I did it again! A case of writer's block made me ask for a challenge, and Jaygoose (neat-o writer! Give her love!) handed me this:

'First, it must include an appearance from Light Jak
'Jinx must be mentioned at least once
'Someone must be injured in a zoomer accident, but not killed of course
'Set after Jak 3
'And one more thing, someone must be celebrating a birthday

So with these guidelines in mind and my corniest title yet, I present to you:

Dying Embers

In the dusk feet scraped against the floor now and then, trying to break the monotony of silence. Sometimes when there was a rattle in a corner, a boot would stamp down. The smash was always followed by the pitter-patter of tiny feet tipped with claws as the lizrats fled back into their holes. But they always managed to bring another little bite of something with them, edible or not. Even if it wasn't edible, they tended to nip at it anyway. Maybe even dirty old blankets were fit to be eaten, in their view. Would explain how the critters stayed alive in this town.

Pale rays of unsteady light flashed through the planks covering the window, at an unsteady pace. Now and again, a low snore from the heap curled up by the far back wall disturbed the silence.

An angry prick of glowing red intensified with an intake of breath, then moved in an arc a moment before the air came out again and another cascade of smoke drifted into the room. It really did not change a thing. The smell of the tobacco had long since gotten stuck in the walls, a part of their lives. The other person by the table could not even remember when he could still feel the smell of it. He did not care, either.

The red glow returned to its previous position.

Neither of them said anything, for once quite content with their own thoughts.

The snoring continued.

Tonight, they would not work. Tonight was special.

Seconds trickled by, turning to minutes. They had spent the whole evening like this, and they intended to continue for a while. It was nothing that they had talked about. They just did it.

Every year.

They were used to listening to guns blazing, screams and crashes. But it had been silent for a while.

That was why the shriek, crash and explosion of orange light tearing through the cracks in the walls and barred window were surprising, for once. The red glow tipped upwards. Squinting eyes glistened in the flickering lamplight as the disturbance died down, almost as soon as it had come. Only a flickering yellow-red licked at the underside of the window's planks. The heap by the wall muttered something and turned over, only briefly touching consciousness.

The glow moved again, more sharply this time. A chair scraped against the floor, violating the unspoken rule of silence. Another pair of eyes followed the speck of light and the shadow behind it as the disrespectful one moved across the room, but there was no protest.

How to formulate a thing that they both knew by heart but never mentioned aloud?

The door creaked open and the carrier of the glow became fully visible, a painful picture drawn against the peaceful darkness. The flickering light, pale blue with that taint of yellow, invaded the room and unveiled the dust, dirt, lizrat droppings and worn "furniture" – all the things that had long since ceased to be important, but now seemed irritating again.

Wasn't he going to close the door?

A hand rose up towards the cigar while the head with the dirty blond hair tilted, but the motion froze halfway through. The other hand left the handle of the door, and boots clattered against the stair while cold night air flowed inside.

A curse, not too distant.

The other man growled and stood. He walked over to the heap on the floor and gave it a good kick. Another curse from another voice and the heap turned over, bloodshot eyes glaring up at the offender.

"Trouble."

The single word shattered the peace once and for all.

No protest, just a grunt and the one who had been sleeping got to his feet. The other man was already outside.

On the other side of the alley, at the fork of the "road", the sad remains of a zoomer. Green color fizzling away from the heat radiating from the scraps. Eco got hot, real hot – and then it cooled. No substance. A little to the right and behind the lost vehicle, one shape of a man sprawled out on the ground, one kneeling beside him.

The kneeling one held something, supporting a small shape slumped over his far bigger hand. A squeaky whisper, then the supporter dropped the little one onto the sprawled shape with a careless wave. The way he stood up, however, was not careless. While the small creature slumped over his friend's chest, his helper reached for his belt.

Clicking of a safety lock being released. The cigar hit the ground and the glow died, crushed beneath the tip of a boot.

He looked around as he heard the footsteps.

Mog stopped a little ways away from Jinx, the cold lamplight giving every last detail a gritty shine. Gaze on the blonde with the messy ponytail, then moving down to the sprawled shape. Another blonde, hair cut so short that the green base of it nearly took over completely. Body almost bulky but still somehow thin, as if the muscles had been glued straight onto the bone with very little filling for the empty spaces. Orange armor covering most of him. Eyes closed, dark blood coming out of a scratch on his cheek. Bony little animal collapsed across his chest.

Another look at Jinx. He stepped back, gesturing at the fizzling scrap heap. Mog took a step closer, did a double take.

Mog heard Grim's heavy steps coming up behind him, but he didn't bother about turning around. Squinting at the dull glow, he'd thought that maybe the eco had set some piece of wood on fire- no, that glow was too steady, too cold.

It came from a yellowish egg shaped crystal, lying half buried beneath the scrap.

Mog had his gun in his hand within a heartbeat, long neck twisting beneath the scarf as he turned his head back and forth, long ears beating at the night air. Grim moved only a little slower.

Just the fizzling.

They stood still, moving only their heads back and forth in the search for the faintest sound.

Eventually Jinx waved at the form on the ground, but never lowered his weapon.

Grim grunted something, but other than that he did not protest. Getting inside felt like too good an idea. The biggest of the trio put his gun away and bent down, pausing only to grab the little fuzzy one and hand him over to Jinx, who just held out his hand without looking. Mog stepped up closer to the house and led the way as Grim flung the big shape over his shoulder. They headed back towards and up the stair, Jinx walking last with all senses open for attackers.

Safely back inside Grim dropped his burden down beside the table, where the light was as good as it could get. While he propped the man up against the wall Jinx took one last peek outside before closing and barring the door.

One sigh of relief was allowed. Jinx put his gun away with some caution, but he knew that he could take it out in a moment if anything happened. He glanced over at Mog, who made himself useful with rummaging through the shelves on the wall – the only place the lizrats had not managed to infect.

Grim made a thumbs up as Jinx looked at him. Alive.

A snort. Of course the kid was alive. Wouldn't die if you killed him a good four times.

Oh yeah…

Jinx walked over and laid the "rat" down on the table, poking the fuzzy neck in the search of a pulse. Another squeak and the small body writhed in protest. He was alive too.

Mog set a grey, dirty box down on the table, then backed off. The three awake men exchanged glances in the dusk, sympathizing.

The duo was not wanted here, but now they were present and throwing them back out just because they were still breathing… not a bright idea. It could not lead to anything good. Grim backed away as Jinx opened the box and took out a small flask and a plastic bag filled with pieces of cotton. Grabbing a bit of soft white and with the bottle safely in hand the blonde crouched down beside their larger unwanted guest.

Jinx did not bother to be careful. A good drench on the cotton and the soaked fluff jabbed at the bleeding cut-

"Ow…!"

Blue eyes shot wide open and the head sluggishly jerked away as the alcohol burnt the wound. He snarled, blinking against the dusk as he tried to focus his eyes well enough to figure out where the heck he was.

Having this guy confused and half-blind in such a close proximity to your own person… no thanks.

"Fancy finding such a cute little blond thing just lying around on the street," Jinx said, waving the cotton a few inches from the surprised face. "Since when do you use zoomers and not your boomstick to kill metal heads, Jakkie-boy?"

Jak relaxed slightly as he recognized the voice, half-lidded eyes finally focusing properly. Groaning, he lifted a heavy hand and pressed it to his face. A wince, and he eased the pressure on the cut. Then suddenly his ears perked up and he sat straight in alarm, the last daze evaporating.

"Dax…!"

Heroes should not gasp in hoarse voices like that. Especially not badass heroes like Jak. Oh well.

Jinx waved again, in a vaguely calming manner. He stood up, put the flask on the table and grabbed the unconscious ottsel instead.

"Your rat's okay, just a little bummed out."

Big hands worn by months of holding a gun reached out and took Daxter from Jinx' less than gentle grip. There was a satisfying mumble from the fuzzy one as he was brought up to a cradle against Jak's chest, and the hero's tense look eased in a deep sigh. Heroes like him shouldn't be that gentle, either.

"Well ain't that just darn."

Jinx sat down again, holding the cotton between two grimy fingers.

"As sweet as bestiality is though, won't save you from infections. Not in this place," he added. "Would be a shame to see your pretty face all swollen and red."

He smirked as Jak gave him a glare. Thin lips above a goatee parted, but Jinx held up a hand.

"And we'd appreciate if you din't go sparkly on us. Fancy as it is, we kinda like this place in secrecy and any remaining fangirls might see the glow."

Metal heads… fangirls. How oddly appropriate.

Jak shook his head, recalling the question about the monster back on the street.

"Bloody thing jumped straight at me, thought they were all out by now…" he grumbled.

"Good ol' Haven. Great to know that our tax money still is used for the best protection in the world."

This comment raised a few low chuckles from Grim and Mog. Jak looked up, noticing the two other shadows for the first time. No sign of recognition was given, but they all knew they were on "idly noted and barely tolerated" terms. Nobody minded this setting.

"You gonna get infected or not?" Jinx asked.

Jak rolled his eyes and turned his wounded cheek to the criminal. Even as the harsh alcohol was rammed at his flaring wound, he remained silent. Eyebrows crept lower and lower until the process was over, but that was all.

"Anything else?"

Jak did not answer, merely turned his right arm over. Between the straps holding his gauntlet, the skin had been torn up against the ground. Small trickles of blood made it out, but mainly there was just an angry red tint from where the skin was scraped.

Carefully putting Daxter down on his lap the hero did short business with the buckles and freed his arm. Jinx was graceful enough to take a new piece of cotton for the new area. He must've been feeling generous.

It took a little while before Jak began to realize that something was wrong. While Jinx continued to work he remained silent, and his two partners-in-crime just stood there, casually leaning against the wall.

There were no quips being flung around, none of the insults and death threats that the trio tended to juggle between each other even if they were in the middle of a metal head attack. Looking back on the conversation, the warrior realized that the teasing words dripping from Jinx' lips had lacked the normal edge. He sounded tired.

While the details escaped Jak thanks to the poor illumination, he could tell that the cramped apartment hardly was the most uplifting place. But that didn't seem like something that would bother these guys. The sober atmosphere had to come from somewhere.

Jak decided that he didn't really care. They wouldn't tell him, he wouldn't ask, none of his business. The sooner he could get out, the happier everyone would be.

As soon as Jinx lifted the cotton from the light wound and got to his feet, Jak set the gauntlet back against the upper side of his arm and fastened the straps – ignoring the burn as rough leather pressed against the tender area. He attempted to stand, only swaying a little bit before regaining his balance.

"Thanks," he murmured, throwing a glance over the three shadows.

"Hey, no sweat. Your bosses'd have our heads if we just left ya to be found by criminals or something. Pretty-boys like you still sell 'round these parts."

Jinx grinned, but it was a weak one. No reply, either.

In silence Jak headed for the door, opened it and left, careful not to move Daxter around too much. With a soft bang the door closed again. The three men left in the apartment listened to the steps creaking down the stair.

Some ruffling, and a sharp scraping. A match flared up, the small flame flicking its light over Jinx' badly shaved face as he lit another cigar. Shake the flame around, and it went out. The glow of its tip intensified as it fell to the floor, then died beneath a heel.

Holding the cigar between two fingers Jinx squinted at the window as the steps walked off in the distance. The corner of his lips tilted upwards slightly as he watched the explosion of light flare up behind a not too distant rooftop. A moment later, a shining figure rose up on delicate wings above the ragged houses and soared off out of sight.

Jinx blew a long stream of smoke at the window and turned away. Mog and Grim seemed satisfied where they were, never moving.

Any other day they might start discussing just how Jakkie-boy managed to get those wings passed that snazzy armor of his, but tonight they didn't care. The silence settled again, as it should have been.

Smoke drifted through the air, ashes hitting the floor now and then. Only soft breathing, not even the snores remained. Time passed.

They didn't need any watches, body clocks tuned by necessity telling them when midnight came.

Jinx took the cigar from his lips and bent down, killing the glow with his boot but bringing the remains back up into his pocket for later use. Meanwhile, Mog reached for the shelves and grabbed four small glasses. Grim lifted a stone in the wall, picked something out and headed for the table. He set the item down as he waited for the others to finish, a half full bottle of whiskey.

Before Mog set the table, Jinx packed up the first aid kit he had used on Jak. Standing, the blonde grabbed the box and returned it to the shelf. When he came back, the other two men and the glasses were already waiting. He pulled out his chair and sat down again.

Not a word, not a sound apart from the soft clucking as Grim poured the golden liquid into each of the glasses, two for his friends, one for him, and one by the empty seat. Finally he refastened the cork and set the bottle down, the sound of the impact seeming eerily loud in the silence.

Jinx spared a glance at the window, eyes hardening slightly.

Jakkie-boy was a good guy and all. Great to tease, even better to have on your side. But this was the single night of the year when he was the last person Jinx wanted to see. He knew that his two partners fully agreed, but they needn't speak of it.

He shrugged it off and raised his glass. Mog and Grim did the same, all of them looking at the lonely drink without an owner.

"Happy birthday, boss."

The murmur was almost perfectly synched.

Now he might have been a big fat lard and never cared about them beyond their usefulness – something they could have outlived at any moment. But even criminals have their honor, and Krew had been their employer for years.

They drank up and sat their glasses down.

Silence.

The air began to tense, Mog's fingertips rapping against his leg.

Then Jinx suddenly stood, the chair falling over behind him by the force of his movement.

"You fucking bastard!"

The whiskey splattered against the table and over the floor as the glass was ripped from its place and flung through the dusk. It shattered against the wall, drops of the liquid glistening in the flicking light.

Nobody said anything, nobody moved. Heads bowed during it all.

Jinx lifted the chair back into standing and sat down again. He took out the cigar he had been smoking and relit it with another match.

Smoke drifted into the air.

Silence.