Xander pulled up beside Ray's car, since he had parked and gotten out, leaning on his handlebars while his bike idled. "Your Ma's a lot like Modo's momma," he told him. "She wants to meet Stanley too." Ray groaned and shook his head. "It'll be fine. Did you tell them anything?"
"Not a bit. Well, Ma knows she's not human."
"Good. Wonderful. Less shocking that way." He smiled at him. "It'll be fine. Where should we get stuff from since I doubt the usual hotdogs and rootbeer would be acceptable."
"Get some dessert type stuff. Some coffee." Xander nodded. "Nothing too heavy or fancy."
"Modo's momma said something about some sort of braided bread thingy." He shrugged. "I guess it's about the same. She's going shopping today to find out what she needs from home."
"That's fine," Ray agreed. He shook his head. "Do you have that 'disaster' feeling in the pit of your stomach too?"
"Well, yeah," he admitted. Then he grinned. "Then again, I'm a bit paranoid since the Plutarkians are back."
"Limburger's race. Plutarkians. Blue, smelly fish."
"Oh, okay. Are they all named cheeses?" Xander nodded. "Then I think we've got a young one in the precinct as a helper. We just got a guy name Gouda in and he does smell."
"Quite possibly," Xander agreed. "We can check him if you want."
"Nah, I can do that. I'm pretty good and Benny's even better at the strange stuff anymore." He looked at him. "Why aren't you working?" Xander held up his hand. "What happened?"
"Not your fault. You might wanna warn your momma that Chassis' momma is not friendly. She won't be there, but she's threatened to kill Chassis and any human or less than fully Martian child."
"Good to know. Can she?"
"Vinnie's got a pretty extensive clan back home. We've already talked to most of them and they're behind her and me and Vic and Charley." He shrugged. "It's her mom and one uncle if I remember right. Then again, a few new have just returned and we're not sure about them but how could you resist a baby like Victor for very long," he offered with a grin. "And if not, I'll injure them myself and play Barney and sensitivity lectures until they scream from the torture and change their minds," he finished sweetly. Ray snorted, shaking his head, but he was smirking. "Who's kidding?"
Ray chuckled at that. "Fine, Xander. By the way, Ma saw you when you followed me home and she saw all you guys out biking one day."
"Who wouldn't want to stare at me and Vinnie? We gleam in the sun nearly as much as our bikes do." He winked and rode off. "Three, Ray. Sunday."
"Sure." He got back into his car and headed to work so he could call his mother.
Xander looked around the place Saturday afternoon then looked at the lounging mice. "Has it occurred to anyone we're having visitors tomorrow afternoon? Human ones? Motherly ones?" They groaned and up to hit their assigned chores for the month. "Thank you, people. I do not want to make this harder for Chassis than it already is." Chassis looked at him from the office. "Yes, you. You can help by straightening the library."
"Sure. Not a problem. Vic's been rearranging the books again." She headed that way, shaking her head. She had no idea this was such a big production. Xander was going to clean the bathrooms. That really meant something to her. She'd have to call Stan later and see if she was expected to put on a dress and buy a present.
Xander winced as he cleaned, switching hands. "I forgot about the burn," he told himself. "It's nothing. I can rinse it off before I do a bandage change." He continued to clean the tub he was working on. It was important for them and Chassis to make a good impression and they'd have to so Ma would love them enough to protect Chassis from people. He wasn't going to smite anyone's love. Even if Chassis did live on another planet. He heard the transporter go off and groaned. "Not today," he moaned. He headed down there, finding Carbine. "Throttle should be working at the garage to clean it up. We're having visitors tomorrow." He went back to cleaning the tub. He walked past Vinnie's tub room and sniffed. "Vincent, you had better be cleaning that. Italian mothers are notorious for being fussy about such things."
"I'll clean it later. I'm soaking away a cramp," he called. "I had patrol this morning."
"Fine, as long as it gets done." He went back up to the bathroom, finding Modo lounging again and frowned at him. "Don't make me find Dawn's bullwhip," he warned. "If we ruin this for Chassis she'll never forgive us and neither will Stan. This would be like Staff meeting your mother." He groaned and got up, going back to work. Xander got back into the tub to clean some more. At least the cleaner was cutting the accumulated crud. Maybe a housekeeper once a week wasn't so bad. Then again, they couldn't afford it right now. So not at the moment. Unless he hired a Martian to come down here and go to school, giving them room and board in return for that and letting them go to the college. He'd have to consider that idea.
Throttle looked at Modo, who was looking around. "What's wrong?"
"He said this was like Staff meeting my momma for the first time."
"More like Staff's family meeting your mother for the first time," he admitted.
"He said Italian mothers are fussy about cleaning things." He looked at him. "I figure it's only polite, but how straightened out do we have to do? Do we need to take the bike mags off the coffee table?"
"No," Throttle said, shaking his head. "We bike, she knows that." He clapped him on the back. "Just the general straightening up stuff, Modo. Vacuum, that stuff." He went to talk to Xander. "Babe, can you maybe quit scaring people?" He got frowned at. "What?"
"Who had the bathrooms last month?"
"Oops. Knew I forgot something. You know, we could get a housekeeper and support some of the local infrastructure."
"Sure, if you pay for her," Xander agreed dryly.
Throttle nodded. "Fine. Sorry I forgot. Need help?"
"Then why is your bandage orange and being eaten through? Get out here." He hauled him out into the lounge, sitting him at the table to look at it. "You got cleaner on it, didn't you?"
"I forgot, that's my usual scrubbing hand. I did dishes last night too." Throttle swatted him and went to get some bandages and some clean water to rinse it off. Then he got him some plastic gloves to put over it. "Thanks, babe." He kissed him, waiting while his bandage was cleaned. He looked around. "No naked women on the coffee table, otherwise just make 'em look neat, Modo." He nodded, removing one that had a semi-naked girl on the cover. "Like you were showing your mother the new place." He removed another one and they went into the library, which Chassis was straightening with Vic's 'assistance'. Modo picked up the baby and took him to help him, making Chassis chuckle at him for it and put back the Mechanis books. Xander finished his change and Throttle slid the glove down for him so he went back to work after a quick kiss. "Thanks, babe."
"Welcome," he sighed, shaking his head. "I'm married to a tornado." He went to the list to see what he was supposed to be doing this month and groaned. Dishes, again. At least he could just load and unload the dishwasher. He walked into the kitchen, finding the mess. "It'll take many loads for this," Throttle moaned, holding his head. At least he could sit down and read in between them. Of course, he probably should go clean their room and hide the sex toys and stuff. Just in case she did an inspection too.
Ma smiled and walked in on her son's arm, shaking Throttle's hand. "Hello, dear."
"Hi, Mrs. Vecchio. Welcome to our house. We're all upstairs in the lounge except for Victor, he's hiding because he pulled off all his clothes."
She smiled at that. "Many bambinos do that," she assured him, patting him on the cheek. "Where are the stairs?"
"Oh, the ramp's at the back of the house," he said, pointing the way. "I'm waiting on Stanley."
She smiled. "He had to stop to get gas and something for his stomach."
"I understand fully," Ray complained, walking his mother that way. He hadn't really been in here before. It was a great place. Well used spaces and you could tell someone really lived here. He helped his mother onto the ramp and up to the lounge. "We're here," he called.
Modo stood up and nodded, shaking her hand. "Hi, Mrs. Vecchio. I'm Modo. Chassis' getting changed. Go ahead and sit down, please. My own momma's around here somewhere in the kitchen." He shook Ray's hand. "I'll try to find Vinnie and Vic."
Xander came up the ramp, grinning at them. "Hi, Ray, Ray's Ma." He shook Ray's hand and kissed her on the cheek. "Welcome to our home." He looked around. "Victor, if you're not up here within one minute, I'm not telling your tail a bedtime story tonight, I'll call Spike and tell one to him instead." Vic ran up the stairs and he grinned, capturing the baby. "Sorry." He went to change him and put him back into clothes. He found Chassis fussing in the bathroom. "You look fine," he said calmly. "She's a nice lady. Ray's a nice guy. Go. Either that or wait for Stanley." She nodded, going to do that so Throttle could come help. He got Victor redressed and carried him up with him, letting him cling to his back. "Sorry." He went to check on things, finding Momma sniffing the coffee. "Yes, I know." He measured some out and started it brewing then the water for tea. He let her take Victor and carried out snacks, putting them on the nice, clean coffee table since both mothers had cleaned it off and then went behind them to clean. Only the bathrooms had gotten any approval. "Here, coffee and hot water's brewing, it'll just be a moment longer." Momma came out. "Where's mom?"
"The library. She's doing some last minute fussing." She smiled and shook hands, kissing Ma's cheek "It's wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Vecchio. Is Stanley your child?"
"I adopted him into my family. He was so lonely and had to pretend to be my caro Raimundo when he was undercover."
"We've got a lot of families like that on Mars right now," she agreed. "I've got a new son because of that actually." She sat down.
"Ray," Xander said dryly.
"Hey, I told you weren't human," he offered. "Yeah, Ma, they're Martians."
"Oh, that's fine then," she offered with a smile. "I didn't think we could produce people with such gorgeous furs without people abusing them down here." She heard someone knock and smiled. "That must be Stanley."
"Chassis' down there," Xander offered. "Bring him up here, do not dare run away," he yelled after a minute.
"Cheese, you read my mind," Chassis muttered as she walked up the stairs with Stan. She nodded politely at Ray and shook his mother's hand. "Hi, Mrs. Vecchio. I'm Chassis."
"Come sit, cara. Let us talk while the others chat and fuss over things. It's most important that you like my adopted son." She sat beside her, nervously pushing down her skirt again. "Relax," she offered with a smile. "Stanley would only go for a very nice young lady."
"Well, actually I'm a squadron leader in my Freedom Fighter unit," she told her. "I'm not always nice, but I like Stan enough to pretend for him." Ma chuckled at that joke and she grinned back. Hopefully the older lady liked her.
Throttle's momma came through the kitchen carrying the whole coffee maker and putting it on the table, along with the tea kettle. Then she went back to get her bread from the fridge, bringing it out to put in front of everyone. "Where are the other boys, Xander?"
"Throttle was at the door," he admitted. "Vinnie, Rimfire, Dawn, and Charley may be next door."
"Hmm. That'll change." She moved to the back door, opening it. "Get your tails up here now!" she yelled. They came rushing back, straightening out clothes on the way. "Thank you, dears. It's important for Chassis you know." She followed them, stopping Vic from going out to play. "No, you'll get messy later, dear." She found her son hiding in his room and pulled him out by his ear, then swatted him. "Now, son."
"Yes, momma." He headed up there, taking the baby and handing him to Xander so he'd have someone to fuss over.
"Oh, is the bambino yours?" Ma asked.
"No, he's Vinnie's, they think I'm going to start cleaning and rearranging things again," he offered dryly. She giggled and swatted at him, taking the baby to hold. The baby stared up at her. "That's Ray's Ma. She adopted Stan, who's dating your cousin Chassis, Victor."
"Victor. A strong name," she offered, smiling at the baby. He just smiled sweetly and pulled his tail up to suck his thumb with, realizing this was an other person who would cuddle and spoil him rotten. He saw the treats and grunted, pointing.
"Son, you can speak," Vinnie said dryly. "Let me get the cups." He went to get the coffee cups Xander had found, since they only had three before, and brought them out. "We've also got soda, rootbeer, and diet soda from Dawn's latest diet rampage," he offered. "There's coffee and milk, sugar's minimal because Vic will eat from the bowl again."
"Relax," Ma promised. "I'm not that mean." She made a shooing motion. "Go so we can chat. Stanley, stay here." He nodded, sitting down behind Chassis with a cup of coffee to hide behind. Xander handed Ma a cup of coffee on a saucer and she smiled. "Thank you, dear. Go fuss."
"Yes, ma'am." He went to fuss over Throttle, taking him into the kitchen to hug and cuddle.
"They're together?" Ma asked Stan, who nodded. "Then they must love each other very much to get past those sort of things." She looked at Chassis. "Are there churches on Mars?"
"Some temples to the old Gods," she offered quietly. "I'm not particularly religious so whatever Stan likes is good for him." Ma nodded at that. "How did you meet Stan anyway?"
"He was pretending to be my son while he was undercover," she sighed. "Such a bad time. The house burned. Things were going horribly wrong. He was as good of a son as my Ray would have been had he been there. We leaned on him a lot and adopted him into the family." Chassis nodded at that. "So, Mars?" She smiled and nodded. "That's fine. Would you consider relocating?"
"Certainly. I'm sure the fusser in the kitchen has plans of asking if I could come down here to study or something if you let me keep dating him." Ma smiled at that. "Our mothers are the law on Mars," she said, patting her on the hand. "They are the end and the beginning of the law on Mars. Unfortunately my mother thinks I'm insane, but most of the rest of my family has no problem with me dating him." Stan choked at that. "Vinnie brought it up at the last family meeting when he went on a rant about my mother threatening his son," she admitted with a half-shrug.
"She did what?"
"She said that if I brought home a human or anything less than a fully Martian grandchild she would kill me and then them. She also threatened little Victor there because his momma is Charley." She pointed her out. "Needless to say, Vinnie and Xander went up and ripped the family a new tail opening over it. Most of them don't care but the few who do know they don't come near this group or most of the rest of the family. My daddy would just be proud that I found someone who likes me."
"Every family has someone like that, child, you shouldn't worry about it overly much," she assured her, patting her on the knee. "Now, children? Do you want children?"
"Some decade." Stan chuckled at that, nodding. "It's not really my first priority at the moment. Right now, we're rebuilding Mars after a horrible war. Most of my job is to help with that and to run errands for the Council, which gets me down here often."
"Hmm. Interesting. You would come down here though?"
"If asked, yes. I can't demand. Mars needs every mouse we can get."
"Would Stanley be welcome up there to live?"
"By about eighty percent of the population but there's still some paranoid people who think any outsiders are going to hurt us again. I understand why, but I'd be protecting him from them." Ma nodded at that, giving her knee a squeeze. "It's not been easy but I love Mars. I'll end up retiring there some year. For now, I'll do what I can to help and balance my own life with that. The same as Rimfire and Dawn are. He's down here taking classes in agriculture and stuff to come back and help us."
"That's very forward thinking," Ma congratulated.
Chassis smiled. "Not really my idea. My direct boss, Stoker, and Xander here thought it up." She smiled as Xander handed her a glass of rootbeer. "Thanks, Xander. Any word from home?"
"Yeah, Wrench said most of the new refugees are settled in well and searching for their families. The database project is still being worked on but it's helping so far. The memorial's tomorrow night, which is about three am our time." She nodded at that. "We've got to get a clock set to Martian time somewhere around here." She smiled at that. "So if you want, he can come back for that. I've already cleared it with Stoker. Micah's coming too."
"Sure," she agreed. She looked at Stanley. "Would you like to come?" He nodded, stroking her shoulder. "Thanks, Stan."
"Welcome," he offered, kissing her gently. Dawn whooped and Xander drug her off, making him laugh. "She can appreciate Chassis' beauty, Xander."
"No she can't. She took stupid candy today."
Rimfire shook his head. "Late night studying," he apologized, smiling at Ma. "Hi. I'm Rimfire, I date Dawn and I'm Modo's nephew." He heard the transporter go off and groaned. "Not now. Xander!" He headed down there with Throttle. He found Stoker panting. "Problems?" He sipped his rootbeer. "Ray's Ma is here."
"Dirt!" He looked at Xander. "Someone's coming in driving a Plutarkian ship."
"I don't have artillery that big," he said dryly. Stoker scowled. "Sorry. Friends?"
"We can't tell. They can't answer."
"Well, let's see if they land, crash, or detonate," Xander told him. "If they crash they're certainly mice. If they land, they're female mice, and if they detonate, they're Plutarkians we missed in the sweeps."
Stoker nodded. "That does make sense. Is she bringing him tomorrow?" Rimfire nodded. "That's fine. Dawn's allowed too." He went back to check, then came back. "They're going to crash by the mountains."
Chassis came down the stairs. "Stoker, Cell's unit is out there right now," she reminded him. He nodded, calming down. "Send them. If it's a threat, they'll kill 'em quick. If not, they've got a field medic and transport to an older base they can reactivate."
"Good point." He nodded, going back to check on that. He came back a moment later, smirking. "Did they land?"
"They did. A bit hard. It's mice." He breathed deeper. "And it's your brother according to Cell. She was not happy to be called back but she just reported in."
"Wonderful. I'll see him tomorrow when I come up." He nodded. "Do you...." He shrugged. "Then clean up and come upstairs and meet Stan's adoptive mother." She went back up there, smiling. "No stand needed," she announced. "More mice coming home in a Plutarkian ship. Crashed into the mountains. My brother's there." Vinnie whooped and hugged her, spinning her around. "Cousin, you're making me dizzy!" He laughed but put her down. "Thanks. Stoker's staying since Cell's got it." Modo, Rimfire, and their momma nodded and Throttle's momma grinned at that. She sat down, smoothing out her skirt again. "Sorry. We're on alert for anyone coming home or new attacks since the last ones are down here."
"There's only two or three in the city and we've got them under watch," Rimfire assured her.
"That's why I followed Ray home that night, ma'am, so none of them would find out where he lives. We don't want the normal people involved. They'll get hurt."
"Is that how you hurt you hand?" Ma asked.
He looked at it, then shook his head. "Paternal contributor." He sipped his coffee. "He's dead, he decided to commit suicide when his plan to commit fraud went wrong." She nodded, accepting that. "This is all the family I've had for years. You don't mind if I cuddle my man, right?" She shook her head, giving him a tolerant smile. "Thanks." He pounced Throttle to hug him. "More mice."
"More mice," he agreed, stealing a kiss. "Calm down. You're in super bounce mode again. I thought last night was bad." He gave him another kiss and let him go, watching as Stoker came up the ramp. "Hey, Coach. Hi, Anya, Spike. No baby and momma?"
"Momma's puking her toenails up," Anya said bitterly. "I'm going to have a baby brother. Another one." She glared at Spike, who stuck his tongue out.
"Spike, behave," Xander said without having to look. "If you do, I'll give you mine and Jessie's old journal to copy from." Spike growled and came over to tap him on the leg so he looked down at him, smirking at bit. "We tormented all of Sunnydale from the time we were eight until he was staked," he said quietly. Then he sipped his coffee. "So you can *copy* it but you may not have it." Spike beamed at him. "Got it? It's precious to me." Spike nodded, looking around. He saw the treats and gravitated that way.
"Oh, no you don't," Stoker said, catching him before he could snatch a cookie. "No more sugar for either of you." He shook Ray's hand. "Hi, I've heard a lot about you from Xander. He said you're a very good detective."
"Thanks. He says you're going to yell at him now and then when he does stuff." Stoker nodded. "That's my Ma, and Stanley's hiding on the other side of Chassis."
"I figured it had to be him. If she actually picked a man who would sit that far away from her, I'd whip her tail and check for mental coercion." He shook the older lady's hand. "Hi. I'm Stoker. I trained most of this insanity and Chassis' my aid."
"It's nice to meet you." She smiled at Spike. "You are nearly as adorable as the bambino in my lap."
"Oh, this is Spike. He's having another growl and pounce day." He shook Stan's hand, then sat down across from them. "Chassis, your mother did want to see you tomorrow as well. She left a comm message for me. I sent back an 'if you get to come'. If you're serious about him, we'll see what we can do about getting you down here more often." She smiled and nodded. "By the way, you look very nice today and please don't yell at me like Shell did."
"I won't," she offered with a grin. "Give me Spike, Stoker." He was handed over and Stoker got up to go bug Throttle for a bit and make sure his daughter was behaving under the influence of Dawn and both mothers. She handed him a cookie and got a pleased growl for it. "Just don't tell anyone and behave until you get home," she said quietly. He nodded, nibbling. She handed Vic some too, earning one of those Van Wham family smirks. "Yeah, you're a cousin, little one. You'll be hell on Mars some day soon." Ma chuckled at that and Stanley snorted, shaking his head.
"When Rimfire and Dawn come up, we'll probably be coming too," Vinnie said. "Here, let me take him, Mrs. Vecchio. It's time for someone's nap." He stole a bite of the bread and stuffed it in his mouth, then took the baby from her, holding him up when he wiggled. "Behave," he said once he swallowed. "She'll be here when you get up most likely." He walked him into Modo's bedroom and put him down. "There, you rest in the really big bed so we know you can't get into trouble." He looked out there. "Spike, Modo got a new bed. Come jump on it and help Vic nap." He wiggled down and came in with his usual wicked chuckle, staring in awe at the bed. "Xander found it." He tossed him onto the bed. "Don't break anything, don't touch anything, and behave. Help him nap and you can have some cookies to take home." He closed the door, grinning at Modo. "So, is it hard enough for your back, bro?"
"It's really firm but it's nice," he said with a smile. "Staff loves it too. Somehow she manages to hog most of it." Stoker gave them an amused look. "Xander found me a bed to fit my body." He opened the door to let him look. Stoker whistled, making the boys laugh. "It's a good bed, coach. Cost a fortune, but it's a great bed."
"Where did he find it?"
Modo blushed. "Online at a less than kindly and polite site."
"Ah." He nodded. "Well, that would certainly fit you, Modo." He clapped him on the arm. "No cookies for them."
"Fat chance," he taunted, leading him out and shutting the door again. He looked inside, then shook his head and closed the door again. "We have satin sheets?" Xander nodded, holding up a finger as he drank. "Why?"
"Because you need special sheets sometimes?" he offered. "Like after you go make it official in front of Carbine."
Modo blushed and nodded. "Thanks, Xander." He gave him a strong hug. "We appreciate you and your fussy nature." He let him go and went to talk to his mother, giving her a hug too.
Ma smiled at Chassis. "You have a very tight family here."
"We're more a clan but you're right. Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo were bros before this, but with the addition of Xander and all his insanity things have only gotten tighter." She smiled at her. "So, Stan said you've got grandbabies? How many?"
Ma pulled out her wallet and showed off the pictures, leaning closer to tell her something about each one. Then Chassis pulled out her pictures to show off the many numerous cousins and tell her about them. Needless to say, it went well.
Throttle walked Micah up to where Exhaust was standing, coughing to get his attention. "I brought our human helper."
Exhaust smiled and shook his hand. "Welcome to Mars, Micah. Come this way." He led him to the rest of the councilors, getting some shocked looks. "This is Micah Simms. He's our go-between on Earth for official matters. He helps Xander and runs the agency Rimfire and Dawn work in."
"Hi," Micah said, shaking the hands offered. "I don't want to intrude but I was invited."
"Of course," Carbine agreed. "Thank you for coming, Micah." She kissed him on the cheek. She let him into their conversation group. "We just got a few more refugees the other day but they're in quarantine at the moment. They weren't in bad shape and we weren't sure about them." He nodded about that. "Is everyone else here?"
"Everyone. Even Xander."
"I didn't see him during the refugee incoming," Mayflower noted quietly.
"He's got a second degree burn on his hand. He stayed on earth to coordinate getting some extra supplies up here," Micah told her. "It was more useful since he can't use that hand."
"That poor thing!" She looked at Carbine, who shrugged. "When did you find out?"
"When Throttle came to yell at me the other day." Mayflower pursed her lips. "I see Enamel was drug by Shell."
"As he should be. He did a lot of work during it, dear." She went over there to kiss him on the cheek and lead those to toward the other doctors. "Carbine's becoming rabid about Xander," she whispered.
"I heard," he admitted. "Any idea why?" She shook her head. "Shell?"
"Jealousy. Vinnie's family grew." She smiled at her fellow doctors, shaking hands. "I drug him with me, as promised."
"Thank you, dear." The doctors looked at Enamel.
Mayflower coughed. "Enamel, would you consider coming back?"
He sighed and looked at her. "Not now," he said honestly. "When the others do, maybe. Right now, they need me and you've got more than me." She nodded at that and some looked disappointed. "Frankly, a lot of people wouldn't welcome me. There's a lot of people who would blame me for surviving when doctors like Ty Rod didn't." That got some more nods. "I'm here whenever you need me once I get my hands back. I have been since I got ordered to take care of Xander."
"You're under orders?" one of them asked. "Why?"
"I was protecting an orphanage from some soldiers and more came up, I wasn't picky about my shots," he said honestly. "Technically I'm under house arrest for the rest of my life or until they leave if they want to bring me back with them."
"Would they let you out if asked?" one of them demanded.
Enamel nodded. "Probably. But again, they need me. There's no other docs down there and Earth is one of those places we crash on." That got some nods and some grins. "That's how I found my lady here. She crashed really hard." Shell pinkened and he grinned at her. "You did."
"I did," she admitted. She curled around his arm. "Like him, I'm here to help Mars, but until he comes home I'm not coming and staying permanently. I'll do what I do now and travel back and forth."
"With a new baby on the way?"
"I don't do much all day," Enamel promised dryly. That got some snickers. "Besides, this way I can make sure Spike doesn't influence my kid like he did VanWham's." That got a lot of snickers and some confused looks. "You've just got to see them in action," he offered. He looked down when someone tugged on his arm. "Hey, Racer. Hug me, little man." He hugged him, looking sad. "What's wrong?"
"Momma Cell's missing," he said quietly.
"Honey, you go right to Xander and tell him that. All right?"
"Fine. I'll be right back," he offered. "This is Racer, he wants to follow in my footsteps." He walked him off, taking him to Modo, who was closest, and Vinnie, who was behind him. "Modo, has your mother said anything about Cell being missing?" He slowly shook his head.
"'Scuse me?" Vinnie demanded, turning around. "Who's missing?"
"Momma Cell," Racer said. "I'm not allowed to tell you or Xander."
"Well, you didn't, little mouse cadet. Enamel did." He grinned and patted him on the head. "You let me handle this." He walked off, whistling happily as he took the baby to Xander, who made him squeal. "Xander, did you know Cell's missing?"
"Someone's in fucking trouble," he snarled. He looked at their bikes, who were inching closer. "Where?"
"Not a clue. Racer wasn't allowed to tell us."
Xander smirked and walked over to where Stoker and Carbine were standing, putting an arm around her neck and walking her off. "Where's Cell and who else is missing?" he said sweetly, squeezing her throat. "You don't do that to my family, Carbine," he hissed. "Where is she?"
"Two of the crashed mice disappeared from quarantine and there's a ship missing, but it's still on planet," she gasped. "They're up in the northern mountains."
"Thank you, dear heart. I want a map and an accurate count of the missing by the time this is done with so we can go looking for our family. Or else I'm going to pull all your fur out hair by hair for the petty shit you're trying on my man," he hissed in her ear, seeming to be smiling to everyone else. She let out a nervous chuckle. "I won't let you hurt this family and I refuse to let you harm them by not looking for her."
"No one wants to go up there. It's cursed."
"Yay. This family isn't no one or anyone; we're heading after this. Got me?" She nodded. "Now, maps, rations if we've got 'em. An accurate count."
"Fine. We can't condone this action."
He gave her another squeeze, making her pass out. He smiled at those nearby. "Sorry, she's a bit faint from hunger. All that work on Mars' behalf," he offered with a sheepish grin, carrying her back to his bike. "She can call someone after this," he whispered. "We're going on a mission." His bike beeped quietly. "I don't know who's coming besides Modo." He went back to his mate's side, sending the whole conversation to him in one burst. Throttle looked at him. "Sorry. She's a bit faint."
"You need to test how strong you are, she's not that light," he offered, kissing him on the cheek. "Thank you, but quit," he whispered. "We'll go after this."
"Fine." He stole a kiss and then grinned, heading over to lean on Modo's arm. "Later, will you help me test my strength, when we get home?" he asked.
Modo nodded, smirking down at him. "Smooth, bro," he offered.
Stoker coughed from behind them. "What happened to Carbine?"
"She fainted," Xander said, smiling at him. "How's Anya and the new one? Are they getting along yet?" he asked, walking him off since Rimfire was coming and Modo had to tell him about his mother. The kid was smiling too much with his bros at the moment. "So, is Carbine's change of attitude because she's with mouse, or just needing a mouse?"
"We think she just needs a mouse," he said dryly. "I would have told you if you asked."
"You told Racer not to tell us."
"I was going to brief you after this."
"Feel free too. Carbine said they couldn't sanction it and they were up by Cede." Stoker shook his head. "No?"
"No. Not that close to Cede. Her whole unit," he said when he saw Rimfire storming his way. "You're heading with them?"
"Damn right I am," he said firmly. "Her whole unit?" He nodded. "Carbine?"
"Is being watched for aberrant behavior. Or else we'd all think she had just passed out." He saluted Xander. "After this, my house, kids. It'll just be your guys. I'll make sure Micah and the ladies get home."
"Fine," Xander agreed.
"You too," Stoker told him. "You're injured," he said, seeing the bandage. He had forgotten about that.
"Stoker, do the words 'tail yourself' mean anything?" he hissed with a sweet smile. "I'm going. They'll need me too and I don't need that hand to ride." He walked off, going to tell Vinnie and Modo, hugging both mothers on the way and whispering to them. Enamel caught him by getting in his way and bumping into him. "I'm going."
"You could lose that hand if it infects," he said quietly, glancing around.
"And? They'd come for me, even her." He shrugged. "It's fine. It's nearly scabbed over, you said so yourself." He walked off, going to get a drink from the buffet, then head back to his mate's side. Throttle gave him a look. "I'm still going."
"Hasn't mattered in the past."
"It does this time. I'm in charge and you're injured. What happens if we're attacked at home?"
"The other me's house and kitty sitting. With that Willow. I'm more worried they'll do obvious damage to the others." He smiled sweetly. "I'm going."
"I can order you."
"This ain't the military and I don't take orders that well. Just ask Buffy." He smiled sweetly and walked off to talk to some others he had met. He found Spike with his friends and grinned at them. "Hey, guys." Ramjet looked up at him and sniffled. "What's wrong, mouse cadet?" he asked, patting her on the head. He squatted down to get on her level. "What's wrong?" he asked, wiping some tears off.
"Spike said you can't play with us this time."
"Oh, I can, just not until we're on the way back. We've got to visit some big mice before we can do any fun stuff. Work before fun and all that," he offered with a grin, tweaking her braid. "Then we'll come play. I might even get Vinnie to bring Vic in for the day so you can meet him and play with him."
"Unless I die in a rockslide or something, yeah," he agreed. "I promise. We'll come play with you and I'll do my best to bring Vinnie with me and Victor." She smiled and hugged him. "That's a good girl, Ramjet." He patted her on the back. "You guys should probably find your parents so no one thinks you're up to mischief. Learn tail and hand code, guys. Like sign language." He winked at Spike, who cackled at that. "I'll see if I can find you guys a book." He winked and walked the group back toward the parents. He coughed and interrupted one woman, who glared at her daughter. "The kids were gathering and trying to sneak off to play. I thought I'd be nice and bring them back."
"Do you work in the daycare?"
"No, I'm Xander," he said. She looked stunned and he grinned. "Ramjet asked if I could come back and play one day and hopefully bring Victor with me."
"That would be fine," she agreed, smiling at him. "Thank you by the way."
"It's what I do, ma'am. It always has been." He grinned at the kids. "Give us a few days to visit with some big mice and do work stuff, then I'll be in, okay?" They beamed and nodded and he looked at Vinnie, nodding at the kids, mouthing, 'they want us to come in and play one day with Vic on the way back, good for you?'. Vinnie nodded back and grinned. "He said it's fine. So just be a bit patient. We'll be there." He winked at Spike and went back to Vinnie's side. "They wanted me to come play."
"You play very well," Charley assured him. "Plus, Victor could get to know some normal mice."
Xander beamed at that. "You mean I'm not a normal mouse?"
"Um, no," she said firmly, smirking at him. "Behave, Xander." He shrugged and nodded, glancing around. "Do you need me?"
"I hope not. You can be our backup if you want. I'll instruct my guy to break free and come for you." She nodded, accepting that. "Dawn?"
"Not ready for it," she said.
"Bet me," Dawn said as she walked over on Rimfire's arm. "Fat chance you're leaving me behind. Women on Mars get to go all sorts of places we don't on Earth." She gave Throttle a meaningful look and he shook his head. "That's fine, we'll meet you up there."
"You don't know the playbook, that's a liability we can't allow in the field," Modo said from behind them. "Until you do, you and Xander are staying here. Stoker's orders."
Xander beamed at him. "Fat chance. You'd go for me. I'm going for her." He punched him on the arm. "Like she said, we'll meet you there if we have to. It's not like we don't have combat training, Modo."
"Point," Throttle admitted, moving closer. "But no. You don't know the playbook." Xander recited one move to him and he blinked. "Memorized and practiced are two different things," he said calmly.
Xander stared him down. "I'm going. If you try to stop me, I'm going to whip your tail, tie you up in a closet, and then go without you." They all gaped at him. "I'm going. Dawn may go if she wants. She's my daughter first and foremost. She's got enough combat experience to at least be the lookout if we need one. She's going if she wants."
"I want. It's the only way to gain the experience." She sipped her drink. "Besides you'll need me anyway in that area." She looked at him. "I did get to start hunting at fifteen. Did I forget to mention that?"
"You went hunting when you were that untrained?" he demanded.
"Talk to the sister, man. Talk to the sister." She walked off, smiling at the woman there. "Hi. You look like you're a relative to Rimfire. I'm Dawn."
She squealed and hugged her. "I am. I'm Rimfire's daddy's sister." She looked her over. "Well, I was told you were a pretty human and you are." She smiled at her. "Come, tell me everything about what's going on down there." She walked her off, going to introduce her to that side of the family.
"Cheese," Rimfire said, watching. "Auntie's got Dawn," he reported to his uncle. He groaned. "I don't know which is worse. Momma or this." An arm went around his neck and he looked back, finding his sister standing there. "Aunty's got Dawn."
"Wonderful. They'll squeal together." She looked at him. "Where's Momma?"
"Uh-huh." She smiled at him. "I'm going too, Rimfire."
He smiled and patted the baby she was carrying. "Ya know what, you're not," he said, smirking at her. "You, Charley, and Dawn can go protect Earth for a bit. You see, there's some Plutarkians that've snuck out and we're doing daily patrols for them." She frowned. "Seriously. It's what you're trained for. It's only slightly dangerous, because I'm not raising those horrible twins of yours as my own without grandmomma and momma whipping them good a few times so they behave and don't torture Racer the way you did me. Plus it'd be damn helpful and protecting my lady, Dawn."
"Your lady?" she snorted.
"Dawn, come meet my sister, dear," he called. She squealed and waved at his aunt, coming bouncing back. "Dawn, my mate, this is Primer, my bitch sister."
Dawn smiled and shook her hand. "He calls me the same thing now and then when it's first thing in the morning. We must be kinda alike." She smiled at him. "I'm going."
"You should go protect the house. We do have a threat down there and with us up here, it'll just be you, Charley, and Xander. You can take Primer and her kids with you and find out just how horrible I was to my sister when she was a terror."
"Dear, do you *really* want to sleep alone for the rest of your very short life," she asked with a smile.
"Kids, no fighting tonight," Micah ordered from behind them. "What's going on?"
"There's a raid and they're going," Primer told him. "Who're you?"
"This is Micah, he runs the agency we work for and he's the other guy who ships stuff up here."
"Oh." Primer shook his hand. "Welcome to Mars. I've heard a bit about you." A deep bell tolled. "I'm going too, Rimfire. You can't keep me from this."
Rimfire looked at his uncle, who shook his head. He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Later," he promised himself. "It'll only be a few hours." He walked with everyone else to the point of the chasm that was the burial place for most of the mice who couldn't be rescued. There was a plaque there with their names and things had been piling up now for a few days. The plaque had space in case any of those in recovery would cross over so they could join them. He bowed his head, sending a silent prayer for those souls already gone and to rescue any remaining ones. Then he looked up at the moons rising, thanking the Goddess he had who he still had, making a vow he would be helping to get his mother back.
He knelt with everyone else, going through the motions. He knew and the Gods knew, that's all that mattered to him. He looked over at Dawn, who was beside him. She glanced at him then down, concentrating. He took her hand and she squeezed it. Around the plaque, a set of flowery grasses native to the area bloomed. Some people sobbed and let it go, what she had been going for. When everyone got up, he and Dawn moved closer. He whispered in her ear. "I need you to guard our home, Dawn. Not because you're female or my lady, but because you're only half trained. I'm just as likely to be sent back but I'm a full Freedom Fighter and Stoker can order me to shove you through. Besides, someone's got to guard Charley and Vic. She'll be too busy to." She shook her head slowly. "Yes, dear. Think about what happens if Limburger attacks while we're up here and she's down there with the baby." She shuddered. "So go guard the most precious thing we've got. The baby." She looked at him. "Please."
She sighed. "If I must," she whispered back.
"Yeah, you got to," he said, nuzzling her gently. They walked away with most everyone else. He looked at Charley. "Dawn's going to be guarding you while we're gone," he said firmly. "There's still a threat and this is a good time to act. I'm betting they're watching us too. Oz can't come help, Meg's due any day now." She nodded at that. "So therefore Dawn will be guarding you and Vic, including shoving you into the weapons closet again." He looked at his sister as she joined them. "Go guard the kid and my lady," he ordered. She opened her mouth. "Shut up, Primer, or I'm knocking you out. You're a new mother, you're not in shape to fight. We need good, skilled people for low impact and low risk scouting and patrols. You can do that even with the baby. Argue with me and I'll be swatted by grandmomma." Primer opened her mouth and he punched her, knocking her out. He put her across the back of Dawn's bike, handing Charley the baby with a grin. "There you go, another guard." He kissed Dawn, then headed to his bike after the others.
Stoker made it back to his house first, he knew all the shortcuts, and was waiting for them. He counted noses. "Xander, how well do you know the playbook?"
"I've only got kindergartners's understanding of Martian but the diagrams helped," he said dryly.
"That's fine. I'm going to test you. If you don't pass, you don't go."
"Then I'll meet them up there." Stoker stared at him. "I go after my family, Stoker, every damn time. No matter the odds. Now, we're wasting time while there's lives in danger. If you want, I can start ahead and get it from Throttle's mind."
"You can't block him out?" Stoker asked Throttle, who glared at his mate but shook his head. "Damn it."
Vinnie shrugged. "We could use him since Rimfire knocked out Primer and sent her with Charley and Dawn."
"How?" Stoker asked.
"We've still got Plutarkians and that would leave Charley all by herself. Anyone here wanna bet they're not gonna take advantage of that?" No one raised their hands. He looked at Stoker. "He's right, time's wasting and we need to change too."
"I have the feeling Wrench is heading back to Earth too," Vinnie said, looking toward the wall in confusion. "I don't know how."
"He said he's going to research in the Mechanis books," Xander told him. "I saw him there." He gave Stoker a look. "So, plans, numbers, where, coach?"
"You're a smart ass punk, Xander."
"And you're just now figuring this out?" He stared him down. "I've fought with worse than a damn burn. I don't need that hand to do anything but shift, and I can still do that. My weapons are on my other side. I'm a damn good rider, you can ask Vinnie about that. I'm damn good in tactics on my own. Gee, what a shock for someone like me, huh? I'm going. Now, let's get on with it before someone dies." Stoker sighed and nodded. "Thank you." He glared at his mate. "Not one word," he warned.
"I don't want you going, you're injured."
"So? Did you think I wasn't injured at graduation and still fought? I was injured when I went into the hellmouth and fought too. Oooh, yay, a burn!" he said sarcastically. "I'd be going even if it was infected, dripping puss, and my side was still bleeding. This is family, you don't leave family. I don't care what anyone says or tries, I'm going."
"Even if we threaten more medals?" Stoker asked.
"Even then. I'd just run away again." He took the map to look over. "Okay, straight shot or any natural barriers?"
"There's two chasms," Stoker said, pointing at them. Xander nodded. "Can't read that?"
"A bit beyond me and someone has crappy handwriting." He leaned closer, pointing at something. "Quicksand?" Stoker nodded. He studied it. "How's this path?" he asked, tracing one.
"Way out of the way. You've to end up over here," Stoker said, tapping a dot. "Xander, can you see at all?"
"It'd be easier if Willow would lay off me." He traced a new path, identical to one they took to get his bike and the books. "This way, then we'll cut across here after the quicksand. It looks like there's some bridges there."
"There are." He looked at Throttle, who moved closer to take the map.
"I lead, Xander."
"Yup, you do." He grinned and looked at the map again, mentally swearing at Willow and Anya to leave him alone. Suddenly his vision cleared and he was in a temple. "Uh-huh. Not happening. Not right now, dear."
The Seal came down and handed him a pack. "Necessary. Including some gum," she offered with a grin. "Tell Stoker to let you take the back path through the temples." She winked and he faded out.
Xander came back, holding the pack and looked at them. "We can take the back path by the temples, the Seal said so." He set down the pack, looking inside it. "Yes, clothes. I knew handing Willow an emergency pack would help." He pulled out something and held it up. "When did I give her that?" He tossed it at Rimfire, who was wearing dress pants. "Those should fit you too."
"Where did you go?" Stoker asked.
"The Hellmouth Seal."
Xander looked at him. "Was that an intelligent question, coach?" He found his gum and his leathers and grinned. "Where can Rimfire and I change?"
"My bedroom if Anya's not in there with Switch." He pointed. They went that way. "You guys go ahead," he said.
Vinnie dug around in the bag, finding Xander's discman. He took the batteries. Then he headed for his bike.
Xander and Rimfire both came out, Xander finding his shades and his gum, then putting on his discman and turning it on, smiling when it still played. "Willow taught me that," he said with a grin. "Rimfire, they're leaving us behind."
"Coming." He came out tying the pants. "Thanks for the clothes. I'll try not to wreck 'em."
"That's fine." Xander popped in a piece of gum and headed out to his bike, watching the others' dust tail. "Seal, path?" It was shown to him in the dirt at his feet. "Rimfire?"
"Got it," he agreed. "Thanks, dear." He got onto his bike and Xander put on his sunglasses and helmet, heading out after them. Rimfire headed off too, nodding him to veer off. He led them past the M'dreth temple and off into the night. He heard Xander's radio come on and smiled. "How many songs do you have stored?" he called.
"I've got my I-Pod hooked in. It's got everything on the computer and then some. Most of the Beatle's collection too." He turned it up a bit so Rimfire could hear it. "Who'll get there first?"
"We will." He heard bikes and smirked at him, shrugging as he sped up. Xander sped up too, keeping pace with him. "Ahead, once we get into the cliffs, it'll be single file."
"Sure. Lead the way, Rimfire." They sped up to get further ahead of the engines they could hear, Xander looking back to check their lead. "Sand Raiders."
"Excuse me?" Rimfire slid his bike to turn around, looking at the two Sand Raiders coming their way. "Death to Rats," he said, opening fire. Xander took the other one and they blew them up. Rimfire turned his bike back around and headed off again. "Okay, so it's not going to be a boring trip." Xander's laugh followed him like he was. "When we get to the Beatle's, turn it up."
"Sure." He flipped through it and then turned it up. He patted his bike. "You're fully charged and gassed, right?" It beeped. "Good boy. We're going on a rescue mission. If something happens and I'm dead or captured, I want you to go get Dawn and Charley, all right?" The bike beeped an affirmative. "Thanks, bike. Let's hope this goes easier."
Xander woke up on his bike, looking down at an encampment. He looked over at Rimfire, who only smirked. "He's that smart. I trust him more than enough to take a nap. What happened to the tunes?"
"I killed 'em when we got close. There was a lookout. Pity." He looked down there, then handed over the binoculars. Xander waved them off. "Those are field specs like Throttle's?"
"Um, not exactly. More like Micah's." He studied the heat readings on one lense, the other watching it. He switched input. "Most everyone's in that square central part," he offered. "There's some roving guards. There's only two escapees, right?" He nodded. "There's six guards by heat. And one behind us."
Rimfire looked back, nodding at his uncle. "We're thinking brainwashing. Six guards, Xander?"
"Yeah, six by heat signature. Um, the figures are moving in the center thingy. But they're lining up and heading out to the...." He took them off. "The yard," he said, pointing at it. They watched as more figures came out. He checked the heat signatures again, finding less guards. "We're down to four."
"Where?" Vinnie asked. Xander handed him the glasses. "Whoa, these are cool. Ours?"
"Micah's. Prototypes so don't break them." He looked at Throttle, who had taken them to look through. "Up to you, leader. Do we go now, when it's good, or reconnoiters for a bit longer?"
"We go," he admitted. "Weapons at stun, people. There's too many down there." Xander nodded and patted his bike. "Single file down the gully," he ordered sternly. "Quietly. Backup power only."
Xander nodded, looking at Rimfire. "You want point?"
"No, take it," he offered. Xander nodded and turned his bike to backup power, heading down the small ravine on the slope below them. He could see the facility through most of it. He came out and stopped, finding a figure out in front with a weapon. "Don't do this to him," he moaned. "Bike, stun power only. Knockout cyclone beam," he sighed. The bike shot and Cell went down. "Thanks." He looked back at Modo. "She'll have a headache." He got a nod and moved forward, listening to the sounds from inside. "Shit. It's a sacrifice," he said, taking off his helmet. They were chanting to..."Dajun?" He looked at Rimfire. "Dajun?"
"Higher elemental being on Plutark," he said, looking confused. He stopped to check his mother, then shrugged and went on. He looked at Throttle, who nodded. So they switched back to their engines and blew the gate to hell. Someone screamed. "In," Rimfire ordered. "They're moving!"
Xander headed for the barrier wall back into the building, cutting them off. The others circled the group. Xander got off his bike. "Don't let anyone inside, I don't care who," he ordered. He got up onto his seat and pulled his blaster, hitting the one sneaking on the walls. He shot at another window and the thing moving there stopped but he wasn't sure what it was. He turned to glare at the ones coming near him. He hissed in Martian, making them glare. He leapt off when someone grabbed for him, landing on the wall to hit the guards coming running from the outside. The other one on the walls came at him and he fired, hitting him on the calf. He swore and did it again, hitting him in the stomach this time. He looked at the window. "Deal with it," he called down. "There's something not registering." He hopped up and grabbed that wall, putting his blaster between his teeth. He climbed the few feet into the room and faced off. "Oh, wonderful. What, you're too cold blooded to register on heat scans too?" The Plutarkian showed off his vest with a smirk. "Pity for you." He shot him in the head, killing him. "Really big pity."
He threw the plutarkian out the window and then looked around. He could hear machinery and followed it. This was something he was good at. He found the machines and stared. No off switch. No control panel. "Huh." He looked around, then took a flying leap and landed on it, crushing the moving things in front of him. He stomped a few more times, then ripped something out and threw it. Then he kicked a spinning part. By the time he was done, the room was trashed. He calmly walked out, finding the doorway out. Throttle glared at him so he dusted off the small bits and pieces of metal. "The running machine is now broken, leader. Are they sane now? Or do we need to do other things?"
"Where's the bikes?" Vinnie demanded to one person.
"What bikes?" he whimpered.
"Your bikes, stupid!" He shook him. "Where are your bikes!"
"Dajun does not like bikes," he whimpered.
"I'd say not straight in the head yet," Xander quipped. "Bike, find the other bikes." He beeped negative. "There's none?"
"Maybe they left them where they were captured," Rimfire offered from his post. "Did it feel good?"
"Very. He made a pleasing squish sound when he went out the window, and considering how heavy it was, that's a good thing." He pulled one mouse up, slapping her across the face a few times. She cried out. "Where are your bikes?" he demanded. "The Great and Mighty Othra demands that you show your true mouseness by showing him your bike."
"Othra is dead," she whimpered. "Dajun killed him."
"Do I look dead?" he demanded, shaking her. "Do I?" She whimpered and shook her head. "Then where are your bikes? Or are you Plutarkian now?"
"They're at the delta base," she whimpered. "We were instructed to leave them there and walk this way as a show of devotion." He shook her again and she cried out. "Dajun! Protect us!"
"How? We're already here," Modo said, removing her from Xander's grip. "Calm down. Please." He looked at her.
"Tenra?" She looked at Throttle and gasped, crying. "No! We were wrong!" The others moaned and gasped, holding themselves and crying.
"Just delusional," Xander assured her. "You can be forgiven for this, if you break this delusion and accept your mouseness again. We will march you back to Delta base. You will retrieve your bikes. You will prove yourself to Stoker, for he is one of us in hiding." She nodded, bowing to him. "Do not do that until you are normal." She whimpered and nodded, lowering her head. "Good girl. Gather whatever you came with and let's go."
"What of the jewels, High One?"
"What jewels?" Throttle demanded.
"They had jewels here, we were digging them for the glory of Dajun's offerings."
"We'll come back for those so we may cleanse them of their taint," Rimfire told her. "Now, go pack." They nodded, hurrying off. He looked at Xander. "What about the others?"
"How many do we have unconscious?"
"Five," Rimfire said, smirking at him. "Surely you don't suggest we ride with them."
"Their friends can help them, that way they know about the delusion," Throttle told him. "How did you know this was a cult?"
"Because Stoker said only cults ever came out of this area. The Seal intervened. And they took directly from the movie about Jim Jones for the patterns of movement and the prayers." He looked over as they walked back out. "Line up, pick up the other mice and instruct them on the way there. Are their things packed?" Everyone nodded. "Good. Then let's go."
"Highest, your clothes mark you as a Highest of Othra. Are they returning?"
"Mars must heal before the Gods can fully come back. Until then they can only answer those who pray and are worthy, those who need it." That didn't sound too bad for off the top of his head. Rimfire looked at him. "Don't you concur?"
"I do," he agreed dryly, smirking at him. "You're so bad," he mouthed. Xander shrugged. "They don't require priests like in the old days, they require those who believe and those who are working to make Mars great again so they can rejoin the general public. That is the devotion they need to help us help ourselves."
"Which path do you follow?" one male asked timidly.
Rimfire looked at him. "The Goddess." He gaped. He shrugged. "As does my mate."
"The Goddess and Othra work together?" a few murmured. It was unheard of. Those two were enemies. That gave them thought on the way back to their bikes. Once at that base, late that night, they took off their robes and put them aside, putting back on their Freedom Fighter gear. They found their bikes and most of them were welcomed back. A few wouldn't let their riders mount and those riders cried and pled.
Xander coughed. "They'll need transport anyway and they were deluded by Dajun," he offered. "Let them at least ride back and then you can see whether or not they can be healed." Most of the bikes relented but one would not. "Fine, baby love. You follow the group." It beeped. "Good girl. You can ride with someone." She nodded, getting onto another bike's back. "Let's go. It's a long ride back and Rimfire and I took out some Sand Raiders." He looked at Throttle. "Do you still have the glasses?" They were tossed back and Xander put them back on to check them, then hit his I-Pod, which was playing the Beatle's _Come Together_. He smiled. How appropriate. "Let's ride, crew. We'll drop you off at one of the old temples and you can be treated there so you can't hurt anyone else." That got some nods. "Leader?"
"And Ride," the others agreed, heading out with the five behind them. The bikes knew the way home even if the mice didn't.
Xander walked into the hospital, finding Shell and kissing her on the cheek. "In Othra's old temple, the one out in the valley." He grinned and walked off. "I slid the report into your pocket."
"Xander? What?" she called, pulling it out of her pocket. She read it, then shrieked. "What in the hell is going on!" she yelled after him but he was gone. She stomped to the Council's chambers, glaring at Stoker as she threw it at him. "That's for you! They're in Othra's temple in the valley?"
"They are?" he asked. She nodded, and then pointed at Carbine. "Fine, take her with you." He looked at it, it was written in very basic Martian. "We'll have to work on that with the boy. Where did he go?"
"Hell if I know! He kissed me on the cheek, slipped me that, and then left!"
"Fine, calm down before you miscarry," Stoker ordered. "Guards." They came in. "Take Carbine and Shell out to the temple of Othra in the valley. Carbine is unfortunately showing signs of mental coercion by the same group. The missing mice are there. Shell, call for whoever you need on the way out there, dear," he ordered more gently. "I'm sure they did what they could to reform them." She stomped out, eyes still blazing. He groaned and put his head down. "Someone *please* let me shoot Xander?"
"Hell no," Exhaust said, smirking as he got up to come get the report. He read it over and laughed. "Ah, I remember that cult," he said fondly. "It won't be too hard, especially if they think the Old Ones came back to save them. They'll probably be some very devout mice until they're quite old." He handed it back. "Weren't they due to go play?"
"Shit! Spike," he said, hopping up to go save his son from getting weirder. He couldn't stand his son if he got more weird. He heard giggling from his backyard and went back there, finding his youngest daughter walking and smiled. "Good job." He picked her up to kiss her, startling her.
She let out a squeak, then grinned and batted at his nose. "Poof!"
"No," he moaned/whimpered. "No, honey, daddy. Daddy." He smiled at her. "I'm daddy!"
"Poof! Bloody hell!"
"Oooh, that's so cute!" Switch cooed. "She talks just like Vic and Spike." She took her daughter to tickle, earning many baby laughs. "You're such a good girl," she cooed.
"Are you INSANE!" he shouted. "That's not sweet!"
She swatted at him. "Lower your voice or I'm shouting back, Stoker. It is so sweet!" She went back to cooing at her daughter.
"Did Xander start a cult and suck you in?" he demanded. She gave him a dirty look. "I'm serious, woman!"
"No, you're in serious trouble now," she said dryly. "I say it's cute and I say it's sweet and she's my daughter so if you don't like it go knock up some other woman." He just gaped. "Do you understand me?"
He blinked a few times. "You're exactly like your sister," he complained, sitting down. "She was brainwashed by that damn cult and now you're nearly as bad."
"Someone has to be the bitch in this relationship," she said dryly. She looked at her daughter. "Tell him the other one, sweetie."
"Puppy!" The dogs both barked at her and she beamed at them.
"See, it's cute and sweet," Switch said firmly.
Stoker stole his daughter to cuddle, glaring at her. "Don't worry, sweetie, we'll make sure you grow up as normal as possible without being odd like Xander."
"Xander is perfectly nice!"
"For a smartass who can't follow orders."
"Why would he follow stupid orders?" she demanded. "You knew he was going before he stated it. It's the sort of man he is, Stoker. Pull your antenna out of your tail. Xander didn't change but you're acting like an old man, which you're not. So quit!" She walked inside, slamming the door. Then she came back out and threw something at him. "I hope this son is the gay little fairy boy Xander predicted. I'm naming it after him too!"
"I doubt it, woman!" She shrieked and he got up, putting their daughter into his former seat. "I don't name kids after people who are alive. Or else she'd have been named after Modo's mother."
"Oh, shut up!" Dawn shouted from the gate. "Gods, you two are louder than Xander and Rimfire together when they get into an argument about weapons!" Stoker glared at her. "Try it, old guy. I can feed you that mechanical tail of yours." He gaped. "Switch, honey, which way to the daycare? They wanted to have Vic for a while."
"Oh, just up the street, the red brick one, Dawnie. Thanks. Can you take her too?"
"Sure. Come on, pumpkin," she cooed, opening the gate. "We'll go play with Vic and Spike and all his buddies."
She squealed. "Bloody hell!"
"Oooh, that's so cute! Did the little vampire mouse teach his favorite words?"
"That's still Xander's fault," he shouted after her. He looked at his wife. "I respect Xander, but he's a trying nuisance some days."
"And you're not?" she shot back. "By the way, *what* happened to my sister?"
"That damn cult got her. Xander told them the Old Gods were working together to bring them back. Something about Othra and the Goddess." She whimpered, sitting down. "It was a lie."
"So? He kicked!" She rubbed her stomach, calming herself down. "Stoker, the kids will be who they are. Spike's a little thug, Anya's a princess, and this new one'll probably be just as tough as Spike since he likes her so much. You're not going to change it. Kids come born this way." He flopped down, looking miserable. "It's not Xander, or me, or you. It's them. That's how they are. Learn some acceptance, okay?" She got up and went inside, slamming the door again.
"All I want are kids like me," he called.
"Well, the world is a wider place than your family tree, Stoker! Anya's just like my mother!"
"Don't you hate your mother?"
"So!" she shrieked.
"Fine, sorry." He got up and headed inside to calm her down. It wasn't good for her to fight with him. He knew that. "I'm sorry. I'm the typical wrenchhead father. I should enjoy my kids being themselves and not molding them into perfect freedom fighters. You're right."
She looked up at him. "And you're right, people look at Anya and wonder why she's not riding and blasting things already. They figure she was the odd one in the family gotten out of the way early. We still have to let the kids be themselves. Xander isn't the one influencing this." He snorted. "He's not. He loves the kids, Stoker, and he's never going to have any of his own. Of course he treats the kids around him like they're special. It's the only chance he's got for a family," she said, starting to sniffle. "If it weren't for him, Spike really would be a thug. He's kept Spike from becoming a bad guy over and over by deflating that ego you keep giving him. He's kept Anya from being the spoiled princess my mother was and kept her from going out and getting hurt. Hell, dear, Spike kept her from trying to go help him and Racer." He sighed and nodded, cuddling her. "Lay off Xander, Stoker. He's the mouse he is. He's the same as the man he used to be and you said when you first met him that he was going to drive you insane but that you admired him for what he was like." He nodded at that, resting his forehead against hers. "So what's changed? He's not a Freedom Fighter. You can't fire him, Stoker. He's not your trainee, he's Throttle's problem boy. They're going to have a loud fight later, I'm hoping it's not at the daycare."
He smirked. "Is that where the lunatic is?"
"Ramjet wanted him to come play for the day, he promised he would," she said with a small smile. "Be thankful he's as protective of our kids as he is, Stoker, or else we'd be missing Spike because of that invasion or because he'd be off doing stupid shit because he was lonely."
"So he's a blessing on this family?"
"On Mars, dear. On Mars. Think about all he's done for us. No matter how often we tell him not to." Stoker nodded and groaned, kissing her gently. "Are you calmer now?" He nodded. "Good. Then I heard Spike whispering bloody hell into her ears for the last week and a half. It's his fault." She gave him a real kiss. "You never know, it could be some sort of foresight. After all, he knew about Spike. He knew about Anya's temperament." She stroked her stomach and he added a hand, getting kicked gently. "He could be right about this one. Then what will you do?"
"Whine, moan, hold my head, and find him a nice boy mouse to settle down with as quickly as possible," he assured her. "That way we don't have to watch him experiment."
She giggled and hugged him. "Can we name him after Vinnie?"
He smirked at her. "That's a mean thought," he taunted, kissing her. "Not after anyone living."
"Fine. Not after anyone living." They shared a smile. "Are you glad?"
"Nope," he said, shaking his head but he was grinning. "I love our kids, but I was more than happy with one." She swatted him and went into the kitchen. "Did you get any of those granola bars Xander had sent up?" She tossed him a box and he sat down to pick out what he wanted. "Thanks, dear."
"You're welcome. How much longer before they can finalize the plaque and Dawn can release the flowers?"
"Who do you think did it, Stoker? The Goddess?" she asked patiently.
"Who knows around that group. Dawn, Vinnie, and Rimfire all follow her and I'm told Vic will be some day too."
She smiled at him. "Good! Because Anya wants lessons with Wrench." He choked on the bite he was taking, making her coo over him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that."
"Yes you did. You like to see me choke and speechless." He kissed her, then wiped off his eyes. "Hell no. Absolutely not."
"She can float a pencil. Willow showed her how to."
"Hell no and I'm going to go burn down that temple if she doesn't leave our kids alone," he said firmly. "She's nearly as bad as Xander is." He took another bite even though she swatted him. "She is. She brings strange crap, like finding those ships. How did that happen?"
She looked at him. "Do you want the story they told or the truth?" Anya asked from the doorway. "Unclie Xander floated off after Unclie Vinnie's momma when she came to talk about her brother. He's the one who sent up the flares and spotted the ships." She came in and curled up on her father's lap, cuddling him. "I love you."
"What did you do?" he asked, taking another bite.
"Ramjet's a meany so I shoved her into a sink. She made fun of my hair."
"Anya," he sighed, then shook his head. "Honey, there's more important things to worry about on Mars than your hair."
"Daddy, me being pretty makes me feel important and I can do more things when I feel important." She looked at him. "I don't want to let the ugly times take over. Or else I'll end up bitter like Auntie Carbine." She put her head back down. "I can't go back tomorrow either."
"Fine," he sighed, shaking his head. "The note?" She pulled out the crumpled ball and handed it over. "We've got to work this out, daughter. You can't beat up on the other girls because they're not in the mood to feel pretty."
"So? They shouldn't pick on me either."
"They shouldn't," he agreed, "but you still can't beat them up for it, darlin'." He looked at his wife, who nodded. "I'm sending you to talk to Modo's momma later tonight. I want you to listen to her about this stuff. She's pretty wise and I think she can help you figure out how to deal with this stuff in a better way than beating up on people, Anya."
"Yes, daddy. Do you think I'm too fri.... friv....whatever that word is to find a good boy?"
"No, dear. I think you're seeing an area that not many other mice are concerned about yet," he said honestly. "Who told you that you were too frivolous to get a boyfriend?"
"The teacher," she said quietly.
"I'll have a talk with her while you talk with Modo's mother," he promised. "Agreed?" She nodded. "Good girl, call her now." She got up and went to call her to see if she could come over. He looked at his wife. "You want this one?"
"I have twice," she said firmly.
"Fine." He got up and headed down to the daycare, walking in and heading to his daughter's room. He found the teacher and watched her wince. "Just because my daughter wants to look ahead and wants to help people find prettiness that may still exist on this ruined world does not mean you can tell her she's too frivolous to get a boyfriend. She's artistic, lady. Something you clearly can't appreciate." She opened her mouth and he held up a hand. "I don't care. I've heard you had this talk already with my wife, twice, and I'm not putting up with it. Anya likes pretty things because it makes her feel more secure and that the ugliness of rationing and things will be ending within her lifetime. I consider that something other than frivolous. Even at the height of the war, we still had artists and honored them. Now, lay off my daughter."
"Did you see what she did to Ramjet!" she shrieked.
Xander came out of the room, glaring at her. "Ramjet's fine. She's also aware that she shouldn't be picking on Anya and why. Those who can find some amount of beauty in the world are the ones that won't end up dying in a meaningless bar brawl, get depressed and kill themselves, or end up a bitter human being. Maybe you should take some time to go stare at the desert and the sunsets and stuff. I find that helps me when the world starts to drag on me after ten years of combat. Anya's a happy little girl and she had better stay that way. It's wrong, fundamentally wrong, to ruin a little girl just because she can still find some beauty in the world. She's right, a bit of beauty makes the ugliness easier to bear. So lay off my godchildren." She burst out in tears and ran off. "Wonderful," he said dryly. "Do I apologize for that too?" he asked dryly.
"No, I agree with you, mini-punk. Good work out there." Xander shrugged and went back to playing with the kids. He walked in, watching his son playing with other kids. They were staring at some book Dawn had brought and working on something with their hands. Ramjet did have a black eye, but nothing too tragic. He was sure her mother had been told already and he'd hear about it from her too. He let them play, Xander never taught them anything harmful. He decided to go find Throttle, who was at his mother's. He tapped then walked in, looking at him. "Your boy looks miserable," he said, flopping down next to him. "He just yelled at the daycare worker for upsetting Anya and telling her she was too frivolous to find a boyfriend."
"No, she's just artistic," Throttle said dryly, sipping his rootbeer. "I can't have him ignoring orders in the field."
"Throttle, consider it. He's a field commander. You're a field commander. Would you take his?" He shook his head. "Why?"
"Because he's not as trained."
"Then you're not counting all his prior years of slaying?" Throttle glared at him. "Tough, punk. Your boy's the same as a ten-year combat veteran. He's got experiences in another area. You're great at field maneuvers, but he's great at small group combat and getting into places. You've let him do it in the past."
"Yeah, on my orders as part of the plan. This time he disobeyed orders. He's injured, he shouldn't be in the field."
"When did you go into the field after you were hurt, Throttle?" he asked quietly. "The three of you were back out there nearly as soon as you could walk." He sighed and nodded. "You and Xander are a lot alike. Switch today reminded me that I told her I was going to be driven nuts by the kid because of his nature to jump in and help, but that I'd come to respect him. Damned if I wasn't right." Throttle looked at him again. "He's your equal in the fight, Throttle. Even though he's younger. Yeah, he's not a Martian naturally. This is a whole new method of fighting for him, but it's the same thing at the same time. It's still fighting. He still has to finish learning the playbook, but he'll be fine."
"I think that's the most wise I've heard you, dear," Throttle's momma said, coming out to hand him a soda and kiss him on the cheek. "How is poor Anya?"
"Depressed. The teacher told her she was too frivolous to find a mate when she was grown. Xander tore her down and told her it was the people who couldn't find beauty in the world who died in bar brawls and committed suicide." She nodded. "What do you think about what Xander did?"
"Dear, you knew he was going to go. Before you even opened your mouth you knew. That's the sort of mouse Xander is. He would have been up here helping move people if he could have."
"I stopped him and made him organize stuff down there," Throttle admitted. He finished his soda and handed her the can. "He still disobeyed an order in the field."
"This is why spouses aren't allowed on the same team," Stoker assured him. "You're going to have to work this out or he's going to hand back that earring and then head off and leave."
"He won't. We're his family," Throttle said quietly, considering it. "He might walk off but he'd have to come back."
"No, honey, he won't," his mother assured him. "Even Willow said it. Xander only gives one chance and he's easily hurt by people not dealing well with him. Even Winch saw that, dear." He flinched. "Now, go get your boy and play with the kids. It's time for you to see some beauty in the world too."
"I still can't have him countermanding my orders in the field," he said bitterly. "That's what really hurts."
"So you had two different approaches to the battle. Good. Was yours working?"
"I didn't get time to tell them mine."
"We were both dumb, Throttle. Vinnie should have stopped us. To Xander, his family is his world. If they're that mad at him, he's going to feel abandoned. Which we both did. Which group got there first?"
"Them, even though they had to take on some Sand Raiders."
"That wasn't in the report."
"What did the report say?"
"That the group arrived, they moved in upon Xander's noticing they were praying to a Plutarkian deity. They baffled the group and someone suggested he was from one of the older religions, Othra's. He played the part and Rimfire noted he was there representing the Goddess. They talked the brainwashed mice partially out of their delusion, got them moving back to delta base, where the bikes were, and then dropped them at the temple of Othra in the valley. He did mention something about diamonds too."
"They were mining diamonds to offer to Dajun, the deity the Plutarkian brainwashing them was playing. And he's an elemental spirit." He took Stoker's soda to drink. "We got there and found them scouting. Xander hadn't been awake that long, he still sounded tired."
"They got there in enough time to nap?"
"He could have napped on his bike. I'm not sure. All I know is that he had some prototype glasses from Micah. He was scouting with the heat scan setting when we pulled up." He killed that can and threw it. "They still disobeyed orders."
"Yeah, and they're the ones who solved it, Throttle. What would have happened if you went with your plan?"
"There probably would have been deaths. That Plutarkian had something that hid him from the scan." He looked at him. "So I'm at fault?"
"No. This was a clash of methods. The same as we had now and then. Remember?" He nodded, grimacing, not looking any happier. "Xander has a different style. The guy could be a cult leader himself. People follow him. Rimfire followed him and he knew I had ordered him not to go."
"Yeah, but it was his mother."
"So? According to Xander, she's family too."
"Oh." He slumped. "So I'm at fault."
"No. We were at fault for not realizing that the fundamental nature of the mouse was going to show through this time. Any other time would he have *demanded* to go, up to the point of hurting Carbine and others?"
"No," he said, thinking some more. "No, he's taken himself off patrols until he's better. Of course he said his weapons were on that side," he said, glaring a bit again. "That liar!"
"Only in a good cause, kid. He obviously used them. He shot someone by the look of his bike when I passed it." Throttle stared at him and he nodded. "Seriously. Where did he head after dropping off the people?"
"He said he was going to hand in the official report and then tell Shell before going to play with the kids."
"Which he did. He handed the official report to Shell, didn't tell her anything, then skipped out. Can you think of anything that would have kept him out of that battle?" He shook his head. "Then realize the nature of your mouse and plan on it. Include that in the plans. He's saved your tail how many times?" he asked when Throttle looked at him. "Some people think he's some sort of saint in the making."
"He's a reborn black mouse," he said grimly, putting his head down on his hands and his elbows on his knees. "I can't make plans for the vacuum that's Xander's soul when someone he loves is hurt."
"You can so. You know what the others would do. What would Modo have done if it came down to shooting his sister or dying?"
"He would have died. Vinnie might have."
"Xander would do what he did. He hit her some weapon that knocked her out and when she came too she was seeing sense."
"What if it were Dawn?"
"He'd go off, like Vinnie would," Throttle said quietly. He looked at him. "I can plan for that?"
"I'd make it part of the contingency plan," he offered dryly. "I always planned for Vinnie's wildness. That's why he got those spots he did."
"Point," Throttle agreed. "Maybe I wasn't thinking straight because it was someone so close to us," he admitted, shaking his head. He looked at his mentor. "You're a good coach, old man."
"I try," he admitted. "It keeps me sane after dealing with my daughter, who's first words were 'poof' and 'bloody hell'." Throttle cracked a grin at that. "And Puppy. She showed that one later. Switch reamed my tail over my bitching about Xander influencing the kids. When are you having some so I can have a normal kid?"
Throttle chuckled. "Not anytime soon. We're all working on Vic and hoping for Staff's sake."
"Those'll be some sweet kids. Easy to handle. Not at all like Primer's. Did Enamel tell you what Racer said?" He shook his head. "That he had learned to bandage because he had been injured and his sisters tortured him." Throttle chuckled and nodded at that. "Modo's kids you won't have to worry about. It's yours and Vinnie's. They're going to rule Mars some day. Remember, Vic will be a Freedom Fighter some day. Maybe he'll even take my spot some day."
"Don't wish that on Mars," he said dryly. "Can we put him in Spike's unit?" Stoker nodded at that. "That'll be fine with us. Of course, by the time the kid's twelve Rimfire and Xander will have him mostly trained." He sat upright. "Vic's the next Rimfire."
Stoker chuckled. "Quite possibly, punk." He clapped him on the back. "Want to ride back with me to the daycare? I'm not sure what Xander is teaching the kids today."
"He called to ask Dawn if she could get a book on sign language and morse code," Momma called from upstairs. "Whatever they are."
"Sign language is how deaf people communicate," Throttle said, looking really confused. "Morse code is like dots and dashes in a ...code. Oh, cheese, he gave them a way to communicate without the adults knowing." He rushed for his bike. Stoker was right behind him.
"How many versions are there ?"
"Flags, lights, bunches of them," he called back as he rode off. He put his helmet on as an afterthought. Xander was giving those kids the tools to become hellions and destroy Mars before they grew up. He, Vinnie, and Modo knew tail code, but not all mice did, and look what they had done. Rimfire hadn't even needed help to nearly drive the Freedom Fighters insane. Stoker pulled up along side him. "Think about it, coach. They can communicate without you knowing about it by now. Think of Rimfire and that."
"Oh, cheese," he said, shuddering. They sped up and pulled into the lot, finding the kids outside, laughing and chasing Xander around the yard. He patted Xander's bike. "You okay, guy?" It beeped tiredly. "Need plugged in?" It beeped again. "I'll have him do that. Xander, your bike needs a plug!"
"It needs gas too and I'm doing that just as soon as I get home, in a few hours. Can you wait, babe?" It beeped affirmatively. "Thanks. I'll get you here in a few minutes." The kids whined en masse. He grinned at them. "A true mouse always takes care of his bike before himself. After all, they don't have arms to plug themselves in."
"We can run a cord," the room attendant offered. He grinned and nodded. "Let me get mine off my bike, Xander." She smiled at Stoker. "He was good enough to help the rest of the kids learn that sign language alphabet too. It's an interesting idea and probably quite helpful." She got her charging extension and plugged his bike in, patting it gently. "There you go, big boy. Just rest sweet and he'll get you some gas once you get home." The bike beeped, leaning toward her. "Oooh, you're just a lover."
"His rider's still mine though," Throttle told her. "How's your little brother?"
"Pouting. His girl left him." She shrugged. "She was a tart anyway."
Throttle nodded. "I've dated a few of those in my day." He walked in to help Xander play with the kids. He caught him and grinned at them. "There you go, one Xander helplessly on the ground." They pounced them both, making him laugh and tickle a few of them. He was bitten and yelped, swatting at Spike. "Don't bite! Especially not me. I won't get you books on light codes if you don't." Spike growled at him. "What?" He gave Xander a look, then glared at Throttle again. "I'm here to apologize."
"Bloody well better," Spike agreed, going to pull Ramjet off Xander's ear. "Let's go practice," he told her. "We'll take Vic." She nodded and got Piston and Thruster, taking them to play in the shaded corner.
The teacher looked at them, then at Stoker. "I remember Rimfire doing that same move with a book," she said dryly. He hurried that way and she smirked. "Good." She pulled Throttle up and then Xander, grinning at the kids. "Go clean up for lunch." They ran inside. "You four, lunch," she called. "Go clean up!" They ran inside with Stoker following, having confiscated their book. "It's really pretty neat, Stoker."
"Good. The rest of us could use it too, just so they can't get into the 'net and cripple it for ten hours like Rimfire did." He headed inside to help out. Spike never voluntarily washed.
Throttle pulled Xander closer, staring into his eyes. "I love you and I was stupid to not realize you would be there anyway. Especially after you said it. I was trying to protect you, Xander."
"I didn't need it."
"I know, but you're injured and it's my right and job to fuss. That's what mates do." Xander got free, glaring at him. "I'm trying to apologize."
"No, you demeaned me. How dare you think I can't fight just because I have a *burn*!" Throttle nodded. "No, don't just *nod*," he said angrily, waving that hand. "You've done this before. You do it to Charley and Dawn all the damn time, Throttle."
"No swearing," someone yelled.
"Just kiss and make up," a younger sounding male voice called.
"Inside," Throttle yelled. He pulled Xander out into the street, facing him again. "I'm sorry. I should have known. She's family and you go after family." Xander nodded at that but he wasn't relenting. "As for Charley, we include her when it's safe."
"Why can't you just teach her and make it safe more often? She's not a bimbo and neither is Dawn. For that matter, neither am I."
"I know you're not and I'm working on training Dawn. I didn't want her to go because she's not fully trained. The same as you're not. At least not in Martian tactics," he said at the disbelieving gasp. He grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him closer. "If I had to call a play in the middle of a battle, could you follow it?"
"Probably about eighty percent of the time once I saw what the others were doing."
"Good. When you know it by heart, without that hesitation, then you can join in," he said firmly. "The same as Rimfire could when he was old enough and knew the playbook. The same as Dawn can and Charley can if she wants to be trained now. Yes, we pull macho crap on her all the time, Xander. I admit that. Is that better?" He shook his head. "You're a great field commander and I admire your strengths, but this is a weakness and you're going to have to fix it."
"I still can't read the damn playbook, Throttle!"
"Then we'll work on your Martian," he agreed. "All you have to do is ask. We'll run drills and teach you, Xander. We learned most of them by teaching too. That's why there's *training*." Xander glared at him. "So let us train you since we're not doing it the other way effectively. We can work on Dawn and Charley at the same time and it won't hurt us to go over them either." Xander relaxed a bit at that. "Is that agreeable?" He nodded. "Good. When your hand is healed, to Enamel's satisfaction, then we can start that." Xander opened his mouth. "I will not allow someone injured into the field unless it's a last ditch effort. Unless they're the only person with that knowledge. While you're injured, that's you. You'd do the same thing in your plans."
"I didn't have the extra people to do that with, Throttle. I went out, broken, bruised, and bleeding. So did the rest of us." Willow appeared and he glared at her. "Butt out!" She faded back out. He looked at his mate again. "If I feel there's a need for me to go, then there is! You're not stopping me!"
"Then some day you'll end up dying on me," he shouted. "Do you really want to leave me that soon?"
Xander glared at him and reached for his ear, but his hand made him wince. "Fuck you," he said, stomping off.
Throttle caught him and forced him to face him. "No Freedom Fighter goes into the field without medical clearance. We've had to be lax in the past, but I wouldn't send someone with an open wound. Never. I can change plans. An injured solider is a liability in the field. You know that. I'm sure you know that."
"It hasn't mattered in the past."
"It has. If you've been going out injured, I'm going to tan your tail," he hissed, stepping closer.
"You do, every day."
"Mine's to the point where I'm not going to heal, infect, or suddenly burst open from it," he said sharply. "Unlike your hand. You could lose that hand for this, Xander. Then what? You go to Karbunkle and ask politely for a fake one?" Xander glared at him. "Sorry, that was mean." He calmed himself down. "Those are the rules. All armies fight by those rules, even in the worst of times. Even when it's only a small group. The only thing injured are good for is a last stand where they demand to go out in honor. Since I'm not losing you that way, it's a moot point. You will get medical clearance to go out. The same as I had to. Enamel had to make sure I wasn't going to pass out. It sucks that yours is lasting longer than being out of the hospital, but now it's your duty to heal and let the rest of us do the work."
"I'm not feeble."
Throttle squeezed his hand gently, watching him wince. "That's the normal pressure I give you when we're dancing, Xander. Until you don't wince, there's no going into the field unless it's an absolute emergency. Yes, Cell is family. I probably couldn't have stopped you for anything."
"Let go," he hissed, his teeth clenched. Throttle let his hand go. "That was not..."
"It was." He held both hands and squeezed just the fingers, watching him hiss. "The same pressure, babe." He pulled him closer again, letting go of his hand. "Yeah, you were right to want to go get Cell with us."
"Do you mind terribly, you're in the middle of the road," someone called.
Throttle glared back at him. "Ride off," he warned. The mouse smirked. "I mean it." He looked at Xander again, taking him back to his bike and sitting him on it, taking out his boot knife to open his bandages. It was filthy anyway. He looked at the burn, then at his mate. "Look at that." Xander looked down but didn't show anything. "Really, look at it, Xander. Study it. That's your skin hanging off." Xander went paler, then he leaned over and got sick. Throttle leaned on Stoker's bike, looking at him and waiting while he kicked dust over it. "You done?" Xander glared at him again. "Sometimes people have to be forced to quit ignoring things. I don't know how you suppressed pain on that level but most people want drugs for it. Even in the hospitals they want drugs. They give them morphine for that and you're not even taking Tylenol."
"I deadened the pain."
"And slowed your reflexes, which can get you dead," Throttle said coolly. "Or get me dead or get Vic dead." Xander flinched at that. "Would you have let Buffy out with something like that?" Xander looked up and nodded. "You would have?"
"Did I have a choice?" he retorted.
Throttle calmed himself down. "No, you probably didn't. I do. Therefore we follow the injury rules, Xander. Each and every time. No more of this. I will not accept it. Ever." Xander glared at him. "Unless it's a world-ending emergency or backup, you're grounded each and every time you ache. Even if it's a papercut, I want proof it's healed."
"Then I can't ever go out, can I," he asked bitterly.
"You can. Why do you ache?" Xander glared at him. "Something about the change?" Xander nodded. "Since when?"
"Enamel knows about this?"
"I told him, he said it'd get better."
"Then you're talking to him again. I'm not having you injured and fighting unless you have to, Xander. Not even sparring. I'm sorry, I'm going to have to set this rule as the leader of the group. You joined us, you acknowledged that I do have some skills as a leader. You agreed to follow my lead into battle. Yeah, you're a damn good leader yourself. You've got training in things I could never dream of. You've handled things I couldn't have imagined." He leaned forward. "Now you don't have to most of the time. In those situations I'm letting you lead and I follow you. As the Biker Mice, you follow me. And the rules I follow say no injured people in the field."
"Gee, then I can't go back out?" Modo asked as he parked.
"You're as healed as you're getting, bro. We're talking Xander's hand."
Modo nodded. "I've been wondering what he's used to kill the pain."
"I developed a way to shut off pain when I was younger," Xander admitted. "We didn't have enough people to leave the injured benched." He looked at his mate. "I can still handle it."
"You may be able to, but what does that do to the rest of your body, Xander?" Xander sighed and shook his head. "I want to swat you so bad," he groaned. "I do. I very muchly do. You're ignoring your body's signals. You have pain sensors for a reason. They're there to tell you you're injured." Xander glared at him and Throttle lunged over, getting into his mind to find out what was making this keep going. Usually Xander would have given up by now. He pulled back snarling. "If he wasn't dead, I'd kill him myself," he said quietly, his voice dripping ice. Xander shivered and Throttle pulled him into his arms. "You survived and I love that abut you," he whispered. "I won't have you die on me now because you're being a badass. You're my mate and I want you around for a long time." Xander shrugged. "Don't you want that too?"
"I want to quit aching every day."
"Maybe that's those pain receptors firing off to make sure you know they're still there," he said impatiently. "Come on, I'm taking you to see someone." He shook his head. "I will swat you, Xander. We're going."
"I don't need...." Modo knocked him out.
"Sorry, I can't stand to see people hurt themselves. What's he doing?"
"He's in pain all the time from something in his chest," he admitted. "I don't think the muscles aligned properly." Modo nodded at that. "Tell Stoker I'm taking him to see someone."
"Sure, bro. Where are the kids?"
"Having lunch. Stoker's in there too."
Modo grinned. "Lunch was always my favorite subject." He walked inside.
TBC.... This one was getting too long for this series. <G>
To Part 65