Xander looked up as his office trailer door was knocked on, going to open it.  He found one of his favorite normal people on the other side and grinned.  "Surely we're not too loud."

 

"No, not this time," he agreed, walking into the office.  "You nearly done for the day? I could use a bit of help on something strange."

 

"Sure.  Let me finish this paperwork.  You got about twenty minutes?"  Ray nodded so Xander went back to his paperwork, finishing the time slips for the week before and sliding them into the usual envelope.  He tidied his desk and grabbed his bike keys, then his jacket and nodded, leading the way outside.  "Trish, my crew's stuff is done, I'm heading to help the detective with a technical bike matter," he called.

 

"Sure!"  She smiled and waved at the detective.  He was kind of nice.  If she didn't think he was gay, she might have asked him out.  Maybe she'd ask Xander if she was wrong about him.  She went back to prodding her guys to catch up to the other crews.  It was embarrassing that her crew kept slowing down so much.

 

Xander got onto his bike, looking at the ancient car.  Then at her driver.  "So, biker stuff, mouse stuff, or other stuff?"

 

"Other stuff.  We had a guy who broke into somewhere without breaking anything other than the doorknob.  So really, inhumanly strong.  No pictures from the security camera.  Nothing.  Only an eyewitness for a description.  Fortunately he's been in trouble before and he did fingerprint."

 

"Sure.  That sounds like something that could get a lot of people in trouble," he admitted, starting his bike.  "Lead on, Detective."

 

"Sure."  He glanced back inside, then at Xander.  "Is she taken?  She keeps staring at my butt."

 

"No, she was dating an absolute dirtbag who got jealous of her working in shorts around a lot of guys.  She finally got wise about three weeks ago and sent one of her crew to go make him pack and leave her house.  She just thinks you're cute.  I'm expecting to get a purr and asked a lot of questions about you tomorrow.  Which way?"

 

"The precinct for now.  I want you to look over the stuff and tell me I'm insane."

 

"I know you're not insane.  That's my job," Xander quipped.  "I'll meet you back there since it's heavy traffic time."  He started his bike and headed off, weaving through the stalled traffic.  It was a good thing he had ridden in today.  He parked and smiled at the nervous looking cops.  "Vecchio wants me to look at someone to see if I know him," he explained to one.  "He's behind me somewhere.  Traffic's murder today."

 

The cops just nodded and left it alone.  The kid obviously knew something about a case if Vecchio himself had went to get him instead of just calling.  Or maybe he was just tricking him to get an easy arrest.  Vecchio pulled in and parked, getting out of his car and looking around.  "Yeah, I wanted his help.  Go do something productive, like direct traffic at that wreck three blocks away."  He walked Xander inside and up the stairs, taking him to his desk.  The boy sat down and took the file he handed him, so Vecchio sat down to watch him read.  "Was I wrong?"

 

"No, you're right," he admitted, glancing up at him.  "Must be pretty recent too.  I'd say he's not been like this for long.  Got any idea where he's hiding?  Is he with the sire type person or not?"

 

"Not a clue," Vecchio admitted.  Welsh came out and looked at them.  "That case with the strange stuff, sir."

 

Xander grinned at him.  "Yes, it's me again."

 

"Did you call him or he call you?" Welsh asked the white mouse.

 

"He came to get me."  He got up and showed him the file, speaking quietly next to his ear.  "I'm pretty sure he's right and the guy's a recent turning.  Do you want the hassle of the paperwork when he bursts into flames at sunrise?"  Welsh shuddered.  "I'm leaving that call to you guys."

 

"Nah.  Deal with it.  He can fix it."

 

"Sure."  Xander went back to the desk and grabbed his helmet.  "Come on, I know where to go ask."

 

"Sure."   Vecchio grabbed his jacket and followed him out, watching as the young man straddled his ride.  "You do good on her."

 

Xander grinned.  "Him.  He's a boy bike.  I seem to like riding boys," he quipped, making the detective and a few cops around them blush.  "I'm heading to Pierce and Abrams."  Vecchio nodded, knowing he'd get there first, and got into his car to follow.  Xander parked in front of the vampire bar and smirked at the bouncer.  "I thought you might already be here.  Do you live in that wall you're always leaning on?"

 

"Nearly," he admitted.  He saw the detective park and groaned.  "What?  Who was it?"  Xander showed him the ID from the fingerprint file.  "What did he do?"

 

"Broke into somewhere with security cameras by breaking the lock," Xander said dryly.  "Fairly obvious he's not what he once was so I got asked to help figure it out."

 

The bouncer groaned and held his forehead.  "Give me a minute, boys."  He walked inside with that ID card and came out a few minutes later with an older looking woman.  "Him and the detective, ma'am."

 

"Xander?" she asked, frowning at him.

 

"I just got asked what was going on," he admitted.  He grinned at the detective.  "He's the one that Giles tried to kill."

 

"Ah."  She sighed.  "All right.  Come inside, boys.  We'll sit at my table and work out how to handle this."

 

"Can he give back what he stole?" Xander asked Ray as they walked inside.

 

"Maybe.  I'm not sure yet.  What did Welsh say?"

 

"To let you deal with it and fix it."  He shrugged.  "I asked if he wanted to do the paperwork when his person in custody burst into flames first thing in the morning."  He sat down on the inside, letting Ray have the easy escape this time.  "So, what do we want to do about this?"

 

"Personally I want to stake him and his sire," she said dryly, handing back the file.  "Yes, he was turned.  Probably recently as Xander thought."

 

"I thought he might be, that's why I went to Xander," Ray admitted.  "So, what can I do?"

 

"Stake him," she said firmly.

 

"Ma'am, I'm a cop, not the sort to do those things.  I'm not an assassin."

 

Xander patted him on the back.  "I will for you.  The existence getting out would cause a lot of hell and wonder."  He looked at the old woman again.  "Any idea where he is?"

 

"Not much," she sighed.  "But I think I know who his sire is," she admitted.

 

"That could help," Xander admitted.  "Thank you."

 

"You're welcome, young man.  How is work going?"

 

"I can't believe it took me nearly a month to figure out that they were rebuilding my design with a few changes at this newest site," he frowned.  "I feel dumb."

 

"You designed that?" Ray asked, looking a bit impressed.

 

Xander beamed and nodded.  "Yup, all me.  I can do buildings and weapons."  The vampire matron laughed at that and waved them off.  "An address?"

 

"I'll get you one," she promised, going to get one from the office.  She came out with it and handed it to Ray.  "He may not be there when you get there," she said gently.  "Things like this piss us off.   His sire may have to punish him greatly."  Ray nodded and smiled at her.  "You should go home soon, young one.  Your mother must worry horribly about you."  She walked off.  "Xander, Boris is coming later."

 

"I've got to head home sometime," he called back.  He nudged Ray.  "We can go."

 

"They won't try to eat us?"

 

"They don't like to try that around me for some reason," Xander said dryly.  "Scoot."  Ray got out and let Xander follow.  He looked at the address.  "Not the best place."

 

"No, not the best place," Ray admitted, looking at it.  "Not the worst either."  He got into his car and Xander got onto his bike and they headed off to deal with this vampire felon. They finally got to the other side of the city, where the vampire's roost was, and he parked, getting out to look at the building.  Xander pulled up behind him and popped up his visor, looking over the building himself.  Then he whistled.

 

The door opened and someone stood just close enough yet still in the shadows so she wasn't in the direct sunlight.  "What did the idiot do now?" she called.

 

"Broke into a warehouse with security cameras," Xander called.

 

"Momma Lion sent you two?"  Xander nodded.  "Who're you?"  He took off his helmet and shook out the short hair he had let grow out again.  "Oh, damn," she sighed.  "Give me a minute, Mr. Harris."

 

"Sure.  We're not sure what to do about him yet," Ray admitted.

 

She smirked at him.  "Do you really want to fill out the paperwork for a prisoner bursting into sudden flames?" she asked dryly.  "I remember how bad that was in Detroit, Detective Vecchio."  She looked at Xander again.  "Are you teaching him?"

 

"Giles was trying to kill him so I had to clue him in a bit," he admitted.  "So, how's tricks?"

 

"Getting better and better," she said happily.  "You know, I could use someone like you."

 

"My man would be beyond pissed if I joined your stable, Marie.  You know that."

 

"You know her?" Ray asked.

 

"Forced into it, but yeah.  When she turned she ran from her home city and her calling there as a transit cop, ending up here in one of the seedier places and beingused."  Ray shuddered.  "Yeah, we feel the same way."  He smiled at the doorway as one long arm hauled someone closer and then shoved him out the door so he could burn up and scream in agony.  "Huh.  She went for painful."

 

"I'm teaching the other four to listen better," she promised.  "Detective, would you like to come in and find whatever he took?"

 

"Sure.  Thanks, Xander."

 

"I'll wait and follow you to make sure you make it home," he promised. The vampire gave him a long stare.  "I got off early today and all I have to do at home is language lessons and jumping my tired, napping spouse."

 

"Poor thing.  Doesn't he treat you right?" she teased, smirking at him.  "You know I would."

 

"I know you would but everyone else in the free world would get a cheap pass at my tail too and I can't have that.  I'm very demanding as a lover."

 

"I can see you as a dom," she purred with a grin.

 

Xander snorted.  "You have no idea, Marie.  Go ahead, detective."

 

"Sure."  He headed into the darkened house, smiling at the things spread around the old building.  "You did a good job setting up in here."

 

"Thank you.  It's not much but it's home for most of us who don't have one."  She led him to the boy's room, taking the file to look it over.  "He really was dumb.  He was dropped off on me, he's not my childe or minion, but I still took him in."

 

Ray nodded.  "In cases like this, I let Xander tell me what's going on.  That way I don't have to know too much about that stuff."  She chuckled and patted him on the cheek, making him shiver since she was so chilly.  He got free and went into the room, finding the things the boy had stolen, all but one.  He walked out.  "There was a small black case with a prototype video game.  Know where it is?"

 

"I had wondered why he had that money," she said thoughtfully, going to look in the hiding spots she knew he used.  She came out with the case, letting him see inside it.  He nodded.  "Was anything else on the list?"

 

"No, just this," Ray said.  "Thank you, ma'am."

 

"You're welcome, detective, and remember, if you or anyone down there needs us, we are here to help.  I miss having a real job."  She stroked his cheek again.  "You should go home.  Xander's a bit bouncy and anxious.  He's never been what you'd call calm.  My sire knew him from Sunnydale and said he's better now but he still scared vampires back there by being so bouncy and active and happy to stake."

 

Ray nodded, heading out to his car.  He glanced at Xander, who was staring at a nearby building.  "More problems?"

 

"Maybe, maybe not," Xander admitted.  "Marie?"  She came to the door and he pointed at that building.  "Do you know what's up there?"

 

"Yes, dear, he's a very nice fellow and he's very good to the girls he hires.  We like to leave him alone."

 

"Sure.  Just making sure," he said with a small smile.  He waved and followed the old car off, making sure the detective made it back home.  With a day like today, it was a good day to be ambushed somewhere.  Someone did try, a few of Limburger's former goons had started their own cult/gang and were trying for him but he shot at two of them and the rest ran.  He waved and roared away when the detective pulled into a driveway, he was home and it was all good.  He headed back to the garage, dreading telling this one.  He hadn't had any action, just played bodyguard.  He pulled into the garage, looking at the empty bays, then grinned as Charley came out of the office.  "Another day of solitaire?"

 

"Unfortunately so," she agreed.  "You?"

 

"Part time at work and then helping that nice detective with a vampire thief."   He shrugged.  "I played guard.  Oh, some small bit of intel.  I ran into that goon squad."

 

"Tell us over dinner.  You're buying," she said with a grin.

 

"Cool, so Chinese?"

 

"Sure."  She smiled as Xander parked and patted his bike lovingly.  "He sounds good."

 

"He is, but I I'm still feeling that odd vibration.  I still think one of the weapons is loose."  His bike beeped.  "It feels like it.  If not, you've got a bad vibration under the front of the seat."  The bike beeped and tried to put something out but it stuck.  "Huh."  He got down to look at the area, Charley coming to help, and they managed to pry the compartment out gently, looking at what was wobbling.  "You have your own set of tools?"

 

"Let me get that greased up so it works okay," Charley said, stroking the gas tank.  "It'll be fine and I can pad it with something."

 

"Pad it with one of those space blankets in case I get cold," Xander suggested.  "Or in case of trauma."

 

"Sure."  She got up to get the one from the medical pack and some oil to lubricate that drawer, coming back to work on his bike.  "Get me some fried rice?"

 

"Sure.  No peas, right?"  She grinned and nodded.  "Any particular meat beast tonight?"

 

"Chicken or pork.  I'm not in the mood for beef."

 

"Sure."  He went to call in the order, then came back to help her put that drawer back.  He was still fascinated by the magically increased space inside the bikes.  Throttle's held a pop‑out sidecar.  Modo's held a cannon and Vinnie's held a lot of weapons.  His apparently had tools.  Which he couldn't use, but that was fine.  He was learning.  He helped her up and then they cleaned up.  He paid the delivery guy and they headed over to the loft, startling the others.  "I just found a tool compartment on my bike," he said in greeting, handing over the beef with broccoli to Vinnie since he had Vic on his lap.  Vic liked to suck the sauce off the broccoli and then gum it to death.

 

"We ate about an hour ago," Vinnie said dryly.

 

"It's Chinese food and you're a bottomless pit," Xander snorted.  "Don't give me that 'I'm not hungry' crap."   He found Charley's order and handed her the three boxes he had gotten for her, weathering the shocked look.  "You've lost weight and that new one needs to be healthier."

 

"What new one?" she said, glaring at him.

 

He grinned at her.  "The new niece or nephew I'm getting so I don't have to spoil Victor and turn him into me."  She gaped, then sat down suddenly and he beamed.  "Eat, you need to eat.  You're too skinny as Modo's Momma says."  He found his and sat down next to Throttle, getting a content smirk.  "Hi."

 

"How was your day away from paperwork?"

 

"Detective Vecchio needed help a vampire thief.  His sire set him into the sun."  He opened his first carton and dug in with the chopsticks he had requested, eating heartily.

 

"Where's mine?" Modo teased as he joined them.  Xander pointed at the large bags on the table so he went to dig in, tossing Throttle his and setting out Staff's.  He sat down with a sigh.  "This is nice.  I'm so bored."

 

"I saw the goons and their gang‑slash‑cult," Xander offered.  "There's about twenty of them left.  They were after the detective."  He ate another few bites while Modo considered and chewed his chow mein.

 

"What were they doing?" Vinnie asked casually.

 

"Shooting at cars as they passed but two tried to follow the detective home," Xander said, smiling at the baby mouse trying to get some of his food.  He held out a piece of walnut from his chicken with walnuts, letting him steal it.  "Good boy.  When you're big enough, I'm gonna teach you how to use chopsticks too."

 

"Teach me first," Modo joked.  He ate another bite.  "Are they a real threat or just an annoyance?"

 

"A bit of both.  They did cause a few cars to crash and one pedestrian was slightly injured.  Then they ran off when I shot back."  Xander shrugged and handed the baby a piece of pepper before going back to his eating.  The baby cooed at him and gummed it happily.  "You don't need the spicy stuff, Vic.  Your little tummy will get upset."  He looked over as the twin menaces came up the ramp with their uncle Rimfire, grinning at him.  "In the second bag is some rice and some other chicken with broccoli.  They can have that."

 

"Thanks, Xander.  I saw the goon patrol."

 

"I saw that gang," Xander told him.

 

"I saw the new building going up," Rimfire said dryly.  "They're putting up a research center at the college."  The girls clapped.  "Do I win?"

 

"Sure, you get baths tonight," Xander promised with a grin.

 

"That's not a prize," he said dryly.  The twin menaces shot off the back of his bike and headed for Victor and Vinnie, who held them off and kept his food from them.  "Girls!"  They glared at him.  "We got you some of your own.  Let me get it out."  He went to get plates and forks, then spread out some of the rice and the chicken and broccoli, also getting them some milk.  He set the plates on the table and grabbed one, stuffing her into the chair.  "Eat.  Detail, hungry?"

 

She pointed at Modo's food.

 

"If you eat all yours, I'll share," he said with a grin.  "Go eat, like a big girl."  Detail bounced over and allowed her uncle to help her into her chair, then dug in, being very messy.

 

"Maybe I should have called for pizza," Xander said, staring at them before shaking his head and taking another bite.  "Oh well, have fun with the bathing, Rimfire."

 

"I can foresee a tail‑whipping in your future," Rimfire taunted.

 

"Only if you suddenly gain more skills, Rimfire," Xander taunted back.  "I am the best mouse to whip your tail and make you cry.  Except maybe Dawn, but I'm not going for the fun tortures she does."  He smirked at him.  "Where is she?"

 

"She should be here," he said, looking at the other mice, who shook their heads.  "Is her bike here?"  Xander and Charley both nodded.  "The car?"

 

"Was back there when I came out the back door," Xander assured him.  "Dawnie?  Did you sneak home?"  No answer.  "Huh."  He ate another few bites, then noticed the little auburn fingers reaching for his food.  He handed over another pepper, making him a happy baby.  "You know, daddy has that other green stuff you like."

 

"Why are you feeding my kid vegetables?" Vinnie asked, looking very confused.

 

"Because if he doesn't eat them he'll remain that size forever, never get on a bike, never pull a prank, and never get the girl or boy of his dreams," Xander answered succinctly.  He looked at Throttle.  "You wanna call our little darling?"

 

"Not really.  I doubt it'd help since her phone's on the charger."  He pointed at it.

 

"Huh," Vinnie and Xander said in unison before finishing up their dinners.  Vic got handed to Rimfire.  Xander kissed Throttle, and they rushed for their bikes.

 

"Wait for the rest of us!" Modo yelled, hurrying after them, finishing his dinner on the run.  At least his bike could steer and follow without both his hands.  He jumped on and headed after the two white mice, shaking his head sadly.  He heard Throttle coming behind him and smirked back at him and the little beast on his tail.  "Got a passenger!" he called before taking off.

 

Throttle took Vic off his tail and patted him on the head.  "Not this time, little guy.  Not until you're older so you can whip tail like a big mouse."  Vic let out a hear‑rending wail and Throttle took the opportunity to leave.  His momma would calm him down or Rimfire would.

 

Rimfire picked up the baby, cuddling him gently.  "Don't feel bad, little guy.  They did the same thing to me many times."  He walked him back upstairs, getting him some dinner too.  Since Xander had left the rest of the food and all.  He looked at Charley, who was eating from another carton of food.  "Are you all right, Charley ma'am?"

 

"Yeah, but I think I want a second opinion on that."  Rimfire gave her an odd look.  "Xander thought I'm having another one."  Vic cooed at her from his seat at the table.  "Not you too," she complained.   "No more babies."

 

"Babies are fun," Shot said, pouting a bit.

 

"We like new brover," Detail agreed.

 

Rimfire patted her on the head.  "I like my new nephew too, Detail, but if she's not ready to have another baby, she won't."  He heard the sound of a motor outside and tensed up.  "Charley ma'am, take the kids and go hide somewhere, like the basement."

 

"Why?"

 

"Now," he ordered, handing her the three kids.  "Go.  Shoo!  Before I have to turn into Vincent."  He headed for the front window, noticing the tryke out there.  He was very familiar with it.

 

"Greasepit?" Charley asked, looking confused.

 

"Go.  Hide.  Now," he ordered.

 

"No!  I can fight."

 

He turned and nerve pinched her, then carried her down to the hiding spots Xander had put in, going back to get the kids and the rest of the food and some sodas for them.  He even put in a spare laser and then locked them inside.  Then he went for his gunbelt and his bike, taking her around the side of the building.  "You needed somethin'?" he asked dryly.

 

"You lives here?" he asked, pointing at the garage.

 

"Sometimes.  Go me, I've got mad skills," he said facetiously.  "You got other issues with me living here?"

 

"I remember youse," he said, smirking at him.  "You're the one with the skunky hair and the bad aim."

 

"Oh, I think I've improved," he said, pulling his gun and pointing it at him.  "Leave, Greasepit."

 

"I'm not Greasepit, I'm Greasebomb.  We're brothers," he said with a smirk.  "Where's my brother's toy?  I heard he was here."

 

"Dude, he doesn't have a toy here.  Now, I'd leave.  I'm losing my patience and the others are on their way back."

 

"I doubt it," he said with a smirk.  "See, I sent them a little present.  Another little girl like that mechanic dame.  So, why youse wearin' the helmet still?  Afraid I'll laugh at your hair again?"

 

Rimfire shot his front tire, then aimed it at him again.  "I'd leave," he repeated.  "I'm not the nicest of blokes."  He tapped his radio.  "Guys, there's a guy here who claims he's Greaspit's twin, Greasebomb.  He said he's got Dawnie."

 

"Wonderful.  He taunting?" Throttle called back.

 

"Yuppers.  Can I kill him?"

 

"No, incapacitate.  Let me sweat him," Xander called back.  "Or better yet, the vamp me's in town.  Get him to do it.  He's probably very good at making people sorry."

 

"Um, eww," Rimfire noted.  "I don't want to imagine the vampire you, Xander."

 

"Xander, that's my brother's toy!" Greasebomb said excitedly.

 

"I doubt it.  He's a married man."

 

"Eh, he's a slave," he said, pulling out some paperwork.  "He was given to my brother."

 

"He was never captured, it was a ruse to destroy the machines again," Rimfire countered.  "Sorry, you can't buy someone who's free."  He lit the papers on fire, staring him down.  He heard a scarping noise and winced, then sighed.  "Get out here!" he called. "I can hear you!"

 

"Who, me?" the vampire Willow asked, smirking at him.  "Can I have him?"

 

"As long as we get information from him," he noted.  "And he doesn't move into the house."

 

"We've got all those lovely abandoned buildings," she said with a fond grin for the greasy man.  "Come, dear, let's go party."

 

"Youse is pretty," he admitted.  "But really pale.  Youse need more sun."

 

Willow rushed over and grabbed him, then drug him off.  "We'll be right back.  Tell them Dawn's at Sixth street in the old Rocker building.  Xander should understand when he sees it."

 

Rimfire tapped his radio.  "The scary Willow is here, she's got him.  She said Dawn's at sixth street at the old Rocker building, that Xander would understand when he saw it."

 

"Gotcha," Xander agreed.  "I know what she's talking about.  Hold the fort, get the kids somewhere safe."  He cut his transmission and took a corner sharply, heading off through the evening traffic for the building he knew very well.

 

Rimfire went to watch, he was curious about what a vampire could really do to a human being, even one as greasy as this one.  He stopped when he heard a wet 'pop' noise and a scream of pain.  "Never mind, I don't wanna know," he decided, going to check on Charley and the kids.  He heard her talking to them.  "Just a few more minutes, Charley ma'am.  That scary Willow has Greasebomb."

 

"Greasebomb?" she called.

 

"Claims he's Greasepit's twin."

 

"Oh, wonderful!" she said bitterly.  "Just what we need!"

 

"The others are getting Dawnie.  Once she's done with him I'll let you guys out."  He went to monitor the radio, hearing Vinnie and Throttle arguing about the play they wanted to use.  He picked up the handset.  "I've always preferred the roll back six‑ninety‑nine special."

 

There was silence, then Vinnie and Xander decided that was a good idea and his uncle joined in.  They had it; he could relax for a few minutes.  He decided to call Enamel, make sure he knew something was going on.  He actually got him this time, apparently whatever had happened to his phone before was now fixed.

 

***

 

Xander smiled at the man who was running toward him shooting at him and shot at his feet.  "I'd stop."  The man stopped, staring in horror at him.  He took off his helmet and pushed the button on his bike to disengage from the small wheeled platform he was towing.  "This unmannerly person decided to come to my house and say I was his slave.  Do you know anything about that?"

 

"Nno," he stuttered, frowning a bit.  "Who are you?"

 

"Harris."

 

"Ah.."  He blinked a few more times.  "Who's he?"

 

"He said his name is Greasebomb, twin brother to Greasepit."

 

"Him I know," he admitted.  "He did say that he had a personal friend down here."

 

"No, he tried to take me as a slave and he never managed to capture me," he said dryly.

 

"We can fix that," Greasepit said.  "Right now.  Boys!"

 

Xander shook his head, pushing the button to start shooting at them.  Most of them ran off and he glared at Greasepit.  "Do you never learn?" he snapped.  "You don't own me, you can't have me, and if you try to keep me, you're gonna die, like you nearly did the last time you tried that stupidity.  Get over it."

 

"But you're a cute mousie and Mr. Limburger said I could have you," he protested.

 

"He don't own me, Greasepit.  No one does.  He can't tell you you can have me if he doesn't own me."

 

"Ah, but if we capture you."

 

Xander pulled his hand laser and shot him, making him scream in pain since it was the one he hadmodified.  "You can't capture me, dumbass.  Get over it."  He put up his laser with one hand while moving his bike in a circle with the other.  He gave a jaunty salute and a smirk before taking off, sticking his helmet back on with his free hand before hitting the main street again.  He saw a cop car out there and sped up, going to lose them in the maze of streets.  He made it back to the garage and found Vecchio waiting on him.  "You that bored?" he asked as he stopped beside him.

 

"No, we got a call of a white mouse shooting at idiots who were shooting back," he said sarcastically.

 

"They shot first.  They also sent someone here to tell me I'm now a slave and I'm being given to some nasty, greasy mother fucker."  Vecchio's eyes widened and he spun his bike, getting the goons coming for him.  Once they were all down, he looked at him again.  "Welcome to the war, part three," he said dryly.  "Limburger's back."  He smirked at him.  "Go home, detective. You don't want to be part of this.  It won't be pretty."  He headed into the garage.  "Charley, I'm getting that shock issue again," he called.  "Oh, there's about twelve goons out on the street out there."  He headed over to the house, going to take a shower.  He felt really slimy and nasty.  Just the thought of someone like that trying to own him, or anyone trying to own him, was disgusting.  He heard the door open and glanced out, finding the detective standing there.  "Needed a statement or coming to help me scrub my back fur?" he asked, going back to his shower.  He could wait.  He needed to feel cleaner.

 

Throttle walked in and pulled the detective away from the doorway.  "Is there a problem, officer?" he asked calmly, his voice smooth, mellow, and not in the least bit tense to his ears.  Even though inside he was bouncing as much as Vinnie ever had.

 

"Yeah, a small one.  They said he shot first."

 

"His bike tapes encounters so he can review 'em," he offered.

 

"Can we transfer it?"

 

"We have in the past," Throttle promised.  He walked him back to Xander's bike, plugging in the VCR and tapping a few keys to get the fight he wanted.  He hit the record button and let it run, then popped the tape.  "As far as I know that should only have that on it."

 

"It's got an ep of Xena and you had better not have erased it," Charley yelled.

 

"You've got the box set, Charley girl," he complained.

 

"Not for that season.  It's not come out yet!"

 

"It has, it's sitting in my closet," he complained.  She went running to get it.  He looked at the detective again. "Sorry, she's a big fan.  She's been trying to convince us she should be able to go into combat too."

 

"I'd never let a woman do that unless I had to.  Should I watch it with Welsh?"

 

"He loaded Greasebomb up and took him back, and the guard there started to shoot at him.  He explained it, Greasepit came out and taunted, they pulled their guns, and Xander did get out the first shot."

 

"How did this start?"

 

"We were sabotaging Limburger's plans to make the planet into mulch by putting some small robotic controllers onto some of his digging machines.  Xander was doing the raid that time.  Greasepit decided he was cute.  Asked Limburger for him.  Apparently Limburger agreed so he thinks he's his now and that he's ownable."

 

"Which I'm not," Xander said as he joined them, back in his leathers.  "Are they still out there?"

 

"No, they ran off once they got themselves pulled back together," Vecchio admitted.  "You're sure he's really back?"

 

"Yeah, we're sure," Xander admitted. "I saw him at the school; he was in a window watching."  He looked at Throttle.  "The original, not Junior."

 

"I thought he was executed," Modo said.

 

"Well, either it was a very realistic hologram or a very good cardboard cutout, but he was standing there in the window, staring at us."  Xander looked around.  "I think it's time we called for a meeting of the minds.  Someone's got to do that soon.  I'm not putting up with a four year war this time.  No way, no how.  We can't stand that long."  Throttle just gave him a look.  "We can't," he said firmly.  "There's more important things to be done."

 

"Point," he agreed bitterly.  "We have in the past."

 

"You've spent half your life fighting with them.  It's time to end it sooner instead of later," Xander countered.  "As much as I hate to say it, it is.  This is a moment my ethics are cowering in the closet hoping I'm gonna be pulling ‘em back out sometime in the near future."  Throttle opened his mouth.  "It's time for this to end.  I'm not letting any other mice die in this round.  You've lost too many and I've had enough."

 

"Xander, you're not Ares," Charley called down the stairs.

 

"Bet me, I look just as hot in his leather outfit as he did.  And I am a God of War, didn't you get the memo?"  He looked at Vecchio.  "Duck and cover, detective.  It's gonna get messy.  I'm going to go play with my weapons now.  Unless you need me?"  The detective shook his head.  "Cool beans.  Laters."  He went back to his armory, going to check over the weapons they had and make a list of what he needed.  Which he faxed to his boss.  His phone rang and he smirked as he answered it.  "Hey, boss."  He chuckled at the confused sounding complaint.  "Because I saw a Limburger.  Greasepit's back too.  He decided I was his.  No, he thought I'd make a neat sex slave.  No, I'm in leather."  He grinned.  "Sure.  When can I drop by?  Coooolllll," he breathed.  "Sure.  Love you, boss man.  Oh, I got that new thing done too.  Sure."  He hung up and went to check the mail, finding the bank statement in there.  It was something he really needed to look over.  He'd been hemorrhaging money to Mars now for a few months.  He could do that tomorrow at work though, it'd be an amusing counterpoint to the paperwork he needed to get done.  He looked at his bike.  "I'm going to get some heavy stuff, baby.  You stay here and play with the kids and we'll go scouting later."  His bike beeped so he grabbed his keys and headed for his sports car, roaring off into the night.  He got to Boris' house, smiling at his childer as they came out with a few cases of things.  "Oooh, pretty," he said, looking inside one.

 

"You've got a few bigger things too," Megan told him, swatting him gently.  "How bad?"

 

"So far?  About twenty goons.  Limburger's setting up something at the college.  Which is where Dawn and Rimfire will be attending.  That's not going to be helpful by any means and I'm a bit pissed.   He actually thought he owned me.  Sent his supposed twin brother to claim me!" he snorted.  "Like I was gonna go peacefully and let him do that to me?"

 

Megan kissed him on the cheek.  "You're amazing, Xander, but we want you to live.  No making us turn you.  We're not sure you would or if mice can."  She got out of her sire's way, letting him put the new prototypes in the back seat.  Xander handed over the small box that had been in his glove compartment.  "What's that?"

 

"Something he had me working on," Xander said proudly.  "I tested it in our wreckages.  It works really well, boss.  Spot on, very delicate balance, and you can easily control the spread.  Instructions are in the box."

 

"Wonderful!  If it works like promised, you're going to be getting a tail‑warming check."  He kissed him on the cheek.  "Be safe and remember to have someone call if you can't get in."

 

"Yes, sir.  Thanks.  Oh, we're turning those wrecks into empty warehouses.  So I might have something to do this winter, depending on my bank balance and all that."  He grinned and hopped back in, heading home with the new weapons.  He found the detective still in there.  "Um, Vecchio, I've got weapons in the car that are experimental in nature," he said.  "Maybe you should, like, head to the bathroom?"

 

"Maybe not," he said dryly.  "I'm not narking on this."  Xander shrugged and popped the trunk, making him gape.  "You needed all that?"

 

"Hell yeah," he said dryly.  "We didn't have any backup fuel cells for the lasers."  He lifted out a few cases and carried them to the armory, then went back for more, this time being followed.  Vecchio looked inside and whimpered.  "I'm an old hand at war and combat, detective.  I know how to safely use everything in here and so will Vic by the time he's ten."  He got the last few prototypes, sitting down in there to look them over.  "Rimfire!"  He came jogging in and Xander tossed him one of the two prototype laser rifles.  "We've got target practice tonight.  My boss found Throttle's old laser and took it to replicate it.  They're prototypes.  Meet me in the wreck behind the garage."  He nodded, going that way.  He looked at the detective.  "Wanna watch?" he asked with his usual goofy grin.  "I don't mind and he won't either."

 

"Sure.  Justlock the door, okay?  You're making me nervous.  Does anyone else know what's in here?"

 

"The guys might, if they've been in here recently."  He shrugged and walked out, closing and bolting the door but not locking it.  The kids couldn't get in there and they might need to get in there in a hurry.  He headed over with the fuel cells, tossing Rimfire one while he loaded his rifle.  "Okay, see the black marks?"  Rimfire looked and then nodded.  "I was testing a new micro explosive compound.  Let's see if we can cause more damage."

 

Rimfire beamed.  "Sure, Xander.  So, where is this place?"

 

"At the college you two will be heading to," he said grimly.  "Another very good reason to get him gone for a bit."  He took aim and fired at the dark spot, then smirked when the gun fizzled.  He pulled out his pocketknife to open the gun up so he could look, then went to get a wire and his soldering iron.  He came back to fix the problem, fixing Rimfire's too.  "Okay, let's try it again," he said once he had it back together.  They fired on the target again and Rimfire yelped because the gun got too hot.  "Hmm.  It needs shielding or insulation."  He looked at him.  "Use your t‑shirt for now.  I'll fix it later."  Rimfire nodded, taking off his shirt to go back to it.  Xander's was fine.  He'd have to compare the two later. 

 

Rimfire blew the wall out and howled.  "Yeah!  That's my sort of weapon!"

 

Xander beamed.  "Guess we know why it's not shielded, huh?"  He took aim and fired his again, getting the finer points.  He found the switch to adjust that and the laser heated on him but it was fine.  He was insulated.  He put it down, making notes so he could send them back to Boris later that night.  Then he took them both to his work area and got to work fixing the problems.

 

Vinnie came in, looking at them.  "What're those?"

 

"Boris found one of Throttle's old lasers, these are his versions.  It's adjustable to a wider destruction versus a narrower destruction beam but it overheats the wider you go.  The others have a faulty wire too.  Can you get them for me so I can fix this?"

 

"Sure."  He went to do that, coming back to watch Xander work.  He never really got to watch Xander work on things before, not even his remote controlled car.  "What was that potiony thing you were working on?"

 

"A new delicate explosive.  For miniature things, like locks."  He grinned at him then got back to work on the shielding.  He put the first one back together again and went back to the wreckage to test it, smiling at how much better and more efficient it was.  Changing that tuning crystal had helped wonders.  He came back and fixed the rest, then put them into their new spots in the armory, sending the fax to Boris about what he had done, step by step, so he could fix the others.  He heard a quiet knock on the door and went to answer it since he was downstairs, smiling at the detective.  "New problems?"

 

"Old problems.  We just lost a guy in the woods.  You know anyone who can scout that way?"

 

"Yeah, I can.  I'm not sure if the guys can or not, they're from a desert world."  He leaned against the doorway.  "That bad?"

 

Vecchio nodded.  "Child molester.  He's right near a campground too."

 

"I'm coming.  Let me get my pack and some water."  He let him inside and went to gather his backpack from his room, which made Throttle stare at him.  "Vecchio needs help tracking in the woods.  I'll run a scouting run when I get back."

 

"Modo went for that," he offered.  He looked at the clock.  "It's one in the morning, Xander."

 

"Yay.  It's a child molester and he's near a campground.  They lost him."

 

"Cheese!" he swore, shaking his head.  "Go ahead.  You're good with me.  I'll call you off if I need to."

 

Xander stole a kiss, grinned at him, then headed out with the detective, following on his bike.  They got to the staging area and Xander parked away from the others, concentrating a bit on himself.  He had done this before.  He used to play in the woods after he was possessed.  He could feel that pleasure coming out and tipped his head back to look up at the moon.  "Luck be on you, Goddess, and I'm yours.  Help me protect them," he whispered.  He got off his bike.  "Babe, it's a trek through the woods, you up to it?"  His bike beeped and backed away.  "Sure. You stay here.  I'll be back or you follow the cops to wherever we end up.  Don't let anyone take you unless you know ‘em very well."  He walked over to the area, tapping Vecchio on the shoulder.  "Scent?"  He was handed the shirt they were using for the dogs, and took a deep sniff.  He memorized it and handed it back, starting off.

 

"Who was that?" Welsh called.

 

Vecchio looked at him.  "Guess.  You saw him earlier.  I saw him after that too."

 

Welsh shuddered.  "They can do that?"

 

"No, he can do that," he complained.   He set off after the kid, going to make it a legitimate find if he did manage to track the guy.  The dogs had lost the scent but this guy was a human, they needed a higher class of predator to find him and something about Xander said predator to him.  He found him looking at where the dogs had lost the scent.  "You lose it too?"

 

Xander grinned at him and shook his head.  "He went into the trees."  He bounced a few times then leaped, catching a branch.  "Follow along under me."

 

"Sure."  He watched as Xander moved through the branches, following clues he couldn't see.  The kid finally came down about twenty trees later and Vecchio whistled, bringing the dogs to their spot.  They found the scent and took off again, heading deeper into the woods, away from the people in the campground.  Vecchio watched the boy.  He was moving like he was part animal.  Maybe that mouse thing wasn't all that Xander was or could do.  Not that he wanted to know about those things, but it was a handy gift to have he guessed.  Especially when you were trying to wage a quiet war on within the city.  The boy quickly outpaced the dogs, and Vecchio, and he had to stop to catch his breath.  Once he could quit panting again he followed the broken path the boy was making, which was odd.  He was leaving more marks than the thief.  He found Xander sniffing something and grunted.  "Don't do that," he moaned.

 

"What?  He was here.  He rested here.  He's very knowledgeable about the woods.  He's moving to avoid a trail."  He took another sniff.  "He's tired but he's looking forward to having something good.  I can scent the lust mixed in now."  He looked around and took off again, following the minute trail evidence and that hint of scent that caught his nose.  The dogs were long past by now.  Xander was reveling in the moonlight and the sensation of running.  He took off his pack and tossed it back at the detective, only keeping a dagger.  "Hold that for me."  He raced ahead, he could hear him moving.  He let out a quiet growl of pleasure and pounced, making the man scream.  Xander flipped him over, sneering down at him.  "Hi.  Were you running?"  He shook his head quickly, trying to get Xander off him. "I'd quit.  That nice detective will have to shoot you.  Your choice."

 

"What are you!" he yelled.

 

"Having fun," Xander sneered, then leaned down to sniff him.  "Awww, did we ruin your celebration?"

 

"Xander, back off him," Vecchio said, his gun drawn.  "Now.  He's former military."

 

Xander beamed at him.  "Really?  I just did urban combat."  The guy thrashed again but Xander sniffed him, making him scream in fear.  "Someone wants you back.  He scent marked you."  He stared into his eyes.  "You should really go for that more often. He might protect you from the bad people."  Vecchio pulled on his vest's collar so he got off the guy, getting him handcuffed.  Then he looked around.  "Wow.  Where are we?"

 

"Not a clue," Vecchio admitted. "We're so far gone I don't even know what county we're in."

 

Xander looked at him.  "Did you think to bring something like a GPS monitor perhaps?"  He shook his head.  "Okay.  Well, we can follow my trail back.  I wasn't trying to hide mine.  I'm sure the dogs will find us soon enough."

 

The prisoner snorted.  "You can't find your way back?"

 

Xander turned and knocked him out.  "Of course I can."  He looked at Vecchio.  "Got anything that smells like one of the other cops?"

 

"Only Stan.  He was in my jacket earlier when he got shot.  I don't think he's there though."

 

"Let me try," he admitted, sniffing the arm.  He sniffed the air and sighed.  "No."  He leaned against a tree, considering it.  "I know I packed a compass.  Where did we start from?"

 

"How should I know?  I'm a city boy.  If I need to use a map, it had better be an apocalypse that requires either Will Smith or Jeff Goldblum."  Xander chuckled at that.  "I leave that stuff to the Mounties.  Even when I was lost in the woods with one of them, he still set the path and the direction."  He looked around.  They were truly lost if Xander couldn't find them a way home.  "Any water sources?"  Xander pointed behind them.  "Can we follow it?"

 

"We could end up in Montana by the time we find someone, or Canada."  He found his compass in his backpack and looked at it.  Then he looked up at the stars.  "Okay, I say we head cross‑country, a shorter route home.  I can get us there.  I'll just home in on the bad coffee smell that seems to waft around you guys."  He put the compass back, memorizing the direction he wanted to go.  "By the way, can we not tell Throttle about this?"

 

"Yeah, sure, kid, our little secret," he agreed, not know what ‘this' was anyway.  He wouldn't know what to say about tonight and as he followed Xander with the prisoner, he was working on how to explain this in his report. There was no way he was admitting this to anyone.  Ever.  Not even in confession, which was saying something for a devout Catholic.

 

***

 


 

Xander wandered into the house and plopped down on the couch, falling sideways.  He was asleep before Modo fully woke up, and the cats were curled up on him long before Modo made it upright to check on him.

 

Modo smirked and pulled a blanket down to cover the boy and the cats, sniffing him.  "What were you doin', bro?" he asked quietly, heading down to tap on Throttle's door. He'd be worried about the boy.  Throttle opened it and stared at him.  "He's back.  He's napping on the couch."

 

"Thanks.  He okay?"

 

"I didn't smell any blood.  I smelled pine sap, but no blood."

 

"Pine sap?"

 

"Yeah."  He shrugged.  "Not a clue why."  He went back to his bunk, watching the fish as they swam around.  Maybe Vinnie had a point about watching them to see if their universe mirrored their own.  Or maybe it was just because it was calming.  He yawned and drifted off, sleeping to the quiet snoring of the white mouse.

 

***

 

Xander was napping at his desk when Boris fled into the trailer, patting out the small bits of smoking on his pants legs.   He smiled in awe at the sight of the sleeping mouse, coming over to see what he had been working on.  Apparently he was balancing his checkbook.  On company time.  But that was fine.  His crew was totally finished, pending the final walk‑through today.  He looked at the balance and frowned.  That was very low.  He shook his head and headed to Merle's desk to sit down and call Throttle.  "Your boy's asleep," he said quietly at the grunted answer.  He grinned.  "No, he's fine.  He fell asleep balancing his checkbook.  No, I've got a check for him for the work he's done on the weapons side as well.  Maybe you should start a separate fund for Mars.  Because his is starting to run out, Throttle."  He smirked.  "Ever see Indecent Proposal?  I'll gladly give you two million for a night with him."  He chuckled at the growling.  "It was just an offer.  Sure.  No, final walkthrough.  His crew is done, everyone else is catching up.  No, it's here.  I glanced at it.  It's still fairly small by what he should have.  I know, that's the sort of mouse he is.  Still, a good two million."  He chuckled at Vinnie's threat.  "Tell him I'll keep that in mind, young man.  No, once I've done the walkthrough he can finish his nap at home.  Or he can stay and bully the other crews into working harder.  Trisha's crew could use the encouragement."  He smiled.  "Of course.  Should I slip this new check into his checkbook?"  He nodded.  "Fine.  You have a good dinner waiting on him.  From what I heard, he did very well tracking last night."

 

He sat up.  "You didn't hear?  No, he went to help track the guy down.  As in, like one of the scent dogs.  Yeah, him.  I don't know. You tell me."  He smirked.  "Then again, this is Xander we're talking about.  Did he come home and nuzzle you to death?"  He let out a silly grin.  That was a cute image.  "Sure.  Are you sure I can't offer you guys two million for the war clean up?"   He smirked, he loved hearing Throttle growl.  It was so adorable how that mouse protected his Xander.  "I'd be very gentle with him.  No biting, no bondage, nothing like that.  Fine, spoil my fun.  I'll just make sure that Xander has plenty of work to do soon enough.  No, he did a new delicate explosive for me.  It works very well.  No, you can get it into the minutest places in liquid form and it'll be stronger, or you can use it in a solid form and it'll just blow a ten centimeter radius."   He nodded.  "Yeah, that was him working on it.  No, I have no idea where it came from but it's a wonderful thing.  You think I should?  Then I might offer that nice Mr. Simms a chance to bid on it," he said smugly.  "Then again, he might offer to pay you more for Xander than I ever could.  Federal budgets you know."  He chuckled, even Modo was growling now it sounded like.  He was having the time of his unlife getting to them.  "He's still asleep.  Whatever went on out in the woods must have worn him out.  No, I heard he was tracking the guy better than the dogs.  Nothing else.  Not a clue how.  You tell me, Throttle."  He grinned at the renewed growling.  "Fine.  Let me do that walkthrough with him and give him the option of working Trisha's crew to death or not."  He smiled as Merle walked in.  "I'm going to do that now.  If he wants, I'm leaving that up to him.  Personally I'd make him a very nice dinner.  He does work very hard for you guys."  He smiled and hung up on the growling.  "Ready for me?"

 

"No," he said plainly.  "Don't upset Throttle.  He might make Xander quit."

 

"Fat chance," Boris said dryly.  "I am giving Xander a new contract to take home to look over," he admitted, getting up and slipping that under his checkbook as well.  "Come on. Let's go do this."  He pulled back up his hood and followed quickly into the main building, smiling at the work that had been done.  He had noticed the exterior crews were doing quite well as well on his way past. He followed Merle through the whole complex, making a few notes of things that hadn't quite looked the same as the plans and they had agreed on.  Xander's second was found staring at a fallen ceiling panel.  "Is there a new problem?"

 

"A human style mouse, boss," he said dryly.  "I've got one of the smaller guys up there to catch it."  He looked at him, then at the list.  "The indoor fountain?"  He grimaced but nodded.  "Sorry, boss, they were out of the other one and just told us yesterday.  Xander decided to go with something coordinating instead."  He shrugged.  "They said it'd be about six months before they could get the other design."

 

"Fine.  What about the wallboard on the second floor?"  The guy pointed up.  "All that?"

 

"One of the guys freaked and threw his hammer at it.  We're fixing that today."

 

"Good.  The wrong paint in six‑sixty‑four and six‑seventy‑three?"

 

"Ran out.  It'd cost us another hundred to get enough but we had it in that other color and it still went.  Xander checked, it didn't look like some sort of mystical symbol or anything the way they color coded ‘em."

 

"It wasn't meant to be," Boris admitted.  "Fine.  It's all good. Just fix that stuff today and find that mouse, then you guys can help Trish's crew for the rest of the day.  They need the help."

 

"They need the foot of Xander up their tails," the guy in the ceiling said dryly, dangling a cage down.  "Got her.  And her nest."   He hopped down and they put the ceiling panel back up.  "Sorry, boss.  I don't know where she came from."

 

"That's all right.  These things happen.  Any sign of damage to the wiring?"  He shook his head and yawned.  "Is there some sort of mass sleep problem?"

 

"No, sir, just tired.  My wife wanted a new kid last night."  He grinned.  "I'm hoping it worked, I can't do that much work that often."  He walked off with the mouse, going to give it to Trisha.  She had a pet snake at home.  He gathered the rest of the crew.  "Okay, I found it.  Let's go fix the damage, now!"  They wandered inside, going to fix those few things that the mouse had damaged.

 

Boris came out shaking his head but smiling.  He went to check on Trisha's crew, then went to get the extras from Xander's and bring them to her.  "You've got another week to finish this building," he noted dryly.  "And I do mean finish it fully."  Xander's crew groaned and went to work, making the other guys look really slow by comparison.   He looked at Trisha.  "What happened?"

 

"I think they got jealous of Xander's crew and decided en masse to slack."  She heard another footstep and smiled at the nice detective.  "If you're here looking for Xander, he was crashed on his desk while balancing his checkbook.  If you're here looking for me, I've got lunch in about an hour," she offered with a small grin.  Xander had told her she was wrong and that he was available.  He was very cute too.

 

Ray blushed, then coughed.  "I just need to get Xander's signature on the report from last night."  He saw her smirk and blushed a bit more.  "If I'm still here, I could take eating with the crew," he offered, hurrying off.  He wasn't used to women that forward. He tapped on the trailer door and heard something hit it so stuck his head in.  "Xander?"  He heard a moan so he walked inside, going to wake him up.  "Hey."  Xander blinked up at him, looking confused.  "I need your signature on your statement.  That way no one can question how and why you were able to track that guy that way."  He handed over the one he and Stan had written, with Welsh's full blessing, knowledge, and grammar correction.

 

Xander read it carefully, then snorted and looked at him.  "That's a big, mean lie."

 

"I know, but you'd rather answer what you are on the stand?"

 

"No," he admitted, signing his name to it.  "Did the guy start screaming about aliens?"

 

"No, animals.  They thought he was talking about the dogs. I told the others he had seen a wild dog and thought you were a dog.  They believed that after a glance at you and left it there."

 

"They actually realized I'm not human?  Most of them don't."

 

"Two did and they're not saying anything," Vecchio said smugly.  "Welsh said so.  He pointed out what sort of problems that would bring and how he would have someone's nuts in his daily salad."  He took back the form and pulled out the other one.  "From the other battle."  Xander read it and grinned, then signed it.  "Thank you, Mr. Harris.  We like doing business with you."

 

"Yeah, like I mind," he said with a mean grin.  "I'm good like that."

 

"Good, just keep it out of the normal version of eyesight in the city and we'll be fine.  Got it?"  He nodded. "Good.  From the paper, announcing Limburger Junior's new genetics grant to the college."  He handed over the clipping his Mountie had found and left, getting grabbed on the way out by Trisha.  He looked at her.  "Breaking early?"

 

"Before I go in there and start to stab people," she agreed, smiling at him.  "My crew are being slackers."

 

Xander came out of the trailer, frowning at the check in his hands.  "Is the boss still here?"

 

"Yup, watching my crew be slackers," she called.  "Why?"

 

"This is really low."  He headed into the auxiliary building, waving it.  "Only half?" he asked.

 

Boris looked at him.  "The rest will be yours when we finish testing it, Xander.  That's just for the help with the laser rifles.  Oh, should I ask Micah to come see the new stuff?"

 

"He might get pissed if you don't."

 

"Sure."  He ruffled the short dark hair.  "Do you want to stay after lunch and run Trisha's crew while she watches your guys fix the mouse damage?  Or did you want to go home?"

 

"I don't know.  I'll call home and see."  He shrugged, finding his cell and dialing.  "Hey, me.  Am I needed this afternoon?" he asked Charley.  He grinned.  "Why?"  He suddenly looked confused, then looked at his boss.  "Really?  Why is my man ranting?"  Boris just smiled and walked off, heading back to his limo at a trot.  "No, I can stay the rest of today.  Sure, let him surprise me.  I've got to hit the bank on the way home too.  You might want to send Micah an email and tell him Boris is testing my new explosive too."  He grinned and hung up.  "He made Throttle jealous by offering two mil for a night with me."

 

"If I had the cash, I would too," Merle assured him with a pat on the back.  "He left the new contract in there too."  He went to get them some help.  Most of his guys were done already.

 

Xander looked around at the workers, most of whom were taking a break. "Oh, no," he called.  "No breaks until lunch unless you've got flaming runs and can prove it with the stains.  You guys are so damn far behind, you may even get a shorter lunch.  You've got a week, and only a week, or else Boris and Trisha have both promised to cut positions."  The guys gave him a dirty look and he glared back.  "I went and did target practice, a bit of small combat training, and went hunting through the woods last night and I still made it in and did work.  You can too since most of you just watched tv.  Get back to work!"  That got some grumbling but they did settle in and get back to work.  He hopped up onto a counter to watch, frowning at his crew.  "Thank you guys for filling in," he told them.

 

"It needs to get done and they're pouting," one of his guys called.

 

"You guys get more perks," one of Trisha's workers complained.

 

"We do more work than you guys do.  We deserve our perks.  We did twice the work you guys did in the same amount of time with only half as large a crew!  We deserve every single perk we get.  If it weren't for us, you guys wouldn't have gotten the lunch truck credit."

 

"Enough!" Xander yelled.  "You're right," he told his guy.  He looked at the others.  "You guys are going to now work like *my* crew does.  For the rest of this job.  If you can suitably impress me, I'll tell Trisha to keep you.  Now, you're behind. You've got a week to do a week and a half's worth of work with extra helpers here.  I'd do it."  They all got back to work, knowing that he meant it.  Their jobs were now on the line.  They were going to be fired if they didn't get things done.

 

Merle walked out and came back with more of the other guys.  "Xander, want the rest of your crew in here?  There's only another half‑hour to lunch."

 

"Would you guys mind?"  They shook their heads and got sucked in too.  This project would be finished.  They were ahead of the official schedule but they were falling behind the personal one Xander had set.  Now it was time to knuckle in and do the real work.

 

 

 

The End.