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>>the cards — chapter three: the odds::

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>>THE CARDS — CHAPTER THREE: THE ODDS::

Ringshadow

Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.

Author's Note: Third in a series after Gambling Addictions. Ignorant One continues to be my muse and editor, without him I'd have some erroneous grammar errors and less amusing original characters. Huzzah for Ignorant One.

 

For Wolf, the return to the rim station was depressing.

It took little discussion with Leon to decide the two stealth rigs would be stored, until they decided what to do with them. Neither of them was fond of their impromptu escape craft, which apparently sacrificed everything including maneuverability for speed. The planes were clearly meant for darting in, looking around, and darting out. Spy craft, nothing more, and borderline useless to combat pilots.

The station itself seemed to have survived the war without a scratch, oblivious on the fringe, which had moved on with life as if nothing had happened. Well, it was on the news on all the televisions that were running, of course, but few people seemed to be discussing it. Most people who roamed the fringe were merely concerned with the safety of the trade routes that passed through Lylat, and since the war was over, that concern seemed lifted.

The first few days were menial, skull-drudging boredom, which was exactly what Wolf needed. It allowed him to shut off his brain and proceed forward, and not think of the man he'd gotten killed.

Leon, to his credit, seemed to realize that Wolf needed some time to come back to full combat potential, and let him be mostly for those few days, beyond what planning they were doing. They'd agreed to stick together, cover each other, and stay on the fringe for now. There had to be work out here, though they weren't sure how to go about finding it. Of course, the first problem was getting new craft, and Corneria was making it hard to buy attack planes.

It was the forth or fifth day on the station (Wolf wasn't sure which) when the ground was yanked out from under both of them, and reality shifted two steps to the left. At least, that's how Wolf saw it in retrospect.

Against the lupine's better judgment, they'd met up in the Midnight Velvet, both in casual clothes. Leon liked talking in bars, even if they were just talking business; he said booze got ideas flowing. Wolf agreed they could both use some decent ones, and were sitting at a table in the shadows of the club with their favorite beers when Leon had the first one.

"We sell the stealth rigs back to Andrew." Leon leaned forward on the table, tail up and waving behind him.

"Andrew actually survived? Well I'll be dipped in shit and tossed to the maggots. And he has money?" Wolf lifted an eyebrow, downing the rest of his first beer. "Now isn't that downright convenient."

"Gets better, I dropped him a line and he's interested in buying… the… planes?" Leon slowly trailed out, eyes lifting to look over Wolf.

Wolf, meanwhile, had noticed a subtle shift in the volume of the club, and could feel the presence of someone behind him. In the crowded club, he almost wrote it off, but Leon's expression made him decide against it. Then his chair jolted as someone leaned on the back of it, and a hand he knew settled on his shoulder.

"Sounds like a good plan to me."

Wolf slowly turned his head, and blinked. He knew that voice, but the eyes staring at him with humor were amber, and the streak of color between the reddish vulpine ears was burnt umber, not blonde. "Old man?" He finally asked. The lupine's voice was blank and he knew it.

"Hey, kid. I've been looking for you."

Wolf reached out and caught the newcomer's shirt, hauling him around and dumping him into one of empty chairs at the table. "Sit, I'm buying you a beer."

"I thought you'd never offer." James grinned at him, fixing his attire. He was in black boot-cut jeans, a t-shirt displaying a cult movie Wolf had never heard of let alone seen, and a black duster. The vulpine's eyes had changed color, his fur was dyed, but that grin was the same. No new scars, nothing. He was, all in all, unchanged. "If you really want to get on my good side, you'll buy me a burger too, I haven't eaten all damn day."

"Broke, old man?" Wolf wove over a waitress, eyes focused on the older pilot, refusing to leave him for fear he'd disappear like a phantom. Leon had sat back and was staring silently, assessing the situation

"Shit. This station's been one of my bolt holes for the better part of twenty years, but I never bothered storing cash here. Never thought my reason to be bolt would be my own untimely death. My accounts automatically went to my son, so yeah, I am broke as BlackSky."

Wolf winced. "You heard?"

"I follow things. Even when I am presumed dead. I'm sorry, for what it's worth, but I understand why they've closed their doors for the time being. They're trying to recover."

Wolf grabbed two bottles of a miscellaneous brew from the startled waitress, slamming one down in front of James. "Damn straight. BlackSky lost the greater majority of their pilots during that damn mess; either they're dead, wounded or just plain missing. They're happy I'm alive, but they're focused on putting things back in order. Needless to say, they have no work to offer and probably won't for a while."

"So go independent."

"That what you did?"

"Sheeeit. I was never air force. I've always been a 'mercenary in the employ of the Cornerian Military.'" James opened his beer, then looked at Leon, who looked back at the vulpine while lifting one hairless brow. "I recognize you. You were who was waiting for Wolf at that cruiser, back before the war."

"Good memory." Leon replied. "How'd you survive?"

"Sheer dumbass luck. Want the story?"

"Yes. I thought I got you killed." Wolf made his voice not shake on that sentence.

James sat back, tilting his head back and lulling it along with the music. "Well, you were both present when they escorted me off to the brig."

"Yeah. How did Andross know you, from before?"

"I used to work for the bastard."

"No shit?!" Leon leaned back, looking entertained. "How long ago was this?"

"Before you were born."

"You aren't that old." Wolf heard himself say.

James pointed at him without looking. "My son, who isn't even nineteen yet, knocked you out of the sky twice, though from his battered look at that televised awards ceremony you dealt some back equally. And you say I'm not that old?"

Leon snickered. The waitress reappeared, having apparently confirmed the Goth club did serve food, putting down a platter with a steak burger in front of James, then a basket of fries. James straightened up and grabbed the burger, nearly forgetting to swallow on the first bite.

"Don't choke, man, I'll cover the tab. Don't need you wasting away." Wolf snorted and helped himself to a fry, having managed not to react to the comment about Fox. "Ok, so you're old. Continue."

James reached over and slugged him one in the lupine's closest shoulder. Leon decided he approved of James. "Well, to be honest, I faked the guards into a false sense of security. I was the mellowest prisoner they'd ever seen. So when the attack started and someone decided to speed execute me, they cuffed me in front, not behind."

Leon snorted. "Fools."

He snorted, talking around bites, but never with his mouth full. "Yeah, and a distraction arrived just in time. Guess my old team strafed the cruiser I was on, guards were startled, then more so when I started moving. Had to kill the one, other one was nice enough to show me to my still-functional arwing. I got away in the confusion, headed for the fringe not long after that. Just wanted to lie low a few days, then I find out I've been reported dead. Decided screw it, and here I am."

"If you called your kid, he'd be here to bail you out in hours." Wolf heard himself say. "Why change your appearance? Why stay dead?"

James shrugged. "… It felt right." He snarfed the last of the burger and sat back, taking a swig of his beer and looking incredibly satisfied with life. "And my kid, he'll be fine. Besides, I have a deal to cut with you two that would be mutually beneficial." As he said this, one of his legs moved under the table, and Wolf managed not to jump when he felt a foot lace over his in an extremely possessive way. The motion, combined with a small sneaky grin, said it all. You're still mine, kid.

"You have a deal to cut with us?" Leon said finally, swirling his beer without really knowing it and eyeing the older man. "I'm intrigued."

"Seems to me you're having problems deciding a direction, and judging by your reaction to my suggestion, wouldn't even know where to start on the concept of being independent mercenaries. You've got craft, though it sounds like you aren't fond of them."

Wolf helped himself to a handful of fries, nerves already totally ragged from the feeling of James' foot against his. Good lord, for an old man he moved fast. "No kidding. Damn things are useless for what we're good at. Leon and I are combat pilots, not spies."

"I got a hold of one of our former cohorts, Andrew." Leon inserted, finishing his drink and waving down the same poor waitress for another. She was bright enough to bring a round and take off before they could ask for something else. "He's apparently up to something, though I give a shit less what, and is very interested in buying the planes back. The thing is, they're prototypes, so I have no idea what the hell we should sell them for."

"Which one's Andrew?" James wanted to know.

"The younger whiney one." Wolf explained.

"Ah yes, the one I managed to force on the retreat."

"Right." He turned back to Leon. "Has he got access to whoever sold us the Wolfens?"

"Maybe, why?"

"We do a direct trade-up, our stealth prototypes for two new Wolfens. We give him the proverbial keys once he delivers our new planes. I don't trust him, so I don't want to give him a chance to double-cross us."

"So the problem of craft is probably solved." James finished his drink. "Leaving you with the question of how to operate on the fringe."

"Why would we want to do that?" Leon asked. "Business is better in Lylat."

"Business is fucked UP in Lylat, or did you not hear us just talking about BlackSky?" Wolf wanted to know. "And there, I imagine we're war criminals."

"Either way, you've got no idea how to work independently." James set the empty bottle down. "I know about you Wolf, I'd heard of you before the war. Great contractor, decent academy record, but you were never independent. I had to look you up, Powalski, and you were indie but never for space combat."

"How the fuck do you know my last name?" Leon wanted to know.

"I read your badge in passing when I was escorted to the brig, and looked you up once I got here. I make a point of remembering names that could come up later."

"But who told you about me?"

James smirked. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"Asshole." Leon flicked his tongue out at him, and blinked. The vulpine was practically a fog of pheromones, shocking through Leon's nerves, intriguing him.

"Yes, but I've got two decades of experience more then either of you. Bringing me to the deal I'd like to make with you."

"Alright, old man, I admit it. I'm curious." Wolf grudgingly admitted.

"I'll get you guys on the right track to being independent mercenaries of good reputation. I'll help you find work, I'll give you advice, and I'll find you whoever and whatever you need to get started. Clients, mechanics that are worth the money you pay them, munitions." James scratched his chin idly. "All goes well, maybe dabble in some real estate for a base of operations."

"And in return?"

"I need a loan. I'll pay it back in full in three months, six at most, with decent vig."

Leon lifted an eyebrow. "Dealt with loan sharks old man?"

"I don't know you well enough for pet names." James informed him. "Just call me 'J'. And I have spent my life in debt with a long list of people."

"How much money are we talking about?" Wolf wanted to know.

James took a pen out of his pocket, wrote a number on a coaster, and shoved it across to him silently.

Wolf read it and whistled. "That is a decent chunk of change, babe."

"Babe?" Leon wondered out loud, and was ignored.

"You don't cut me that until I get you guys working. Until then, I just need room and board."

Leon and Wolf looked at each other for a long moment.

"You can give me an answer tomorrow, and I do intend to have contractual paperwork drawn up. I don't expect you to trust a verbal agreement." He shrugged at them. "I'd still like a room for the night though."

"I'm sure I can find a bed you can use." Wolf muttered, and almost laughed when that got him lightly kicked under the table. "Alright, old man. Let my friend and I talk it out, eh?"

"Certainly. I'll be on the dance floor for a while, come get me if you need me." He stood and stretched, combing his fingers through his newly darkened head stripe, then disappeared into the crowd with a flutter of his trench coat.

Leon looked at Wolf, who was smiling after the older man. "That WAS James McCloud, right?"

"Yeah."

"Just making sure. What do you think he's after?"

"Beyond an assload of cash, apparently as a short-term loan?" The lupine slid the coaster over to Leon, who read the number off it and whistled. "I have no idea. I can only guess at his motivations."

"Do you trust him?"

"Implicitly. Mercenary or not, that man is all class. He's got a scheme of some sort, obviously. I can't deny that we need assistance, I've only ever been out this far on contracts and rarely that."

Leon slouched in his chair, pondering, flicking his tongue out at Wolf. This time, he almost reeled; Wolf's body was in frantic overdrive, to the point Leon was surprised Wolf looked so relaxed. Which was more then Leon could say about himself. "Well, it's fairly risk free from our standpoint."

"Besides the money, yeah. I like that he's willing to draw up legal work, but what good is it from a dead man?"

"Good point. What if he disappears with our cash?"

"If he's being honest, we'll be working at that point."

"Yes, but doing what?" Leon looked exasperated.

"I'm guessing we'll find out tomorrow. More to the point: do we do this? Or try to find another way?"

The reptilian leaned on the table, hands sliding over his scaled scalp as if to brush back nonexistent hair, trying to focus. His brain was insisting on concocting interesting mental images of his current 'wing commander' and McCloud in bed, and it was distracting. "I'd say that depends on a question I have for you."

"Shoot."

"Can you keep your sights straight? I mean, not let his presence influence you."

Wolf looked at him for a long moment. "I'd like to think so."

"Good enough for me. I'm in. But if he has us doing cargo runs, I'm gutting him."

"Fair enough." The lupine offered a hand over the table, they shook on it. "You look jumpy, something wrong?"

"Ask the goggle-eyed waitress about ten feet behind you." Leon advised, standing from the table and brushing himself off. "Look, this isn't really my style, think I'm going to scout the rest of the station out."

"Go right ahead, I imagine I'll see you later." It was a reasonable assumption; they had gotten rooms on the station across from each other.

"Not for a while. Oh, another thing: don't bother spending money on a room if he isn't going to use it."

Wolf blinked at him.

"Dude, if you and him don't turn down the fuck-me-now pheromones you're going to get jumped by half this places' clientele. Seriously, I'm reptilian." Leon did the tongue thing. "The only way for that to be any more obvious was if you suddenly went bioluminescent." This seemed to drive the point home, to the point his superior officer actually cleared his throat and looked embarrassed. "Look, I don't care, but I've got to get away from you before judgment leaves me. Do what you will, but keep your sights straight. We clear?"

"Yeah. Get out of here, you nosy bastard." Wolf pitched another coaster at him, but the reptilian was already gone, laughing as he went. He sat there for a moment, looking down at himself. Was it really that bad? Ok, he'd gotten frisky the minute it hit his conscious mind that James was in fact alive and still friendly, but… He sighed and twisted in his seat, and sure enough, a waitress was standing by a support pillar about ten feet behind him. She was blushing horribly and hiding behind her orders book, but he could see pretty green cat eyes peeking at him over the top of it. Considering said waitress was a doe, the effect was startling to say the least.

After a moment he shoved away from the table and dropped more then enough money to cover the tab. There wasn't a whole lot he could consciously do about it, so he did his best to brush off the stares and shoved his way onto the dance floor, trying to find the one person he was looking for. Naturally, the majority of the crowd was in dark colors, the bar was dimly lit, and there were enough perfumes and body sprays clogging the air to make finding James by scent damn near impossible.

In the end, James found him instead, grabbing him from behind, hands splaying on his pecs then straying down to hold his hips, speaking into Wolf's ear and making him jitter. "Miss me?"

"Old man, I honestly thought I got you killed." Wolf replied over his shoulder, leaning into the hold. "That's what the cruiser said after the war."

"I imagine they were quite embarrassed by it all. How dare an old man break free?" The vulpine's snigger was rich, damn near smug. "What can I say, I'm just that good. But that isn't what I asked, kid. Did you miss me?"

Wolf froze up, then sighed. "Yeah. You were in and out of my dreams constantly."

"Good. We're even." James rattled his claws on the waistband of the younger man's pants thoughtfully. He'd been surprised as hell when he'd first noticed it, but pleased. Wolf was in a concert shirt for a band James had never heard of — something mainstream, he figured — and leather pants. They were looser then the pair the vulpine had worn that fateful night before the war, flowing, adding to the I-will-kick-your-ass aura that Wolf had. "Nice pants, by the way."

Wolf burst into laughter. "I think I found your tailor."

"Maybe, did she grab your ass while fitting you?" He let his subject turn around, the pair standing on the dance floor together. "I take that laugh as a yes. Shall we get the hell out of here?"

"Yes, definitely."

They walked together out of the club, leaving a large number of the patrons craning necks after them in silent wonder. "I need to stop by my storage locker and grab my stuff, if you've got no protest."

"Eh, sure. Lead the way." Wolf fell a step behind him. "And now that I know who you are, I have a list of questions for you old man."

"I'm sure you do. Like how did I manage to put one over on you, considering how known I am?"

"Nah, that I figured out. A hero propositioning me is just so unlikely I wrote it off without even thinking about it."

"Bah. Being called a hero has gotten me plenty of ass through the years, but honestly I find the title mostly amusing." James navigated the station by habit; glancing at the maps only occasionally to confirm what level or wing he was in. "A soldier being a hero is one thing, but a mercenary?"

"Trust me, I find it entertaining as well, but I doubt I'll ever be in the hero category." Wolf paused. "On the subject of getting ass though, seriously… are those old stories about you that go around the Academy true at all?"

James grinned over his shoulder. "Yes. All of them."

"WHAT? No way."

"Oh, yes way. Unless they've made some up since last I heard, every story and piece of graffiti has some truth to it."

Wolf tried to wrap his head around that. "The senior girls liked to talk about how they had a whistle of some sort they'd toss in your direction, and you'd drop whatever you were doing and come running."

"Hey, like you'd turn down being used as a sex toy by that many knowledgeable women."

He almost choked. "Oh my gods, that really happened?"

"All the fuckin' time until I met the woman I eventually married. I mean, think about it. You know how much of a libido I have."

"Sure."

"Ok, now imagine that late teens, early twenties. I HAVE toned down a bit over the years."

"That is freaking impossible. There is no way you could pull that off unless you were on happy pills. I mean, there's a story that you managed to sleep with an entire floor of the girl's dorm in one evening!" Wolf was waving his arms and having to force himself not to yell, not paying any attention to where they were going anymore.

"Most of them were at some study group so that wasn't that impressive."

"And something about a girl's bathroom having a memorial in your honor!"

"I've never seen it, and it wasn't my idea." James was cheerful. Hell, why not brag about it? To him, the term 'slut' wasn't an insult, it was something he was extremely proud of. And he'd never gotten sick, or gotten anyone pregnant. Well, he'd manage to get his wife pregnant, while she was on some fairly serious birth control. He was still proud of that too, even though she'd made a point of owning his ass even harder for a few months afterwards. Damn, he missed her…

"What the hell, man?! Has it occurred to you that such a life is not normal?"

"Well, for other people maybe. For me, it's pretty normal for a guy to wander up and start a conversation with 'I'm not gay, but…' or a lesbian to start out 'I'm gay, but…' and either way it was a great thing for me. My wife… who was a nurse, by the way… had this theory that I'm sort of bizarre throwback from feral days, permanently caught in some weird rut cycle, because she was out of ideas on why I'm so wound and didn't want to consult her coworkers for fear they'd consult me a la conjugal visit. Which I didn't mind, really, I don't like to think I'm a freak. Except in all the very excellent ways, and hey, my wife was equally a freak."

Wolf was boggled. "Man, if those stories are true, you've gotten more ass then most porn stars."

"Probably, and know more then them about living bodies and the tantalization of." James grinned at him again, keying open a storage room and stepping in.

Wolf followed, glancing around the room and blinking. "This isn't a locker. Jeez, how much do you have held here?"

"Most of it's pretty archaic now." James closed and locked the door behind Wolf, pulling a tarp off one of the crates so the lupine could look in it.

Wolf looked in the crate, then leaned over it, then disappeared into it from the shoulders up, coming up with a rifle in his hands and admiring it. "This thing is what, two hundred years old?"

"Most of my favorite guns are locked up here. Lylat got all persnickety about projectile weapons about ten years ago, and I didn't want my toys melted, so there you go."

"Persnickety?"

"Bitchy? Picky to the point of impossibility?"

"I know what it means, but way to reveal how old you actually are." Wolf snorted, setting the rifle down.

James rolled his eyes, walking to another part of the room and coming back with a duffel bag. "The only thing I don't have here is money, and I don't want to sell any of this off. I could get fast and good cash, sure, but this stuff was moved here because I want to keep it all."

Wolf looked around the room. It was about the size of a civilian garage, he supposed, and about half full of crates, boxes, and gun cases. A good portion of it was weaponry, from the looks. "Well, Leon seems ok with it so I'm willing to cut you a loan. But I must admit I'm curious what you're going to be spending all that cash on."

"You don't need to know. By the way, quick thing."

Wolf turned to look at him and was sucker punched, knocked several steps backward onto his ass by the blow. He shook his head, dazed, licking a split lip and looking up at the older man, who had dropped the duffel bag aside. "What the fuck was that for?"

"That was for how my son looked at the awards ceremony. Even if you were in your right to be pissed, he's still my kid."

"Asshole. You could have at least said something like 'heads up' or 'game on.'" Wolf licked his lip again as it threatened to bleed on his new shirt, having shook off the daze and now feeling riled.

"Well, game on then." James shrugged out of his trench coat, then grinned and beckoned with both hands. "Come on, let's go. I'm dying for a good fight, then enough sex to put me in the hospital from low insulin."

The lupine got to his feet and rolled his shoulders, stepping into something close to a combat stance, legs shifting as he tested his mobility in the leather. It was heavy, as were the boots he was wearing, he wouldn't be moving very fast. But then, James was in fitted jeans, probably just as restricted in the end. "You want to fight?"

"How long was I locked up on that cruiser, man?! Come on, I'm not one for solo work and all the shadowboxing and yoga in the world can't replace a good fight."

"I guess I should be honored that you waited and found me before venting?"

"Honored, or scared. Your choice." James lunged.

Wolf dodged backwards, falling on the defense immediately, boots thundering on the steel as he got out of the way of the blows. James only grinned and kept the attack up, a mix of bare knuckle boxing and martial arts, and wasn't bothering to pull his punches very much. Once Wolf caught the rhythm of it, he began to return blows.

Wolf's first kick missed, slowed and restricted by the leather; he ditched the idea of using kicks higher then the knee and switched to fists. James almost bent out of the way of the blows, but the third hit him square in the chest. Instead of buckling, he merely staggered back and reassumed a combat stance, panting to get his wind back and grinning near-maniacally. The lupine stepped back, waiting a few moments, then gave in and lunged. The body blows that landed didn't stop him from catching James' muzzle in his own, claws digging into the older man's shoulder blades then palms rubbing down, feeling muscles tense.

James growled, hands hesitating in midair then grabbing Wolf's shirt, yanking him closer. The vulpine was jittery in Wolf's arms, returning the kiss with teenage-level desperation. Wolf caught the sudden shift in James' smell and sighed into it, breaking the kiss and just gathering the older man close, one arm coiled around him, the other hand buried in the fur on the back of his head. "James. It's ok." He finally said, unable to believe this was the same person that had decked him moments earlier.

"No, it isn't really." James was silent for a long time, getting his mental feet back under himself. He'd been off-center since he hit the station really, part of him wanting to return to Lylat and to his old life, the rest just relieved to be free and alive. "You ever ask Andross why he just let me sit in that god forsaken cell? Never tried to interrogate me, never pressed execution?"

"No. Though I did wonder about it." Wolf eventually replied, hand gently rubbing the back of James' neck.

"He knew he didn't have to. He knew separating me off from everyone, locking me up alone with only transient contacts with guards, was a fate worse then death for me." The older man laughed weakly, squirming out of the hold and rubbing his eyes. "He knew about my psycho libido and knew that instead of trying to avoid it, I'd built myself up on it."

"So he stuck you in a situation where you were alone, and kicked back to watch you go mad." Wolf blinked. It wasn't crystal clear logic, but he understood it.

James shrugged; the movement somehow lazy and graceful. "That's how I figure it. I haven't abstained this long since I was mourning for my passed wife, and only broke that off because Peppy invited several old friends over and basically threw me at them."

"Your friends are… interesting?"

"Shit, they have to be to survive being around me. So really, I'm outrageously horny and too damn old to be slammed into a metal floor, lead the way to a bed please?"

Once Wolf was done laughing, he gladly did so, offering James his arm once the older man had retrieved his coat and duffle bag. James only snorted and slugged his shoulder, walking with him.

"So I have another question." Wolf finally asked, looking at a station map then at his room key, frowning. James took the key, glanced at the map, and led the way. Wolf shook his head and followed, barely noticing as they transferred between lifts and halls.

"Shoot, kid."

"You came here after you escaped?"

"Well, I bailed my son out a bit first, but yeah. Within an hour or two, I was in warp on the way here."

"And you've been without money, you say. So how did you get by?"

"The kindness of old friends."

"Do I get to meet these friends?"

"Only if you're very good, or alternately, incredibly naughty." James grinned at him, checking the key then turning down a hall, reading room numbers then stopping at the appropriate one and popping the door open. "The latter is probably easier for you." He added this thoughtfully.

Wolf snorted and tackled James, or the best he could do from a standing start, ending up sitting on the older man, straddling his hips. "Oh you know you love it."

"Door's still open, sunshine. I mean, I'm a bit of an exhibitionist, I don't know about you…" James didn't bother moving, sprawled on his stomach on the floor, entertained. "Nice carpet this suite's got."

"Wiseass." Wolf had to fight laughter as he stood and closed the door, undoing the buckles on his boots. He'd just stepped out of said footwear when James suddenly moved, pulling a rather impressive break dance motion, flipping to his back, legs whirl winding to knock Wolf on his ass. "Ok, that was talented." He admitted, and then was catching the older man in his arms, ending up sitting against the door; James sprawled on top of him as they kissed. The vulpine was more or less as tall as he was, but lighter and a bit slimmer shouldered, nestling down into Wolf, hands roaming. Wolf only snickered when he realized James was working on undressing them, breaking the kiss to shrug out of his shirt, staring hungrily as his older lover did the same.

"Tell me something, who the hell are these guys?" James asked, picking up Wolf's shirt and peering at the band name, briefly immune to the hands buried into the fur on his shoulders and the prodding he was getting through Wolf's pants.

"How can you NOT know who they are? They've had like three hits this year."

"Oh god, don't tell me they're another label manufactured band. I have got to teach you about good music." James chucked the shirt over his shoulder.

"Yeah, you have room to talk, how old is the flick that's on your shirt, old man?"

"It's a classic, you shit, and now I have to teach you about movies too." And with that, he abandoned the subject of pop culture, biting Wolf's collarbone with a growl then working his way down, tongue circling a nipple before attacking it. Wolf groaned, hands ending up in the fur on the back of James' head, panting.

"You look better as a blonde, old man." He finally remarked between low gasps, one hand combing through the dyed umber fur slowly.

"Nnn. I agree… But…" The too-damn-clever tongue had found the ticklish spot on his stomach again, and the snickers Wolf tried to muffle only seemed to egg it on. "I knew some appearance change would be necessary to achieve some level of anonymity. So this was about all I can do; I'm too damn vain for any sort of surgery."

"Ah… rightly so… you're fuckin' perfect."

James laughed, unable to help it, kicking out of his jeans. Wolf slumped against the door and stared at him, suddenly amused. Apparently, going commando was just something McClouds did. To keep himself from making any other comparisons between the two generations, he grabbed James and rolled, pinning him to the carpet, looming over him, growling when the leather moved and made him even more uncomfortable.

"Regretting your wardrobe choice?" James sniggered, sliding a hand under the waistband of Wolf's pants, drawing a whine out of the lupine when said fingers brushed along his pinned, hard cock. "Well now, that won't do at all." That said, he caught Wolf's muzzle in a bruisingly hard kiss, hands getting his pants undone with some difficulty, grinning into it when a low groan of relief escaped the larger man, letting the kiss ease out. "Guess you weren't getting much during the war either, eh?"

Wolf snorted, shaking his head. "I was kind of busy. What was I going to do, stash a nurse in my room?"

"Why not?"

He shook his head, backing up, tongue licking a trail down James' body. James murmured something unintelligible and went limp, hands digging into Wolf's shoulders. The lupine rumbled, propping himself on his arms, head bowed to nuzzle James' sheath, exhaling lazily. The rush of warm air startled a pleased cry from his subject, claws scratching into his shoulders, before sinking in fully when Wolf languidly ran his tongue upward, along James' sheath then up his hard cock.

"Do me a favor this time?" James asked, voice weak. "Don't tease damnit."

Wolf replied by sliding an arm under James and tugging him up, taking the vulpine's length into his muzzle, growling playfully; the vibrations playing across James' cock. The outcry his actions provoked put his hackles further on end, both arms ending up laced under the older man, holding him as his tongue lazily trailed around James' cock. James' hands were now planted on his head, lazily caressing over his ears, soft moaning pitching into a yowl when Wolf's canines brushed him just a bit.

"Ah… careful!" James' voice was rough like gravel, hips unable to move into that hot wet cavern that was wrapped around him, unable to do much else but lay back and take it. He was surprised, but he supposed it was fair, considering he'd gone down on Wolf the first time they were together to loosen him up. He was just starting to think that the kid wasn't bad either when apparently Wolf decided to be insulted by his comment, and a long hot tongue wrapped in a spiral around him, tongue tip caressing over his slowly forming knot, and James stopped bothering to think, hands tightening on Wolf's head.

Wolf almost laughed when he felt James' hands press into him, fingers tangling into his fur. The older man's body was locked tight in his arms, muscles jittering, and he couldn't help but think that if James didn't let go sometime soon, he'd be carting the older man to a hospital wing. He didn't bother reacting when James yanked off his eye patch and dropped it aside, shutting his eyes and starting a single-minded pursuit, figuring if James had made him howl more then once before, he could try to return the favor. Shifting his weight, he kept James lifted with one arm and slid his hand around James' body, caressing the vulpine's sheath, claws sifting through the short soft fur there.

James panted softly, claws trying to get a grip on the carpet but unable to move in the lupine's tight hold, tormented whines pitching up to low frantic outcries, trying to remember if he'd ever been this badly off. Probably not. The tight controlling grip both frustrated and pleased him, and when he struggled the grip tightened for a few moments as a warning. I'm not getting out of this one… He thought hazily, though seconds later the thought was gone as the tongue lashed his length up and down, rolling in a way that made him dig into Wolf's skull a bit. Wolf's big warm hands were a perfect compliment to his hot tongue, soft and lingering, in no hurry at all. "Damnit… don't… tease me…"

Wolf snorted, mouth sliding down and lingering, then slowly tugging up, tongue fluttering along the underside, murring. The resulting climax caught James off guard, drawing a drunken-sounding shout that echoed in the metal-walled room, gasping in nigh-ecstasy as he surged into the lupine. Wolf growled and took it in stride, feeling the tenseness in James' muscles slowly ease out as he came down and landed in the area of afterglow. Good gods, he really does live on his libido. Not that I mind…

James propped himself up on his elbows to look at Wolf once he'd been lowered back to the floor. Wolf licked at the cum on his muzzle that he had missed and snickered, crawling up James' body to nuzzle his cheek and throat, tail flicking the air and growling playfully. "You're evil, and that was excellent."

"You're better, and biased since you'd been deprived. But I still take it as a compliment." He nuzzled James again, his rumbling getting throatier as his body announced that he was hard enough to cut diamond.

James stared at him with half lidded eyes, focused on what was left of the eye usually hidden by the patch. He'd seen it before, having gotten the patch off the younger man during their entertaining weekend on the station before the war, and it always drew his gaze. War wound, he knew, picked up several years ago. He lifted a hand and trailed his fingers through the fur on one of Wolf's cheekbones, trailing around the worthless eye, which was an odd washed-out blue, soft in contrast to the strong brown of his working eye. "You know I never got over this." He finally said, thumb lightly brushing over Wolf's lower eyelid.

"Why? Eyes are fragile and I was stupid." Wolf shrugged, ducking his head down to bite James' throat greedily.

The older man shuddered, head lulling back. "No. That you fly without depth. That is impressive as fucking hell. I don't think I could do that."

"From you, that is a massive compliment. Now, you, bed. The carpet isn't THAT comfortable."

James managed a laugh, rolling out from under Wolf and getting to his feet, catching his balance and stretching languidly before walking over to the bed and crawling onto it. Wolf crouched on his toes and watched this, watching the strong graceful stride the older man had. When dressed, James marched, but when naked he was just muscle-bound efficiency. As he watched, James sprawled out on the bed, stretching out on his stomach then rolling on his side to look at him. "Are you coming?"

Wolf shook his head and stood fully, kicking the rest of the way out of his leather pants and going to his duffel bag, rummaging through it to find his lube, then pitching it onto the bed. James' snort of laughter made him growl, moving to the bed and crawling onto it, shoving James onto his back and stretching out over him, staring down at him. "What are you laughing at?"

"You… you almost pegged me with a bottle of lube." James smiled, stretching out again with his arms above his head. Wolf watched this and had a sudden desire for rope. "No, you can't handcuff me to the bed."

"What the fuck are you, a mind reader?" Wolf wanted to know, ducking his head down to nibble his way along James' jaw line.

"Mmmm. You're the one who was asking me about my colorful past at the Academy. It actually was a very good thing for business, in the end." He flicked his tongue out, brushing it along Wolf's muzzle. "I am a near expert on body language and facial expression, and I'm used to keeping track of a person's scent."

"So, you are a mind reader." Wolf moved downward, teeth nipping at James' throat and collarbone, drawing a soft moan.

"Hah. Perhaps. I just knew that your expression, coupled with eying my arms, probably translated to 'I would like to restrain him.'"

"Happen to you a lot, did it?"

"I should tell you some stories sometime. That said, I think I'll be the one doing the restraining here."

Before Wolf could ask 'what?', James had rolled them, sitting on Wolf's stomach, hands pinning his wrists to the bed, silencing him with a kiss. Wolf moaned and leaned up into it, tongue tangling up with James', body jolting when the older man's tail settled over his erection and brushed back and forth teasingly, the sudden stimulation making him whimper and shiver helplessly. James grinned into the kiss and shifted his stance back, holding the kiss but now straddling Wolf's hips, grinding slowly as his tongue traced along the line of Wolf's teeth. The lupine gasped, fingers curling into fists and wrists jerking against the hold once, and was released as James at up, staring down at him with his hands resting on his thighs. "Old man… that's not fair at all…"

"Life isn't." James agreed, moving his hands to stroke from his subject's collarbone to his waist, claws dragging just enough to leave marks on the skin underneath, smiling at the growl of pleasure his motions provoked. Seeing the bottle of lube had rolled towards them, he grabbed it and opened it, rubbing some on his fingers then curling them slowly around Wolf's straining cock, starting at his knot then stroking upwards gradually. Wolf's surprised howl made him grin, the lupine's hips snapping up into the attention and getting coated with lube in the process.

Wolf propped himself on his elbows, watching as James moved forward slightly, groaning through gritted teeth as the head of his tormented cock rubbed against James' back entrance. "Playing for control, old man?"

"Kid, I don't need to play."

Any response Wolf would have made was wiped from his mind when James abruptly pushed back, the lupine's hips mindlessly shoving up to meet him, hands ending up under his hips to balance himself as he gasped and panted, still unable to believe how warm James was. If he hadn't known better, he'd have suspected the older man was constantly running a fever. James himself only moaned very softly at the rough entry, hands splayed on Wolf's washboard stomach, eyes closing as a smile slowly crossed his lips. His long-time friend Peppy had never understood this part of his personality, how he enjoyed getting fucked as much as he enjoyed fucking, but the way he'd always figured it was, why be picky?

Wolf stared up at him, boggling at the pleased look on his face, gasping out a moan when James moved, the lupine's hips lifting slowly. "Ah… you know… you could go pro at this and make a fortune…"

James snorted, driving his hips down, groaning. "Don't be silly… It wouldn't be fun then." That said, he held onto Wolf's hips and rolled again, putting the lupine on top, barking when the larger man's weight slammed into him, driving deeper, making him feel the very start of a knot. Wolf only groaned, propping himself on his arms and catching James in a kiss, tongue diving into the warm welcoming mouth as his hips pulled back and thrust back in, grinding hard. The vulpine cried out into his mouth, one hand settling on Wolf's shoulder, the other at the back of his neck, pressing up into the kiss hungrily, body rocking up into the contact. The deep burn that had come with initial entrance had faded already, leaving live nerves that nearly sizzled when Wolf's cock slid over them. That said, he nearly screamed in frustration when his lover came to halt, hips ground to his, hands grabbing and pinning his wrists in a mirror of those pose he'd had Wolf in earlier. He glared upward when the kiss broke, chest heaving, twitching when he realized he could feel Wolf's heartbeat inside him. "Damnit… what are you doing?"

"Making you want it more."

"That… is not possible…"

"Oh, yes it is." Wolf bowed his head, knocking James' head back, biting and sucking on his throat, growling softly.

James snarled, feeling lust break to anger, trying to move and only shifting the angle, gasping and whining. "I asked you not to tease me…!"

"Do you trust me?"

He blinked, looking down at Wolf, who stared back studiously. "Ah… yeah… though I'm changing my mind…"

"Then roll with it. If you're not boneless when I'm finished with you, I won't do this again."

James blinked at him, panting weakly, feeling helpless, his hard-again cock pulsing in time to the one buried to the hilt inside him. Uncertain what Wolf was going to do, he finally nodded, moaning in relief when his wrists were released and he was drawn into another kiss, Wolf's muscular arms sliding under him to hold him tight. He wrapped his arms around his younger lover, claws digging in from desperation, trying to move and still unable to. Wolf only grinned into the embrace, ending it and trailing too-gentle nibbles down his body, ducking his head to lick at his nipples, startling at the noise that escaped James. It was a wail, eerie and desperate sounding, putting Wolf's hackles on end; the lupine's cock twitching.

"What the hell was that?" Wolf finally asked, staring at him, unable to believe how badly his body wanted to respond to the noise.

"Ah… 's called a 'vixen's wail'… either gender can do it though… basically means 'fuck me now.'" James laughed weakly.

"Mm, well then." Keeping his grip on James' body, he backed off, groaning as he more or less had to pry himself free of the tight desperate grip James had on him. Once out to the head, he thrust back, slowly, searching out every nerve he hadn't found yet and lighting it on fire, grinding in to nudge himself as deep as he could. James moaned and whined under the slow pulsing rhythm, choking for release, clawing Wolf's back, and then called out in surprise when his prostate was accurately found and ground into, body jerking in surprise as pleasure shocked up his spine.

Wolf grinned into James' neck at the reaction, at the desperate whining, at the claws in his back, and on the next thrust stopped teasing and slammed in. James howled and raked his back, drawing blood, but that didn't deter Wolf from doing it again, driving into him so hard his body jolted, burying himself into the older man below him. James had closed his eyes, head back as he cried out and howled, wailing again. This time, Wolf couldn't stop himself from responding, and started pounding him, thrusts hard and quick. The lupine continued pulling back to the head and shoving in past his knot, drawing surprised cries every time it entered; a wet popping noise sounded each time he drew out.

Wolf himself was growling and panting, moving a hand and stroking over James in time to his frenzied pounding, driving against James' prostate again and again, driving him to the knife's edge and over with no remorse.

James hissed out his name in relief as he came, and came hard, painting streaks across their bodies. Wolf howled, shaking, as he drove against him and shoved as hard as he could, knot prying inside James and swelling as the lupine came, collapsing after a few minutes, gasping for air. "Oh, man…" Wolf finally said, nuzzling him, shuddering when James shifted just barely and pleasure flew up his spine. "So, are you mad at me?"

"That was insane." James finally said, burying his face into one of Wolf's shoulders, eyes barely open. "And not something I'd want to do every time. But no, I'm not mad."

Wolf rolled James on top carefully, shuddering at the feeling of being locked against James. Gods, how long had it been since he had tied someone? He wasn't sure and didn't care, reaching an arm off the bed off the bed and finding a shirt he'd worn the day before on the floor, cleaning them up before pulling James close to him, nuzzling the older canid. James only sighed languidly, relaxing on top of him and dozing as Wolf did.

Wolf woke up groggily, scrubbing one eye with the back of his hand, the other arm reaching out and passing across an empty bed. He was about to burst into frustrated cussing when the sound of the sound of the shower reached him, and he rolled, peering toward the bathroom door. James had left it open, so the faintest trail of steam escaped it, and the sound of cheerful humming. Dear gods, I'm sleeping with a morning person, he thought to himself with disgust, letting himself sink back into the covers. Well, at least James had decided against disappearing like a thief in the night.

He had almost dozed back off when he heard the water cut out, and James came out of the bathroom a few moments later, wearing button fly blue jeans and still working on towel drying his head fur. These actions ceased when James noticed he was awake and grinned, and the next thing Wolf knew he was on his back and James was sitting on him. "Good morning."

"Morning." Wolf agreed groggily. "You're in a good mood."

"You aren't in a good mood after last night? Good lord, what does it take to cheer you up?" When Wolf settled for a half-awake glower, the older man chortled. "Get up. You're buying me breakfast. Leon too, I guess, because what I have to discuss concerns him too, the lucky bastard."

"I need a shower."

"Then take one, that'll give me time to start things in motion."

"Start things…?"

"I'll explain later." James was suddenly off him and standing next to the bed. "Get up and shower, I'm starving, damnit. If I get any hungrier I'm taking it out on you."

"Huh, would I enjoy it?" Wolf groggily sat up and pushed himself to the edge of the bed.

"No, this would be more like destroying you to make you into ground chuck."

The lupine rolled his eyes and staggered toward the shower. "You're lucky I like you."

"Excuse me, what? I'm pretty sure you're my bitch, actually."

Wolf decided to pretend he didn't hear that, cranking the shower on. The hot water woke him up and lifted his mood accordingly, keeping the shower short and walking out of the bathroom maybe fifteen minutes later, still pulling his shirt on. "I am extremely surprised you didn't jump me in the shower."

James, who was on the phone in the room, gave him a parental glare and gestured at the handset, then held up a finger in a one-moment gesture. Wolf rolled his eyes, which James politely ignored while he jotted down what his friend was telling him. "Thanks, Felix. Breakfast… uh-huh… imminently? Alright… yeah… Keely's place? Sure… I'll bring my new best friends along." There was a pause, and James grinned. "Now why would I tell you that? …no, I wasn't in a manysome last night…" Wolf lifted his eyebrows. "Get your mind out of the gutter. Are you coming to breakfast or not? …Great, see you there." He hung up and looked at Wolf's expression. "What?"

"Old friend?"

"I've known him longer then you've been alive."

"Do you even know how old I am?" Wolf was skeptical.

"I know how your birthdate, the hospital you were born in, and how long your mother was in labor, among other things. Want me to quote them off so you know I'm not lying? There is little that I don't know or can't find out." James snorted, tearing off the sheet of paper he was writing on and sticking it into a jeans pocket. "Now, breakfast. Let's go wake up your copilot."

"Right… so who is Keely?"

"Another old friend. Don't hit on her, because I won't rescue you if you do."

"… have I told you before that being around you is like being on a bad acid trip?" Wolf finally asked, leading the way out of the room and kicking Leon's room door in an extremely irritating rhythm.

"You got laid, it can't be that bad of a trip."

Wolf was still laughing when Leon opened the door, looking about as rumpled as a reptile could while only wearing boxers. Boxers with neon smilies on them, Wolf noted. Yeah, this had to be an acid trip. "Good morning, sunshine."

"Yeah, blow me, I've slept like three hours." Leon replied, then looked at James briefly. "What do you two reprobates want? It's not even nine AM."

"We're taking you to breakfast." James said. "You're coming whether you like it or not."

"And if I try to close this door?"

"Then I am blocking it with my boot, tossing you over my shoulder as I enter the room, and dressing you in clothing of my choice."

Leon looked at him long enough to figure out James might be serious and sighed. "Give me a minute." That said, he gently closed the door.

"You do realize he's an interrogator, right?" Wolf looked at him. "I mean, I don't personally find him scary but he's on my list of people not to piss off."

"Babe, I've met scary people. He ain't scary."

Leon exited the room, looking weary but fully dressed. "I have to assume James is responsible for the early-morning wakeup call."

"Yeah, he's a morning person, gods save us both."

"I'm HUNGRY." James said, with enough of a feral feed-me-now tone to make them both jump. "And I've got a friend meeting us, so come on, kids." That said, he took off down the hall, leaving the two younger men to catch up.

"I swear, if you call me a kid again…" Wolf grumbled.

James only snickered.

In the end, both Wolf and Leon were caught soundly off guard. Keely's was apparently a diner wedged into one of the more industrial parts of the station, near the trade and cargo docks. The signs outside were old-fashioned neon, and the inside of the establishment had a lot of stainless steel to it without feeling like part of the station. Bodies sat on spinning stools at a counter, booths and tables abounded, and several kids were plastered to the glass that protected a large rack of pies. The only deviation from the theme was TVs hanging from the ceiling at well-placed locales, playing the news. Regardless, Wolf found himself checking the adult residents of the diner, looking for leather jackets and amusing hair styles, convinced he'd found a time warp. "This place seems, uh…"

"Retro." Leon finished for him.

"Learn to love it, boys, because the food is worth it." James advised, scanning the crowd, then whistling and waving an arm. "Felix!"

A black clad arm wove back, accompanied by a thundering voice drifted from across the diner, though the rest of the establishment's patrons eating there didn't even glance up from their activities. "James, get that furry brush over here! Do you have any idea how much grey fur I got thanks to your nifty disappearing act?!"

James snorted and led the way to the booth that his apparent friend held for them. "Glad to see you too, you foul-minded jackass."

"Love you too." The leopard blew him a kiss and gestured for them to sit, taking off his sunglasses and dropping them to the table. "Who are these two, pray tell?"

"Wolf O'Donnel." Wolf offered a hand, studying him. He was dressed dark, the sort of ominous black a clichéd assassin would have worn, though said assassins probably didn't wear black dusters. All in all, he looked like the clientele common on most nights at the Midnight Velvet. His age was a mystery, he could have been anywhere from a rough 25 to a looking-damn-good 45.

Felix looked amused, shaking the proffered hand. "That'd make you Leon Powalski then." He eyed Leon. "Before you ask, there are bounties for you out in Lylat right now."

"Felix is the premiere informer in Lylat. There is nothing this guy doesn't know. Hell, he knows things that haven't happened yet." James snorted, reading a menu, though he was aware he had it memorized.

"Considering you're apparently underground for the time being, I don't get why you're associating with these guys. People will come calling for them." Felix frowned at James. "Hell, you're lucky I'm out here. I was in Corneria City yesterday."

"Be optimistic for once."

"Ah, so that's the way of things. Which one do you own in all ways carnal? Has to be the lupine, I've never seen you with the reptilian."

Wolf choked on his water. Leon was nice enough to slap him on the back. "What the hell?"

"Lay off the noobs, Felix, I dragged your ass to this diner because I have a business proposition for them that may end up involving you."

"Oh, you know I'm not going to turn down a proposition."

An accented female voice rang from the end of the table; "If you ever did, I'd have to cart you off to the nearest mental institution." Leon's head spun towards the voice and nearly got his nose stuck in cleavage, much to his shock. "I'll ignore that sweetie. Jimmy, you devil, how many lives did you waste on this escapade so far?" The owner of the voice was a decently tall rabbit, stone-cold beautiful and with good enough curves to shame an hourglass. The lapine's fur was a rich chocolate, crème patches of white adorned her fur and offset the green of her waitress outfit. A name badge pinned above one of her amazing breasts read simply 'Keely.' Like James and Felix, her age was difficult to pin, middle aged at least but how old, Wolf couldn't figure. He was starting to wonder if there was something in these peoples' water.

"At least two. But I still have plenty to spare." James grinned at her. "Gods be damned girl, you always manage to never look better."

She shook her order book at him. "You lovable letch… so, are you guys eating?" Once they placed orders, she moved on, but not before leaning over the table to mess up James headfur, giving the other three a generous look down her outfit in the process.

"I would give up the use of a limb to climb into bed with that." Wolf finally said, staring after her.

"You, James, myself, and just about every man in the place, but it would be better for you if you dropped those thoughts right now. No one has ever been able to see up that skirt of hers, let alone taken her to a comfy bed. You see that thick order book? Kelly would have no problem walloping you over the head with it if you even say anything like that to her." Felix drank some of his coffee. "She's older then you think, so you know."

"Fuck if I care, she's obviously kept herself up."

James had tuned out the conversation, staring at the nearest TV, and then did a spit take. Before anyone could ask, he'd yelled at someone to turn it up, and the nearest person agreeably did. "Holy shit, boy, what'd you get yourself into now?"

Those at the table figured out that he was talking to the television and directed their attention to it. It was still morning news, but one of those celebrity gossip sections that generally consisted of speculation and paparazzi photographs. "Wait, isn't that Fox?" Wolf asked, blinking. He'd watched the awards ceremony on Corneria, which to him had been amusing (Fox had obviously been tripping on some pain medication).

"I ran into him early last night, with Katt Monroe, of all damn things." Felix said, and was starting to expand on that when the still photos on the screen changed.

James sat back and began to laugh. "With Katt Monroe indeed… looks like someone needs to learn to close the blinds."

Wolf blinked at the TV, and then rubbed his eyes in an attempt to erase the pictures from his mind. Apparently, Katt's second story apartment had a picture window that was easy to take photos into, and the paparazzi had caught an amusing series of photographs. The two standing around talking, a kiss that threatened to catch the film on fire, and at some later time interval (it was much darker) Fox wandering by the window carrying Katt bridal style, without any clothing as far as Wolf could tell.

Wolf rubbed his eyes harder, then the closer came up, the news crew explaining that Katt had apparently opened fire on the paparazzi early this morning when Fox was near-assaulted by them when he tried to leave the pink feline's home, so they were refraining from posting any more pictures. This made Wolf burst into laughter, after all when the news has naked pictures of you, the damage is done.

"You know, all the years you were the legend of the Academy, and afterwards, no one ever managed to get pictures of you in a compromising position." Felix looked at James, amused. "But the minute your boy decides to get laid…"

"He doesn't have my luck."

"No, apparently not. Now what's this business you wanted to discuss?"