THREE MONTHS LATER
A flash forces his eyes temporarily closed as another car glides past in the opposing lane. Blurred light provides a momentary sweeping brightness, illuminating the vehicle's interior. Soft music plays from somewhere ahead; a hit from years past. Tape encircles his wrists, and ankles… and mouth.
He catches what hints of information come to his rattled senses.
The car bounces twice over potholes in the road. Through the window above him, the next street light momentarily grants a view of a deep forest.
"We've left the city."
He wants to see more of the car, but doesn't move lest he give away the fact he's conscious to anyone who might be watching.
Mind still hazy, drifting, he tries to remember the events that led him here. Somehow though, slipping half in and out of a dream, Jack finds his mind mired in a time years past…
The desert was dark, dry and cold. Camp Darling, the forward operating base in the region, lay quiet. Only those on watch were still awake at this extremely late/early hour. As per special orders, all lights were to be out in camp so as not to give the enemy a point to target with ordinance. Everyone was given night vision gear in order to navigate the nearly pitch black interior of the hastily put together fort. Unfortunately for Jack, the goggles they gave him were about three sizes too big.
He'd fucked up… or at least that's what they told him. Defying an order while at the same time saving half your unit seemed to him like it should somehow cancel out the need for discipline. Really, it boiled down to the fact that the CO didn't like that a rabbit was under his command, and Jack showing up the imperious lions precious Elephantry was just the cherry on top.
That's how he'd found himself on watch at two in the morning. Even worse - no, worse by far, was that he was going to be spending it sitting with the camp's resident pariah, Marco Savage.
To be clear, Jack had nothing specifically against Marco... other then, of course, that everyone else seemed to harbor a strong dislike for the odd tiger. Spending time in his presence was guaranteed to earn the disdain of half his peers and their respect had been hard won.
Jack never really understood why Marco was so hated to begin with. He supposed it had something to do with his being gay, which wasn't a big deal really. If the stats were true, as many as one in ten members of the forces were. Jack certainly was.
The problem with Marco was that he flaunted it; put it out in the open for everyone to see. There was an unspoken rule in camp, 'gay is ok', just don't look it, or sound it, or talk about it; simple.
Problem number two was that Marco didn't look like a tiger should look. He might as well have been a very tall, muscular cheetah. By general tiger standards he was an absolute waif. His body represented the penultimate display of masculinity and power - hell, the units crest had stripes emblazoned all across it. Marco though... if he was born with a pair of tits, changing nothing else, he could have been a feline super model. Round hips, dainty bone structure, delicate, soft facial features. Even the way he walked, swaying his tail around camp like a cheerleader at a prep rally. He drew stares from everyone. Some resented it, some felt threatened by it and Jack was just disturbed at how much time he apparently spent thinking about it. For months he'd avoided the tiger like the plague and now they would be spending three hours a night together sitting in an uncomfortable little box in the dark.
"Well Tiger, you've been pretty quiet so far."
"Please don't call me that. Just Clover or Jack… and I'm a bunny. Note the ears."
"Ahaa. It's all makes sense now. You actually think you're a bunny. Well good for you my darling, you wanna be a bunny, be a bunny I say."
"I am-" Jack let out a disgusted sigh and closed his mouth.
"So I have a question." Marco had a slight accent. It made him sound slightly more refined then Jack was used to. He also had a barely noticeable lisp that became most pronounced on his S's and P's. For a tiger his voice was high pitched, still it had a silky smooth quality to it, as well as an ever present playfulness and enthusiasm. "How is it that the golden boy himself, the Jack of Clovers, the Lucky Lapin if you will... ends up here on the graveyard shift alongside an 'undesirable' such as yours truly."
Jack said nothing in return. It was a topic he didn't want to get into and maybe if he pretended Marco didn't exist he'd get the hint and just leave him alone.
After a moment the tiger leaned forward so that his muzzle was hovering just above Jack's ears, "What's wrong Tiger? Cat got your tongue?"
Jack had to restrain his anger as well as a sudden and all together different kind of feeling that ran shuddering up his spine. Keeping his voice low he scolded, "Listen, I don't want to be here. I would appreciate it if we could get through this with as little talking as possible."
"Ohh, the claws come out. Your bunny act needs some work I think."
Jack struggled to remain quiet, "Please stop talking to me."
Marco let loose a low purring laugh, "Yes sir. Although I get the feeling you're not usually up at this time of the night. Try not to fall asleep on me now."
Jack scoffed, "Trust me, I'll be fine."
"Copy that. You know, I've always loved the silence. Staring out into the moonlit dunes. It's all kind of romantic," The tiger lowered his voice, "especially now that you're here to share it with me."
Jack took a deep breath, preparing a response but realized that the only way to end the conversation was to give Marco the last word. Closing his mouth he breathed out his frustration, making a conscious choice not to break the pause that had finally descended.
Minutes later he noticed due to the dark, the quiet, and his bunny brains' need to grab hold of some kind of stimulus, that ever so lightly, deep and low in his throat, Marco was purring. At first it was all but undetectable. But, as the first hour past, the purr was his sole focus, it enveloped him; not unpleasantly.
Two hours in and Jack was falling asleep standing. His mind, which had all but gone into full rebellion, was fighting him for sleep. The only thing keeping him awake was the cold, which was far more intense then he had expected; it crept into his bones and left him shivering.
Near the end, in a moment of greatest weakness, giving into a terrible idea his mind had been throwing at him for nearly an hour, Jack turned and sat on the bench next to Marco, close enough they were nearly touching. The tiger said nothing, but his eyes reflected tiny glints of moonlight in the dark.
"...he's warm." Was Jack's last thought before he was fast asleep.
Darkness envelops the car. Awakening, dizzy, still bound, Jack feels the vehicle turn, then accelerate slightly; tires crunch over what sounds to be a gravel road. He has no bearings. They could be anywhere. And now, without passing car or overhead light, his world is black.
Another mammal is breathing somewhere behind him. If his hearing is to be trusted, it is a much larger mammal than a rabbit. It's hard to concentrate. The difference between reality and imagination is razor thin as his still drugged, sensory deprived mind seeks for information. Finally, his subconscious again takes the wheel.
That first morning, Jack had awoken tucked into his bed, leg guards removed but otherwise still fully dressed.
He'd fallen asleep on watch...
That was a big deal. Just as bad in many ways as the shit he was already in trouble for - his 'creative' interpretation of his superiors orders.
Marco had obviously carried him to bed. He vaguely remembered being cradled.
They hadn't spoken a word about it even after several weeks. Jack felt ashamed. He felt bad enough that the next night he quietly chatted with Marco for almost three hours; a difficult task seeing as they seemed to have nothing in common.
As long as they talked though, Jack hadn't again fallen asleep. So, now, out of necessity, they spoke every night and Jack admittedly found it pleasant enough. It might even be said that he was getting to know the eccentric tiger.
Then there was the other thing, the thing that had drawn him to fall asleep against the massive predator on the first night - that pulled his eyes towards him as he went about his tasks during the day - the guilty thoughts that came in the late hours when he was alone in his bed. It was a feeling over which he seemingly had no control; an electricity shock wanting to arc. It was...
It terrified Jack. He found himself wishing the cease fire would end, that he could get back to fighting the war, while the other half of him, tremulously, impatiently, awaited the night.
"Now, my handsome Buck. I have a surprise for you as well as a question of paramount importance."
Marco let loose a near constant stream of overly familiar terms of endearment: my sweetheart, bunny-love, dearest and darling, to name a few. Jack would always scowl at him when he did it. This was mainly to hide the way it made his stomach flutter. Nonetheless, by now the affectionate nicknames were pretty much par the course.
"This should be good."
"Oh, it is! Tell me, have you ever played… Dungeons and Dragons?"
Jack could only shake his head, "Nope. No. After hearing you talk about your favorite cartoon, Ninja Narbooboo or whatever, I thought you couldn't sink any lower."
"You are dreadfully unaware of what you're missing my dear. D&D is little more than a name. It's just us here. No paper or pencils. No books or dice. This will be collaborative storytelling. Before there was writing there was oral history. Before there was drama there was a game of stories, told around a fire. This is that, the oldest game." Marco purred and whispered at Jack as he liked to do when he intended to tease him, "Well… maybe not the oldest game. But we can't play that, not here at least."
"Would you please stop." Jack said it, but it didn't stop his tail from vibrating furiously, "I'm not playing this game Marco."
"You-so-are. What will you be I wonder? A wizard - no. A warrior? Too obvious. A barbarian? Yes, wild and untamed, mastered by no mammal. And since you so adamantly identify as a lagomorph… Clovis… bunny barbarian. Legendary lover, scourge of ancient evil, traveler of the wastes and deep places of the world. Oh yes, dear heart, let me weave you a tale."
Marco took on a solemn and intense voice mixed with a fairly bad attempt at shrewpearean English. "In a time of misery and death… before the great pact… before the iron sword. The world was a place of dark magic, demons and mystery-"
Jack put his palms over his eyes and groaned, resting his head on the metal frame of the watchtower. If his back wasn't to Marco though, the tiger would have seen a smile tugging at the edges of the bunny's mouth.
Smoke churned around the vehicles. The air was choked with phosphor and blood.
Unexpectedly, huge paws reached out and lifted Jack into the air. He'd been shivering uncontrollably. The desert cold had become too much.
Before he could protest, Marco pulled him into his lap, wrapping him in an embrace. Jack would have tried to escape if not for the incredible warmth, the overwhelming predatorial smell that made his heart beat a delicious frenzied rhythm, and the losing battle going on in his heart. He wanted this so badly.
It took about a minute, locked in indecision for his resolve to finally shatter. The battle lost, his lust spiking as it would periodically in the tiger's presence. Jack slowly slid himself back and down along Marco's thighs until he was pushing himself into the tigers groin. Jack didn't know what to expect, certainly not this massive hardness. They shuttered together, both nearly cumming in that moment from the sheer realization of a long-shared aching desire. Emboldened, Jack ground his firm buttocks along Marcos length. With a growl the tiger curled his body forward and around the rabbit in his lap. Lifting Jacks chin, they kissed.
Jack stumbled out into the sandy, rubble strewn road and immediately fell hard onto his side. Something was wrong with his leg. Distant pain, like the soft ringing in his ears, buzzed all around him. Crawling forward on his arms, he left two trails of blood in his wake.
Jack lost a bet… on purpose actually.
For three days the rabbit had subsisted on nothing but supplements, water and several large mouthfuls of tiger semen; morning and night.
Jack found it almost disturbing the level of impatient, shivering anticipation he felt as Marco slowly undid his belt and unzipped his pants. He latched his mouth over his husband's massive cock like a mammal dying of thirst drinks from a canteen.
As per the rules, Jack was restricted from any kind of sexual release so long as the bet was in play. After so long without gratification, a powerful shuddering overtook his body as, after his usual ministrations, Marco's intimately familiar salty spray struck the back of his throat. Jack felt his legs giving out as he simultaneously came, still flaccid, and dribbling across the kitchen floor.
Unexpectedly dizzy, Jack immediately fainted, banging the back of his head on the linoleum. A half minute later a frantic and tearful Marco declared that the bet was off forever. Tiger semen was apparently not as protein rich or conducive to bunny health as one might expect.
The shredded vehicle before Jack was wreathed in smoke. He tugged at the twisted door in vain screaming out his husband's name. Pain erupted deep inside him and Jack nearly fainted as his vision wavered and flashed. Finally, with a shaking whole-body effort, he wrenched the door open as it half swung, half fell to the side. In the driver's seat sat Marco.
It was Christmas morning. Jack, under strict instructions, had left all the lights off except those of the Christmas tree. Outside it was cold and snowing lightly. Inside the apartment, Jack was comfortably nestled into the couch, wrapped in a blanket with his coffee; still blurry eyed.
After a minute, the sound of soft jingling was preceded by Marco who appeared from inside the kitchen where he had been 'getting ready'.
Jack couldn't help but ogle. His kitty appeared in the doorway in all his sleek feline glory wearing nothing but bells which were snapped around his neck, ankles, wrists and the base of his tail. His whole body was wrapped in multiple strands of tiny, multi-colored, battery-powered Christmas lights. Blooms of color stood out vibrantly across his white fur.
Dancing across the room, hips swaying fluidly Marco asked in his usual demure drawl? "So babe, do you like it?"
Jack could only nod emphatically.
"Good, because for the first gift of Christmas I would like you to present you with… me! All day, in any way your perverse little heart might desire. Don't ask, my love because today, this body belongs to you."
Luckily for Jack he was able to catch most of the coffee that dribbled down his chin.
Marco then bent over provocatively, curling and flipping his tail into the air, leaving nothing to the imagination, and pulled a huge box out from under the tree. After he placed it down on the couch Jack saw that it was fill to the top with a literal pile of immaculately wrapped little gifts; probably over a hundred or so. They didn't look expensive exactly but... a warm realization hit him as he sifted through the various brightly packaged shapes. These gifts constituted an entire year of Marco's careful shopping. It brought home in that moment a simple truth; Marco was always thinking of him. Everywhere he went he carried with him the thought, "Jack would like this." or "I have to get this for Jack!"
It was a bi-weekly thing already that Marco would bring him home some little thing; even something as small as an interesting rock or a 50 cent trinket. It was just one of the ways his tiger expressed his love. And Marco did love Jack, as hard as Jack first found it to believe.
Despite his best efforts, lips tight, a tear eventually escaped with a sniff and ran down his cheek. Seconds later he found himself being lifted, coffee cup extracted from his paw. Then his world was all white fur stained with colored light and a deep rumbling purr, kisses raining down on the top of his head, "Oh you sappy bunny. Don't cry love. Let me make it better." Their lips met moments later and the morning of that Christmas was used up with Jack taking full advantage of his and Marco's many gifts.
Marco's intestines were unspooled over the carnage that remained of his legs. Little was recognizable below the waist except for his standard issue boots which still held both feet. His chest was a shredded pulp. Sticky matted blood bubbled as the last of his breath escaped his punctured lungs.
Above the smoke, his head rested back, untouched by blood and haloed in light that was streaming through the dust caked windshield. For one fleeting moment his mouth twitched and shifted almost imperceptibly, one eye rotating and meeting with Jacks. Marco's expression was entreating, maybe pleading, maybe accepting… maybe… but then it was gone.
An instant and the light faded, muscles going slack.
Marco was dead.
Jack had seen death before hundreds of times. Many of those were at his own hands. Most though the scope of his sniper rifle, some others as close and personal as his own knife. Never had any of those grim moments touched him all that deeply. He defeated an enemy, which was right. He protected himself and his unit; again, as it should be. Sometimes mistakes were made, but people die in war, regrettable perhaps, but something that had to be accepted to move forward. Sometimes you would be asked to do things you hate. And again, there is honor in bearing the burdens other cannot.
Standing in the hot sun, seeing the ruin of his beautiful love, his own life blood dribbling into the sand, Jack was forced to see for the first time with the true cost of war. Marco would never bring again to the world any of the wonderful things he did. The wellspring of his laughter, his kindness and his fierce, uncompromising friendship - and his capacity for joy and his enduring and unconditional love; his brilliance, had run dry forever. The oasis that Jack had called his home was again a desert. And the terrible cost. The terrible fucking cost of all those lives and all the good he had ever known - and a sound was bubbling up from inside him - because Jack was beyond sadness and beyond grief and he found himself confronted finally, finally, by the Horror. As a prey animal might have in the ancient past, surrounded in a dark forest, teeth tearing into flesh, or as a mother finding her baby smothered in its crib; it was in this way that Jack screamed.
Jack is awoken by a blast of cold water. Confused and still deep in his dream/ memory he lets loose a sob as he writhes, still bound by tape. Another jet of water hits his face this time followed by a bout of cruel laughter. "You awake now rabbit? Didn't mean to interrupt your nap time."
A third shot of water, from what is likely a garden hose, has Jack sputtering and for the first time this night, entirely aware.
"Masters want to see you."
The mammal (Jack sees that she is in fact a vaguely familiar wolf in a black dress, wearing some kind of spiky fetish collar), grabs him by his good leg and drags him across a gravel driveway towards a large industrial doorway.
"I'm still in the forest. Stars are too bright for the city. Moon is at the apex. Warehouse is one hundred meters wide, ten meters tall. What time did she grab me?"
Jack can't finish the thought because he is pulled bodily through the door and into a stark, brightly lit interior. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust during which his captor hoists him up and dumps him into a too-large metal chair. An ear piercing screech echoing throughout the warehouse as the chair is dragged over the concrete floor and then spun.
As Jack finally gets a chance to focus, his breath catches in his throat, sitting a few feet across from him is Nick. His fox is tied securely to a chair, gagged with two black eyes and a bloody nose.
"Oh thank God Nicky! I looked for you everywhere! Me and Ju-"
The look Nick is giving him is trying desperately to say many things and with a snap of realization Jack shuts his mouth and follows Nick's eyes.
Towering just behind him is Pavel and Andre. The two bears ware incredibly ugly smiles.
"Well, look what we have found. Nicholas's little bunny is not who he pretends. From what we hear you are the reason for all our recent troubles." Pushing his claws hard into the sides of Jack's head Andre lifts him out of the chair until they are at eye level. The flesh around his face being skewered, Jack grits his teeth, fighting not to scream.
"Pasha thinks we should pull your arms off like Christmas cracker. Afterwards, while you die, we take turns fucking your fox until all his bones are broken. I like this plan. Only thing I would like better is for you to get us back our weapons."
From behind him Pavel adds in an accent made thicker by barely controlled rage, "Eand our money. Tventy million."
Andre nods sagely, eyes full of malice, "That as well. So, what do you think? Do you do this for us, or do we do other thing?"
For Jack, blood trickling out of ten small wounds, the pain is beyond excruciating and he is only able to croak out a desperate, "I'll do it!"
Unceremoniously Andre drops him to the floor, "Excellent! Then all is well. We will be keeping your fox of course. You will be dropping off everything at a place of our choosing in one week."
The bear turns to the she-wolf who is standing by attentively.
"Good-girl, take him back to the city. Give him a phone. Be back before morning and you will get a special reward."
As if anticipating some unimaginable gift, the wolf nods frantically, shivering with unbridled joy and devotion.
Andre turns away grumbling, "Go then. Good luck little bunny. Get us what you owe."
An instant later Jack is being dragged again by the wolf, who all but runs with him back across the warehouse. He tries to catch Nick's eyes one last time but fails. Then, door banging open, he's flying through the air and rolling hard into the unforgiving gravel.
Jack ends up on his back, noticing in the corner of his vision the wolf uncapping a tranquilizer dart. In the last seconds before unconsciousness is again forced upon him, Jack stares hard into the night sky, at the position of the moon, willing an image of the stars to be burned into his memory.