Just something on the side, a request story in progress whilst I continue on with Scars. Enjoy. Contains some bad language.

The Jackal's Den.

Chapter 1. Knock-out

The root beer just didn't taste the same here. It was ridiculous, he knew, but somehow the tap from which it flowed really did make a difference. It was the same brand, the same recipe, whatever. But the venue, and the guy filling his glass... it made a difference. Everything was different now. He was different.

Their whole lives were different.

He snorted into the froth on his glass as he picked up on the punch line to a badly told joke. It wasn't so much that he found it funny as the amusement he got from just how un-funny it was. And the dead pan stares the audience were giving the so-called comedian.

But he knew they weren't really here for the lighter entertainment. They were just watching, playing along out of some kind of perverse courtesy. Even the guy on the stage knew he was just the warm up act.

He sighed, lost for a moment as his thoughts drifted elsewhere. If things hadn't panned out the way they did he could be somewhere else, doing something worthwhile... Not sat here waiting for his number to come up. His two bros would be thinking the same if they didn't have their minds occupied. Or their eyes. Somehow they seemed to attract a lot more attention than he did, and he knew it wasn't for their masculine looks or boyish charm.

The big guy... well the muscles helped, definitely and yes he was polite compared to the foul-mouthed runt at his side. They were all probably wondering if he was... well-proportioned. As for his other bro... well, he was just all talk, but he had a lot of guts too that no doubt made an impact on some level.

I guess good looks count for nothing if your brooding. Probably best they keep away from me anyway.

It might also have something to do with the last few nights. His opponents hadn't even got a chance to bow out. And they probably never would again. He was top of the table now, at least until they asked him to square up against his older friend. Which they knew he wouldn't. They swore they never would, they were too close for that, they didn't want to ruin it. Each other was all they had now.

Now that they couldn't go home. Apparently saving a planet from an alien race hell-bent on destroying it counted for nothing these days. Not that he could really blame them, his comrades, for they had bigger troubles to deal with and they simply could not spare the manpower to get them back. They were low on ships, pilots, and fresh out of any other means of getting them there. And with Limburger booted right back to the cess pit he crawled out from... well there was no transporter either. They were stranded. And it was probably permanent. Communications between Earth and Mars had been down for over a year now, so for all they knew anyone who might miss them may even be dead, or captured, or just too darn busy to spare them a thought.

Probably the latter, knowing Carbine. General Carbine. Duty first, yes sir.

Even the city that they had for a long while called home was more or less out of bounds now. No, the mayor hadn't kicked them out (they had saved his ass too many times for that to ever happen), they weren't wanted by the police, in fact they weren't unwelcome at all. Even she had said there was always a space for them if they needed it.

She's too nice... but she knows it ain't ever going to happen. It's just not the same since he showed up.

Charley-girl. The lucky girl. As soon as that fat fish had been jettisoned from Chicago's sky-line for the last time she had finally been able to relax. All that work she had been stressing about finally got done. She got her house in order, her life in order. She was so happy to be free. It had been wonderful, really, but the time to enjoy it had been so short.

Just three months since their victory celebration she had herself a customer that she literally couldn't refuse. Wouldn't.

It's not like he was some sexy model, or a genius to rival her own brilliance. He was a pretty ordinary guy, who liked mechanics, dabbled in art, fascinated by science. He was her, but as a man, yet oh so much calmer. And so charming. He was everything his younger bro was not. Modest, thoughtful, kind. She had fallen for him so fast it made all their heads spin.

Six months since he knocked on her garage door and they were engaged. Two months later they were married.

Charley never was one for waiting around. Life's too short, she said, and she really did mean it.

Danny Tucker. If he wasn't so damn good for her, and if she wasn't so happy, they might have actually been angry about the whole thing. It wouldn't have taken much to make him disappear, but they really weren't so low as to even think it. Especially not since he asked all three to be his best men. Turns out he didn't keep a large possy of his own to fill the position.

The wedding had been a small, quiet affair, and the honeymoon had been at a mechanical engineering conference in New York. Figures. Afterwards Charley resumed her life, plus one. Two weeks later they had said their goodbyes. Chicago wasn't the same without the Earth woman battling by their side, and it didn't feel right just dropping around to her garage whenever they felt like. The scoreboard seemed strange too. They could see her everywhere they looked, and it hurt them. Especially him. Vinnie.

He pretends he's forgotten, put it all behind him, or whatever bullshit he comes up with. But we know he hasn't.

False bravado was their bro's newest show. It appeared to work for him too, for he was never short of ladies hanging off him. Fur was all the rage it seemed.

"Hey bro... room for one more?"

Modo was always considerate of his alone time, but it was rare for the big grey mouse to be turned away.

"Sure. Left Vinnie in the viper's nest I see?"

The bigger mouse chuckled. Their white-furred bro was practically drowning in oestrogen-fuelled glory right now, and they knew he loved it.

"He can handle it. You ready for tonight?"

Ready. Always ready. This was his only outlet for his energy now and he was primed.

"Uh-huh. Wonder what they got for us this time? I thought we had been through just about everyone in the county already... maybe even the state. Getting sick of being tossed the dregs. It's just too easy... for us."

"I hear you. Maybe we're going national."

National, right. This little black spot on the southern borders of Minnesota. It wasn't exactly on the tourist trail, and if you happened to come across it you were crazy to stop and check it out. It was miles from civilisation. It was just what they needed.

The bar wasn't so foreboding on the inside, and regulars were practically family. You just had to get past that first hurdle. The one where the bartender pulled out his sawn-off shotgun from behind the counter and shoved it in your face, and the five or six muscle men you didn't even see when you stepped in just happened to appear behind you blocking any means of escape.

They certainly had made an impression that day. Three six-foot-plus bikers made of nothing but muscle, fearless, and well trained. Those bouncers didn't even know what hit them. After that they had been given the nod, three root beers, and a set of keys to the guest rooms.

"You honestly think anyone's going to come to a place like this? It must have taken some persuasion to get the locals in the ring with us, let alone those further out of town."

Modo scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Brings in business. You heard Tom, since we arrived he's never had so much money pouring through his till."

He was right. The bouncers had had to claim overtime.

The man on the tiny stage had taken his final bow, and the crowd were cheering. They were finally going to get what they'd come for.

"You boys better get out back. We're going to have a riot otherwise."

Tom, the inn keeper as he was known, wasn't too impressed with the stand-up comic either. He motioned for the three mice that it was time, and they nodded. Somehow Vinnie managed to free himself from the pile of lusting ladies to join them.

"Having fun, Vincent?"

The white mouse blushed. "Hey, just cos you're jealous..."

Throttle gave him a playful slap across the nose, and strode forward through the swinging door into the passageway behind the bar.

There were several doors down here. One for the kitchen, one to the guest rooms. There was a door into the single restroom for patrons to use. And at the end was a door into the locker room. An odd thing for a bar to have, but then this was no ordinary bar.

The three mice quickly changed into their kit. They were quite capable of doing this in their biker clothing, but as they didn't have continuous access to a laundrette they opted for a t-shirt/sweat pants combo, and bare foot. Their clothing already had a few nights worth of dirt plastered into the fabric, but it didn't matter. This was the last match for a while, Tom wanted a break to do some refurb on the place now he had some cash floating around his back pocket. He had told them they could earn their board by helping him out. They had accepted.

It was just another night as far as they were concerned. Out back, about two hundred yards down a gravel path, was where the fun all happened. The trees and bushes provided some privacy from anyone entering the bar at the front, although they didn't exactly sound proof the place. The ring was a rough structure of wooden boards about twenty foot in diameter, and behind it were stools and benches and hay bales for the punters to sit or stand on to watch.

There was plenty of betting. Now they were well known most of the locals put their money on the three mice. The out-of-towners always seemed to think otherwise. Or they had done. Some of the more regular visitors had quickly changed their minds about the trio of strange-looking Chicago boys.

Old Jim Jackson was one such man. After Modo had wiped the floor with his main player, who was easily twice the mouse's weight, he had started putting all his dough on whichever of the three bikers was in the ring. He got plenty of payouts. He was practically their sponsor now.

"You boys going to give me a good show tonight? I'm counting on you. I hear Flash is coming to town with some new recruits, and you know how good he is at finding you good competition."

"He ain't that good. Last time Flash brought us fresh meat we served him up like a quarter pounder." The tan mouse gave a wry smile at the old man. It was common knowledge that Jim was a retired sheriff, and this simply earned the man more respect. No one dared to cross him, just in case in decided to revert to his old persona of law-man.

"Well, you never know. Embarrassment ain't a good thing to a man like Flash. Watch your backs kids."

He needn't have worried though. Vinnie was first up, and the first man Flash dumped into the ring with him was lucky to get away with just the few cracked ribs and busted nose he received. The second challenger took a while longer, but he soon bowed out with his hands cradling himself between his legs.

There were no rules to this, other than no weapons. All bare fists, teeth, nails, whatever. A few of the punters complained about their tails though, so to make it fair they almost never used them. Not that they really needed to.

Vinnie had had his fill and stepped back to let the grey mouse in. Modo was more than happy to be joined by two young red necks, two randoms drifting by who just happened to have got wind of the place. They put on a good show, too, and the mouse indulged them and the crowd for nearly half an hour.

He's too much of a softy. They're only kids and there's no way he would really harm them.

Throttle smiled as the two young men left the ring with little more than black eyes and bloodied knuckles. They even thanked his bro for not killing them. This wasn't unheard of, though, as practically anyone who came up against the giant muscle-clad mouse and lived to tell the tale were eternally grateful he had spared them.

Unlike me, he thought, where they run away and don't look back if I let them live.

"You're up bro. The main attraction."

"You say it like it's a good thing."

"Isn't it?"

Throttle shot his gentler friend a meaningful look. You really think I like to hurt them?

Flash had also saved his best talent for this match. Throttle stepped into the ring and leant back against the wooden boards, flexing his joints whilst he waited for his quarry. A minute later the man dropped down on the other side, and this time it looked at least like he might actually be a challenge. He was bigger than Modo, and more muscled. He also looked like he knew what he was doing. Brains behind the brawn. Dangerous.

Great. Last night's going to be a treat, for someone.

The fight went on and on. The mouse had finally met his match as far as cunning and tactics were concerned – and yes there were tactics. As for strength, the man was the clear winner, but Throttle's smaller size, heightened agility and balance (thanks to that tail) evened it out. Neither managed to get in too many blows, but the whole thing was mesmerising. Like a dance. Two muscled men navigating the arena like a bird weaving through trees, ducking, dodging, lunging, retreating, never connecting, never falling.

Eventually the outsider got in a real punch, and it nearly took his wind away. He hit the dirt, gasping for breath, and for a brief moment it looked like the man was going to jump on him. If he had it would have been the end. Throttle rolled away just as the heavyset fighter came crashing down where had lain, and took the heartbeat of a moment to smash his fist into the back of his neck. A pressure point. A weak point.

The man was out cold and the crowd were stunned. After watching the two of them play around at not hitting each other, in just a few seconds the fists had flown and the match was over. Throttle had won again.

"Nice job cus. Reckon we're in for a bonus for that performance."

Vinnie was patting his friend on the back, not at all noticing how much it pained him.

"For heaven's sake bro, can't you let him catch his breath first." Modo had seen the bluish tinge to the tan-mouse's gums as he tried in vain to rake in the sweat-laden air in the vicinity of the ring. "You alright Throttle? He clocked you pretty good back then. Thought it was all over."

"Me... too..." Throttle gasped.

"Way to go boys, you really done me proud."

"Both of us. Great show."

Tom and Jim were shaking their hands now, leading them away from the crowd and back to the locker room. They had to give the punters some space to argue over their winnings, so now was the best time for them to tend to themselves.

"You better get yourself cleaned up. Some people are going to want to talk to you boys." Jim was chattering on, smiling, patting them on the back. Very paternal. Or like a sports coach.

"What about, Jim? Tactics?" Vinnie was curious. No one ever wanted to talk about tactics.

"Ha, you're so funny, kid. They'll be waiting for you so don't take too long. I don't care how pretty you think you are..." He was looking at Vinnie, who grinned. That boy's got some ego, i'll give him that.

"Sure thing. Out back, or front?"

"They'll be wanting to get you boys drinks, you're thirsty right?"

"Hell yeah. See you out front in fifteen then." Modo gave him a nod and pushed open the locker room door. "Come on bros you heard the man. Better not keep our sponsors waiting."

The rest of the evening was filled with banter, and an endless supply of drink. These men that Jim had mentioned didn't spend the whole time asking them about fighting, which was good, nor did they ask them about their history, or what brought them to this worn-out shack of a bar in the first place. The whole time they just chatted, joked, and laughed, as if they had known them all their lives almost. And the drinks just kept on coming.

Tom knew better than to serve them anything other than root beer. It amused people that these three muscled bikers drunk nothing but, and no matter how hard they tried, offers of anything stronger were always, always turned down. Alcohol was not for them.

"If it's alright with you folks i'm calling it a night. Thanks for the refreshments, gents." Modo was yawning and stretching in his seat, before standing up to shake hands with the men and leave for his room. "I suggest you do the same, Vincent."

The white mouse giggled and lay his own head back on the table. "Nah bro... i'm good."

"I'll look after him. You go get some shut eye." Throttle glanced at the half-dazed figure prostrate on the little table, whose snout was resting in a sticky puddle of drying root beer.

"You sure bro..?" Modo dropped his voice to a whisper. "He's acting kinda weird."

Throttle nodded. It was probably just a sugar crash. Ten pints of root beer could easily do that to their smaller bro.

Fifteen minutes later Vinnie was staggering through the door behind the bar.

Great. What a good impression we are making. These guys aren't going to want to sponsor someone who gets drunk on fucking root beer.

"I'm sorry gents, seems my friends can't handle their soft drinks. Too much excitement for one night I guess."

The men were nodding sympathetically, but saying little. Either they were tired or...

Are they waiting for something?

"Uh, Jim mentioned something about you wanting to talk to us. I got the impression it wasn't just a social call. Business?"

"It can wait til morning, son. We just wanted to see you guys loosen up a bit." One of the men, dark haired, mid-fourties, slim built, finally spoke up in the now very quiet, very empty bar.

"Oh right. Sure thing. In that case, it's late and i'd better go get some rest too." And check Vinnie's not puking his guts out all over Tom's carpets. "See you in the morning then. Tom does an excellent breakfast."

They all nodded. Throttle stood up and left for the back passageway, and whilst he was eager to see if his younger bro was ok he couldn't help wondering. Who were those people anyway... are they staying here or elsewhere? It didn't matter, really, Tom didn't get that many overnight guests. His boarding facilities were limited, and they had booked out almost all the rooms between them. The breakfast was good though.

The sound of retching from behind the locked door to the rest room made the mouse change his mind. He didn't like the smell of vomit any more than most people, so he turned for the locker room, and its back door to the outside.

Oh man that mouse needs to learn when to just stop.

Throttle sniffed the air, which was thankfully much fresher than it had been a few hours earlier. Several hours earlier. It must have been nearly 3am now.

He hadn't even noticed if Tom had closed the bar or not. He normally kept it open late on match nights, but even this was pushing it for him. Those last few drinks had been served by unseen hands as far as he was aware, which may or may not have been the inn keeper's.

My head's pounding. Few minutes out here then bed I think.

Then he had the sudden urge to go check on his bike. He hadn't been out on her for a few days, and no doubt she would be missing the attention. Vinnie and Modo would tend to their own rides most mornings, but he preferred to take a stroll on his own two legs some days. It was a nice feeling, walking. He didn't do enough of it.

Tom had allowed them to stash their bikes in his own garage free of charge, though they all knew it was because they had fixed up his battered-looking truck when it wouldn't start one morning. And the next morning. It became a regular thing, really. Mutually beneficial, silent arrangement.

The garage was only a few hundred yards from the fight ring; the gravel path continued snaking through the vegetation to the little building, connecting to the main driveway which led out past the bar and onto the main road.

For some reason that path felt really long tonight. Must be tired. My legs don't seem to want to work.

It wasn't just his legs. Where he had been hit his back was throbbing, and his breathing felt short and pained. His head was aching, and his eyes refused to focus. It was getting harder and harder for him to see where he was going, and yet he knew the garage was just in front of him, somewhere.

He managed to press on, stumbling almost, until the path widened out and the garage came into view. He paused for breath.

Whoa... I must be way, way more tired than I thought.

After a few minutes he realised he was staring at the blurred form of what looked like a smallish, deep-coloured van parked up in front of the garage building.

Must be those men's truck, though Tom don't normally let visitors park back here.

He could just about make out the outlines of some figures moving around by the vehicle. He had no idea what they were doing, they looked like they were just hanging out, but something told him to wait where he was. Aside from feeling like he would pass out if he took another step, his instincts were warning him to stay put and not interrupt whatever was going on over there. Not in his present condition, anyway.

He watched for a while, swaying unsteadily on his jelly-like legs. There were two people hovering by the van. Then there was a noise, the sound of a heavy door, and his large-lobed ears detected the soft grunts he had come to associate with fighting, hard labour, or heavy lifting.

From the far side of the inn, where he knew there was a service door, came three more faceless figures, all cloaked by the shadows of the night. Between them it looked like they were carrying something large and heavy. And white.

It was very dark, but even so it was obvious to him now what it was they were doing, and it made his churning stomach jam up hard into his throat.

Holy shit. No!

But something was wrong, and it wasn't just what he had just seen. He tried to take a step but the whole world was turning on its side. He felt like he were trying to scale a wall, scrabbling unseeing with his hands and feet, until he realised that he wasn't. He was face-first, flat on the deck, dirt in his mouth, completely unable to even raise his head to breathe. His tail thrashed about behind him, trying to find something to hold onto to pull him to his feet, and coming up empty. It was no good. He couldn't raise himself. And his voice was muted by all the dry compost gagging his face.

As he lay there panting the soil, he could just about make out a change in the dim star-lit light ahead of him. The figures in the dark must have heard him cry out as he fell, and were slowly coming towards him. He choked, and desperately tried to right himself, but he was getting weaker by the second.

Throttle had the awful feeling the approaching men weren't about to dial 911.

"It's about time. Thought he would never drop. How much you give him anyway?"

"Enough to knock out a horse. This guy's tough."

"Sheesh, boss is going to be pissed. He wants them ready by Friday, not next June."

What the hell..? Oh man... this isn't good.

"Hear that little mouse man? You're skills have been specially requested."

There was laughter. He could feel his numbed body being lifted from the ground and into someone's arms. None of the men at the table had been big enough to carry him, so whoever this was must have been waiting with the van. He recognised the voices around him though, despite how fuzzy his head felt, so he had no doubt it was them, those men Jim had introduced.

"Dump this one and we'll go for the last. Going to need all hands on deck for that big brute."

"Gotcha. Sweet dreams, little mouse."

More laughs, and the door of the van slid shut blocking out all traces of the night air. Throttle groaned, they hadn't been too gentle putting him inside it. He felt himself drifting, now, succumbing to the sedatives his drinks had been laced with. They had been well disguised in the sickly sweetness of the beverage that they were famously fond of. Too famous, it seemed, and somewhere inside his dulled mind he knew that the root beer had tasted just that little bit sweeter tonight.

The drugs coursing through his system had taken complete control. The last thing he remembered as he lay on the cold metal interior of the van was a vague smell of vomit, and the tangy musk of the white-furred mouse lying unconscious beside him.