The field was quiet for now. A gentle breeze wafted across the lush grass as the sun heated the planet below it. It was the kind of day where one could lie in the shade for hours on end without interruption. Too bad that was not the case today for a certain vixen.
The sound of an explosion raced across the field as a blue furred vixen ran. She threw herself to the ground as a beam of concentrated purple energy shot over her head, fading into the distance before slamming into a rock. Immediately, she rolled left as a second shot punched into the ground. The vixen knew all too well that if she stopped moving, she was dead.
She took off across the field, dodging the energy shots as they passed around her. As she did, the vixen's emerald eyes scanned for cover. The only thing available was a large stone that she'd have to curl up behind. She decided to take it. The vixen threw herself to the ground and rolled behind the rock, drawing her weapon. The Stinger handgun wouldn't do much to these enemies, but it was better than running for her life.
She began firing around the rock, trying not to flinch as the purple energy shots struck her hiding spot, digging into it with every shot. The motion tracker in her helmet only registered the one target she was trading fire with. But the older model she had been given had one problem.
The vixen's ears picked up the sound of a soft humming. She turned and found a rifle pointed at her, point blank. The humanoid robot holding the weapon had been hiding by use of a cloaking device. Her helmet wasn't able to detect stealth devices.
Immediately, the vixen placed her weapon on the ground and raised her hands in an 'I'm unarmed' gesture.
"Target neutralized." The robot stated bluntly.
The vixen cursed quietly to herself. She should have been more aware of her surroundings. Even she knew that a cloaking device only bends light to make it seem like the cloaked target was invisible, but it still caused the air around it to become distorted.
The robot grabbed her arm and forced her to stand. Instinctively, she protested the action, but stopped when she saw the barrel of the gun leveled at her heart. The bot twisted her arm, forcing her to hold it behind her back.
Then it forced the barrel into her back and ordered, "Move."
Before she could respond, a single shot sounded. The robot suddenly released her. The vixen turned and saw the robot fall to its knees, then flat on the ground. Its head was gone, leaving only destroyed wires, metal, and bits of circuitry as an oily fluid leaked out. When the vixen looked towards where the shot had come from, she saw a red fox standing nearby, smoke gently wafting from the barrel of his sniper rifle.
His golden eyes examined the surrounding area as he walked over to her.
"You alright Krystal?" the fox asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine." The vixen replied, rubbing her arm, "How long did I last?"
The fox smiled, "Thirty minutes from the drop in to your capture."
"It felt shorter." Krystal sighed, her ears lowering sadly, "I didn't do very well did I?"
"You did fine." The fox said gently patting her back, "You just need a little more training, that's all. After all, it's been a while."
"Thanks Chase." Krystal replied with a smile, knowing he understood.
Suddenly, Chase's ears perked up.
"Get down!" he ordered.
Krystal threw herself to the ground as Chase picked up the beam rifle the robot had been using. Years of training and combat experience kicked in as the fox lowered onto one knee and fired off a single shot. With the sound of a cannon being fired, the purple energy punched through the lightly armored steel of a second robot. Electricity sparked from it as its systems shorted out and failed. It fell back, twitching as it tried to reboot.
Chase helped Krystal up. He then noticed something shining in the grass and picked up a spherical pendant that had been made from fusing a sapphire and ruby together.
"Dropped this." He said as he handed it to Krystal.
"Oh, thank you." The vixen smiled, "Could you reattach it?"
Chase smiled as he placed it around her neck once more.
* * *
"I do not feel that I have to tell you what I am thinking right now." A human said as he sat before the two.
Chase and Krystal had been brought back to headquarters. Immediately they had been asked to see their CO, Hiigan, for a debriefing. The training mission hadn't gone as planned.
Hiigan's emotionless face didn't give away any hint of what the human was feeling, and Krystal couldn't see past his black glasses. His black suit seemed to give off a feeling of resentment, but then again he always gave off that feeling. Hiigan was not someone to cross.
The veteran mercenary had been in some of the worst situations of his time, seeing things that no one else wanted to. He had killed a number of enemies and had been well known for being ruthless and fought in a number of wars throughout the Lylat system during his time as a corporation mercenary. In his prime, Hiigan had been the best of the best.
Now in his older age, he kept that deadly appearance and cold, disconnected feeling. The bald human was now in charge of Chase and Krystal. His job was to choose and oversee their missions, telling them what to do, when to do it, what weapons to take, and how they had to do it.
Krystal looked to Chase for help. Chase glanced to her, knowing exactly what Hiigan was feeling.
"It's been a while since my partner was last in this sort of combat." Chase explained, "You can't expect her to do perfectly on her first mission."
"I did not expect her to do perfectly Ronin." Hiigan replied, "But I did expect more than what I saw, especially considering she was once your partner."
Krystal's ears lowered sadly as she looked at the ground. She looked up when she felt Chase's tail entwine with hers. Without the bands that usually kept her tail fur in line, it felt different than it used to.
"But, I do realize that it has been a while since you last worked with Ronin." Hiigan continued, "Knowing that, I also know that you two need more time together before you can truly be sent out as a team. For now, Ronin, I want you to train her more in being aware of her surroundings beyond what is visible."
The two nodded and walked out.
* * *
Krystal was lying on the couch almost asleep. Golden rays from the sun outside were pouring in through the window on the wall next to her, covering the blue furred vixen in a warm pool of light. Krystal was watching her partner with a peaceful gaze through half closed eyes, her mind already half way into her daydreams.
Chase, however, was pacing nearby, his restless mind churning endlessly. His tail flipped from side to side as he thought up and rejected idea after idea. Finally, the fox plopped down beside Krystal in defeat, his ears lowered against his head as he mentally cursed to himself.
When Chase had sat down, Krystal looked up and saw his look. Immediately, she sat up and looked to him.
"Something wrong Chase?" She asked.
"It's nothing." Chase replied without looking at her.
"It's not nothing." The vixen replied softly, "Come on, you can tell me."
Chase looked to her, knowing that she wouldn't let up until she got her answer. He sighed and shook his head.
"It's about the training." The fox said.
"The training?" Krystal asked, a little confused, "Wait, don't tell me you don't think I can do it. Because I can and you know it."
"No, it's not that." Chase smiled, his ears perking back up a little as he smiled sheepishly, "I know you can pass that bit. You were better than me before the incident on Sauria."
"Then what is it about?"
"Krystal, once you finish training and get the evaluation from my superiors, you'll be a full fledge mercenary again. You won't exist outside our world. Are you sure this is what you want?"
The vixen nodded. Chase looked into her emerald eyes and saw the truth there, a fiery determination that blazed within her soul.
"This is the only way I can continue to fight threats Chase." Krystal replied, "I'm guessing you read my file already. The updated one, not the old one."
"Of course. You left Star Fox to join Star Wolf, which is led by one Wolf O'Donnell. Mainly a mercenary group as well but they have quite a few illegal ventures that currently have them with a bounty. With them you flew a model of a ship from your home world. Which, if you don't mind me saying, is a screaming metal deathtrap compared to the Phoenix GX4 interceptor class I currently fly.
"After Star Wolf, you came back here to become a mercenary for the corporation. Although the file doesn't say why you left Fox and the others in the first place." Chase smirked, "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were being picky about who you join up with Krystal."
"Maybe a little bit." Krystal replied quietly, "But I'd rather not talk about why I left Star Fox. All that matters is that they will not take me back after I left them. I just can't go back to them."
"And Wolf's team?"
"Panther was being a bit too forward for my liking. And really, they made me think a lot about my past life as a mercenary here."
"Makes sense. Wolf's good mercenary material and the corporation actually wanted to hire him and his team a while back while I was incapacitated."
Krystal nodded and leaned back.
Chase got up off the couch, "So, plan on getting dressed anytime soon?"
Krystal looked down over the skimpy robe that covered her.
"Well I was planning on taking a bath." Krystal replied as Chase helped her off the couch, "But I'll get dressed again if you have anything for me to do."
The fox shook his head, "Nah, I'll let you bathe. I've got something I'd like to ask the weapons techs about."
"Alright." Krystal replied giving him a quick hug.
* * *
Minutes later, Krystal slipped off her robe as the bath water heated to the right temperature. As the warm water filled the tub, the vixen added a bubble solution and watched as the bath was filled with white, foamy bubbles, perfect for relaxing her tense body. After confirming that the water felt just right, the vixen stepped into the bath, letting the warm water and suds envelope her up to the top of her chest.
"Mmm..." The vixen murred softly as she lay down in the warm water.
As Krystal lay back, letting the warm water rise just over her shoulders, the relaxing heat working her muscles as the water shifted back and forth, she began thinking about her life right now.
The truth was that, while she was glad to be back with Chase, Krystal missed Fox and the others. She missed Fox's warm affection for her, Slippy's odd habits, and even Falco's attitude. But she knew she wouldn't be able to go back to them. Instead, the vixen had chosen to return to the one Krystal knew would take her in no matter what the circumstances. That one was, and always would be, Chase, the mercenary fox better known as 'Ronin'.
Krystal sighed and slid down farther under the water, letting the bubbles tickle her chin. The warm water felt so very relaxing against her body. The faint scent of fresh lilacs had begun to fill the air. Krystal closed her eyes and laid her head back against a plastic pillow.
* * *
Minutes later, the vixen was drying herself off when she heard the sound of a door opening and closing. Curious, the vixen peeked out of the bathroom, keeping her still naked body out of sight. She watched as Chase walked in, looking somewhat defeated. Krystal pulled on her robe and walked out, tying it closed as she opened the door.
"Chase?" She asked as she walked over to the fox, "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know." Chase admitted with a sigh, "I'm just really confused about something."
"Mind sharing it?" Krystal asked as she sat down beside him, crossing her legs.
"I'd rather keep it to myself for right now." Chase replied.
"Maybe you should go unwind somewhere." Krystal suggested, placing a hand on his leg, "Just take some time to be alone and think."
Chase nodded, and then looked her over.
"You're wearing something under that right?" The fox asked.
"No." Krystal answered honestly.
"That's what I was afraid of." Chase replied.
* * *
Night fell and, having eaten a light meal and deciding to take Krystal's suggestion, Chase was sitting at a bar in the nightclub near the dormitory buildings. Tonight wasn't one of the clubs busy nights, so he felt more comfortable in the smaller amount of other mercenaries or corporation employees, and the clubs dancers and pets. There were a couple of dancers, but the fox paid no mind to them. His mind was cluttered enough as it was.
As the music played in the dim lighting, the red fox sighed and looked down to the empty glass in his hands. His ears lowered as the fox closed his eyes, his mind trying to focus itself without success. Chase sighed and shook his head.
A wolf looked down the bar to the fox. Mira was the bar tender for the club during these hours. She had known Chase for a long time and often tended to be someone for him to talk to when he came in. Mira was also the only one he'd allow to call him anything besides his two names. Lately, the wolf taken to calling him 'foxie'.
"Need another one foxie?" The bar tender asked, "After all, plain water's on the house."
"Not yet." Chase replied, "But thanks for the offer Mira."
The wolf shrugged and began to wipe out a dirty glass.
"Alright, what's got you down this time foxie?" Mira asked.
"How can you tell I'm feeling down?" Chase asked.
"You only come in when you're down." Mira stated bluntly, "Even I know that you're not here to watch the girls and hope to get lucky."
"As usual, you're dead on. I'm just really confused about my feelings for a certain female." Chase replied.
"Who's the girl?"
Chase pushed the glass away and put his hands against his forehead. Mira patted him. Chase looked up at her, and then asked her to pour him another glass.
"Want something stronger than water?" Mira asked.
Chase shook his head, "You know I can't drink that stuff. Just one plays havoc with my gut and eyes."
The wolf shrugged, refilled his glass, and pushed it back to him, "So what's the problem with her."
Chase took a sip, feeling the cool, clear liquid slip down his throat. The refreshing feeling of the cool water made him feel a little better, but not by much.
He set the glass down, "I care about Krystal. A lot more than I think she realizes."
"Ah, so you're afraid of her being hurt."
Chase sighed and looked down as his ears lowered against his head. He looked down at the clear water in the glass through half-closed eyes.
"I mean, if she did get hurt or worse, I'd never forgive myself. Even if there isn't anything I could do to save her I'd still blame myself." Chase explained as he took another sip.
Mira tutted him softly, "Foxie, you have to realize that it's her choice to fight beside you."
"I know." Chase replied quietly.
"Look, I know you're worried about her. But Krystal's a strong girl. Plus, she is training with one of the best."
"She's training with you isn't she?"
"I'm not one of the best."
"I'm sure you are in her eyes. Foxie, you need to realize something. If Krystal truly is the way you describe her, that vixen isn't just going to quit because you're afraid for her. She'll fight on. Just like someone else I know, she seems set on doing what it takes to keep fighting."
Chase sighed. He knew she was right. Nothing he could say or do would change Krystal's mind about her life.
"Besides, you can't work alone forever foxie." Mira continued, "Face it, everyone else here has a partner or a team to work with. For a long while, you were the only lone wolf...er, fox."
"I know what you mean." Chase said as he took another sip.
"Point is, you need her whether you know it or not." Mira stated, "Just as she now needs you. One of these days, your number will come up. And when it does, no one will be there to save your tail from death. Without a partner, you're basically dead."
"I guess you're right." Chase replied as he drained the glass, "I can't let my feelings get in the way."
"Well, you can, just not when they concern you wanting her to leave for her own safety."
Chase nodded and stood up, "I'll try to keep those in check. Thanks Mira."
Chase set down some credits for her, saying, "For the help and the water."
"Anytime foxie." The wolf replied taking the tip, "And next time you come in, you'll have an actual drink. I can't just let you freeload off water, you know. This may be a nightclub, but it's still a business that works on money."
"Alright, but I warn you, it won't be pretty." Chase smirked.
* * *
When Chase walked back into the dorm, he found Krystal fast asleep on the couch. The vixen must have been up waiting for him. Chase smiled as he walked over to the couch. Carefully, he picked up the vixen, moving her head so it lay against his shoulder. She didn't seem to notice that he was even there.
As the fox carried her to the bed, he looked down at the vixen. Krystal was dressed only in a white tank top that left her midriff bare and pair of short shorts. Asleep, she seemed at peace with everything. Chase noticed a light smile on her lips and smiled to himself.
As he laid her down in the bed, the vixen stirred.
"Huh?" Krystal asked quietly as her eyes cracked open.
"It's only me." Chase said softly as he stroked her forehead.
The vixen yawned and smiled, "It's kind of late isn't it?"
"A little." Chase replied as he pulled the blankets up over her.
"So where were you?" Krystal asked as Chase pulled off his shirt.
"Taking your advice and clearing my head." The fox replied as he unloaded his Stinger and set it down on the table beside the bed.
"And?" The vixen asked as Chase sat down on the bedside.
"I feel better now." Chase smiled.
"Alright." The vixen said as she yawned, "See you in the morning?"
"Of course." Chase replied with a smile as he lay back.
Krystal hugged him close, laying her head on the fox's chest. Chase had to smile. Mira was right. He did need Krystal. After all, back in training, she was the only one he worked well with. Now that they were partners again, Chase would need her help more than ever.