Xander smiled at the young mouse girl looking around the main building when he rode in. "Hey, are you lost?" he asked.
She looked at him and shook her head. "My teacher said we should come look around so we know what's going on. That way there's no more stupid people in charge ever again."
Xander grinned and ruffled her hair. "Then your teacher is very smart, young lady. Did you want to visit anywhere in particular? I'm headed to the Council chambers."
She blinked up at him. "You're that Xander mouse," she said, suddenly smiling. "I saw you on the 'net." He nodded, grinning down at her. "Some day, when I'm big, I'm going to name my kid after you."
"That's so cool!" Xander said, patting her on the head. "I hope you have as great a kid as I am and if you have a second one, name it after Vinnie, that way the little me has someone to play with." She giggled and nodded. "Want to see the Council chambers?" She nodded so he led her that way, pointing out the offices that they were walking past. "Here we are. Now, if you're really quiet, you can sit and watch for a bit, okay? I've got to bother Stoker again."
"Sure." She followed him inside and over to a bench against the wall, waving at the people who noticed her and smiling at everyone.
"Xander, when did you have a child?" Mirror asked.
"Oh, her teacher said she should come look around, that way no future stupid people could ever be in charge." He grinned at her. "I just escorted her in and showed her around a bit."
"He's a very neat mouse. Someday I'm going to name my son after him," the girl said. "And a second one after Vinnie so he'll have someone to play with."
Stoker moaned and shook his head. "Sure, kid. There should be little Xanders some day far in the future." Carbine choked. "She's still young, it'll be a while," he told her. "She could always change her mind too."
"Nope," the girl said happily. "He's a great mouse!" She looked at Xander. "Are you one of the ones who can't have baby mice?"
"No, unfortunately I can't," he offered sadly. "So I'm a great uncle to a lot of little mice, like Stoker's kids."
"Wow. They're all going to be just like you?" Stoker let out another moan. "Are you okay, Mr. Stoker?"
"I seem to have a headache, young lady. What's your name?"
"I like that name," Xander said with a grin. "I'll see if Throttle will name one of his kids after you." She beamed at that. "Stoker, Spike wanted me to drop off invitations to his birthday party this weekend."
"We're holding the birthday party this weekend?" he asked.
"You don't know when your son's birthday is?" Overthruster asked.
"I do so, but it's technically Monday," he defended. "I'm just never home these days to learn the important things, like when we're holding the celebrations." Xander handed him one with his name on it. "Thanks. Switch's idea?"
"No, Spike's." He handed one to Carbine that had 'aunty nibbles' written on it - it was his pet name for her since he liked to bite her so much. Then to the others he had. "There you go. I'm done being a messenger mouse today." He grinned. "Just think, someday soon there'll be lots and lots of little Throttles and Vinnies and Modos to come play with your kids too."
"Carbine, do you have any of that special headache relief medicine handy?" Stoker asked patiently. She handed over the flask. "Thanks, I suddenly have this picture of a Cult of Xander." He took a long drink and handed it back, watching as she drained it. "Send her some more of that headache medicine when you get home, mini-punk. Please. I think we'll need it. Did you get what my son wanted for his birthday? All he told me was he wanted a new collar for his cat."
"He loves changing out Angel's collar," Xander agreed. "But yeah, I did get him a killer birthday present and I'm sure he'll be more than happy with it. Will you have time to scout around up here or should we force you to come to earth and drag you to the mall like we did with Anya?"
"No, I know what I want for him, it's a matter of finding it and finding the time to go get it."
"You know, you have this person called an assistant who can handle some of the smaller stuff you do every day, Stoker," he said dryly.
"Yeah, and she's living with you on earth."
"You haven't replaced Chassis yet?" He shook his head. Xander looked up. "Attention, people. Stoker is looking for a new assistant. You'll be his personal assistant and have to put up with his grumpy nature and moods, plus his kids and us sometimes. If you're interested in having a Council seat some day, this would be a great job to learn if you really want it. Send all the applications to Stoker here at the chamber. Thank you."
"What are you doing?" Carbine asked.
"Sending out an announcement the old fashioned way," he said dryly. "I didn't figure we were having a secret session."
"I don't have time to look through them and interview," Stoker complained.
"Fine, I do," Xander told him. Stoker whimpered at that. "How often do you think I hired for the construction crews I ran, Stoker?"
"Probably a lot with the strange stuff you guys ran into down there."
"See, and I'm good at it. You know my crews were the best in the company. What are you looking for?"
"Someone who can do the job. Someone like Chassis, even though whenever I wanted her she was off doing something else. A former Freedom Fighter if possible."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Okay, let's deal with the basics. You want someone who shares a similar sense of duty to Mars and has the time to do the job, right?" Stoker nodded. "That may not be a Freedom Fighter. The reason Chassis was always off doing something was her duties as a Freedom Fighter." Stoker gaped. "The best candidate may be someone who's retired or who came back injured, but who has the time now. Or even someone who didn't train because they were too young at the time. That dedication you show doesn't just come from the training, it's a personality thing. So you want someone like you, who can put up with you and Spike, right?" Stoker nodded, still frowning. "Fine, I'll interview and find you someone. The one I pick can have a two week trial, okay?"
"I still have a headache just imagining the ones you think are suitable," he said dryly.
Xander grinned. "Remember, you only have to deal with me sometimes, it's Throttle who has to calm me down when I'm a bored white mouse." Then he beamed sweetly at him.
"Maybe a cult to him wouldn't be such a bad idea," Exhaust offered. "That'd give him something to do every day and he is good at training, Stoker."
Stoker looked over at him. "Don't help." He looked at Xander. "I want to meet with them beforehand."
"Fine. If you have time," he offered with a grin. "When you get done tonight, go home! Have someone else take comm duty for the night. Crankshaft was scared the last time she saw you because she didn't think she recognized you." He gave him a long look. "Relax, I'll have Throttle vet it. After all, he had to put up with you for years as your second-in- command." He grinned at Overthruster. "I'm going to tell Throttle how happy you made me and finish wrapping Spike's present. I hope I see you the next time I'm up, Overthruster. You're a very nice and polite young woman. Some day, you and Spike can both have seats on the Council. I'm sure you'll do great for Mars." She beamed at him and wiggled a bit.
"Don't wish that on my kid," Stoker moaned.
"Don't wish that on Mars," Carbine corrected. "Spike's horrible!"
"Shut up, Carbine, you hate him because he tries to bite you. He's a good boy, just like I was."
"That's a perfect reason why I don't like him then," Carbine snapped back.
"Gods, cranky much, Carbine? Should I interview to find you a lover too? That way you can date and remember that you're not that old?" She glared at him. "You're acting Stoker's age and you're not. That means you need to lighten up and go have fun too. After all, Modo's and Throttle's mommas are both older than you and they still enjoy life. You should be able to at your age. If you don't start on your own, Vinnie and I are finding you someone to date." He headed for the transporter and sent himself home, coming out to hug Vinnie. "There was a sweet little girl there who was taking the tour of the building and she said she wanted to name her future kid after me," he said proudly. "She even agreed to name one after you so the little me would have someone to play with." He bounced off, going to share that news with Throttle.
Vinnie went to Mars, looking really confused. "What?" he asked. "Xander just said there was going to be a little Xander on Mars someday?"
"Did he confuse you too?" Exhaust taunted with a smirk.
"Yeah, he was in hyper-babble mode. Huh?"
"Overthruster," Stoker said, pointing at the young mouse girl, "said that some day she'll be naming her son after Xander. Then apparently the next one will be a miniature you, that way the little Xander has someone to play with. All I keep seeing is a cult of Xanders. Everywhere I look I keep seeing hyper white mice bouncing around Mars, meddling in things that they can't do anything about."
"He can so," Overthruster retorted. "After all, he's finding you a helper so you can go home and see your kids and play with them again. That alone makes him a great one because he calms you down and helps you when you're being so grumpy and cranky, and you're a great one too, Mr. Stoker. Some day, can I be your assistant too? That way I can work my way up to having my own seat, just like you and your son Spike? My momma said that common sense has a greatness all its own and he shows that, that's what really makes him great, that and he jumps in to help, like how he called out for people to come help you."
Vinnie looked at her. "Are you part of the VanWham clan?" She shook her head. "Do you wanna be? I think you'd fit right in," he offered happily.
"Wouldn't I have to marry an icky boy for that?"
"No, we'd let you marry one of the unicky girls if you wanted," he promised. He grinned. "When you're bigger, and your momma lets you, you can start coming to the clan picnics and things. I've got a cousin who would *adore* you as just a friend if you'd like."
"Okay! I'll ask my momma tonight!" she agreed happily, wiggling again. "Why doesn't your clan name more kids after Xander?"
"'Cause Xander's a new adoptee into the clan. Most of them haven't really gotten to know him yet. I'm sure there'll be a lot of little Xanders running around Mars for centuries to come."
Carbine grabbed he head. "I think we need to make a law that says you can only name your child a traditional Martian name," she moaned. "That's a fate worse than torture for some."
"I think you need an icky boy of your own," Overthruster assured her. "I think Mr. Xander was right. Mr. Vinnie, can't you find her an icky boy of her own? Xander said he was going to try and he'd get Mr. Throttle to help him. Can't you help them too? Since you know so many mice?"
"Of course I will be helping, sweetheart. That's the sort of mouse I am. We've known for a while that Carbine needed an icky boy of her own and we've been looking for just the right icky boy for her. It's just taking some time because she's so particular. I'm sure there's at least one boy on Mars who would love to help Carbine become uncranky and help her around the office maybe so she has time to sleep at home too." Overthruster beamed at that. "I'll help Xander a lot with that project." He grinned. "Anything else you can see wrong, little one?"
"Why don't they make a rotation of some of the other duties too? Like they do with the Freedom Fighter units? My momma's unit only goes out once week a month, other things could be handled that way too. Maybe even building the bike factory so all the little Xanders can have their own bikes."
"That should keep Staff and Modo busy for years," Exhaust said dryly, smiling at her. "We've been considering something like that, little one, starting with some of our more boring duties, like talking to Throttle now and then. That's a very good suggestion though about the bike factory. Very good job. What's your teacher's name so we can write her and tell her how smart you are?"
"Ooooh, I know her!" Vinnie said excitedly. "She's one of the clan, she can bring you to picnics and stuff when your momma agrees."
"Cool! I'll ask her tonight!" she said happily, running over to give him a hug, giving Stoker a hug too. "I'm sure your son will just be happy to see you home early tonight, Mr. Stoker. I know I would if you were my daddy." Then she ran out, coming back to get the papers she had with her, then running out again.
"That girl is so smart," Vinnie said happily. "I want her to meet Vic some day." He beamed. "Guys, whoever's sending in the applications for Stoker and Carbine, send them care of Xander so he gets them." Then he skipped home, going to tell Throttle all about that girl.
"You know, I now have a migraine, but I realize that Throttle's migraines must be permanent since he has a full-time Xander in his life," Carbine noted.
Stoker looked at her. "Hey, maybe they'll be able to find someone nice so you can have your own icky boy to tease and make you happy again."
Carbine glared at him, then stood up. "I'm going home before my head gets worse and it explodes. Do I need to do anything?"
"No, go," Exhaust said, waving a hand. "We're nearly done for the day anyway, Carbine." She nodded, trudging out. "Stoker, did you want to go for the afternoon too?"
"How much longer do we have?"
"The argument over the university's location."
"I agree with Enamel, which makes my head throb faster, it should be equidistant between the cities. Put it beside the trenches there." He got up and headed home and his wife was waiting for him with a cool rootbeer and a warm towel for his head. He looked at his son. "Let me have an afternoon to find you your present, son. I promise, I didn't forget."
"I know," he said, holding up his cat. "How do you like this one, daddy?"
Stoker looked at the leather harness the cat was wearing, then at his son. "Do I want to know?"
"Well, he was named after the person who sired Spike when he was a human," Switch said gently.
"No, he's him," Spike said with a smirk. He carried his poor cat off to take him outside and show him more of Mars. "Welcome home, Peaches. How do you like it?" The cat meowed pitifully at Crankshaft, who just giggled and stole him to pet and love. "Sure, brat, you have Angel there. He's got his reward and now he's a happy cat most of the time." He patted Crankshaft on the ear. "Daddy's home." She ran inside with the cat tucked under her arm. Spike giggled. "That's nearly as good as I do and she didn't even know him. I love my little sister."
Somewhere else on Mars, Wrench was rolling around on the ground, laughing his tail off. Xander had just made his year and Vinnie had helped! Plus, that little girl would *so* fit in with the family, especially with a baby named Xander.
Three days later, Stoker walked into his office and looked at the young woman standing there arranging his files. "What are you doing?" he asked tiredly.
She squeaked and turned to look at him. "Sorry, sir, I didn't hear you. I'm Piston, I'm your trial assistant," she said, shaking his hand with a smile. "Xander briefed me on what I was to do to help and I did get to talk to your last assistant about some of the things she would have done if she had the time. I've got your day's schedule already done, all the petitions that have been sent to you are in a pile, all the other mail is in a separate pile, and do you want water, tea, root beer, or sassafras in the mornings, sir?" He opened his mouth. "You did promise Xander that you'd give me a two week trial, sir, and I think we'll get along just fine. I just needed to know so I could have something ready and waiting on you when you came in."
"Sit down and talk with me first, kid." He sat behind his desk. "Have you done this sort of work before?"
"I was a teacher before my entire school was captured," she admitted. "Now I find I can't really handle that sort of stress daily. I figure you're cranky but you can't be worse than thirty kids trapped in a small space."
"I'd hope not." He blinked at her. "Get me a rootbeer please? The fridge is behind you." She got him one and even opened it, earning a small smile. "So, what can you do to lighten things up around here?"
"Well, I could tell you jokes but I'm not much of a comedian, sir."
"Cut the sir crap."
"Sorry, Stoker. My younger brother did say some good things about you when you trained him. I also want you to know that while I enjoy and envy the job you're doing, I wouldn't want a council seat of my own. I don't want that much stress. All I want is a fair shot."
"You're getting it," he assured her. "What else can you do to lighten up my life? Since jokes aren't your thing."
She smiled. "Well, I can file, that way you can find your desk and not have to go over things that you've already rejected. I'm assuming the pile of paper balls was the rejection pile?" He nodded, sipping his rootbeer. "I can also sort out things so only the most important are given to you. I've sorted your petitions of the day into 'possible, nice thoughts but impractical, and it'll make you laugh'."
"There's a category of those?"
"I thought the person who wanted to import minks so he could raise them for fur production was rather funny," she offered with a small grin. He just opened his mouth. "It's the last one, sir, sorry, Stoker, and it's on the bottom or next-to-last. I turned the pile by category so you could differentiate."
He pulled the last one out and looked at it, then burst out laughing. "A balloon factory for the Disney company?"
"They thought it could earn us money and give us jobs; their mascot is a mouse and they thought it might give us an 'in' with the company," she said with a small shrug and a grin. "It must be the next one up, Stoker." He pulled it out and then snickered, balling it up and tossing it away while shaking his head. "Should I write a standard response on them and put a box out so people can see if you've moved on their suggestions?"
"Sure, if it floats your boat, that's just more work for you, Piston." He grinned at her. "Which of the lunatics on earth are you related to?"
"Winch." She smiled sweetly. "It was me or one of Vinnie's cousins but Vinnie said that he didn't want to make you deal with Chassis's Stupid?"
"Reflection. That's what she always calls her sister," he said wisely, sipping more of his rootbeer. "Fine, I think we'll at least make the two week trial. What's my schedule like today?"
"Well, meetings start at ten, go until you break for lunch, then you have an hour, another hour of sitting in there aimlessly because this is the day for weddings, and then you're free for the rest of the day," she said, handing it over. "The official schedule says that it's Mirror's turn for comm duty tonight and I couldn't see where you had planned other meetings. Do you keep a calendar?"
"I don't usually live in that organized of a mess," he admitted. "As you can see by my office."
"I can have that fixed by the time you're done today, Stoker." He gave her an odd look. "Filed neatly and folders labeled so you can find things. Then it would be my duty to upkeep the filing anyway. That way you can find things." She smiled sweetly. "I'll need to liberate some of the military's filing supplies. Would that be all right?"
"Sure. I don't know where you'll put a cabinet though."
"Oh, you have one," she said, pointing at it. It was presently being used to hang a shirt that was drying from the last time he got caught in the rain. "I can easily use that. You could have stayed in bed this morning."
"Hell, I should have hired you first," he muttered. "You're not suddenly going to go take up with a human, right?"
She burst out in loud, ungirly giggles. "Oh, hell no!" she laughed. "My late husband would be rather peeved at me and so would my daughter! My mother would swat me as well! Not to mention Winch." She smiled at him and shook her head. "I have no plans at this time of dating anyone and I like fur much too much to ever go for a furless human, Stoker. I'm not quite that kinky in my private life. A bit of food now and then, but not furless things."
He shrugged. "I had to ask. I didn't think Chassis was either."
"Yes, well, love takes you as it takes you," she said philosophically. "I didn't think I'd like my husband either but I ended up adoring him once he finished growing up."
"I understand that. I never saw myself falling for someone as young as Switch either, but she got pushy and made me." He shrugged and handed back his schedule. "What time is it?"
"Nearly nine, sir."
"Thanks. I'm headed that way, just in case the messengers have something that comes in."
"Of course, sir. I'll plan on seeing you about an hour early tomorrow?" He nodded. "That's fine. I'll have a root beer waiting unopened for you when you get in."
"Make it sassafras tomorrow," he admitted. "This morning I just needed the sugar." He headed out, taking his rootbeer with him. He smiled at the kids playing messenger. "Anything for me yet?"
"No, sir," the oldest female said, smiling and handing him a wrapped package. "My momma sent that for Spike because she said he's very neat and very cute."
"Thanks, kiddo. Is it from Ramjet and Thruster too?" She nodded. "Are they coming?"
"Of course. Your wife's threatened to cook." She smiled and opened the door. "There you are, sir. The comm is yours."
"Thanks, dear." He walked inside and sat down at his seat, changing the comm to his desk. Throttle's face showed up a few minutes later. "Okay, so I like her."
"Xander sees it as one of the miracles that'll be the foundation of his cult." He grinned. "She's good for you. You already look happier."
"Someone wanted to import minks for fur for us." Throttle burst out laughing. "Not even fur grafts for those without from injuries, for things like coats." Throttle leaned on someone and Xander leaned in to wave and grin. "If you start a cult up here, I'm going to ban you from Mars," he warned.
"Then Throttle would have to come back and live with me," he said miserably. "I'll try really hard but I can't guarantee others won't turn out like me." He grinned and waved, then hung up while kissing his mate.
"At least they probably won't be giving you a seat some day," he said happily. One of the younger messengers cleared his throat and nodded. "Yes what?"
"Mirror was talking about it last night, Stoker. She thought he'd do good to take over her spot when she retired. Throttle should have yours though since he was your second-in- command in the Freedom Fighters and he did go eradicate most of the menaces on earth."
"I can see Throttle doing that once he's up here," he admitted. "Just don't warn him in advance or he'll never come home, kid."
"Yes, sir." He grinned. "Exhaust told her that but agreed that Xander should have a seat some day. After all, he did a lot for us."
"He runs from medals. He'd run screaming back to earth if we offered him a seat." The kid giggled and walked out, going to tell the others that. He shook his head. Mars would be in trouble if Xander had a seat. He called Wrench to warn him. "Wrench, there's talk about putting Xander on the Council some day when we start getting retirees."
Wrench just stared then slowly a shaking hand came over to hang up, but you could hear the laughter at the end.
"That was my feeling on the subject too," Stoker admitted, finishing his root beer and tossing the can into the recycling bin. He made a note. They needed to start their own bottling operation for root beer. They couldn't rely on earth's stock forever.
Xander came off the transporter with a large present, winking at Stoker. "For Spike, but you get to get it there," he said quietly. "It's from all of us." He made sure it wasn't in the camera's view at any time and then bounced out, heading back to get his bike and then back through to head off into the Martian afternoon.
Stoker looked at the lump, realizing what it was by shape. "Wow," he said quietly. "He's going to be a holy terror now." Exhaust looked, then looked at him and nodded. "He's not that old but I've seen him tooling around with Racer," he admitted quietly. The link was off, but it still paid to be careful in case there was another short in it. He called Cell's link, getting her. "Do you have a report ready yet? It's been weeks."
"I just sent you one through Throttle the other day."
"I haven't gotten it yet," he said dryly. "He's coming up today so I'll badger him. Is it going okay generally?"
"More or less. Some of the choices are odd but they based their first choices for riders on what they do instead of personality choosing the type of bike they ride. The daredevil of the group is riding a touring bike. They're too firmly bound to change and Enamel was here looking at the baby for me so he helped that one some. I didn't remember him being able to ride like that." Stoker nodded. "He could?"
"He was about third best in our school," he admitted. "I hated him because he was a know-it-all punk, but he seems to put that to good use anymore." She nodded. "How is Fan?"
"He's fine. He's sleeping beside me at the moment. He likes to watch the practices, coos at the formations and things. Do you want me to teach the playbook?" He considered it, looking unsure. "They're not going to be able to use most of it, but they could use some of the smaller group combat tactics and the single rider tactics especially with what they're going to be used for."
"I'll allow single rider and small group but not the whole thing. We'd need the tactical advantage if something happened. I don't want to be paranoid, but their heads change too often for me not to."
"Of course. The rest is in my report. What did you get Spike?" Stoker glanced around then pulled something out of his pocket and held it up. "Oh, that's adorable!" She smiled. "Isn't he a bit young?"
"He's proven he's not that young most of the time," he pointed out dryly. "Or didn't you hear about him and Racer taking off after Enamel when we were attacked?"
"I had. I thought he was riding behind him."
"No, he had Anya's bike and she had her mother's. We caught her." She laughed at that and he put the earring back. "Besides, it goes well with the group's present."
"Oh, I know," she agreed happily. "I got to help decorate it this weekend." She winked. "He'll adore it."
"Good. I hope so. I just hope he comes home now and then." She laughed and he waved, hanging up. He relaxed, looking over as the door opened and his son walked in. "Out, son. Some of your presents are in here."
"Fine," he complained, just looking at him as he handed over the message. "From Wrench." He stomped back out, resisting the urge to look around.
Stoker read the message, then smiled. "Yeah, sure I'm going to warn Throttle. Just not about his seat." He looked over as the transporter went off and Vinnie and Modo walked out. "Hey, guys. Where's the fearless leader?"
"Behind us somewhere with the groceries," Vinnie admitted. He grinned at him. "How's Mars?"
"Doing well. We're back on mostly solid footing and we can grow from here."
"Good," he agreed. He clapped him on the arm. "Did you like Piston?" He nodded. "Good! She was a group decision." He left, walking his bike outside.
Modo winked as he walked past. "Staff did the modifications," he offered on his way out.
Stoker smiled. Those guys were good friends to have. He handed Throttle the message when he came through, getting an odd look. "Someone suggested he take a seat since he did so much for us. I think that'll go along well with the cult, don't you?"
"I told him he couldn't have one of those, or else no sex ever again," Throttle assured him, riding out with the groceries Switch needed for the celebration. "Hurry home."
"I'll be there by three hours after lunch," he called.
"Fine. The party's tonight and we'll be with the clan until then. Dawn and Rimfire are coming home for it." The door slammed behind him.
Stoker just grinned over at the bike. It was a beautiful present he was sure. He almost got up to peek but he'd wait until his son could unwrap it in front of everyone. Well, he probably should look so he wouldn't be so surprised but Cell had said she had decorated it. So it'd be okay. No naked women on it or anything.
Xander beamed as Spike was walked out to his last present, waving a hand. "From all of us, Spike."
Spike stared up at him. "Bloody hell, whelp." He ran over to unwrap it. He knew what it was. It was one of the Kawasaki kiddie bikes. He stared in awe. It was dull, matte black with red splotches like blood drops and two 'bite marks' near the headlight. He moaned and got on it, starting it. It purred and he could see the AI's screen starting. He put on his helmet, which had been hanging from a handlebar, and took it around the neighborhood. The AI reminded him it was time to be home and he chuckled. It was a nanny too. He parked beside his father's bike and got off, stroking it. "You're a charm," he said in awe. Then he ran through the house to hug Xander. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, little guy, but Modo suggested we get you a kiddie bike. Cell and I decorated it and Vinnie got you the helmet. Throttle helped Staff with the AI system and programming it too." He tweaked his ear. "Now, you're a real biker mouse. Remember, you've got to take care of your bike first, before yourself." He nodded, hugging him again. "We love you, Spike, and someday you'll take my stunning spot with your crew to be the newest badass on Mars. Then I can retire and just teach the generation after yours." Spike beamed and nodded, then went to hug his father.
"I'll expect you to show some restraint, son. No riding it at all hours. No leaving school to ride. No going into the desert without an escort, and I do mean beyond Racer, son. If you don't treat it well, it will be put away for Crankshaft." He nodded, smiling up at him. "Now, we've got to do your earring. It's traditional when you get your first bike."
"That's right, we've got to get Xander one of his own too," Throttle noted. "He's got mine and the one we almost put in because of mine, but none for his bike."
"Can't we just count that one?" Xander asked.
"No, dear." Throttle kissed him. "Nope, sorry. What do you want?"
"Onyx or obsidian, like my bike?" he suggested.
"Fine," he agreed tolerantly, kissing him again. "When we get home."
"Yes, dear." He wrapped his arms around his mate's neck to kiss him with a grin. "Whatever you want. I'll get to bite your hand again."
"Why is your belly purple, Uncle Xander?" Anya asked from her chair.
"Purple on a white mouse?" Vinnie laughed. He looked and sure enough, he saw purple. "Throttle, I think he's broken a rule."
Throttle pulled back and pulled Xander's shirt off him, looking at the designs on his stomach. "Tell me that's a tattoo," he demanded.
"Temporary hair dye," Xander offered, grinning at him. "Oz did it for me."
"Is your cult going to do fur dye too?" Switch asked. "That's a very nice swirly design. Can it be ours?"
"Hush," Stoker ordered, kissing her until she went limp in his arms. Crankshaft held up her arms and whined so he picked her up and kissed her on the forehead. "You too. No fur dye."
"I kinda like it," Ramjet offered from her spot next to Vic. Vic beamed at her. "Did you get to help?" He nodded, looking very happy. "Did you get any?" He showed her his arm. It didn't show up very well since his fur was so dark, but it was there. "Wow. Did it hurt?" He shook his head. "Stink a lot?" He nodded, beaming at her again. "Wow. Mommy, can I do that?"
"No, Ramjet," she said patiently, shaking her head. "Only white mice, dear."
"Then can we help Spike do his?"
Stoker shook his head. "Not until he's adult enough to buy it himself. I'm sure he doesn't need it."
"Fine," she complained, taking another bite of her food. The others of their group just gave each other communicative looks and decided Xander would probably get them some to play with. They'd be pretty for school on Monday.
Vinnie looked over at her and winked, then nodded at the wrapping paper. Then he looked at Xander's back, which he had helped with. "I still like this one best," he said.
Throttle turned Xander around to look at his back and moaned. "Xander, remember that rule we had about not doing things like you did when you were younger?" Xander beamed and nodded. "Did you break it, dear?"
"No. I like playing with the temporary dyes. They're fun and neat."
"If you say so."
"I always wanted to have purple and teal hair," he offered shyly, grinning at him. Throttle couldn't resist that.
"Please, no more for now," he moaned, pulling him closer so he couldn't be plagued with the puppy eyes too. If he was kissing him, he couldn't turn them on him. Xander moaned and played with his ponytail. "Thanks, babe. Please?"
"Maybe," he offered with a grin. Then he went to play with the kids. "Do you guys know Overthruster?" They all nodded. "She said she's gonna name her kids after me," he said proudly.
"Many centuries of Xanders on Mars," Switch said, then shivered. "Oh, dear."
"That's my feeling too," Stoker assured her, stroking her back. "It'll be okay. We survived the Plutarkians, we can survive a few Xanders in the future driving us mad with their boredom." He looked over as Modo's momma came out to join them, pointing at Xander. "It's temporary."
"I'm sure he's trying it out before it becomes permanent," she offered sweetly.
"No, I always wanted oddly colored streaks in my hair. Oz used to have such good hair and it was never boring. Mine was always boring but too dark without bleaching. But on the white fur it shows up great," he said happily. "I can be a green mouse or a blue mouse or a red mouse or a pink mouse or all sorts of colors mouse, or just have the designs like I do now," he said happily.
Throttle coughed. "Xander, I'm not sleeping with you if you're any other color but white. I may accept some decorations now and then, and please make them smaller in the future, but not a fully blue mouse. Not a green mouse. And especially not a pink or a purple mouse. A decorated mouse maybe, but not a fully colored one who's that odd of a color. Mice only come in tan, white, gray, shades of those, and spotted."
"And one with stripes," Spike noted.
"She's a partial mouse, son, she's just like that," Switch told him. "Don't even think about it or that bike is history for a month."
"It washes out after a few weeks, Switch," Xander wheedled.
"So? If it doesn't I don't want to have to bleach him," she complained.
Throttle and Vinnie both shuddered. "Momma did that to me once," Throttle admitted. Switch gave him an odd look. "I was born a white mouse, I changed colors." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway I got into this wheat colored grass that turned me pink."
"Why didn't you just get a tattoo, baby?" Modo's momma asked.
"Because they hurt," he said firmly. "I've had enough pain in my life, I'm not giving myself more just so I can be pretty colored. I'll put up with the stink of temporary hair dye, thank you."
"Is that what was wrong with that shirt in the bathroom earlier?" Vinnie asked. Xander nodded. "You know that's one of his favorite shirts to see you wear, right?" he asked patiently.
"No it's not. It's stuff leftover from Sunnydale. It already had dye on it from when I helped Buffy dye hers one night." He grinned. "I'm much better at getting the roots done than she ever was."
"I don't need to know that," Throttle decided. He looked at the cat rubbing against him. "Hey. One of ours?"
"Buffy's. Someone turned Andrew into a girl so he had Angel." He grinned. "He and Spike love each other. Spike likes to change his collars now and then."
"I thought he was only named after him, son." Stoker looked down at his blushing son. "Son."
"This is his reward," Spike said with a cheeky smirk. "I earned mine, he earned his and he's part of mine," he said happily, going over to pounce Thruster. "You're it!" Thruster puked. "Eww. What is wrong with you?"
"He probably has worms," Ramjet said with a shrug. "Mommy thinks so sometimes."
"Dear, that's not something you say in public," her mother said patiently. "He was in the desert and got eaten alive by bugs," she offered.
"I had that a few times when I was younger too," Stoker admitted. "The medicine is really nasty. Hide it in oatmeal if you can find any."
She nodded at that advice. "Thank you. I've been trying to take him to see someone but he's always busy."
"Come in tomorrow, I'll let you bug Enamel over lunch," Stoker offered. "He'll probably be worn out trying to get his son back from Xander."
"He doesn't take care of his own child?"
Vinnie snickered. "I didn't get to change diapers either. Staff and Xander kept stealing the baby to cuddle and play with. They do the same to Healer even though Xander's working on Vic's early education right now."
"Pooooooffff, no Healer," Vic complained, pouting at him.
"Son, you know better than to call me that," he said, staring down at him, getting that family, shit-eating grin in return. "There's no doubt about it now, you are family," he said dryly, picking his son up to cuddle. "Remember, son, I'm daddy."
Vic kissed him on the cheek then grinned at Xander. "Daddy!" He held out his arms.
Xander kissed him on the nose, then rubbed it in with his own nose. "No I'm not. I'm the poof, he's daddy." Throttle choked at that. "I am."
"You're confusing my poor son, Xander," Vinnie said, staring him down. "Behave."
"Why? That's so boring!" He took Vic over to help Spike and the others play, handing Thruster something with a wink. "This is Victor, he's Vinnie's son. Spike spends a lot of time playing with him on our ropes course."
"You have your own agility course?" Ramjet asked in awe. "Why?"
"To try to keep him from bouncing us to death," Modo called.
"Mommy, can we have one?"
"No, dear." She looked at Throttle. "Is he having a bad influence day?"
"Possibly," he admitted. "Every now and then he likes to create some chaos and then watch it happen. He says it keeps others from being bored."
"Do you often have that problem?"
Throttle shook his head. "Not often. Keeping Xander from being bored is a full time job," he said seriously. "Otherwise he and Vinnie gang up on poor Modo and me, and then we're all in trouble. Then again, they've also hyped on stuff that does what muir berry juice does and went to destroy the plutarkians."
"It only took us four hours to get them calmed down again," Modo offered dryly.
Momma moaned and shook her head. "Dear, a bored Xander is worse than about ten bored white mice together, and if you add in Vinnie, it's worse than all of them combined, and then squared," she said gently. "My poor son and his lady spend a lot of time thinking up things for Xander to do."
"Thankfully he's decided he's teaching Vic everything he knows," Vinnie said dryly. "Then I'll get to unwarp him with the rest of the clan."
"I wish you all the luck in the world, bro," Modo said smugly.
"Vinnie's a very strong mouse, I'm sure he can rally the cousins around to help him," his mother offered gently. "After all, they had to work on him and Wrench when they were younger. The VanWham clan knows how to straighten out their kin when necessary."
"I'm sure they'll have flashbacks from Vinnie's youth when dealing with Vic," Throttle offered, patting Vinnie on the back. "I know I do now and then."
"Not funny," he said but he was grinning.
"Hey, big brother? Should I plan for Vic to go work with Wrench when he's bigger? He wanted to know."
"No! My son will be a more normal mouse than that."
"Fine," he sighed, shaking his head. "We'll just have to let Spike help Rivet now and then." Spike smirked at that. He grinned at Stoker, who was moaning. "Wrench thinks he can get past my problem safely so I can have a kid. He thinks it'll be a daughter."
Ramjet poked him on the stomach. "What's the female version of your name?"
"Well, my full name is Alexander." She frowned at that. "He was a great general. He conquered nearly *everything* in the known world at that time. The female form of that is Alexandra. So the short version would probably be Xandra."
"Wow," the younger Piston, Spike's first friend, said in awe. "Are you going to teach when you move home?"
Xander smiled and tweaked his ear. "Only my kids and their friends now and then. I'm going to open a club so people have a happy place to play now and then. Too much gloom makes depressed mice and Vinnie said he's never seen a depressed white mouse and doesn't want to start now so we're going to make sure they'll all happy mice."
"Will you teach us when you move up here?" Ramjet asked.
"Sure! I'm working on Spike and Anya right now with Vic following. I'd be more than happy to work with you three at the same time. That way you're all in the same unit if you join the Freedom Fighters when you're old enough," he said with a wink. She grinned back. "Now, I do insist that you follow directions," he said, nodding at what Thruster had in his pocket. She smirked at that. "I think you'll like it. I try to make it fun and cool when I have to teach anything." He patted her on the hair. "It's getting dark."
"It is," Thruster and Ramjet's mother agreed. "We should go soon." Her kids raced to finish their cake. She smiled at Stoker. "Thank you for having us over. It was fun."
"It was," he agreed. "It's time to get back to normal stuff." He grinned at her. "I promise, I won't let Xander corrupt them too much."
"As long as they end up more like him, it'll be fine," she offered, smiling at him. "He's a very brave mouse."
"Who still runs from medals."
"Uncle Xander, if I made a statue out of medals would you run from it too?" Anya called from her seat.
"Well, a statue would be okay I guess. I don't like medals because I've never asked for a reward for doing what was necessary, dear. They're kinda unnecessary to me. The metal in them could better be used for other stuff, like bike parts." She beamed at him. "So I probably wouldn't *run* from a statue made of medals, but I might have to donate it somewhere that others could see how pretty it was."
"Okay! When I can, I'll work on one for you," she said proudly, grinning up at her father. "Would that be okay?"
"Sure, Anya. He's got about twenty now. We'll give you all his so you can design it." She beamed and went to find some paper and a crayon to draw with.
"How did I get more?" Xander complained.
"The Torians while you were naked. Exhaust said he gave you one for flashing everyone that way instead of for helping us defeat them. One for the supplies you sent up during the refugee incoming. That thing with the truck the other day." He smiled. "There's a bunch of them for bravery, stupid luck, and helping Mars. Oh, and you got a raise. You're now a full commander of a cavalry unit."
Xander moaned. "Just banish me!" he pleaded.
"Nope, sorry," Stoker said with his best impersonation of Vinnie's wicked smirk. "It didn't work to keep Enamel from helping now and then, it won't work on you. Besides, if we banished you, we'd never get Throttle home. People would hate that."
Xander whimpered and shook his head, looking at his husband. "Can I run away now?"
"Sure, go visit Wrench and hide in his closet."
"I'm not sure I want to, he was talking about having sparkly stripper pants." He jumped the back fence and headed out to his bike, going to visit someone sane. He walked into the temple and leaned on Wrench's back since he was praying. "They gave me more medals," he whined.
Wrench reached back to pet him. "As The Lady wills, Xander," he said dryly, shaking his head and looking up. He smiled and looked back at him, then blinked a few times. "Are those tattoos?"
"Temporary hair dye," Xander said, standing up to let him see. "Oz did it for me."
"That's cool! I like that! I should do that!" He drug him into the house part to talk to him about the pretty colors he could find. He needed something tribal around his arm anyway. This way it wouldn't hurt and he could change it whenever he wanted.
The next morning, Willow appeared in front of Ramjet's mother, smiling gently. "It washes out after two weeks of normal washing," she offered quietly. "It should last about the same in fur even though you don't wash it every day. I do like their group design though. Oh, and Thruster doesn't have worms, he's just got a touchy stomach and a strong gag reflex. He doesn't do so well under stress at the moment and isn't sure if he likes being around other people yet." She faded out, still grinning apologetically.
She got up and headed into her children's room, staring at their arms. "Ramjet!" she snapped, waking her daughter up. "What is that?"
"It's a dragon on a motorcycle balanced on a sword, momma. It's the new design for our clan. Isn't it pretty?" she asked with a grin, showing hers off. "We'll let it get more detailed as we get older."
"I'm going to whip your tail!" she growled. "Go wash!"
"Now!" She pointed and Ramjet sighed and went to wash it off. Not that it was coming off.... She came back with wet fur and let her mother try to dry her off, but only got a whimper for it. "I tried, momma, you can still smell the icky soap."
Her mother glared down at her. "You are going to have trouble sitting, young lady."
Ramjet pouted. "We were good, we didn't even make a mess when we went to do Piston's and we didn't get Spike in trouble by doing one for him yet."
"Dumbbell! Get in here!" she yelled. Her husband walked in and smiled at their daughter. "Do you see what they did!"
"I do. Is it permanent, dear?"
"No, it's supposed to wash out in a few weeks, daddy." She smiled and hugged him gently. "It's our clan marking for our group."
"Fine. When it washes out, you may not put another one on for at least a year. You'll need that long to add some detail to the drawing and to work on your art skills, dear. I think you went a bit outside the lines on yours."
She nodded. "Okay, daddy! Thank you!" She kissed him on the cheek and smiled at her mother. "What's for breakfast?" She stomped off and they got Thruster up, looking at his. Piston had painted his on and it wasn't as good as hers, but they'd learn as they got older, or they'd have Anya do it for them. She was good at coloring and drawing. That way Spike could protect his odd, but pretty sister before she got into real trouble with someone. She looked up at her father. "Daddy, should I tell Mr. Stoker about the mean man who Anya kicked in the nuts?"
"She did what?" he asked, looking confused.
"He called her a spoiled princess and she kicked him in the nuts."
He groaned and patted her on the back. "Yes, dear, you should. When you see him tomorrow at school. Are you guys protecting Anya?" She nodded. "Why?"
"Because she's artistic and needs it, daddy. Even though she can whip tail, she's too pretty to do that. Like Rimfire's girl. She shouldn't have to either, it messes up their clothes and hair."
"I understand," he promised, kissing her on the forehead. "Next time, let Anya paint those on. She's a very good artist and could probably use the practice."
She smiled and nodded. "That's what I was thinking too." She hugged her brother. "Get up! It's time to eat!" He got up and went to clean up too. "We need to get more detail added and have Anya do them when they wear out."
Thruster looked at her and nodded. "Sure. She'll make it prettier. We'll get more detail until we can get them tattooed on when we're bigger."
"Sure," Ramjet agreed. "Spike will love that too. Vic'll be really happy when we let him in too." She walked out holding her daddy's hand. "Mommy, we're going to let Anya work on the design for us to make it more meaningful and pretty," she told her. "Then we'll get it tattooed when we're old enough."
"Ramjet, I don't want to hear any more about this subject or else you're never learning how to ride a bike or anything," she said firmly. "Do you understand me?" Ramjet gave her a happy grin and a nod. "Good! I will not see this again! Not on you, not on your brother, no where!"
"Yes, momma. Whatever you say, momma." She and her brother shared a look. They'd tell their daddy instead. He'd understand and be happy for them. Their momma would just keep freaking out until Xander made her understand.
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