Xander ran over the last hill and saw a burned out shell of a building, heading for it. He ignored the sign that said 'danger, loose ground and sinkholes' and kept going. All the way inside until he ran into the locker area. He frowned, looking at the lockers. "What's this?" He opened one and it was empty. He looked it over again, seeing the overhead moving equipment. "I bet this was the bike factory," he said in awe, backtracking to look it over. He saw a few ghosts but didn't pay any attention to them. They were working on ghostly rides and ignoring him. One did stare at him and he grinned. "Just touring. I'm harmless." The ghost snorted but didn't make a move toward him. He walked around the back area, finding an old storeroom. It was empty too. There were some spots of grease and some debris laying around. He guessed this was where some of the bikes had died during the bombing. He walked on, heading to a back room. The doorway made him shiver and he paused, looking around. This wasn't the same as the other rooms. He turned but the doorway was gone. "Shit." He saw another ghost and nodded politely at her. "Ma'am."
"Who are you?"
"That's not who you are," she told him.
"Well, that's kinda who I am this life," he admitted. "I'm ignoring any past ones." She gave him an odd look. "What? I got that hint during the nightmare curse."
"Oh, I see." She looked him over again, then nodded once. "You have one, young one. I have no idea where though. It's thought to be lost. Look around, you may find it yet." She faded and he stood there looking confused.
Then he shrugged and continued forward since he couldn't go back. The only choice and all. He looked up as the room changed again, this time it was a temple. Not one he was familiar with. He saw all sorts of markings and drawings on the walls. He shook his head, a few seemed familiar but he wasn't sure why. He passed through that one, and another two, finding one with a huge obelisk in it. He stopped to pat it, feeling the energy in it. "You need to go back to Mars," he whispered. "Willow?" No answer. "Seal? Yo, hellmouth seal?" A hazy shade of Willow entered it. "What's this? It feels like power and the earth. Where is it?"
"It's an obelisk," she said, using her Willow image. She stepped out of it and looked around, then smiled. "I know where it is, Xander. If you find us here, it will help but I can do this one alone."
"It won't hurt, will it?"
"No, precious, it won't hurt." She stroked his cheek. "What do you seek?"
"I was touring the old bike factory," he told her. "Then I ended up in a temple with funny carvings and through a few more and here, and I can't go back but forward is seeming more and more creepy. There's a woman who said I had one but it was lost?"
"Hmm, lost things can be found," she agreed. "You'll search and find one." She kissed him on the cheek. "The power is great, but not for you," she reminded him. "You don't play with chaos." He nodded, and she disappeared, taking the obelisk with her. Or maybe the temple since it had changed. He felt really paranoid in this one and hurried through it, keeping going through a few more, until he finally ended up in front of a giant altar with a bike on it. He stared, but shivered. He could feel the energy from where he stood. He walked up the few stairs, touching a fingertip to the edge of a handlebar and flinched, coming back to himself in the bike factory. "No, not mine," he whispered, shaking his head. He looked up. "So where is mine?" he asked quietly, seeing a star above him. "Is it with you?" It twinkled but didn't have an answer. He moved on, finding another back room. In it were a few carcasses of bikes, but no brains. Nothing to make them alive. He stroked the handlebar of one and moved on, leaving that door open. He came to a sealed part and tapped on it. It resonated, there was an empty space behind it. He looked around, no way to open it. The door looked like a drop door too. Like it had been an emergency drop door, a protection for something. "Shelter? Bunker? Brain building shop?" he mused, moving to the side. He could see the grooves and picked at one gently, watching it crumble. He looked and saw that the carcasses were in the way so he moved them first, gently wheeling them to the room before this one, then he went back to picking at the door's frame.
Modo stopped and turned when he heard a thud. "He's in the factory." He took off running, that place was dangerous. Especially if you were Xander. It had held a lot of people and bikes the day it had been bombed. He looked around the empty receiving area. "Xander?"
"Back here," he called. "After the bikes without brains. I found the brain factory."
Modo carefully walked back there, his bros somewhere behind him. He found the room with the bikes, stopping to admire the craftsmanship of them, then into the next room, where he could see a giant door laying on the ground. "Did you do that?"
"It was going to fall soon," Xander told him. "The tracks holding it in were rotten. Look. This is how they built the brains," he said, pointing at a half-constructed one in a machine. "We need your girl, Modo."
"We need more than that. This area is dangerous, Xander. It's off limits for a reason."
Xander looked at him. "Would that be the funky temples I went through and the green obelisk and all that stuff?"
"No," he said slowly. "Not even close. Sinkholes." He palmed the switch on his helmet. "Bros, I found him, we're in the factory, and he made it into the brain facility. He's reporting hallucinations of temples too." He palmed off the switch and pulled Xander back. "I'm not sure they're not alive enough to take you over too," he said gently.
"Sure," Xander agreed, grinning as Throttle and Staff walked in. "Hi, guys. Look what I found."
"How did you do that! We've been trying for years!" Staff demanded.
"The track was rotting. I picked at it for long enough."
She groaned, hitting herself on the head. "Never mind. You look at things like a construction guy. I should have just asked you." She walked inside and looked at the machines. "They're all right," she announced. "Call Carbine and Simplex."
"Sure," Throttle agreed, making that call. He'd love to wake his ex girlfriend up in the middle of the night. He came back, carefully stepping over any cracked ground. "Xander?" Xander beamed at him. "Hallucinations?"
"Temples." He wandered back the way he had been. "I was here," he said, pointing at a blank wall. "I went through there and through a lot of temples, but then I found a bike at the end that felt like chaos magic and I touched it and I woke up in the room where the carcasses are."
Throttle shook his head. "Huh?"
"Temples," he repeated, grinning at him. "Did we expect me to be normal?"
"No," he sighed, shaking his head and walking off. He stepped on one spot and started to fall but Xander caught him and hauled him back up, wincing the whole way. "Thanks, babe."
"Welcome." He grinned at Carbine. "The ghosts are really helpful."
"I don't want to know," she said firmly. "Dead people are gone over." She walked into the back room and stopped to stare, shaking her head. "How?"
"He thought like a construction worker and undid one of the tracks holding the door."
Carbine groaned and hit herself on the head. "Stupid men." Staff laughed at that. "Okay, is everything okay?" She nodded. "Good. Then we've got to move it out of here. We're due a sand storm tonight. Sometime." She glanced back at Xander, then at Staff. "How do you put up with that? You seem so reasonable."
"You have to accept Xander how he is," she said sweetly. "That's the way the Gods made him, Carbine, and that's the way they wanted him." Carbine nodded, going to call in the others. "We need to take the frames too. It'd be a shame to waste the last prototypes."
"Fine, sure. Take him to the other door, see if it opens too."
"Xander," Staff called, walking out to grab him by the arm. "There's another door. Can we have you look at it?" He nodded, grinning at her. "See, at one point in time it was due to be a secondary storehouse but no one knows if it was or not. If so, it could hold a lot more bikes. If not, maybe it's got plans or something we can use." She walked him into the back, pausing when he looked in a doorway. "What?"
He walked that way and looked inside, creating a small ball of light. He saw two levers and tested them both, hearing another thud. "That door?" he called.
"Yeah, that door," she called back. "Thanks." She went to look and pouted. "Only four bikes," she said sadly. "Prototypes, probably without brains too. Carbine, he found the levers." She came jogging over. "Only four prototypes." They walked in there together, with Modo following them trailing a rope for their safety. Staff stopped and stared at something hugging a filing cabinet. "Plans," she said happily, starting to cry. Her man hugged her while she looked. "All the plans. We can rebuild."
Carbine nodded. "Right after the water processing plant for irrigation." She looked at the bikes. "Two don't have brains. Two do." She touched one and it wheezed. "It's been a while since they were started."
"So?" she demanded, coming over to touch it. "Hey, baby. I'm Staff. I was one of the apprentice mechanics when the bombs fell. We've found you, you'll be fine. Just fine. You'll be loved and wanted." She stroked them both then looked at the other ones, smiling and starting it. "The brain was hidden in this model. I remember hearing about it while I was apprenticing in the machine shop." She moved to the other one and it was lifeless, but that was fine. They could fix that. They had a few spare brains laying around from Limburger. She'd make it work if she had to. She looked at them. "There's a lot of sinkholes, guys. Be very careful rolling out, okay?" They beeped and wheezed some at the dust, heading out slowly with Modo walking behind them to save them if necessary. She looked around, finding the design office's back door there too and squealed, walking in and falling into a hole with the rest of the office furniture. "Cheese!"
Carbine came in with the rope and helped her out. "We all need a bit of Xander's luck," she said gently. "They took off again." She looked around. "We have to demolish this one. That way we can make sure we've got everything." Staff nodded, patting the building on the way out, one last time. "We'll build her better and more protected," Carbine promised. "You and Modo can both come back and work in her, Staff."
"I will, someday," she agreed. She looked around. "Modo?" He popped up and waved at her so she trotted that way, going to hug him. "Someday."
"Yeah, someday," he agreed, looking back in the building. "I used to come stare at the workers as they went in and out and on breaks." She grinned at him. "They used to give me these fond, tolerant looks, they knew I'd be back and having my own and that I'd be one of the better riders." He gave her a squeeze. "At least we found more."
"There was a whole filing cabinet of plans." She looked back. "We've got to get it before it falls in. Who knows what it'd hit."
"Already done," Carbine said as she joined them. "Before wonderboy disappeared I had him and Throttle lift out the three filing cabinets in there to a more stable room." Staff hugged her. "Easy, girl. I'm still breakable." She patted her on the back, nodding at her fellow council member. "We found the plans and a few prototypes, plus the brain building machines."
"Excellent. Where? Or better yet, how?"
"Xander's a carpenter," she said dryly. "How do you think?" She walked off shaking her head. "I need a drink," she complained, heading for the bottle of scotch she had bought on her last tour of Earth. It was a handy thing to have in case of medicinal purposes. Like a headache from a white mouse.
"Let me get this straight. Xander did what we've been trying to do for years, by accident?" Stoker asked. "How?"
"Construction workers think in different ways than engineers," Throttle explained. Again. "Engineers are designers, they think in ways of keeping things intact and doing it with machines. Construction workers are usually lazy, do things with the least amount of effort, and do it easily with destruction as well as construction. So your engineers thought about lifting the door. Xander took apart the door frame. He's done it to Enamel's place too if it helps."
Stoker rubbed his forehead. "So, he basically picked at it until it fell." Throttle nodded, grinning at him. "Where is your mate? I'd like to spank him this time."
"Classified," Throttle said smugly. "To remain that way until we go home."
"Fine. Take him out, show him the sights, see if he can undo something to give us more water next time."
"Hey, we got you the textbooks," Throttle said dryly.
"Out!" Stoker ordered, taking something from Carbine under the table. He sniffed the cup and took the offered drink. "How can one mouse do so much damage yet do it so well and fix things we needed to do?" he demanded.
"He's a Xander mouse," Throttle called from outside the doors. "He's like that." His bike revved and he took off, heading to where he had stashed Xander, looking at some ruined old temples. There wasn't anything there he could get into, unless he managed to wake up an old God or something, so he was relatively safe with him, Vinnie, Modo, Charley, Vic, and Staff watching him. He pulled up outside and parked, walking inside to find everyone staring at him. "Don't tell me he woke up an old God," he demanded.
"No, just a former priestess," Vinnie called back. "A fairly pissed one. She hated white mice."
"White mice are evil!" she screeched through Xander's mouth.
"Lady, look what body you're in," Modo told her. She looked down and screamed, then fled Xander's body. They all heard something fall on another level and decided to drag Xander out into the open desert again.
"No, not another one," Xander moaned, waving his hands in another direction. "No more dead people. Please!" He panted, the dead person had stopped. "You're not coming in?"
"You asked me not to," he pointed out, smiling at him. "Did shiny britches there bother you, buddy?" He nodded, so the ghost moved closer. "There are sects that welcome white mice you know. You're very blessed in mine." He held out a hand. "You could come with me." He touched Xander's finger and flinched, then stared at him. "On second thought, brother, there's a better place for you. Go to the Northern Hills. There you'll find your brethren's last stand. Someone there can help you." He smiled. "Peace, brother mouse."
"Peace, father." The ghost faded and Xander shook himself, looking up at everyone. "I can't help it," he defended. "What's in the Northern Hills?" Throttle opened his mouth. "The ghost said to go there. He said I'd find my brethren's last stand. That someone there can help me."
Vinnie scratched the back of his head. "My family home used to be that way," he admitted. "We did make one hell of a last stand. Northern Hills? We weren't that far up and that sounds familiar."
Throttle closed his mouth. "Northern Hills, Vinnie. The town of Sycresta. Village of that small cult."
"No, not a cult," Xander told him. "He didn't say a cult." He stood up and looked around, then frowned. "Which way is North?" Everyone pointed. "Thanks." He looked at the temple beside him then up the front of it. "Can we climb?"
"No," Throttle said, trying to stop him. Vinnie managed to pounce him. "No climbing the outside of holy temples, especially not where you were possessed." He heard a quiet laugh and looked around. "Who is it? Show yourself."
The same ghost as before appeared. "It's him!" Xander shouted, pointing. "He told me!"
"No, not Sycresta, young one," the ghost assured him with a smirk. "Farther past that. I would suggest you detour with what he is. Go towards the end of the hills, that valley. Two days before there, stop and turn east. There's another small valley. That's where his line is from."
"He's not Martian originally," Staff said.
"Dear one, he was once," the ghost said gently. "As he very well knows."
"We ignore such things," Throttle said. "Except in the cats."
"Be that as it may, there's books there to keep him from sucking in things like that stupid, vapid little priestess, brother mouse."
"Hey, Northern Hills, that sounds good," Vinnie agreed. He pulled out his worldmap. "Where?" The ghost pointed, whispering in his ear. He drew on the map and the ghost nodded. "Thank you." He folded it back up and put it back in his pocket. "Let's rock and ride, people, that way he quits sucking in others."
"Can't we bathe in the springs and look at the pretty temple?" Xander asked.
"On the way back," Throttle admitted. "It'll be our next-to-last day out." He looked at Vinnie. "How far?"
"Three days ride, hard ride through the mountains."
"Fine," he agreed. "Thank you, brother mouse." The ghost nodded and disappeared again. "Xander, bike." Xander kissed him and got onto the bike. He looked at the others. "To stop that, I'd go," he said. "You guys can go sightsee."
"Fat chance," Vinnie snorted. "You'll get into trouble without me." He got onto his bike, letting Charley and the baby join him, and they took off, Modo and Staff jumping on theirs to follow and Throttle getting on to follow them. It was every one of their fantasies that Xander become a normal mouse.
The ghost and a few others chuckled together, shaking their heads. "The young, always so impatient," that one said.
The others nodded, still laughing at the priestess bathing to get rid of the foul white mouse taint.
Throttle looked around the former village before letting anyone else in. He wasn't sure why but he wanted to make sure there weren't any traps or anything. All he found was a very old village and some wreckage. So he waved the others in.
Xander walked in slowly, looking at the town. "Why can I see the building's as whole and a wreck?" he asked.
"I don't know, Xander. Let's figure that out after we figure out how to put a plug in you." He gave him a gentle squeeze and looked around with him. "What draws you?"
Xander looked around again, then felt an ache pop up, heading for a small path. At the end he found a few bodies guarding a well. "Their sacred well," he said, bowing to it. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you." He backed away carefully, not wanting to disturb the bodies guarding it. They could attack if they thought he was a threat. On the path, he found a small, overgrown sidepath and took it instead, heading off further into the few trees that were around there. He guessed this was too remote for the Plutarkians to touch, but it was pretty. He stared at the temple and something pinged in his head. "This is the one that made me panic back at the factory." He walked up to it and found a spirit guarding it. "Hi."
"You're not one of us," he noted, staring at him, then the others with him. "Why did you come here to bother us?"
"I was told by a ghost out near Olympus Mons to come here, that someone here could help me since I can see you and you guys like to put me on like clothes."
"You mean I'm dead?" he asked dryly.
"Or doing a reasonable facsimile," he offered with a grin. "You're a spirit guardian. I've seen like you on Native holy places on Terra. I saw inside your temple in a vision at the bike factory but it made me panic."
"It would. You're not one of us." He floated down, coming to rest in front of him. "Where did the ghost tell you to go, young one?"
It was handed over and the spirit looked at it, then nodded. "You're one too far over."
"There wasn't a valley that we saw."
"You can see it and lead them into it. It's a bit hidden," he offered. "On foot, you can get there by tonight. Your bikes will be protected here."
"I can't ask that of them. They're sentient and would worry."
"Fine. But you still must go on foot anyway. Here at least they'll be protected and admired."
"I can go alone," he decided. "Where?"
"Follow the yellow brick road, Xander," he said dryly. "How do you think?"
Xander smirked. "I like you, you're a smartass like me."
"You were from among us but you were raised by another clan before. Go there first, then come back here. This will be finishing your journey." Xander nodded, bowing to him and he went back to his spot. "By the way, don't go alone. Never go alone. You know what happens to hero who goes alone. He gets eaten." He disappeared.
Xander turned to look at them, blinking hard in the sunlight. "There's a spirit guardian," he told Charley. "Like in some Native holy places."
"I heard that," she admitted. "We're going where?"
"Well, I'm going to the other valley with an escort. The bikes and some of you are staying here. You can't get there on bike. I was warned not to go alone, that I might get eaten. He said I could come back here after I'm done, that this would end the journey, but that I could reach the other place by tonight, so maybe two days?" He shrugged and looked around. "Which way is the valley?"
"East," the guardian called patiently.
"East?" Vinnie pointed behind them. "All the way down the path?" He shook his head and handed over his compass. "Cool, I needed this." He grinned at his mate. "This is going to get strange. You wanna come or go?"
"I'd rather stay," he admitted. "I hate the really strange stuff."
"Point." Xander looked at Vinnie, who shrugged, then at Modo and Staff, who both shook their heads. "Okay, so I'm going on a quest, I'm not going alone. We're going east. Let's head. We'll see you guys within two days." He walked off, heading east by the compass. Vinnie took it and pulled him in the right direction but Xander went back the way he had been going, past the well and onward. On the other side of the woods, he found ... a yellow brick road? "Not funny," he called, "but thank you."
"It's yellow," Vinnie said. "Huh?"
"Wizard of Oz, Vinnie. Follow the Yellow Brick Road?" He stepped onto it and suddenly shivered and backed off. He grabbed onto Vinnie's arm and crossed again, making him shiver too, but not as much. "Cool. Just what we need. If I see a three-headed dog, remind me to go back there and yell."
"Sure. Three-headed dog?"
"We're on a spirit path. We're on the astral plane," he said dryly. He walked on, shaking his head. It was better now. He wasn't feeling more than congested. He knew there was a village up ahead, one that had warded itself. He came to the end of the road and there was a valley. "Password?" he muttered, looking for the end of the path. He saw it on the other side, then groaned and concentrated, grabbing Vinnie again. He pictured them there. He knew they'd both been there. He knew they'd be welcomed there. He opened his eyes and the path was whole looking, but illusion. "We're not that incorporeal," he offered. "I'd like not to die and if he does I'm never going to hear the end of it." The path firmed up before him and he led the way, keeping a hand on Vinnie. "Stay where I go, step where I step." They got to a small break in the path and it felt like a breath coming and going across their skins. "I'm Xander. I was directed here," he said quietly, respectfully. "This is Vinnie, my guardian. May we pass?" The path widened but the breach remained. "If I must," he agreed, stepping across it. He felt icy knives go through him and winced but finished that step and he was in the village. He looked and Vinnie was beside him, shaking. "I'm sorry. If I had known..."
Vinnie gave him a gentle kiss. "You'd have come and died," he said simply. "I'm more suited to this stuff." He looked around, and the mists parted, showing them an old village, one that had fallen into decay, just like the last one. "Where is this?"
"Still in the next valley, just hidden," Xander said, pointing up. "See?" Above them were roots. He looked at Vinnie. "Underground mice." He walked forward, slowly, calmly, looking around. He stopped to pick up a child's play piece, finding a memory stored in it. A small black mouse child playing with it, something like hopscotch. He tossed it and followed the pattern, then grinned at Vinnie. "It's a game piece." He turned and walked on, finding the sacred well and the temple this time as well. The well didn't scare him. He picked up a smooth rock and muttered something, then tossed it inside, listening to it hit the water. Then he turned and went to the temple, finding that same guardian. "You couldn't just bring me?" he asked.
"Whoa, I can see him this time," Vinnie complained, backing up.
"Of course you can," he agreed dryly. "You just crossed the astral planes to be here, Vincent, as you were long ago." He looked at Xander. "What do you seek?"
"A few things. Happiness, which I'm pretty sure I have. Um, a plug to my being a medium strong enough to suck in spirits. I'm told there's a set of books for that though. Got those?" The guardian nodded. "My own bike would be nice."
"You seek a destiny?"
"No, I've had it with those. I gave up one of those." He stared him down. "I know exactly what was going on in Sunnydale, including the Martian temple that I found on my return. I walked in, it welcomed me like a long lost relative." Vinnie gaped at him. "I knew then that something was odd about me. And I gave it up," he said simply. "I could have stayed."
"You could have. You would have come here sooner."
"Then that planet would have died. I've done my service. I asked for no reward, but I was offered a chance to sightsee here. Can I at least look at those books?"
The guardian laughed. "You were always very brave, Xander. Always. We liked that about you."
"Are you one of those Powers twits?" Vinnie asked.
The guardian looked at him. "Do I look like I have shiny blue skin with rocky spots?" He shook his head. "Then I'm not one of them. They gave up on Xander during the last battle."
"They gave up on Xander when Willow was attacking them and he was trying to stop her," Xander corrected. "I felt them give up on me. That's why I still ache from what she did to me." The guardian looked at him. "Like I said, they put me on like clothes. I can't help it. They leave stuff in my head and I just absorb it now and then."
"Point. Yes, you definitely need the Mekonis books to help plug that gaping hole where part of your soul should be." He stepped forward and stared into his eyes. "If only you had been allowed to be reborn up here."
"Then I'd probably already be dead and so would earth."
"You think they wouldn't have found another you?"
"Yeah, I think that's why the Powers allowed Jessie to die," he said honestly. "He was a techie too though. Remote control cars. Not explosions, which was what won the ascension. The rest would have allowed the world to fall too."
"If it hadn't been Buffy in the lead, the First might not have come. Glory loosened her."
"Glory was bound to happen no matter what, it was time. Not a matter of which slayer or which prophecy, she was waiting for the right time. That time was very specific. It would have been another slayer and I'm not sure that one would have won either. She wouldn't have been busted free from the Council."
"You reason very well."
"I had to when I couldn't sleep so the nightmares would stop," he admitted. "Why else have me kill my best friend in cold blood, or actually cold ash? Twice?" Vinnie gaped at him again, probably at the ice in his voice. "The Powers abandoned me long ago. Their games are not my games. I gave up that destiny too. I'd rather be free of destiny and be happy with Throttle. I think I've earned it. Not that I'd ask for a reward from them, they'd find some way to fuck it up on me."
The guardian nodded. "True, they would. With a time limit most likely and at the end of another stake. Possibly for all your family if they were mad at you for asking."
"I know. I've felt them trying to provoke it. I would like to find a way to plug that hole too."
"Bond to your mate tighter, Xander. Share your soul with him. He can heal yours and add to that spot that got gouged out and leaves you so open."
"He's only got part of a soul?" Vinnie asked.
"The Powers took part of it, they needed me to be who I am," Xander told them. "When I staked Jessie, we were due to be lifemates but they interfered. Again. Twice now." He looked at the guardian. "I don't mind that thought. But I'd rather not go into it here."
"I agree," he said kindly. "So, that leaves the books and your bike. Do you wish to be a warrior priest?"
"I'd rather be a happy Xander, mate to Throttle, and uncle to everyone's kids."
"You wish no children?"
"If I have a child, there's a ninety percent certainty that the Powers would choose it for something. Either as a champion, which means he'd die early, or as a slayer. Which means she'd die early. I'll be an uncle and watch for them fucking with my family."
The guardian nodded. "That's sad, Xander."
"No. That's realistic. That's what they made me."
"If you had a kid, it'd go to them?" Vinnie demanded. "Since when?"
"Since it's the same thing that would have happened to Tara's kids," he said, looking at him, pulling him closer to stand next to him. "It's the same thing that would have happened to Willow's kids. It's what'll happen to Dawn's kids and I don't have the heart to tell her. I'm hoping like hell that when she has one, she binds it to Mars immediately. I want her to have it up here, to bind and bless it up here, and to christen it up here to the Goddess immediately upon birth, Vinnie. If I'm not there, then make sure of it. If she fusses, tell her to look at Caroline and Faith's kids." He teared up some and choked it back, looking at the guardian. "Again, not making with the happy Xander. I know what I've given up."
"Yet, you still ask for no reward?"
"No. Why would I want one? With that taint?" He shook his head. "Not worth it."
The guardian nodded. "I agree. You may enter." He got out of the way, watching as he walked inside. He looked at Vinnie. "You won't remember," he offered gently. "This is only between us who serve and those who died protecting. Some day, if you take my place, you may. For now, guard him. The bike he should not have is in there. Chaos is very easy and very seductive."
Vinnie walked inside, taking a torch off his bandoliers and lighting it against his thigh. He held it up, looking around. "Xander?"
"Here, bookshelves," he admitted, waving at him. "Oooh, light. Thank you." He looked at the titles, finding the ones he needed. "A three volume set?"
"Two are lost, Xander. Lost to time totally."
"That's fine. Will the three help?"
"The first chapter of the first one would help more than Bextra did. Or Donaghue."
"Thanks." He pulled them down and held them to his chest. "I get to borrow them but I've got to give them back some day."
"Sure, I'll escort you back then if I have to," he offered, looking around. "There's a bike around here."
"There's seven or ten bikes around here," he said dryly. "Fallen ones' bikes, Vinnie. I saw the chaos bike and I've already been warned. I don't like chaos magic, no matter how much it likes me." He grinned. "Okay?" Vinnie nodded, following him into another room. They went through the sunny space and out into another patio area, finding the bikes there. "Hmm, ten. I thought seven for sure." He looked at the hazy three on the end. "They're not dead yet," he called.
"That's not my bike," Vinnie told him.
"Yeah, it is. It's got a place here." He looked up. "Quit. Now." They disappeared. "Sorry about that. Let's just say you've got a good reward coming." He gave him a kiss. "Even if you became a serial killer." He walked to the other seven, looking them over. Behind them he could feel the chaos bike riding closer. "Vinnie, move, don't touch it. It'll shock us back there."
"Sure." He looked at the pure black bike, it was a huge bike, a monster bike, and it was drawing him but he knew he had his bike. He loved his bike. His bike loved him and protected him. His bike was all he ever needed and more. The chaos bike left him alone. But it was now sitting behind where Xander was sitting on the patio.
"Hey, guys." He stroked each of them. "I'm just visiting. I'm hoping one of you've seen my bike. Have you?" They all beeped and turned to look behind him. "No, not the chaos bike," he said softly. "I don't do that. I can't and I won't do that to my mate and others. It'd be easy and soft and be like falling into a pile of feathers while having the best sex ever, but I can't do that. I don't want that." The bikes got together, front wheels together like heads bowing to talk in private. Then one bike beeped and moved forward. Xander stood up and followed it into the bushes, finding a bike standing there. Again, pure black. Purest black, like his favorite leathers. It shone, but it was dark and dangerous. It was a low rider, like Throttle's. Even the chrome wasn't really shiny, just enough to tell you it was chrome. "Are you mine?" he asked, moving over to touch the padded leather seat with the backrest. It revved and looked at him, then backed off. "That's fine, I won't push. I'm looking for my bike and one of the Fallen Ones suggested I come see you. The green one."
"Tryke's," Vinnie said from behind him. That bike beeped and seemed to bow to him. "Thanks. You honor me and him." The bike beeped and seemed to glance at them before beeping at him and nudging his leg, then taking off. Vinnie shook his head. "Did she..."
"He," Xander corrected.
"Okay, he just say that they could possess you?"
"Right about now, anything can possess me," Xander said dryly. "Gods, spirits, AI's, DVD's, anything." The bike in front of him laughed. "You think I'm kidding?" He put a hand on the gas tank and let it feel him. The bike moved closer, letting him touch deeper. "I'd rather stay a lover than a fighter," he told him. "I wish I was more often." The bike moved closer. "But you've got to know the whole me." He opened himself fully, blinding Vinnie and the bike, but it only backed off a few inches, then came closer to look at him. It beeped and he pulled back. "Sorry, aura flash. Forgot to warn you," he said when he saw Vinnie rubbing his eyes. "Really sorry, Vinnie."
"Not a problem," he admitted, walking closer to put an arm around him. "Is this yours?"
"That's for him to decide," he admitted. "I can't make that decision. Any who bond with me has to know what would go on in their lives."
The bike stared at them, then beeped and moved closer, nudging him closer to Vinnie.
Vinnie grinned. "We might play at it, but we're not really bound. He's got a mate. I'm like a secondary mate now and then. It's odd, but it works for us." The bike nudged him and he put a hand where Xander had, knowing it wanted to see how others saw him. So he showed him how he did, and how others had and misjudged him. The bike pulled back and stared at him, then nodded, beeping lightly.
Xander straddled him and it was the perfect fit for his hips. He didn't have to shift. The backrest was at the right height for when his back ached. He sighed and smiled, closing his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered. "I'll take good care of you. Just don't ram my car like Rimfire's bike rammed Dawn's. Please?" It beeped and sounded like laughter. Xander stroked it and the bike seemed to conform to his reach and his body. He kicked it to life. "Vinnie? Are you walking back?" he asked with a grin. Vinnie got on and circled his waist carefully. Xander hugged the books between their arms, using one hand to drive them back out of the woods. They felt the astral plane take hold, then nothing.
Modo perked up, dropping the stick he had been playing in the fire with when he heard the motor coming their way. "Throttle?" he called. "Motor coming." Throttle came out of his tent and put on his glasses looking around. The motor stopped and it was back in the village. They looked at each other and got the girls and the baby up, heading back to check as a group. They'd seen some ghosts dancing around the other side of their fire but hadn't really joined in. Now, on the temple's steps, they found Vinnie and Xander asleep, Xander clutching two books. Vinnie had hold of another one with his tail. They were on a black bike that no one knew what it was.
Staff looked at it, coming over to touch it. She shook her head. "It's one of ours," she admitted. "I don't know from when or where though."
Charley moved closer, taking the book from Vinnie's tail and handing it to Throttle. Then she carefully poked Vinnie, making him jump. "You back?"
He blinked at her and patted Xander on the back of the head. "Hey, bro?" Xander mumbled. "I think we're back. Xander?" Xander woke with a start and Throttle took the two books from his hands before he could drop them. "Two? Where's the third?"
"It was in your tail," Throttle said, holding them up. "What are they?"
"The Mekonis books, the first three volumes. The last two are lost," Xander told him, looking at him. "Like him?"
"Him?" Charley asked. "Most bikes are girls." The bike beeped sourly. "Sorry, but they are."
"No, he's a boy bike," Xander admitted, leaning down to hug him. "A very good boy bike who loves me, even though I'm very odd." The bike shifted some, seeming to press back against him. "Love you too, babe. Vinnie, can Throttle have that seat for a minute?" He nodded, climbing off with Charley's help. "Love?" Throttle climbed on and moaned at the feel of the seats. "And see, a backrest when I get tired." He grinned at him. "You like?"
"I do," he agreed, hugging him around the backrest. "Quite a lot." It lowered back into the seat. "That's a nice feature," he admitted. "Guns?" They popped out and he nodded, looking impressed. "He's got as many as Vinnie's. Very nice." He shifted closer. "Let's do the final test, the ladies in our lives?" Xander nodded, starting the bike. Modo jumped at the sound of the engine. "Very deep," Throttle admitted, holding on while Xander slowly moved them through the village like some procession. "Are the books are?"
"Lent. I'll have to bring them back some day." He parked on the other side of the fire from the three bikes. "Ladies. Do you like him?" He got off, helping Throttle off, and watched as his bike slowly made his way around to them. The three bikes backed up a bit to give him some space, but then they all beeped and stared at him, finally beeping happily and nudging him. He beeped happily. "He's a lot like me," Xander told Throttle, kissing him. "I have new news." Throttle nodded. "Part of the reason I'm so open is that I lost part of my soul to the Powers That Be."
"Can you regrow it?"
"Not when it's a lifemate," Xander told him. "But I can pick a new one now that I'm not one of theirs anymore." He pulled Throttle closer, kissing him as deeply as he could, and felt the bond take hold in him. Throttle moaned and dropped the books onto Modo's seat, pulling him closer to kiss him back. Xander pulled back, panting. "Will you be that important to me?" he asked quietly.
"Too late to back out now," he admitted with a grin. "Lifemate? I like that." Xander showed him what had been said so he'd know. Vinnie might not remember more than it was important Dawn deliver on Mars, but Throttle would know everything. Throttle left his mind easier this time, just resting their foreheads together. "I'm...." He swallowed, pulling back to look at his mate. Now he understood and it was scary. But this was Xander. For Carbine he would have run screaming in fear. For Xander.... There was an urge to run, the same one he got at the start of any battle. He tamped on it again. "Too late to back out now," he repeated quietly, pulling him closer to kiss him again. Xander moaned into his lips this time and even he felt the bond take hold. He also heard Vinnie moan and clutch his stomach and saw Charley do the same thing. "Babe?"
"Not unless they want it," he whispered, kissing him again. "Books?"
"Safe. We'll study 'em when we get back." Xander grinned and dove back in.
"Guys, embarrassing the shy people," Staff complained. "No eating each other in front of us."
Modo coughed. "That's not how you do that, Staff."
She hit him on the arm. "I know that! I'm naive, not dumb!" She looked at them. "They're devouring each others' mouths though. They really should stop before I find the urge to spike someone's drink with salt peter."
Vinnie put an arm around her shoulders. "We'll never get 'em apart, Staff. Never ever. Xander needed Throttle and he answered like the hero, macho, stud he is." He grinned at her. Then up at Modo. "We need to talk to Rimfire about his daddy."
"I heard about his daddy," he admitted.
"Yeah, well, the Powers want their kids, Modo. If she ever gets pregnant, she's to give birth up here. She's to bless the child to a Martian deity, she's to tie the child to Mars and only to Mars. It's the only hope they have for not having a Champion, like Xander was, or a slayer for a kid."
Modo nodded, filing that away. "Understood. Why?"
"Because the Powers are greedy. You remember the Sunnydale thing that happened right before he started working with Merle?" Modo and Charley both nodded. "Jessie was supposed to be his soulmate. His bound-to-his-soul mate. As in closer than we are to our bikes, stuck in each other's heads, mates." Charley shivered at that. "The Powers decided that there was one too many champions according to what Xander thinks he knows."
"Didn't he have to kill him?" Staff asked. Vinnie held up two fingers and she moaned.
"Twice. Both times." He looked at Modo. "If you want those kids to be happy, they come up here when she's close to being due. She stays up here until the baby's blessed, protected, and consecrated to Mars. Possibly for good to protect the kids."
Modo nodded. "All right. I understand. Should I tell 'em?"
"No, I will," Xander said, rejoining them. "I've been putting it off now for a few years, big guy. I'm not that brave usually."
"I'll be there with you," Throttle promised. "Even if we have to tie her down to tell her." He looked at the bikes, then at Xander. "He'll still let you ride with me, right?"
"And sometimes you can ride with me," Xander agreed, grinning at him. "Right, guys?" The bikes all beeped at that. He nudged his mate. "You know, if they could have babies, all the girls would be pregnant by now." He grinned at him and winked at Charley. "That IUD is in, right?"
"Yeah, it went in before we came up. A week after the birth," she admitted. "Why?"
"Keep it in for a bit," he pleaded sweetly. "Give this one at least four years before you have another. Otherwise, it'll probably be like the cats." She nodded quickly, getting that. "Cool." He looked at Staff and kissed her. "It'll be fixed. You'll be fine. There'll be little Modo's to beat up on Vic someday soon." He grabbed Throttle again, kissing him hard. "So, where are we going tomorrow?"
A ghost looked at them and coughed, making Xander smile. "Can we trouble you, brethren? Our rituals are to be burned and we can't do that to ourselves."
"Even the ones by the well?" Vinnie asked. "Oh, man, Xander?"
"We can share the books, Vinnie," he said patiently. "That's a good question."
"Please. All of us if you can, young one." Xander nodded and concentrated and the village went up in flames. "I thank you," he said, smiling at them and fading out.
"Everyone back," Xander ordered. "Including the tents and those books." Vinnie grabbed the books, sitting down to work on them while Modo guarded the tents with a fire line. Throttle looked at him. "You didn't see him?"
"I did. I didn't expect the forest fire."
"It won't go any further. This village isn't really here." He turned and went to look at his bike, getting to know him better. He would be as tight as Modo was with his soon.
"If it's not really here, where are we?" Throttle asked.
Xander grinned. "Olympus Mons. Where we're supposed to be on our tour."
Charley woke up with a gasp, patting the baby resting against her stomach. He was still there and snoring, just like his father was. She looked around, finding Xander on the back of his bike, napping on it, with the three books tied behind him. She looked over. Staff and Modo were cuddled. Throttle was blindly patting the ground beside him for Xander. "Your glasses are behind your head."
"I was wondering where my lunatic was," he complained, putting on his glasses. He stared at Xander too. "Modo?" he called quietly. "Vinnie?" Vinnie snorted and woke up, Modo just sat up and they all stared at Xander and his bike. Then at their bikes, who contentedly beeped at them.
Staff woke up with a yawn. "Sunup already?" she yawned.
"We missed it today," Throttle told her. "We'll see it tomorrow." He looked north, seeing a small plume of smoke, but nothing really. It could be another base came or another compound. It wasn't far enough away for the valley they had been in. He looked at Vinnie, who shrugged. "Okay, was it a mass hallucination due to Xander's chili or not?"
"There's the bike," Charley offered. "I'm guessing... probably not."
"I'm voting it was the chili and never letting him cook again," Vinnie moaned, holding his stomach. "I think I've got the runs." He got up to find somewhere private to deal with that matter, finding an ancient bathroom inside the temple. "This for public use?" he joked. He heard a flush and looked inside, seeing a ghostly visitor. "Sorry."
"No, not at all, that's why there's more than one. Though, it was probably the chili," he said smugly. Vinnie only nodded and used the bathroom, then went back to his bedroll to go back to sleep. He heard a quiet laugh and got up to grab those books, starting back at the beginning. It was fairly easy to understand and built on what he already knew. He glanced to the north, then at Throttle. "Smoke?"
Staff looked. "That's Delta base."
"So where did the bike come from?" Charley asked. Everyone shrugged and Throttle got up to get his boy, taking him from the back of his bike with a pat for it. She laid back down with the baby, covering them up so he could have a meal too while Throttle got himself and Xander resettled and Modo and Staff got comfortable again.
By the bikes, a helmet was yelling in Stoker's voice. "I'm going to have your tails for running out that way! How dare you leave me with two sick kids and a sick wife, and two worried, fussy mothers!"
Throttle's momma came out onto her porch when she heard the bikes, smiling at Xander on his. "Well, that's a pretty baby."
"Yes, he is," he said proudly, stroking his bike. "Wanna go for a ride, momma?"
"No, honey, I'm cooking."
"Just for a few minutes," Xander pleaded. "I promise I won't help cook" he offered with a grin.
"No! He never cooks again," Vinnie demanded. "We all had a mass hallucination because of his chili and his bike showed up during it making us think strange things! No more Xander cooking!"
"Calm down," Charley soothed, stroking his back and arms. "I'm teaching him how to cook. I just hadn't gotten to chili yet."
"I guess I could as long as someone goes in and stirs the soup and calls Modo's momma to come over so we can have another picnic." She walked down and was helped onto his bike by her son, who took off beside them. "I like him, baby."
"Me too, momma. Do you like me enough to let me bond to your son and never come out of his head fully?"
"My, you're blunt today," she teased, but she knew he was worried. He stopped and turned to look at her. "Yes, Xander, I do. I thought you were already there, dear." She kissed him on the cheek. "Are you now?" He nodded. "Is it helping?" He grinned. "Am I going to have to make up more excuses for the cops?" she teased.
"No, momma, our tails' are sore," Throttle assured her. "Xander's chili gave us all the runs. Fortunately there's a communal bathroom up on Olympus Mons at that temple and the ghosts didn't mind if we used it." She laughed at that. "Who's kidding?" he asked, looking at her over the top of his glasses. "I'm not." Xander at least blushed.
Momma looked at her baby boy. "You're serious?" He nodded. "About him too?"
"Deathly, momma. He needs me and he wants me. He loves me more than you did daddy. Or Modo's momma loved his daddy. Or even Rimfire loves Dawn."
"Or Joanie loved Chachi," Xander quipped with a grin.
"Xander, hush," Throttle ordered, sending a dirty thought his way to make him blush again. "Momma, we're dead serious here."
She nodded. "I can see that. I'll accept it, but if you hurt him, you're not too old to whoop."
"Yes, momma," Xander agreed.
"I was talking to my other son, honey. I know you'd never intentionally hurt Throttle. You're not that sort of boy." She kissed him on the cheek again. "You need a new helmet to go with this beautiful stud of yours."
"I do," Xander agreed happily. "Your other son needs his radio fixed, it keeps sticking in the on position."
"Yes, it does," Modo called over the radio. "Please, turn it off." Throttle took it off and tossed it, making his mother laughed. "Thank you!"
"Well, I can see that next bottle of wine will be going toward helmets, boys." She hugged Xander. "How fast can he go, baby?" He revved his baby for her benefit, making her shiver at the noise his engine made. "He'll be a fast one."
"I'll go test him on the Chicago track when we get back," Xander told her. "I'll tell you after I know."
"Then we're going to work on precision work so Stoker can teach you the playbook," Throttle reminded him.
"Yes, dear. Will you do my first slide with me?"
"Sure." He moved his bike closer, giving him a kiss. "Now, let's go back before Vinnie jinxes dinner." He used his tail to grab his helmet on the way back, but didn't put it back on. He could still hear Stoker yelling at them over the open band. Then he heard Vinnie yell, "oh, shut up, coach," and that seemed to stop it for a few minutes. By the time they got home, Modo's family was there and so was Stoker, Switch, and their kids.
Stoker came out onto the porch, arms crossed, glare in place, until he saw Xander's bike. Then he stared at it, watching him ride, and slide into a parking spot effortlessly. "I see they fixed his ears, he's got his own bike. How does he ride, Throttle?"
"Getting better," he admitted. "He's not quite up to bottles and brodies yet, coach. Soon though. Next summer, you can teach him the playbook."
"Next time I hear you four insane people are coming up, I'm going on my own camping trip to Olympus Mons."
"Tip the nice ghosts in the communal bathroom," Xander quipped, helping the lady off his bike then himself, walking his mother-in-law inside. "Hey, Momma," he said, kissing Modo's mother on the cheek. "I got a bike."
"I heard your monster girl," she teased.
"Boy, momma, boy. I ride a boy bike, like I ride a boy husband." She laughed and hugged him as hard as she could, making him groan. Then she drug him out there to look it over.
"That's what I need, I need a boy bike," Anya told her brother. "That way I can get a boy husband."
Spike looked at his sister like she was insane. He knew she really wasn't Anya but some days... well, not even the Gods could be sure what was wrong with her mind.
To Part 42