Xander looked up as someone or something left a pretty light trail in the sky, heading for the woods. "What now?" he complained. He headed for the remaining woods at a jog trot, hoping to get there before anyone else who might be around after the destruction of Sunnydale could. He had come back to examine the area, make sure that no one was trying anything with the hellmouth. Since he wasn't helping in Cleveland, they had decided it was his job. He found the crashed spot and the bike and the big furry person lying there. "Yo," he called. "Martian dude?" He got a groan. "Okay, I'm a Xander, I know Throttle and them in Chicago. I'm coming over to check on you. Got it?" That got another moan. Then something odd happened. The bike beeped and flashed at him. "Whoa," he said, staring at it. "Are you alive?" he asked hesitantly. It beeped again, twice. "Okay, I used to deal with demons, I can deal with a living bike. Give me a few minutes, sweetheart, let me check him over first since he looks like he's hurt worse. Okay?" It beeped at him again. "Cool." He walked over, kneeling beside the limp body to look it over. "Hey," he said, touching the small face. This guy wasn't that big, or it was a woman maybe, he wasn't quite looking that far down yet. "Hey, are you awake?" he asked gently. "I'm a Xander, it's all right."
"Throttle," she moaned. Definitely a girl by her voice.
"Sure, give me ten minutes to call. Can you sit up?" She shook her head, keeping her eyes closed. "Fine. Let me check on the bike. Do you feel broken anywhere?" She shook her head again. "That's fine." He checked the bike, seeing a broken front wheel base. The arms holding the front wheel were both broken and the tire was bent and popped. "It's all right," he said gently, stroking the crankcase. The back wheel was bent too. "It's okay, I'll call Throttle," he promised. "He's got a mechanic out there who can help you heal too," he promised gently. He found his cellphone and hit the number for information. "Hey, I need the number for the Last Chance Garage in Chicago." He listened as the number was read then dialed it. "Charley Davidson?" he asked. "Ma'am, you may not remember me, this is Xander Harris, from Sunnydale? Yeah, him," he said with a grin, she had remembered him. "I'm here at home and we just had one of the furry people like Throttle crash. No, she's unconscious, her bike's got two smashed wheels and breaks on the arms holding the wheels. No, female. Honey, what's your name?" he called.
He moved back beside her. "She's gray, dark hair, well built. Smaller than me, barely. Kinda curled up around her stomach at the moment. Sure. Yeah, out here?" He smirked. "Okay, then how do we get her there?" He listened, nodding. "Cool. Can I hitch a ride back? Thanks. Not an issue. Yeah, see you soon." He hung up and pulled out his canteen, lifting her head up a bit. "Carbine? Can you sip at the water in the canteen? Charley's calling Throttle and them, he'll send over their old ship to get us." She sipped, blinking up at him. "I'm Xander," he said softly. "I met the guys when I was in Chicago a few years back." He laid her back down. "Do you ache anywhere critical? Like an injury?"
She shook her head. "No," she croaked. He handed her the canteen. "Thank you."
"Not an issue, it's what I do," he promised. "Do you have some sort of beacon?" She nodded, pointing a shaky hand at the bike. "Bike, do you have a beacon? That way they can find us since we're in the woods?" It beeped slowly and then seemed to go limp. "Shh, it'll be soon," he promised. "Let me get some wood for a fire," he soothed. "That way you can keep warm." She nodded. "I'll be right back, Carbine."
"I'm not Carbine. I'm her sister."
"That's fine, Charley thought you might be," he said gently. "She'll know what's going on when we get back there." She nodded, sipping at the canteen. He got up, going to gather some wood for a small fire. Shock victims always needed to be kept warm. He heard a growl and looked around, dumping the wood but one stick. A beast came out of the woods and he smacked it in the head, knocking it down. He stepped on its back, looking up at the moon. "Wonderful." He looked down, then flipped it over. "Hey. A female. Who are you normally?" he asked, glaring down at the werewolf. "I'm not the nicest of slayerettes. You're trespassing." It tried to move so he pressed on her chest, making her howl in pain. "Not going to work. I've dealt with others." He pulled something out of his belt pouch, finding the thing he wanted, and stuck her with it. She went limp after a few moments of struggling.
"Good." He got down to make the small fire, noticing the female's approving look. "It's a werewolf. I had a friend who was bitten by his nephew and turned," he said conversationally. "I just hit her with a sedative. It won't hurt her. She'll wake up in the morning back to normal." He got the fire started and moved around to help her sit up against her bike. "There you go. Bike, I'm sorry if you're hurt. Just give us a few more and we can fix you. I don't know what to do if you're in pain. I build houses, not bikes." The bike beeped softly. "Thanks. Want closer to the fire?" It beeped quietly again, just once, so he assumed that was a no. "That's fine. If I can do anything, just beep at me and we'll play 'yes/no' until I get it." He went to check the werewolf, finding it fully asleep. He drug it off, taking it deeper into the woods. Then he came back to take care of the female mouse. "I've got some dried stuff if you want something to nibble on."
"I'd puke it back up," she said quietly. "How do you know Throttle?" She took another sip from the canteen, staring at him.
"A few years back I had to get an artifact from Chicago. We met then. If he ever said anything about a building and hell, it was during that incident," he shared with a small smile. She nodded, so apparently she had heard something about that. "I'm Xander."
"You're him?" she asked. He nodded. "You don't seem like such a cocky young kid."
"I'm nearly two years older and I've been injured since then, ma'am, it ages one," he said quietly. She nodded, looking sorry. "It's not your fault. I jumped into the battle. I didn't expect to live this long. Instead I've helped save this world and my friends."
"My last girl died during the last battle we had here." The bike started to beep again so he looked around. "That's fast."
"If they're using their ship, it would be," she admitted. She looked up, then back at her bike. "Send out a greeting message to make sure it's them," she ordered. She heard a howled aaaoow and shook her head. "Never mind, that's Vinnie. We're over here!" she yelled.
Throttle came riding through the woods, stopping when he saw her. "I didn't think it'd be you."
"Carbine sent me off in a ship without enough fuel." She used her bike to brace herself but Xander came over to help her. "Thank you. Hi, Throttle. I heard Vinnie."
"He's staring at horror at the town." He noticed the other person with them. "Hi," he said dryly.
"Hey. Long time no postcard. She crashed. Her bike's in bad shape but she claims she's not injured." He put out the fire. "Can I hitch a ride back? I've got to head to Cleveland and it's closer."
"Sure. Not an issue. Vinnie! Modo! It's Carbine's sister!"
Vinnie came tearing through the woods. "What did you guys do!" he demanded.
"We closed our portal to hell permanently," Xander said with a shrug. "Coulda used you guys when we went in there to fight the stupid super vampires." He looked at Vinnie. "We all survived, well most of us survived," he amended with a sigh. "Then we all moved to Cleveland to the next portal to hell. Wanna come?"
"No thanks." Throttle looked around at the growl. "What's that?"
"I tranq'd a werewolf and drug her off. She's probably having puppy dreams," Xander offered. "Can we find a way to get her bike back there? It's not in any shape to move on its own."
"Yeah, we can sit it across the back of Mine and Modo's," Vinnie offered. "We can always walk around it." He got off to look at the bike, wincing. "You're gonna be laid up for a while, sweetheart." He gave it a gentle pat. "Ran out of fuel in an atmosphere jump?" It beeped twice. "Yeah, I've done that. It's not fun." He looked around at the growl again. "Are we sure she's under?"
"Hopefully. I gave her the full strength dose," Xander admitted. "If not, let's go." He kicked more dirt onto the fire then helped the young woman over to where Throttle was sitting, helping her settle herself behind him. "She's got to be sore. She landed on the ground."
"Ow," he agreed, glancing back as much as he could. "You okay, Switch?"
"Yeah, I'll live with some pain killers and a long shower," she admitted. "I fell off the bike." She looked at her bike. "Can Charley fix that? Carbine said she can fix nearly anything."
"We'll help her," Vinnie promised. "Take her back to the ship, Throttle, send Modo." He nodded, turning and speeding off. "You guys did that on purpose?"
"No, the portal imploded and drug the town in," he admitted tiredly, looking at the other being. "It was a really long fight and we won, Vinnie. I'm sure you know what those are like?" He nodded. Then he grabbed Xander's face to look at him, making the boy back off. "No offense, but onions are nasty a few hours later," he said with a small grin. "You get used to the glass."
"It's not there?"
"One of them is."
"Wow. At least you survived. Your girl?"
"Didn't," he said simply. Vinnie punched him on the arm, looking sympathetic. "We'd broken up anyway. I saw what sort of issues we'd have in the future and left her at the altar." He shrugged a bit, leaning against a tree. "It happens I guess." He heard another growl. "Duck," he ordered, ducking under the leaping beast. It carried him to the ground, making him roll around and struggle with it. At least until something shot it on the side and it ran off yelping. "I've got to get stronger tranq darts," he complained, sitting up. "Hey," he said, waving a hand. "How are you?" he asked with a grin for Modo. "Long time no postcard."
"You didn't leave your address, kid," Vinnie complained. "Modo, we've got to move her bike on ours."
"Sure." They moved to flank her bike, letting Xander help by helping lift the underbelly and brace it while their bikes moved into position under it.
"Hey, neat, they move on their own," Xander said happily. "Hers just beeped at me."
"Yeah, they do that," Vinnie said, grabbing the boy to walk with him. "So give, what's been going on? Cleveland?"
"Cleveland and being useless," he admitted. "There's now a few slayers and they don't really need me. I'm back to being the comic relief and voice of unlistened to caution. The girls actually scoff at me when I warn them about stupidity and ignore me when they come back after being injured." He looked at the bike. "Modo, yours needs to move up a bit. She's crooked and it's going to cause one of the struts to break." The bike moved up and the crack eased some. "Thanks, bike." It beeped at him. "So, how's Chicago? Peaceful at least?"
"Well, they came back a few months later," Vinnie admitted. "Karbunkle, his mad scientist, hasn't been right in the head since then, or less right anyway. Limburger might have made a deal to remain unpunished. He didn't seem to be affected."
"I doubt it," he said dryly. "We sent a vampire to hell a few years back and he came back mute and nearly crying, but after a few weeks he learned to hide it from everyone. Personally I would have put him in the sun when he reappeared but Buffy found him first and it was her boyfriend, so," he sighed, "he lived to annoy us a few more times."
"How did you stand that?" Modo asked, pointing at the town.
Xander looked at him. "That was our final battle, big guy. We went into Hell and fought some super vampires who wanted to open the portal wider. Most of us survived and then it imploded. It wasn't like that before." He pointed at the remaining part of the city. "It was all like that before the final battle." He shivered. "Exactly."
"Who died?" Vinnie asked.
"My girl," he said honestly. "Andrew, an annoying twerp who was only partially on our side so Willow didn't skin him alive and kill him. Kinda literally." He shrugged again. "It happens in any war. We won this battle with a lot of damage and moved onto the next battlefield, Cleveland."
Throttle looked at him. "It's hard to imagine great evil coming from Ohio."
"Yeah, well, they do," he said with a small smirk. "Not that the girls listen to me about them. You know, I've only done this since some of them were in diapers." Throttle nodded. "I feel like their father sometimes. It's a creepy and odd feeling. Do you get that with Vinnie?"
"Every now and then," Throttle admitted with a small grin. "Come on, we can at least get you back to the garage."
"Sure." Xander concentrated and his bag landed in his hands. Then he frowned and the rest of the stuff appeared, letting him pack it. "A gift from Willow so I don't lose it again," he admitted. He zipped it up and stood up. "You'd never recognize Willow if you had met her before. She lost her girlfriend a few years back and went insane for a few weeks. She's back to being hyper girl with a shadow of guilt." He helped get the bike onto the ship and down by herself, patting her gently. "Anything I can do?" It beeped once. "Okay, then I'm going to chat with them. You yell at me if you need things." It beeped twice so he followed the others into the main part of the ship. "She's saying she's comfortable for now."
"Good. She's badly broken." Throttle looked at their other guest, who was asleep. "I'm hoping she's not being stubborn."
"I gave her some water, she said she didn't want to eat or she'd puke it back up," he admitted. He looked at her. "And she's showing already." They all stared at him so he nodded at her. "It's the belly. I've seen that on some others in the past."
"Wow." Vinnie walked over to look her over and nodded. "Yeah, she is. She smells like a mother."
"Now we know why Carbine sent her without warning. I'm going to singe her tail for this," Throttle promised. "It could have killed her." He checked the ship. "Vinnie, doors."
"Modo, close the door again," Vinnie yelled. Their charge muttered and shifted, grabbing him by the leg. "Not exactly yours, sweetheart, but if it's comforting."
Xander grinned at him. "You just get admired wherever you go, don't you?" he teased. Vinnie smirked at him. "At least she didn't fall from the atmosphere by herself."
"True," Throttle agreed, starting the liftoff since the door's light went off. He took off, heading back to the garage, nodding at Modo as he came back. "How's her bike?" he asked quietly.
"She'll be fine with some very good care, which Charley can give her," he promised. "She's got both wheels damaged and a small fracture to her gas tank." Throttle winced. "It's fixable and she's out of fuel anyway, bro."
"She was a really pretty flaming trail in the sky. I'm thinking she ran out pretty high up," Xander admitted. Modo nodded. "She also wasn't broken by any trees. She fell straight down." They both winced at that. "She'll be fine. She's a strong girl."
"She is," Throttle agreed. He called the garage. "Charley girl, we're going to have to hover outside the garage for a minute. Her bike's badly off and she's sleeping."
"Fine," the radio called back with some hints of static. "How's Xander?"
"He's with us, we'll drop him off too," Throttle promised. He hung up the radio and sped up their traveling a bit. It wasn't more than twenty minutes before they got back and he got the ship to hover so they could offload their precious cargos. Xander carried Switch inside and the bikes got the injured one inside, while he took the ship back and parked it again, with only a bit more damage this time. He rode his bike back and closed the doors behind him, watching as Charley babied the poor bike. "She gonna live?"
"Yeah, she'll be fine. She's got to have some extensive rebuilding of both wheels but I can get parts easily," she promised, grinning at him. "Is she pregnant?"
"Oh, yeah," he admitted. "Thanks for reminding me to singe Carbine's tail over not telling us." He headed to go do that first, then check on their guest. He ran into Xander in the kitchen, smirking at the soda in his hand. "Making yourself at home?"
"I called Giles, he's not impressed. One of the girls suggested I stay here since I was such a party pooper and I was such a mother hen. Buffy stuck up for her," he admitted, taking a sip. "She's decided I'm useless. So I'll get back there tomorrow, once I can get a bus ticket."
Throttle patted him on the arm. "You're not useless. You're experienced. There's a difference."
"Not to thirteen hyper teenage girls." He walked back into the garage, bringing Charley a soda of her own. "What can I do to help before I disappear into the night again?"
"Can you get me a size three screwdriver?"
"Metric or not?" he asked, heading for the toolbox.
"Metric." She accepted it with a smile. "How's things going out there?"
"We destroyed the town in a final battle and moved to Cleveland to destroy their city. Since I'm experienced and injured, the thirteen hyper girls who want to go party instead of slay think I'm a drag and a mother hen. They don't want me back," he said honestly. He saw another bolt she'd have to remove and got the wrench to do that with, popping on the right socket and getting involved. "I'm going to head home tomorrow and kick their asses in practice," he admitted quietly. "Then I'm going to take a vacation and let them all die."
"That's not nice, Xander," she chided gently.
"No, but they deserve it. It's sad when your enemy likes you more than your friends," he said, glancing at her. "My friend Buffy agreed with the little snob and future teenage mother." He moved to another bolt. "This one?"
"Please. I'll have to take off her gas tank too. Modo said there was a crack." She patted the bike. "It's gonna be a long surgery, girl, but we'll make you as pretty as you were off the assembly line." It beeped tiredly. "Xander, across the room there's a green cord. Drag it over here and plug it into the wall?" He nodded, getting up to do that. He plugged it in and found the spot where it connected, plugging the bike in. "Thanks," she said with a small smile. "You're handy to have around."
"Thanks, Charley. That's nice to hear. I'm still doing construction actually. It's not much different than taking apart a house to fix it. At least the bolt parts." He put down another bolt and found one lat one that he took off, then eased a broken strut off and laid it on the floor. "Can you weld those?"
"I can get a replacement," she promised. "I've got one in the back and I'll order the others once I know what I need." He nodded, stroking the bike's handlebars. "You're very gentle with her."
"She's obviously sentient. She shouldn't be treated like a pet since she protected her rider on their way down. That's clear from how much trauma she took. She needs to be stroked gently, it'll help her heal. Even if she wasn't smarter than a few of the slayers I know, it'd still help her, but I'm sure she's much smarter."
"They usually are," she agreed happily, smiling up at him. "Thirteen?"
"At one time we had seventeen living in one house with me, my three friends, one little sister, a neutered vampire, and one bathroom," he said dryly. She shuddered. "Exactly. Now you know why I'm not that thrilled to go back."
"You could always move this way," she offered. "There's a few vampires still in town and we've always got construction jobs."
"Yeah, maybe. At least you like to talk to me like I'm a person whose not just an injury." He got down to help her again. "Some of those girls tried to mother me to death after my injury and decided that I was now nearly braindead as well. They decided I couldn't make my own decisions and that they had to protect me, but they hated it." He found a new type of screw and got up to get the right size screwdriver. "Number five for the one on the gas tank?"
She looked. "Six I think. Bring 'em both, Xander. You're not as injured as some."
"I pointed that out," he admitted. "A glass eye isn't much of anything compared to some of those three's injuries. They decided it didn't matter." He moved to help her, taking off the other strut and putting it down. "There. That should mean less pain and we'll replace them as soon as we can, girl."
"It shouldn't be more than tomorrow," she admitted. "The local Harley shop has a bunch of them usually. They're forever getting guys who wanted theirs extended while customizing." She glanced at him. "Glass eye?" He nodded. "Hurt?"
"When the guy popped it with his thumbnail," he admitted dryly, smirking at her. "I'm beyond that. It's not disfiguring and I'm still working through the headaches." She nodded, understanding that. "I'd hate to see me if I ever got *really* injured, but then they'd probably swoop down, put an IV in and put me in a bed for the rest of my short life." He sighed and got back to work. "Is homicide always wrong?"
"Usually, unless it's in self defense," she assured him.
"Pity." She gave him a pat. "Thanks, Charley. Should I start on the back?"
"No, I'll leave that on tonight. I can definitely find these in stock sizes. The front ones could cause more damage to the gas tank though and she'll need that and need it filled soon." They got to work taking off the gas tank, silently working together. "Ever thought of training in this?" she asked finally.
"I like wood," he admitted quietly. "I like how it feels and smells." He grinned at her. "This is neat but only for once in a while. Not for good."
"True." She gave him a small nudge and a grin. "I'm wondering if they're hovering around her."
He listened, then shook his head. "She's puking. Two are pacing and another's talking to her. So, who is she?"
"Carbine is...was Throttle's girl. Switch is her younger sister," she told him. "She's probably about as old as some of your hyperactive girls."
"Ah. No wonder big sis sent her away in a ship without enough fuel." She shook her head. "She said she did."
"I'm sure it was an accident. Vinnie, she okay?" she called.
"Yeah, she said it's normal," Throttle called back. He came down the stairs and winced at the parts spread around. "Can you fix it, Charley?"
"Sure, not an issue, Throttle. The Harley place will have plenty since they do custom work and usually people want to have an extended wheel base. I'll call first thing." He nodded, coming over to help them lift off one side of the crank case. "Hey, Xander, can you stay for a few days?"
"Sure. I guess. I've got to get back and water my plants eventually," he admitted. "Otherwise Willow will go into super fuss mode and kill them with kindness." They chuckled at that. "She will." He looked at the gas tank and winced. "I'm seeing lots of little cracks."
"Yeah, me too. I think she may have jumped from too high up," Throttle admitted. "Those look like space freezes."
"She said Carbine sent her in a ship with too little fuel."
"Sounds like her," Throttle admitted. "She probably didn't check it and hurried off to do something." Charley looked at him. "If it was important, she could have stuffed her on a ship without doing more than that."
"Then I get to help you singe her tail and ears."
"Sure," he agreed with a grin for them. "So, you're staying for a few days."
"I can. I'm not employed at the moment. Cleveland has a winter and my crew shut down early this year since we didn't have a job waiting. I've even got funds of my own this time since the insurance stuff came through finally."
"Good," Charley agreed. "Health?"
"Health, property, auto, that stuff," he admitted. "I lived not that far from the epicenter of the suckage." Throttle shuddered again. "Hey, I was in there when it started. There's nothing like seeing your town being sucked in and barely making it out on a school bus."
He shuddered again. "I'm so sorry, Xander. I'm glad we don't have those on Mars."
"Ya know, there might be a way to put one on stinky guy's home world," he offered.
"That's too mean for us, kid," Throttle assured him. "I'll let you talk to Modo, he might support it."
"Sure. I can easily find that book, I've got it on my computer at home since Giles stupidly told me to translate and store them on DVD's." He grinned at Charley. "I won't even make you help us. I can find a few different people who could cast the spell."
"Thanks, I'd appreciate not having to deal with that," she admitted. She looked at the bike again. "Let me see if Mike's still in," she said, getting up to call the Harley shop. Sometimes he did work late.
Throttle looked at the kid, well not so much a kid anymore. "You okay?"
"That depends, can I commit homicide on some giggly, hyper teenagers who believe I'm now damaged and useless?"
"I can't let you do that. It'd be against the good guy oath," he noted quietly. "Otherwise?"
"I have the feeling that once I yell what I really think at a few of the spoiled brats that I'll feel better. If they cry I might feel just a touch better than simply yelling but I'm not sure most of them care enough about other people to feel more than insulted that they were wrong about me."
He nodded. "We've been there in the past. The Freedom Fighters didn't want to let us back either until we kicked a great many tails."
"I've tried that. They yelled at me for, quote, not sitting at home and knitting like the good helpless grandpa I am now." Throttle shook his head with a small moan. Xander gave him a wry look. "So I thoughtfully critiqued their fighting abilities, and Buffy got mad because I was criticizing her teaching, and I was still right. Giles told them I was right. As did Dawn. They didn't listen and they're on some kick to make me helpless or make me go away. So I might take a long vacation and come back to their funerals." He looked at the bike again. "It's good that you guys got partners like them. At least they're loyal and there for you."
"Yeah, our bikes are our lifelines, and have saved our lives many times," Throttle admitted. "Do you ride?"
"With one eye, I'm not even supposed to drive," Xander said dryly. "Besides, I'm not sure about the balance stuff. Every now and then I have a moment of dizziness."
"That would suck if you were riding," Vinnie admitted as he came in. He winced at the condition of the bike. "Ouch."
"She's got space freezer burn too," Xander told him with a small grin. "Throttle said so."
Vinnie looked at the gas tank and nodded. "Yeah, those are space cracks," he agreed. "Wow, girl. Way too high up, but I guess there wasn't a choice." It beeped slowly at him. He checked the cord, wiggling it a bit. "Charley, she's got a short in her plug," he called.
Xander looked at it. "I can replace some wires but I don't want to hurt her."
"You can?" Vinnie asked.
"Yeah, I can strip wires, wire a house, put in breaker boxes, and build explosives," he said with a grin for him. "I'm a handy person when you get to know me and don't annoy me like teenagers on crack."
"Good to know," Throttle admitted. "You'll have to do them one at a time. If she's not getting enough power, her brain could shut down."
"Can we do a patch past it or is some of that some sort of power transformer?"
The mice looked at each other. Then they shuddered. "Modo!" they called together. He came down the stairs and into the garage.
"She's got a short in the plug," Xander said. "I need to know how to remove the wires, in which order, and if we can do a patch around it. I'll also need a soldering iron and some flux and solder." They all looked clueless. "Charley, she's got a short in her plug. Do we have a soldering iron?"
"No," she called back, coming out of the office. "Are you sure?" He nodded. "Okay, can we get around it?"
"If it won't hurt her," Xander agreed. "I need to know where to link it and if you don't have some of the stuff around here, I'll have to run out to the house of Shack."
"I don't," she admitted. "There's a power amplifier inside the black box. You'd have to put it before there."
"Sure, can we bridge the cord?"
"Yeah, we had to do that with Vinnie's bike that once, when she got hit by lightening." Throttle went to grab the switch she had devised, it went on the end of the cord and came out with a cord with a roach clamp on the other side.
"This can work," Xander agreed, plugging it in and clipping it on the bike. "Bike, sweetie?" It beeped, sounding stronger. "Do you need me to move it?" It beeped twice. "Once for up and twice for toward the front." She beeped twice so he moved it lower, putting it on a flat piece that had wires connected to it. "There?" He fiddled with the cord end, and the bike suddenly let out a shrill beep. "Too much?" It beeped three times. "That good?" It beeped twice. "Okay. I'm going to run out to get the stuff to fix that short, then I'll be right back. Don't worry, baby love, I've fixed bombs before, I can fix you." He gave her a gentle pat. "Where's the house of cheap solder?"
"About a mile away, I'll take you," Modo offered. "Charley ma'am, I'm taking your helmet."
"Sure. Be careful. Xander, need cash?" He held up his wallet with a head shake. "You're sure?"
"It's nothing I wouldn't be buying at home now and then." He grabbed the helmet and watched at Modo mounted his bike, carefully getting on behind him. "Where do I hold on?"
"Around me, Xander."
"Sure. Not meaning anything, right?" he teased. He noticed the blush and chuckled. "Sorry, just a tease."
"Yeah, you are, but that's fine," he promised. "Put your feet on the pads." Xander looked down as he did that and they took off. "You okay?" he called back.
"Sure, fine. Got my balance. Just don't make any sharp turns." Modo nodded and sped up. Xander had to stuff his wallet down his shirt so it wouldn't fall out but that was okay. The only thing that fell out was a picture and he didn't want to look at the spoiled brats anyway. Modo let him off and he walked inside, taking off the helmet. "Hey, I'm in town and my friend's RC car is broken down. I need some wire, some solder, an iron, and the necessary flux and stuff. Liquid or built into the solder if possible."
"Of course, sir." He led him to that part, watching as the young man looked at the wire closely. "I'm sure it's all good."
"Yeah, but he uses a pretty specific wire. It's a high voltage application. It's his recharge plug from the adapter." The man pointed at one and Xander looked at it. "Too thick. Maybe the smallest you've got in that?"
The man looked at the wires, finding one. "This is usually used for computer boards," he admitted. "It's very fine, but strong wire. Fairly stiff."
"That can work. If not, I can put it in for now and bring in a wire sample once I've got a decent one. He's got shorts."
"I understand," the man agreed. He saw the boy's look around the store and pointed at the multiple output meters. "A voltage meter, sir?"
"Yeah, I probably should, just in case. I'm not sure if he has one or not. Some of the orange wire too. Just in case. Maybe two feet of each?" It was cut for him and he put it on his charge card, then took the bags back out to the bike, coming back for the helmet. He put the bags inside his shirt and zipped his jacket over it just in case, then carefully put his arms around Modo's chest. They were off. He did enjoy this sensation but it was odd in a lot of ways. He settled in to enjoy it this time. Once they got back, he unpacked everything and plugged in the soldering iron to get it hot. He tested the wires, using a marker he had picked up to color the ones that would need replaced. Once he was ready and had it planned out he patted the bike again. "Okay, girl. I'm going to remove the farthest wire first. It'll be the most awkward and if I bump into another one I can always replace that. Okay?" She beeped, sounding stronger. "Good girl. Sorry if this tickles or hurts or anything." He cleaned the area with the can of air he was handed, then worked on unsoldering the first joint. It was very delicate work, but he had worked on a lot of RC cars in his younger days.
Xander looked up as Switch came out to where he was on the couch. "Hey, how's the baby?"
"Making me puke," she admitted. "I wanted to thank you for helping my bike and me."
"It's what we hero-sorts do," he assured her with a gentle smile. "Charley checked, the cord area is working just fine again. I'll leave the soldering iron here in case she needs it again or something gets damaged in the future." He moved his feet. "Go ahead and sit."
"Thanks. You've been doing this sort of stuff, hero stuff, for a while?"
"Since I was fifteen and I jumped in," he admitted. "Down here there's some odd, sentient creatures that aren't exactly good. One of my friends, formerly one of my best friends, has the duty to hunt and slay them to protect the people. I jumped in one afternoon and only regretted it every other week," he said quietly. "It lost me my only male friend, lost me the true friendship I had with the girls in my life, nearly cost me one of their lives and did cost me the friendship and life of her girlfriend, who was a sweet and gentle young woman. It cost me my eye, my town, and probably a bit of my sanity after I saw my former fiance die during our last battle in Sunnydale. And now the little bitches that are left have decided I'm helpless, hopeless, and in their way," he said honestly. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, Switch, but sometimes you've got to do it." She nodded, apparently she knew that.
He sat up. "Eventually the odds catch up with you. I'm twenty-three. Nearly twenty-four. I've been doing this now for almost nine years. It doesn't get easier. If there's any way for you to avoid joining me and the guys who went home earlier, I'd take it and click my heels while we waved at you." She shook her head. "Really. It's one thing to be fighting the good fight, like the guys do, and another thing to jump in. I jumped in without a clue of what I was in for. I actually thought we could clean up the town within a few months and then everything would go back to normal." He gave her a bittersweet smile. "The second night of my exposure to the supernatural, my best male friend, someone who I had known since we were toddlers, was killed and turned into the things we were hunting. I staked him and killed him not two weeks later." She shivered and he toned it down some. "I've watched others destroy themselves, seeing the desperation, all of it. I've seen people go insane with grief, seen them do foolish stuff that saved everybody, and I've done some of that myself. If you don't have to fight, I wouldn't. Now, I know you guys are at war. Personally, speaking as a leader and someone who plans, I wouldn't send you out in your condition. Is that why your sister sent you down here?"
She shook her head. "No, she doesn't want me to join the Freedom Fighters when I'm old enough."
"Well, now you've got a very good reason to help them, but with a baby it's going to be impossible for you to go out on patrol and in long-term battles. Unless someone else is going to be taking care of it."
"The father's grandmother would," she admitted, looking down at her stomach as she put a hand on it. "I don't want to lose her but I can't stand to sit back."
He tipped her chin up, making her look at him. "In any war, there's a lot of positions," he said quietly, but very gently. "Any good warrior will need patched up. As do your bikes. There's going to be people like me who're mentally in pain who'll need helped before they go on a suicide mission. Everyone needs to eat, have clean sheets and floors, and they probably need communication operators too. You can do any of those while you're pregnant and with a child." He smiled. "And if anything happens, you can easily protect the baby and the baby's other family too." She nodded, giving him a tremulous smile in return. "Think about it. Just because you're not on the front lines doesn't mean that you're less than important. Sometimes, a counselor is the thing that turns the tide. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to go back out there and continue on." She nodded again. "You've got options and you've got time, Switch. Take that time to think. You can't do anything while you're down here and he's making you puke."
"Thank you, Xander."
"Welcome, honey. I've tried to have this talk with others and they won't listen. It's nice to finally be listened to." He let her chin go. "Now go back to bed before Throttle has to give you his fatherly scowl he's got going. He gave it to me when I jumped out of a window without a parachute. It's fairly scary." She chuckled and got up, going back to bed. Xander laid back down but he wasn't tired. He got up and found some paper and a pencil, writing out a note before sneaking out. He made sure the window was relocked behind him and made a mental note to up her security system when he came back from the club. He headed up the street toward the main city, knowing that at least one bar or club had to be up this way. He'd prefer a club, that way he could wear out the energy instead of drinking himself into a stupor. He hated hangovers. He heard a familiar sound and stepped back into the shadows, watching as Vinnie rode off by himself. "I guess I'm not the only one," he muttered, heading on. At least he knew others had the same sort of problems he had. It was nice in a way to know that he wasn't alone. He found a club first, fortunately, and went inside. He saw a heavily masked man in the corner but decided he didn't want to intrude on the guy's misery. He was miserable enough. He moved out onto the floor, picking someone to dance with. When the music continued to get slower and more calm, he left the club and headed off to find another one.
"You following me, kid?" Vinnie asked from behind him.
Xander looked back at him. "Life sucks, Vinnie, and I'm having one of those nights were I remembered how much. I'm heading for a harder club so I can wear it out and not get drunk. I left a note." He turned and walked off.
"Want a ride? I know a place. Underground."
"Sure. Beats walking," he agreed, getting on behind him to let him drive them off. He could feel the wind in his hair and it was a happier feeling than earlier. Modo went a lot slower than Vinnie was. This was really more thrilling than most roller coasters. They stopped at a warehouse on the distant side of town and Xander paid their way inside, noticing Vinnie didn't get any funny looks here even though he wasn't wearing his old- west-bank-robber-looking disguise. That spoke of good things. He saw a few demons and understood. Vinnie had found the demon underground. Well, it was fine with him as long as they left him alone. The music was thumping through his blood and it was stomping out all the pain he had shared earlier. He moved onto the floor, dancing with a few vampires. They probably figured out who he was, but he didn't care. They weren't trying to kill him for a change so it was all good.
"Want a drink?" one of them yelled in his ear above the music. He shook his head, grinning at her. "You turned?" He shook his head with a brighter smile. "You're him!"
He kissed her, then shrugged. "Even I've got memories." The vamps around him seemed to realize he wasn't going to stake them so they came closer, dancing with him like they liked him suddenly. Apparently it was good enough for them too. Xander danced with anyone who came into his sphere, smiling as Vinnie came up to him. "Hey!" he called with a brighter grin.
"I'm heading!" he called. Xander waved and walked off, heading deeper into the crowd. Vinnie shook his head. That boy was looking for trouble. He considered going after him but he wasn't the kid's big brother and he wasn't his boyfriend so it wasn't really his place. Maybe he'd have Throttle give his 'be responsible when you go to wear that out' speech. It was good, he still remembered it. He headed out to his bike, sitting on it for a moment before starting it. With his luck, Modo would be up and wandering again. He looked across the city's lights, seeing most of them were out now. It was pretty if you ignored some things. Which he could for a few more weeks. He put his bike in gear and headed back to the scoreboard to catch some sleep. He'd need it because they had a full day tomorrow helping fix Switch's bike. Hopefully Charley wouldn't yell at Xander too much.
Xander walked into the garage, smiling at Charley. "Hey, what can I do to help?"
"Go sleep," she said fondly, smiling at him.
He shook his head. "This is nothing. I've went three days without sleep before and it's not like I was drinking." He got down to help her, holding the piece she was working on. "How's Switch?"
She kissed him on the cheek. "She's doing better, Xander. Whatever you said to her worked." She looked at him to silently tell him she had heard. He let out a subtle shrug and went back to helping. "You okay?"
"Yeah, it was a decent enough night. I ran into Vinnie and he found a demon underground bar. They don't care what you are as long as you're not going to eat or kill them. They were nice, they didn't even say anything about what I do as a hobby." He winced as his thumb was cut on a sharp piece of metal, sucking it. "Hey, I'm nice to you, don't cut me. You're not a vampire bike, are you?" It beeped, sounding much stronger this morning. "Are all the wires still good?"
"Yeah, that one negative one is supposed to be like that. I checked on Throttle's bike. He showed up first. Vinnie's still asleep."
"He left about three," he admitted.
"How did you get back?"
"Cities are nice because they have these great things called cabs," he said dryly, earning a punch to his arm. "It's not like I'm supposed to drive with only one eye. I asked the DMV back in Cali and they said so."
"Around here, if you can pass the test you can drive," she said patiently. "You should try to get your license in Ohio."
"That presupposes I go back to the selfish twits," he noted calmly. "I'd almost rather go be nearly eaten in Africa again. It'd be for a better cause out in the plains."
"You've been to Africa?"
"Yeah, Giles sent me to talk to one of the new slayers. She saw me defeat a lioness and still wouldn't stick up for me," he said bitterly. She gave him a hug. "Thanks, but it's not your fault or your responsibility to fix." He got down to work with her, glancing around the empty garage. "You'd think you'd have more stuff in here."
She chuckled. "I used to and then we put the attic on the building so I could store some of the older stuff up there."
"Attics are nice," he agreed. "I've put a number of them on houses." He grinned at Vinnie as he rolled in. "Morning, sleepy."
"Have you even gone to bed yet?" he asked sarcastically, glaring at him. "Hands off my girl, Xander. I will fight you over her."
"Dear, why would I want her? She's not evil, out to kill me, or out to turn into some money hoover. She's not my type." Vinnie let a grin crack at that. "Really. Let me tell you about some of my former women. We're talking some of the most demented demons, and then a former demon. I've got a track record with women that make people wonder why I bother and why I don't go for guys."
"Maybe you should," Throttle said from the doorway back to the kitchen. "You okay, kid?"
"Throttle, I'm not a kid," he said patiently. "I haven't been a kid in many, many years." He looked at him. "No one has had to push me in a swing since I was six and no one bounced me on their knee since I was three. I gave up being a kid when I stopped needing a push to get the swing started. Really." He blinked his big, brown eyes at him. "But yes, I'm fine. I wore out a lot of aggression without further killing the demon community, calling the pubescent brats who are probably lounging in my apartment because I've got cable to cuss them out, or anything else that might be fun."
"You're still a kid to us, we're older," Vinnie reminded him.
"Vinnie, you're not that much older than me," Xander said patiently. "I'm twenty-three, not fifteen. I'm a eight year, almost nine year, combat veteran. Really." He got up and handed back the wrench he had been using. "I'm not a kid. I haven't been a kid in a very long time," he said patiently. "Even when I was a kid I wasn't a kid. A geek yeah, but not a kid. Some of us didn't have that luxury." He glanced at Charley. "I'm going to threaten the stupid brats back at home. I'll be back in a bit."
"You can use the phone."
He looked at her. "The language I'm probably going to be using would upset some delicate ears, like Vinnie's. It's better if I find a payphone and swear at them in semi-private." He smiled. "Give me an hour and I'll come wire the windows with the security system too."
She chuckled but let him go. Once he was gone, she threw a screwdriver at Vinnie's head, but he ducked. "It's hard when you're the older, more experienced person and no one listens to you," she said quietly, glancing at the door. "He's got a bunch of spoiled bitches under him who are making him feel ancient and he's hurting. Leave the guy alone, Vinnie."
"I was only teasing," he complained.
"Yeah, well, he's getting defensive about it," Throttle pointed out quietly. "I'm just as guilty as you are." He looked at his bro. "I want to know how he puts up with girls like that all the time."
"They used to be his friends. He's the one who had the talk with Switch, not me, Throttle." He sighed and nodded. "He got her to look at other possibilities, ones that wouldn't leave her future baby an orphan."
"I can see her doing what she's thinking about," he admitted. He looked at the doorway again. "Do you guys not have mentors for fighters?"
"I'm guessing in the regular military, possibly. He's not in the real military. He's been fighting a very dirty, quiet war in one corner of the world, got hurt, and now they're making him feel more than useless because they're young girls. He could probably use a big brother sort of person, but he's not the sort to ask for it or allow it to happen unless he's really down."
"He was last night. He looked almost desperate last night," Vinnie admitted. "That's why I took him to that other place. He got lost in the music and let it flow out of him." He got off his bike, handing back the screwdriver. "You're mean this morning. Did he keep you up?"
"No, I woke up when I heard Switch sneak out to talk to him. He was fairly honest with her. She went back to her room and cried." She stood up, looking at the mice. "Leave him alone, guys. If it happens it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't." They nodded, accepting that. "Now, someone's got to get the other parts for this one. Mike said he'd be able to get to them in about an hour. He had a custom job to finish first and then had to wade through the stock room."
"I'll go," Vinnie offered. "Let me catch a soda first." Throttle tossed one over. "Thanks, bro," he said, catching it and tapping it a few times before opening it. He put back on his helmet and headed out, silently looking around. There weren't many payphones around but Xander wasn't at the ones he could see. Maybe he had went in the other direction. He hoped the boy wasn't hurt. He could almost like the kid. Nope, he heard some shouting, he was farther away than he had thought, but he was yelling at the stupid brats. He was using some language that would make Throttle blush too. Yeah, the kid was impressive. He'd wait to see him in a real fight.
Xander looked at the phone in disgust and pulled out his cellphone. He hated roaming charges but it was worth it this time. He called his landlord first, heading for a nearby park to sit and do this stuff. "Hey, it's Xander," he said. "I've got to pull an emergency move." He listened to the man go on about his nephew's company and about the new job they'd been doing for the last two weeks, while he had been told they were on hiatus. "Well, it works out well that I've got to go, man. Can you take the money out of my desk drawer, the hidden one on the right side, and use it to hire me someone to pack and move it to Chicago for me? Yeah, go ahead and kick the stupid bitches out. They deserve it. They're one of the reasons I'm leaving. No, I've got a job here. It's cool with me. Thanks, man, I'll miss you too. Kiss your wife for me." He grinned. "Yeah, I've got my cell. Just hire them, it might take me a few extra days to find somewhere but I'm sure I can. Thanks." He hung up and looked at the nearby city. He saw a nearby construction crew and went to talk to them. If they weren't hiring they might know who was. If not, he still had the insurance money. He walked up to the foreman, smiling at him. "Hey," he said, holding out his hand. "Xander Harris."
"Hi. We're not hiring."
"That's cool. Know one who is? I've got about a year of supervising experience. I was working out in Cali but my family headed to Ohio and I can't stand it there."
He considered the boy. "You got issues?"
"One missing eye. I'm told I can probably drive but I'd need a new license. California pulled mine when they learned one of my eyes had been taken out."
He nodded. "I've seen worse driving. You can probably find that. It's in the usual slowdown times, but I think we can probably find you a spot. I know a few places. Go to the DMV. Do you know where that is?"
"Yeah, and if not, the cab should," he admitted with a grin. The man smiled and chuckled. "It's more practical. I was in visiting some friends and I got really tired of my family and the way they're making me be some helpless old guy sitting beside the fire telling war stories."
"Sure, kid. Go to the DMV. Come back tomorrow?" Xander nodded that he could do that. "Good job."
"Thanks, man. You seem like a nice boss to work with so I'll trust you if you know about someone." He shook his hand and went off to find a cab. He finally found one and got in, grinning at the driver. "DMV."
"Sure, suspended license?"
"No, I'm moving. My old one got snatched after an injury to my eye." The guy nodded, taking him there. Xander paid and got out, heading inside to get the book, take the test, and see about taking his practical. He found out that he could probably talk someone into borrowing their car. There were a few there who'd probably do it for a few bucks, especially the parents with kids who didn't pass. He saw one who was chewing her daughter a new one and smiled, walking up to her once he had his permit. "Hi. Can I ask you a question?"
"Not interested," the mother said firmly.
"Nothing like that," he promised with a small smirk. "I'm new in town and taking my license. I need someone with a licensed car who'll let me borrow it for twenty minutes for a hundred bucks. I've had my license in the past, been driving since I was seventeen."
"You can't just switch it over?" the daughter asked. "You can do that in this state."
"Yeah, well, they won't let me. My town's no longer in the database, it was kinda destroyed due to earthquake. I'm from California."
"You can't rent one?"
"Regulations state that the car has to come with an owner who has a license and insurance. If not, can I get you to go rent one for me and bring it back here if I pay for it?"
She considered it. "There's one not far away," she admitted. "I could go get you one." He beamed and handed her a hundred. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. I want my license."
"Okay. You'll be right here?"
"Yeah, right here and you can keep the change," he offered happily. She nodded, going to do that for him, leaving her daughter there with him. "Hey."
"Are you from San Francisco?"
"A few hours outside of LA actually," he admitted. "Going south."
"Wow. That's a pretty hip area."
"Actually the town I was in was a lot like you see on Nick at Nite in the old shows." She giggled at that. "It was. A lot of happy families with white picket fences and a dog. It made them happy until the town basically disappeared after an earthquake."
"I heard about that on the news," she admitted. "What happened?"
"We're not sure. The state guys said something about a fault right under the town. All I know is that a few blocks remained and the rest of it was razed to the ground. The ground's wrinkled and everything, like when you're rolling out pizza dough too thin." She let out another giggle. "What happened in there?"
"Parallel parking sucks," she stated.
"I can agree to that," he sighed, shaking his head. "Did they teach you to line it up by the car you were in?" She shook her head. "Pull up alongside the front car. Turn out until the other car's bumper come up to your back window, then swing in. That's on a compact car. The bigger ones might need some adjustment."
"That's handy," she admitted, considering it. "I'll have to practice that later. Thanks, mister."
"Xander," he said happily.
"Xander then." Her mother came back and got out, handing him the car keys. "Mom, this is Xander. He told me the secret to parallel parking."
"How to judge it by the windows," he admitted. "Thank you, ma'am." She nodded, taking her daughter off, talking quietly with her to make sure the odd man hadn't done anything. He walked back inside, smiling at the woman he had talked to earlier. "I had a nice woman who just had her daughter flunk go rent a car for me," he said, holding up the keys. "That means it's got insurance, registration and all that up to date. Good enough since she brought it back?"
"I suppose," she admitted. "That would get you out of needing one locally. Come on, let's see if you can do this."
"Sure." He followed her out, opening her door for her. "There you go." He walked around and got in, starting the car after checking where everything was. "I told you I'm injured, right?"
"You're not the first today, Mr. Harris. Whenever you're ready." He took a deep breath and started the car, heading to the end of the driveway. "Right if you wouldn't mind." He turned on the blinker and checked traffic carefully, heading out to the right. She had him go to their course and had him go around it, marking her little form. "A bit tight on the parallel parking," she said when he was done and they were parked in the practice parking spot. She looked at him. "Otherwise you did fine. Are you planning on driving a cab?"
"Not if I can help it," he admitted. "I'd rather go back to construction but I don't usually do the equipment. I did have a special code to allow me to drive company vehicles and light trucks, no bigger than the average U-Haul."
She nodded. "In this state you should have one for something that size. That's a different inspector. I can have a word with him and have him schedule you in a few days?" He beamed and nodded. "Then I'll pass you. Take us back, carefully. Otherwise I'll have to change my mind," she said with a small smile. He hugged her and started the car, checking the course, then getting out to move the stuffed cat that had popped out, tying it back up. "Very nice, Mr. Harris."
"You're lucky I saw it," he joked. She snorted but let it go. He took her back and went to the other line to get his license created and laminated. He took the rental car back to the rental place and got something a bit more comfortable, smiling at the woman behind the desk. "I'm moving out here," he admitted. "She came in earlier so I could retake my driving test."
"That's fine, sir," she agreed, handing him over the form. "Something in the mid-sedan range?"
"I'd rather have something bigger. I've got to take my small truck certification again soon. Got anything SUV sized?" She nodded, marking that on the form. "Thanks."
"You're welcome, Mr. Harris. Sign at the bottom please and may I have your card?"
He handed it over and signed, making himself one happy guy. He took the keys and went out to get his car, heading to his cellphone place next. Fortunately Cingular was local around here too. He walked into the first shop he saw and grinned broadly. "I'm switching my home area."
"Of course, sir, do you have your phone?" He handed it over. "I haven't seen one of these before."
"I got it in Sunnydale about a year ago," he admitted, leaning on the counter while she pulled up his records by his serial number and old phone number. When he got done, he looked up Charley's number and called her. "Hey, I'm on my way back and I've got an SUV. Should I pick up anything for you or the poor one?" He listened to her directions and nodded, making mental notes of it. "Sure. I'm on it. Thanks, Charley. Talk to you soon." He hung up and got in to drive, heading to the Harley shop to pick up the rest of the stuff she'd need. By the time he got back it was lunch and he had no trouble getting the guys to help him unload things. "There we are, all that you'll need to be a stunning and wonderful bike again," he said with a gentle pat. She let out a sleepy sounding beep. "You okay?" She beeped twice. "Just checking." He headed into the kitchen, showing off his license. "I'm moving upstate. I can't stand the stupid brats anymore," he said at Throttle's odd look. A convenient lie but he wasn't going to be nearby. They wouldn't have to run into him if they didn't want to. He looked at the hotdogs and went back to the car, pulling out his burger to bring inside. He shook his head at the held up hotdog. "Those are evil. We took a trip through a meat packing plant when I was in grade school. More than enough for me." He unwrapped his burger and bit into it. "I've got my light truck certification soon and I've got an appointment to talk to someone tomorrow about a job. If not, I can still afford to live pretty well at the moment." He ate another bite. "And I'm free of the brats," he said once his mouth was free.
"Good job, Xander," Charley agreed happily, patting him on the back. "You're sure you won't stay in the city?"
"I could but I don't want to be a pain in the butt." He ate another bite. "Besides, I'd feel the need to take over some of the fighting slack so Throttle could have a day off now and then."
Throttle snorted. "I don't need it, really."
"Yeah you do," Vinnie said smugly. "You're turning fatherly again."
"If you didn't act like a kid, it wouldn't happen so often. You can stay around here, Xander. We won't mind. We won't even come over and steal food from your fridge."
"Not an issue," he promised. "I've usually got a lot of junk food in my house. Even Cheetos."
"Yet you won't eat hotdogs?" Vinnie teased.
"No. I like my food to have at least one real ingredient in it. Since Cheetos has soy in them, that's good enough for me," he promised lightly. That got a few snickers. "I'll also have chocolates and other good stuff, plus cable." He finished off his burger and went for his fries, but he got hiccups. Vinnie grabbed a soda with his tail and handed it over, earning a head nod as Xander gulped it, getting rid of them. "Thanks."
"Welcome. Need help looking for a spot?"
"Probably not. I'm usually pretty good at it. I've had some wonderful landlords so far." He grinned at them. "There's a nice place by the Harley shop that's advertising having a lot of them. I was going to start there and then move to the local paper." His phone rang and he opened it up. "Hi?" He listened. "Sure, this afternoon's fine, man. Thanks for slipping me in. Did she talk to you...." He grinned. "Thanks. Yeah, I've got a huge SUV at the moment. About as big as any panel van or small truck. Sure. Thanks. Three, got it." He hung up. "I've got my truck certification at three," he said happily.
"You know, if you had to, you could always drive a cab," Charley offered.
"Probably but that's pretty dangerous," Xander admitted. "Besides, I'd have a big problem with the people who were having sex in the back and not letting me join in." That made the guys blush but Charley chuckled and hit him on the arm, making him grin but rub it. "Ow! Don't abuse me! I won't fix stuff around here for you for free."
"Really?" she asked. He nodded, kissing her on the cheek. "Thanks, Xander. If you want, the shower could use some tightening."
"I heard. I'll get on that tonight." She beamed at him. "So, what am I doing between the two?"
"Finding a spot and arranging for someone to get your stuff," Modo reminded him.
"My old landlord is hiring someone to pack up my stuff and move it for me," he said happily. "I'll call him later to make sure he didn't have any problem with the brats. If so, I might have to go back and kick butt in person. It felt really good to do it over the phone." He heard a thunderclap and looked outside, it was bright and sunny. "I'm back here, Willow," he called. She stomped that way. "You're still doing that loudly."
"What did you say to them! They said you yelled at them!" she shouted.
He got up and stared her down. "Yeah, I did. They're selfish, spoiled brats who need to have their asses beaten until they get some sense. I'm tired of how you guys treat me. I'm staying here." She opened her mouth. "Shut it, Willow, you're just as guilty as those brats. I do more than them and they're still going on and on about how I can't do anything. Well, go take a flying fuck on your girlfriend. I've had it. I'm staying here. Unless the world is going to be sucked into hell, I don't care." She started to cry. "Not working, Willow," he said coolly. "I've known you way too long for that and you've treated me that same way now for years. I was going to tell the rest of you tonight but I'm sure you can pop back and tell them. Now, shoo, before you make a bad impression."
"You can't leave. What're we going to do without you?" she whined.
"The same thing you think you do now," he said bitterly. "You got your wish. Wish granted." She flinched. "Out! You're disturbing the nice people here who actually like me. I'll talk to you when you've calmed down." She trudged out, heading back home the same way. He slammed his fist into the wall, then took a deep breath. "I'd like to apologize for the selfish former friend. She was reacting and pouty. Apparently it's her turn for PMS again." He turned back around. "I don't know why they do that, but that's not what every woman does, right?" Charley shook her head. "Good. I'm glad. That's what I need, I need a real woman. Charley, got any friends?" She choked but shook her head. "Pity. Guess I'll have to find one of my own. Need anything while I'm gone? I can do some massive grocery shopping in the SUV."
"List, fridge," she gasped. He hugged her, patting her on the back. "Thanks."
"Welcome. Thank you for not being like her." He grabbed the list. "I'll see you guys later. Should I pick up dinner? Chinese good?"
"I'll call and tell you what to get," she said. He wrote down his new number and handed it to her. "Thanks, Xander."
"Not an issue. If you find a nice girl, send her my way, it'd be a nice change." He glanced at the wall. "I'll fix that later too," he said sheepishly, heading out to his SUV to head off and calm down.
"Wow. He invoked those three letters," Vinnie said in awe.
"It was obvious in her case," Charley pointed out, sipping her soda. Vinnie checked and groaned. "No more?" He shook his head. "Did I put it on the list?"
"Yeah, it was on there," Throttle promised. "Well, he seems to be settling in well."
"He'll have a place within two hours and have his stuff here within four days," she told him. "He's not the sort to dawdle." They all nodded, seeing that now. She finished up and took the rest of her soda out to work on the bike. She found all the stuff she had ordered and a few things she hadn't but that had obviously only been in the way over there. She'd have to call Mike in a bit to make sure he meant to send them over.
The bros looked at each other. That was more like the Xander they remembered from his last visit.
Xander came out of the kitchen later that night, coughing. "Okay, I've installed the motor and the seals so the make-shift freezer is now working. I stuffed those extra thirty pounds of hotdogs in there, Charley. That leaves four cases of rootbeer in the fridge, plus a few cans of regular stuff in case you get bored with caffeine free stuff, the rest are under the sink. I also put those pizzas in the new freezer in case you wanted to expand certain beings' taste sensations."
"Thank you, Xander." She smiled up at him. "Did you decide to put a counter in too?" He nodded with a grin. "I could always use one. Thank you."
"You're welcome and that corner wasn't being used anyway. It wasn't that hard. I even put on wheels so you could pull it out in case something happened." He sat down to help her, holding the thing she was bolting on at the moment. "She looks a lot better. When are you painting her?"
"Probably in a few days, once we make sure there's no other work to be done. I'll give her a day to get up, roll around, make sure all systems are working and going strong, then paint everything. That'll also give me enough time to make sure what color Switch wanted her painted." She looked at him, leaning closer. "You know she's got a crush on you, right?" she asked quietly. Xander nodded quickly, glancing around. "Well?"
"She's young, Charley, and she needs a guy who'll be supporting and not have random outbursts of energy and anger. Besides, she's very young."
"She is," Charley agreed with a small grin. "I wish I knew someone to fix you up with."
"Me too. With my track record, I'll end up with a vampire or something." She shivered. "Have they been bothering you?" She shook her head but it was too quickly in his opinion. "That same group?" She sighed and nodded. "Let me guess, you haven't told super stud?" She made a scoffing noise. "Sure. I'll deal with that tonight," he promised. "Then I may go out clubbing again."
"Tomorrow's soon enough. You'll sleep tonight, Xander."
She pinched him, making him yelp then chuckle. "I mean it. You need to rest. You're getting odd again."
"I'm always odd and I feel free for the first time in many years."
"Good. You still need to sleep."
"Nah, then I'd get less snarky and mean. This way I'll be snarky and mean enough, then I'll check with the guy tomorrow on my way back. I'll crash at the new place then."
"You found one?" He nodded. "Good. Where?"
"About four blocks from a really nice looking biker bar and a club."
"Brown building?" He nodded. "I know that place. They say it's not very safe." He snorted. "Never mind. You can probably handle it."
"And turn it around for the others," he agreed dryly. "That reminds me I've got to register my weapons when they get here. At least the legal ones. It's not legal to keep some of the stuff I've got."
"Like what?" Charley asked.
"Six grenade launchers, some C-4, and a few crossbows mainly. An assault rifle. They're all locked in a safe cabinet and the movers won't be able to open it so I'll be fine." He sipped his soda.
She gave him an odd look. "You've got *six* grenade launchers?" He beamed happily, nodding like an idiot. "Why?"
"Because they've come in handy in the past," he noted.
She shook her head. "The next time we need some major destruction, I'm sending the boys to you."
"Sure, they can come over to watch the idiot box too," he said, smirking as the bikers came in. "Hotdogs aren't boiling yet, guys, you're early."
"What's an idiot box?" Vinnie asked.
"It's another name for the tv," Charley said. "So named because it seems to downgrade your IQ by about fifty points during shows like Baywatch."
"Hmm, very soft core porn with almost no plot," Xander agreed, taking another sip of the soda. "She doesn't think keeping grenade launchers is usual. I've only got six."
Throttle shook his head. "I'm sure you feel normal," he taunted, smirking at the boy. "Anything else we should know about?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna have a talk with the local vamp godfather tonight. He's not gonna be happy with me, but he may be dead by the time he's done with me," he said dryly. "I finished putting in the extra freezer, there's soda's chilling in the fridge. If you're really nice I won't make you guys eat *real* food tonight, like tofu dogs."
"Homicide might occasionally be okay, Xander, but torture's cruel, man," Vinnie complained. "You didn't do that to us, did you?"
"Not yet," he said sweetly. "So, who's up for helping me take down half the vampires in the city until they realize that this half of the city's off limits?" The other two pointed at Vinnie, who shook his head. "No?"
"No, but we'll gladly watch, it's our night off," Vinnie said smugly.
"Sure. Oh, the shower," he said, getting up to go fix it. He stopped to get a real soda and head up there with the tools he had borrowed. When it was done, he tested it by taking one and putting on his last clean outfit. It'd be nasty by the morning but he knew what a laundromat was. He came down the stairs, going to put the tools back since Charley was cooking dinner and it smelled like the steaks he had bought her. He came back to find Vinnie whining.
"Why can't we have hotdogs?"
"Think of it like unground hotdogs with some flavor and chew," Xander told him. "Besides, it's good for growing boy mice like you and Modo to have big, strong steaks. Makes you put more hair on your chest."
"I'm not growing?" Throttle asked as he joined them.
"No, you act too much like a dad for that," Xander said with a smart grin. "If you'd lighten up, you could be a growing boy too, Throttle." Throttle nearly pounced but Xander was a human. At least until Xander punched him on the arm really hard, then he couldn't hold back. The boy could take it. He'd be gentle with him.
"Hey, humans are fragile," Charley complained.
"Hush, woman, I'm having fun beating the snot out of grandpa down here," Xander taunted, pinching him on the stomach, making Throttle wiggle, trying to get away from him. "Keep it up and I'll make you be in charge of figuring out if any future girlfriends are evil or not." Modo came in and lifted him off Throttle, making him grin at him. "Hi, Modo."
"Don't pick on him. He only likes deadly women."
"So if he likes mine I'll know she's evil," he said with a small shrug and a grin. Modo chuckled as he set him on his feet. "Besides, he needed to play. Vinnie, play with the poor man. He needs to play."
"He's not my type, I like girls," Vinnie said promptly, earning a pinch from Charley, which made him howl.
"You guys are having way too much fun down here alone," Switch complained as she joined them. "What's for dinner, Charley?"
"Steaks. To celebrate the little guy there," she said with a nod toward the girl's stomach. "That okay?"
"Fine. I'm hungry for the first time in weeks." She sat down, watching the mystical art of cooking. "Do we have any soda?"
"We've got rootbeer and Xander imported a few cans of regular stuff."
"How can you drink that, it's like rocket fuel," Vinnie said, looking disgusted.
"It's good for me. Caffeine is a god. Be thankful I don't drink Mountain Dew, which has three times the caffeine, and there's stronger stuff out there too."
"I'd hate to see you on the high octane stuff. You've only gotten bouncier since you popped open your first real soda," Modo said mildly. He looked Xander over. "Going out again?"
"Yeah, I've still got to go threaten the vampires. Then maybe I'll go clubbing for a bit, then I'll crash at my new place and make decorating plans before I talk with my possible new boss and come back to help out some more and finish the wiring job."
"You're sleeping when?" Switch asked. "I'm only fourteen and I can't go like you do."
He kissed her on the cheek. "I've had practice, dear, don't worry about it. I'll crash tomorrow night. It's about the usual thing." He glanced at the steaks, then grabbed another soda out of the fridge. "Those look good. Did I get enough?"
"And three extras so we can have them with breakfast. Are you sure you're going to be okay until you've got a job?"
"Honey, I got nearly nine hundred grand from insurance settlements," he said dryly. "I've only spent about two. I've got the cash. I'd be bored if I didn't have a job." He grinned at her. "Of course, this means I'm going to have to find a car eventually."
"You could learn how to ride a bike," Vinnie suggested. "I'm sure Throttle can teach you if you want."
"Why am I the designated teacher?" Throttle complained, glaring at Vinnie. He'd get him for that.
"You did so well with Vinnie?" Modo suggested happily.
"Guys, if I go for a bike, I'll go buy one, head for an old dirt lane and teach myself, the same way I did with my car," he said patiently. "That way no one has to second-guess or yell at me. Besides, I'm still having balance issues. I need to get onto a highrise project to work on that."
"As long as you use a safety line," Charley said patiently. "This time there wouldn't be a group of vampires to break your fall and catch you."
"But I had fun," he mock-whined. "Can't I go again?"
"No," everyone told him.
"And stay away from the tower, that's our fun," Vinnie added with a grin.
"You mean I can't go threaten him and remind him?" Xander asked smugly. "I'm sure he'd *love* me."
"No, that's my fun," Vinnie reminded him. "We get to scare him, you get to stand there and build bombs and stuff."
"Shoot. Fine, I'll do it that way," he said, sitting down, then getting up to grab his soda and sit down again. "Can I help with dinner, Charley?"
"I've got it." She put the first few steaks on the table, watching as they were snatched and put onto plates. Xander thoughtfully got up and got forks and knives, getting odd looks from the guys as they ate. Xander sat down and carefully cut his steak into bite-sized pieces and ate it slowly, seeming to savor it. She gave Switch one and got a smile for it. "You eat it all," she ordered. She finished hers and sat down with it, reaching back to turn off the stove. "There, someone get sodas."
Vinnie's tail whipped out and grabbed the fridge door, then took a few out, handing them around. He was too busy to get up. "Good, thanks," he mumbled between bites.
"You'll choke soon," Xander told him, eating another bite. He chewed and swallowed, taking a sip of soda. "Need anything when I get back tomorrow?"
"No, I'm decent, Xander. Thank you." She grinned at him. "I'll call if I do. You have voicemail on your phone, right?" He nodded. "Good. Then I'll call if we need anything."
"Did you send him to go grocery shopping?" Vinnie asked between bites.
"He has this big SUV, I thought we'd take the time to stock up," she admitted. "I hope we won't run out of hotdogs or sodas this week."
"You have fifty pounds of hotdogs and I brought in seven cases of soda, if you run out, someone's got worms," Xander countered. She laughed at that. "They do!"
"How did you fit fifty pounds of hotdogs in the freezer?" Throttle asked. Xander pointed at the new box in the corner beside the stove. "What's that?"
"An alternate freezer. Door opens toward the stove because it wouldn't open enough the other way with a handle on it." He ate another bite. "It's set at about thirty degrees. I put the tofu dogs in there too, cleverly hidden among the real ones just to let you guys know what they're like."
"They're in a plastic package," Charley said to ease the horrified looks. "One single ten pack. The others are in boxes."
"Oh, good, I thought he was going to torture us," Switch said. "That's mean, Xander." He beamed at her. "Are you sure you're a good boy?"
"I try," he said with a giggle. "But then again, I'm a bit warped. It comes from nearly being eaten by a very pretty woman who was a bug."
"A bug?" Throttle asked blandly.
"Giant preying mantis. She was a stunning woman in her human form but she wanted virgins and I was unfortunately one at that time. She wanted to use me, then bite my head off." He ate another bite. "Fortunately Buffy was there and Willow figured it out, and they never let me forget it." He ate another bite and chewed slowly.
"Sounds like good friends," Vinnie snorted.
"Yeah, that's why I'm here," Xander reminded him. "That and thirteen hyper, stupid brats." He saluted them with his can of soda. "If they come to try to reclaim me, I want your promise to help me wipe their cranky butts off the city. We can dump them in the lake if you want."
"That might hurt the fish," Modo said dryly.
"Probably, but I'm sure they'd get the point."
"True," Vinnie agreed. "No pre-emptive strikes planned?"
"No, then I'd have to get really mean and then Buffy and Willow would cry, and Giles would try to defend Buffy, and lose, and we'd have to destroy most of Cleveland on them, and then they might want to move here to make my life more of a living hell."
"Let's make sure they don't come here," Charley said. "I'd hate to have to beat sense into some of them."
"I don't think even Modo's strong enough for that with a few of them," he said with a small smirk. "But I'd like to see Buffy's face when she sees him and notices his height. She's always had a thing for big guys." He looked at Modo. "If I can return her to being a girl, want her? She's nice when she's being a girl. She's sweet and giggly, and loves to shop, but otherwise she's a decent enough girl. I'll even make sure no vampires or demons come near her to remind her of being a slayer so she'll stay a girl."
Modo blushed and shook his head. "We still have to whip tail, she'd never leave it behind." He looked at his plate.
Xander gave him a hug. "It's all right, big guy, I'll find you someone who'll coo and pet you and comb you and help you shine your bike all the time," he said gently. Modo blushed even brighter so Xander grinned at him. "Like blondes, brunettes, or redheads?"
"We usually come in tan, white, brown, and spotted," Throttle said blandly. "Don't pick on him."
"I'm not. He seems like the sort to want a nice girly girl sort."
"Hell, I'd take him," Switch agreed. "He's very sweet and nice. He's the sort of mouse my sister would be really happy if I settled down with." She grinned at Throttle. "Of course, she told me I'm not allowed to hit on you."
"No, she's still a bit possessive, even though we're not dating," Throttle admitted, blushing now. Vinnie cackled so he glared at him. "Keep it up," he ground out. Vinnie cackled louder so Throttle jumped him, being him like he should have gotten Xander earlier. Vinnie continued to laugh at him.
"Boys," Charley warned.
Xander grinned at her. "Can I help?" She shook her head, patting him on the arm. He looked down there. "Look, it's a baby mouse!" he yelled, pointing at the one coming out from behind the new freezer. Interestingly enough, Vinnie got up and ran off. "Huh," he said thoughtfully. "Hopefully he's going to get a cage to keep it?"
Switch looked at it, then sniffled. "It's so cute!" she complained. She burst out in tears and headed back up the stairs.
Throttle looked down at the mouse, then shook his head. "Charley girl, did you want us to catch it? Vinnie, bring me a box," he called. One came flying through the door at Modo's head. Throttle scooped up the mouse and put it into the box, taking it outside to release it away from the garage. He came back with the box. "It's gone, Vinnie," he called. He went back to his seat, shaking his head. "Where is he?"
"Hormones are fun things," Xander said wisely. "There'll be a lot of them. Some may be worse, some may be better, but she will be crying a lot."
"How many of them were pregnant?" Charley asked.
"Two. The one from Africa was married and having her second kid. The other snuck out and just found out the other day. Giles was still yelling at her when I left." He grinned at her. "It's interesting watch them sometimes. Switch, you okay?" he called. "If you don't quit, you'll get sick again." She came down and hugged him, clinging to him. "Shh," he said gently, pushing back his seat to allow her into his lap. "Shh," he soothed, stroking her back. "It's all right. Hormones are nasty and bad. They'll go away after you have the baby. It'll be okay," he crooned. She shook her head. "Yeah it will be. I promise it'll be okay. We'll be sitting around and all grope the baby when it starts to kick, until you push the guys off and yell at them next time." She chuckled, wiping off her cheeks. "Feel better?" She nodded. "Good girl." He gave her a gentle squeeze. "There you go. Now go eat." She nodded, getting up and going back to her seat. Xander finished his steak and walked off with his soda. "See you tomorrow, Charley. Let me know if I need to bring anything back."
"Sure, Xander." She waited until he was gone. "He's smoother than I thought."
"He's very smooth," Switch agreed timidly. "He's very nice too."
"He is, but he only dates evil women," Charley assured her.
"I can be a bad girl," she chimed in immediately then blushed and ducked her head, taking his knife to cut up her steak. "It's a good steak, Charley. Thank you."
"You're welcome." She ate another bite of hers. "Vinnie, get your tail down here!" she yelled. "Now! Or else I'm letting Throttle have yours."
He came back down the stairs and dug back in. He looked at Xander's seat and made an inquisitive noise since his mouth was full.
"He went out," Throttle admitted. "He'll be back tomorrow." Vinnie nodded, eating faster.
"He'll be fine, guys," Charley said patiently. She grinned at Switch, who grinned back. "He can take care of himself. He's very good at it."
"He is," Switch agreed. "He seems very competent."
"He's like a more wild version of Vinnie," Modo said dryly. He looked at her. "Did you get to tell the daddy?"
"No, sister yelled it at the top of her lungs and he ran down the hall to go on a suicide mission," she said honestly. "That was about four minutes before she shoved me onto a ship without enough fuel and had it programmed to go here."
"Why here?" Throttle asked. She shrugged. "She knows it's not totally safe."
They heard an explosion outside and all jumped up, grabbing weapons to head outside. They found a few goons and their newly exploded dune buggies. They were tied up and one of them was gibbering madly and pointing down the road. "I guess Xander reintroduced himself," Vinnie said happily. "Anyone wanna go have some fun tonight?"
"Sure, I'm for it," Modo agreed.
"Sounds good to me," Throttle agreed. "Finish up and then we'll rock and ride."
Charley watched as they went back inside, shaking her head. "Now I've got four of them," she said dryly. "The city won't ever be the same." She went inside to finish up her dinner, then got grabbed by Vinnie to come help.
To Part 3