"Hi, this is Meg, and I need a tune up."
Charley listened to the pleasant sounding voice and smiled. "A full tune up with oil change? What sort of car is it?"
"I hope not. It's just now starting to effect my fuel efficiency. I've got a little eco-friendly honda civic," she said happily. "Xander said I couldn't use him for a discount or anything so I won't even try, even though it'd be nice because I'm a college student and all, but I'm not that sort of girl and he seemed like he was going to pull out a weapon of mass destruction and blow something up when I asked if I could. He said you're not that sort of girl either so I thought I'd be straight with you."
"That's always helpful," Charley agreed, holding in the laughs. "Say, thirty, oil change and all?"
"Sure, that'd be great! When can you work me in? Xander says you're one of the best mechanics he's ever went to. Oh, and before you ask, I do know I've got a grinding noise, I don't know what it is, and I'm too poor to fix it at the moment unless it's under fifty bucks."
"Sure, not a problem. I can tell you if it's easily fixed or not, Meg. I'm not busy right now, so bring it on over."
"Will the guys be there? The bulletin boards said some massively sweet stuff about them."
"I'm not sure yet. They're not at the moment and they're being shy right now."
"Oh, sure, I get it. You can't be too careful when you're not from around here and all. NID are nasty folks to people like them, or to Xander I guess since he's *obviously* not normal. I mean, he's a big sweetie and all, but he's a big weapon of mass distraction at times." Charley did laugh at that. "I see you've let him hang out down there. Okay, it'll take me about ten minutes to put on clothes and get over there. Thanks, Charley." She hung up abruptly.
Charley got up and walked into the kitchen, where the guys were playing go-fish while Stoker and Switch hid upstairs for a few more minutes. "Meg's coming over to get a tune up."
"Meg?" Vinnie asked, looking up at her. "New friend?"
"Meg, as in Xander's new girlfriend?" Throttle asked. Charley smirked and nodded. "I wonder if she's evil too."
"We'll be finding out in about ten minutes. She asked if you guys were going to be here, but I thought I should warn you. She sounded a bit hyper." They all nodded at that, expecting that from someone Xander was dating. They'd have to be able to keep up with the boy after all. "So if you're here, she'll probably ask many questions. She said the bulletin boards were full of stuff about you guys."
"Wonderful," Modo said dryly. "Bros, are we heading back?"
"And leave Stoker with a hyperactive woman and a pregnant girlfriend? He'd kill us with our own tails," Vinnie said dryly. "Besides, I wanna case this girl. See what she's like."
"She babbles like Xander after he drank that six-pack the other day," Charley said, going to open the door. She found the girl sitting out there. "Sorry, I was warning the guys you were coming over."
"Hey, that's cool, I'd expect that." She pulled her car inside the garage and stopped. "This good?"
"That's fine, Meg. Rev her for a minute so I can hear the grinding noise." She smiled and nodded. "Okay, turn her off. I'm pretty sure I know what it is and it's fairly common. One of the bolts is too closer to something else." The girl got out and hugged her with a small squeal of delight. "Go settle in on the bench. It'll be about a half-hour. Where's Xander?"
"Still sleeping. I met his sorta-not-roommate Oz last night. I found out the real story behind his and Willow's breakup too. She was so *very* upset that she complained to all of us but forgot to mention that he turned furry now and then and bit people. But that's cool, he's in control and he seems very nice. He's trying to get into my program at the college." She looked over as a head popped over the swinging doors. "Hi." She beamed and got up, coming over to smile at him directly. "Are you Vinnie? The bulletin boards seem to think so."
"No, he's Vinnie," Throttle offered, pointing at him. "The big, grey guy's Modo, and I'm Throttle."
"I'm Meg, Xander's girl." She hugged him and went to look at Vinnie. "I asked Xander a question and he couldn't answer it but he says he hasn't seen you to ask you so I'll do it in person. Does tail size equate to other sizes? A few of us wanted to know online."
Vinnie took a moment to decode the rapid-fire babble, then he blushed and 'eep'ed. "No," he said weakly.
"Okay. Ears or anything else?"
"No, not as far as we know," Stoker said from the stairwell. "Let me guess, you're Meg?" She beamed and walked over to shake his hand. "I'm Stoker."
"Oh, we know who you are, but I've got to tell Sarah she labeled her pictures wrong of the other three. The guy with the skunk streak is Rimfire, right?" He nodded. "Cool. I don't know why she got you three mixed up." She smiled at the new mouse. "Hi, I'm Meg."
"I'm Switch." They shook hands and she put her arm through Stokers. "Friendly visit?"
"No, my civic needed a tune up, it was starting to affect my fuel efficiency and we've got to be eco friendly. Even if Xander does drive this *huge* gas guzzling beast. Then again, I guess it's easier to haul weapons and stuff for the construction job and stuff." She went back out to talk with Charley since she had known Xander longer.
"Did she just ask what I think she did?" Throttle asked. Modo nodded, blushing himself now. Vinnie put his head down on the table, covering his head with his arms as he moaned. "Well, she suits Xander," Throttle decided. Vinnie nodded at that. "Buck up, he could have asked."
"No, that's okay," Vinnie noted, standing up. He walked out, going to talk to the new girl. She was very blunt, but apparently fun-loving and Xander-loving so it was okay. Because he'd never try to steal this one. "So, you're in college?" he asked. "Computers?"
She nodded. "I'm a programmer. I do games and the like. Right now I'm working on a new vampire game and I had to get into the spirit, that's why I'm in goth wear. Next I'm doing an elf-quest sorta game so I'll be an elf for a few months." She grinned at him. "You really are neat. Most people groan in front of me."
"Don't feel bad, we do it to Xander too," Throttle promised from the doorway. "Charley girl, is it time to switch the laundry yet?"
"Probably. Go ahead and check, Throttle." He nodded, heading that way.
"Wow. Now I can see why Xander thinks of Vinnie as a big brother and Throttle as a kinda-father person. He's very strong and uptight."
"No, you just shocked him," Vinnie promised, warming up to her. "He likes fun sometimes."
"We all like fun sometimes, but does he do the Triple Threat roller coasters?"
"Roller coasters?" Vinnie asked, his ears perking up and his tail swishing. "Where?"
"Six Flags is about forty-five minutes away and they've got a water park and a theme park," she said happily. "Usually I splurge and get a season pass since it's so close but I'm graduating in December so I've got to save this summer." She beamed at him. "They've got a bunch of thrill rides, even a few in the water park, and a new superman coaster that I think Xander will love. I wish you guys could go with us, but that might out you," she said, nibbling on her bottom lip. "Damn it, I wish there was a way to hide you guys so you guys could go. Xander said he's not sure if he can do the coasters with his balance problems and I need someone to ride with me."
"If there's a way, he'll find it," Charley assured her.
"Yeah, they don't call me the Velocity Atrocity for nothin', sweetheart," Vinnie said smugly. "Maybe if we shave and wear a hat and full clothes to hide the tails?"
"I wanna see you shave, bro," Throttle teased. "I remember the last time you did that. You itched and whined for *weeks*."
"How much are season passes now?" Charley asked. "The last time I knew they were fifty but it was only twenty five to get in."
"This year, individual ones are ninety and it's thirty five to get in. Oooh, the coasters after dark thingy! It's only with passes and they could go on those because they could wear full coats and stuff."
"It doesn't hide the face," Throttle told her. "People usually notice our noses first."
"They've got a cartoon park," she said. "I can show you on Xander's computer later if you want. Maybe you guys can claim to be cartoon characters. New trials or something."
"Maybe," he admitted, that might work. "We'll see."
"Sure." She hugged him then drug Vinnie off to sit with her. "So, if Xander can't go on them with me, will you? I need someone to scream with on the rides. It's a shame his eye means he doesn't have good balance anymore. I bet if someone trained him he coulda been a great gymnast. He's got the body for it."
"He said he used to swim."
"Hmm, I wonder if he dived." She let out a geeky chuckle. "I can just see him in a speedo."
"That picture's on his dresser," Charley offered. "I saw it while we were rearranging his bedroom again."
"Cool. I'll have to snatch it and gape in awe. Did you know that the bouncer at that vampire club thought he was compensating with his SUV?" She snorted through her nose. "Really! I mean, that guy's got more than enough to share, he's definitely not compensating. It's a statement of fact, and I told him that, but I think I embarrassed him, but Xander was just such a sweetie because he didn't say anything about it. Then again, he did say his ex used to embarrass him and tell what they did in the bedroom all the time to the women around them and that odd Mr. Giles. Do you think Mr. Giles is gay?" she babbled.
"I never met him, but Throttle's talked to him a few times," Vinnie offered with a grin at Throttle.
"How would I know? I don't have gaydar, Vinnie. All I did was talk to the man on the phone twice."
"He seems really nice on the phone, I heard Oz talking to him and he had a really nice accent, but not as nice as that other guy I heard around the tower they're rebuilding. He was enchanting it or something against Xanders, because you know he made him paranoid and stuff."
Vinnie smirked. "Really?" She nodded. "Did you tell him this?"
"I haven't seen him since dinner last night and I heard the guy this morning. That construction crew is terrible this time. They're whistling like Dwarves in the mines."
"You live near the tower?" Throttle asked. She grinned and nodded. "How long have you known Limburger wasn't human?"
"Since about day one, he stinks *way* too much to be one of us. Most of us bathe when possible and come out smelling nicer. He only gets worse. So either he doesn't bathe, which he seems to clean to do, he's got a horrible medical condition that's rotting and it's been too long for that, or he's not from around here. It made sense to me so I asked Sarah and she said there's been hints of others. She sent that information to Xander. Did you know he set up one of the others as Limburger's secret husband?" They all nodded, Charley snickering at that. "He's such a goof sometimes, but very strong, studly, manly, and geeky, just how I like them. XANDER!" she squealed, running over to kiss and hug him. "Hi."
"Hi," he kissed her again. "Did you get to ask your question?"
"I did and he said there wasn't any evidence of relation between tail size and other sizes, or ears as far as Stoker knows." She kissed him again. "Figure out how to get them to Six Flags with us?" she pleaded. "Vinnie said he'd ride the coasters with me if you can't."
"Sure, babe. Give me a few days." He put his arm around her and walked her back to look in her engine. "I thought it needed a spacer and that was the reason for the grinding."
"A bolt's too long actually," Charley said with a grin. "Had breakfast yet?"
"Not yet," he admitted. "I got to separate Miss Kitty and Oz since he went furry last night for some reason. She was sleeping on the back of his neck and kneading whenever he tried to get her off."
"Oooh, I bet that was so cute!" she cooed.
"Yup, it was," Xander agreed happily. "My landlord said I'm strange and odd, but that I'm protecting the building since someone tried to break in last night and I pulled a gun on him. He even said he'd pay someone to clean up the mess he made in the hall when he shit himself." The bros laughed at that and Meg gave him a hug. "So, guys, you've met Meg, what do you think?"
"I think she'll be able to keep up with you, punk," Stoker said from the doorway. "What pastries is she talking about?"
"Meg, take my SUV to Greer's bakery and get some pastries for me and her," he said, kissing her and handing over his wallet. "Please?" She nodded, stealing another kiss before leaving. He waited until she was gone. "Well?"
"Does she slow down?" Vinnie asked. Xander shook his head with a grin. "You understand her babbling, right?"
"Yeah, I've heard it many times in the past with Willow."
"If you're happy, we're happy," Modo told him. Throttle nodded, smirking at him. "She'd better treat you well too."
"We haven't quite gotten that far yet, guys. I'm not really a one-night-stand guy anymore." He flopped down beside Vinnie. "So, how was your night?"
"Quieter than yours apparently." He nudged him. "She's cute."
"Thanks," he said with a grin. "Charley?"
"She's not evil, and she seems nice, I'm impressed," she admitted. "That and she takes very good care of her car." She straightened up. "She doesn't even need an oil change yet so I'm done." She smiled as the girl came back. "You don't need an oil change yet, just to add a few quarts, you're a bit low."
"Cool!" she said happily, handing over the box to Stoker. She hugged Charley. "You're the best mechanic, just like Xander said." She handed over the forty dollars. "That bolt?"
"I sawed off the excess and made sure to blow off any metal shavings."
"Thanks." She grinned at Xander. "I've got class in about an hour. Wanna go out tonight?"
"Nah, tonight I'm going to spy on the tower."
"Oh, yeah, I heard an english guy around the tower. Limburger wanted to ward it against Xanders. He said it was an annoyance he didn't need anymore."
Xander smirked. "Don't worry, he can't really do that. But I'll gladly talk to whoever. English?" She nodded. "Dark hair, lean, looks like the guy on my desk?" She nodded. "That's Ethan. I'll be sure to pop around on him later."
"He's at the Holiday Inn." She got in and beeped, backing out and driving off.
"I didn't think we were in Tornado Alley," Switch said dryly.
"Just barely," Charley told her with a grin. "Can I have one, Xander?" He got up to steal the pastries back and open them up to take his, then handed Charley one once her hands were clean. "Thanks. Switch, eat."
"Sure, thanks, Xander. You spoil the baby very well. What's her name?"
"I like that name."
"We'll name the baby something that'll embarrass your sister," Stoker said patiently. "Fathers get to pick names so we don't end up with hormone driven names."
"That changed after that famous 'Castrate' case," Throttle agreed. Xander gave him an odd look. "A Martian mother used to get sole naming rights but this one had her seventh child in nine years and she named the baby Castrate."
"What she was going to do to her husband?" he suggested. Throttle nodded, stealing a bite of pastry. "There's extra."
"Vinnie, toss me a raspberry one, not literally," he added as an afterthought. Otherwise he'd have to clean raspberry jam out of his fur and ear. "The father of that child went to court to change the baby's name and had to fight centuries of naming law to get the poor tyke's name changed. After that it changed so only fathers could name the child, just in case the mother was having a hormone swing." He bit into his pastry. "How do you guys do it down here?"
"I'm guessing whoever gets to the birth certificate first or some sort of deal making among the parents," Xander said between bites. His girlfriend drove past in the other direction so he waved when she beeped. "Her mother must have called. She only lives about four blocks away."
"I think I know her," Charley admitted. "I thought Meg looked familiar. How is she going to go elf?"
"Ear tips glued on, bra top and loincloth skirt with boots and a bow," he said with a grin. "Hair extensions too probably."
Charley shook her head. "At least you'll never get bored."
"No, not in the least."
"She told us about the club and your SUV," Throttle taunted with a smirk. Xander nodded, eating another bite. "Not embarrassed?"
Xander licked the icing off his fingers. "It's not bragging if it's true and I've had worse done to me. Anya used to tell in graphic detail and then complain that I was only giving her five or six orgasms a night." He stood up to snoop in the box, looking at Switch, who gave him a pitiful look so he let her have the last one. She kissed him on the cheek as he walked past and he got to pat her belly. "Hey, baby." He stopped, pressing a bit, making her moan. "Deep breath." She took one and the baby kicked, making him grin. "Very strong, but I'm guessing male." He went back to the bench and stretched out. "Charley, did you get in that emission control stuff?" She nodded. "When do you want the gas guzzling dinosaur to put them on?"
"Drive her in, Xander, it won't take that long," she offered. He grinned and got up to get his SUV and bring it inside.
"Damn," Stoker said in awe. "That's an assault vehicle."
"Only if I put weapons on it," Xander said sweetly. Stoker cracked up at that. "Oh, Throttle said I'm to give you one of my grenade launchers to take back with you, that way you can be hooked into the black market if you like them. So you've got to get the one out of the back."
"Sure, kid, thanks," Stoker agreed. "Is it big?" Xander nodded. "Then bring it over later and I'll hide it at their spot."
"That wouldn't be wise, there were a lot of cops over there when I cruised past."
"Hmm. Then we'll see it later," Stoker admitted. He looked at his girlfriend. "The baby satisfied again?"
"Can I learn how to make these?"
"Making pastry dough is very hard and time consuming," Xander warned. "It's also very delicate work, but you probably could. It's well beyond what I can do. I can boil, bake, grill, and toast but that's about it."
"You can cook?" Charley asked.
"I worked in many fast food places before I started working construction," he said wisely. "I worked in a hibachi place, a cone place, a few burger places, a steak place for a few weeks off from the site during a slow spot, and a few I'd rather forget." She gave him a pat to the arm. "Thanks. I did learn something about cooking but I'm not the greatest. I admit that it's better to order than to cook when you're single. Most recipes are made for four people and I hate leftovers so I eat them all, then I get chunky and have to do many situps."
"Oz said he couldn't be the hero sort because he'd have to do too many ab crunches," Vinnie said smartly, smirking at him.
"No, I lift, tote, and haul all day, I don't need work on my upper body, but I do do situps every day, faithfully, so I don't get a gut. It's pitiful when a guy like me has a gut like yours, Vinnie."
Vinnie pounced him, rolling around to tickle and punch him, but Xander was giving it back like a true mouse. "My abs are wonderful."
"Oooh, trying to brag to the straight guys," Xander taunted. He nearly got away but Vinnie's tail got him instead. "Hey! No fair, you won't help me get one of those!"
Throttle shook his head. "I'm having fun now, you?" he asked Stoker.
"Loads." He looked at Modo, who shook his head. "Think we should break them up before the mini-punk hurts the punk?"
"Ha! I'm bigger and stronger than he is," Vinnie shouted. He suddenly found himself on his back, looking up at a wickedly grinning Xander. "How did you do that?"
"Hyena reflexes, dude. They're amazing and I'm the alpha in my pack," he said smugly. He got to work tickling him, batting at the tail when it tried to stop him. Vinnie was trying too hard not to shriek his head off.
Finally, Throttle couldn't take it any more and waded in there, but Xander tripped him and they attacked him instead. "Vinnie!"
"Yeah, Bro? Turnabout and all that," he chuckled, trying to attack him.
"You guys, I doubt Meg wants to watch Xander attack you two."
Xander looked up and that was what Throttle needed, that moment of distraction. He got Xander on his back and staring down at him. "Hi."
"Hi, Throttle." He did something and they were both on their sides. "Needed a cuddle? I bet you're very good at it."
"Brat," he said fondly, but he got up, heading into the kitchen to get a drink. "Anyone need a drink?"
"I could use one," Vinnie panted, holding his chest. "Ow, I laughed too hard."
Charley patted him on the top of the head. "You deserved it." She grinned at Xander. "Sorry, gotta stick up for him first."
"That's okay, I'll just buy you different candy this time." He got up and went over to his car, handing her the small box. "Here, it's a new flavor."
She opened it and took out a bite, then he handed it around. She bit in and squeaked, running for the faucet.
"Chocolate covered hot peppers," Switch said happily, snatching the box. "These are good. Want one, guys?"
"No, that's all right," Modo said, gulping his soda.
"What sort of fire was that?" Throttle complained, waving a hand in front of his mouth.
"Scotch Bonnets, one of the hottest peppers known to mankind," he said smugly. "Go ahead, Vinnie. If I can eat a box, you can eat one. You're not wimping out, are you?" he taunted.
Vinnie popped the white chocolate covered treat into his mouth, then ran for a new drink. It took three before he could talk again. He watched as Xander smirked and popped one into his mouth. "There's none in that one," he panted. Xander bit another one in half and then ate it, making him shudder. "You win, this time."
"You guys forget, I grew in the triangle of Mexican, Asian, and South Western foods. We had a lot of hot peppers at times." He kissed Switch on the cheek. "I'll buy you a big box to take home with you. You can make your sister eat one."
"I'll tell her you sent them," Stoker assured him, shaking his head. He wasn't that brave he decided.
"If I can eat one, Stoker can," Modo said. His eyes were still watering. Vinnie got him another soda and a few paper towels to blow his nose on. "Well, I don't have a cold anymore."
"Me either," Charley agreed, wiping her eyes. "Oh, God, that's bad, Xander. Where did you find them?"
"We need to go window shopping there," Switch said happily. "Thanks, Xander." She took another one then put the box up in her stuff. She came down and kissed Stoker, passing him the rest of her last one, making him choke and swallow it. He ran to the sink to drink it down. "See, hot peppers are good."
Stoker gave her a look like she was insane. "It'll pass when the baby's born," Charley soothed. She shook her head. "At least it wasn't bugs."
"No, I had enough of that back in Sunnydale," Xander assured her. "I'd never do that to anybody." He hugged Switch. "I'm getting Mexican for lunch. I'll make sure you get the super spicy stuff and they get the bland stuff without beans or peppers."
"Please," Throttle pleaded. He wiped his nose. "That was so bad, Xander."
"I noticed the sniffling. That cured it," Xander said cheerfully. "Let me go get that and I'll be right back."
"Oh, no, I'm going with you," Vinnie said, wiping his eyes again. "Just in case."
"Sure, but it'll be a big box and I can't grab you and it," Xander said dryly.
"I haven't taken anything off yet, Xander, let me lower your SUV down," Charley said. "Get me some quesadillas, chicken if you can. No guac."
"Sure. Any other requests?" No one said anything. "Last chance. Anyone who doesn't like beans?" They all shook their heads. "Is that a general 'no beans'?"
"Beans are fine, we'll just open a window tonight," Vinnie assured him happily, getting in with him once the SUV was down. "This way you can't get the rest of us nasty stuff."
"Sorry, but it's one of those tests of manliness where I come from," he said happily, backing out and pausing to let a kid bike past. "That's a good sign, I like those signs." Charley held up a hand so he waited while the kid's dog ran after it. She waved so he looked behind him and shook his head, beeping. The kids scattered and one remembered to take their balls too. He waved and grinned as he finished backing out, heading for the Mexican place one of his coworkers had recommended that first day. He parked and walked inside, smiling at the waiter. "Takeout."
"Si. To the bar, por favor."
"Gracias." He walked over to the bar and grinned at the man there, spitting out a rapid- fire list of things he wanted, and in what strengths. "No guac on the quesadillas," he finished with a grin. The man nodded, holding up the list. Xander nodded that it was correct and he headed into the back. Xander paid and took the box of food, heading back out to his SUV. He put the box in Vinnie's lap and got in to drive again. He wiggled for a moment, then buckled up and took off. "I made sure you got the non-hot stuff. Lots of beans, but not hot."
"Thanks, my tongue may recover this year after all," he quipped. They pulled back into the garage and he parked over the lift, earning a grin from Charley. Vinnie got out, bringing the box with him. "He promised, no hot peppers for us."
Switch looked at the food and took what looked interesting, getting something replaced on her plate. She grinned at Charley, who had taken back her own lunch, and took the chili to sit down with it. She squealed and waved a hand in front of her mouth, gulping her rootbeer, the one Throttle had in front of him, the one Modo had in front of him, and finishing Stokers for him. Xander put a carton of milk down in front of her and she finished that, sighing in relief. "Hot," she said in appreciation, taking another bite.
"Texas chili," he explained. "Highest degree of hotness they made."
"Don't spoil her, we don't have hot peppers on Mars," Stoker complained.
"I've got some jars she can take with her," Xander assured him. "Only a few are pickled, plus I've got some dried ones for her to add to stuff and a cookbook of how to use them. I'll get her some of that and stuff so she can make it at home for her sister."
"When Carbine comes down to thump him, I want video," Stoker told Throttle. He shook his head, digging into his messy food. "Why not?"
"We'd have to stick up for him. He saved her life and her bike's life."
"Besides, how else are you guys going to get phallic weapons that will make a girl like her moan in agony at the maleness of them?" Xander asked dryly. Switch giggled at that. "They are! They're even shaped like it." Stoker got up and went to look at the grenade launcher in the back of his SUV, coming back shaking his head. "Tell me that's not phallic."
"No, it is," he agreed quietly. "She'll hate it, but I'm supposing it's effective?"
"Oh, hell yeah. Very effective. And it's a single use weapon. You can dump it and recycle the metal."
"We could use that," Stoker admitted. "Plus, a single use weapon does mean you can pack heavier and then lighten up when times are critical too." Xander nodded. "Did you do a lot of this?"
"No, we only had quarterly real attacks. Usually it was one or two bad guys, a few of us as a strike team, and then we move on."
"So, small group combat," he said thoughtfully. Xander nodded. "Anything larger?"
"High school graduation. Seventy foot demon, I mobilized about three-quarters of my graduating class," he said tiredly. "I'd rather not discuss it."
"I get the point, kid," he said quietly. "Been there, done that, have the nightmares to prove it."
"Yeah, I wish I could drug mine away now. I'd get more sleep," Xander told him.
"You didn't sleep last night?" Throttle asked.
"Maybe an hour. Then it was 'up, pace, find something boring to do, nap, have a nightmare, up, pace, find something boring to do, doze off, and repeat'," he said with a small shrug. "At least I didn't have to wear it out. Nothing was open by that time." He sipped his soda and dug back into his lunch. "Eat, guys."
"You okay?" Throttle pressed.
"I'm fine. I've gotten used to only sleeping eight hours the entire week," Xander reminded him. "I'll be fine."
"They make drugs for that?" Stoker asked.
"To keep you asleep. I sleep so deeply I nearly died the last time I tried it," he admitted. "I quit breathing and Anya got frantic, called an ambulance and everything. I woke up being patted by the paramedic and being asked if I had taken more than the recommended dosage." He took another bite. "Let's move on," he tried again.
"Sure, Xan. Call if you need to go wear it out," Vinnie reminded him.
"I would have but it was late, nothing was open by then, and Oz kept growling at me." He shrugged and ate another bite, then put his lunch into the fridge. "I'll pick that up later, I'm going to bug Ethan and get him onto our side." He headed out, taking his SUV with him.
Charley kicked Throttle under the table. "Don't bring up those memories, it'll be another bad night."
"I forgot," he admitted. "He does the same thing Vinnie does, goes to let it leak out in public."
Stoker nodded. "I tried that. I'm more a meditative sort anymore. I'm too old to dance."
"Xander's got the stamina to do it," Vinnie offered. "His first week here he was pretty muchly up all the time except when the movers got there."
"He hired movers?" Stoker asked dryly.
"Yeah, he was in Ohio. They packed up everything, drove it here, carried it upstairs without complaint, and left it in the right rooms," Throttle said. "Saved a lot of wear and tear on our backs." Someone pounded on the door so Charley went to answer it.
"Yes?" she asked the uniformed man standing there. "Is there a problem?"
"Ma'am, would you happen to know who's living at the ball field?" he asked bluntly. "They're trying to sell the park and a suspicious ship was found during the tour."
She nodded. "Possibly. I've seen them in the past but they don't hang out here. I may be able to get a message to them." If they knew enough to come to her, she couldn't lie about not knowing the mice. "I'll try to get a message to them. How long do they have?"
"If possible tonight. If not, within the week," he said tiredly. "The nice Japanese man wanted to look at the suspicious ship but we wouldn't let him." She nodded at that. "So please, hide them better? And tell that other guy, the one with the Infinity QX, that we're still ignoring all of you, but to leave the crew reconstructing the tower alone please."
"He went to bother the sorcerer working with them."
"Magic now. I'm sure the guys who play D&D will love that," he said sarcastically. "Fine, I don't care. I'm one of the many who don't care. I'd like to never care, never hear about it or anything else like it, but let's try to get them moved and to not have any more splash landings in the lake? It scared some people and the UFO hotline called the press."
"We'll try," she promised with a smile. "We try to lay low."
"Which is why we came to you, ma'am, instead of putting an ad in the paper. Oh, tell him nice try at covering his tracks, but someone recognized his handwriting on the letter he sent for the first editorial. We're ignoring that too since it's doing good in the city. Teach him subtlety?"
"He's twenty-three. We're doing good to make him slow down."
"Hey, all good and all," he agreed, nodding. "Just try please. Warn them if you can. I'm sure they can find an abandoned building around here." She nodded. "Thank you, ma'am. Do you do imports?" She nodded. "Then I'm sending my brother to you. His in- law is a crook and charging him fifteen hundred for basically rotating his tires and a brake job on his Austin-Healy." He tipped his hat and walked off, whistling happily back to his car.
Charley walked into the kitchen, noticing the sour looks. "At least Xander bought the building next to us," she pointed out. "It's got no roof, but you guys could fix that or figure out how to land."
"True," Throttle agreed. "Okay. Let's go do that this afternoon." Everyone nodded. "Switch, you and Stoker make sure the building's empty. Chicago does have a homeless problem." She nodded, eating another bite of her chili and wiping her eyes. "Good girl. Did Oz teach you anything?" She nodded. "Decent." He got up, heading out to his bike. He'd talk to Xander later. He had probably foreseen this. They'd have to move the ship tonight, under cover of darkness. Stoker's ship too. Maybe Xander would point out how to cover the gaping holes in the building.
"Guess we'll be over more often, sweetheart," Vinnie said, grinning at her. "Let's go clean up the mess, Modo."
"Of course. It shouldn't take too long," he said grimly. He didn't like being found out.
"It could be worse, they could be pulling an ET," Switch offered. Modo nodded, lightening up at that.
"Huh?" Stoker asked.
"Popular movie reference. They quarantined a whole block and came in wearing biohazard suits to get the kiddy alien," Switch told him. She finished up her chili and helped Charley clean up, then went to look at the building Xander had bought the mortgage on. "Hi, anyone in here? We're taking over the building," she called as she walked in. She heard footsteps and turned, hitting the person about to attack her. "I don't think so," she said grimly. "Messy human." She walked on, finding a few others. She found a family on one floor and sat down across from the mother. "The man yours?" She shook her head, hugging her children closer to her. "It's okay, I'm about to be one myself," she said, patting her growing bulge. The mother relaxed. "Problem is, someone bought the building and he's moving us here," she said gently.
"It's got a bad draft," one of the kids told her.
"That's okay, the guy's a carpentry person," she said with a wink. She looked at the mother again. "I don't want to do it, but we've got to evict you. Are there other buildings? I could probably get you help moving over there."
"No, we don't got much," she said quietly. "There are more like you?"
"No," she said with a grin. "Some friends of mine are just as odd though."
"Are you mutants, like on the comic books?" the other child asked.
"Hush," the mother ordered.
"No, it's a fair question." She smiled at him and shook her head. "No, sweetie, I'm not. I'm just stuck down here."
"You're an alien?"
"Yes, and it's big, huge secret," she told the kids. "Otherwise me and my baby will get hurt. Understand?" They nodded, looking up at their mother.
"We won't tell no one," she promised. "You're sure you want this one?"
"We're destructive anyway," she said with a grin. "We can fix it up and destroy it a number of times."
"Okay. Can we have tonight?"
"If you need it," she offered. "Not much longer though. We really need to move stuff."
"Did agents come for you?" the bold kid asked.
"No, but we were warned they were," she offered. They nodded, understanding that. "I tell you what, we'll move the ship over here tonight, that'll block the draft from upstairs," she said with a small shiver. "Then we'll move in tomorrow. That way you have time to scout a new building." She heard a footstep and tensed, but then smelled who it was. "Xander."
He walked in, nodding at her, and squatted down, handing the mother an address. "It's an abandoned building up the street. I've scouted out the nearby buildings. That one's near a Pit, but the Pit Boss is gone now. It should be safe and it's defensible if it's not. It's only got one entry and a few windows that you can get out of but not into. Trust me, I know these things, I've done them in the past," he shared. She nodded, taking the paper to look at it. She smiled slightly. "Well known?"
"It's said to be haunted."
"Yeah, I ran into the werewolf and we found him a better place to hide during the full moon."
"They exist?" the bold kid asked.
Xander patted the boy on the head. "They do, little guy. They're unfortunately cursed like that." He nodded, getting that. "Go there, he's got a new cage. It'll be safe and it was empty last night. It's also warmer." She nodded. "Don't worry about eviction," he said with a wink. "It's not even up for sale." She nodded, going to gather up their things and move them. He looked at Switch, who was stroking her stomach. "It won't happen, your people are too far down to do this to each other," he said gently, stroking her back. She burst out crying and hugged him so he soothed her. "Shh, it's all right. It'll be okay, Switch. I promise, it's okay."
"What's wrong?" Stoker yelled as he stomped up the stairs. He saw Xander, he saw the family packing up, and the look the mother was giving his girl. "Hormone swing?" Xander nodded. "I'm getting to know about those." He picked her up and looked at her. "Mars will never have this many people again," he said quietly. "We'll never have a housing shortage, Switch. I promise. You and the baby won't ever have this." She nodded, clutching him.
"I hope not," the mother said softly. "We didn't think so either."
"We're down to under six hundred thousand of us," Stoker told her. She nodded at that.
"Ma'am, if you don't mind my asking, how did you get here?" Xander asked.
"My husband lost his job and then he died last year."
"There are places to help."
"They're more dangerous sometimes than being out here."
Xander nodded. "If I find someone who can help, I'll send them to you," he promised. "To help those kids. They deserve a chance." She nodded, herding the children off into the afternoon sunlight. He stood up, looking around the building. "Okay, we'll leave the roof open for the ship, but block off that level better so there's no draft. We'll tent the inside walls until we can build inner ones in front of them, that'd be easier than patching the old stone," Xander decided, looking around. "Plus, you can insulate between them and we can mouse-proof them so Vinnie can't run through them. There's a good back door for the bikes and a garage area, or we can put a ramp in place of the stairs easily enough. Plenty of storage area so we can store materials in one area while they live in another. I'm thinking bricks, they'd be easiest, you, Stoker?"
"Yeah, for the inner walls."
"Not very cheery."
"True." Xander looked at the nearest wall, tapping on it. "Ancient plaster and a fire hazard," he said grimly. "We'll have to run electricity too," he decided. "We could gut the inside and fix it pretty within about two weeks if I had a crew of about ten people." He looked around again, shaking his head. "It'll just have to be a weekend project for a few weeks," he decided.
"You could give the boys tasks and let them do it," Switch said weakly.
"Oh, I was planning on that, love, but nothing too difficult. I wouldn't ask any of them to run plumbing or wire." He looked around again. "It wouldn't be too difficult. I'll get with them tonight over the plans. Then I'll get them permits tomorrow so no one says anything."
"Won't the owner get upset?" Stoker asked.
"No, I'd rather see the building looking better than this," Xander told him with a grin. "I... inherited some cash and found out that Charley's mortgage was up for sale before Limburger did so I bought that one and this one in case she wanted to expand, or for circumstances like this and as a training and staging area for any intense battles." He looked around again, then nodded once, going to look at the other layers. "This'll need reinforced," he complained once he got up there. He sighed and looked down the stairs. "Tell them it'll be really late tonight, it's going to take me about eight hours to get this thing metal sheeted. How heavy is their ship?"
"A few tons."
"I'm not sure this building will support it," he said dryly. "Hmm. Well, if we have to, we can park the ship in another wreck and work on this one. At least for a day or so," he admitted.
"That burns fuel."
"Yeah, I'm aware of that and the cost of fuel. Trust me, I have to fill up my truck many times a month." He went to talk with the guys, tell them what he had seen. He walked past the man on the floor, stopping to check him over. "Huh. He's not exactly of the living and breathing." He checked, he had autopsy cuts. He staked him and moved on, dusting his hands off. He got into his SUV and headed for the ballfield, parking a bit away to sneak in. He tapped on the door and walked inside. "Bad news. The building's top floor is fragile." They all groaned. "We can fix the building by building interior walls and all that stuff, it should take a few weeks, even while you're living there, but I'm not sure the ship won't crash the building totally."
"If I was going to strengthen the top layer, I'd be heading out to get thick metal sheeting and rods to anchor them into the walls instead of the floor. That floor's ready to give. It's swiss cheese."
"I hate cheese," Vinnie muttered.
"Hell, I'd suggest parking it at the tower, but it's not a weekend." He shrugged. "The building can be sound internally but it'll take a good few weeks. We can build interior walls in front of the present ones, putting some insulation there too. Then if the building crumbled, you'd have a better one already up."
"Won't we have to have permits?" Modo asked.
"And? I'm a licensed contractor."
"Point," Modo admitted. "Plans?"
"I can do that tonight. It's either do it this way, or blow it and start over, guys."
"Which'll be faster?"
"Building inside, that way you can customize and everything as you go. We can even go without permits for a few weeks if we want or need to. The one thing I'm worried about is the ship's weight on that top level."
"Well, she can crash down one if necessary," Vinnie offered.
"That might be better if you plan on her hitting then falling," Xander admitted. "Fortunately the bottom level has a nice place for a garage area and a ramp would be easy to install." Everyone nodded. "We can even run true electric and plumbing if we wanted to. You guys wouldn't use that much water, right?" he asked with a grin.
"No, I only bathe once a week," Vinnie said dryly. "You think this is possible?"
"I think with a crew of ten I could get it done in two weeks, fully fixed even if we wanted to patch it, gut it, and start over," Xander told him. "It's not that big of a building." He grinned. "I've still got to talk to my new boss. I haven't heard about a new start date." He pulled out his phone, paging through his phonebook to find him. "Hey, Merle, it's Xander. When are we starting again?" He pinched his nose. "Why? Okay. Then I've got a project. I bought a cheap, run down building next to my favorite mechanic and I'm turning it into a private residence. No, I'm thinking a crew of ten, two weeks, maybe sixty grand at most." He beamed. "Really. But the problem is that there's going to be strange stuff. So I'll need the guys who can be trusted not to blab. Yeah, that sort of strange stuff. Why?" He smirked at them. "That's why I filed for reconditioning permits. Yeah, that's fine. No, I can draw up plans, not an issue. Can you get me real construction permits, get me an estimate I can take to the board, and do it, say, today? Hey, I'll be right over with informal plans. Thanks, man." He hung up. "We may be saved. I can't go back to work for another three weeks. We ran into a gas line construction project," he said bitterly. "You'd think they'd tell us about that stuff. Okay, move stuff to my place or to Charley's, we can accommodate some of you at each if we have to." He walked off, muttering about ideas. He sketched out a rough plan in his SUV, then drove over to the work site, where Merle was arguing with someone. "Hey," he said, handing it over.
"Hold on, Xander." He listened. "So? It's nowhere near the tower. No, it's residential project. The place is basically gutted anyway," he complained. "He's already got the starting stuff done, all he needs is a formal construction permit. Because he's being a nice guy," he said. "We've been fucked by that gas line project suddenly announcing they're going in under our building that we're nearly finished constructing. Yeah, that one." He smirked. "That's what I thought. How long, kid?"
"Ten people, two weeks. Twenty people is above my budget," he admitted. "Fifteen I could start with but it'll end up being bricking and wire and plumbing mostly. A ramp, some shoring up of the top level. A garden," he said with a small smirk.
His boss shook his head. "You're insane."
"I know. I've been told that by professional people too, ones who thought I should be on disability for my eye."
Merle nodded. "Ten of our guys, two weeks, easily fixed. He's got construction experience." He looked at the plans and nodded. "Six plugs?"
"They're radio sorts," he said with a small shrug. "Beyond OSHA and all that stuff."
"True." He listened. "Yeah, there. No, not the Last Chance, the one next to it," he said patiently. "Yeah, there. Thanks, man. No, file it as going on now. Thanks." He hung up. "You lucked out."
"No, I planned it out," he said dryly. "I figured it might take a few days to get the permit, that's where I lucked out." His boss chuckled and sat down to look at it. "Doable?"
"I don't like the position of the bathroom."
"Yeah, but I'm figuring that's the thickest wall so it's got the pipes already."
"Interesting. Let's go look at it." He stood up and followed Xander out to his car, whistling in appreciation. "You didn't go pricier?"
"I didn't want any smart comments about rich boys," he admitted, turning off the security system. "Gas line? Limburger?"
"No, city," he said bitterly. "This is a medical office too." He climbed in and smiled at the comfortable seats. The kid got in with him and they took off, heading back to the building. He looked at the outside. "That's a wreck."
"I'm figuring building internal walls," he admitted. "The outside could be taken down easily enough once we were done and we could insulate after we brick."
"That'd be more expensive than starting over and going from the ground up."
"No time," he sighed. He led the way inside. "Yo, if anyone's here, we're the owner and contractor!" He heard footsteps scurrying and it sounded like boots to him so he guessed Stoker and Switch were still upstairs. He walked him around, pointing at where he wanted stuff.
"Your ideas have merit, they'd be easy enough to do, we could insulate if we double brick," he admitted. "Or brick and then wallboard even."
"Whichever's easier, faster, and cheaper," Xander assured him. "Within the codes."
"Okay, we can do that," he decided. "Two weeks?"
"Yeah, I'll be helping and we've got other helpers who'll be living here while we're constructing, kinda," he admitted. "Hence the strange stuff."
"Ah. The furry ones?" Xander nodded. "Good enough. They're good workers, that'll give us fourteen. Yeah, probably two weeks would be a good estimate. Plus, if they get bored they can add on during the nights."
"Which is what I thought," Xander agreed. "Otherwise I'd say three weeks and me doing trim on the weekends."
Merle chuckled. "Possibly. Okay, let's get these formally done and filed, then I'll call in the guys while you go to Home Depot." Xander nodded, writing down his rough estimate. "Not that many bricks. We can brick one side, stud the other, and wallboard on top of it. It'll go faster and cheaper."
"Sure. We'll need the ceiling reinforced and we'll be putting up a hoop downstairs."
"All the floors will need reinforced," Merle said dryly. "Go for it, kid. Bring it back here."
Xander nodded, going to do that. By the time he got back, Merle had pinned the permit to the bottom wall and the place was swept pretty clean. Which was good, Xander had a whole trailer full of stuff they'd need. Good thing he had an SUV that could tow too. He got to work on the top layer, doing the metal reinforcement for now. They'd have to move the ship first and it wouldn't fit downstairs. Unless someone thoughtfully blew out a wall and made a garage door. Which was what happened later that night, but he didn't mind, they'd need it anyway for the ship later on. He had plans for that space. "Don't let it get too comfy down there," he yelled.
Throttle came up the stairs, whistling at the work he had gotten done. "This'll be nice. Putting it under reinforced concrete?" Xander nodded, putting the next panel in place and bolting it to the wire framework in the walls. "What's all that stuff?"
"Walls," he said dryly. "You'll need walls. We'll be taking out the outer walls once the inside are built. That'll leave this place bricked and really pretty." He beamed at him. "Then we'll insulate, run cords and plumbing between that and normal stud walls."
Throttle looked impressed. "How long?"
"Crew of ten starts tomorrow. I figured on all of us helping and it being about two weeks before we take out the outer walls." He finished that plate and moved on. "If you guys wanna start, I marked a bunch of walls earlier with X's on the front sides of walls. Go ahead and destroy at your leisure."
"Vinnie'll be happy," Throttle joked. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, I called Meg, she'll pop around tomorrow to help clean up and things. I specified stranger people on the crew. Most of them have families and will be keeping quiet about you guys."
"Hey, interesting is what I do for a living," he said dryly. "Construction is only a hobby." Throttle snickered and went to tell the guys to find the X's and destroy those walls. Vinnie whooped and Modo settled in to help in his usual manner. Even Switch and Stoker got in to help. Xander came down a few hours later and laid the first row of bricks, yawning while he mudded between them and started on the next row. It was a pretty standard pattern. When Vinnie got tired of destruction, he found him doing that and nearly asleep so he came in to help. He was going to be up for hours anyway. He noticed the holes that were being left and respected them, laying the reinforcing rods once the wall got high enough to hold them. Xander was napping against the bricks by then. Vinnie paused to pick him up and present him to Throttle, who made the boy nap in one of their hammocks, then he went back to bricking.
"You need to sleep too," Throttle said from the remaining doorway. This wall was apparently staying.
"Eventually. I figure I can get a few more feet done," he admitted. He yawned but kept going, his tail grabbing bricks while he put the sealing compound in place. He kept going until he was nodding off, laying the last few bricks then going to curl up beside Xander. It was his bed and he wasn't aware enough to care at the moment.
Charley came in the next morning with coffee for the crew and looked around. "It's a good start," she praised Xander. She kissed him on the cheek. "Have I mentioned how much easier it is with you here to help me cover for them?"
He chuckled and grinned. "No, but I'm used to it. Buffy and Willow couldn't make up an excuse for late night patrols for anything." He took his coffee back to his wall, working on laying another reinforcing rod since his helper was shorter and doing the bottom brick work. He heard a small explosion and winced. "What was that?"
"We found the old hot water heater," someone called. "It was a pile of rust anyway."
"Sure. Do we have a dumpster yet?"
"Since shortly after we got here," Merle called back. "Don't worry, let me lead, Xander."
"Sure, Merle." He gulped the rest of his coffee and laid another rod, leaning around his helpers's body. "Hey," he said, grinning down at him. "You're damn good at that."
"He's the one who does studs so neatly too," Merle said from the doorway. "One too many walls got destroyed."
"We were going to build around it anyway," he said dryly, shrugging a bit. "Estimate it."
"Sure." He shook his head and went back to do that.
"This would have been easier with poured concrete panels," one of the workers told him.
"Yeah, but it wouldn't have stood up and would have taken longer," he reminded him. "We can brick this whole place by the weekend if we get to work." They all got back to work and he went to check on the mice, who were working on the bottom level. "Good job, guys," he said. "When are we putting in the ramp?"
"Next to last, that way there's no problems," Throttle told him. "We're mostly staying down here anyway."
"We could put it in now and build it today," he suggested. "It'd be faster to get material up here too."
"If it helps," Throttle agreed. "We can do that if you tell us the angle."
"Sure. Actually, we can build it up here, let you guys destroy the staircase, then put it into place."
"Even better," Vinnie said with a grin. "We like destruction."
"We'll keep that in mind for the next destruction job." He went to get some of the guys to work on the ramp, making sure they could get their special bikes up it. They'd probably want to sometime. He looked at the other level's staircase and told them to build two, just in case. They nodded and got down to it while he went to check with Xander to make sure it was okay. Xander nodded absently when he whispered in his ear. "You slept recently?" he asked, looking him over.
"Good. Continue that tonight. We don't need you tired." He patted him on the back, looking at the wall. "It's about an inch too far," he noted. The guy laying bricks shifted most of them to where they'd need to be, which fixed Xander's problem and everything fell into place. "Good work, Brad. You'll go far in this company, just like Xander." The kid grinned at him. He went back to checking on the others. He'd have to push them to make this deadline.
Charley looked at the final building, staring in awe. "Wow, Xander." He beamed at her and yawned. "I'm impressed. It's even painted."
"One day before schedule, ten grand under budget," he said proudly, grinning at the guys. "Well?"
"I like it," Vinnie said, beaming at him. "We even moved the ship already and everything held."
"I saw the few weak joints and fixed them. We've got final inspection tomorrow." They all nodded. "Anything you guys can see being wrong?" They all shook their heads. "Bathroom's okay, all that?" Everyone nodded. "Good, then once the final inspection's done, we're blowing the old outer walls. All that's left is the canvas covering for the ship." He yawned again.
"We've got it, go crash, Xander," Stoker said gently. Xander shook his head. "Now, mini- punk."
Modo smacked him in just the right spot, knocking him out. "Vinnie's bed?" he suggested as he caught him.
"Sure," Vinnie agreed. "I'll move him if I have to. Charley, did you remember to check on his cat?"
"She's on my bed," she assured them. "Oz is apartment sitting. He even paid Xander's rent this month for him." She watched as Modo carried the boy off, then looked around again, leaning against Vinnie's side. "What's left?"
"Inspection, the final demolition of the outside. Then refixing any bricks that shift."
"They shouldn't shift, he built them to earthquake standards," Throttle said, rubbing his shoulder. "We did good, bros."
"We did," Vinnie agreed. "The party was fun too."
"Yeah, very fun," Throttle agreed, looking at the stain on the carpet. They'd leave it for now. It was industrial grade carpet, it'd be fine. "The glass doors and windows have to be put in after the destruction."
"Already done, Throttle," Modo reminded him. "Xander just finished those a few hours ago and they're all taped in case they blow too. He's got the charges laid and everything." He looked around, nodding. "I get the corner under the ramp." The others nodded that it was fine with them.
"Just think you guys can play ball now and won't destroy a wall doing it," Charley teased. She tweaked Vinnie's ear, making him blush. "I saw Meg today. She's wondering if you guys ate Xander. I told her to check on him tomorrow since you guys were nearly done." They all nodded. "Go to bed, guys, it's going to be a long day moving stuff." They moaned. "I'll give shoulder rubs." That got a few grins and a leer. "Better yet, sleep tonight. I can take Xander over to my couch."
"Why? He's comfortable as a pillow," Vinnie said dryly, shaking his head. "We seem to be switching off." He headed down to check on Xander, finding him gone. "Xander?" The toilet flushed, making him smirk. "You okay?"
"Fine," he said as he came out. "I should go repossess my cat and head home."
"No, stay, Xander. You'll be fine," Vinnie promised. "She's lounging on Charley's bed. Oz is on yours."
"Meg's gotta love that."
"She'll be by tomorrow," Charley told him as she joined them. "Therefore you've got to sleep."
"I was, just in my own bed."
"Fat chance I'm letting you behind the wheel, it's been four days since you slept, Xander. Nap, now," Charley ordered.
"We've got it," Throttle promised her. "Night, Charley girl."
"Night, guys." She left, locking the door behind her.
Throttle picked up Xander and put him into his bed since he wasn't going to be sleeping anytime in the near future. "Stay there. I'll wake you up when I come to bed and you can head home then, after a nap." Xander yawned and nodded, settling in. Throttle checked his watch. "Fifteen seconds, I'm impressed," he noted. He patted him down, getting his license, keys, and shoes, taking them to hide. He went to get a rootbeer and go back to planning where to put stuff in the main room. Plus what to plant in their new garden downstairs.
Xander hit the switch for the explosives and the concrete around the brick fell off, making the onlookers cheer. He gave the building a critical look. A few bricks had shifted. "I'll be fixing those tonight," he assured the inspector.
"Not an issue. It's liveable. I'm sure you'll be fixing them very well, Mr. Harris." He shook his hand and handed over the final paperwork. "Very nice work, very efficient and tasteful as well." He went to his car and drove off.
Xander looked at Merle. "I'm counting ten bricks."
"I've got twelve counting two on the top level," he admitted. "Plus some hanging rods."
"I was figuring to train some ivy or something about them," he admitted. "Add to the air cleaning power of the parks."
"Good idea, kid." He clapped him on the back. He looked at Vinnie, who was looking at the walls. "Need help with those?"
"No, we've got the stuff in the tube to fix it with," he assured him. "We'll do it tonight." He grinned. "Nice work, Xander."
"Thanks, Vinnie. I like it too." He grinned at Merle and handed over the final check. "Enough?"
Merle looked at it and nodded. "More than," he agreed, smiling at him. "You've got a week before you can come back to work, kid. Try to sleep more often." Xander sighed and nodded.
"We try," Throttle said from the doorway. "One of the plates fell and one of the pictures on the wall."
"Sorry, I may have made it a bit too strong. Anything else, like gurgling in the pipes?" Throttle shook his head. "You're sure?"
"Yup, certain. I've turned on the breaker box and everything's fine. No sudden fizzings or scorching smells. I think it was where the window next to it rattled." He smirked. "How much remaining damage?"
"Twelve bricks," Vinnie told him. "Easily fixed with that tube stuff." Throttle tossed it over and he went to fix those, tapping things that had shifted slightly and then sealing them from the outside. "Ivy?" he asked, looking around for Xander, but he was missing. "No Xander?"
"Meg," Merle said, pointing behind him. Xander was pinned to his SUV being kissed.
Meg pulled back. "You do live!" He grinned. "I know, it was important. I'm all for that. Next time, let me help. I can plant some very nice plants you know."
"Good, I wanted to put ivy around the rods sticking out after I fix the one that shifted."
"It shifted into a good spot," Throttle promised. "The reinforcement over top of it works well and it didn't even bow, even if the plates did." He nodded. "Go rest. Meg, go get Miss Kitty and take them both home."
"Sure, Throttle. Thanks for watching out for him. I'll take very good care of him."
"He needs to sleep," Vinnie warned. "He was up and wandering again last night."
"I can cure that," she said smugly, going to repossess the cat first. "Mistress Kitty," she called. The cat came trotting out to rub against her. "Wanna go home?"
"I'll bring the spare litter box over later, after I dump it in the dumpster," Charley promised with a grin. "Have fun with him."
"I get a naughty thrill from driving his gas hog," she shared. She took the kitty out to the SUV and held her until Xander got in and buckled, then handed her over and closed the door so she could get in and drive. She caught Xander's wallet, keys, and shoes with a smirk for him. She climbed in and put them on the dash, heading for the apartment. It was more than time to go home. She had to nudge Xander awake but he only grinned sheepishly. "Home again," she said sweetly, parking and getting out, taking his keys and wallet, then the cat so he could get his shoes and they could put him in bed. They walked in and found Oz meditating and the room stinking. "Eww, Oz." He jumped and shrugged, putting out the incense and going to take a bath for the first time in days. "He's going to bed." She tucked Xander into bed, then put the cat on the pillow, then climbed in on the other side of Xander. His girls would take very good care of him until he woke up again. Even if she did have to love him into a coma.
To part 6