Dawn looked up as someone tapped on the door to Xander's apartment, which was slightly open while he carried up groceries. She looked at her favorite teacher. "See, she can wear heels and she's a kick ass secret agent."
"I learned in the Army and I had to learn how to do it barefoot first," Max offered as she walked in. "You must be Dawn. I'm Max. Behind me somewhere is Lorne." She listened. "Well, maybe not right behind me." She opened a window and glared down at the people going at it in the parking lot. "Lorne!" she snapped. "Get up here." She closed it and went back to smile at Dawn again. "Then again, the Army also taught me how to fight naked, even when I'm being a girl."
"I have a deep mistrust of the military since the old group smacked them down," Dawn said happily. "Throttle is the guy who's presently working on my whipping tail skills."
"Xander was doing good but you needed more street than bar fighting," Throttle said modestly. "Ma'am."
"Another one?" Lorne asked.
"I can kick your ass again," Xander said sweetly. "Move, agent boy, before I tell one of the biggest, gay demons in town to take you as his butt bitch." Throttle blushed at that. "Sorry, dear," he said with a blown kiss. He put up the rest of the groceries while Dawn stared at Lorne. "He won't hit on you, dear."
"I know that, I feel like I know him," she said dryly. She held out a hand. "Dawn Summers."
"Lorne Cash," he said, shaking it, still frowning. "You're not the sort we usually get as applicants."
She snorted. "Just because I'm stunning, smart, and fashionable doesn't mean I can't and won't kick ass when necessary. Besides, someone has to go after my sister and clean up the messes she leaves. She just leaves demon parts lying around when she's done with them and expects everyone to step over them too." She waved a hand around. "It's rude."
He nodded. "I've seen that recently." He looked at the two mice lounging on the furniture. "You're not on our caseload, right?"
"They're Martians," Max sighed. "Did you not look over that folder at all?"
"I slept! I'm just getting over the flu. Forgive me for being human, Max."
"Wow, who put the PMS spell on you," she said, grabbing a candle and lighting it with a whisper and a blow, then standing up so she could grab his chin and shine the light in his eyes. "Whoa, major demonage," she said in awe.
Xander walked up behind him and hit him on the back of the neck, knocking him out. "We can fix that," he noted. "Dawn, bedroom, prepare the stuff." She nodded, going to do that, which made Oz walk out and flop down next to the kittens, putting his big, furry head next to Xander's momma cat, Tara. "Feel left out?" he taunted. He picked up Lorne and carried him back there. "Shouldn't take more than an hour, someone deal with putting up the ice cream and dinner."
"We're having hotdogs," Throttle called after him.
"Fine, get me a burger," he called back, then shut the door.
Throttle looked at Oz. "You want hotdogs?" The wolf looked at him and nearly grinned. "Good. Vinnie, go get dinner."
"Sure, Throttle," he agreed, hopping up and going to do that. He'd stop and get Charley on the way back so she and Modo could join in this surreal fest of fun.
Throttle looked at her. "So, you're an agent? Most of ours are either plug ugly and butch or femme little darlings who seduce and then destroy."
"I tried for that but I'm not that sort of girl," she said with a smirk. "How's she doing?"
"Okay. Charley taught her how to hit and she's much better. She's still really playful and pouncing. She's got that kick-to-the-balls thing down pat too."
"That's the first thing they teach girls in self defense," she offered. "She's probably had that one since she was six or seven." She heard a yell and sighed, going back to knock Lorne out again. "How did he get possessed?"
"Probably on the plane," Xander told her. "It's a steam demon, comes out in fog. It came out, saw me, and headed back." He picked up another vial of holy water and tossed it on Lorne's exposed chest, making him writhe and more fog come out. "Listen, I'm trying to get you free so you can party at the demon bars. You'd never get in while you're in him. He's too square." The demon left, heading out through a slightly open window.
"Good job," Dawn said happily, giving him a hug. She undid the straps then grinned at Max. "We're an efficient team."
"I can see that," she agreed, taking the girl's arm and leading her to the study so they could talk together without interruptions. She shared some stories and got Dawn to get her suggestions of how to handle things. She asked her about her future courses. They chatted about having periods while on assignment at just the *wrong* moment. Max even told her about having one pop out of nowhere during a seduction assignment. They figured out they could get along great. When she was done, she smiled at the girl and gave her a pat on the arm, going to gather Lorne. They'd be back for her tomorrow to test her in the park, away from her guardians and protectors.
Dawn bounced out and took her hotdog, it had her name on it since she hated cabbage in any form, and sat down to nibble on it. "I'm being taken out tomorrow for a bit so they can see how well I whip tail," she said proudly. "Max is really cool and she said Lorne's not usually like that."
"No, those demons aren't the loosest of things," Xander agreed. "Usually they like those who fill the 'stodgy accountant' shoes."
"Wow," Dawn said in awe. "She said he's really pretty funny and neat at times. He specialized in non-standard weapons combat and runs a bar as a hobby."
"As long as you don't start to drink," Xander said patiently. She rolled her eyes. He frowned at her.
"Liquor's nasty, Xander. Except for schnapps, and they're pretty cool but I am underage and I know better."
"Then how do you know what they taste like?" Vinnie teased.
"My one, single lesbian trial kiss and she was drinking cherry schnapps," she said with a smirk. "It wasn't bad, but I like boys better. They're more interesting and less touchy- feelly." She ate another bite then brushed her hair back behind her ear. "When do I start wearing the horrible uniform?"
"Tuesday," Xander reminded her.
"Fine. Make me wear the horrible uniform. Has anyone figured out which bus I'm taking?" Xander nodded, pointing at a paper on the counter. "A change?"
"Yeah, but you're only going two blocks. You could walk that later on if you wanted," Xander promised.
"She could drive," Throttle suggested.
"That would require me finding a good used car," Dawn reminded him, "and I'm all out of looking ideas. I've about given up at the moment." She looked at the others, then glared at Vinnie. "You only got me one?"
"You can have my other burger, Dawn," Xander promised. She grinned and snatched it before he could change his mind, digging in. "Hungry?" he teased.
"Yes, I missed lunch." She ate another bite. "Do we have enough uniforms for me?" Xander nodded, giving her a patient look. "Do we have everything else I'll need?"
"Everything but your bus passes," Xander assured her. "You'll get your books once you're there." He finished off his burger. "Why? What did you think you needed?"
"Um, underwear?" she suggested. "Bras? Cuter workout clothes since I'm going to be starting martial arts one day a week?"
"There's a uniform for that too," Xander assured her dryly. "Cute undies are on your own unless you want to drag Charley to the mall with you. I'm not ever going into Viccy's again as long as I damn well live." The mice gave him a look. "Remember, three best friends for eight years, girls, two of which were lesbians. I've been traumatized more than enough helping them bra shop."
"Yeah, the last time you came home pale and shuddering and Anya suggested that's why you should be gay," Dawn pipped in. Xander gave her a sideways look. "You were puking so you didn't hear her but she said it to Buffy. She agreed since you were such a big baby about having to help her find a pushup bra."
"Oh, god, the flashbacks," he moaned. "I'm not sleeping for weeks now, Dawn."
"Sorry, dear. I could go without."
"Fat chance," Vinnie broke in. "Then you'd attract some sleazy guy and we'd have to beat him up for you."
"Awwwww, you're gonna threaten the boyfriends for me?" she asked with a cute grin. "I love you too, Vinnie. You're a great big brother. Wanna go bra shopping with me?"
"No," he snorted. "I'm the sort that prefers the mystery of seeing the effect." He quickly shoved a hotdog in his mouth since Throttle was giving him an odd look.
"Where did Modo go?"
"Out to the park for some alone time with his bike," Throttle told him. "Take Charley girl, she could use some fun."
"Sure." She picked up the phone and called the garage. "Charley, the guys are being big babymen because I still have to go bra shopping. Nooooo, the last time Xander went bra shopping he came home shaky, pale, and puking. My sister and Willow seriously traumatized him one too many times that time. No, he's going to be having flashbacks for a few hours. Wanna go with?" She grinned. "Hey, there's a great sale and a woman can never have enough well-fitting bras. Please? Vinnie stated he's threatening anyone who even checks me out if I go without." She grinned at the laughter. "Please? Maybe tonight?" She bounced a bit. "Sure. Whenever you're free. No, we're at Xander's. Cool beans. I'll tell 'em." She hung up. "She said Switch didn't crash so she can't really be family."
"That's good. The building should stand up to it but I didn't want to test it," Xander said dryly. "Go, have fun."
"Thanks, Xander." She kissed him on the cheek and headed out after frisking him for his keys.
Xander leaned back, shaking his head. "Girls are strange. I hate girls. Especially fashionable girls. I'll have to sit through a fashion show later."
"No you won't, not of underwear," Vinnie said dryly.
Xander turned his head to look at him. "You don't know, man. Trust me, I will be." He looked at Throttle. "Save my sanity? Take me out and run me over?"
"How about we go for a ride instead?" he suggested.
"Sure, I could use a stress break," Xander agreed, going to grab his helmet. He waved at Vinnie. "Watch the furry ones."
"Sure," he agreed with a smirk. He looked at Oz, tossing over the extra hotdog he had gotten for him. "Think one of them will finally make their move?" Oz shook his head. "How did she stick you in furry form?" Oz shrugged and laid back down, getting comfortable against Tara's side. They were buddies. He let out a belch and Tara flicked his nose with her tail so he snorted. She settled in again, getting comfortable.
Vinnie snickered. "You two would have been a cute couple." Tara seemed to smirk at him. "How're we doing the transfer of Andrew back to Buffy? Speaking of, Xander still has to find a bigger spot to live with Dawnie. Wonder what he's gonna pull outta his tail this time."
Later that night, Xander got up, again. He went to get another drink and had to sneak past Dawn. She grumbled something and shifted so he sighed and went to change and sneak out. His usual bar was pretty close so he headed there. It was another long night of not sleeping. In there he found a familiar figure bent over the bar. "Problems?" he asked Lorne.
"No, just can't sleep. You?"
"Hmm. Bra shopping?" he taunted.
"No, Initiative." Lorne looked at him and he nodded. "Yeah, I was there too. You guys just scream that out to me now and then." He sipped his beer. He tossed down a few bucks. "I'm going to go have fun. Have a nice night. Don't wake Dawn up too early or she'll whine for hours." He headed off, going to find somewhere less charged to be. That place felt heavy, like a morgue. He found an upbeat sounding club but something felt off to him. Like an undercurrent of menace in the techno pop music. He moved on, not willing to deal with it tonight. If it was demonic it would chase him down. If it wasn't, the cops could handle it. He found a place playing country and western and headed inside, then immediately had second thoughts. Wonderful, the only country biker bar in Chicago. He walked up to the bar, nodding at the bartender. "Can I have a shot? I missed the music."
"Sure," he agreed happily enough, sliding one down to him. Xander handed over a few bucks, so he nodded at the tip. "You okay?"
"Rough night," he admitted. He gulped the shot and looked around, then back at him. "I've got friends who're bikers, but I'm here for the music."
"That's cool," he agreed, smiling at him. He noticed one of the guys coming up to the new kid and winced. Well, they were about to see if he was going to have more problems.
"Buy you a drink?" the big guy asked. He wasn't much taller, but he was heavy. It was a softer layer of fat over older muscles sort of fat instead of just blubber fat, but his beer gut was starting to show.
Xander looked up at him. "Sure, why not," he admitted with a small grin. "I'm in one of those moods."
"Me? Not often." The man chuckled. "Dabbled is the best way to put it. Didn't strike me as much as girls but I've tried it a few times." He sucked at the beer that was put in front of him, then held out his hand. "Xander."
"Bob," he said, shaking his hand.
The man laughed. "No, not all men named Bob are Canadian," he taunted, tugging on the boy's arm. "Come on. We've got a table." Xander nodded, following him with his beer. "So, why are you up so late, Xander?"
"Flashback nightmares. I couldn't sleep," he sighed. "My kinda sister is on my couch and I didn't want to wake her."
"That's cool." He got the boy settled on the outside so he could make a break for it if he wanted. "This is Ryle and his boy Peter," he introduced the others at the table. Ryle was a tough, pouty looking blond man and Peter was a skinny guy with very dark skin and geeky glasses. "They're pretty cool."
"That's cool. I'm Xander. Like I said, I don't bike but I've got friends who do. I came in for the music." He grinned. "You two together?"
"No, but we get that a lot," Ryle said with a small smirk. "What do you do, Xander?"
"Hmm. Any particular speciality?"
"I'm a crew chief for interior work," he admitted. "I like doing walls actually." He grinned at Peter. "You?"
"Oh, I work for the government. I'm the local Feeb's house boy."
"I'm so sorry," Xander said dryly. "Do they really starch their thongs and where are their special cloning vats this year?"
Peter chuckled. "Nebraska. They never move them. As for starch? Most of them have never even heard of a thong and they do starch and iron their plain white boxers." They all shuddered at that thought. "You're pretty cool. You gay?"
"Dabbled but not usually," he admitted. "Survival, a few dates, nothing major." He took another sip. "Right now I'm working on getting my friend's baby sister to school on Tuesday." He leaned back, listening as the music changed, smiling slightly. "I love this song."
"It's a pretty song," Bob agreed. "Wanna go for a twirl? About half the guys here are gayer than our flag."
"Sure, I wouldn't care." He got up and let Bob lead him off. He noticed a few smirks. "How can I not, he's so big," he joked. That got a few laughs and he let Bob lead since he was so nice.
Someone new walked in the bar and sneered at them. "Fags are gonna die! I'll send you to hell on your little girly bikes."
Xander looked up at Bob. "Let me handle this," he said with a mean smirk, going to beat the snot out of the other biker. That guy got in a few good blows but Xander was winning within minutes. The fighting was nearly as good as the music and dancing. When he was done, he let Bob baby him.
Dawn woke up alone and listened. She heard a light snoring but it was only Oz. She got up and went to check on Xander, just in case, and found his bed messy but empty. "Xander?" she called, heading back to the kitchen. No notes that she could find. She checked the time, it was nearly eight. She called the guys on the phone Xander left over there. "Guys, is Xander over there? He's not here and his bed's messy. No, not here at all," she said, starting to panic. Xander wouldn't have left without leaving a note.
Throttle rubbed his chin, then the back of his head. "Don't worry about it, Dawn. Sometime he wanders at night. It's the nightmares. I'm sure he's fine." He listened as Dawn dropped the phone and shrieked, "What the hell happened to you?" The answer she got made Throttle shake his head. "Dawn? I'll be right over." He hung up and looked around, finding Vinnie coming in. "What's up? Have a good night?"
"Well....." he admitted. "It was better than usual until I saw the guy bringing Xander home on the back of his Harley."
"Yeah, big biker guy," he said with a shrug. "Nice enough guy, Xander agreed to meet him for drinks later tonight before he sped off. Then he wobbled inside."
"Huh. Dawn just said he came home beaten up."
"He was wearing his helmet when I could see his face," Vinnie admitted. "He wasn't standing too steadily though." He got off his bike, letting it roll off. "Should we be worried? First Merle and now this guy poaching your turf, bro?"
"Not my turf," he said grimly, going to get dressed and head over there. Dawn had sounded like she was going to kill him for not leaving a note. By the time he got over there, Xander was collapsed on the couch with an ice pack and was sleeping peacefully. He looked at Dawn. "Go get dressed and stuff." She nodded, going to do that in the bathroom. He moved the ice pack, wincing a bit. "What hit you?"
"Another biker who came in shouting about killing gays. I feel better," he sighed, looking up at his buddy. "What?"
"Vinnie said you came home pretty wobbly and Dawn was on the phone to me when you got in." He looked at a cut on his cheek. "Put anything on that yet?"
"I'll do it when I get up."
"If you do it now, it won't scab over the dirt," he offered. "I can grab the stuff for you."
"I'm fine," he said patiently. "I've had worse than this." He took his ice pack again and put it over his black eye. "She woke you up?"
"You didn't leave a note, dumbass," she said as she walked out wearing a tight pair of jeans and a tighter t-shirt. "I called Max, we're meeting for breakfast then going to the park to fight. You sleep, Xander, for once this week." She walked out, slamming the door.
Throttle looked down at the tired sigh. "She's a girl."
"She is and she doesn't understand, but it happens sometimes."
"Yeah, but when it does you turn into Vincent and do stupid stuff," Throttle reminded him with a small smirk. "I'm going to talk someone into giving you a tail yet." Xander snorted and flipped onto his side, tossing the ice pack onto the floor. "You're sure?"
"I'm fine, Throttle. Go have fun. It's Saturday and you should be having fun, not watching me not sleep."
"I'd watch you sleep but you're not," he offered gently. "Maybe you should hit your bed."
"Oz is on it."
"So, let's talk about where we're going to be helping you move." He sat down across from him. "Any ideas on that yet?"
"Nope. Not really. I talked to my landlord but he doesn't have anything larger at the moment. I got offered a nice top-floor apartment downtown but I'd feel like I was Batman or something and needed some sort of device to sneak in. Not that I'd mind climbing up the side of the building but it would get old."
"It'd also be hard to hide certain show-off mice who would ride down the side of the building with you whooping along behind him," he said dryly. Xander snickered at that. "No good prospects?"
"Not really. Not unless I want to move to the suburbs or do what we did for you guys and renovate a wrecked building."
"That'd take more effort and more money," Throttle offered.
"Not really. I could just assign guys to do the work and check on it nightly and it'd end up being the same cost in the long run. I don't really want to pay utilities or anything like that, but the only way around that is to move way out in the country where I could have a well and a septic system." He looked at him. "I'm still waffling on the problem of the SUV."
"That's why you need sleep, so you can think clearly," Throttle reminded him. "When was the last time you got any real sleep, Xander?" he asked gently. The boy shrugged. "That long ago?" He thought back. "Since we built the building?"
"I had that one night of eight hours. I don't sleep real routinely, you know that," he defended.
"I know and I'm trying to help you with that, Xander. I'd offer to take you for a ride but traffic's insane today. It's just after the first of the month and plus the school shoppers are already out. It took me nearly thirty minutes to get over here." He shifted. "What's worked in the past?"
"Nothing," he said dryly. "I'll be fine, Throttle. Don't worry about it."
"It's what friends do."
"True, but you've got other stuff to worry about, things like Vinnie."
"Vinnie is being worried over by Charley at the moment. That frees my schedule for worrying about you," he joked. "Besides, he sent me over here to check on you." Xander gave him an odd look. "He said you came wobbling home."
"I did. I got dizzy on the back of Bob's bike on the ride and I nearly hurled by the time I was up here. Then Dawn screeched at me for quite a while."
"She cares, it's what those who care do when you come home slightly drunk with bruises. The same as we worry about cops showing up to take you to jail."
"Nah, the cops pulled me off him and told him off when they decided to intervene. They said it was his own fault for walking into a gay biker bar and starting to shoot off his mouth. Since his buddies left him there once I jumped him, there's no one there to back up his story."
"That's good at least. You'd look horrible in prison clothes."
"Point," Xander agreed with a yawn. "Go do fun stuff, Throttle. I'm being boring."
"You're not boring."
Xander looked at him. "Throttle, as much as I love you guys, your dad side is starting to come out and I don't need a daddy. At least not at the moment," he said gently. "As much as I love you, big guy, I'm not going to succumb to some mind games to wear me out. You should spend your Saturday doing more pleasant stuff than watching me mope."
"See, I don't see it that way," he retorted. "If this were any of the others, I'd be there for them. The same as I have for you in the past, Xan. I don't like to see you hurt and I don't like to see you in pain like this, but I can't figure out how to stop it."
"Go back and have CPS take me from my parents when I was six."
"I can't do that. I wish I could, but I can't," he noted dryly. "Anything else I can do?"
"Nah, I'm gonna be right here all day, then I'm going to get ready for my night out with Bob. He knows some other country bar and he's taking me there to show off."
"Country?" he asked, his nose wrinkling.
"Yes, I like country too," Xander said patiently. "Even the old, wailing, suicide inducing stuff."
"Wow, you're a lot more open than I am," he admitted. "So we'll see you tomorrow?"
"Maybe. I've got my weekly thing with Merle tomorrow," he admitted. He sat up and found the throw by feel then laid down and covered himself. "Go play, Throttle, you're too young to be that serious looking."
"Fine. I'll go play in the fall sunshine. I'll let Vinnie come pounce you later or tomorrow afternoon."
"Sure, if he's that bored."
"You're not an antidote to boredom," Throttle promised, standing up. "We like you for who you are beyond what trouble you help us get into." He handed him back the ice pack then left, heading back to their lair. On the way he considered things. Did he think about Xander like he did Vinnie, or like he *used* think about Vinnie, as more than a buddy and a bro? If he didn't, then why was he jealous of this biker guy taking him out tonight. He came up the ramp and saw Vinnie posted in front of his fish. "Bob?"
"Yeah, that's the big biker guy's name," Vinnie said absently. "He said he'd be seeing him tonight for drinks."
"They're going to a country bar."
Vinnie shuddered. "I thought Xander had better taste than that," he complained. "That poor man. We should save him from that fate."
"If this guy makes him happy we've got to support it," Throttle reminded him. "We can't make his choices for him."
"While that may be true, you're miserable, bro," Modo offered gently.
Throttle leaned on his handlebars. "I'm not, guys, really."
Vinnie snorted. "Yeah, you are. You're moping. Not even Carbine got you this hot and bothered. Ask the guy out!"
"He thinks we hang around him to cure boredom."
"No, I like him as more than a catnip toy," Vinnie joked, looking at Modo. "You?"
"Yeah, I like the little guy. He's sweet and good." He stared at Throttle. "You'd better make your move soon," he warned. "Time's running out."
"It'll be fine, bros," Throttle promised. "It's not that sort of stuff. I see him like I do Vinnie."
"Like you see me now or like you used to?" Vinnie asked all too perceptively.
Throttle shrugged. "Does it matter? He's dating someone now."
"I don't see him being anyone's back seat rider," Vinnie said dryly. "Then again, I can't see Xander taking it either." He shrugged and went back to watching his fish. "Your life, bro. When's he coming over?"
"If he's got time before his ...date, or tomorrow before his weekly thing with Merle."
"I'm wondering if Xander realizes Merle's been dating him this long," Modo said with a hint of a smirk for Throttle.
"No, the boy doesn't seem to know that much about these things." He heard a squeal of brakes and winced. "That sounds like Dawn's done."
"Hopefully it was a good brawl," Vinnie said smugly. She walked in and he whistled. "Bit tight there, princess."
"Blow me, Vinnie," she teased back. "I'm allowed to be drooled on. That's why I've got breasts." Modo blushed at that. "Sorry, Modo." She looked at Throttle and handed over the list. "Xander's to enroll me here and you're to make sure I can kick ass once I start learning. Max said so." She smirked. "Now all I have to do is make it through high school, college, and the FBI Academy."
Throttle looked at the list, then at her. "These are fighting styles."
"Duh, Throttle," she said patiently. "I'm going to be a field agent dealing with people like my sister's mistakes and doing what Xander is right now. I want to be trained enough to survive to see my own grandkids. Speaking of, where's Switch and Stoker?"
"Still in bed," Vinnie said, watching his fish swish her tail. "Is that fun?"
She walked over to hug him. "Remember, fish are short-lived creatures," she whispered in his metal-surrounded ear. "I'll help you bury her next to the kitten." Vinnie nodded, looking back at her. "No Charley? The garage door was closed."
"Not at the moment," he admitted, pulling her around to hug her. "How did it go?"
"People thought we were really fighting, which she said was an excellent sign," she said proudly. "Max had to stop the cops from intervening and hauling my baby butt off to jail. She said I had style and some grace and told me which martial arts I'm to start in. She also suggested that I find a look I love and wear the hell out of it. Apparently hers are those semi-stretchy pants and the usual jacket and shirt. She said I should stay with jeans though because she can't imagine me in a power pants suit."
"Me either," Vinnie agreed with a smirk. "So, we've got to create a look for you?" She nodded. "Hmm, you look okay like that but can you fight in it?"
"As long as I don't have to kick too many people. I can sit comfortably in these pants, but they're a bit tight for other things." The door downstairs slammed so she wiggled off Vinnie's lap before Charley could get upset. "Hey, Max said I did good."
"Wonderful," she agreed happily, handing her a soda. "Where's Xander?"
"He went out late last night to a country bar and met a guy named Bob that he's got a date with tonight," Dawn told her. Charley blinked and looked at Throttle, who was polishing his chrome at the moment.
"I'm cool with it. We're not together or anything."
"Yeah, because you won't make a move," Dawn snorted, getting up to come pounce him, knocking him onto his back to stare down at him. "If you'd make a move, he'd drop Merle and Bob and come crawling," she pointed out with a grin. "Which would be kinda fun to watch. Xander needs someone to watch his back and be there for him, not for what they can do for him, not for what he can bring to a fight, and not for his protection. He needs to be the guy who's babied. He won't get that from Merle, who'd love nothing more than to get down and make Xander do dirty things. I've never met Bob but I'm doubting Xander's going to consider this a stable thing since country is his sad and unhappy music."
"Why would he be unhappy?" Throttle asked.
"Duh! He's not sleeping, he's ignoring what he wants, and he's been scarce here recently because he feels like he's some sort of burden or hanger-on." She got off him and hauled him up to his feet. "You will see less and less of him until you can convince that man he's not a hanger-on and that you guys like him as a friend. A real friend, not a Buffy friend that only wants him there to get donuts and stuff. Then again, if you got off your tail and asked the guy out, he wouldn't feel that way. It's clear he's into guys at least a bit since he's dating Merle and now Bob."
"He doesn't consider his stuff with Merle to be a date."
"Yay!" she said sarcastically. "That's Merle's doing. Xander's ready to be roped and tied. He needs people. He needs people to like him. You guys don't go out and do fun stuff with him anymore. He's feeling like you don't like him, like he's the unwanted younger sibling who you had to bring on a date." She stared up at her friend. "Now, go get my big brother and bring him back here."
"He was trying to sleep."
"And? He's not. I can guarantee you he's not actually sleeping. He doesn't sleep, ever. He woke me up seven times last night before he went out. The night before that it was up and pace and the office then pace, then try again all night. Whatever you do to make him sleep, I'd pull out a double helping of it."
"I just took him on rides."
"Huh." She shook her head. "All right, let me put this plainer. Go get the boy and bring him here," she ordered slowly and clearly. "He's not sleeping. If he is, it's because his body's about to shut down. This week is the anniversary of him losing his eye."
"I get it, Dawn, but he sent me away."
She swatted him upside the head. "Of course he did, dumbass! Have you ever seen Xander admit he *needs* something? Not wants, needs. Anything at all?" Throttle shook his head. "You won't. I never did and I've known him for a while now. Anya never did, she complained that Xander never ordered her around in the bedroom and was more than happy to take whatever she wanted to do. Xander will never admit he needs something or someone. He'll push them away with badly timed jokes and uneasiness. So if he's pushing you away, then you're in. All you have to do is crook your finger and get just a bit pushy for about ten minutes and he'll be putty in your hands." She looked at Charley. "Xander feels like he's a hanger-on."
"He's not. I consider him as much of a friend as I do these three," she assured her.
"Then someone might want to make that boy have fun soon."
"Meg wanted to go to Six Flags," Vinnie offered. "Oz can't go since he's still stuck in wolf form."
"That's a good idea," Dawn agreed. She looked at Throttle. "Max was saying that they're doing comic trials all summer of new test characters. That would get you three in without a disguise. I'm so on that," she decided, pulling out her phone. "Meggy, me," she said in greeting once she had dialed the number. "We've got to pull the moping Xander out of the apartment. No, he's dating a biker named Bob. No, country music," she said with a grimace. "Sad music." She brightened up. "That's perfect!" she cooed. "Yeah, and they can come with us too. No, Max said they're doing new comic book character trials all summer." She smirked at Throttle. "Sure, you get tickets and I'll bow at your painted toenails. Any idea of unsticking Oz?" She listened, then lunged at the nearest table, pulling out a pen to scribble on the back of a newspaper. "I can get that. Yeah, not an issue. Sure. See you soon, babe." She hung up. "Okay, we're going next Saturday," she ordered. She looked at Throttle, then at Modo. "You're all coming to have fun with us or else I'm going to have to whine and pout, if not handcuff you and talk your bikes into bringing you along. I'm off to help Meg shop for magic stuff so we can turn Oz back. While we're there, Xander will need an escort. Vinnie can help Meg and I ride the thrill rides. Charley can be the chaperone on anything less adrenaline producing if she wants. Modo, do you like coasters? You can come with us."
He shook his head. "No thanks. Maybe the water park though."
"Oh, we're doing the whole thing," she assured him with a bright grin. "Be back in a bit. Gotta hit the herb and candle place, plus get a crystal, then find some naughty lingerie to tease a future boy with." She jogged out, heading back to Xander's SUV.
"Did she just decide what we're doing all next weekend?" Vinnie asked. Throttle nodded. "Should we protest?"
"You guys could use the fun," Charley told him. "You'll be there or I'll help her tie you to your bikes." She walked off, heading back to the garage to open it up for the day. Not that she was going to get anybody today. They were all out shopping and playing before kids had to go back to school.
Xander woke up to the sound of knocking, getting up to open the door. "What?" he asked Max.
"Yeah. Bar brawl," he admitted, letting her in. "How was Dawnie?"
"Excellent. The cops thought we were actually fighting. She shows a lot of your style." She looked up at him. "She's also planning your next weekend with the group," she told him. "So go, you could use the fun." She handed over his copy of the list. "Send her to one of those, have her take those electives, and she'll be on track. Oh, teach the girl how to shoot too."
"I can do that," Xander agreed. He looked at her. "Were you bugging her?"
"We have an open one coded for emergencies at the garage. The same as we do here." She pinched him. "Now, Micah said you should go see this guy," she said, pulling out another number. "He said he's a Vet. He used to do our job before we retooled. There's nothing you can't tell that guy and he's good at just letting you ramble on and tell him stuff. Stuff like what's really causing your nightmares." He shook his head. "Yeah, I know, a lot of people can't be helped that way. But for some it does ease the nightmares a bit, Xander. You haven't slept in over a week, not for more than a few minutes. You're starting to affect your health. At least give it a try. He's a nice guy, I saw him after I was reprogrammed to kill people. He understands it all and doesn't bat an eye. He's a good guy."
"I'll think about it."
"Good. Think about this as well," she said, handing over a small bottle. "Micah said he knew you couldn't take real sleeping pills but benadryl has the same side effect of making you sleepy without putting you under. He thinks all you need is a nudge." She smiled at him. "With that said, Dawn's got me on her speeddial if you guys need us. I'm training her with Lorne so you'll see us during most of the major holidays. I'll be back the Friday after Thanksgiving." He nodded, smiling at that. "Have a good nap and try it. It can only help, Xander. Even Micah's had to resort to having someone to talk things out at. He put a picture on a wall, but it worked for him," she said with a small smirk. "Get some rest." She headed out, going back to her car and Lorne, who was finishing their contact report. "Okay, I'm done, let's head for the airport."
"Sure," Lorne agreed, saving the report. "He okay? He looked rough last night."
"He's not sleeping. He's got nightmares." She pulled out into traffic and sped off, cutting through the traffic of minivans.
Xander popped one of the allergy pills and laid down again, and it was just enough to nudge him into sleep. Finally.
Dawn heard the security buzzer and pressed on the button. "Yeah?"
"Um, this is marked as belonging to Xander?" he asked.
"I'm Dawn, dude, it's all good. Are you Bob?"
"Yeah, I am. Is he running behind?"
"Actually, he's taking a short nap. Let me get him up. It'll be a few minutes." She let the button go and went to nudge Xander, making him yell and sit up. "Bob's here," she told him. "You're way late."
"You should have woken me," he complained, heading into the bedroom. He paused to take the fastest shower he ever had then slid into his black jeans and the shirt Dawn had hung on the outside of his closet. He put on his socks and boots, then grabbed his jacket and helmet, heading out. "Sorry," he said sheepishly. "I was napping."
"That's okay. We all nap now and then," he said happily. The boy looked a lot happier today. "Climb on. I was thinking a picnic since it's such a nice evening, then we'll hit the club. That good with you?"
"Sounds wonderful. I haven't been on a picnic in a while." He repressed that memory forcefully. He didn't want to think about fighting at this moment. He grabbed on, earning a light chuckle. "Sorry, didn't mean to tickle."
"It's all right." He kicked the bike back to life and sped off to pick up the stuff for the picnic. It wasn't too fancy but not burgers and hotdogs. He found them a nice, quiet spot in the park and settled in to eat with him. "So, what else did you do today?"
"Mostly I slept," he admitted. "Dawn went out to do some exciting stuff but I spent most of the time on the couch." He shrugged. "It was one of those nights, ya know?"
"Not intimately but I know a few Vets who have the same problem," he admitted. He ate a bite of sandwich. "I won't keep you out too late tonight. I've got church tomorrow. Wanna come?"
"Not exactly my thing," Xander admitted. Bob simply shrugged and nodded, not saying a thing about it. "Tomorrow night I've go to go out with my boss to talk about the upcoming week, and then I've got to work on Monday. Dawn starts school on Tuesday so I'm pretty well booked that night too." He ate another bite. "Dawn said something about plans for next weekend, but I'm free the rest of the week."
"Xander, a man like you is never free, he's very expensive for those who want to spoil him," Bob said with a smirk. "How am I doing so far?"
"Pretty decent. It's good food and a pretty night." To prove him wrong, a big, fat raindrop fell. "Oops. Sorry to have jinxed it."
"Not an issue. I can pack up what's left," he promised. He got them back onto the bike and the food put in his saddle bags, then headed off for the club, which had a parking garage next to it. It would be safer to park in there and less chance of squishing when they came out. He took Xander's arm and led him inside, smirking at the bouncer. "Hi."
"Hey, Bob. New kid?"
"This is Xander. He's not a long-time resident yet. We met last night at the other one." He led the boy inside and let him pause to appreciate the down-home country bar.
Xander looked around at all the people in western wear, including some people who were pinging his gaydar badly. On the floor there were some het and some homo couples dancing to the song being played by the DJ. Xander drug him out there, going to dance with him. It wasn't what he usually liked to dance to but that didn't bother him any. The music was kind of infectious. So was Bob's grin of pleasure at his skills. They were nearly interrupted by a guy in a pink shirt with mother of pearl snaps but Bob growled at him. "Ex?" Xander asked with a tolerant grin.
"No, a poacher. I caught you, you're mine. I get to hang your head on my wall."
"Hopefully not literally," Xander teased with a smirk.
"No, I'd never do that to you, Xander. It's spoil your charm and sense of humor." He dipped him then pulled him back up with a snap and danced him off with the next song.
At the bar, a new shadow was sneaking into a corner to watch them. If anyone knew he was here, he'd be in trouble. Since Throttle didn't know he'd watch for now. Xander needed someone to watch his back. They couldn't be sure Bob wasn't evil. After all, he listened to country music, that was a sure sign of evilness in his book.
Throttle looked up as Vinnie came back. "You're home early."
"Yeah, well, Xander just got dropped off," he said, putting down his helmet. Throttle glared at him. "Bob's nice, but he's not gonna last. He wanted to move a bit faster than Xander did so Xander only gave him a good night kiss."
"I need to know this why?" Throttle asked finally.
"Because you need to know that you've got to step up, Throttle," he pressured. "The boy's being asked out by two guys, one of which isn't so bad. Merle's a nice guy too. I'm not too sure Bob could ever really get Xander. He seems like the willingly blind sort to me."
"Xander's a big boy," Throttle said patiently. "He can take care of himself."
"And what happens if Bob is a bad guy in disguise?"
"Then Xander can take care of it, he won't want us to ride in and save him like some damsel."
"Guys, I'm still trying to sleep," Modo complained from his bed. "Throttle, I'm agreeing with Vinnie. We don't know anything about this Bob and he doesn't know about us. We're not sure how he's gonna react and I'm having paranoid thoughts at the moment."
"I'll ask him about him tomorrow," Vinnie offered.
"No, we leave Xander alone beyond making sure he's having fun. It's up to him to choose who he dates."
"Really? So the man who got him gourmet sandwiches and took him on a picnic in the park is gonna win?"
"Vinnie, go away," Throttle ordered.
"Fine, I'll go check on Charley since we haven't seen her yet either." He went to do that, walking in the back door of the garage and resetting the alarm. He listened, she was watching tv so he headed up there. "Hey, sweetheart. I came to check on you." She screamed and grabbed a blanket to cover herself. "Whoa!" he called, holding up his hands. "Not an issue, just me. Throttle just told me to go away because I stalked Xander tonight."
Charley calmed herself but didn't drop the blanket. She stared up at him. "Why did you stalk Xander?"
"Who knows what this Bob is."
"Oh. Good point." She settled the blanket more firmly around herself. "I'm fine."
"You certainly are," he teased with a bright grin. "Can I watch?" She nodded, shifting over so he could have part of the couch. "What're we watching?"
"An older movie." She flipped back from the VCR before he could figure out what she had been watching.
Vinnie settled in next to her, staring at the DVD. "Why're you watching mushy stuff?" he asked finally, trying hard not to whine.
"I do this maybe three times a year, Vinnie. I'm allowed, I am a woman."
"So I can tell, sweetheart, and a very beautiful one as well." He looked at her. "Cold? You can cuddle up to me, I'm not only one hot bod, but I'm usually warm."
She shook her head, wrapping the blanket more tightly around herself. "I'm fine. Thanks anyway. Why did Throttle send you away?"
"Because I was nagging him about stepping up."
"Hmm. I'm wondering if he's not iffy because he told Xander he probably wasn't interested." Vinnie turned to look at her. "They had one of those 'I'm not gay but you're cute and I'm still not gay' talks apparently. Dawn said she's heard Xander muttering about it."
"So we're right, if he steps up, Xander will fall into his bed?"
"Possibly. Remember, Xander's a big boy with some issues," she cautioned.
"Yeah, but Throttle's dangerous enough to want him and Xander's more than dangerous enough to keep him and hurt enough to encourage that small protective instinct." He smirked at her. "Just like you do to me." She reached over to pinch him and he got a glance at what she was hiding. "Whoa, nearly makes imminent destruction seem like nothing," he said in awe. She blushed and covered herself again. "No, it's good. Just admiring, sweetheart." He yanked on the blanket, using his tail to get the other side from her so he could get a good look. The navy blue camisole and shorts looked like silk and she looked good in them. The top dipped a bit low, but it was an enticing low, not a slutty looking low. The shorts were cut high on the sides and had bigger than necessary leg holes so he caught a peek of hair as well. He swallowed. "You look...good in that," he finished with a small squeak to his voice. "Very nice."
"Thanks. It was on sale and Dawn pressed me into buying it." She grabbed the blanket to cover up her front again so he couldn't stare.
"Don't do that." He took the blanket and shifted again, putting her against his side. She shivered and her arms did feel a bit chilled so he covered them both up. He relaxed and she slowly rested more weight against his side. They got back to watching the old movie, comfortable for the moment. Then the door slammed open and the alarm went off. Vinnie hopped up and grabbed his pistol, heading down the stairs. "What the cheese are you doing!" he shouted. He disarmed the alarm and glared at Stoker. "It'd better be really good, Stoker."
"Switch's having some pains," he panted.
"Do I look like a midwife?" he asked. Stoker was looking a bit frantic so he called up the stairs. "Charley, we need to check on Switch, she's having some pains."
"Let me put on a bathrobe at least," she called, intending to put on real pajamas instead. She came down the stairs in a conservative two piece pants and top pajama set in green, earning a smirk from Vinnie. "No comments," she warned. "They're comfortable."
"I can see that." He turned Stoker around and walked him back to the lair, letting him lead them to where Modo was helping Switch through the pain. He got her other side, touching her stomach. "Hmm, not too bad. Are you losing your mind yet?" She shook her head, glaring at Stoker.
"Have you had many false labor pains before?" Charley asked patiently, coming over to rub her stomach, shoving Stoker out of the way. "You're in the way."
"Sorry." He moved to Modo's other side so he could stroke her hair. "Is it time?"
"No, this is a trial run. If she's in real labor she won't be able to do more than swear, pant, and dig into someone's arm with her nails," Charley told him. "I've had a few friends who've went through this." She continued to stroke the stomach gently, calming her down. "Are they coming regularly?"
"That was the first one," Switch said tiredly, flopping backwards. "Those hurt."
"Honey, think about how small the hole it has to come out," Charley said patiently. "They all hurt unless you guys dilate much farther than humans do."
"Dilate?" Stoker asked.
"The cervix is usually fairly closed," Charley said patiently. "It's got to open to let the baby out." He shuddered. "In humans, it opens to about ten centimeters from what I've been told. Babies are bigger."
"I'm so sorry I did this to you," Stoker vowed. "So, so sorry."
"I'll pay you back later," Switch vowed. She slowly relaxed. "How often should I have those?"
"I'm not sure," Charley admitted. "I've heard different things about that. I know that it's preparatory labor. The real stuff is rhythmic and hurts worse. That's how you tell the difference. So when they start coming at set intervals and slowly start moving closer together, then it's time."
"So I'm going to have a little drummer in there to keep tempo?" she asked.
"Only figuratively speaking. There's no room in there for a real drummer," Charley snapped back, smirking at her. "If there was, it wouldn't hurt so much."
"Point." She cradled her stomach. "Can't we just teleport it out or something?"
"Not that I've heard of," Stoker offered. "I'll call and ask if you want."
"No, that's fine," she said, patting him on the arm. "If you call, Carbine will find out for sure where we are. She'll bring the stupid drummers and all the attendants for the birth and naming." He shuddered. "Exactly."
"She wants to do High Traditional for the birth?" Throttle asked. "Carbine?"
"She claims this is the only chance the line has of continuing."
Throttle shook his head. "I doubt it." He came in to stroke her stomach. "It'll be okay. We'll be here and keep you calm and all that good stuff."
"Good, I could use that good stuff." She grinned at him. "Is Xander sick or scared of babies?"
"He's feeling odd but he feels like we think he's a hanger-on," Vinnie told her. "Why don't you go visiting tomorrow?"
"I'm not letting her out of my sight," Stoker said firmly. "She could start real labor in the middle of the street."
"Having a baby takes hours, if not days," Charley assured him. "One of my friends was in active labor for nearly four days." They shuddered at that. "She wouldn't let them take the baby surgically." She patted Switch on the leg. "Relax. As long as you're relaxed and careful we shouldn't have any problems that require rushing you to the local ER and exposing you."
"Maybe Xander knows someone who deals in the demonic," Vinnie suggested. "It's not exactly the same but if they're a doctor they could be here to make sure nothing goes wrong."
"Would they be bad?"
"No, there's demons who're just funny looking," Throttle assured her. "They just...are, they're not evil. They've got families and everything too. I can call Xander if you want."
"Sure, have him come over to worship the stomach," Switch ordered. Throttle nodded and got up to get the phone Xander had left them, coming back with it.
"Hey, Dawn, is Xander still awake? He took a what?" He looked at Charley. "Why is he taking allergy medicine?"
"It often makes you sleepy," she said gently. "It was probably the shove he needed."
"Oh." He listened to her babble. "No, Switch is in pre-labor Charley said. Is there a doctor for the normal demon?" He smirked. "Decent. Where? Sure, have Meg have him call us. Thanks." He hung up. "He's gotten to sleep for the second time today," he offered.
"I won't wake him then," Switch promised. "Is he okay?"
"He's not sleeping hardly at all," Charley told her. "It's the anniversary of him losing his eye and his last girl this week."
"Wow, and he doesn't want to be around people?"
"He seems to think we look at him like some pesky little brother and won't accept that we don't," Vinnie told her, stroking her hair back from her face. "We've tried and all but he's being a recluse to us."
"He hasn't even brought his heap in recently," Charley agreed. "Something crashed into the SUV and it's slowly falling apart since then. It cracked the frame and everything."
"What hit him, a building?" Stoker asked.
"No one's sure. He said all he saw was a headlight. By the size of the impact it was something bigger than most semis." She shrugged. "His insurance company wants him to trash it because it's going to cost less to get a new one than to fix his old one."
"He's still undecided," Throttle offered, stroking her stomach. "It feels like you're having another one."
"How far apart?" Charley asked. Everyone looked confused. She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Probably not more than ten minutes. When this one ends, time the stop to start interval." They grabbed Switch's hands, letting her squeeze them as the pain came.
Throttle had to let go when the phone rang. "Hello?" He nodded. "Yeah, that's us. No, she's in labor. We think pre-labor but we're not sure." He paused. "You want me to do what?" He handed the phone to Stoker. "Your woman, you check her out."
"I'm hoping I'm the only one checking her out," he said dryly, taking the phone. "Okay, I do what?" He blushed. "While she's in labor?"
"Oh, let me," Charley said in disgust, taking the phone. "Okay, I'm checking her cervix or other things?" she asked as she lifted up the sheet. "No gloves. Okay." She looked for a moment. "I'd say about 5/8ths of an inch." She nodded. "Sure. No, she's having the second. The first was about ten minutes apart, this one's apparently shorter. There was time enough for me to change during the first one. Sure." She took the pen and paper Vinnie retrieved, writing down his phone number. "Thanks. No, mice. Yeah, six foot mice. Yeah, that's them," she said dryly. "She's a friend from home. Thank you, doctor." She hung up and put the phone and the paper aside. "All right, you can take warm showers and walk around, that could help speed up the process. He figures you're probably going to dilate about the same we are so we need to keep an eye on that. Once the pains are evenly spaced, less than five minutes apart, and you're ready to gut him with your teeth he said to call him back and he'd rush up for the delivery. He lives just out of town."
Switch panted as she came down, nodding. "Okay. Why would I want to walk? I ache!"
"It'll move the baby into position faster," she told her. "Gravity is wonderful. He did say you shouldn't ride your bike, that the vibration could do odd things." She nodded, understanding that. "Until then try to rest as much as possible. Drink, no eating until after the birth or this session of false labor stops."
"Why? That seems counter-productive," Stoker said bitterly.
"Because it hurts, Stoker. Think about being in that much pain and having a full stomach."
"She'd be puking like a volcano," Vinnie said dryly. "Soup okay?"
"He said anything liquid but for the later part of labor ice chips. We can use water, koolaid, or juice."
"We can do that," Vinnie agreed happily enough. "I call making ice chips and crushing 'em."
"Fine, punk, get the easy job," Stoker complained.
Switch pulled him down by the hair on his chest, glaring at him. "Do not pick on him. Or else I'll make you feel this later," she warned.
"Sorry, kid," he said softly. "You okay?"
"I could use a shower," she admitted. He picked her up and carried her in there. "You big, strong he man you," she teased.
"Anything for you and the son," he said fondly.
"I thought it was going to be a daughter," Modo called.
"The caves haven't gotten a member of my family right for decades," Stoker called back. He yelped and backed out of the bathroom. "No antennas," he pleaded. "Please?"
"Oh, you're sharing it," she vowed, pulling him closer to share the experience with him. "You're going to get it all, Stoker."
"Then this'll probably be an only child," Vinnie said dryly.
"Oh, I don't know, there's women who have been through child birth sixteen and seventeen times," Charley said dryly.
"Why?" Modo asked, looking upset at that.
"Lack of birth control. One of the kids I went to high school with was the youngest of nineteen. Another was the middle child of thirteen. Another was from four sets of twins and two singles."
Switch looked at her. "I'm never doing that," she vowed. "But I'll show you guys later why I'm only having this one." She went back to her shower while Stoker shivered in dread.
"That bad, Stoker?" Vinnie taunted.
"Punk, do the world a favor and breed a lot, that way the rest of us don't have to go through that again," he said bitterly, flopping down in a chair. "You guys did what to the mini-punk?"
"He's feeling left out and like a leech," Charley told him. "Like an alien suddenly put into a very tight cultural group."
"If we could get the boy on a bike, he'd feel better," Stoker reminded her.
"He got dizzy riding behind someone last night," Vinnie told him. "Came home stumbling after a bar brawl in a country biker bar."
"A gay country and western biker bar," Charley amended with a grin for him. "They went out to a normal gay country and western bar tonight."
Stoker shuddered. "That poor boy. Throttle, why haven't you pounced him yet?"
"Because he's nervous at the prospect and he sees me as some fatherly figure," he said bitterly. "He calls me dad, Stoker."
"So do I," Vinnie reminded him smugly.
"Yeah, and I had enough of that when you were younger," he reminded him. He looked at the bathroom, then at the clock. "She's having a third. I can hear the panting. How long?"
"Twelve minutes. Not standard or even," Charley assured him. She stood up. "Switch, need me? I'm going to go back to watching tv after I fix the door Stoker kicked in."
"Not yet. I'll have him run and get you when they start for real. Thanks, Charley."
"Not an issue, Switch." She stood up and stretched, getting tickled by a tail tip. "Vinnie!"
"I am not," Throttle teased her. "You look good in men's pajamas. Wear them often?"
"They're women's and yes, I do." She rolled her eyes at Vinnie's quiet growling. "Quit. He was getting in practice." She walked off, heading back to the house. She heard a quiet footstep and looked back. "Wanted to help fix the door?"
"Yeah," Vinnie admitted. "Those are women's? They look like guy's pajamas."
"I'd wear men's pajamas but they don't fit my chest," she said dryly. She walked around the splinters, not minding much when Vinnie picked her up and carried her over them. "Thanks."
"Welcome. Let me fix that for you and then can we watch some more tv?" he asked. "I don't want to listen to her torture Stoker."
"Or to help Throttle mope?" she suggested.
"Yeah, that either," he admitted. He turned her around and gave her a little pat. "Go change back."
"Fat chance, not with you over here."
He gave her a long stare. "It doesn't matter what you wear, babe, you're still too hot not to tempt me. Even if I burn my fingers on you." He closed the door to see where the most damage was then he went for the roll of duct tape to fix the jamb until he could get a new piece put in. It'd hold for now. Once he had the door secure he headed up the stairs quietly, hoping to find her having changed back. Instead he found her curled up on her side on the couch. He moved her to sit under her head, stroking her hair while she napped. He turned off the DVD player and found the other movie just ending with a load moan. He blushed but rewound it. Maybe he'd find something to make her squeal and bounce like Dawn did.
Xander grinned as he sat down across from Merle. "Hey. How was your weekend?"
"Well, I had a date last night."
"Apparently he was good, you look like you slept well for a change," he said with a half smile but his eyes looked very sad. "Anyone I might know?"
"Big biker guy named Bob."
"Bob? I know Bob," he admitted. "He's a nice guy," he said gently. "Not the sort I thought you'd go for though."
"I'm not sure if I go for him or not. It's only like my second gay date ever," he said dryly.
"If you want, I can give you something to compare," Merle offered casually. Xander looked stricken. "Or not," he repented quickly.
Xander touched his hand. "If we weren't on the same site, I'd have you bent over this table and howling in pleasure," he said with a small grin. "But I can't work with someone I'm dating. Things get weird. There's that urge to have sex at work, which would traumatize nearly everyone around us." That got a small chuckle. "So if you suddenly fire me or move me to another site, then maybe. But not until then. I just can't, Merle."
"I understand, Xander. Not an issue. Besides, I can't fire you. The boss likes you. Sheila likes you. You do good work and you work along with your guys. We haven't had a guy like you in years and I'm going to have to keep you there." He gave him a gentle smile. "You're sure?"
"Not unless we're working on different projects. If you're together with someone you work with, things get magnified. You either take each other on the desk or your fights get in the way of work. Trust me, been there before," he said dryly.
"Okay, I'll accept that. For now," he admitted with a smile. "How was Bob?"
"I don't do more than a quick kiss on the first date, Merle. I'm not like that."
"Good thing I've been considering these dates all along, huh?" he teased. Xander chuckled and nodded. "How's Throttle feel about Bob?"
"Why would it matter? We're not together. He didn't say anything when he came over to try to make me sleep, but I wasn't really expecting him too. See, he made himself kinda plain on that matter," Xander sighed. "Which is why things are weird between us at the moment. I feel like I'm planted in the middle of a group of people who don't really like me, they just kinda like me because of him."
"That's not true, kid. I've seen Vinnie and Modo treat you like their little brother."
"Yeah, a pesky one," he snorted.
Merle shook his head. "You're misreading it, Xander. They like you for who you are. Nothing further." He patted his hand. "Okay, we've got this final week to go over. We've got a half crew. What still needs finished?"
"Cabinet pulls. Um, a few pieces of carpeting in the hall that was on back order. The windows need to be cleaned and our last inspection."
"Okay. So your crew's got maybe a day of work?"
"Unless they find something wrong or something terrible happens when they hook up the utilities, yeah," he admitted. "My problem is that I suck at installing carpet and I don't have anyone. Can we borrow an outside guy?"
"Sure, I know someone," he admitted. "I usually get him in to finish installing any and all carpet. He's on one of the other sites at the moment." He made a note of that. "Do you need a full crew?"
"Not unless we find something wrong during the final inspection," he admitted. "If you can get a guy in to do the install part of the carpet, I can hold. We could use one, maybe two more."
"Decent enough. I haven't gotten final permission on our crew's next job. The boss is calling City Hall tomorrow to see why and I don't want a large gap so I can move people to the other sites for a few days if I have to."
"A few of mine wanted a few days off," he cautioned. "Sheila's dad needs Tuesday off because she's starting a special school."
"Yeah, it's the elementary school associated with St. Ignatius," he said dryly. "Dawn should fit right in."
"She will," he agreed happily enough. "How about the landscaping guys?"
"Nearly finished. They'll need all week so I might need you to temp in on their side. Have you laid sod and planted trees?"
"Planted shrubs with someone telling me what to add," he admitted. "We didn't do much of that. Out in Cali, you hired special people to take care of your landscaping needs. Our crew hardly ever had to deal with doing more than pulling shrugs and bushes. Especially rose bushes," he remembered with a wince.
"That's fine, Xander. I can help you with that. We'll have one guy mix the fertilizer for the hole and you can plant and fill." He made another note of that. "I think we're fully finished on this job. We didn't run too horribly over budget considering that emergency move for the gas project. The owners seem to be happy so far but they're raging at City Hall and demanding that they pay them back for the overage due to that screw up. So that leaves the next job, which is a private residence. It's a complete destroy and rebuild."
"Can I blow it up?" he asked happily, wiggling a bit.
"Not really, kid, it burned the first time. All it'll need is a little tap." He shrugged. "The one after that is being looked at and they're thinking that's going to be a destruction job. You could do that and then we'd have a minimal cleanup team. You've got your license, right?" Xander nodded. "Good boy." He went back over the notes he had made earlier. "We still owe Vinnie and Modo a check. They're in my desk drawer. I'll have them sent over if I can't reach Charley tomorrow," he decided. "To the garage?" Xander nodded. "That's fine. Any news on the new apartment front?"
"Not that I can find," he sighed.
"Why are you moving? I hope it's not because of me," a male voice said from behind Xander, brushing against his back as the body moved around him. "Merle."
"Bob," he said cheerfully. "Xander was telling me you had taken him out last night. Have fun?"
"A lot. Where are you moving, Xander?"
"With Dawn staying I need more than one bedroom," he said with a small shrug. "She can't do good in school while sleeping on my couch with me waking her up all the time."
"That's very nice of you to take her in," Bob said, reaching over to squeeze his wrist. "You doing anything after this?"
"Going home to nag Dawn about her mass of clothes," he said dryly. "She starts school on Tuesday and somehow my closet seems to be full of skirts. I'd look really ugly in a gray wool skirt." Both men chuckled at that. He looked over and smirked as Charley came in. "Well. We were going to call you tomorrow to tell two of the bros that they've got checks cut."
"That's fine, I'll tell 'em later." She smiled at them. "When are you coming over again? I'm tired of watching Throttle mope."
"When I'm invited?" he suggested.
She pinched him on the ear. "Friends don't require invitations. You're a friend, get over it." He gave her a sappy grin. "Thank you. I've seen more of your junker than I have of you recently and you're worrying me. Besides, who else do I get to talk about the stupid things men do?"
"And Meg, but that's beside the point. We're taking a group outing next Saturday. Don't make any other plans or I'll never hear the end of it."
"Sure," he agreed happily. "Where are we going?"
"Six Flags." She smiled at Merle. "He won't have anything then, right?"
"No, we'll be finishing a job this week and the next one won't start until the next Monday. Have fun, Xander. You need some excitement and fun in your life. Make sure you ride up with one of the guys." He grinned as Dawn walked in. "She's not supposed to be here."
"Dawn Summers, you are underaged to be in this place," Xander ordered. "Out!"
"I will, just as soon as you both come with me. Switch is in real labor and screaming her head off. She just tried to cut Stoker with a butter knife."
"Shit, gotta go," Xander said, reaching for his wallet.
"I've got it, go," Merle said, waving him off.
Charley started to tug on his arm. "But I still have to pay for my part."
"I've got it, Xander," Merle called after him. He saw Xander finally free his wallet and tossed a few bills at a waitress before heading out with the ladies. "He's very energetic. I'm glad he's finally gotten some sleep."
"I'm just happy I could help him with that," Bob said smugly. "Are you two...?"
"He said we can't date while we're on the same site. He thinks it'd make things intense at work," he admitted, sipping his coffee. "He's my interior crew chief."
"So he said." He shifted closer, picking up Xander's soda to sip. "So give, who's this Throttle guy and who's Switch?"
"Switch is a friend who's in for a visit with her man, Stoker. She's apparently popping out the baby now. Throttle is one of Charley's friends that Xander met the first time he came to town. He's one of the reasons Xander stayed in the city instead of going up north." Bob shivered. "He's a damn nice guy, but he will be there for Xander if you drop the ball. He wants, but Xander's convinced himself that it can't happen."
"So I'm filler?"
"Not at the moment. Xander's not like that. A bit scary now and then, but not a player. This Sunday is the anniversary of him losing his fiance. Two nights ago was the anniversary of him losing his eye. He's going to have a tough week, especially with the Dawn things going on."
"Was that her? I've only talked to her briefly."
"Yeah, that was Dawn. She's a nice girl. She's starting at St. Ignatius." Bob nodded, but he didn't seem to know anything was different about that school. "She's a good kid, ran away from her big sister because she was, excuse the language but truth here, a twat."
"Really? He took her in?"
"He has full guardianship of her. Her sister signed it over because Dawn said she was staying, no matter what." He took another sip of his coffee. "Want dinner?"
"Sure," he agreed happily enough. "I'll take whatever Xander was going to order."
"We hadn't yet and I doubt that. The boy's a funny eater." He handed over his menu, he knew what he wanted. Unfortunately his meal of choice had already left to help a friend in labor.
Xander parked his SUV and got out, following Dawn inside. "Guys, part the Red Sea," he ordered, walking through the crowd. "Hi, Switch. You bellowed for me to dance attendance?" he asked with a grin. "Let's sit you up some. I hear it's a bit easier, like a constant stomach crunch." He sat her up and sat behind her, then looked at Stoker, grabbing him by the belt to pull him closer. He put his hand in hers. He grabbed Modo on the other side and did the same to him. "Okay, sweetheart, you squeeze the hell out of them when it hurts. Got it?" She nodded, biting on her lower lip. "None of that. Let it out, dear. Labor hurts like a bitch for a reason." He stroked and worked on her shoulders to keep her calm. He looked up to find the other two mice nearly dancing. "Ice chips or something soothing and cold to drink. Small amounts so they stay cold. One of you call a doctor. Charley, check her over. How far is she?"
Charley lifted up the edge of the sheet. "I'd say six centimeters and her water has apparently broken."
"Good. That's a good sign. Okay, honey, just a bit longer and then the ripping pain will be a pushing pain. Got it?" She moaned and nodded, resting against his chest. "That's what we're here for. We can shift your position once you're ready to push. Did you want to do it squatting, on all fours or like this?"
"Why?" she panted.
"Because it can be easier in other positions. This one was created by doctors so that it'd be easier for them, not for the mothers. We can help you in whatever position you want."
"Let's stick with this one. I don't think I could hold another position for very long."
"That's fine, just let me know, babe. Now, deep breath, close your eyes, concentrate on a happier mental image and slowly let the breath out until the pain stops."
"Stoker pushing me in the playground," she said a little wispily. She closed her eyes and did as he said, and it helped some. It still hurt but she was diverting her attention from it.
"That's it, that's a good girl," Xander soothed quietly in her ear. When the pain stops, jump off and giggle, hugging him until the next one. Then he can start pushing you again." She nodded, letting out a tired sounding giggle. "Good girl. Now relax. You've got a few more hours of this."
"Sure," she agreed, going limp against him. "Is this how humans do it?"
"Well, here in the US, most women give birth in a hospital. It's a sterile environment and not particularly cheerful. But I've witnessed births in Africa and Asia that were more like this. They still do most deliveries at home. Usually there's a midwife in case of problems. Sometimes it's just a really experienced woman from the village and sometimes it's someone with some training." He moved off her shoulders to stroke her stomach. "How far apart are they?"
"Maybe eight minutes."
"Then when it's nearly time, start back on the swing," he ordered gently.
"You've helped deliver before?"
"Only like this. Most of the time men aren't allowed anywhere near the women in labor. It's considered a bad omen. In some cultures the men can't see their children until they're a month old." He went back to stroking her stomach in little circles. "Both of the slayers I went to retrieve who were pregnant delivered while I was there and were attacked because they were slayers who were in a weak moment. Nothing could have prevented the one in Asia from dying. The demon shot a poisoned dart at her directly so I had to help her push the baby out with the last few minutes of her life so it'd live. The one in Africa was attacked by a lion demon. Since I fought it off, I was invited in to help protect her and the new baby, who would be the village's guardian as it grew older." He glanced at the wall. "Okay, sweetie, back on your swing," he prompted. "Six minutes this time." She nodded, closing her eyes and concentrating on that picture. Vinnie came back. "Open, take a sip of ice," he offered. Vinnie spooned some into her mouth and she crunched it up. "Let it melt. You don't want sharp, pointy things in your mouth. You don't need the fluids to drink as much as you need it in your mouth."
She nodded, opening her mouth to get another bite of ice. This time she let it melt while she swung in her mind. Then she jumped off and gave the hands holding hers a squeeze. "I can handle this."
"For now," Xander pointed out. "After you're finished dilating, then you get to push and the baby's always bigger than you think." He looked up someone else ran in, carrying a large bag. "Doctor?" he asked. "Good. Her last one was six minutes. I've got her a mediational focus going, and she's calm. Have some more ice, love." She took some more ice and drank the water from the bottom of the cup, smiling at Vinnie.
"You've been through this before?" the doctor asked.
"Once in Asia and once in Africa," he admitted. "Tibet and the Serengeti plains. Two slayers in labor and being attacked."
The doctor looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Yet you associate?"
"Oh. Never mind then," he said, bowing at him. "Thank you for saving that house last week, Old One." He checked her. "Nearly there," he said happily. "Almost seven dilated. You're very near to human physiology so we won't have too many problems. I've never seen any demon clans like yours."
"We're Martian," Throttle told him.
"Ah, the other Great Ones," he said happily. "I see." He smiled at her. "Any particular taboos I should know about? Like not touching the baby's tail or head?"
"No, we're pretty good on it. Usually we'd have drummers and someone to sponge down the mother, and there'd be a priest waiting to take the child almost immediately to bless it as part of the clan."
"I can do that part," Throttle reminded her. "I did study that a bit in school." She smiled at him. "So just do it safely and I'll be getting him the traditional oil bath started."
"Thanks, Throttle," Stoker called. "I'm the father."
"Good, then you stay there unless you want to see the child come out," he said fondly. "Some fathers look at their women differently when they see the baby pushed out."
"You mean I can watch?"
"If you want," the doctor agreed.
"Wow." He saw Xander's head shake. "No?"
"It's nasty, gross, and messy. It'll make you cry and swear that she's just like your own mother, which will mean that you're going to have many bad thoughts for a few days. That's why they didn't allow men in the African tribe I was with."
"If you say so," he said. He handed her hand to Vinnie. "Here, punk, do this part."
"Sure. It's nothing I want to see, ever."
"Oh, I don't know, you eat like a pregnant woman," Xander teased. Vinnie plucked out a piece of ice and flicked it at him, landing it in his ear. "Eww!" He tipped his head and banged on it to get it out. "Meany. I should leave again."
"Sure, right after you tell me how to fix Charley's door," Vinnie said smugly. "Stoker kicked it in last night when she was having some false pains."
"How did you fix it so far?"
Xander moaned and shook his head. "You were infected by that stuff; you can't live on duct tape and WD-40."
"Why would we? It was a temporary fix. I figure it needs a new jamb but I don't know how to replace just that part without doing the whole thing."
"That depends on the damage. I'll look at it once we're done here." He gave him a look. "Did you know Merle was dating me?" Everyone in the room nodded. "Why did no one think to tell me?"
"We thought you were ignoring it," Modo said with a shrug. "He's a nice guy."
"Who has yours and Vinnie's check in his desk drawer," Xander told him.
"I'll get 'em tomorrow," Vinnie promised with a bright grin. "Then again, we're not letting you leave tonight either. You're staying, we're going to pounce you if you try to leave, and then we'll take you to work tomorrow."
"I've got to be there at seven."
"And? I'll still be up," Vinnie said dryly. "Speaking of, how did you get some rest?" he asked quietly.
"Micah suggested that Max give me some allergy pills. They make you just sleepy enough to need a nap but won't keep you down," he said quietly. Vinnie grinned at him. "I'm not sure if I can take them every night or not though."
"Not an issue. Even just for the bad nights would be good." He patted him on the back of the head. "If you try to leave tonight, I'm gonna have to pout and throw a fit. That would get Charley mad at me." He heard a chuckle and felt his hand being crushed so spooned out more ice for Switch, letting her suck them off the plastic spoon. "There you go, babe. Just claw me up if you want more and you can't do less than scream." She laughed and then moaned, sitting up some.
"I believe it's time to push," the doctor said happily. He checked her again then nodded. "Yes, it is." He moved the sheet back above her pelvic mound, making everyone but Xander and the father turn away. "All right, Switch. Push whenever you have the next pain, dear. This may take a bit of time but you should be fine. Do you need some oxygen?"
"No, I'm fine," she panted. She pushed, gripping the hands as tightly as she could.
"It's like stomach crunches," Xander instructed. "Tighten just those muscles and push. Just like taking a big, nasty dump." She let out a weak chuckle and tried it again, doing better this time. "Now work on holding it for as long as you can," he soothed, going back to working on her shoulders. "Don't tense up. Just that area if you can." She flopped back against him, gasping for air. "Let's do it this way. Deep breath, push for six or eight counts, let it out, relax, push again." She nodded, waiting until the next pain to do it that way. She let out a scream as a serious ripping pain started, then pushed again, needing to get that pain stopped. "That's a good girl, just a few more," Xander cheered. "Come on, his head's nearly out." The doctor was guiding it out. "Come on, give me three more good ones," he pressed. She did one. "One more." She panted and did another one. "One more, almost there," he praised. She let out another scream as the baby came out fully. "Good girl!" he praised, giving her a gentle squeeze around the middle. "Open your eyes, Switch, look at your baby girl."
Switch opened her watering eyes, gaping at the sight of the baby. "You're furry," she said, starting to sniffle. "You're a gray mouse too."
"Want to cut the cord?" the doctor asked gently. He clamped it then handed over a pair of scissors. "Between them, sir."
"Sure," he said, snipping them. Then he took his daughter. "Wow, the caves were right for a change." He walked her back up so his wife could look at them. "Our daughter."
"Precious one," she cooed, stroking her forehead. "Xander, what was your fiance's name?"
"Anya, or in demon form Anyanka."
"Anya. It's nearly our word for Beautiful Trouble." She looked up at her spouse, who shrugged. "Please?"
"Fine," he agreed, walking her out to Throttle, who took the baby carefully. "She begs very well. We're naming her after Xander's former fiance."
"No, the human version."
"Anya then. Beautiful Trouble. Just like a daughter of yours will be," he agreed, starting the ritual bathing. "Hello, Anya, welcome to your new clan," he soothed. "I mark you as your father's," he said, drawing a stripe of the oil down her nose. "And your mother's," he offered, making another over her chest. "And your clan's." He striped the oil down her tail and over her head. "Let none of them doubt that you're a member or let them face your daddy, who's a fierce protector and a good teacher. You'll need to listen to him so you can whip tail." He went back to bathing her, whispering in her ear to keep her calm. The doctor came out and tied off the cord lower, next to her stomach and snipped it again. "The mother?"
"Is just fine," he said happily. "She's had the afterbirth and I've kept it in case there's any standard rituals."
"We usually burn the afterbirth and the blanket she gives birth on so no one can taint their blood with it," Stoker offered.
"Not that blanket," Throttle ordered. "Modo's mother sent that one down for him. We'll wrap it up securely." He nodded, accepting that. He took the oil back into the bedroom and kicked everyone out but Xander. "Hey, you can help me with one last chore. Switch, I know you know about the ritual bathing and stuff."
"Can we hold the bonfire later?"
"Sure, babe. But Modo's momma sent down the blanket. We'll wrap it securely."
"We can always wash it," Xander offered gently. "If that's okay."
Modo stuck his head in. "It's okay. Momma said I could use it for this purpose. She said she was honored to have helped with the birth even though she wasn't there." He closed the door again.
"That's fine then," Throttle agreed, picking up the cloth he had been using earlier. "This is the prepared oil, it's warm and soothing," he said gently. "It's going to feel odd."
"Of course it will," she agreed. She looked up at Xander as she was gently cleaned up. "You're very good at that." She smiled at him. "You're staying."
"Sure, brat, I'll stay," he promised, grinning at her. "Anything I can do?"
"Call Carbine," she said sweetly. "She'll yell at the rest of us."
"Sure, not an issue." He kissed her on the forehead. "Now relax. It's been a long night for you and you should be ready to nap."
"Oh, I am," she yawned. "Should I try to nurse the baby?"
"Not for a bit. We'll wake you when he seems hungry," Throttle assured her. She nodded and let him cover her, then flipped onto her side so he could take the blanket she had been lying on. The sheets went with it, as did the bowl with the afterbirth. He took them out back and into the burn barrel the garage kept, lighting it with the traditional prayer for the baby's health and well being. He heard a cough and looked at the cop standing there. "Officer."
"Sir, it was reported to us that a woman was screaming."
"She was giving birth. We're making sure that the baby's afterbirth and the sheets can't be used to harm them." He went back to watching the fire. "They're inside if you have to check."
"I probably should, sir." He tapped on the door and got Vinnie, who was nearly vibrating. "I have to check, we had a complaint."
"Stoker, bring the baby," he called. "It's the cops."
"Why?" Stoker called as he walked his daughter down the stairs. "See, newborn," he said fondly.
"Thank you, sir. It was reported that a woman was screaming."
"With how small the hole this beauty came out of was, I'd have screamed and killed me," he said happily. "Thank you, officer."
"Not a problem, sir. Have a happy night and make sure the fire's dead by morning." He went back to his car, smiling at the child standing on the sidewalk. "It's all right, she was having a baby."
"Oh, good," he said happily, running home to tell his mother. "Momma, the lady screaming was having a baby."
"Good for her. Pity that she wanted to do it naturally and without drugs," she said, messing up his hair. "It would have hurt less." She kissed him on the forehead. "I can't complain, I had you in the middle of the woods. Go play." He dashed off and she smiled at his enthusiasm. She'd have to pop around to the garage tomorrow to make sure Charley knew she was an obstetrical nurse. She would have come over if asked. "I might have even brought her drugs." She turned the page on her magazine. "Don't play with the dog," she called. It had been too quiet for too long already.
Xander was woken by a hand over his mouth, blinking up at Throttle, who nodded him to follow. He slid out of the hammock and followed him downstairs, where the others were looking grim. "There's a ship landing. Stoker never bothered to tell us Limburger had escaped."
"We thought he was heading home," he defended.
"That's fine. Let's go meet and greet," Xander agreed. "I need to stop at the house."
"Done," Vinnie agreed, pointing outside. "We called Dawn and had her pack it. She's coming here to stay with Charley and Switch so they can guard the baby."
"Cool beans. Let's go then." He headed for his car and hopped in, noticing the keys were still in the switch. "Nice, Dawn. Could have been stolen," he complained, starting the engine and backing out of the parking spot, heading for the tower. The bikes were behind him, he could hear them. It wasn't that late, maybe eleven, but it was pretty quiet on Sundays in this part of town. He looked at the ship that had landed, frowning at the new design. "I think he headed home." He checked the supplies. No grenade launcher, but two blocks of C-4 and one of his assault rifles were in the back, complete with extra clips. He sniffled, he loved Dawn's idea of peaceful negotiations. He stuffed the C-4 in his jacket pockets, the detonators and cord in his pants pockets, and the clips in his inside pockets and wherever they would fit. Then he got out and joined the bros in front of the ship. "Sneak in and cause hell and havoc from the inside out or knock it the fuck over and then make our own entrance?"
"Can you blow a doorway and not get us noticed?"
"I can blow a doorway. I can't promise about not being noticed," he offered. "I don't know what sort of specs they have on that thing. It's a bit newer than yours."
"Yeah, it looks like he did head home and then down here," Vinnie said bitterly. "Sneaking's no fun."
"Yeah, but then you can cause damage from the inside and destroy it all around you," Xander reminded him. "I've got stuff. Not an issue. Dawn packed the peaceful solutions package." He looked at the tip of his rifle, smiling at the silencer, then pointed it at a nearby demon, shooting it dead. "Good, it does work. My own invention you know." He looked around then slung the rifle back over his back, jumping up to grab the fence and climb over. He took point, sneaking in while the guys made their own gate and took another path to clear out any intruders. He found a doorway and stayed put until he felt a tap on his shoulder. He got on the back of Modo's bike, letting him drive him off while he scanned. A few more guards went down. They met at the hatch doors and he hopped off, going over to look at them. He pulled out one of the bricks, rolling little snake ropes of the stuff to lay around the edges. He unrolled a cord and put a detonator on it, turning away as he hit the switch. The door blew apart louder than he had liked, but it was pretty.
"Nice job," Vinnie said in awe. "I love destruction early in the morning."
"Yeah, yeah, now let's go whip some tail, it's my turn to hold the baby," Throttle complained. "Vinnie, point, Xander, hit the back of Vinnie's bike." He climbed on, one hand loosely clutched around Vinnie's back as they advanced inside. Nothing and no one was there.
"Maybe they're out for pizza?" Xander suggested.
"Doubt it. I can smell stench up ahead," he reported. Xander got off the bike and walked up to the doorway, peeking around the corner. He waved at him to stop, then held up three fingers. Then two. He looked at them and nodded, getting out of the way. The bros drove around it and took out the three guys and two doors, finding the rest of everyone waiting for them with weapons. Xander jumped in, taking down a few of them, while they got a few more. He felt a gun bump against his back and paused, then ducked, spun, and knocked the feet out from under the person behind him. He got a few more coming up that narrow hallway. This was a bad choice for an ambush. Both sides were trapped. He checked a nearby door and found a hanger. "In here," he yelled. They backed in and held off the attack at the doorway. He glanced around, not finding anything useful in the big space. He found another doorway but it was too tight for the bikes to fit through and led to stairs down. "Down?" he muttered. He shook his head and locked it from their side, then grabbed one of Vinnie's torches to weld it shut. "It leads down," he called at the odd look.
"Down?" Throttle asked.
"Yeah, down." He tossed aside the used cartridge, coming back to cover the group. He suddenly coughed, looking up. "Gas!"
"Now's not the time for that," Vinnie called.
"Not that sort, Vinnie, the sort that's shot through the ventilation system!" He coughed some more, bending down for a moment. He straightened back up, firing once Modo had moved, his eyes watering. Hey, they were crowding the doorway, it wasn't that hard to pick them off. "Spray and pray, I hate spray and pray mode," he complained to himself. He heard a rattle and looked up in time to be landed on. He managed to get out from underneath the goon but that's about all. More were coming through. He made a ball of explosive and stuck in a detonation cap, tossing it up in there and blowing it with a well- placed shot. He heard screams and smirked up at the ceiling. "Good!" He coughed some more, bending down again to try to catch his breath.
Throttle saw the goon get up, and another one. He saw one of them go for Xander and one for Vinnie, and reacted without thinking, protecting Vinnie. Xander was knocked out by a strike to the back of his head while he was coughing, falling on the floor. "Modo! Get us an exit!" he called. "Vinnie, grab Xander!" Vinnie tried but the goons were hauling him off and firing back at them, suppression fire to keep them away. He didn't like this one bit. He made a lunge for it and got creased in the arm and on one ear. Modo made them a new exit and they hurried out, going to regroup. "We need help," he gasped once they were in the cleaner air. "They have Xander."
"What!" Vinnie shouted, turning around but they were fired at and had to move or be shot. He couldn't get back there. He tried every way but the ship had batteries of lasers and the goons had lasers and they were being vindictive. He already had a few grazes and he wasn't going to last much later.
"Retreat, we'll be back for him in an hour," Throttle called. They retreated, heading back to the garage. Throttle peeled off, heading for Xander's. They'd need some bigger weapons. He found Dawn in the main doorway with a bag. "Who called?"
"Charley. Vinnie called her. Two of the launchers, some more of the C-4, and more ammo. Where's Xander?"
"He's been taken, Dawn." She glared at him. "He got knocked out and they took him before we could react. We're going back for him."
"You're right, *we* are," she agreed, coming down to take the bag and get onto the back of the bike. "Bike, garage. Regroup, call in reinforcements, and then we'll head back again." The bike took off, making Throttle shiver. She was good. She hopped off once they were at the garage, going over to help bandage Vinnie. He hated to be injured. He was fidgeting. "Do we know the layout well enough to go back in?" she asked.
"Not a chance in hell, Dawn," Charley told her. "You're not eighteen yet. You're not well enough trained."
"I'm not untrained!"
"Dawn!" she snapped. "Shut up. You're not going in this time. You're not trained enough. If they could take Xander, they can take you and hurt you more. Since I know where you came from, that's dangerous. Now, call Micah, get some damage control and some help if this runs long!"
"Fine. But I'm the fucking backup, people. If Xander's hurt, I'm pulling a Willow and destroying that place down to the atomic level." She stomped off.
Throttle looked at Charley, shaking his head. "Braver than me," he admitted. "Stoker!" He came jogging out with the baby. "Dawn, stay here and guard Switch and Anya. They're helpless at the moment. We need you, Stoker, they got Xander. It was an ambush. They wanted him."
"Fine. Do we have a bike?"
"I'll go behind Vinnie, you have mine," Charley told him. She finished tying off one graze and looked at Vinnie. "We ready yet?"
"Yeah, we're ready," Stoker told her, going to grab her bike and head off after the others.
Dawn picked up the phone, calling Max's. "It's me, we're in deep fucking shit here. The Plutarkians set up an ambush and got Xander. They're headed back in with Stoker. We've got a newborn, a mother, and me for backup until I can get up Oz and Meg. Yeah, could use it," she said dryly. "Thanks, Max. See you soon." She hung up and went to check on the baby, bringing them back to the garage. It had the better security system once she fixed the back door with a piece of foil and some gum to reconnect a broken wire.
Micah Simms hated late night phone calls. They always made him jump and flail for a moment until he realized it was the phone and not gunfire. He picked it up. "Better be good," he demanded. He paused, then nodded. "Get the jet, I'll meet you there. How bad?" He listened to the small report. "Get me better intel, people, call Meg first. She lives across from the old tower's location." He hung up and rushed to get dressed.
This was very bad.
His phone rang again and he listened to the panting voice. "Not now, Buffy, unless the hellmouth just opened and is sucking everyone in." He listened and moaned. "Fine. Yeah, I'll send someone but it'll be about an hour or so. Got it?" He hung up and called headquarters. "Dispatch a small team to Cleveland. Their hellmouth just opened and ate half the slayers fighting. The rest of us are heading to Chicago. Now." He hung up and headed out the door, hopping into his jeep to get to the airport.
"Why did I let them do this to ECHO?" he complained as he drove. "This is insane."
Xander woke up hanging from chains on a wall. He was rather used to the feeling so he knew where he was. The only problem was *where* he was. He looked around the dark, dank dungeon and snorted. "Damn, people, watch a bit too much tv?" he called. He looked up at the chains but he couldn't see a latch. Someone let out a chuckle and pain went ripping through his wrists and into the rest of his body, making him yell and thrash. "No fair. Come on out and play," he called once he had calmed down again.
"Of course I will," an asthmatic voice said, producing Karbunkle when he stepped out of the shadows. "I will find out why you're so unique."
"Easy, prior possessions," he sneered. Just a bit closer. The doctor pulled over a tray and he kicked it over, then kicked at him, but the cuffs set off another electrical charge.
"You'll learn soon," he promised. "You're going to be a good pet. Maybe I'll give you to my other pets to play with. After I suitably change you of course." He picked up something off the floor and held up the scalpel. "Maybe I should start with your real eye." He moved closer and Xander put his legs around his neck, bucking and twisting. He couldn't quite snap his neck with it, but he did manage to knock him out.
"Pity," Xander said, spitting down at the limp body. "I'm not helpless and I'll never be helpless. I'll die first. If you thought you had troubles with the bros, you have no idea what you've just stepped into." He struggled in his cuffs again, kicking the remote free when it was raised by a shaking hand. "Not playing that game, sicko. You want me, you release me, face me, and if you win I might let you have me. You're not getting me without a fight." He kicked him again, getting him under the chin this time. He heard a pop but it wasn't his neck popping, only his spine adjusting.
"You'll die here," Karbunkle taunted, getting up further away this time. He could learn his lesson. "You'll die in terrible misery as I expose every piece of you to test."
"Bring it on," Xander offered, still sneering. "I beat the military, I can kick your scrawny, white boy ass too. You may have brains, but I've got determination and more skills than you could hope for."
"Good, I'll put them to good use once I've turned you into a unique creation," he said smugly. He came over with a scalpel. "Now hang still, boy."
Xander pushed off the wall, swinging his body to the left to get him on the side of the head this time. "I don't think so. You're not touching me. Ever. What's wrong, Karbunkle, can't get a date? Dick too small to please anybody? Think you'll use mine as a replacement?" he taunted. "You're nothing and no one. I've faced pieces of shit bigger than you in a clogged toilet."
"Get him down and strap him to a table. Use the pain rods," Karbunkle ordered. "He's much too feisty for my tastes."
Two goons came out of the shadows with sticks that looked like cattle prods. One of them lunged and Xander kicked the rod, then him. He couldn't quite avoid the other one but he did manage to knock it away and then headbutt him when he fell forward. He panted, hanging there. "I'll kill you," he vowed. "I'll have fun killing you. I don't care if you are human. You're deader than last night's fish dinner." He tested the chains again. They were well built, but the wall wasn't. He swung a few more times, then kicked off the wall to get the most height he could, yanking at his apex. His body got free and he did a roll over a table, coming up with his boot knife. "Forgot to frisk me?"
"Shoot him!" Karbunkle yelled.
"Yay, bite me," he said, ducking a few shots to get the people coming in. The found the light switch and turned it on, then went after the newly blinded folk. He got a gun and looked at Karbunkle. "You're not worth it."
"What? Not worth killing?"
"No, not worth the power drain on the battery. Oh, well, I've got more." He pointed at him and used his thumb to turn the setting to maximum, shooting at his stomach. It'd hurt more and he'd die slower. The gun shorted in his hand, making him yelp and drop it as Karbunkle yelped and fell. Xander gathered up the other weapons and his knife, sticking it back where it belonged. He found the remaining C-4 in his pocket and set it on the table. The table was metal and would become shrapnel. Anyone who survived the blast would be cut up. He set it off and ran like hell, finding a staircase up. It had a welded door at the top. Fortunately the blast blew him through it and into the hanger. He saw more goons coming for him and winced, trying to get up.
"Youse is tougher than those mousies," a familiar voice said from behind him. "Maybe I'll get you as a playmate.
Xander groaned and used the last of his strength to stab him. Then he passed out as the heavy, grease dripping man fell on top of him. He was woken to shouts and more shooting, and found himself tied up, but only ropes this time. He wiggled one hand free and got up, going after the first goon to jump them. He took the laser and got him down with a shot to his thigh, then went after the others. He found the bros outside and was grabbed by Throttle, who retreated to get him free. That's when he passed out again. He was passed to a medic, who put him onto a gurney and started an IV.
Throttle rejoined the fight, taking on the larger share this time.
"I love the smell of destruction in the morning!" Vinnie yelled.
"It's sweet," Modo agreed. "As my gray furred momma said, make them run crying to their mommas 'cause they didn't train 'em right the first time!" He shot out one of the stabilizer fins on the ship, making it tip. "Timber!" he yelled, getting another one. They hauled tail out of the way and went back to help mop up.
"Boys, enough, we've got it," Micah called over their radios. "Come back, we need help with the casualties and Xander. He's fighting."
Throttle rushed back, jumping off his bike in mid-motion to walk into the tent. His bike could park herself, Xander would kill someone. He opened the boy's good eye, looking down in it. "It's us. You're safe. We're treating you. No beating up on the nurses." He passed out in his hands. He looked at the nurse wiping the blood from her lips. "You all right, ma'am?"
"Fine. I expected him to be injured and jump at me, I didn't want to hurt him more. Can we tie him down?"
"Fine. You keep him calm them." She pointed at a stool. "Pull it above his head and sit there." He did as ordered while she worked. She was efficient, very efficient. She reset the IV line and taped it down better this time. She put on a new drip bag and connected it as well. She shot something into the line. "A light sedative."
"Then you'll want a monitor on his breathing. He stops breathing when he takes sleeping pills." She nodded, going to get that as well and drag it over. The guy who had been using didn't need it any more and this one would survive. Even if she had to crack his chest and do physical heart massage. It was obvious someone liked this one a lot. Especially the strange mouse-like demon who had come in to help.
"Bro, is he all right?" Vinnie yelled as he walked in.
"Fine." He swatted at the nurse trying to grab him. "Only two people bandage me and neither are here, sweetheart. Don't touch." He walked over to check on Xander. "How bad is he?"
"They just sedated him, he was struggling with the nurse." He looked over as Micah came in. "How did he get free?"
"Apparently they never frisked him. He blew up the lab he was in. By the indications, he had been hanging on the wall in electrified cuffs. He somehow got free, blew up the lab, took out a lot of people, and then the explosion blew him through a welded door."
"He sealed it earlier with one of my torches to keep people coming up it," Vinnie said tiredly. "Is he all right?" he asked the nurse.
"Are you family?"
"We're as close as you're getting outside Dawn," Throttle said patiently. "You'll tell us or I'm going to let Vinnie have you. He's not quite calm yet. This one's like his little brother."
She pursed her lips and looked at Micah, who nodded. "Fine. He'll live. He's bruised, he's got a few cracked ribs. He's got a fracture on his upper arm. It looks like where he went through a metal door. The stains on his back indicate that something large and oily fell on him."
"Greasepit. Xander stabbed him in the stomach," Micah offered. "Karbunkle's severely injured. He's got shrapnel injuries all over, especially to the head." He moved closer. "He did good."
"He did. He's the one who got us into the bunker. They used some sort of gas but only he reacted," Throttle reported. "I..." He glanced at Vinnie, then at Micah. "Two goons got up after Xander took them out by blowing up the air vent. One went for Vinnie and was closer. One went for Xander. I went to save my bro without thinking."
"Throttle, don't do that to yourself," Vinnie said gently. "You made a choice, it happens. We got him back and he'll live."
Throttle looked at him. "We sure of that? He got blown through a metal door. He won't stay conscious."
"It'll be fine, Throttle. Xander's survived some incredible stuff," Micah said gently. "You made the right choice. They would have killed Vinnie on contact. They wanted Xander, that gave you time to regroup and come back. He knew that if he was awake. If not, he'll figure it out. He's too experienced not to." He stared him down. "You made a decision and it happens."
"Still sucks tail."
"Not gonna argue with you," Micah promised, lightening up a bit. "I've done that one myself. It sucks like anything, but at least you managed to save him. Possible death is always favored over probable death."
"Karbunkle wanted to know why I wasn't normal," a weak voice whispered.
"Rest, kid, you did good," Micah promised.
"I wanna know why."
"Then we'll pull some blood and do a life review," Micah offered. "Once you're not passing out in Throttle's hands. Now rest, before the nurse has to get mean." Xander nodded, allowing Throttle to stroke his forehead until he succumbed again. "Even better, his file's a bit thin. Throttle, can you handle taking the life review?" He nodded. "Good. I figure you'd understand more and easier." He looked at Vinnie, then outside. "Charley, Dawn, get in here!" They rushed in. "Take him away, get him cleaned up and bandaged. He said only you two could do it. Then get Modo away from his scratched paint job and do the same to him. We've got to clean up Cleveland after this." Dawn paused to stare at him. "Guess which slayer opened the hellmouth to get a favor," he said dryly.
"The one I turned in?"
He frowned. "You turned someone in?"
"Yeah, the slut who put drugs in my old POS. I turned her in locally. She's also the one who set me up on the blind date with the obsessive gun runner."
"Yeah, her," he agreed, nodding. "Good. Well, she's gone now. Eaten, along with two cops and another of the girls. So we've got to mop up here, there, and then head home. At least it's Sunday. I'll be filling out paperwork all week." He looked at Throttle. "Good plan by the way. Smart of you to start silently."
"I hate sneaking. Sneaking is not for the studliest....." He shut up when Charley kissed him. "Well, a hero's welcome," he said smugly.
"Shut up, hotshot. I did it to stop the babble. Now, strip down, get into the portable shower, and clean off. You're sweaty, nasty, and smell like a battle and blood. I can't stand the smell of blood." He hugged her suddenly. "I'm okay."
"I know you are, you're usually much better." He let her go and tapped Dawn on the nose. "She can do it, go get Modo."
"Sure." She walked outside and found him looking at his bike, speaking quietly to her. "Bike, I'll help him fix you this week, but I need to work on him now. You okay?" It beeped. "Good." She grabbed Modo by the ear and drug him inside, forcing him onto a bed. She grabbed some bandages and some alcohol. "You're fucking well gushing from that gash on your arm. You won't do her much good if you bleed to fucking death."
"Language!" Charley snapped.
"There's times for swearing, this is one of them," she called back. She frowned up at Modo. "Who would go out for ice cream with me at two am if you died from blood loss?" He hung his head and nodded. "Now, let me bandage you up, studly, and I'll help you fix her after school all week, okay?" He nodded so she kissed him on the cheek. "Your momma would be so proud of you," she promised in a gentle, quiet tone of voice while she worked. "You won against immeasurable odds and all you got were a few gashes. I'm not telling her you got dead. So don't make me." He nodded, staring at her. She grinned. "Besides, I want your momma to fix me up with someone cute and fuzzy. She's got to know at least *one* cute guy." She got to work while he chuckled, making it all better. Then she walked him back to his bike. "Well, a few scratches. Some of it's only superficial. We'll have to strip the wax off to work on her and I think we'll find most of them are at that level." She sat him on it, then looked at the tires and the handlebars. "Yeah, you've got one good scratch here by the headlight too. One tire's deflating. Anyone got a can of fix-a- flat until he can get back to the garage?" One was tossed over by Max. "Thanks, dear." She applied it to the tire, then got an air hose to pump it back up. She stood up and nodded. "Okay. She's good enough to get you home. Go home, go rest. I'm free all day and once I get up, we'll start work stripping the wax so we can fix her little bumps and aches."
"Thank you, Dawn. You treat my girl very well."
"Hell, you treat me very well and she might as well be my sister some days, so I'll bandage her as long as she doesn't nag." He chuckled at that. "Go back and check on Switch. She's got to be frantic." He nodded, heading off to do that. She went inside after checking the other bikes. "Vinnie, you've got scratches and a broken headlight. You're damn lucky, dear, one's right on the gas tank." She looked at Throttle. "You've got so many scratches we'll have to repaint I think." He nodded, silently accepting that. "Good, make Xander help you. I called Merle and told him it was a battle and he said that their next job has been delayed anyway. He's all yours all week, I'll expect him to be fed, cleaned, and walked regularly until I repossess him." She grabbed another set of bandages and slid around the machines to start work on his injuries. "Arm." He lifted it out some but kept both hands on Xander's head. "All of it," she said with a smirk. "He won't mind. If he sees you bleeding he'll freak."
"Thank you, Dawn."
"Not an issue. I like you guys for some strange reason," she said dryly, sucking on her bottom lip as she worked.
"You do that very well," the nurse offered gently.
"Practice, honey. My sister's a slayer. Formerly the only slayer. I've had a lot of practice on her, him, and our former friends." She found a graze on Throttle's neck and pressed a pad of alcohol over it, making him hiss. "Yeah, they hurt there. That's why vampires like to bite you there." She lifted it off, then put it back. "Hold that and take off the vest, hotshot."
"I'm not that injured."
"Shut up and do as ordered or I'm making those tofu dogs today."
"That's not nice," he chided, but he was smirking at her. He winced as he took off his vest, noticing the hole in it. He looked at his side and winced. "I'm guessing that's going to hurt soon."
"It should be hurting now. Did you hurt your back?" she asked, pressing another pad over it. "I could use a few more hands. Hey, Charley, can I borrow you?" She came over to help, wincing at the damage. "Yeah. Let's bandage him and let them take x-rays of his chest. I'm sensing some weakness. Like possible broken things." She bandaged his throat, letting Charley get his side. Then they got him up and she took Throttle's spot on the stool. "Go. I'm staying right here." He nodded, letting Charley lead him off to the people doing x-rays. When he came back, she yawned and got off the stool, going to check on Vinnie. "Hey, studly. If he's okay he could probably head home. I already sent Modo."
"Thanks, Dawn," Charley said quietly, nudging the sleeping mouse. "Wanna head home?"
"Please. I hate hospitals." He swung up and looked at Dawn, then pulled her in for a hug. "You're great, even if you do have a potty mouth." He let her go when she chuckled and walked Charley off. She could ride behind him, like usual. He found his bike resting against Throttle's. "Ready to head home? He'll be back soon. Xander's awake and fidgeting. I can hear him." His bike stood up straighter and let him and her onto it, heading for the garage. It knew who was going to baby it.
Throttle looked down at the open eyes. "Hey. How you feeling?"
"About the same. They took x-rays." He winced as he moved. "I ache now." He stroked his forehead. "You're coming back with me tonight. Micah called Meg and she went to check on Tara and the kittens, telling them that you were fine."
"I can go home."
"Hush, Xander. You're coming back with me so we can take care of you. It's what bros do for each other." He stroked his forehead some more. "You ready? I need to take my bike back. She's dinged."
"I'll help you fix her."
"I know you will," he said with a small grin. "Right after you rest." He stood up. "Can we send him home?" he asked the nurse.
"As long as you watch over him. I want him to rest and eat. Doing nothing more than resting and eating, either of you."
"I need to help him with his bike. He came back for me," Xander told her.
"Of course I did. I'm not leaving you there. You don't deserve that. No one does, but you more than most." He stretched and winced. "Yeah, I cracked something."
"Three somethings," Micah called, holding up the x-rays. "You and Xander have matching, but mirror opposite cracks. Head home. You're the last to go." Xander looked at him. "I had them pull blood, skin, and a muscle tissue sample from you since it was open anyway. Throttle's going to be doing a life review on you and we'll figure it out, kid. Now hit the bricks so we can disappear before dawn."
"It's not morning yet?" he asked tiredly. "It feels like it's been weeks."
"Yeah, well, it's not quite five am. Out. Shoo," he ordered, giving them a fond smile as they helped each other out to the bikes. He looked around, seeing the injuries. "Let's get them transported and clean up the area." The remaining people scrambled to cover up what was going on, sending the remaining injured to a local hospital while the ship was broken apart and put onto trucks and the hospital was torn down. By the time rush hour started, the grass was charred and the area was empty again, except for a few missed shell casings.
Meg walked around, looking at the area. "Wow," she told the redhead beside her. Oz nodded, pulling her closer to hold. "I'm hoping they're okay."
"They rode home, they're fine," he assured her quietly, leading her away. They had to make reports to the paranoid underground. ECHO was a really nice group it seemed. Micah was a pro at handling stuff. Most of them would be able to trust him after this.
To Part 10