Charley looked up as Xander strolled in, smirking at him. "Having another one of those days where you're simply wandering?"
"Yeah, unfortunately. I'm bored. I'm so bored I'm going to go stupider soon. There's nothing on tv either. So I thought I'd try for useful and see if you needed anything or if you were so bored you'd help me go shop for a car since I sent back my rental last night."
"Well, I'm not doing anything," she admitted. "The guys should be over soon."
"As much as I love Vinnie, I'd never let him drive my car," Xander said dryly, helping her to her feet. "Besides, they'd come over to pounce Stoker and pick on him." He looked up the stairs. "I'm kidnaping Charley to help me find a new car. I've got my phone if you need her, Switch."
She giggled. "Sure, Xander!" She slammed a door.
"Remember, someone will have to watch for customers!" Charley called up the stairs.
"Give us ten minutes!" Stoker called back.
"Only ten minutes? Damn, I go most of the night anymore," Xander said dryly. Charley pinched him, making him wince. "Ow! Meany." He grinned at her. "Anya was like that."
"I'm sure she enjoyed it," she joked dryly. Xander nodded with a smirk. "Good, now let's talk. What do you want?"
"Something that's either a sedan or another SUV," he admitted.
"Okay so you're not too picky. Cost?" He raised an eyebrow. "Never mind. Safe?"
"Would be a good thing," he agreed. "I'm still getting used to that traffic thing all the time."
"Okay, so safe, sleek, smooth because you try so hard sometimes, and good gas mileage?" He nodded that he was going to demand that. "You still want an SUV? They don't get good gas mileage."
"I realized that when I had to refill my tank twice in one day. They've got good sized tanks too." Stoker came stomping down the stairs. "So cuddle down here," he snorted. "Make your baby food, she'll appreciate it." Stoker snorted, but did move over to look in the fridge and pulled out stuff. "I'm taking her car shopping."
"Buy a bike, kid. You can't be the punk's little brother without one."
"He's got balance issues since he's missing an eye, Stoker," Charley told him, giving him a pat on the back. "Don't burn the garage down."
"I can cook."
"Better than I can do then," Xander said dryly, walking Charley out. He waved and the cab he had waiting pulled up. "I didn't figure it was going to take so long, sorry, dude."
"Not an issue," the cabbie said, smiling at the pretty woman getting in. "A beautiful lady is one you wait on." Once the door was closed he took off. "Which car dealership?"
"Let the lady decide. She's not only beautiful but a skilled mechanic as well."
"Good, a skilled woman is a wonderful thing," the cabby agreed. "Which one, love?"
"Acura. I haven't seen many of them recently and they're good cars."
"You sure? A young guy like him should have something fast and fun."
"Yeah, but we've got three other friends who need rides all at once," she told him.
"Hmm, a convertible," Xander said, grinning at her. "Can we look?"
"Sure, Xander. You're young, it's the time to look at stupid cars that'll run up your insurance." He shuddered. "If you must, I can see you in something a bit classic, a roadster style or a corvette, something like that."
"I didn't like the corvette I took for a test drive, it was like I was barely above the road. I didn't see any roadsters. Oooh, there," he told the cabby, pointing at a dealership. "Mixed is good, right?" She nodded. "Cool." He paid the guy and they got out, him leading Charley by the hand. "Hi," he told the salesman. "This is my extra special mechanic friend, who I adore, and we're finding me a new car."
"Sure, for you and your boyfriend?" the salesman asked. "Or do you need something more family oriented?"
Charley snickered, shaking her head. "Actually, he's straight, just recently widowed. He's just like that. We've got three extra large friends who'll need rides now and then, and he's still young so he wanted to look at a roadster."
"Chrysler makes a good roadster," he offered, walking them that way. "Fairly roomy but the Solstice only seats two." He led them to their show model, watching as the boy hopped over the door and slid down with a moan of contentment. "We haven't heard about much trouble with this model, but in the winter it's not the most practical of cars. Convertibles can sometimes get air leaks so you could get a breeze while driving. She's safe and strong though. V-6, that's the only thing I don't like about her, and she comes in a wide variety of styles and colors with some pretty good option packages."
"I like this," Xander said, grinning at Charley.
"Now I know you should be Vinnie's little brother." She patted him on the head. "Will it handle well in snow and ice? He's from the land of sunshine and I'm not sure he's ever driven on snow and ice."
"Well..." He considered it. "If he's careful it should be fine. I know someone who drives their Porsche year round in the city without many problems, but I wouldn't recommend it." He noticed the boy looking up at him. "Have you ever been on ice or snow?"
"No, but I know I've got to go more slowly, more carefully, not lock my brakes or I'll skid, and I've got to leave more room between me and the other cars if possible."
"All true," the man agreed happily enough. "It's like driving on newly rained on roads all the time and cold." Xander nodded at that. "It's a good car, I'd love to see him in it, but for a first timer, especially with so many friends he'd have to haul around, I'd suggest something a bit safer and more sedan-like. Now, in the luxury sedans, we've got a few great ones with great roominess." He let the boy out and walked him over to the sedans. He noticed the longing look. "If you want a second car, that'd be it," he assured him. "Or next year, when you're used to the snow, sir. Driving things that fast in the snow and ice will kill you if you're not very careful."
"Especially with our potholes," Charley agreed, giving Xander a squeeze. "You can afford a second car, Xan," she soothed. "When you're ready, like next summer, get it then." He nodded, following along. She looked at some of the sedans they were passing. "Vinnie wouldn't even fit into some of those."
"When you said large friends, how large?"
"The smallest is about my height and bouncy. The tallest is about six-seven or so," Xander admitted.
"So we either need a *very* roomy sedan, or an SUV," he said thoughtfully. He looked at the boy. "You're not very stylish."
"And I'm a construction crew manager, it'll look bad if I show up in something like a Beamer SUV or a Hummer, which would certainly fit them."
The salesman smiled. "Sure, we can figure that out," he promised. "Should we go for ETC, ma'am?"
"ETC?" Xander asked.
"Electronic Traction Control. Very handy on ice," she offered. "Might be a good idea, but possibly not the deciding factor."
Xander shook his head. "I like that idea. What would that rule out?"
"The Chevy Tahoe for one," the salesman offered, pointing at one. Xander shook his head. "You're sure? It's a big SUV."
"It's also a box without style."
"Good point." He looked around. "I have a suggestion and we don't have either here," he admitted finally. "As much as I hate to say it. The two I think would work best would be an Infiniti and a Lexus."
"I've looked at them," Xander admitted. "What's the difference?"
"The Infiniti is a newer brand. For you, it'd be better with the Infiniti. It's supposed to seat seven people so your friends could stretch out easier. It doesn't come with daytime running lights, but you don't have to have those yet." He looked at Charley. "I'd let her look at both and leave it there. There's a nice dealership up the street by a few blocks that does Infiniti but the Lexus place is on the other side of town."
"Then let's go look at the Infinity and if he likes it then it's good," Charley agreed. "Thank you."
"You're welcome and remember that roadster for a second car," he said, shaking their hands. "Have a nice day."
"You too," Xander agreed with a smile. "Thanks." They walked off, heading up the street. "I thought about an Infiniti sedan in the past," he admitted. "They seemed pretty decent."
"They usually are and being a newer brand of car usually means that the dealers will bend over backward to get more customers." She saw the SUV section and pointed. "I'm thinking he's talking about one of them, Xan." He beamed and jogged over to look. "Look at the silver one," she called, following behind him. He ran over to the look at one of the QX models and hugged it. "Let me check under the hood, hotshot," she teased, popping it and looking inside. "Not too bad. V-8." Someone cleared their throat and she looked at him. "I'm his chosen mechanic," she said with a grin. "He likes this one. He does construction and we've got some fairly big friends."
"The tallest is about six-seven," she told him.
"Then this'll fit you better than anything but an Expedition," he agreed, walking around to open the door for the boy. "Go ahead and try it out, sir." Xander got in and wiggled. "Do you prefer an automatic or a standard?"
"I prefer a standard," he admitted, "but I'm good with an automatic. Charley said I can have a second car next summer and I'll do that then." He looked around the dash panel. "I can handle this. Charley, do you have time for a test drive? I'll actually pay you for the time." He grinned at her as she popped around the edge of the hood. "That way you're not missing out on anything, like grocery shopping."
"It's not a problem, Xander. Sure, we can do a test drive. I've never been in one of these." She got in and looked at the salesman, who went to get the keys. "You like this behemoth?"
"Yeah, this gas sucking behemoth is a pretty nice car and even Modo could stretch out in the back," he admitted. "I'm wondering if we can get rear seat headrests. I wish we had steering wheel radio controls."
"We can get you those," the salesman said as he came back. He shut the hood and handed over the keys before getting into the back. "Okay, you should be ready. You do have a license?" Xander dug it out and handed it back. "Thank you, sir."
Xander started it and glanced at Charley, who nodded. So he took off, going carefully since he was still in such a large tank of a vehicle. It turned well though. "I like that. The SUV I rented had power steering and it was still a deep turner." They headed for the ball field, and Xander turned on the radio, nodding at the sound quality, even with the windows down. "MPG?" he called back.
"Unfortunately low at 18 and 13 in the city officially. It does have a 28 gallon tank though so you won't have to fill it up that often."
"Plus, we could put a bike in the back," Charley admitted, glancing back there.
"This one is the All-Wheel Drive version," the salesman told him. "It does have a hidden third seat in case it becomes necessary. It folds down flat. As you can see, we've got in- dash DVD navigation. We've got Bose speakers. The steering wheel controls are an option. All the seats come in leather. This is actually last year's tester model, but this year's does have standard headrests on this second row of seats." They nodded at that, pulling into the parking lot of the baseball stadium. "Wanted practice parking?"
"Yeah, and we've got one of our extra-large friends who works here," Xander admitted, parking it by backing into a spot. He found he could see most of the spots and nodded. "Okay, Charley, go get him so they can try it out too." She nodded, heading inside. Xander looked back at the salesman, turning off the engine. "Parts and warranty?"
"Two options, a two year and a three year."
"Fairly high, about 51 thousand to start."
"We've got a few. I can see you in a Jade, Cobalt Blue, or Black really. The others are lighter colors and you seem more like a nightlife sorta guy." He handed over the brochure he had stopped to pick up. "The jade seems fairly dark but it actually comes out a bit lighter." He smiled as someone got in wearing a cap and a trench coat. "Hi. He wanted you to try this out."
"This is sweet," Vinnie said in admiration, touching the leather seats. "Hmm, leather." He grinned at him. "What color were you thinking?"
"I was thinking Jade, Cobalt Blue, or Black, the others are all white and off-white," the salesman said, letting him see.
"The cobalt's shiny?" Xander asked. He nodded. "Hmm, I'd rather have a more matte finish than something that's high gloss. Glossy finishes seem to draw birds faster. Jade?" Vinnie shrugged. "Black leather of course. Standard," he said with a grin.
"If I didn't have my bike, I'd beat you for it, Xander," he teased back. "Let me tell the others you've finally picked a car."
The salesman watched him disappear. "He's very hyper."
"And the smallest of those three," Xander admitted. "So, how long before I can pick it up?"
"Well, there's only one thing I can see wrong," he admitted, looking at the brochure. "We can't do the graphite leather in the jade without a special order." He frowned. "It comes in the yellow/green 'willow' leather." He raised an eyebrow. "Not my decision unfortunately. I'd like to see you in black leather. We can order them but for everything you're already looking at about 56 thousand. I know you said you work construction, but how well paid are you, sir?"
Xander grinned. "I've got money," he shared. "How long?"
"To get the seats?" He held up a finger and called back to the dealership. "I've got a guy who wants a fully loaded QX56. Yeah, fully loaded. His only problem is that he wants the Jade with the graphite leather. Do we have any replacement seats?" He smiled and nodded. "Decent. Yeah, I'll bring him right back." He smiled as Charley got in. "We do have a set of replacement seats we could switch out and we had a Jade one just brought back because the wife refused it of all things," he shared. "She didn't like his anniversary present."
"I'll get to check it over first," Charley said.
"Of course. I didn't think you were just window dressing, ma'am, you look like you're a lot more than some bimbo on his arm."
She shook her head. "I don't have the looks for a trophy wife."
"You'd be surprised," he said with a smile. "Let's head back. Do you know the way?" Xander leaned forward and programmed it in, then grinned back at him and headed off. "Very good, sir. With any luck you can pick it up today."
"I'd hope so. I hate taking cabs. I always seem to get the one gross driver, except this morning."
"He flirted too much," Charley snorted, waving. "There's Throttle."
Xander stopped and rolled down the window. "What do ya think?"
"I think it's a pricey toy," he said dryly, looking inside. "But it suits you." Xander beamed. "You're buying dinner tonight at your place so we can ignore Stoker and Switch again."
"Sure. Come on over. I've got to get her back to the garage then go buy this baby. Laters." He winked and sped off, doing as promised. He slipped Charley a hundred and a kiss on the cheek. "For the time, because time is an important thing, and it makes Vinnie jealous and treat you better." She laughed but accepted it and got out, heading back inside. He headed for the dealership once the salesman had gotten up front, discussing what came in all the packages. He was probably the easiest sale all month but he was happy being an easy sale this time.
Throttle came up last, shaking his head. "Jade, Xander?"
"The dark blue was too shiny and the black one screamed 'dangerous man with a gun'," he said with a grin. "It's subtle."
"It is," he admitted, sitting down. "What are you torturing us with tonight?"
"Tofu," he said with a smirk. Vinnie moaned, clutching his stomach. "Chill, it's real fried chicken. It's got bones, it can't be tofu, soybeans don't have bones." Throttle chuckled but picked his own pieces out of the bucket of chicken. "No Charley?"
"She's still babying Switch and her upset stomach," Vinnie admitted. "How much was that thing?"
"Don't ask," Xander said dryly. "If I was making payments, I wouldn't have gotten it. I actually got a small discount because it was technically used, the guy returned it. His wife didn't like her anniversary present. She wanted a Mercedes."
"That's just madness," Throttle said, shaking his head.
"Hey, my only requirements is that it fit Modo and had a decent sound system. This one has both and then some, but I didn't get the on-board dvd player."
"They put DVD players in those things?" Vinnie asked flatly. Xander grinned and nodded. "Why?"
"Well, if you're taking a road trip with kids, it's handy," he said dryly. "It also has a front monitor so, like the guy in New York, you can sit in your car and watch porn."
"Some guy got caught watching porn in his car?" Vinnie asked, mouth hanging open. "Why? With a ride like that he should be able to pick up babes."
"Yeah, but he was watching porn in his SUV and the cops got him because the back screen was showing it too, in a way that upset a mother driving past him and got him arrested for indecency. He got a fine I think." He shrugged. "We all know I'm not that stupid, and I didn't get the DVD player just in case I ever got that stupid," he finished with a grin. "Wanna take a ride after dinner?"
"Sure, Xander," Throttle agreed. "Tinted windows were a nice change."
"No, that's a matter of privacy. I'm like that," he said fondly, smirking at him. "All my cars had tinted windows. Then again, my last girl liked to have sex in the car. It was in self-defense."
"I've never understood that kink," Throttle admitted.
"It's harder to do on a bike," Vinnie admitted. "You've got limited positions available."
Xander snorted. "Honey, Anya's favorite thing in the whole wide world was to try to make me wreck by giving me a blow on the interstate. Talk about a rush going sixty miles an hour," he said dryly. Vinnie cackled at that, reaching over to swat him. "Charley had to talk me out of the roadster that was so sweet. Convertible, black, standard, two-seater, just the right height and leather seats. Definitely a babe car. She didn't want me to drive it on snow and ice my first winter here."
"You do know how to drive on snow and ice, right?" Throttle asked.
"In theory. The only time it snowed in Sunnydale was another hellmouth event."
"Then we'll make sure you don't crash too bad the first time," Modo promised.
"I've got airbags." The bros laughed, but he'd learned sometime. "So, what are we watching tonight?"
"Vinnie needed his mush fix," Modo taunted.
"I do not!"
"Women love mush," Xander told him. "Anya used to make me listen to her rundown of her soaps." All the men shuddered. "Yeah, exactly. Then again, we never ran into anything that made tv creatures come to life, fortunately. I'm hoping the girls there do so they can swoon over their soap stars in person and get shot down."
"That's mean, Xander."
"True, but not even those guys are that shallow," he said dryly. "You watch, they'll come visiting some day and I'll have to run and hide, and so will you guys so you're not petted and groomed to death." Modo chuckled at that. "I'm just glad Willow didn't see you to pet you guys. She never woulda left."
"Like you said, they'll be here some day," Vinnie agreed. "We'll drive them off then or go for a very long ride."
"Sure, I'll lay down suppression fire so you guys can get away. Or maybe just find a cold water hose." He grabbed another piece of chicken and ate it. "Okay, so I'm set with nothing to do until I start work in four days. You guys?"
"We're on downtime until the tower's rebuilt," Vinnie admitted.
"No others down here?"
"Two of them left after Limburger reported on hell," Throttle told him. "The one down in New Orleans was warned that they could do the same thing to him when they heard about it. He ran fairly quickly. One of the other ones got bought out by someone who got pissed at him and did a hostile takeover and ejected him once he found out what he was."
"That leaves two," Vinnie admitted. "I'm sensing a road trip."
"Hey, I can easily take all you guys' stuff now," Xander said happily. "A grenade launcher, a few weapons, we can go on a road trip." Throttle nudged him and shook his head. "No?" he asked sweetly.
"No, Xander. Start rumors about them instead."
"Oh, already done that. I found another cheesy name and sent them up as the secret husband." He smirked. "I asked Charley and she said he was one."
"Good work. Got the underground paranoid?" Modo asked. Xander nodded. "How many of them are there?"
"That people will listen to or all together?"
"That people will listen to?" Throttle asked.
"About sixteen hundred probably. Ever seen X-Files?" They all nodded. "I basically told the Lone Gunman guys."
"What about us?" Vinnie asked.
"You're harmless and you only cause legitimate property damage. Since I know there's some people with," he coughed, "special skills in New York from the same sources, and they're not investigated, why would it matter? You're not quite a turtle, but who's going to say anything about it?"
"The same people? They like to use us as experiments too."
"Nah, all those guys got put into the NID, who is presently going after demons, or into Homeland Security, who's going after anyone not us. We can always defeat those guys. I've done it in the past."
"You defeated the military?"
"One base, the four of us, and yeah," Xander said dryly. "They were hunting vampires in our turf. They were torturing vampires and demons in our turf actually," he admitted, getting comfortable. "They were planning on using them to fight the wars for the army. They were doing other mean stuff and things too so we kinda broke in, did a spell, let Buffy kick the ass of the beast they had created, and left the base in ruins and body parts. I've actually found my NID file, and it's not that thick, but it's very informative since they did a personality profile."
"How did you find these people?" Throttle asked.
"Anya went surfing on Willow's computer one afternoon while she was bored, looking for mentions of herself and other demons she knew. Since Willow was a hacker and she was logged into some chatrooms automatically, the other hackers saw her searches, came out to talk to her, found out who she was when she bragged, and pointed her in the right direction. She introduced me once we got our own computer. I've got a single email contact with one of the sisters of the paranoid underground. Oh, and they already know about you guys, she's got a crush on Modo," he added with a grin for his friend. "She's fairly nice, I met her at a comic convention. She thinks you're neat."
"Wonderful," he said dryly. "My gray furred momma still wouldn't approve of me dating a human, she'd get upset and yell."
"Yeah, but she'd probably settle for a hug. She's geekier than I am."
"How long have they known about us?" Throttle asked patiently.
"I asked her that, I haven't gotten an email back yet," he admitted. "They do know about Limburger, they weren't aware of others being down here though. There's one in the city." He got up to check his email, finding the one he had misread this morning. "Guys, watch the tube, I've got a date," he called, going for his closet. He pulled out his usual clubbing clothes and settled down to put them on. He came out to shocked looks. "Sarah, my contact, set me up with her cousin." He grinned. "Don't wait up, dad."
"Sure, kid," Throttle joked. Once Xander was gone, he went to check his email accounts. "He really did have a date," he said dryly, closing that message and moving on. He heard the door open and got up to look out there, but it was only Charley. "He had a date. A paranoid friend online set him up with her cousin."
"I know." She smirked at him. "He told me in the hall." She closed the door once Switch was inside. "Stoker's out for a midnight ride, but we showed him this place. He'll be back later."
"He's having 'scared daddy' feelings," Switch told them. "Oooh, chicken." She sat down to grab her first piece.
"There's more in the fridge," Modo promised tolerantly. "Charley ma'am, you can eat too."
"I plan on it." She sat down, picking up a chicken leg to nibble on. "He was nice, he even paid me for my time while we went car shopping." She heard Vinnie growl and grinned at him. "It's a decent thing to do. Most people would have to."
"Yeah, but he spoils you and I can't compete," Vinnie complained.
"I'm not used to being spoiled," she admitted. Vinnie brightened up at that. "Then again, I'm not used to being asked if I was a trophy wife either. Today the cabby and the salesman both decided I was his chosen girlfriend. The salesman said I was obviously smarter than some bimbo too." She took a larger bite.
Throttle shook his head. "That was a dumb move."
"It was a compliment really. He knew I wasn't some trophy girlfriend out for Xander's money. Then again, the first guy thought Xander was *very* gay. Asked if the car was for him and his boyfriend, or was it for him, his boyfriend, and their family." Vinnie howled in laughter from that. "Yup, I wanted to do that too," she said blandly, smirking at Modo, who was shaking his head. "Xander's a very dynamic young man. He's also had way too much caffeine today. He was bouncing when he picked me up."
Someone tapped so Throttle got the door, letting Oz in. "Hey."
"Date. Setup with a paranoid online friend."
"Cool. Can I crash? I just talked to Willow and I'm bummed."
"Sure, there's chicken," Charley offered with a smile.
Oz nodded, picking up a piece and going into the study. He came out a minute later and whispered in Throttle's ear, making him grimace. "We're not mean." He went back into the study, going to check his email. He hated women. Maybe he'd hit on Xander instead, he was funny and sweet and the spoilable sort. He shook his head. "Bad mental places," he muttered. "Spoiling Xander is too easy."
Throttle's ear twitched and he shook his head quickly. "Okay then." He looked at his bros. "They've known about us for two years now. The government has known about us for about a year. They've decided we're harmless and only cause minimal property damage and only to those who deserve it. Apparently the people who run those places are big comic book geeks too." That got a laugh and a headshake. "So, we're cool so far. The same people who do us probably do Sunnydale stuff as well," he said as he sat down and grabbed another piece of chicken. "This isn't too bad."
"I like the crunchy stuff," Switch agreed. "It's better than anything I can do."
"I'll teach you how to cook," Charley promised. "That way neither of you have to eat in the mess."
"Thanks, Charley." She gave her a one-armed hug since her other fingers were greasy. "Do you know how to do this?"
"No, but I've got a cookbook," she admitted. "It should be in there."
"Even better. Can I copy stuff out?"
"Sure. I've got some paper and stuff." She ate another bite. "I'm surprised you guys are full already. The bucket's not empty yet." Oz came out and grabbed another piece, then headed back. "You can stay out here, Oz."
"No, I'm good. I'm moping to my email." He closed the door and sat down again, browsing the music files available. He found all of his former band's stuff and was impressed. Even the bootlegs. Someone must have stolen them away from Willow. He set them to playing, feeling nostalgic for a few moments.
"Who're they?" Vinnie asked from the doorway.
Oz looked back at him. "My band." He nodded him inside. "While we were in high school. That's Dingoes Ate My Baby."
"Cool. You guys sound good."
"Yeah, but then I turned furry and things started going bad," he admitted, digging his fingers into the chicken to pull off a piece for nibbling. "Devon's strung out in LA. The others are MIA. Everything sucked once I turned furry." He looked up. "No offense."
"None taken. What we saw that first night must be hard." Oz nodded. "Where were you?"
"Tibet, China for a few weeks in prison when they found out I was in Tibet. They deported me to Seattle and I've been hitchhiking ever since." He shrugged. "It sucks."
"It does, but now you've got a spot."
"Yeah, or I could go deal with Willow."
"We met her, almost, for a few minutes while she yelled at Xander for staying here," he said dryly. "You could probably stay too."
"No job skills, no guitar, and no place to crash," Oz said succinctly. "I can't say 'you want fries with that' all day either." He nibbled another piece of chicken. "I could probably work with Giles, but I hate some of those new girls."
"Been there?" Vinnie asked. Oz nodded, giving him one of those semi-frown looks of his. "Are they as stupid and boring as Xander said?"
"The stupid bitch patrol? Yeah." He let out a slight smile.
"Then we're happy to save him and to hide when they finally show up for him," Vinnie said dryly. "What else can you do?"
"Computer hacking but I'm three years out of date. That's decades in computer years."
"So go to school, Oz," Throttle said from the doorway. "UC has computer stuff and we'll only bug you now and then. It'd help to have a hacker around here sometimes."
"Yeah, I'm debugging Xan's computer now." He looked back. "Thanks, dad."
"Don't start that, kid," he sighed. "It's bad enough Xander does it." He smirked at him, hands crossed over his chest. "You okay? You sound bummed. You're actually speaking more."
"Life sucks. Girls suck. My girl loves me but only loves girl parts now."
"Yeah, that would suck," Vinnie agreed. "I'm sure you'll be okay." He clapped him on the back. "Think about it, Xander could use more friends."
"Yeah, maybe," he agreed softly. "Thanks, guys."
"It's what we hero-studs do," Vinnie joked.
Oz looked him over, then shook his head. "Too many ab crunches for me. That's why I'm a supporter." Both mice laughed at that. "Let me get rid of this virus and I'll come out."
"Sure. You can come worship Switch's belly too," Throttle joked, tugging on Vinnie's arm. He even closed the door behind them. They found Stoker chilled out Vinnie's usual chair. "Comfy?"
"Yeah, where's the mini-punk?"
"He had a date. An online friend set him up with her cousin locally," Vinnie admitted, sitting down next to Charley. He saw her glance at the bucket and picked it up, presenting it to her. "There's more in the fridge." She smiled and took the last piece and they loaded the bones and napkins into the empty container.
"You're finally housebreaking him, I'm impressed," Stoker said dryly.
"Hush, you," Charley teased back. "He's fine the way he is, even though he doesn't spoil me. That's where Xander makes up for him."
Vinnie sighed. "I guess I'll have to take pointers in spoiling from him then."
"Probably true," Modo agreed. "He's very good at it. Any man who isn't dating a woman and gets her candy for her birthday without having to be told is good."
"He is," Throttle admitted, looking at Charley. "You didn't tell us!"
"I'm not celebrating it this year, guys."
"We'll be fixing that shortly," Vinnie said firmly. "You should always celebrate when you can."
"Now he's getting wise, I'm going to be ill," Stoker complained. "Someone stop him before the punk starts spouting poetry."
"I'd pounce you but Xander didn't want his stuff torn up," Vinnie said sweetly. "Expect it tomorrow instead."
"I'd better be the only one pouncing him," Switch warned.
"We'd only whip his tail playfully, Switch, you get the rest of him," Throttle promised. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," she said patiently. "I'm not changing that rapidly."
"You should be feeling the baby kick any day now," Charley offered.
"No, we felt that earlier," she admitted dryly. "Right in the middle of stuff that shouldn't have been interrupted." Stoker blushed and she threw her remaining chicken at him. "Then he got mushy."
"Guys do that to their girls," Throttle promised, patting her on the head. "I would have done it for Carbine. Then again, I probably would have tied her to our bed for a very long time so I would be sure she wouldn't do dangerous stuff."
"My sister?" she asked, looking up at him. "You wanted to protect my sister?" He nodded, smiling down at her. "Then why did she dump you?"
"Oh. Sorry." She reached up and he gave her a hug. "You're still a good big brother." She let him go and grinned at Stoker. "Can they be alternate parents?"
"Suits me, at least the kid'll learn how to whip tail," Stoker agreed quietly. He stared at her. "Does the mini-punk spoil you too?"
"He does things like bring everyone breakfast," she defended. "Or put in a new freezer for Charley, which meant we got steaks." Charley nodded, grinning at him. "I'm only spoiled on the side of her spoiling." The door opened and someone walked in, stomping back to the office and slamming the door behind her. The cat suddenly dove off Modo's lap and under the couch. "I'm guessing here, but that's Willow?" she asked.
"Yeah, same little redheaded firestorm as the last time," Vinnie said dryly. Willow came out and stared him down. "He's on a date."
"Sarah's cousin Meg," Oz said from behind her. "'Scuse us, we've got to be loud." He drug her into the office and closed the door more gently, then glared at her. "What?" he asked finally.
"Why are you here?"
"Because you'd make me wolf out," he said simply. Her face fell. "Don't." He sat down behind the desk chair again, going back to his debugging, noticing that the owner was trying to undo what he was doing. He blocked them and then finished it, destroyed their bug and turning what was left back on the owner. Then he unhooked the computer and finished fixing Xander's computer and defragmented it for him. He turned to look at her once that was all done. "He's happy, Willow. I'm not."
She sighed and sat down on the couch to pout at him, which made him turn around. "I'm sorry, Oz, but I'm with Tania now. I'd love to take you back, but you've got to stay in control and Buffy's being weird and all that stuff is going on again." He shrugged. "Are..are you staying here too?" she asked, looking like she was in pain.
"Trying for the college instead of the couch," he admitted. She nodded at that. He looked back at the beep, redoing the disc scan again. "I loved you, Willow. You didn't wait. You lied. I can't be that sorta guy."
She nodded. "I get it." She stood up. "Can we still be friends and chat and stuff?" He nodded, holding out his arms. She gave him a hug, then reached behind him to fix something with a grin. "He's horrible about that stuff." She kissed him on the cheek. "Need anything? Giles said he wanted a call."
"I'll email once I'm done." She nodded. "I could use some stuff, like chains I guess." She nodded again, looking happier. "Then I'll figure it out."
"Sure, Oz. We love you, no matter what. Buffy and Angel sorta love on my side." She looked out toward the living room, then at him. "Are they furry hamsters?"
"Mice, and Xander said no petting."
"Fine." She shrugged. "Demonic?"
"Cool. That's who Sarah was babbling about," she said with a grin. He nodded. "Then I'll leave you alone. Giles is in bed, so email tonight or call tomorrow and I'll bug him about checking." He nodded again and she left from right there so the temptation wouldn't come.
He got up and walked out, leaning into the living room. "She's gone. Deep breath, no apocalypse this time." He went back to the study to finish his self-appointed task.
"Do you wonder how those two made it together?" Switch asked. Charley giggled and shook her head. "No?"
"Not really. He listens and she talks, it's a good thing," she shared.
"Sorta like us, mouse cadet," Stoker said fondly, smirking at her.
She got up and came over to sit in his lap, giving him a gentle kiss. "Are you okay?" He nodded, stroking her back. "Are you sure?"
"I'm fine and you're legal on Mars," he reminded her. "She can't kill us yet."
"Yes she can," Throttle warned. "She'll have a greeting committee too."
"I know, but she'll lose. I'll tell her you've picked up an apprentice punk and she'll shut up for a few hours."
"How did you two get together?" Charley asked. "I can't imagine Stoker going up to Carbine and asking if he could date her sister."
"I jumped him," Switch said proudly. "I knew what I wanted and I took it."
"Unfortunately she hasn't learned subtlety either and Carbine found out about us. She ordered me to never even look at her sister again. Then this one," he said, giving her a gentle spank, "shows up at my door in nothing but a coat and invites herself inside. I wasn't able to resist before and not after that either."
"I'm figuring I got pregnant about a month after I skipped home," Switch admitted. "Then I told Rimfire since we're buddies and he shouted it and Carbine heard," she sighed.
"I had to take off running," he reminded her.
"I know. She had already pulled her gun. She got the door as it closed." Throttle winced. "Yeah, she was so mad she was off-target. Then she sent me down here." She looked at Stoker. "She put me in a ship without enough fuel."
"Her bike had space freeze and when Xander found her, she had created a wonderful trail, Stoker," Throttle said gently. "She jumped from way too high up in the atmosphere and ran out of fuel there too."
"Oh, I'll be dealing with Carbine when I get back," he promised smugly. "She and I are going to have a long talk. Modo, I called your mom. She said hi and she's sending Rimfire down with treats on his next trip. It took me a week to find out where she had sent this one."
"Well, she's fine for now, but we don't know anything about Martian births or birth rituals," Charley offered.
Stoker shook his head, smirking at her. "Not an issue. If the baby's able to be felt by one of our antennas, it's sacred and she can't do a thing about it."
"Then within a few days you're leaving?" Vinnie pouted. Stoker nodded. "Then we've got to play ball tomorrow."
"Sure, punk. We'll play ball. Any luck getting Xander on a bike yet?"
"He rides behind us and he loves riding with Vinnie," Throttle admitted. "He also likes to ride down the side of buildings, he wanted to go up and do it again before we exploded the tower this time." Stoker moaned, shaking his head. "He's an okay guy. He did our battle plans that night. Oh, we've got to talk about weapons with him. There's some stuff that I wasn't aware you could buy openly."
"Probably not openly," Charley warned, "but possibly on the black market." She looked at where Stoker was pointing, smirking at the vapor trails. "That's not Rimfire. There's only two tails on the ship."
"Hmm, Plutarkians lifting off," Vinnie said, getting up to look. "He's got a decent view of the tower here too. Oh, hey, Camembert!" he said cheerfully. "Let's Rock and Ride, bros, we can't waste this one." They gathered up everything and went to go play with the fish people some more, leaving Switch and Oz there.
Switch looked under the couch. "You can come out, Miss Kitty. Your former mommy's gone." She snuck out and got a cuddle. "They left me here, the big meanies. We'll pout at them later. Yes we will."
Oz came out, heading for the fridge. "You're too valuable to risk in the fight. They might hit the baby, then your man would go nuts." He handed her a soda and scratched the cat's ears, earning a few licks to his fingers. "Yeah, I taste like chicken too. Toss the bones, they're dangerous for cats." She nodded, getting up to do that. He went back to the office but left the door open so the cat and the girl could visit him.
"You do computer stuff?" she asked. He nodded. "Can you teach me? That's what I wanna do. That way I'm helping the war and things but I'm not in danger and I can have the baby with us."
"Sure," he agreed, pointing at a chair. "Sit. We'll start with programs."
"We've got Windows 98 on our comm system," she offered. "Throttle sent it back to us."
"Wow, Microsoft will take over the universe," he said dryly. She giggled and pinched him but let him show her what was what on a computer. She would learn this to help the others.
Xander found his date at the bar and grinned at her. "Sorry, I was having dinner when I remembered," he admitted, holding out a hand. "Xander."
"Okay, and you're who's date?" she asked. He groaned. "Hmm. Let's see, she's dark haired, like me, and small, right?" He nodded. She looked around and pointed. "There. But thanks, you're cute and all but I'm married."
"Pity about the married stuff but thank you," he said with a grin, heading that way. He found his real date and grinned at her. "Meg?" She beamed up at him and nodded, way too cheerful for her goth persona. "Hey, I'm Xander." He sat across from her and shook her hand. "Sorry I'm a bit late. I just remembered while I was eating."
"Among us geeks, it's either that way or they're prepared for days in advance," she shared happily. "I'm the first sort so it's nice that you're at least handsome. How are you liking Chicago?"
He beamed. "So far it's great. I've got some nice friends who were already here and helped me settle in. I left them eating fried chicken back at my place with my cat."
"Wow. Are we talking big, tall, and well-tailed?" she asked, leaning closer. "By the way, does tail size, you know, equate?"
"I never looked but I'll ask Vinnie, see what he thinks," he said with a happy grin. This was his sort of girl! "Just to make sure, you're not evil, formerly demonic, presently demonic, or out to kill me, right?"
"No. Sarah said you had a tragic history but I wasn't sure it was that bad."
"Yeah, only one hasn't tried to kill me yet," he sighed. "Two if you count the cheerleader in high school - she only tried the verbal killing method."
"You poor man. You dated the anti-christs of the pill popping happiness league?"
He wiggled his hand in the air. "More like princess of snarkdom. No happiness in there unless others were miserable, but she was a good kisser. Fortunately that's mostly what we did."
"At least you got something out of it," she said with a grin. "So, where should we head?"
"Up to you. I'm an old-fashioned sorta guy. I also finally bought a car today so I'm good if you want to drive yourself or if you want me to drive you."
"Wow, you're good," she said in appreciation.
"Women can't be too careful, especially on blind dates. Out of my four former best friends, two were lesbians and one of the others was a het girl with a 'tude." She giggled at that. "They trained me very well to be a stunning and supportive man who doesn't beg for more than giving pleasure."
She cackled and swatted him. "Good for them! Every man should be trained to give pleasure and beg sweetly for his. Clubbing good?"
"Sure. You wanna hit a goth club?"
"I heard there's a real demon bar around here. Can we go there? It won't bother you?"
"Nah, not a problem," he promised. "I know right where the vamp club is. I go there a lot actually." He stood up and helped her up. "Do I need to get the tab?"
"Nope, I'm a pay as I go sort," she promised, putting her soda back down on the table. She let him walk her out to his SUV, blinking at it. "That's a huge car. Not eco-friendly in the least."
"No, but Modo's six-seven and I wanted to be able to fit him comfortably if I was taking him somewhere."
"I'd say you could. Let's take yours. I can be naughty tonight."
"I'm actually having my mechanic put on fuel emission controls," he shared. "She'll be up to Kyoto standards in no time."
"Cool. At least you're trying."
"Yeah, but I need it. I'm in construction and I look like a redneck in a pickup." He opened the door for her, helping her up and in. Then he walked around to get in, taking her to the vampire club. He parked and the bouncer stared at his car in awe. "Yeah, it's me again," he said as he walked around to help her out and locked it with the remote. "Like it? I just got it today," he said with a grin.
"I thought the rental SUV was bad," he said, shaking his head. "Compensating?"
Meg groped him, then shook her head. "Statement of fact," she said sweetly. The bouncer laughed and let them inside. The boy wasn't even blushing so apparently he liked them like that. He walked over to look inside, nearly drooling. It was a sweet ride. "No sneaking in," he called without having to look. He saw the local Master and shrugged. "It's a cover night, sorry, sir."
"That's fine. Did I see Xander go in and is that his present white elephant?" The bouncer nodded. "Wonderful. I wanted to talk to him about that other vampire club."
"He's got a date."
"Shit," he complained, but he paid and went inside anyway. Maybe he could get the boy alone for a few minutes. He watched them dance and shook his head. "It'd have to be in the bathroom. She's nearly on top of him already." He got his usual drink and sat down to wait. Surely one of them would have to hit the bathroom sometime soon.
To Part 5