Fox furrowed his brow.
"Nice, but I don't really see how that helps us..."
Slippy's features extended in a wide grin of pride.
"I already opened the door and the windows in there are old style. You can unlatch them and you can climb out of them! Plus, it's on the first floor so the drop is only about four meters and it's into water!"
"So... we did all this..." Fox indicated to the frazzled motion-sensor and the heap of tools on the floor, "...for nothing?"
Slippy gulped and shrugged.
Fox screwed his eyes tightly shut and wondered which God had a grudge against him.
Just then, Peppy trotted up.
"Got any further with the door?" he inquired.
"Slippy will explain," Fox yawned tiredly, "How's Falco?"
Peppy made a 'so-so' movement with his hand.
"He's okay, but he's still out cold."
Fox nodded.
"Slippy's found a way out, but we obviously can't go 'till Falco wakes up."
"Well then," Peppy said, "I guess we just have to wait."

* * *

The twelve Cornerian Fighter Jets had now split up. The enemy, an unknown group of hostile fritters, was everywhere, swarming like bees over marmalade.
StarFox were up ahead, searching for the mothership, but the BountyFires only had the lowly task of keeping the bogies at bay.
Falco was having slight trouble adjusting to the less than top of the range controls of the fighter he was flying. It was nothing like the luxury interior of an Arwing. But apart from the actual flight controls, picking of the enemy was irritatingly easy. Falco was half-way to falling asleep when a burst of noise in the form of Fox McCloud's voice burst over everyone's comlinks.
"Bogey on my six, give me a hand will ya?"
Falco instinctively pulled his jet into a tight turn and made a boost towards StarFox. He was almost there when another, very annoyed sounding, voice crackled over the comm. Falco instantly recognised the voice as that of the Squad Leader.
"Lombardi! Where do you think you're going?!"
"To Fox! He needs help! He-"
Falco's explanation was cut short.
"Do you really think Fox McCloud needs the help of a cadet like you?! Get back in the fray and lose the ego!"
That really slammed down hard. Falco bit back the surge of profanity he felt building up, he couldn't swear at a senior officer. But it hurt badly. StarFox didn't need him. He was insignificant. Nobody.
To add insult to injury, Falco witnessed the jet with "#2 Grey" on it eradicate the bogey behind Fox, then Fox's voice crackled over the comm again.
"Thanks Bill. I owe you one."
Falco averted his gaze from the four Arwings in the distance, feeling tears of defeat welling up in his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to force the tears back but it was no use. He was so absorbed in his own self-pity that he didn't notice an enemy fritter tag onto him from behind.
"Lombardi! Watch out!"
The warning from BountyFire 7 came too late. The fritter released a Nova.
"NO!!!" Falco screamed, but nothing could stop the ball of fire from smashing into the side of his jet. The wing instantly caught fire and Falco felt all control over the jet ripped away. He wrestled with the controls but the ship was now in an almost vertical nose-dive towards the rocky terrain below. The last thing he heard over the comlink before it went out was, "Sir, another CAF jet down," then silence. The ground rushed up at alarming speed then Falco felt a jarring sensation that ripped right through him, and a final burst of agony. He felt warm blood trickling down his face and he could taste it too. Glancing across, he realised in horror than his shoulder had been impaled by a thick shard of glass from the canopy. Then his vision swirled dizzily and faded out. Falco was once again alone in the darkness. then, from the depths of nowhere and everywhere, a familiar voice echoed through his mind, asking a question he had heard before.

Falco Lombardi, do you really want to change your past?

Falco shook his head violently, sobbing uncontrollably.
"No... No! Never! I just.. I... I just wanna go home..."

* * *

"I just wanna go home..."
Falco stirred slightly and continued to murmur deliriously.
"Don't have to change anything... Don't hafta..."
"Hey! He's coming around!"
Fox ran instantly to his friend's side.
"Falco? You hearing me?"
Falco sighed and his eyelids fluttered open.
Fox nodded. "Uh-huh."
Falco suddenly grabbed Fox's arm, startling him.
"Fox! It's really you! You know who I am!"
Fox raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"You've only been unconscious for twenty minutes... I don't think that's long enough for me to forget you. I've known you seven years, remember?"
Falco grinned and released the death-grip on Fox's arm.
"Thank the Gods. I never want to go through that again. I'll never complain again. Never!"
Fox chuckled, not exactly sure what was going on.
Peppy jogged over, followed by Slippy. Falco gave them both broad grins, causing them to look at each other in uncertainty.
"Have you guys found us a way out yet?" Falco eventually asked, after no-one had spoken for several minutes.
"Yep!" Slippy cried, "Through a window in the bathroom!"
Falco stretched and tried to get up. Fox extended a paw to help his friend to his feet.
"Are we out of here then?" he asked.
All three StarFox members nodded feverishly.
Falco glanced around and did a double take as he saw the mess of broken glass and china fragments.
"Jeez Luweez, how in hell did that happen?!"
"Erm... long story," Fox said quickly, "But we can afford to pay for repairs. As soon as we get out we'll contact the store owners and tell them how we got locked in and explain that we'll pay the damage."
"So why are we waiting?" Slippy piped up, "Let's go!!"


And so, a very happy and relieved StarFox team finally escaped the confines of the mall at around 02:02, the early hours of the morning. The mall owner didn't press charges and accepted the cash up-front. Falco didn't stay deliriously happy forever, in fact, two days later he was back to his normal, grouchy self (much to the relief of the others who were starting to worry that Falco had hit his head a little too hard when he fell), but under all his mood-swings it's obvious that he's a much happier person. And he never had the nightmares again. :)

Guess what, Folks? THERE'S A MORAL TO THIS STORY! ::gasp!:: Can you guess what it is? Okay, nobody's bothering to read this bit but I'll tell you anyway.
However bad your life is, it could be much much worse. The little things that you hate about yourself and your past are what makes you you, and no-one can change that. If it weren't for all the disasters in our lives, we wouldn't have personalities and we'd all be VERY boring. So, with that in mind, have a nice day and try not to have nightmares.
Jadie Emerald