A/N: Hello everyone. To start, we'd like to thank Tempest of Reach for his input on the last chapter, which led to some edits of the race and police chase. We'd also like to thank everyone who has reviewed this story so far: Whitney911, TheKhaosKing, June Dune, Super Racer, DW611, Nova Lioness, and Tempest of Reach— especially the latter for his input for the last chapter.

Sword: I'm baaaack!

How's Pen doing?

Sword: He's doing fine and said to tell everyone he still despises them.

At least he's alright then. As always, Sonic and all related material belong to Sega. The story, Sword, and Pen belong to me. Please do not use without permission. Thank you and please enjoy.

Chapter 4: Former Contender

At first, Knuckles planned to head on home and beat up his punching bag. But when his hand flared up, he gave in to Tikal's order and headed to the hospital. The wait was excruciatingly long and the doctor didn't make matters any better, tsk, tsking him over Knuckles' patch job. He cleaned and re-dressed all of the wounds neatly, wondering aloud why Knuckles refused to come sooner. The echidna stayed silent and sat there, leaning and bending this way and that when told. By the end, he was able to fit his right hand back into his glove, albeit gingerly and as long as he took care not to move it too much.

In addition to the better dressing and a hefty bill, the doctor prescribed several medications, none of which Knuckles bothered to pick up. They never worked. I know what the best prescription is. Night had fallen and the clubs and bars were in full swing, thumping music pouring into the streets as the noisy, colorful people poured in.

Knuckles passed these by and headed down to BARBON'S BAR again. He couldn't explain why. Perhaps curiosity, wondering if Rouge would be there. Maybe she can tell me what happened yesterday, he reasoned to himself.

Sure enough, sitting at the bar, the white bat was ordering drinks and scanning the crowd, likely picking her mark for that night. He strolled in and took the seat next to her. "Hey there," she said, tapping the bar. The bartender set out a glass for Knuckles and poured him a whiskey.

"Hey," he mumbled behind his drink.

"Nice to see you again."

He turned to her. "You don't seem surprised by that."

She grinned and leaned close. "Once you've had a taste of this, you can't stop coming back."

His eyes widened and he sputtered the whiskey into the glass. Knuckles coughed hard and finally asked, "Wait, did we—?"

"Oh, no," she said, a chuckle in her voice. "No, you were too out of it. What would be the point? But you didn't have a ride. At least you weren't so gone that you forgot your address."

They sat and drank for a while. Knuckles nursed his third shot and swilled the whiskey in the glass, a mix of emotions ranging from embarrassed to frustrated. "Thanks for driving me home."

"And carrying you to your bed," she added. "You're pretty heavy for someone who can chase down a robot. That speed come with the training?" she nodded at his gloves. "Figure you're either a boxer or a trainer. Or do you just wear those for show?"

"A bit of both, I guess," he said, ordering another drink. "And what do you do?"

"Freelance. I acquire things that people want."

The way she let the statement hang was a clear bait for him to ask for clarification. Knuckles took a sip and bit. "What sort of things?"

She leaned over, her shoulder rubbing his and whispered in his ear. "Whatever they want." Her heavy perfume was intoxicating and sent Knuckles into a garden, full of exotic and unique species of plant life. Mixed with the alcohol, his mind was drifting away, losing itself in the lush green. "As long as the money is good."

"And what do you want?" She started, stunned for a moment and when she didn't answer, he repeated himself. "What do you want from me?"

She smiled, regaining her former flirtatious grin. "I figure you owe me after last night."

"I don't have much on me," he said.

Rouge chuckled and shook her head. "I'm not on the clock, Knucklehead. This is for me." Her hand snaked down to his thigh and squeezed it as her eyelids lowered suggestively. Knuckles set down his drink, entrapped in her gaze. She pressed her face into his, her lips inches from his own. "Let's take this back to your place and discuss recompense."

Against what better judgment that floated above his hazy mind, he agreed and they left the bar. Rouge unlocked her sleek, expensive violet sports car in the parking lot and they climbed in. "Hang on," she said, cranking it up. The car roared to life and then settled into a purr as she pulled out of the space and drove off to Knuckles' apartment.

"There!" Tails closed the hood of the car and polished off a spot of dirt. "All done." Sonic hopped off a pile of tires and examined the car, his smile growing wider and wider.

"Excellent work, bud." He slapped a roll of bills into Tails' hand, who tried to return the change. "For working so fast," Sonic said, closing the younger's fist.

"Just in time, too," Amy said, coming into the garage. She had left hours ago to find out where the next race would take place. "Mighty says it's happening at the Green Hills on the outskirts of town in a couple of hours." The hedgehogs climbed into the car.

"Could I come with you?" Tails asked, cleaning his gloves. "I'd love to see how fast you can go."

"Tails," Emerl shouted from his office, "those races are too dangerous for someone your age."

"He's right," Amy said.

With that, they left Tails behind, grumbling and pouting. "I'm not too young for them," he said to himself, throwing his towel onto the workbench. He counted the money, adding it mentally to their current funds. Despite Sonic's generous nature, Fang's damage was great and they were still short several expensive tools. Some of those would've helped fix Sonic's car, but with a little ingenuity, Tails fashioned makeshift tools out of others and worked around the situation.

But how long until that no longer sufficed? They needed tools, Emerl's condition continued to deteriorate, and the bills piled up. Tails put the money in the office and headed out to the backyard, hoping to clear his head in fresh air. Cream and Cheese were playing in the junkyard, creating a boat out of old doors and scrap. When she saw Tails, she opened up her craft and the bicycle wheel door fell off.

"All done?" she asked, letting Cheese take the captain's seat.

"Yeah," he said, sitting down on a toolbox seat.

"You don't sound happy. Is something wrong?"

He shrugged. "I wanted to go see the race at the Green Hills, but they wouldn't let me."

Cream kicked up her feet. "We could sneak out of here and go anyway."

Shaking his head, Tails sighed and stretched. "No, another customer might come in and Emerl needs my help. Although we'll need about a dozen more jobs."

"To replace the tools?" He nodded and she scooted closer. "You know, I do have a way."

"I'm not—"

She raised her hands. "Hear me out first. Charmy told me there's supposed to be a job going down soon. Maybe tonight. They need lookouts and the more there are, the better. They'll pay us all equally."

"Who's 'they'?"

"Don't know. Better not to ask."

Tails rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue. "Gee, something that shady has to be worth it."

"It's one of the better jobs, believe me. And the money is very generous." She picked up Cheese and tucked him under her cap. "You don't have to give me an answer now. Just think it over. I'll let you know when it's time, okay?" She climbed out of the boat and bundled her coat tighter. "See you later."

"See you." He watched her leave through the garage and gazed up at the late afternoon sky. A star twinkled directly overhead and he almost wished on it until he realized a couple of others were off to the side. He randomly chose one and wished for a windfall or lucky break for Emerl.

Perhaps this is the windfall, he thought, mulling Cream's offer around in his skull. This could be the help we need.

But throwing his lot in with criminals didn't feel right. He refused to believe it was the only way often, yet now, they were backed into a corner. It'd be a lot better without old Eggman here. Wish he would disappear for good. That was a day he looked forward to and dreamed of happening soon. He was sure he wasn't the only one and often wondered why nobody initiated dethroning Robotnik.

Then he remembered Fang's visit and how terrified Robotnik's henchmen alone were. The big boss himself—Tails' stomach flopped over thinking about standing up to him. Yet if he had a realistic chance of winning, he would do so. He felt empowered as he imagined kicked Robotnik out of Station Square and telling him to never come back.

When he dropped back into the shoddy boat, reality's greeting embrace frustrated him and he pushed it away. Tails climbed out of the boat, wanting something to distract himself. He dug into one of the piles of junk near the back, pulling out a rectangular metal box he had stored there. The large funnels sticking out of the box were scuffed and Tails frowned at their corrosion. As he rattled the box, very little liquid splashed inside. Need more gas.

Tails set the box on the ground, holding it with his knees. Should put some straps on this, too. He would search for those later. Right now, he flipped the switch on the side and an engine rumbled and immediately died in the box. Tails wasn't surprised and looked at the garage. Emerl would be busy for a while. So he opened the box and set to work tweaking the machinery in it.

"Seems like you were quite the fighter," Rouge said, admiring the newspaper clippings on Knuckles' wall. He acknowledged her from the chair with a tired hum, the last few regrets of the hangover scheduled in the morning resting until tomorrow. "You still box at all?"

He shook his head and lifted an empty beer bottle to his lips. "No," he said, tossing the bottle aside. Where's the painkillers?

"Too tired to fight anymore?" She was in front of him, rubbing his hand. "Or is no one brave enough to challenge you?" Carefully, Rouge slipped off one of his gloves and touched the bandages. "Been punching brick walls?"

"Wooden ones actually," he said. "Chased down the thieves from the bank last night."

"Yeah, I know. It's all over the news. Did you pop your bones out?" Her finger trailed to a spike tip. "No, not bone. Metal?" She chuckled. "No wonder no one would want to fight you then. These can be deadly."

"Brass knuckles," he murmured, his mind heavy.

She smirked and straddled him, running her hands up his arms. "So you fight dirty. I like that." When she breathed on his forehead, his brow furrowed.

"No, they're only for protection," he said lethargically, the alcohol detaching him from everything. "They did it to me."

" 'They'?"

"I wouldn't throw the fight," he said, tucking his chin into his chest. "Won't play ball with them. Won't throw a fight for anyone." He turned his hand back and forth, studying it. "They didn't like that. When they came after me, I fought back with my brass knuckles." He punched his fist.

"And?" she asked, her arms draped around his neck. When did his second glove come off? When did hers? He leaned into the soft hand caressing his cheek.

"And they welded the brass knuckles to my hand. Couldn't fight anymore. Hands too damaged. No one would fight me." He straightened his hand on her knee. "Got the middle ones cut off. The others are in too deep." He looked up at her and her normally sultry eyes had grown soft, sympathetic even.

After several quiet moments, she opened her mouth. "Sorry for bring it up."

"Not your fault," he said. "Not like I can forget." Where were the painkillers? He reached for his empty bottle again, the tingling pain in his hand rising. Again, he lobbed it to the ground.

"Try to," she said, pecking his nose. "Here, I'll help you." She kissed his slack jaw and he gripped her hips, pressing back against her. Sharp, passionate breathing burst from their nostrils like pistons pumping in an engine, lifting up, pushing down, up, down. The rest of the evening was lost in a pleasant, foggy whirlwind.

In the setting sun, the miles of open fields were painted fire red and orange. A strong breeze traveled amongst the grass and all the blades bowed beneath its might. On the highest hill of the dozens scattered to the land, Amy and Sonic marveled at the vast expanse, untouched save by the single, curving road to Station Square. The city's lights brightened as night fell and looked like a distant firefly calling everyone to its warm shine.

Amy sniffed in a deep waft of nature and sighed. "I love the outskirts."

"Don't care for the city?" he asked.

"No, I love it. But sometimes, it's nice to get away from all the noise." Behind them, a few of the racers checked their vehicles, slamming hoods and ruining the quiet atmosphere all around.

"Yeah, I get you," he said, bobbing his head. "It's like you want to run through the grass and roll down the hills. And with the sunset, it's so," he snapped his fingers, searching for the word.

"Romantic?" Amy asked, purring and leaning into him.

He grinned sheepishly and scratched his neck. "Uh, I g-guess. But it's also free. Like the day's done, but you're getting a glimpse of your adventure tomorrow where anything can happen. Unknown and familiar all at once." He studied the fields, his eyes thoughtful and mumbled, "Familiar."

She smiled thoughtfully and stared at the hills, trying to imagine that experience. "Must be nice. Having adventures like that."

"I'm sure you have plenty chasing down stories." He waved a hand at the cars. "Tons of excitement, too."

"Not the kind you have."

He turned to the fields, the sun already gone and the moon bathing the land in a celestial glow with its starry children. When he faced Amy again, his mouth opened slightly, as if he was about to say something. It shut, opened, and then he was cut off by Mighty. "Everybody to your vehicles!"

Sonic and Amy lingered for a moment and she caught the "I'll tell you later" notion in his eyes. Then he hopped into his car as Mighty explained the rules once again. "Remember, this is a clean, fair race."

Amy was thankful for the lack of deadly or poisonous hazards this time out. Just a straight race to the city limits. She was also happy that Mighty had chosen a spot far away from any populated areas. As the armadillo pointed out the cameras attached to the wasp robots above, she scanned the crowd. The Babylon Rogues had entered Storm, the gray albatross and largest of their members, and Jet, who threw nasty smirks at Sonic. Here and there, a higher-ranking gangster appeared, some paying attention to the race, others mingling with the crowd.

Mighty stepped off the road and the flag came down shortly after. Amy stood in front of one of the televisions set up, watching Sonic.

He started in the middle of the pack. As they tore down the first hill, Jet overtook everyone until he was in the lead. On the first bend, they entered a tunnel cut into a hill. Second place tried to pass Jet, but he slammed him into the side. The driver sailed into the smooth, curved wall, driving along the it for a moment. Then gravity set in and he crashed and skidded along the asphalt.

The others held back, afraid to challenge Jet. All except Sonic. He steered through the group, avoiding sideswipes and faking out those blocking him. Before he took second place from Storm, the bird pushed him into the grass. His car bumped along, kicking up dirt, but Sonic righted himself and pulled back onto the road.

Soon, he caught up to second place again. And again, Storm tried to bump him off to the left. Sonic braked as the car neared him and pulled to the right. As Storm jerked the wheel to the right, Sonic yanked his to the left. They smashed one another, split apart, smashed, split, smashed until Sonic braked. Storm veered to the very right. This time, Sonic slammed the driver in the left rear until his wheels went off the road.

With ease, Sonic took second and approached Jet. They entered a dark tunnel. Sonic tried sneaking by, but Jet cut him off and braked in front of him. Sonic turned to the side, heading up the wall a little. Jet's squawking laughter echoed in the tunnel as he shot forward. Sonic followed, firmly holding second.

In the middle of a long stretch, he sped up, catching Jet within seconds. But as he started to pass, Storm reappeared.

Amy watched Storm crash into Sonic harder, slowing him down. Jet slowed as well and sandwiched Sonic between him and the other car, damaging Sonic's side. No, you can't lose now! she thought. The Babylon Rogues batted Sonic back and forth like a tennis ball between them. The other cars were gaining ground, yet the Babylon Rogues didn't pay them any mind.

Sonic tried to speed up and stop, but they pinned his car on each side, the crunching metal winding up Amy's nerves. Get out of there!

Another tunnel was fast approaching. Jet gestured to Storm, who pulled back and eased over to Jet's opposite side. Together, they pushed Sonic to the left, aiming him directly at the edge of the tunnel's entrance. Smoke poured out of Son's engine and the car rattled violently. They kept pace with his speed and the other racers were almost on them.

He was going to crash. The race lost and possibly him, too. No! Amy wanted to tear her eyes off the television. Any moment, it would all end. "Sonic!"


Sword: *gasps* What will happen now? I must know!

You'll just have to find out next time. Hope all of you are enjoying this so far. Please leave a review or comment and let us know what you think. Thank you.

Sword: Let's burn some rubber and get started on the next one! *drives off* Onward!