Xander walked into their lair and stopped in front of his mate. "I'm having a moment of ethical problem. Got a few?" Throttle nodded, putting down the book he had been reading. "Meg showed up at the site today with a short note about recent acquisitions, even before Junior got here." Throttle nodded more slowly this time. "He bought Sunnydale."
"As in, the old hellmouth?" Throttle asked. Xander nodded. "Why?"
"It was cheap I guess." He scrunched up his face like he was thinking. "I'm having three ethical complaints with myself. The portal may not work, but the magic may be able to be reassembled. Do Plutarkians study physics?"
"Not many of them and they recycle it into nutrients and things. Could that matter?"
"The hellmouth is a place of chaotic power. I'm betting yes, but I can't be certain," he said patiently. "The next point is that the seal there will be going with them, which is good for us because it means the First Evil can't come out and try again, but that means she can come out on Plutark and take them over with her super vamps. Which could possibly endanger the rest of the universe. Right?"
"If they took over Plutark, they may be able to use their ships," he admitted. "Which could be bad I guess if they were turned into vampires."
"They'd be stupid minions, easily staked from a distance with a crossbow, but not everyone will know that." He grimaced. "My third point of stickiness is Willow's the guardian. If we allow them to take the hellmouth, she'd have to go with it. Which means she'll go creep out Plutark with the First Evil probably. Or possibly not, I'm not sure. Would they really want all those dead bodies?" Throttle shrugged. "Okay. So we've got to figure this one out. I'm confused."
"You and me both," he admitted. "What do you want to do?"
"Let them have it and pop popcorn on Mars to watch it."
Throttle grinned at him. "We could probably arrange that," he admitted. "My mother would put all of us up for a week or so." Xander grinned at that. "Have you told Micah?"
"No, not yet. I'm not sure if Meg did either. All her note said was that he had bought up Angel's old place and had it packed, which we do need to steal, and all of Sunnydale." He grimaced. "I really need Angel's crap. He had some good weapons."
"Then you'd have to dig a basement."
"And? I can do that. It'd give me something to do. Either that or buy the next building over and connect it so we could have a gym. I don't know if we should stop them or not."
"Me either, Xander. I'm all for letting them be eaten but I don't think the vampires would like them that much."
"The super vamps didn't care. They ate nastier demons." He went to the phone, calling his boss. "I'm taking a long lunch because I just found out Limburger bought up Sunnydale and Angel's old crap. Any chance of getting me Angel's crap while I figure out if I want to let them take the seal or not?" He heard a quiet chuckle. "I'm not kidding. Really, I'm not kidding," he said at the silence. Then Megan yelled for his boss and he came onto the phone after she babbled that message to him. "So, any chance of getting me Angel's crap?" He smirked. "Thanks, boss. Should I let him take Sunnydale and Willow?" He smirked. "I wanted to pop popcorn and watch it from Mars actually. No, I'd ask for legitimate time off or go between jobs. You know that. Sure." He hung up and called Micah's office, getting Lorne.
"Lorne, I'm having an ethics moment. Got a few?" He grinned and sat down, kicking back. "Okay. The new Limburger bought Sunnydale and Angel's crap. Should I let him take Sunnydale, and risk either a hellmouth or that seal opening to let out the First Evil, or should we try to stop him?"
In Washington, Lorne groaned. "Give me a minute, Xander, I'm in the middle of a report." He put him on hold, finished saving his report, then decided he wasn't going to do this alone. "Micah, line four, conference in," he yelled.
"Xander's having ethical issues. Limburger bought Sunnydale and the remains of Angel's stuff from LA."
"Tell him we'll confiscate the stuff from LA and ship it to him, but to let Plutark have the hellmouth. I'd like pictures or video for my personal enjoyment."
"He's having ethical issues. There is the rest of the universe to consider," he said patiently. He saw the line be picked up an conferenced himself back in too. "Okay, we're both here. Lay it out for us, Xander," he ordered.
Xander laid out a clean, methodical argument for both sides. He was using points that Lorne appreciated and that Micah seemed to be taking lightly. Lorne saw Carbine walk past him and grabbed her by the tail, handing her the phone. "What's going on?" she asked into it. She swatted Lorne for the tail grabbing as she listened, groaning and holding her head. "Could they use their ships?" She nodded once. "Well, they'd be easier to kill at least. We could hunt them during the bright times." She listened to all the bad things that could happen and groaned. Including there being remaining prisoners on Plutark. "If you can stall him, I can handle that one. We have it planned anyway."
He mentioned another point and she shrugged. "Good, she can cheer them on. She sounds like one of those annoying and perky people. She could use some good destruction to cheer her up. Being a spirit can't be that much fun." Xander laid out another argument. "No. Though, if you come up, we'll watch it from a distance." She smirked. "Fine, you can bring popcorn. I don't think most Martians have ever had it. Fine. You can bring Dawn too." She hung up and shook her head. "The trouble they find. Why would I want to stop them from destroying themselves?"
"That was his feelings but he has this ethical point that he's not supposed to be promoting demons in space," Lorne reminded her. "Sorry about grabbing you that way."
She flicked him on the ear. "Good, remember, they're sexual organs in addition to grabbing things and being useful. Next time I'll take it to mean you're buying dinner." She walked off, going up to talk to Micah.
"At least it'd be a cheap date, she only ever eats hotdogs," he said under his breath, going back to his report. He was finding out how creative he could be today since this was for the president's staff.
Xander walked into the living room, noticing everyone was gathered. "Okay. We've got an issue." Everyone nodded, they expected that with everyone gathered this way. "Limburger bought Sunnydale." Everyone stared. "Meg said so." Everyone stared at Meg and she nodded. "Now, Carbine, Micah, Lorne, and I talked about it earlier. We're all for letting them take Sunnydale, that shield, and Carbine wants them to take Willow too, but there's an ethical issue there."
"Demons in space," Oz summed up. Xander scratched the back of his ear and nodded. "Fleas?"
"No, thanks. I use a flea shampoo once a month." Oz snorted, rolling his eyes. "I'm still wondering why he bought Sunnydale and why Angel's store of crap."
"Hmm, an occult Plutarkian," Meg said thoughtfully. "Someone working with Ethan again?"
"I don't know. I thought about writing him. He's up the street actually. There's an occult auction this week that I wanted to go book shopping at." Dawn snickered. "I don't know. My first response was 'save us a seat on Mars to watch the fun, I'll bring the popcorn.' Carbine said that was okay since you guys didn't have popcorn." Modo and Vinnie snickered at that. "So, anyone else having issues with me not stopping them?"
"You could try a mediation strategy," Meg offered. "Warn the little puss sucker. If he doesn't take it, oh well. If he does, then oh well." She cuddled against Oz. "Vinnie, can we borrow your bike as a prop this weekend? I've got to fix a few characterizations in the game. Carbine said so." He gave her an odd look so she sighed and looked up at Oz. "I tried."
"I know you did." He patted her on the stomach. "I was tired of having a tail anyway." He kissed her on the back of the head, weathering the dirty looks Vinnie sent his way. "Not my thing," he reminded him finally. He looked at Xander. "I'm torn, but not that much."
"So do the warning thing," Modo agreed. "Have Throttle take you to do that. That way your conscience is clear."
"Yeah, but warning a Plutarkian he's about to step into a deep pile isn't right," Vinnie complained. "What if someone hears."
Carbine said they'd be easier to kill," Xander offered. "It might make him want it more. I'm not a good enough salesman for that pitch though."
"It could make him think you're hinting about a job," Vinnie said dryly.
"No, Wesley was the demon hunter." He looked at Throttle and shrugged. "Fearless Leader, I could use some guidance, dad."
"Hell, why warn him. Warn Willow. You warned Micah, he can warn Buffy in case there's a surge of power. We can fly out together if you want."
"On the ship?" he asked excitedly. "Can I learn to fly it this time?"
"Sure, we'll go steal Carbine's for that," he promised. He pulled him into his lap. "It won't backfire. Tell that Ethan idiot."
"Ooooh, I want that one," Dawn said excitedly.
"Not after the last time you went near him," Vinnie said sarcastically. She hit him and he winced. "Ow!"
"I wouldn't do that. It's not necessary and besides, Rimfire likes it when I only tease him." Rimfire nodded. "I'll tell you later."
"Vinnie already did," he said with a grin. "It was for a good cause." He kissed her gently, then looked at the others. "So?"
"Let me get dressed and we'll head to the auction tonight. Dawn, do the same. No, Rimfire, you can't go play with the chaos mages. They'll try to pluck you for spells."
"Then you're going more clothed than not," Throttle told him.
"Actually, I was going to wear that cute leather set I bought the last time we went shopping. With the shorts."
"Fat. Chance. Xander," Vinnie said patiently. "I'm all for danger, but that's too much for me."
"Fine, I'll wear the pants."
"Wear the black set you wear when you want to fight," Throttle offered. "They should get the hint." He beamed and went to pull that out of the closet. "Thanks, bro."
"Not an issue. Wasn't looking forward to breaking in there to save him today."
"They're mostly posers anyway," Dawn assured him, getting up to get dressed. "High class, right, Xander?"
"Yeah, high class. Wear the green dress."
"Eww. How about the pink one."
"Dawn, chaos people, no. Wear the green one or something like it."
"But they've got people who dress like that."
"If you're using chaos magic, I'm kicking your ass back to Cleveland and making you stay there."
"Sorry, I'm not doing that, but I just wanted to play."
"Yay! Wear something decent and semi-covering." He came out in his favorite black leathers. "I need a new set, these are starting to fade and stretch." He shifted, stretching slightly. "Remember, Giles might be there."
"Point," she agreed, going to put on real clothes. "Are we taking the car?"
"Yup." He looked at her outfit and shook his head. "Be a bit more dangerous." She went in and came out with a black satin zip vest over a black silk shirt and a black silk skirt. That and stockings plus low heels was pretty cute. "Good enough." He went up to get the keys off the board and blew a kiss. "Expect us late." He waved and walked out, taking Dawn with him. She was already in the car. He climbed in and checked around, removing a cat from behind the seats, then started the car. That made the ones hiding underneath howl and run out. He pulled out carefully, just inching forward at first. That made any remaining scared ones run. Once he was on the street, he sped up. It wasn't far but he hadn't driven in a few days. He pulled up in front of the proper hotel and got out, letting the valet take the car while he took Dawn's arm. They walked past the front desk, going right to the meeting rooms. He saw the guard and smirked. "Harris." The guard opened the door, looking at Dawn. "Summers, the younger," he said smugly, leading her inside. Everyone stared at them. "I do need the books too, people," he said, summoning one to him. "Go figure, it came with the fur." He handed the book back with a smirk and let her browse. She knew what they needed in the library and he knew who had it. She pointed at one and he looked, frowning at it. "Possibly."
"It could be handy, especially with that situation."
"Hmm, point. Fine. Pick up that and on planetary magic. It can be your summer project." She grinned and bought them both on his card, then they moved on. They found Ethan behind a table, reading a book. "Bored, Rayne?" He stiffened and slowly looked up at them. "I need to give you an update on the Sunnydale thing. Someone just bought the town."
"Remember Limburger tower? His son did it." Ethan shuddered. "I'm still torn between wanting a front row seat or not." He looked at the books and handed Dawn two, handing him his credit card. "Only for those."
"She's studying now?"
"We both do. It comes in handy when we're being teased." Ethan ran the card and handed it back with the slip, which he signed. "Thanks. He bought the whole town by the way. We'll have to warn Willow eventually. That does mean he'll be taking the seal too probably." Ethan moaned. "So, hey, demons in space. That's almost like the muppets in some ways." He walked her off, going to find Giles. He had heard him and he was in front of the collection he wanted. "Ah, just the books I wanted to buy," he said happily, making him jump. He smirked at him. "Don't you have most of these?"
"I'm looking at two specific ones," he admitted, looking the boy over. "You look well. You as well, Dawn," he said, giving her an appreciative look. "Quite grown up."
"I'm eighteen this summer, Giles. I've got a full time guy and everything." She leaned on Xander's arm, looking at the books. "Anything on terraforming or making things natural after a disaster?" One book was handed over and she looked through it, nodding. "That's an idea. Anything normal on it?" A few more were held out. She flipped through them and handed over her card. "These three." The bookseller smiled as she ran the card, then handed it back. "Thank you greatly, m'lady." She looked at Giles. "It's helpful."
"If you can, Dawn, Vinnie *really* misses some hot thermal mineral springs they had."
"I'll see what I can do. I know there's some nearby in a state park." She shrugged. "We'll see." She looked at Giles. "So, can we split the collection?"
"I'd say that'd be wonderful," he admitted, looking at the bookseller. "How much for the full collection?"
"One point three, firm."
Xander looked at her, then at the books "They're in bad shape. The magic holding them together is wearing out. We'd have to spend nearly that much to fix them."
"The former owner said he'd fix."
"It's not actually such a bad price," Giles told him. "Why do you need a set on transformation spells?"
"So I can have a tail too," Dawn said smartly. She felt one grow and looked back, then around. "Not a cat's tail, thank you. My man happens to be like this one," she said, patting Xander's back. It disappeared. "Thank you. Now no messing with the clothes or I'd have to get mean and kick butt." She looked at Giles again, blocking the magic coming for her clothes. She missed the portion covering her butt, but fixed that within seconds. Then she sent it back at the castors, getting them painfully since they were geeky little boys.
"Huh, they remind me of Andrew," Xander said casually, sending something else at them. They screamed and ran off. He looked at Giles again. "So, can we split it?"
"Do you have the money?"
"I can take what Oz handed over."
"He didn't want it?"
"Nope." Xander leaned against Dawn, putting an arm around her neck. "Your choice."
Giles put down the two he was looking at. "I think I know of a better set if you want." He led them to Ethan's table. "Where's the transformation series I put out?"
"In the back, where I put it. It's a dangerous thing." He looked at Xander. "That's where I found yours in."
"I'd kiss you but you might like it," he said dryly. Ethan snorted. "My mate seems to. He's fairly picky." Dawn got free and started to wander but he stopped her, pulling her back with his tail. "No. You can't go play with the crystal staffs. Even if one does feel like it's from Mars." He looked back, then nodded. "Be right back." He walked over to that table, browsing a bit. "Where's the Martian ones?" The people stared at him so he glared. "I can feel them. Trust me. I really can." A few more were brought out and he looked them over. "That's pretty work. How much?"
"A million each."
"Fat chance," Xander told the seller. "I can make my own for the price of the rod, about sixty bucks, and a blow, the same way you got Martian soil and crystals." He stared him down. "One for the whole set, and I do mean the *whole* set." The man gaped at him. So he smirked and waved his tail. The man shrieked and nodded, loading them into the carrying case. He handed over the special access card and the man ran it, accepting what it said there. He was too scared to argue over the price. "Thanks." He picked up the heavy trunk and carried it back to where Dawn was waiting. "So? Any luck?"
"Yeah, and you're carrying the wrong card," she noted, taking it back from Ethan. "It's the set we needed without the two books Giles needed. Much cheaper too. All it cost was me to come home for a week this summer with Rimfire if he was down."
"Sure. If you want." He kissed her on the cheek. "You two can ride together." He grinned at Giles. "Anything else we can have?"
"No. Did you hear someone bought Angel's collection?"
"And Sunnydale," Dawn told him. "Plutarkians."
"Yeah, someone might want to warn Willow she's about to be sucked into outer space. Maybe she can conjure popcorn with extra butter when the seal opens on them." He smiled and let her take the bag of books. "Bring us anything you don't want, Giles. You know that." He walked out with her, going to his car. The valet got it for them and he put the trunk in front of Dawn's seat. "Rest your feet on it, make sure they're all there."
"Two are missing but it feels like they're long gone," she admitted quietly. "One's still inside, the other's shattered I think."
"Decent. Any idea where?" She shook her head so he drove a bit away and went back to the sale, going to find that other staff. He found it in a back corner chaos stall with Ethan haggling for it. "How much?"
"He wants it."
"I'll pay full price. I know people who'll weep to have it back."
"Ten thousand." Xander put down his card and she ran it, then smiled at him. He put down the other one and she ran that, nodding and letting him sign the slip, then handed it over carefully. "Thank you, kind sir. We have other Martian artifacts."
He leaned closer. "Honey, I'm Martian now. My lover is fully Martian. We live beside the Last Chance Garage. How much?" She whispered in his ear and he hissed. "I have it," he decided and called the bank, letting her give an account number to transfer it to. He listened again and the transfer went through. She checked something on her phone and nodded. "You'll deliver?"
"Tomorrow morning, around ten."
"Thank you. It means a lot to my husband and them." He bowed and walked off, carefully cradling it in his arms. He got back in, passing it to Dawn like it was a baby, then he took off. "Books?"
"Trunk. Quit being so paranoid. Did you find anything else?"
"Yeah, I did," he admitted, speeding up. He wouldn't feel right until they were returned. They were calling out to him and it wasn't right, he could feel the pain. He pulled behind the house with a spray of gravel and opened his door. "Modo, get your ass down here to help me. I found stuff from home!" He got out, taking the wand back, looking up to see Throttle in the doorway. He walked over and handed it to him.
"Modo, haul tail!" he yelled. He walked it back inside, laying it out on the floor, that way it couldn't risk falling. Xander came in with the books, going to stuff them into the library. Dawn carried in a few more and handed over six of them to Rimfire. "You do magic?"
"No, but it's got sound physics behind it," he admitted.
Vinnie came out of the bathroom in a towel. "What's that?" He looked at it. "It looks like it's from the craters."
"That's because it probably is," Xander said from the doorway. He walked down there, helping Modo get the trunk out. He kicked his door shut and turned on the security system, backing in the door and up the ramp. "Sorry, big guy. This was too important."
"I understand, Xander." He carefully put it down and let Xander open it.
"Where did you get this?" Throttle demanded.
"At the occult book sale. The rest of the stuff is coming tomorrow or else I'm going to hunt the old bitch down and strangle her." Xander flipped back the case and the top row of silk. Then he looked at him. "All but one of them. It feels like it's a lost sort of missing, like it was broken." He got out of the way. "It should go home with true Martians. All I'm getting is pain." Dawn gave him a hug. "Thanks, Dawnie."
"Welcome, Xander." She kissed him on the tip of an ear. Then she sat down to carefully hand them over. She winced at a few. "These are broken," she offered, being even more careful. She got to the bottom and found a chunk of something and held it up. Vinnie snatched it to look at in the light. "Is that important?"
"How much did you pay for this?" Vinnie asked.
"A million for this case. Another one for the rest of the stuff." Throttle looked at him. "Watcher's money."
"Point," he admitted grimly. He looked at the staffs. "There's six missing out of the traditional set."
"There's five on Mars in the archives," Rimfire told him. "Stoker uncovered them last year while researching someone's gift at possessions." Xander shrugged and stuck his tongue out. "What else was there?"
"Some soil samples and the like," he admitted.
"I put a tracing on it," Dawn told him. She stroked his head. "It'll all head home, Xander. What is that, Vinnie?" She moved closer to look too. "It's a quartz of some sort."
"There used to be this huge quartz obelisk in one of the towns. I think this is part of it," he said absently as he turned it over. "Carbine should know."
Throttle picked up the phone, dialing the cellphone she had picked up recently. "Carbine, it's Throttle," he said in greeting. "Xander just went to an occult booksale and found Martian stuff. No, like crystal staffs, like the priestesses used. Yeah, nearly the full set. Rimfire said Stoker found some others. We've got the rest but one. We're expecting more tomorrow. Sure." He hung up. "She's calling an honor guard down." He looked at them and wished he could cry. "How did they get down here?"
"I'm guessing a collector among the rapists," Dawn told him, sitting down beside Rimfire. She looked up and smirked as something tingled her protections. "They're here, Xander. Early."
He got up and went to open the door, letting the woman carrying the case in. "Up the ramp to the main room if you can. We can help carry."
"Please. I'm not that young."
Modo and Vinnie came running, grabbing that case and every other case in her things to search for more artifacts. Then they carried the old woman up the stairs and planted her in a chair while they got down to work.
Xander looked at the stuff spread out when he made it back up there, carefully sitting beside Throttle so he wouldn't jar any of the nearby crystal staffs. "That's more than you had."
"To me, it was nearly worthless. I couldn't do any construction or protection spells with it. For you, it was enough to bankrupt yourself and to threaten another seller. I found others and bought it for you." She opened a case and tossed something at Dawn. "You're not one, but I believe that's a female accessory, dear. Besides, it suits one of the Older Ones around." Dawn looked at the small coronet then at Rimfire, who kissed her.
"Don't put that on. It'll cause a stink," Throttle warned. He accepted it and held it up, looking it over. "It's the Miss Mars crown." Modo chuckled at that. "Got her scepter too?" She nodded, patting the case beside her. "Do we owe you more, ma'am?"
"No, child, just some information. How did they get down here?"
"Our planet was basically stripped bare by a race known as Plutarkians. Limburger is one of them."
"Hmm. He just bought Sunnydale and I feel the taint on you, white one."
"I'm her former Knight."
"Ah! Even better. Are you telling him?"
"Personally, after what they did to a lot of places, including part of this planet, I'd like to sit back and watch."
"That makes you no better, son."
"Yeah, I know." He considered it. "I can't warn him about it without permission and the person who can give it won't be in until tomorrow. Unless I write a letter and I doubt that would work for my karma." The others stared at him. "That's called Genocide."
"They do it."
"Yeah, but I'm not them."
"Point," Vinnie agreed. "Now I'm seeing the ethical issue better. Warn him. We could stand that."
"I'll drive you to make sure he doesn't try to snatch you too," Throttle promised. Xander nodded. He looked at the old woman again. "Is there more?"
"A few crystals and the like here and there. Nothing too massive. Most of it in the hands of museums and the like." She stood up, pulling out one more thing and handing it to Vinnie with a smile. "I believe that should be yours. It feels like you." She stroked his cheek. "You are very soft. Now my karma is better." She left it there with them, going to die in peace.
Vinnie looked at the crystal, the held it up to the light. "It's blood quartz," he said in awe. "This definitely came from the tip."
Throttle nodded. "What else do we have?"
"Lots and lots and lots of stuff that the cats can and will play with," Dawn said, moving one of them.
"Those deserve specially made, individual cases," Throttle told her. "It'll be mid-morning before anyone could possibly get here, unless they're transporting down. I know we put one of those in Micah's offices in a secure area, just in case." Dawn shook her head. "No?"
"You can't move 'em back that way, Throttle, it'll disrupt their energy cores. That'll disrupt them and cause them to shatter." He nodded. "Do we get a start on cataloging?" He nodded, so she went to get a notebook and some pens, then go change. She found something in the entryway and looked at it, nudging it a bit. "We've got a new pet," she called. She headed to her room, slipping into pajama pants and a tank top. She came back, finding Modo stomping it. "Bad?"
"Very bad. Predator." He walked her back up the stairs, going to help catalog stuff with them. Xander had to open the cases and hand things over for the most part and Throttle did the writing since his was neater. Vinnie started gathering the pieces of the obelisk that he found, even a chunk would be enough for him. They were still going at it when someone ran up the ramp and stopped to stare.
"Don't move," Xander warned carefully. "A few of the crystal staffs are unstable." Carbine yelped something to the people behind her, who came up more carefully and walked around to get into position near the others. Someone took Throttle's list, looking it over to mark off things on his own. One carefully moved Vinnie off the shards he was napping on, and the one from his fist too. Carbine sat down at the top of the ramp, staring at the stuff. Xander looked at her. "There may be other bits and pieces," he said quietly. "This was all that the seller knew about. She was cleaning her karma."
"How much, Xander?"
"About two million," he admitted. "I'm not sure exactly how much I paid for the staffs. I agreed on a million. They ran my card and shoved them at me."
"Mars owes you a debt."
"Save it. I've still got to warn him. It's genocide otherwise and I can't accept that without a warning. Even if it does suck and blow."
She nodded. "I understand. You're a protector, not a true warrior." He nodded. "I'll go with you if I have to. You don't want that on your conscience." He nodded at Throttle. "No, I'll go. It'll look better from me." Her new people stared at her. "The plutarkians have just bought something that can destroy their whole homeworld. It can endanger others. As much as I don't want to, I can't sink to their level." They nodded. "So we'll give a warning and nothing else. That's fair and reasonable."
"It is, and solves the problem of ethics," one of them said. "What did they buy?"
"A hellmouth," Xander told him. "My old one. Plus the seal that holds the gateway to the First Evil." They stared at him. He shrugged. "It happens to be real."
"We know of such things," one of them admitted. Stoker stared at him, jerking more awake. He even threw something at Vinnie, making the others gasp. "It speaks of them in the Sacred Books of M'dreth."
"They were a bunch of quacks," Vinnie told him.
"They're the ones who had the Druid stuff," Dawn told him. "If they knew about hellmouths it wouldn't surprise me. It was the Druids who figured out what they were."
"Okay, so they were mostly quacks," he snorted.
"In this case it is best to warn than to live with the consequences," one of the workers offered gently. "We will do that, guardian?" Xander nodded. "How are you Martian and one?"
"I just suddenly started to change."
"Ah, then you're the one they were discussing," he said wisely. "Watch out, some mice do resent it."
"It wasn't my idea in the first place. You can tell them I said that." He looked around. "You guys have enough carrying cases for the fragile stuff?"
"Yes, we do," another agreed. "Thank you. Go rest."
"Nope. Not until they're out of the house. This is a perfect time for an attack." They paused and nothing happened. "Hey, good luck today," he said happily. His phone rang. "Or maybe not." He looked at the number. "Yeah, Giles?" He curled up, putting his head down. "Because it was Martian. Yes it was. Giles, I think I'm more of an expert than you are," he said patiently. "You mean like being one, sleeping with one, living with at least two more, spoiling my might-as-well-be-only-child who's named after my former fiance and is one? Those things?" He smirked. "Yeah, them. No, Switch, the one I brought back to Chicago, named her after Ahn. Yeah, she was born on the anniversary of her death. No, she's not like the Andrew cat. How do I know? I saw her while I was on vacation in Texas, she was leering at me and giving me a thumbs-up for the night before's sex."
Throttle snatched the phone. "They are Martian, I'm very sure they're Martian. They were stolen from us and he's incredibly generous for giving them back. Fortunately he's not going to ask for more than sex in return for it."
"Hell, I'll bend over now," one of the techs working muttered. Throttle glared at him and he flinched. "Sorry, sir." He gave Carbine a look and she just smirked back. "Sorry, ma'am. Forgot you two were together."
"Get it right, kid, he's mine now. She lost that battle and I came in and seduced him by being my arrogant, overbearing, under achieving, and ridiculously handsome self," Xander said blandly.
"And modest, don't forget modest," Modo reminded him smugly.
"Yeah, and very modest."
"You need a nap, Xander," Throttle said patiently. "Go take one."
"No, I'm not going to be able to until they're soothed and quit resonating." Everyone stared at him and even Giles went quiet. "What? I feel these things and ghosts love my chubby butt. What did you expect from me, people?"
"True, he is possessable," Carbine agreed, looking at Throttle, who was slowly learning how to deal with that issue.
"Not a clue," he admitted. Giles said something and he nodded. "Yeah, Giles said that if they're really tied to Mars, then the pain of the dead would cling to them. He could be picking that up since he's so attuned." He looked at Xander, who nodded. "We've got to work that out. Your shields are pretty good, I don't know why it's still happening." He listened to the quiet words. "Sure, I know that book. He said it's not fully applicable." He nodded once. "Bextra. Yeah, he said that was more real for him. Sure. We'll get a start on that soon. Thanks. No, she said this summer. Really? Then ask Ethan why he was spying on her again." He hung up and shook his head. "He's back with Ethan."
"Then I'm assuming that he's bending over and taking it while chained up," Xander said dryly. He looked at the others. "Guys, I can go two days, maybe three without sleep. Can we get this cleared out and safely away by then?" They nodded, working faster. They could easily classify everything at home. He looked at Dawn. "Will there be some sort of problem once they get back since it's been so long since they were there?"
"Take them out and bury them for a week if they balk," Dawn instructed. "They've been tainted heavily by being kidnaped and being brought down here."
"I want to know who took them and why they wanted the Miss Mars crown," Carbine said dryly.
"Maybe Limburger was a cross-dresser and it was his favorite accessory after his special shoes," Xander said, smirking at her. She looked horrified and everyone shuddered.
"Little brother, I love you dearly, but you need a nap," Vinnie said, picking him up and carrying him down to his room to tuck him in so he couldn't move. "Stay. Please."
"Hey, I didn't say Greasepit or Karbunkle," he said with a smirk. "Remember, Greasepit admitted it and Karbunkle was more of a fairy than I am when I'm smoked a really good joint."
"I ... don't want that thought either," he decided, tucking him in tighter then leaving, closing the door behind him. He walked up the ramp shaking his head. "You need to make him sleep more often, Throttle. He said Greasepit came out to him and that Karbunkle was more of a fairy than he was when he'd been doing pot."
"That's pretty hard to beat," Throttle said, considering it. "It would explain why he's always making things with tentacles."
"Freud was a mouse?" Dawn asked, letting out a yawn. Rimfire jerked awake. "Maybe we'll head too. I'll be up in a few hours if you need more help with the magic stuff." She got up and wandered down the stairs. Rimfire started to get up too but his uncle held him down.
"Not a chance, nephew. She sleeps alone." Rimfire blinked at him. "Crash on my bed with the cats."
"Yes, Uncle Modo," Rimfire agreed, going to do that. "Night, everyone." He curled around one of the cats, holding it tightly as he slept. At least until he got clawed, then he let go a little bit.
"That's what I like about this place," Carbine told Throttle. "You've always got some very interesting friends and family." They all flinched when they heard Charley scream Vinnie's name but he was out the door before the rest of them could do more than start to move.
Vinnie ran up the stairs, finding her in the bathroom, bleeding. "Let me call. Get into the bathtub, it can help, that's what he said," he ordered, going to find the phone number he had taped next to the phone. He dialed it, getting a sleepy complaining noise. "She's bleeding. What do I do?" He listened and nodded, going to run a warm bath. He came back and found the line dead. He pounded the phone on the table. "Enamel!" he called.
"He hung up, he's on his way here, come help me," Charley complained. He came back, sitting beside her to hold her hand, stroking it and her arm while kissing the back of her hand. "I'll be fine, Vinnie. If something happens, it can happen again."
"No. Uh-huh. It won't. I swear it won't." He kissed the back of her hand again, hearing running footsteps. He leaned back. "In here, get Enamel up here now," he ordered. Throttle nodded and headed back down the stairs while Xander came in to help, taking her hand so Vinnie could get in there with her. "What else do I do?"
"For right, keep her calm and going. The water pressure can help some with the bleeding, like when she's having her cycle and she doesn't really bleed for a few minutes." Charley nodded at that. He heard a bike's distinctive whine and nodded. "He's here." Vinnie sat on the back of he tub, letting her head be cradled in his lap. "It'll be fine, Vinnie. Even if something happens, she can have another one after she's grieved and so can you." He looked at Charley, whispering 'sorry'. She nodded, knowing Vinnie needed calmed down more. Another set of footsteps ran up the stairs and Xander got out of the way. "Vinnie, let him have her. Come on."
"No! I'm not leaving."
"That's fine, let's get her seated for a minute," he ordered. "I need to do a physical check to see what's wrong." Vinnie nodded, getting out, splashing water on the floor, then pulled her up and out, sitting her on the edge of the tub. "Okay, help her lean back a bit, Vincent." He did so, holding her steady while she winced and moaned. "Who's been using Thisten oil? Back into the tub, make it as hot as she can stand. I've got to have time to mix the antidote." He stood up. "Who's been using that?"
"Is that like the MSG stuff in Chinese food?" Xander asked.
"No, kid, it's a thistle-like flower on Mars and it's poisonous," Enamel told him. "Go boil me three cups exactly of water, pre-boil size." He nodded, going to do that. He looked at Vinnie. "Did you give her any?" He shook his head. "Eaten anything that might have come into contact? Worn it in a new cologne?" He shook his head again, looking really miserable. "We'll figure it out, Vincent. Make the water as hot as she can stand and keep her calm." He walked out, going down to the kitchen. Xander was measuring the water that was boiling. "Close enough. Move. Grab me a knife and a spoon." Xander grabbed them, handing them over properly and stood to watch him. "Has anyone worn anything that smelled like sweet grass around her?"
"No. I'm pretty good at scents and I don't remember anything like that." He considered it. "Um, during the holidays I smelled it once but then Grip looked really upset and went to take a shower."
"That's always a good idea with this stuff. Any strange visitors?" he asked, pulling the vials out of his case. He used the knife to pop them open and the spoon to stir them into the water. It was too little water now but that was fine, a bit stronger was fine. "Anyone that yanked your tail?"
"Yeah, the General came back to talk to Rimfire."
"Okay. Anyone else?" Xander shook his head quickly. "Hmm, anyone you're not sure of?"
"Yeah, but they've all be over at the lair working with the Martian stuff I found. The whole time."
"Fine, I'll check on them later." He finished stirring, counted to thirty then brought the pot up the stairs, using the spoon to cool the liquid more. He set the pot's bottom into her bath water, cooling it further, then used the spoon to dish out a dosage out for her, three spoons, then paused and let her pant and grimace, then three more, then repeated twice more. He put the pan under the sink out of the way and knelt beside the tub, stroking her stomach while he concentrated. He pulled out his device and stuck it on her stomach, looking at the diagnostic, then smiled. "We're in time. It's reversing." He tucked it away again, then looked at Vinnie. "What?"
"Can we see?"
"Sure." He reapplied it and Vinnie moved closer to see the tiny image. He got a grin for it. "Give her about an hour in here, then take her back to bed. Give her the rest of the medicine in twelve hours like I did. Got it?" He nodded. "Good boy. Sorry about the taste, but there's nothing I can do about that, Charley."
"Not an issue. Thank you." She stroked his face. "Where's the other one?"
"I was asking about strange visitors. Has anyone gotten near you that smelled like sweet grass?"
"No and none of the techs over there have any sort of scent," Vinnie told him. "Xander found some Martian artifacts last night and now they're looking at them."
"That's fine, I'll go over and have a word with them, make sure they know they're not to bother you. In one hour, exactly, take her out of the tub, dry her off, put her into bed. The bleeding should be stopped. If not, go ahead and staunch it however you choose, Charley." She nodded. "Good girl." He stood up. "Did he find anything good?"
"A lot of crystal staffs, some shards of crystals and other things," Vinnie said, grinning at him. "It took about what he had left from the Watchers."
"Then he's a very decent mouse, Vinnie, and he loves you guys more than his duty." He ruffled his fur. "Relax, take deep breaths." He picked up the antidote and went to put it in the refrigerator. He noted the time in the magnets on the door, then spelled out dose so they'd know what it was for. He looked around and put it higher, so no little fingers could play with them, just in case. Then he went next door, pulling Carbine out of the doorway. "Thisten oil," he said simply. She shook her head. He nodded. "She nearly miscarried."
"Cheese!" she sighed, heading up the stairs. "Guys, does anyone have on Thisten oil?" She noticed one mouse looking scared and that Xander casually walked up to him and grabbed him, taking him into the library, where he let out a loud scream of fear. "Xander!"
He brought him back and handed him over, then held up a case and handed it over too. Then he walked off to go hit the heavy bag before he killed someone. He heard the phone ring and growled, eyes narrowing. "I hope that's not Cleveland." He answered it with a snarled 'what'. He calmed down since it was Merle. "Sorry. No, someone just tried to kill Charley's kid. Yeah. No, we found some Martian artifacts that are very delicate and we've been helping set them up to be taken home. Yeah, I'm sorry about that, Merle. I thought I had called in." He leaned against his heavy bag. "No, not yet. No, she'll be fine we think. We hope," he sighed. He heard the mouse spout off something about halfbreeds and he lost it, going up there to kill him now. Modo got in his way and picked him up, carrying him back to the garage, where he shut him in the garage and watched him throw a fit but wouldn't let him get out when he tried.
"What's going on? She needs to rest," Vinnie complained. He saw Xander throwing his fit and rush them, getting out of the way. Modo hit him, knocking him back for a few minutes. "And the problem is?"
"The guy who did it did it on orders from the General. They found a small syringe on him. He started spouting off things about halfbreeds. Xander was going to kill him for you."
"Hmm." He looked upstairs, then walked that way but Enamel got in his way. "It's my fun," he said coldly.
"Go guard your woman and child, Vincent. They need you more. Throttle got him for you and he's one sorry mouse." Vinnie looked behind him, where Throttle was being pulled off him with a black quartz dagger in his hand. "Go back to Charley. She's not to be left alone. We've got it for you."
He nodded, going to do that. It looked like Throttle was going to get in a few for him. It'd be enough for now. He found Xander beside her, stroking her forehead and murmuring to her while she rested against his chest. "She okay?" Xander nodded. "Throttle got him."
"Is he dead?"
"No. Nearly. One of the techs pulled a dagger out of his hands." He looked at her and smiled. "You fuss over my girl pretty well. We'll fuss her to death together." Xander beamed at him and they settled in to help her and make sure she was all right. Enamel had to come up to remind them to get her out of the tub, and she was barely left alone long enough to dry off and put on a pad, then they tucked her in bed and curled around her on each side.
Throttle came in and paused at the doorway, smirking at the sight. Charley's waist had sprouted two very strong arms, both around where the baby laid instead of directly overtop of it. She was trying to read but Xander's tail kept hitting the book. He climbed in behind Xander, giving her the one-armed hug too, and she rolled her eyes but he didn't care. She was fine and that's all that mattered.
Modo came up later and took a picture for the scrapbook, shaking his head at the pretty picture those three made. He went to check the garage, finding someone looking around. "Can I help you, ma'am?"
"I was looking to talk to Charlene Davidson," she said, smiling at him. "I'm here about one Dawn Summers."
"Dawn's finally asleep and Charley ma'am's in bed. She nearly miscarried this morning," he said quietly. "I'm one of her guardians. Can I help you?"
"Do you live here?"
"We live next door actually. Is there a problem?"
"Well, her sister has asked that the custody be reviewed."
"Dawn said she wanted to stay here, that's why we helped her."
"Yes, well, her sister said she's getting a bit...wild, sir. I'd like to talk to her guardian about it."
"Um, the secondary father, a Mr...." She consulted her papers. "Throttle?"
"Is upstairs holding her to make sure she's all right too. She's one of our best bros."
"I see." She looked at him. "Are all three of them in a relationship together?"
"No, she's with Vinnie, our other bro, but Vinnie and Xander are siblings so they're fussing over her and Throttle crawled in behind his sleeping husband to make sure he stayed asleep." He waved. "Come sit, I'll answer whatever I can as a nosy and protective uncle to the girl."
"Why isn't she at school today?"
"We found some interesting stuff at a sale last night and she stayed up to help us." He got her a rootbeer. "Sorry, it's all we drink around her."
"No, that's fine," she assured him with a smile. She saw another head poke in. "Yes?"
"Is Charley all right?" Carbine asked. Modo nodded. "Good. We're packing up the rest and heading. I'm still here though. I've already made a report through Stoker, who was arguing with the Council. They're not happy. There's a general uproar. I'm thinking riot." He nodded. "I'll keep you guys informed. Thanks, Modo, and thank him for us too. Throttle's found a priceless gem with him." He nodded, smiling at her. "Is there anything I can do to help? I'm here on and off for work reasons."
"Do you know Miss Summers?"
"The blonde brat or her sister?"
"Her sister," she said reproachfully.
"Callin' it like I see it, babe." She walked in and shut the door. "What did Buffy do this time?"
"She claims Dawn's a bit wild."
"Uh-huh." She looked at her. "Before Dawn moved in with Xander, and the rest of them living over there, she had a good history of experimenting with drugs, alcohol, lesbianism while she was drunk, and shoplifting. Her grades weren't that bad, but they're better now. Xander is very understanding since he's been through a similar patch in life. He's also allowing her to follow her dreams and go for a language degree since that's what she wants to do. Yeah, she clubs now and then, but she does it straight and sober with her boyfriend, who is also straight and sober."
"She mentioned that she's hanging out with bikers."
"We're all bikers," Carbine admitted. "Then again, we're some of the most mannerly and overprotective people you'll find around here." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Buffy deals with dangerous things and people. Two of the girls in her care are on probation. One of them, so I'm told, put drugs into Dawn's former car to hide them there. Dawn's the one who turned her in. I can give you an independent contact number if you'd like. He's a government agent who's been working with her on her goal of government service with her language degree." She nodded so Carbine took the number off the fridge and handed it over. "There you go. His name is Lorne Cash. He's the one training her."
"Thank you, ma'am," she said with a smile. "You say she's settled down?"
"Quite a lot," Modo agreed. "There's been no drugs, no drinking, only some slight dancing now and then and she's fairly good at that. The one time someone slipped her a drink, she admitted it to us and told us what it was and how light it was. Xander's like her big brother, ma'am. He's very overprotective. We even pick out her clothes for dates."
"They do, it's pretty funny because Vinnie and Xander dress the girl," Carbine snorted. The social worker smiled. "I'd wake up Dawn for you but she just got to bed a few minutes ago. They found some pretty important stuff and she was working with us last night."
"Her sister said she's taken up an alternate faith, yet she goes to a catholic school. Is that true?" Carbine nodded. "Why?"
"Because the school was better for her," Carbine said simply. "She's always been a pagan. She's very interested in nature. Her grades have went from a decent level to a very good level. Call Lorne, he can give you a history of her schoolwork and a sample paper she wrote on the resemblance of some markings on Mars to the Druid markings you have spread around here." She looked pleased at that. "She's a very good girl."
Modo picked up the ringing phone. "Last Chance Garage." He listened to Buffy hissing that it wasn't her, it was Giles, then hung up. He looked at her. "Was this action started by Miss Summers, or on her behalf?" Carbine looked at him. "It's got a point."
She checked her forms. "On her behalf," she admitted. "Why?"
"Miss Summers just called and said it wasn't her doing."
She nodded. "I understand." She looked at Modo. "I don't know what you are, but you do seem to care for the child. I will still need to talk to her and see her accommodations, things of that nature. May I?"
"As long as you don't wake her," Modo agreed, leading her over there. "Excuse the mess. Between the cats we didn't quite fix soon enough and the stuff from last night things are in a disarray." He led her to Dawn's room, finding Rimfire laying across the doorway. "That's my nephew and her boyfriend. One of the people looking at the artifacts hurt Charley so he's being protective." She smiled at that. Modo gently kicked him on the foot. "She in there?" He nodded. "She asleep?" He nodded again, looking at the stranger. "Social Worker,"
"Hi. I'm Rimfire, her boyfriend." He stood up to shake her hand. "Let me peek in." He tapped very gently and stuck his head in, then pulled back smiling. "She's fully asleep."
"If I may?" He got out of her way, letting her peek inside. It wasn't the most tidy room but she was a teenage girl and most of the debris were clothes and a few books. She smiled at the cat sleeping on the girl's head and how it was glaring at her. She pulled back and smiled at Modo. "That's a very nice place," she said quietly as he walked him off. "She's how old?"
"She'll be eighteen the middle of this summer," he said gently, leading her upstairs. "Xander and Throttle have the other bedroom down here. Vinnie sometimes still sleeps over here and I've got the bunk there," he said, pointing at his bed. She saw his look and he shrugged. "I'd rather be in the open, ma'am. It's how I am."
"I understand." She looked around. "This is very nice. Who designed it?"
"Xander did. We had to pull an emergency move and he had bought the building already. We all pitched in but he had it built for us and then we moved him in once he and Throttle fully got together. Xander's a great guy."
"So I seem to be finding out." She smiled up at him. "I think I've seen enough." She wrote down a phone number and handed it to him. "Have her call me so I can get the formality out of the way." He nodded. "Do you know if they're...more than cuddlesome together?"
Vinnie coughed from behind them. "Dawn waited until Rimfire, ma'am. She knew what she wanted. She'd bene on birth control since Xander started to take care of her, back in Sunnydale. She made a conscious decision one night while they were stranded by a storm at a hotel after some dancing." She smiled at that. "Rimfire is one of the most relaxed and laid back, mannerly little boys you'd ever find. He's a lot like his Uncle Modo." She nodded. "We like them together. He lets her get some naughtiness out by wearing semi- acceptable clothes to the club and letting her tease him. She's good, very good, at that."
"I'm surprised with her history that she waited."
"So was I," Vinnie admitted. "I ran a bit wild in my youth too, but she had me beat hands down. She's better now though."
"Thank you. I'll need to talk to her within three days, Mr. Modo. It should be fine. From what you've told me, she sounds very well adjusted." Dawn came up the ramp yawning. "Young lady, are you awake enough to talk to me?" Dawn stopped and looked at her, then let out a muttered swear, her face scrunched up. "There's no need for that."
"I'm going to kill my sister if she sent you. I'm assuming you're a social worker?" She nodded. "Who sent you?"
"Someone on behalf of your sister."
Modo looked at her. "Giles."
"I'll beat his wimpy ass," she vowed. Vinnie pinched her. "How's Charley? Rimfire said she was sick."
"She was poisoned and she'll be fine." He stroked some hair behind her ear. "Talk with the nice lady then you can come over. I'm going to go back to her." She nodded, so he left.
Dawn waved a hand. "Let's go downstairs to my room. I'm sure you'll want to see it."
"I already peeked in. It's very nice," she said, following her. She wasn't sure what all the stuff on the floor was but it certainly looked some interesting artifacts. She settled into the girl's desk chair while she settled onto her bed with the cat. "Dear, you know the routine I'm assuming. From the records we got you had a few of these interviews back in Sunnydale after your mother died." She nodded. "That's fine then." She pulled out her tape recorder and turned it on. "This is an interview with the minor child, Dawn Summers. Miss Summers, in an average day, who does most of your care?"
"I'm seventeen, I don't really need much care. I do my own laundry so I don't traumatize the guys with panties and bras, and so they don't ruin another good one like they did in the past. We all pitch in on the cooking. Vinnie and Xander both help me with my homework. All of the guys help me with my physical training goals. Charley teaches me how to fix engines when I'm over there. I'm pretty well spoiled by some standards."
"I see. You do chores?"
"Nothing too heavy. As you can see by my room, it's cleaned when I'm looking for something. I was looking for a shirt last night." That got a small smile. "What were the charges laid?"
"That you're getting a bit wild and out of control."
"Huh. Because I club a bit now and then? Because I'm dating Rimfire? Or because I scared Giles last night by expressing a belief in magic?"
"Probably the last, dear. How long has that been going on?"
"Since Sunnydale. Since before my mother died. She knew about it and warned me not to get too deep. We had one friend who was lost due to it." She nodded at that. "I'm a nature witch mostly. I'm actually doing more work in biology because of my interests. I've been working on a terraforming plan."
"A side hobby?"
"That too," she admitted. "The more things I do like that the deeper I get into the technical aspects. The guy I'm in touch with for becoming an agent knows about this and encourages it. Frankly, my science grades are now great. Plus my languages are things he likes me to study. I'm fairly well spoiled. Xander takes me shopping a lot. He lets me get slightly naughty stuff for clubbing."
"Like what, dear?"
She got up and pulled out a jersey knit stretch dress, holding it up against her. "This one was recent."
"It's very cute. Is it comfortable?"
"I don't buy clothes that aren't," she said with a smirk. She held up the pieces of last nights' outfit. "Last night when we ran into Giles." She tossed them aside and picked up the leather outfit she had worn her first time out with Rimfire. "My most risque outfit to date." She held it up against herself. "I looked smashing in it."
"I'm sure you did, dear." She looked at her. "Why would Mr. Giles be worried?"
"Because he's mad at Xander for buying those artifacts. Giles has this nasty habit of being overbearing and pushy, yet not being close enough to stop things, like my sister. He's her mentor."
"Ah, I see." She nodded, making a note of that as well. "Are you happy here? Happier than in Cleveland?"
"If you send me back there, I'm running away and coming back here as soon as you release me from the handcuffs. Which is the only way you'll get me back there except in an emergency situation." The woman nodded, writing that down as well. "I'm less than six months from my eighteenth. I have a trust fund of my own. I'm not going back there. I'll take off and go on a road trip for the next six months, then come back here to redo my final year of high school. I *refuse* to go back there."
"I think I understand, dear. Personality conflicts?"
"My sister's a stupid bitch actually." She stared at her, licking her lips. "Sometimes she's nice and she's good, and then sometimes she's just this partying, ignoring everything around her, selfish little twat and the girls she's mentoring aren't helping that any." She nodded. "I would rather die than deal with her as more than long-distance at the moment. It'd keep me sane."
"Of course, dear. Thank you." She stood up, turning off her tape recorder. "I'm going to file my report saying that you are staying here." Dawn relaxed and smiled at her. "Your guardian?"
"Is probably curled around Charley. Rimfire said she nearly miscarried."
"Oh, that poor thing. Then you tell him I was here and to call that number I gave that nice Mr. Modo, dear. I don't need to speak with him but I do need to inform him that I was here and that I did rule in his favor."
"Thank you. Xander's a great guy. I'm hoping he has a lot of little furry-lovin' monsters."
"It sounds like he is," she agreed gently, shaking her hand and leaving.
Dawn relaxed and looked at the cat. "I'm sorry, mommy." The cat meowed so she petted her. "I tried to be nice." Joyce meowed again and leaned into her hands. "Thanks, mom." She laid back down. "I need a nap."
The social worker walked up the ramp, finding Carbine standing there. "Her cat? She called her mother?"
"She said the cat's a lot like her former mother so she named her Joyce."
"Oh. Perfectly reasonable. Have Mr. Harris call us later. I'm going to decide in her favor but I'll need to talk to him informally. I'm not seeing anything further than the average teenage rebellion." Carbine nodded. "Thank you, miss."
"You're welcome. Let me walk you out," she offered, "that way the cats don't try to follow you." She nodded, walking the woman out and to her car, watching for any stray pets trying to sneak out. She saw a sand sniffer and went to stomp on it, then kicked it. One of the cats pounced it and shook it, then let it go so it could pounce it again. "We could use some of you," she told it as the woman pulled away. She went back through the garage. "She's gone. Have him call her later or tomorrow," she called up the stairs. "You're keeping her." She went back to the lair. "Let's hurry up, people. Before you get seen by more humans." They nodded, getting down to work. Carbine went to prepare the ships. She'd be escorting them back personally. That way she could have a word with someone.
Later that night on Mars, Carbine stepped off her ship and sighed at the mas of people waiting on her. "We found the other crystal staffs." That got a few gasps. "We need a priestess or ten."
Someone pushed forward. "You can't have found them on Earth," he shouted. "How did they get there?"
"I'm guessing, but a Plutarkian," she said dryly, earning a few hisses. "They also found the Miss Mars crown and scepter." That got some mild cheering. "Now, we need a priestess or ten to help with them. A few of them have cracked." Some people in the back went running and within moments a few people in robes showed up with torches. "In the ship," she told them. They hurried in and burst out crying, hugging the cases. She looked back at them. "Someone said their energy may be slightly warped from their time off Mars. She suggested we bury them in native soil for a week." The priests nodded and got to work unloading. She looked at the crowd. "We also found pieces of the blood crystal obelisk, part of the temple from Olympus Mons, and part of one of the sacred pools." People started to cry. "Unfortunately not all of it." She held a hand up. "I need to see a M'dreth priest also. We found evidence of one of their theories on earth. Including those marks." Everyone stared at her. "They were identified as Druid markings, one of the Ancient races. Someone thoughtfully cross-referenced," she said, waving the report. A man in a sky blue robe with a bald head and trimmed antenna stepped out of the crowd. She walked down to him. "Brother mouse, there's a hellmouth that's been bought," she told him quietly. "The person who knows about such felt he had to warn him on ethics alone, but we're watching it to make sure."
"We are always prepared," he intoned. "Thank you, sister mouse." He bowed to her. "Who did this?" She whispered in his ear and he moaned. "Then it is great and worrisome. The will of all be done," he said quietly, backing away. He looked at the report as he walked off. It was very good and used Martian sources as well. He walked into the small temple and knelt before his altar, presenting the report. "The bridge, my lady. They key is human and working with us." The fire on the altar burned brighter to his eyes, even if it was only an illusion. "The Plutarkians bought a hellmouth and are going to transport it soon. It contains the seal. We will be ready in case they migrate." He blew out the candle, leaving the report there for the night so his lady could read it before him. He went to do his nightly prayers in his room, then eat dinner, watching the riot go against those nasty people making the bad rules. He was forbidden from entering politics, but it was good to watch. "Hmm, they've grabbed the general and are ripping him apart. I wonder what he did this time." He heard a knocking and walked down to the door, opening it to a young female mouse. "Yes?"
She looked up at him. "I was called in a dream to come to you, brother. I'm Rivet."
He let her in. "Welcome, Rivet. The altar is that way." He helped her off with her jacket. "Be at peace, I'm upstairs if you need me."
She bowed to him. "You as well, brother. Thank you for opening for me." She went back there to pray, seeing the report. She settled in to read it, nodding at the subtle way the author had made links. It was very well researched an annotated. Done by a mouse and a human by the marks on the front page. "Interesting." She put it back down and bowed, starting her prayers for the dreams to stop.
Throttle let Xander off his bike when an armored car pulled up at their rendevous spot. Xander walked over halfway, staring at the Limburger clone getting out of the car. "Good. You even look like his mask."
"Why are we here? You hate me."
"I do, but I'm a guardian of this planet, kid. You just bought something that can destroy yours."
"Yes, Sunnydale. I heard the rumors and I know you used to live there. Does it make you angry?"
"No. Having you deal with it means I don't have to. Then again, I have ethics so I have to warn you that you're allowing genocide if you send it."
"Ethics?" he chuckled. "Why would those concern me?"
"Because I'm better than you, boy. It comes from being a higher being." He turned and walked off. "Move Sunnydale at your own risk."
"What could happen?"
"The same thing that happened to Sunnydale," Throttle told him. "Then you'd need someone like him to fight it and none of the ones down here would." He started the bike. "Like he said, ethics made us tell you, that's all we're doing. We could care less if you all die because of your stupidity." Xander climbed on and he rolled off. "You did your duty."
"Yeah and now I'm still seeing demons in space and the slayers going nuts and them trying to call me back into service as a Watcher," he sighed, cuddling tightly to his man's back. "They need someone like Fred and Wesley," he decided. "They could keep them in line, but not be military about it, except when needed." He nuzzled his back. "I hope someone in the Powers is listening, I really do."
"Me too, Xan," Throttle admitted, sending up his own silent prayer. Maybe it would be enough. Hopefully. He wasn't losing Xander to some demon.
Micah looked around at the stack of boxes, then at Lorne. "What is taking you so long to get this to Xander?"
"Some vampires wanted it too, also to present to Xander. I hired them once we worked that part out." He waved a hand around. "This is what's left. We've already gotten most of a truck full." Micah nodded. "You might warn him he'll be needing a storage space."
They both looked over as two flashes heralded people appearing. They looked at each other, and the man quirked a smile. "Fred."
"Wesley," she said with a brighter grin, hugging him. "You're with me now?"
"No, dear, I believe we're alive," he said, looking at the duo in the doorway. "Hello. Who are you and why are you in our home?"
"This was a business office," Lorne said.
"We lived here as well," Fred said, pointing at the pictures on the wall. "That's me."
"I can see that," Micah said. "You're Fred, so that must make you...Wesley?" he guessed. Wesley smiled and nodded, looking confident and smooth. "Good, Cleveland could use you. Giles has lost control of the girls and they're going to die faster now. Also, Sunnydale's hellmouth has been bought by aliens and is being taken off the planet, seal and all."
"Wonderful," Wesley said calmly. "You are?"
"Micah Simms, head of ECHO, who deals with this now." He walked over and shook his hand. "If it's strange it's now our job. Should I call Xander to tell him his prayers were answered?"
"He's in Chicago," Wesley told him. "Not Cleveland. Why?" He looked at Fred. "What did you get?"
"We can trust him. I got the 'safe persons' list," she said, looking up at him. She looked at Micah. "Did Gunn live?"
He shrugged. "I'm not sure. We can search for him once you're settled and bring him to you, Fred." She smiled at that so he looked at Wesley. "Yes, Xander's protecting Chicago. He got fed up with the slayers and left."
"I see." He nodded. "Then perhaps I should go see him first." He looked at Fred. "That bother you? If we followed our library back to Chicago first?" She shook her head. "Good." He looked at Micah. "Thank you."
"No, thank you. You being here means I don't have to be there so often. I enjoy Xander a lot more than Buffy."
"If Faith still alive?" Wesley asked.
"She's gathering the extra slayers. She's in Africa at the moment with another girl."
"Hmm. Interesting. Very well. Can you arrange for that for us?"
"Sure. You can escort the books and weapons." Wesley let out another small smile at that.
"Ah, Micah, you might want to clue him in about Xander," Lorne said quietly, coughing at the end.
Fred smiled at him. "We saw, he's furry. He's cute." Wesley looked down at her again. "He is, he's a giant mouse like his husband. Who's a really neat tough guy. You'll like him."
"Good. Always a plus I suppose." He stroked her back. "Come, let's head to Chicago, Fred. Things are strange and we've been called back into Service."
"Yeah, back to the grind, but at least we're not fighting alone. There's twenty-five slayers on this planet."
"Really? I only count twenty."
"Some are too young, Wes." She pinched him on the chin. "I'd still like to see Gunn, make sure he's fine." He nodded. "Can I come back?"
"Once he's found, we'll make sure he gets to you," Micah promised. "Even if it's only for a short holiday." She nodded and they walked off together, following Lorne to the car. Micah calmed himself. "If someone had pulled me from my reward to do that, I'd be throwing a fit," he said, shaking his head. "More power to them." He left, shaking his head. "Guys, hurry up. Daybreak's in two hours and you need to be hidden by then." The vampires rushed, taking more of the boxes out.
Xander opened the front door and stared. "I didn't wish."
"I know you didn't, but there were so many prayers they had to answer," Wesley said. "May I?" Xander nodded, letting him inside. He walked in and Xander smirked at him. "Thank you, Xander. Now, give me the whole story. Something's not right."
He closed the door. "Which part isn't right? The fact that Sunnydale is gone and so is Willow?" He shrugged. "The fact that Giles snapped and went back to Ethan? The fact that Angel and Spike are both gone and Gunn's slowly drinking himself to death?"
"He does live? No one will tell us."
"He does, he's still fighting but he's got that same exhaustion I had before I snapped and left." He walked him into the study upstairs, startling Throttle, who stared. "Prayers answered."
"Thank you," Throttle said quietly. "It'll save him from having to go back. We need him more."
"You're undoubtedly better for him as well," he agreed. He sat down at the research table, looking at Xander. "Give, Xander. I do like the fur, Fred was right, you are rather cute."
"Thanks," he said with a smirk. "Okay, what do you need to know? The fact that I left a baby slayer in her home? The fact that Faith's the stable and Angel-like one now? The fact that the younger brats are encouraging Buffy to slack off? Or the fact that I have custody of Dawn and she's dating a Martian?"
"Martian?" He looked at Throttle, who nodded. "That explains that difference then." He gave them a gentle smile. "It makes no difference to me, as long as you're either peaceful or helpful, and happy with Xander."
"He's a great guy," Throttle assured him. "Don't try to take him."
"Not a thought in my mind," Wesley assured him. "Xander's a bit active for my tastes." He smiled at the boy. "What happened?"
"Throttle, can I show him? I'll be hoarse by the end."
"Fine. Just be careful."
"I have shields, Throttle," Wesley assured him.
"So does he but he sucks in other minds." He watched as Xander's antennas lit up and then he leaned across the table, touching them to the other man's forehead.
Wesley pushed him off and frowned at him. He got up and found a book, handing it over. "Do the exercises, even if it isn't correct, Xander." He sighed and nodded, grinning at him as he relaxed. "Thank you for that honor." He sat down, considering all he had learned. "Fine. I can deal with that I suppose." He stared at the boy. "You're doing the same job here."
"Most of ours are peaceful. Cleveland's got a leaking hellmouth."
"And lazy chits who don't care," he finished. "Yes, that's why we were called back," he said blandly, smiling at him. "Very well then." He stood up. "Have Gunn call the house?"
"Why? I'm assuming Fred's found him online and went to visit him."
"Quite possible," he agreed. "I left her napping in the car however." He grinned at that. "If you need us for anything, you can call. I agree, the Watcher's money should have went to you lot. You did more work than they did. I'll check into that of course." He patted the boy on the head, being careful of his antennas. "If you need me, yell, Xander. Your job is just as important. Aliens and demons don't much differ in a battle against evil." He looked at Throttle and smirked. "Then again, some of you are very good."
"And then some," he agreed smugly. Xander's tail poked him so he stroked it gently. "You don't have a problem?"
"For what? Showing him love and affection? He needed it and has since he was very young, Throttle. This is nothing to me. Love is precious and should be savored like the rarity it is." He got a nod. "Xander, do try to behave. I understand why you bought the artifacts." He winked. "Very impressive." He blushed. "Now, be happy with him since you have the day off. Angel's assorted piles of shite are coming in tomorrow and you'll need a storage area. There's about a large shipping truck full of weapons and books. Perhaps you should build a library?"
"Maybe I'll donate them into the library system here," he joked.
"Please don't. Some of those are priceless and any magic books tend to be taken by the supposed Christians and held out forever." He nodded at them. "Tell Dawn I'd like to see her for a week this summer, just as she planned, and her boyfriend as well. He seems very pleasant." He walked off, stopping to pet the staring cats. "Yes, they brought me back this way," he told him. "It was necessary to help Buffy." He continued on, going back to the car. His closing the door woke Fred.
She looked up, then at him. "Did Xander know anything about Gunn?"
"He lives but he's very tired, Fred." He started the car. "We'll invite him out." She beamed at that. "It's about six more hours if you want to sleep some more." He nodded at the mouse pulling up in front of them.
Vinnie got off and took off his helmet. "I know you," he called.
Wesley lowered his window. "We're the new Watchers over the brats. We stopped in to talk to Xander."
"Is he okay?" Wesley nodded. "Good. Did you see anyone else?"
"Throttle seemed quite nice," he offered. "We'll be seeing all of you this summer, Vincent. Don't worry." He gave him a small smirk and backed up, heading for the airport. "Flying instead?"
"Love to," she yawned. "Six hours is too long. They'll need us there before they go out tonight. There's a major demon on the loose."
"Very well, dear." He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it, making her giggle. "If you wish, I would like to offer my services for you. That is, if you don't take back Gunn."
"I'm thinking about it," she promised. She turned to look at him. "Were you happy there?" He shook his head. "You weren't in heaven with me?"
"No, Fred, not quite. Nearly, but not quite. I've killed a great many more demons than you have." He stroked her cheek. "We're nearly to O'Hare." He pulled onto the interstate and headed for the exit marked airport. It would be faster.
Vinnie walked into the lair, looking around. "Hey, anybody home? We're going to lunch."
"Coming," Xander yelled, hopping down the ramp to give him a hug. "Good news?" he asked with a grin.
"She's still pregnant and the baby looks really funny," he said with a grin. "Come on, Throttle, or else I'm stealing Xander."
"I was getting my wallet," he complained. "I'll meet you in the garage." Vinnie nodded and walked Xander out, closing the door behind him.
"Since you're suspended, wanna go have fun today? Charley said she wouldn't mind going somewhere to watch us have fun."
"Sure. What's going on?"
"There's a base jumping thing."
"Hmm, a bit more dangerous. Jumping off a building or a bridge with a parachute isn't the same." Vinnie nodded. He took off since Xander was on his bike. "We could go to the motocross races," Xander suggested.
"Maybe, but that's not a thrill. I need a thrill."
Xander leaned against Vinnie's back. "We could go out to the state park about an hour away to soak in the mineral springs," he said gently. Vinnie's tail twitched. "They're not very deep or anything."
"No, then I'd compare," he sighed. "It'd ruin it for me." His tail twitched again. "Gun show?"
"I wouldn't mind, I'm going to have to find a good supplier of crossbow bolts soon." Vinnie snickered at that. "It's not my fault Dawn's such a lousy shot with one. Fortunately she does good with a blaster." He leaned his chin on Vinnie's shoulder. "We could go back to the rodeo camp, letting Charley watch us having fun."
"Nah." He turned up the music his bike was playing, listening to the report of the rogue elephant stomping through the financial district. "Ya think?"
"I do, studly. Let's go. After all, elephants love mice. Do you want taunt or shove position?"
"Hmm, move the blockade 32?"
"Thirty four," Xander whined. "There's only two of us unless Throttle catches us again." Vinnie chuckled and sped up, hurrying to save the day. That's what hero studs did after all.
"Bros, where are you?" Throttle called over the radio.
"Taking a short side trip to pick something up," Xander offered, chuckling a bit. "Order for me, babe." He burst out in giggles. Vinnie did too.
"Oh, no, not the elephant. Please not the elephant."
"We're going with move the blockade thirty-four and I'm getting taunt position first," Vinnie said proudly. "Won't take long."
"Use thirty-seven, Vincent," Throttle groaned. "Thirty-four means you get stepped on. She'll kill us."
"I wanted to use thirty-two but Xander pointed out there's only two of us," he taunted.
"Use thirty-seven, Vincent," he said firmly.
"Fine, thirty seven. Spoil sport." He took a corner and Xander flipped off behind the elephant, making Vinnie whistle in appreciation. The elephant tried to step on him so he moved one way, his bike going the other. "Whoa, flat as a pancake, what a rush!" he called, getting up to taunt it. "Can't get me!" He called, sticking out his tongue and wiggling his tail. The elephant snorted and blew a call, then stampeded after him. "Bro!"
"Coming." Xander ran after them, getting in the elephant's way, which made it trumpet again and go after him this time since he was more annoying. They taunted it back to the circus parade then ran off through the crowd, hopping on his bike once it came closer, and since Xander got there first he got to drive.
"Hey, my bike," he complained. Xander was handling it like a pro, making him very proud. "Smooth, bro. You'll get your own soon."
"Throttle said I couldn't have my own."
"Bet me! You're not stealin' mine!"
"Boys!" Charley snapped over the radio. "Get here now, food's here."
"Coming, Charley," they called back, speeding that way. "Mexican?"
"Chinese place next door to it."
"Cool. I haven't had any good Chinese in a while." He turned the corner and Vinnie held on with a whoop of excitement. "Take a ride later, big brother?"
"Not a chance. You're getting your own!" he called back tolerantly.
"No he's not," Throttle called.
"He's not stealing mine and you won't let him solo on yours, he'll have to get one some day," Vinnie called back. He felt Xander wobble and shifted to compensate. "Xander, tip your head in the other direction." He did so and the wobbling stopped. "Good boy! There it is." Xander revved the engine and hopped over a parked car, sliding sideways into a perfect parking spot. "Whoa!" he said, smirking like a maniac. "Nice job!"
Throttle pulled off his helmet. "You two done? I'm hungry?"
"Bro, you need to molest him more often," Vinnie said as he got off the back of his bike.
Xander climbed off and strolled over there, taking off his helmet and grabbed his husband, kissing him hard enough to stun him stupid. "You're dinner," he purred, then headed inside to stock up on calories.
Modo looked at him. "Which of you was driving?" Xander beamed at him and Vinnie came in babbling about how good he had done. He looked at Xander, who just winked. "Show off," he said fondly.
"Getting there," he said proudly. Charley yanked on his ear. "Ow!" He grinned at her. "There's new Watchers. We need to go celebrate."
She kissed him on the cheek and let Throttle take him, while Vinnie sat next to her. "I think you've done enough celebrating." She looked at her house. "Feel better?"
"He only nearly stepped on me twice, sweetheart. It wasn't nothin' in the day of your average studly mouse superhero."
Xander snickered. "Only twice? You nearly slid the bike, Vinnie."
"It's still only twice," he shot back, smirking at him. Then he looked at Modo. "Throttle won't let him have his own bike."
"It took you nearly four years to find yours," Throttle reminded him. "Xander's worse."
"Yeah, yeah, you say that now," Xander teased with a catty little smirk. "Just wait until you see what I pull out of my fur this time." He licked his lips and at the dishes. "Are we just digging in?" Everyone nodded. So he dished himself up some food.
"Save some for the rest of us," Vinnie protested, taking some of it back.
"Order more," Charley sighed, shaking her head.
Throttle looked at the waiter, waving at their table. "Add another order of everything." He nodded, going to do that for them. He looked at Charley. "Now you know why I don't take these two to buffets." She nodded, smirking at him. The waiter brought more food and he handed it to her first, then took some. Modo could fight the two brothers for the other stuff.
To Part 21