"Awww, Charley, I don't know about this!"
Charley stared at Throttle, who had just uttered that statement. Then
she looked at Modo and Vinnie who were standing beside and slightly behind
him. All three had expressions of dismay and unease on their faces.
"What's not to know?" she asked, starting to get frustrated. "I've been invited down to my brother's for Christmas, and since I've told him so much about you guys, he said to bring you along! End of discussion!"
"No, it ain't!" Throttle snapped back as he and his bros turned to go sit at the table so they could eat their hotdogs. "You told us that you didn't tell your bro about us being Martians! What's gonna happen when we show up and he realizes that we're not wearin' costumes?"
"At least you've gone from 'won't' to 'when'," she grumbled as she followed them, sitting in her usual seat in between Throttle and Vinnie, across from Modo. She sighed as she picked up her rootbeer and took a drink, then continued. "Look, my brother is just like me. He's very understanding about people who are different . . ."
The Biker Mice laughed. "Yeah, sweetheart," Vinnie chuckled. "You were so understanding about us when we first met that you were gettin' set to brain Throttle with a tire-iron when he asked if you were okay!"
"Yeah!" Modo laughed. "What's gonna happen when your bro meets us? He'll try to flash-fry us with a blowtorch?"
"Why not?" Charley said smoothly, grinning at them wryly. "Have us a Sunday-morning-evangelical-send-us-an-offering-Praise-Jesus Martian bonfire!"
The Biker Mice laughed at the joke and then began eating their hotdogs even as Throttle said, "I still don't think this is such a good idea. What about family? Does he have one?"
Charley nodded. "Alex is a widower with two children. A daughter named Rogue and a son named Jonothan."
The mice blinked and looked at each other and then Vinnie said, "Rogue? How'd she wind up with a name like that?"
"Because she was completely unexpected," Charley replied, eating her own hotdog. "They're twins. Rogue was a surprise 'cause she didn't show up on the ultrasound in the first few months. And because of her hair coloring."
"Why? What kind of hair coloring does she have?" Modo asked, always curious.
"She's got the same dark red hair like me, Alex, and Jonothan have, only with the added bonus of a white stripe that starts at her bangs and goes straight down through the middle of her hair."
"Gods, a four-or-five year old human skunkling!" Vinnie laughed, and then coughed when Charley leaned over and slapped him in the stomach hard. When he quit coughing, he looked up at her with a mock-wounded expression and said, "What? What?"
"Where did you come up with the idea that the twins are four or five years old?" she asked, glaring at him.
"They're not?" Throttle asked.
She shook her head. "Alex is twenty-two years older than me, thanks to Mom and Dad waiting a long, long time in between having us. The twins are twenty-three years old."
The Biker Mice gaped at their friend. "Let me get this straight," Throttle finally said, putting his hotdog down. "Your brother is fourty-four years old and he's got twenty-three year old twins?"
"Who're older than you by a year?" Modo asked, incredulous.
Charley nodded, grinning sheepishly.
"Whoa, Mama!" he groaned, lowering his head to his arms.
Vinnie grinned mischievously at his bro. "Take it easy, bro. We know math ain't your strong suit, but you managed to follow along pretty well!"
Modo glared at him, then grinned back. "Yeah, well, I may not know everythin' about math, but I sure know how to total things! Want me to prove it?"
Charley saw where this was heading and she slammed her hand down onto the table with a loud smack, startling the two mice. They looked at her and she glared at them. "Not at my dinner table, thank you!"
"Well, this is an even better reason not to go," Throttle said. "He's got two children, one of whom is a female. He probably won't want three bachelors hangin' around the same place as her."
"Unless she's got a boyfriend," Vinnie said. He turned to Charley, grinning darkly. "Does she? 'Cause if she doesn't . . ."
Charley gave him a look that would have flash-frozen Mars and he shrank back in his chair and grinned sheepishly as he raised his hands, signaling surrender.
"Hmph," Charley snorted, then looked at Throttle, her green eyes flashing furiously. "Alex knows you're bachelor bikers. So do the twins. They know everything about you guys except that you're Martians. So what's the big problem?!"
"Try this one: Sleeping space. Where would we stay? It isn't as if the local motels are gonna welcome three aliens, especially ones without enough hard currency, ya know?" Throttle replied smoothly, raising and eyebrow.
"They live in a huge two-story house with at least five rooms that they don't use. With a little bit of work, you guys can turn those into your bedrooms for the duration of our stay," Charley fired back.
"Yeah, but where do they live?" Vinnie asked.
"They used to live down in Caldecott County, Mississippi, but the memories of Rowan -- Alex's wife -- were too hard on him, so they moved. The twins have their own computer company of some sort set up, so they moved with him. They're a close-knit family. They live up in Maine now, about forty miles outside of North Anson, a town so small it's barely even on the map."
"But we haven't even gotten them Christmas presents!" Modo said, a worried expression on his face.
Charley smiled at the sweet mouse. "It's okay, guys. I start my Christmas shopping at the beginning of each new year and just pile up the presents in a goodie box. I'll let you sort through them, you pick out the ones you want to give to them, and then wrap them up and put your names on them. Nobody will ever have to know."
"But that don't sound right," he said. "It ought to be somethin' we've done ourselves."
"It will be. You'll choose them, you'll wrap them, you'll put your names on them. End of that discussion," Charley said firmly.
The Biker Mice sighed and looked at each other. Then Throttle glanced to Charley. "You really want us to go on this trip, don't you, babe?"
Charley nodded. "Yeah. I want you to meet the rest of my family, and what with Limburger off on hiatus somewhere, we won't have to worry about anything happening while we're gone for one week. And if something does happen, we'll come right back."
The mice grinned at each other and shook their heads. "All right, Charley-girl, all right. We'll go," Throttle said.
The blinding smile she lit up with made the mice all immensely glad that they had agreed to go, and left Vinnie wondering why his fur suddenly felt a trifle too hot.
"Yo, bro, that ain't the way you wrap presents!"
"Yeah, an' how would you know?" Modo demanded. The three mice
were sitting in the middle of the garage on the floor with their chosen
presents amid a pile of brightly colored wrapping paper, tags, markers,
Throttle kept one eye and ear on the budding argument while he wrestled with one of the presents that he was trying to wrap, his fur puffing up slightly as he got agitated. So far, the tape was wreaking havoc on their fur, yanking strands of it out everytime they got it stuck to themselves, and there had been a constant chorus of "Yowch!" for the last half hour. He sighed frustratedly as he managed to tape down one end of the wrapping paper on the package. 'You'd think with all the fine tune precision work we have to do on our bikes, this would be simple,' he growled silently.
"I know because I know everything," Vinnie boasted smugly, patting his chest arrogantly. "Here let me show you how it's done . . ."
"No, don't! You're gonna rip the paper!" Modo shouted, and tried to keep the package out of Vinnie's hands.
The white mouse succeeded in latching onto the present and a small tug-o'-war took place until the paper suddenly gave way beneath the enthusiastic grip of Vinnie's fingers. He looked down at the scraps and shreds of paper he was holding, then at the package in Modo's hands. It was now barely covered by any of the paper, and Modo had wanted that particular paper for that present. He had gotten the last of it to use on the wrapping. He raised his eyes to Modo's, and found his bro glaring at him with his teeth bared.
"Uhhh . . . heh, heh . . . sorry?" Vinnie mumbled sheepishly.
Modo lunged for his bro, tossing the package aside as he flattened Vinnie to the floor, going right over Throttle to get to him.
"Hey!" Throttle gasped as he was jostled, losing his grip on his own package wrapping. He glared at his bros and then rolled back and away from them to get his own work finished, turning his back on them.
Using his heavier body mass, Modo kept Vinnie pinned to the floor long enough to reach over and grab the packaging tape. With a gleaming eye, he pulled off a strip or two . . . hundred. By the time he was finished and had moved off of his smaller bro, Vinnie was trussed up like a turkey and had a bow planted over his mouth, his snout taped shut, and bows sticking to the tips of both ears.
"There," Modo growled, pleased with himself as he took up his package again and searched for more paper to wrap it with. "Pretty as a picture."
Vinnie glared at his bro as he struggled to get free of the tape, and then all three mice looked up when they heard laughter begin.
Charley stood over by the door to her office, holding her stomach which was cramped with laughter. She opened her eyes to look at Vinnie again, and started laughing even harder.
Throttle took a look at his bro to see what the fuss was about, then let out a few loud shouts before his laughter roared out of him.
Vinnie glared at all of them, the fiercest one reserved for Modo, and then his eyes widened when he looked back at Charley. Throttle and Modo followed his gaze and saw her holding her camera, which she'd ducked back into the office for.
Moving quickly, Modo and Throttle abandoned their packages, then hefted Vinnie up. When they were finally ready, the two larger Biker Mice were kneeling on the floor on one knee each, their arms above their heads as they held Vinnie stretched out above them like a prize fish, grinning madly at Charley.
Vinnie shut his eyes and prayed for the humiliation to be over with quickly.
Still laughing, Charley took five quick pictures and then she put the camera away. Throttle and Modo grinned at each other, then somewhat gently dumped Vinnie on the floor in front of them as they returned to wrapping their packages.
Charley sighed and she moved to Vinnie and helped him to sit up. She pulled the bows off of him, then reached for the scissors and snipped the tape on the sides of his snout carefully. As Vinnie opened his mouth and inhaled deeply, she began to snip the rest of the tape, then start pulling it off.
He yelped and glanced at her as he felt his fur pull loose. Then he glared at Modo as he said, "Careful, Charley-girl! I'm gonna get fur burns."
Charley laughed and said, "You're lucky that's all you might get. Guess Modo went easy on ya considerin' it's going to be Christmas in a couple of weeks!"
"Go easy on me? Ha! Not! I let him tie me up as an early Christmas present to him!" Vinnie scoffed arrogantly.
Everyone rolled their eyes as Throttle said, "Sure you did, Vincent."
Vinnie glared at him and then winced as the last of the tape was pulled off. He tensed, ready to launch himself at his bros, but Charley felt it and she grabbed his tail and yanked. He yelped, grabbing the base of his tail, and then glared at her.
"Not now, bozo! You still have to finish wrapping your own presents!" she snapped.
Grumbling, Vinnie settled down to do so.
"Hey, Charley, could you help me out here?" Throttle called out. She got up to go over to him, kneeling beside him, and he said, "Put your finger there in the center, will you? Mine are too big." She placed the tip of her finger on a wadded end of the wrapping paper and he sighed satisfactorily as he taped the paper shut. Then he held the package up and surveyed it with pride. It looked lumpy and shoddy, but it was wrapped and intact, and no one could tell what was beneath the paper. He grinned at Charley.
"Thanks, Charley-girl," he said, and reached for a name-tag and wrote Rogue's name on it, then his own and taped it to the package.
"No problem, Throttle," she said, then went to help Modo when he cleared his throat and looked at her beseechingly.
When it was all over with, the packages lay in a brown box that would later be closed up and addressed and shipped up to Maine ahead of them. They all stared at them with pride and relief that it was over and done with, and then Charley said, "Okay, now let's get this mess cleaned up!"
The mice groaned and grimaced as they turned to survey the wads of ripped paper and tape and other junk that lay scattered all over the garage floor.
"Awww, Charley, do we gotta do this?" Modo moaned.
"I didn't make this mess!" she snapped, glaring at them.
The mice sighed. They knew she was right. Then they grinned at each other and whipped out their blasters. Within seconds, the trash had been vaporized by hot plasma.
Along with the remaining wrapping paper and tags and such that could have been used to do the rest of the presents Charley had saved up.
She turned on them, furious. "You freaked-out furballs! I could've used that!" she yelled at them.
"Whoa!" Modo muttered as they all flinched back under her wrath. "What'd we do?" he asked his bros.
They shrugged. "Hey, sweetheart, why so hot? We cleaned up the trash!" Vinnie snapped.
"And vaped the rest of the stuff that I was gonna use to wrap up my own presents for everyone else!" she yelled.
"Uh-oh," all three mice said at the same time, and glanced at each other.
"Uhh . . ." Throttle began.
"OUT!!" she shouted, pointing furiously toward the door.
With no hesitation, the mice ran for their motorcycles, leaped on, put on their helmets, then raced out the open garage doors. As they drove away, they heard the doors shut with a clang.
"Guess we really put our foots into it that time, huh, bros?" Vinnie said, grinning at his bros.
"Nothin' novel there for you, Vin-man," Throttle said, grinning.
"Yeah. That's only -- what? -- the thirty-fifth time for you today!" Modo laughed.
"Funny," Vinnie sniped sarcastically. "Let's roll!"
Grinning, Throttle raised his fist into the air as he popped a wheelie, calling out, "Let's Rock . . !"
"And Ride!!" Modo and Vinnie roared out as they raised their fists and popped wheelies as well.
Then the Biker Mice from Mars sped off toward their home at Quigley Field Stadium.
"Well, there it is!"
The Biker Mice and Charley sat on the bikes on a small hill overlooking
a two-story house that sat a half-mile below them. It was a wood and brick
home in a simple style with a smoking chimney. Although, they could see
the heating/air conditioning unit around one side of the house.
"Not bad," Vinnie admitted.
"Yeah. How'd they afford this?" Modo inquired, as though he had a right to ask.
Charley grinned. "The twins are computer geniuses. They combined part of what they had earned the year they moved up here with what Alex had saved up and they all chipped in together to buy this place," she explained.
The mice nodded. Then Throttle looked off to his right when movement caught his eye. Staring at the snow-covered ground a few feet away, he saw it again. "What's that?" he asked, pointing.
They all looked and saw what he'd seen: something white fluttering in the breeze that was washing over the hilltop.
"Huhn," Charley grunted as she got off of Vinnie's bike and walked over to the object. She bent to get a closer look . . . and screamed as she fell back away from it when a body exploded out of the snow yelling her name.
The mice whipped out their blasters, but put them away a moment later when they recognized the dark red hair with the white stripe that Charley had described.
Rogue was currently slumped face down in the snow, the lower half of her body still in the snowpit she'd dug, her face buried in her arms as she laughed uproariously. When she'd calmed down enough, she lifted her head and peered at her aunt through her bangs as she gasped, "Every year, Auntie . . . an' still ya fall for it!"
Charley gaped at her niece, breathing hard in her surprise. Then she glared and lunged for Rogue with her teeth bared in a snarl.
Rogue laughed again and leaped out of the snowpit with surprising speed and raced for the Biker Mice, Charley a few feet behind her, and then she bent low as she ran around behind them.
Charley saw her go behind her friends and turned in front of them with the intention of catching Rogue on the other side. Suddenly, a hand and arm shot out between Throttle and Modo. Too late to stop, she collided face-first with the snowball that was held in said hand. Blinded temporarily, she stumbled to her knees in the snow.
Gripping Throttle's and Modo's arms tightly, Rogue let herself lean forward so that her face was only inches from her aunt's and she said, "This is gettin' t' be a habit, ya know."
A moment later, Rogue let out a surprised squeak when Charley gripped the edges of the jacket she was wearing tightly and threw her into the snow in a backlift move that Throttle had taught her. Then Charley ground snow into her face as she said firmly, "Habit that!" Then Charley got to her feet, brushing snow off of herself, and a moment later, Rogue got to her feet as well as she laughed, and the Biker Mice got their first good look at her and stared in open-mouthed shock.
Rogue had waist-length, wildly wavy, dark red hair with the white stripe in it and wide, sparkling green eyes that were framed by long, thick black lashes. She had clear, light golden skin. She was also relatively tall and petite, yet had a figure that could bring a statue to life that was seen somewhat clearly through the blue jeans, dark green turtleneck, black boots, and brown leather jacket that she wore.
Throttle was staring hardest. What had caught his attention was her mouth. It was full and pouty without being grotesque. At the moment, it was shaped in a welcoming, sexy smile as she looked at the mice. Her mouth . . .
"Shards," he muttered hoarsely.
Rogue smiled at her aunt's friends, a little confused.
A few moments ago, she had heard motorcycles arriving and so she had
gone up to the hill to wait for them, hiding herself in the snowpit she'd
dug earlier, just on the off-chance that her aunt would investigate. Charley
had. Rogue grinned even then as she remembered the look on her aunt's face.
Then, when Charley had chased her, she had moved toward her biker friends
and gone behind them. This is where the confusion came in. Because she could
have sworn she'd seen tails.
For sure, the three men were drop dead gorgeous, their bodies going out of the bounds of any woman's imagination.
The tallest one sat on a blue low-rider and she had assumed he was wearing a gray shirt, but that appeared to be his skin or something. He wore a blue, purple, yellow and red chest protector of some kind, had a mechanical right arm, and wore black boots along with very snug-fitting blue jeans that outlined his muscular legs in perfect detail.
The smallest one was white, sitting on a red super-cycle. Rogue had again assumed that he was wearing some kind of shirt, but again, that appeared to be skin. This one wore two green bandoleers criss-crossed over his chest with a magenta bandanna tied backwards around his neck, black fingerless biker gloves, a shiny yellow belt, black boots, and snug blue jeans with metal studs up the sides of his legs.
The third one, the medium in height, really caused her breath to catch. He had tan-orange skin and sat on a black motorcycle that shone in the sunlight. He wore a form-fitting black leather vest, a red bandanna around his neck, a brown fingerless biker glove on his right hand along with another red bandanna, very snug-fitting blue jeans with a green pouch belt that draped over his right hip and thigh, along with a brown leather belt complete with gun holster, gun inside, and black boots.
All in all, she liked what she saw, but she was awfully curious as well.
Raising an eyebrow at her aunt, she then leaned her elbow on Charley's shoulder and grinned back at the bikers as she said quietly, "Well, Auntie, ya wanna introduce us all here?"
Charley grinned at her niece, then at the Biker Mice. She could tell from the looks on their faces that they were stunned by Rogue's appearance, and now they were more than a little nervous about revealing themselves. "It's okay, guys. Go ahead and show her."
The Biker Mice looked at each other, and then they sighed and slowly removed their helmets and looked back at the two women.
Rogue's jaw dropped open and her arm fell to her side as she stood ramrod straight, her gaze going from one mouse to the other to the other. She noted the eyepatch on the large gray one, the metal mask on the small white one, and the shades on the tan-orange one. Her mouth moved, but nothing came out.
Finally, she turned to her aunt and said, "Ah don't even really wanna ask."
Charley swallowed her laughter and then patted her niece's shoulder reassuringly. Taking her arm, she pulled Rogue closer to the guys, and was pleased when Rogue went willingly. Stopping in front of her friends, she said softly, "Rogue, I'd like you to meet my friends: The Biker Mice from Mars." Then she turned to the guys. "Guys, this is my niece, Rogue D'Iste."
The mice nodded to Rogue, and then Throttle said, "D'Iste? I thought your last name was Davidson."
Rogue had to fight hard to get control of herself upon hearing the husky, sensual tones of the tan mouse's voice. Getting control, she said, "Ah took mah mother's maiden name. Figured that as long as Jo'than is around, there'll be plenty o' Davidsons to go on."
The mice looked at each other. "Jo'than? Who's Jo'than?" Vinnie asked.
Rogue grinned at her aunt. "You didn't tell them?"
Charley grinned back and shook her head.
"Tell us what, Ma'am?" Modo asked politely.
"Ya'lls know mah brother's name is Jonothan, right?" Rogue asked. When they nodded, she continued. "Well, everyone just sort of shortened it to Jo'than. Makes it easier since he's got such a long-winded name." Then she grinned mischievously as she added, "That an' we're lazy about names, too. Speakin' o' names, which one o' you are Throttle, Modo, an' Vinnie?"
The mice blinked. "You know our names, sweetheart?" Vinnie asked, surprised.
Rogue nodded. She elbowed her aunt and said, "Auntie told us everythin' about you guys except for bein' . . . mice. Good God, that's fur on y' bodies . . . Now, lemme see if ah can guess which one is which . . ."
She strolled back and forth in front of the mice, looking them over, then stopped in front of Modo and held out her hand. "Hi, Modo, ah'm Rogue."
Modo blushed as he took her hand and said, "Hi, Ma'am. Good guess."
Rogue grinned. "M' name ain't 'Ma'am', sugah," she purred. "Call me Rogue, please."
Modo blushed even deeper and nodded as he dropped his eyes.
She turned to grin at Charley. "Shy, quiet type. Nice." Then she moved on to the other two. Stopping before Vinnie, she held out her hand and said, "How's it goin', Vinnie?"
Vinnie hid his surprise quite well and took her hand, shaking it casually, then grinned at her with as much charm as he could muster and said in a deepened voice, "Just fine, sweetheart, now that you've met the incredible Vincent vanWham, the Velocity Atrocity!"
Rogue sighed as she took her hand back and looked at Charley. "Is it just me, or is his ego bigger than him?"
Throttle, Modo, and Charley began laughing as Vinnie mock-glared at Rogue and then Charley replied, "It isn't just you!"
Laughing, Rogue shook her head and winked at Vincent as she said, "Ah was afraid o' that!" Then she moved on to Throttle. Suddenly shy, without knowing why, she held out her hand and said quietly, "You must be Throttle."
Throttle took her hand gently and they both stiffened slightly at the electric fire that flashed through their nerves when they touched. He looked up at her and gave her a small smile as he said huskily, "I am. You must be Rogue." He was intrigued when she blushed slightly, and then she grinned at him and it suddenly seemed as though the temperature had shot up to 90 degrees or something.
They let each other's hands go, and then Rogue said, "Yeah, ah'm Rogue." She stepped back to join her aunt and grinned at her. "Hey, Auntie, ya'lls look cold. Whaddya say to a big, heapin' pot o' Texarkana chili?"
"Texarkana chili?" Modo repeated. "What's that?"
"Is it spicy?" Vinnie seconded.
Charley rolled her eyes. "Is it ever! Give you guys a clue: it's so spicy, it's gone Chernobyl!"
"YEAH!!!" the three mice shouted as they raised their fists in the air.
Charley grinned at her niece. "You've done it now, Rogue. These three bottomless pits are going to clean out the pot!"
Rogue grinned back and said, "They're gonna have to clean out five pots! Ah made up a few batches for a party one o' the neighbors was givin', but he canceled it, so now ah've got five huge pots of it sittin' in the kitchen waiting."
The mice grinned at each other. This sounded like heaven! Then, as Charley got back onto Vinnie's bike, Throttle looked up at Rogue and held out his hand as he said, "You can ride with me down to the house if you want to."
Her stomach fluttering as though a flock of butterflies had mutated and respawned inside her, Rogue took his hand briefly, then straddled the bike behind him, wrapping her arms around his midsection and putting her feet on the bars behind his.
Aware of the fact that Rogue wore no helmet, Throttle was extra careful when the mice gunned their engines and took off down the hill. His bros said nothing about the slower speed; they understood. Concern for passengers was always at a premium with the mice. When they got down to the house, everyone dismounted after the motorcycles were parked inside the garage.
Rogue took Charley's duffel bag that she had pulled out of the storage compartment on Vinnie's bike and grinned at her as she started to say, "Come on! Ah wanna see if Jo'than's --" and she was interrupted by another voice.
The mice, who were facing her, watched as the young woman stiffened, her face becoming a stone mask as another human approached from behind her. This human was a man, standing about Vinnie's height, with smooth, blonde good looks, and had the air of money and spoiled-rich-kid all over him. They watched as the man walked up behind Rogue and lay his hand on her shoulder possessively as he smiled at all of them.
"Hello, all. Ms. Davidson, nice to see you again," the man said to them in an oil-and-honey voice that reminded them far too much of Limburger. Then the man leaned closer to Rogue and said, "Dear, I stopped by to --"
"Ah'm not yer 'dear' anythin'!" Rogue growled in a quiet voice that vibrated with fury. Her face was still expressionless, but the mice and Charley could see the fury that was sparking in her green eyes.
"Now, now, darling, be civil in front of guests," the man said, his fingers tightening slightly. Then he continued in that same possessive tone. "As I was saying, I stopped by to let you know that the party has been re-scheduled. It's now set for my place at seven tomorrow night. Be sure to wear something . . . nice . . . for me when you show up." The man glanced at the rest of them and added in a tone that told them he really didn't mean it, "You may come to the party as well, if you want to."
They all nodded silently.
The man smiled and said, "Excellent! I'll see you later, then." With a final pat to Rogue's shoulder, he turned and left.
He was almost to the doors of the garage when Rogue surprised the mice. They gaped as they saw her body stiffen, and then, with unbelievable speed, she whipped around and flung Charley's duffel bag at the man with all her might. Before they could react, however, another man stepped out of the shadows and caught the bag just as the first man turned and stepped back, startled.
The second man -- who stood at about Throttle's height -- stared down at the other man stonily and said, "See ya around, Hunter."
Hunter swallowed his shock, shot the second man a furious look, then turned on his heel and stormed out of the garage.
The second man then turned and walked up to them, slinging Charley's bag over his shoulder. As he got closer, they could see that he had thick, dark red hair that was collected into a small ponytail at the base of his neck. He had smokey blue eyes and incredibly handsome features. He stood at about Throttle's height and was nearly as muscular as him, evident by the dark gray T-shirt stretched across his torso. The light blue jeans gave evidence of muscular thighs. On his feet were dark brown boots. Also on his torso was a dark brown leather jacket that matched his sister's. There was no doubt that this was Jonothan Davidson.
Jonothan glared down at his sister as he approached and stopped beside her. "Hells' Bells, sis! I know ya hate him, but try to control yaself! This bag weighs fifty pounds or more! Ya coulda brained 'im!"
Rogue gave her brother a withering glance. "Not hardly," she said coldly. "Ah was aimin' for his head, not his a--"
She blinked at the speed with which her brother's hand had covered her mouth. She looked up at him and he nodded his head toward the mice and said, "We have company. Mind your manners." Rogue looked at the mice and Charley, then back at her brother. Sighing as her anger drained out of her, she blinked her eyes slowly and nodded.
Jonothan released her and she rubbed at her mouth gently. Then he turned to the others and moved to hug Charley. "Hey, Charley. Glad to see ya made it okay."
Charley hugged her nephew and said, "Yeah, thanks, Jo'than. Hunter's still scrounging around, huh?"
"What's goin' on, babe?" Throttle asked. He was still shocked at the nearly violent reaction he'd had when Hunter had touched Rogue. He'd had to use all his will power to force himself to remain still and not beat the man senseless.
Charley looked up at him. "That was Mark Hunter, the local rich man. He's been hounding Rogue for a while now to marry him. He wants her pretty badly, for obvious reasons. And then there's the fact that she's a computer genius, a mechanic/inventor, and a novice scientist."
Rogue glared at her aunt. "Thank you, Ms. Broadcast Mouth!" she snapped.
Charley blinked. "What'd I say?" she asked.
"Just . . . stop with the gushin', okay? They didn't need to know all that," Rogue muttered agitatedly, embarrassed. Then she turned without another word and walked toward the house.
The others looked after her and then Modo said, "Man, I hope we didn't do somethin' wrong!"
Jonothan sighed and shook his head. "Nope. She just doesn't like to have her credentials spread around among family and friends. By the way, I'm Jonothan Davidson, but everyone calls me --"
"Jo'than," the three mice replied as one.
Jonothan blinked and nodded, and then he said, "And you are . . ?"
The mice reached up and took off their helmets again, and Jonothan's jaw dropped open as he stared at them. Then he grinned and said to his aunt, "When you say you've got different friends, you really go to the extreme end o' the scale, don't ya?"
Charley blushed and grinned, saying, "Jo'than, these are my friends, The Biker Mice from Mars. Modo . . ."
The large, gray Martian lifted his hand and grinned. "Hey, there, bro."
"Vinnie . . ."
The small, white Martian grinned arrogantly and pointed at himself as he said, "That's me."
"And Throttle . . ."
The tan-orange Martian grinned as he held out his fist to Jo'than and said, "Hey, bro. Don't mind the one with the swelled head, there."
Jo'than knocked his fist to Throttle's as Vinnie glared at his bro and he grinned and said, "Well, glad t' know ya. What were y'all gettin' set up to do?"
"Actually, we were getting ready to go inside and have some of the Texarkana chili," Charley replied as they all started walking toward the house.
Jo'than laughed and then said in a commercial announcer's voice, "Try Rogue's thermo-nuclear chili! It's a rugged Tex-Mex meltdown!"
The mice and Charley laughed as they all entered the house and then they all followed Jo'than down the hall to the kitchen where they found six bowls of steaming hot chili waiting for them, along with cold rootbeers.
Rogue came back into the kitchen from hanging up her jacket and she grinned at them. "Sit on down, folks. Food's hot an' ready t' go!"
As they all sat down, she grinned at Charley and said, "Your room is ready to go, as usual." Then she looked at the mice. "Ya'lls can choose your rooms later. We can help ya get 'em fixed up."
The mice nodded and then the humans watched as they took their first bites of the chili. Within moments, the mice were yelping and reaching for their rootbeers and swigging them down quickly, panting for air as they tried to let their mouths cool down.
"When you said spicy, you weren't kidding, babe!" Throttle coughed.
"Man, this stuff is almost as hot as me!" Vinnie gasped out.
"Man, you wish!" Modo coughed.
Jonothan glanced at Charley. "Lemme guess," he said, grinning. "He's the original Mr. Ego, right?"
The others laughed as Vinnie snorted, and then Jonothan said, "Now that you've taken the first bite, your mouths won't sting quite so bad the rest of the way through. Try it."
Dubiously, the mice ate another bite of chili and found that their mouths had adjusted to the spiciness and they could taste the thick, tangy flavor of the chili. Grinning, they began to eat with enthusiastic appetites.
Charley sighed and shook her head. "Sorry about the Pig-out Parade over there."
The twins grinned at their aunt and Rogue said, "Don't worry about it. You haven't seen our friend Mustang eat with us yet. He makes them look like old fogies with dentures!"
The mice's heads snapped up to stare at her and she raised her eyebrows in surprise, grinning, and Vinnie said, "Oh, yeah? Well, we'll just have to see about that, sweetheart!"
"No way!" Charley said. She glared at him and said, "You going on a spicy food binge isn't a real smooth move, Ex-lax!"
The bros laughed and waved their hands in front of their noses as Modo said, "Whoo-hoo! You ain't kiddin'! Boy could clear out a barge brigade!"
"That bad?" Rogue asked, wide-eyed.
Throttle shuddered. "Ugh! Trust us, babe, you really don't wanna know!"
She gulped and looked at her brother. Jonothan had a thoughtful look in his eyes as he gazed at Vinnie. "What?" she asked.
He turned to grin at her slyly. "Y'know, kid, we could always load him up an' then take him to the party. Take him on a personal tour of Hunter's tailored, patented leather shoes!"
Rogue stared at him silently for all of a second. Then she lay her head on her arms and laughed, long and loud at the mental image she came up with. A moment later, Jonothan had joined her, resting his forehead against her shoulder. Then Charley started laughing.
The mice just stared at each other with confused grins. When the humans finally calmed down, Charley noted their confused expressions. "Sorry, guys!" she giggled. "It's just that that Hunter creep loves his shoes. He takes better care of those than you guys take care of your motorcycles!"
"No way!" Vinnie said, grimacing his disgust.
"Yep, sounds like a pasty-faced patsy," Throttle said.
"Almost makes Limburger look like Citizen of the Year," Modo sighed.
"Yep, just about," Charley agreed.
"So, Rogue, Charley-girl said you're an inventor. What've you come up with?" Throttle asked the young woman.
She hesitated a moment, then shrugged and said, "Well, you remember that motorcycle that she created when she had that stint as 'The Masked Motorcyclist'?"
"Jo'than did the computer programming on that while Rogue took care of the weapons design and creation," Charley supplied. "I just built the frame and gave them the run-down on what I wanted, then let them tinker with it."
The mice gaped at the twins, and then Vinnie grinned and said, "Not bad -- for a dame!"
Rogue grinned back. "You wish you could do better!"
They all laughed and then the front door was heard opening and a male voice called out, "Rogue? Jo'than?"
"In here, Alex," Charley called out.
"Charlene!" the voice, slightly deeper than Throttle's, called back happily, and the door shut forcefully and they could hear the heavy tread as Charley's brother walked toward the kitchen.
When Alex entered the kitchen, the mice were surprised yet again. They saw where Jonothan had gotten his size and muscles from, since Alex was the same height and build as his son. His hair was longer though, collected in a ponytail that hung down between his shoulder-blades. He wore a pair of black pilot's shades, a black T-shirt, a dark brown leather jacket with the collar turned up, dark blue jeans, and matching dark brown leather boots that went up to beneath his knees.
Charley got up from her seat and moved to her brother, who grabbed her around the waist and lifted her up, swinging her around as he hugged her to him.
"Charley! You're here! Good to see ya, little sister!" Alex said, grinning down at her as he set her down.
She grinned up at her brother and then said, "Alex, these are my friends."
Alex turned to the men seated around his table that she'd gestured to, and stopped absolutely still. After a long, long moment, he grinned at them and then moved to get a bowl and filled it with chili. Then he set it down in between his daughter and Throttle and took off his jacket as he said, "Hey there, fellas. M' name's Alex. Any friend of my sister's, as they say . . ."
The mice grinned at each other, shrugging, and then Throttle held out his hand. "I'm Throttle," he said. When Alex had shaken his hand, he pointed across to Modo, who sat between Charley and Vinnie, and said, "That's Modo," and Modo waved at Alex, "and the one with the swelled head there . . ."
"Is the incredible Vincent vanWham, the Velocity Atrocity! No autographs, please," Vinnie said, grinning arrogantly.
As everyone groaned, Modo used his elbow and nudged Vinnie. As Vinnie was dragging himself back into his chair, Throttle grinned at his bro and said, "Take it easy, bro. We're guests here, 'member?"
Modo grinned and shrugged as he said, "Aww, I just tapped him, 's all."
"Right," he agreed, grinning. "Tapped him right onto the floor."
"So," Alex said after he'd taken his first bite of chili and first gulp of water. He breathed deeply, then grinned at his sister. "Did she nail you?"
Charley glared at Rogue and said, "Yeah. Twice."
Alex ruffled his daughter's stripe and said, "Good goin', pumpkin!" Then he jumped as Charley landed a kick on his shin under the table.
"So, Dad, how'd things go on the site today?" Jonothan asked as he ate his own chili.
Alex grimaced and said, "They went. The foreman is a lazy, shiftless son of a glitch and I think he's been messin' with the boys' payrolls."
"Pete's embezzling?" Rogue asked.
"I'm not sure. I was wondering if I could get one of you to track that for me."
The twins nodded. "Sure," Rogue said. "When? Right after supper?"
He nodded. "Sounds right." Then he looked at the mice. "So, where are you from?"
"Mars," the mice all replied.
"We're the Biker Mice from Mars," Vinnie said, still grinning madly. "We're here to save the world."
"Man, when are you gonna use a new line?" Throttle groused amiably.
"About the time you start usin' a new deoderant," Vinnie shot back.
"He don't use deoderant," Modo pointed out. "None of us do."
Throttle and Vinnie grinned at him and waited for it to sink in. When it did, he groaned and then glared at his bros even as he grinned at them, shaking his head slightly.
"Mars," Alex sighed. "I always thought Martians were little green men."
"Ah think these guys kinda blow the doors offa that theory, D," Rogue said, grinning.
Alex laughed. "I guess so, chickadee."
The small family ate and talked and laughed for the next hour, the mice clearing up most of the chili, and then dishes were cleared away and the kitchen straightened up a bit, and then Charley and Rogue led the mice upstairs while Alex and Jonothan went to check the rest of the property to make sure everything was battened down.
The mice were shown three different rooms, each sparsely furnished, although they did have comfortable beds with big, fluffy pillows.
"Choose your rooms," Rogue said.
They looked at each other, and then Throttle said, "Uhhh . . . Rogue. Would you mind too much if we took the beds from two of the rooms and all piled into one? We're kinda used to sleepin' in the same room together."
Rogue grinned, shrugging. "Sure. Go ahead. Just don't hurt y'selves movin' anything."
The mice grinned at her arrogantly and Charley laughed sarcastically. "These brick walls? Hurt themselves movin' furniture? Not even," she snorted.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "Sorry ah mentioned it. C'mon, Auntie! Come see what ah added to your room!"
"Oh, dear," Charley murmured, then trailed off after her niece.
When the two women had disappeared into another room, Throttle and Modo went to the rooms on either side of a third one and grabbed the beds and, with hardly any effort at all, they lifted the beds and managed to get them through the doors and into the third room. Then Jonothan was suddenly there with sheets and blankets. The bikers all looked at each other and sighed. They hated making up beds.
Fortunately, Charley knew this, and a moment later, she and Rogue arrived to take over that duty.
"You guys can go help bring in more firewood," she suggested sweetly, although with a bite to her tone.
Gratefully, the three mice went to do more "Studly" work. When they had finished helping gather more firewood, they found the beds neatly made with their helmets sitting over on the dresser in the room.
"Huhn. Not bad," Vinnie said as he surveyed the room. "Wonder if she'd like to come back with us. Just to give Charley a hand now and then." He jumped when an empty rootbeer can suddenly smacked into the back of his head. He turned, grabbing his head, and glared back at Charley, who stood in the doorway.
"You're so funny, vanWham," she snapped. Then she looked at them all and said, "If you want to watch TV, go ahead. It's downstairs in the living room. The rest of us are either going to bed, or staying up to talk." With that, she disappeared.
"All right!" Modo said, grinning. "Tube time!"
"Yeah! Maybe the Grizzlies are on tonight!" Vinnie said.
"Only one way to find out, bros," Throttle said, grinning, and with that, they all ran downstairs to find the TV.
Much later, the three mice stumbled up to their room.
They stripped off their boots and upper-body clothing and crawled into their beds and were asleep soon, thinking that this was going to be a good Christmas.
"Huhwha . . ?"
That was the general consensus among the Biker Mice as they awoke the
next morning in the Davidson/D'Iste household. They sat up slowly, blinking
sleep out of their eyes, and then recognition hit their nostrils and triggered
a flare of hunger in their bellies. Grinning delightedly at each other,
they all yelled, "WAFFLES!!!" and tossed back the covers and charged
out of their room, shoving each other out of the way to be the first downstairs.
When they charged into the kitchen, clad only in their jeans and belts, they stopped short at the sight that met their eyes.
Rogue stood over by the counter where a waffleiron was cooking up another batch of waffles to a light golden brown. Three manly pairs of eyes fixed on long, slender, light golden legs. She was wearing a thick cotton, extra-long green T-shirt that fell to mid-thigh, revealing her beautiful legs quite well. At the moment, her back was turned to them, and they could see that her hair was mussed up and tangled from sleep.
"Oh, man! Sweetheart, please tell me those are for us!!" Vinnie groaned happily at the smell of cooking dough.
Rogue turned with a grin, glad that they were up, and then she stopped short when she saw them. Swallowing hard, she bit her lip, blinked a few times, then turned away to the table where she began to fiddle with the plates and and waffle toppings already on the table.
The mice looked at each other and shrugged. So far as they could tell, she was trying her damndest to not laugh. But why . . ?
Charley walked into the kitchen wearing her usual blue terry cloth bathrobe, her hair tangled, bunny slippers on her feet, yawning. She saw her niece first; saw her trying not to laugh. "Rogue, what . . ?" Then she saw the mice.
The mice watched as Charley glanced at them, then started laughing uproariously. When they all looked at each other, they saw the reason. Their fur was puffed up even more than usual and matted and tangled in places.
Unable to resist her aunt's laughter, Rogue helplessly dissolved into giggles, bending over to lay her head on her arms on the table as she laughed.
Grumbling, the mice began to smooth down their fur. "It ain't that funny, ya know," Throttle muttered.
Rogue lifted her head to look at them and managed to get control of her giggles as she gasped, "Ah'm sorry . . . it's just . . . y'all look like . . . overhugged . . . intergalactic teddy bears!"
They grinned slightly and then Modo cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Ma'am? 'Scuse me, but I, ah, think the waffles are done."
Turning, Rogue saw the slight thread of smoke rising up from the waffleiron. With a small cry she moved quickly and shut it off, then worked quickly to take the waffles out. Sighing triumphantly, she flipped the waffles onto the plate with the others and set the waffleiron down.
"Well, at least you've moved on to the next stage, sis," Jonothan said as he entered the kitchen wearing only a pair of slightly loose gray sweatpants, his face scruffy with beard stubble, and a wide grin shaping his mouth. He stretched, his muscular torso rippling, and moved over to the fridge to get the carton of orange juice.
"What stage?" Vinnie asked.
"Burning waffles. Used to be she would burn the Jello. Now she's burning waffles," Jonothan replied nonchalantly.
The mice gaped at Rogue. "Burn the Jello?" they all chorused.
Rogue shrugged, grinning. "That was when ah was five, an' first learnin' to cook. Ah didn't know any better." Then she lifted the huge, huge platter of golden brown -- and some not so golden -- waffles and carried it over to the table and put it in the center.
"Where's Daddy?" she asked.
"Hmmm . . . I hacked into the computer again for him just a few minutes ago. He's still trying to trace the embezzler," Jonothan said from where he stood by the fridge, bent over as he searched for the juice.
An evil grin came to Rogue's face and she picked up a nearby dishtowel and began to twist it as she muttered softly, "Should ah or shouldn't ah . . ?" Then she quickly flicked the dishtowel out and slapped it across her brother's southern hemispheres as she laughed, "Too late; ah did!"
"YAAII!!!" Jonothan howled as he straightened quickly. Then he whipped around and went tearing off after his sister as she ran out of the kitchen laughing. A few moments later, the mice and Charley could hear her laughing and shrieking, "NO TICKLES!! NO TICKLES!!"
"Is this normal?" Throttle asked as he and his bros and Charley sat themselves at the table, reaching for the waffles.
"Yep," Charley replied, grinning as she slathered her waffles with butter and syrup. "Actually, they're rather restrained this morning. They must be on good behavior for you guys."
"Restrained?" Modo and Throttle said at the same time, looking at each other in disbelief. Vinnie would have, except he'd just stuffed two entire waffles into his mouth, whole, and was busy chewing them.
Jonothan came back into the kitchen carrying a giggling Rogue over his shoulder, then set her down. She reached up and ruffled his hair as he moved to the fridge again and he snorted, then retrieved the juice. Just then, Alex came into the kitchen, dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt.
Alex gave his children a healthy glare, then said, "You two are old enough to know better about rough housing while we have guests."
"For sure we're old enough, Dad," Jonothan said, pouring his juice as he grinned. "We're already past the legal drinking age."
"We just sort of figured that they wouldn't mind too much since accordin' to Auntie, they rough house all the time," Rogue replied.
Alex sighed and rolled his eyes. "Why me?" he appealed to the ceiling.
"Why not?" Charley, Jonothan, and Rogue replied, grinning.
The mice were grinning. This was a great treat to them, getting to watch a family laugh and play again. They missed doing that back on Mars with their own families.
Everyone settled down to eating and then the leftover food was put away and dishes were taken to the sink. Charley stopped the mice when they would have left to go put the rest of their clothing on. She held out a damp sponge to Vinnie, a broom and dustpan to Modo, and then pointed at the sink full of dishes as she said, "You can wipe down the table, Vinnie. Modo, sweep up the floor. And Throttle, you can put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher."
"This mouse ain't a busboy, sweetheart."
"But the floor ain't even dirty!"
Charley listened to their complaints and then Rogue said, "Why, Auntie? We can handle it."
The mice looked at her gratefully, but Charley was emphatic. "As long as they're stayin' here, they can pitch in with the chores. This will only take a couple of minutes, and they know it."
Throttle sighed. "She's right, bros."
"Oh, man!" Vinnie grumbled as he turned away.
Modo whapped him upside the head. "Mind your manners an' act polite!" he chided as he began to sweep up.
Charley grinned as she turned to go take a shower.
Rogue grinned and looked up from where she was pulling on her snowboots
and said, "Hey, Throttle! Me an' Jo'than are gettin' ready to go get
the Christmas tree. Did you guys wanna come along?"
"You didn't get the tree yet?" Vinnie asked as he came into the den where the coats and boots were kept.
"Nope. We wanted to wait an' see if you guys wanted to join us. And the fact that Auntie would have our skins if we went without her," Rogue replied grinning.
"But you two are older than her," Modo said. "Why do you let her --"
The twins stopped him with groans. Then they grinned at him. "Modo, you've been hangin' out with her for -- how long? -- about two years now. Y' oughtta know better by now than to try orderin' Charley around."
The mice nodded. They knew better!
Just then, Charley came into the den in her usual work shirt, jeans, and boots. She grabbed her coat and gloves and pulled them on as she said, "You guys comin' along? Great! We can use some muscle in hauling the tree back."
"Hey!" Jonothan protested.
Charley grinned at him.
"Well, we'll have plenty of muscle usin' the bikes to haul the tree back," Throttle said as they all trooped out the door, the mice wearing their helmets.
"Bikes?" the twins said in unison.
Charley laughed. "The bikes aren't going to be necessary. We're only going into the tree-line over that hill for a few yards or so. We're walkin'."
"No bikes?" Vinnie gasped.
"You're sayin' we can't plow the snow?" Throttle demanded.
"That's inhuman!" Modo declared.
"Tough. Ya don't like it, stay here," Charley snapped.
The mice sighed as they looked at each other. The last thing they wanted was to get Charley all stirred up, so they just nodded agreeably and followed the humans as they started hiking through the snow toward a hill a quarter-mile away.
Once in the tree-line, they stopped. "Okay, now we look for an eight-foot tall tree. One that's not too badly thinned out, either," Jonothan said.
"Well, it shouldn't be too hard for height requirements," Throttle said grinning. "All we have to do is stand Modo next to each tree and see if it's taller than him by a foot!"
The others chuckled when Modo reached out and lifted Throttle up by his vest collar and tossed him a few feet away into a snow pile. Throttle pulled himself out of it, grinning, and then shook the snow out of his fur. They were all getting ready to move farther into the woods when suddenly a female voice called out to the twins.
Turning, the mice immediately made sure their tails weren't visible as they saw a girl come running through the snow toward them. When she finally arrived, they saw that she was actually a young woman, but was petite, coming up to only 5'1" or so in height, with long red-brown hair and blue eyes.
"Jelena!" Rogue laughed, and moved forward to hug her friend. "Wha's up? Ah didn't know you were home for the holidays this year!"
"Sure! Can't get rid of me that easily!" Jelena laughed, hugging her friend back, then moved to hug Jonothan. "How're you doing, you handsome hunk?"
Jonothan grinned at the petite young woman and lifted her up against him as he hugged her. "Just fine, short-sheet! Is it me, or have you shrunk some more?"
Jelena mock-scowled and then slammed the toe of her boot into one of his shins. Wincing, Jonothan set her down hastily, faking a great deal of pain.
She laughed up at him, then turned to look at the others. "Who're your friends?" she asked, her eyes devouring the mice, especially Modo.
"Umm . . ." Rogue exchanged a quick, silent look with her brother, then shrugged and said, "This is our aunt, Charlene Davidson --"
"Hi, Charlene!" Jelena said, grinning as she held out her hand.
Charley took it and said, "Call me Charley, Jelena, please!"
Jelena shrugged. "Okay." Then she looked at the mice again.
"And these are our new friends. They joined her on the trip up for Christmas this year. You remember ah told ya about 'em? That's Throttle," Rogue said, pointing to Throttle, and the black-vested mouse grinned and lifted his hand in acknowledgment.
"That's Vinnie --"
Vinnie grinned smugly and said, "Hey, sweetheart. An honor, I'm sure. For you, I mean."
Jelena snorted and rolled her eyes slightly, grinning at him.
"And that's Modo," Rogue finished, pointing at the huge mouse.
Jelena stared up and up at the tall man. "Oh, wow," she breathed. "You're huge."
Modo blushed slightly and said, "Uhh, thanks, Ma'am; I mean, uhh --"
She laughed and said, "It's okay, Modo. My name's Jelena."
He blushed again as he mumbled a "hello" to her. She turned to Rogue and said, "Oh, I like him; he's such a gentleman!"
Throttle and Vinnie grinned at their bro as he flamed bright red at the praise.
Rogue and Jonothan chuckled, and then Rogue asked, "Hey, what're ya doin' down here anyway? Ah thought you were stayin' up in Canada for the holidays."
Jelena grimaced and said, "I was, but there was a last minute change of plans."
"Such as what?" Jonothan asked.
"Such as the chemistry lab exploding," came the matter-of-fact reply.
"What?" everyone asked.
She grinned and explained. "One of the new students on campus had a mix-up with her chemical experiments and blew up the lab. Everything's been shut down and students were given the next month off while it's being repaired. So I decided to come down and visit the old stompin' grounds."
Jonothan whistled. "Was anyone hurt?"
She shook her head. "No. Samantha got out of the lab in time and she was the only one in there at the time. So the only thing that got flash-fried was the lab."
"Hey, J, we're gettin' ready to go get our Christmas tree. Wanna come along?" Rogue asked.
Jelena sighed and shook her head. "Sorry, I can't. I only had enough time to track you guys down and talk for a bit. Now I have to go see what DG is up to. She made me promise to go over to her place and check out her latest collection of goodies. You wanna meet us over there later tonight, Rogue? Girls' night out with plenty of pizza!"
Rogue grinned. "Like you could keep me away! I'll be there by seven, okay?"
"Fine." Jelena turned to grin at the others and said, "Well, it was nice meeting you. It's been lovely, but I've gotta hoon." With that, she started walking back toward civilization.
"Hoon?" Throttle asked quietly as they watched her walk away.
Rogue turned to him with a grin and said, "Her term for 'get moving'. Don't worry about her. She ain't short of a sheet, she's just short!" She started to turn back around to begin walking again and was stopped short by a snowball smacking into her face.
"I HEARD THAT!!!!" Jelena yelled back at her as she started walking back through the snow again towards the houses.
Rogue stood absolutely still and wiped the snow off her face and grinned at her family and friends. "Clearly," she said, dry amusement lacing her voice.
The others laughed and then they started into the woods to collect their tree.
"Naw, don't think we can use this one; it's skinnier than Vinnie. Not by much, though," Throttle said, grinning.
"Hey!" Vinnie protested. "I resent that remark!"
"Ya mean you resemble it, bro!" Modo teased.
"Real funny, Gargantua," Vinnie growled back.
"Hey, would you bozos can it?" Charley yelled as she trudged past. "We still need to find a tree!"
The mice joined their human friends as Vinnie said, "Oh, man, Charley-girl! We've been at this for two solid hours now! Can't we just pick one and go back?"
"Why?" she asked.
"'Cause we're probably missin' a real good ball game on the tube by now!" he grumbled.
"And he's hungry; didn't you hear his stomach grumbling a minute ago?" Throttle teased.
Rogue grinned. "That was you? Ah thought it was a truck downshiftin' on the highway!"
Vinnie looked around, blinking. "But we're miles from a highway!"
Everyone else laughed as Jonothan said dryly, "Spot on."
The white mouse snorted and rolled his eyes, then trudged on.
A few moments later, Jonothan called out, "Hey, Modo, come over here!"
They all grouped around a slightly fat pine tree that didn't look too tall. "What's up?" Modo asked.
"Stand next to that thing, would you?" Jonothan asked. "Throttle was right; we can use you to measure the trees with."
Modo grinned as the others laughed and he went to stand straight and tall next to the tree. It's top only reached a foot-and-a-half above his head.
"We found it!" Rogue and Charley yelled at the same time and grinned at each other.
"Yeah, this looks about perfect," Jonothan agreed. He grinned at Modo. "Thanks, man. You can stand down now." He stepped forward and unslung the small bag he'd been carrying on his shoulder and opened it, pulling out a saw.
"Oh, you don't need that, Jo'than," Modo said, and he bent and wrapped his arms around the tree trunk, ready to pull the tree out of the ground.
Charley saw this and she said, "No, Modo! Stop!"
He did, blinking up at her. "Huh? What for?"
Rogue smiled at him. "We need to leave the roots in the ground. That way the tree can grow back again."
"Oh," he said, grinning sheepishly, and stepped back.
Jonothan grinned at him and then stepped in and bent down. After only a few quick minutes, he had the tree trunk sawn through, indicating a past experience with such things. Once the tree was on the ground, he pulled some ropes out of the bag.
Now Modo did step in. He held up a hand and said, "I got it, bro." With that, the tall, muscular Martian hefted the tree and lifted it over one shoulder. He grinned at his bros. "Let's get goin', bros. Sooner we get back, sooner we can catch that ball game."
Laughing and talking about their favorite sport -- baseball -- the three mice moved off, Modo walking easily despite having a heavy tree laying over one shoulder.
Jonothan looked at them, then groaned as he smiled and said, "I'm definitely startin' to feel obsolete here."
Rogue just grinned up at her twin and slipped her arm around his waist. "Cheer up, bucko. Ya've still got your place with us."
Jonothan laughed and hugged his sister, then repacked the saw and the ropes and then the humans went running after the mice.
"Hey, Rogue, I thought you had that party over at Hunter's tonight?"
Rogue grimaced and said, "Ah'll bet that's what Hunter thinks, too.
But ah ain't goin'." She picked up a shiny blue Christmas bulb ornament
and placed it on one of the tree limbs.
"Why not?" Throttle asked, curious after that response to his previous query.
"Because ah don't like Hunter, an' ah don't wanna have anythin' to do with him!" she replied, and turned away to sort through the Christmas Tree ornaments again.
He frowned and then glanced at Jonothan when the human man caught his eye. Jonothan shook his head, indicating that Throttle ought to drop the subject. Nodding his head slightly, he did.
"Man, no question that dude's a spaz-case!" Vinnie said from where he stood, trying to untangle glittery, golden garlands.
"Yeah, real creep," Modo agreed as he stood on a chair putting the medium-sized golden star with sixteen multi-colored lights on it on top of the tree.
Rogue grinned. The tree was slowly taking shape, beginning to glimmer and glow, the lights strung on the tree reflecting off the Christmas bulbs and tinsel and garlands. She picked up a tiny blown glass angel with a tiny golden horn and halo attached, and she placed it gently near the star to the right.
"Whoa! Tree looks great!" Alex's voice said from the doorway to the living room.
They all looked and there he was, covered in a light mist of snow that was starting to melt.
"Hey, Daddy!" Rogue called out.
"Hi, Dad!" Jonothan seconded.
"Is it snowin' out?" Charley asked.
"Hey, bro!" the mice said.
Alex grinned. "Hey, hi, hey, and yes, it's snowing. Just a little bit, though." He took off his boots and walked into the living room and then grinned down at Vinnie. "You might want to watch your tail." He nodded down to the pile of garlands at Vinnie's feet.
Vinnie looked down, then swore viciously in Martian -- a language the humans didn't know -- when he saw that he had managed to get his tail tangled up in the garlands. But it wasn't bad; with just a little work, he pulled himself free.
Modo glared at his bro, blushing furiously at the hostile words Vinnie had used, while Throttle raised his eyebrows and grinned. Vinnie just looked at them and shrugged.
"Lemme guess," Jonothan laughed, "nothin' we need repeated, right?"
"Not with ladies present, anyway," Modo muttered under his breath.
"I second that," Throttle agreed.
The men all laughed while the women just rolled their eyes and sighed.
It was 6:30 p.m. when the doorbell rang.
Alex went to answer the doorbell while the mice disappeared into the
kitchen to wait and listen. A few moments later, Alex came back with Mark
Hunter in tow.
"Rogue, Mr. Hunter is here. He's ready to take you to the party," he said in a flat monotone. He knew what Hunter wanted with his daughter, knew his daughter hated the man, and only tolerated him because so far, Hunter had given him no just cause to be hostile.
Mark Hunter smiled at everyone condescendingly, then looked at Rogue, who wore blue jeans, an old, loose gray sweatshirt with a navy blue turtleneck beneath, and scuffed-up brown boots. "You're wearing that to the party?" he said incredulously.
She smiled at him with icy sweetness and said, "No, Mr. Hunter. Ah'm not even goin' to the party. Had you bothered to ask me, ah made other plans when the party had apparently been canceled. Ah'm so sorry, but ah won't be goin'." Her tone of voice indicated she was in no way sorry about it.
Hunter's nostrils flared with his anger, but then he got a grip on himself and smiled back. "You're right, darling. It was thoughtless of me to not ask. But I'll drive you to wherever you need to go. I really don't like the idea of you driving on these roads alone at night."
Rogue was wracking her brains for a somewhat polite way to tell him to take a flying leap onto a sharp, pointy object when suddenly, Throttle appeared in the living room from the doorway to the kitchen. He moved to stand next to Rogue.
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Hunter," he said smoothly, softly. "Rogue already has a ride lined up."
"With who?" Hunter challenged softly.
"Me." Throttle's voice was hard and uncompromising as he stared at the human man through his shades, his helmet on, his tail hidden behind him.
Rogue jumped at the opening Throttle had given her, and she smiled politely at Hunter as she said, "Yes, sir. That's right. You see, ah won't be on the roads alone tonight. Thank you so much."
Hunter knew he'd been trumped. Barely leashing his anger, he nodded and said stiffly, "Good. Have a nice evening then." And with that, he left.
Rogue took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as she muttered, "Shards, do ah hate that man!"
Throttle said nothing, waiting patiently until he finally heard the sound of a car's engine starting up and leaving. Then he turned to Rogue and grinned at her. "If you want to get to your friend's house by seven, we'd better leave now."
She blinked up at him. "Uhh, thanks, but ah didn't really mean for you to --"
"He might be a creep, but he's a creep who's right for a change," he interrupted. "I'd like to drive you so you won't be on the roads by yourself at night."
"Now, wait a minute --" she began again, but this time her father interrupted.
"Please take him up on his very generous offer, Rogue," Alex said. The look he gave her let her know it meant a lot to him.
She sighed frustratedly. "All right. Let me go get mah jacket." She turned to leave.
"And your helmet, chick," Charley called out.
"We're takin' your bike?" Rogue asked, curious.
He nodded, grinning. "My bike is the safest vehicle you can be on in this weather."
She shrugged and went upstairs to get her bookbag and jacket. When she came back downstairs, Throttle was waiting for her, and so were his bros.
"Have a good time," Alex called out.
"Say 'hey' to DG for me," Jonothan added.
"Yeah, yeah. Will do," Rogue said, grinning, and they all trooped out the doors.
A few moments later, all three motorcycles were roaring down the country road toward the home a couple miles away where DG lived and she and Jelena were waiting.
Rogue kept her arms wrapped firmly around Throttle's waist and huddled closer to his back, enjoying his warmth. She pointed in the directions they needed to go so she wouldn't have to shout, and a few minutes later, they had arrived outside another two story home that was similar to the Davidson/D'Iste house, but done in a Swedish-accented style.
She got off of Throttle's bike and took off her helmet as he said, "What time do we come get you, babe?"
Rogue gaped at him. "Ah was gonna get Jelena to drive me back. You don't need to come all the way back out here just t' get me!"
The mice grinned at her and Modo said, "Oh, no, Ma'am! We drove ya out here, we're responsible for pickin' you up!"
"So what time do we come get ya, sweetheart?" Vinnie asked.
"Ah'm prob'ly gonna be stayin' until three in the mornin'. Ah can have Jelena drive me back, no problem."
"No can do," Throttle said. "We'll come get you."
"But --" she began.
"We're usually up that late anyway," Modo said casually.
"Unless you're afraid of bein' seen with the coolest motorcycle mammajamma this side o' Mars?" Vinnie suggested, grinning wildly.
Rogue frowned at him. "Not a chance, whitey!" she snapped. Then she grinned. "Fine. Be here by three. If you can handle it."
The mice laughed. "We'll be here, babe," Throttle promised. Then he glanced at his bros. "Hey, guys, go on for a sec, would you? I need to talk to Rogue."
Vinnie and Modo gave him knowing grins, then waved to Rogue and gunned their engines and rode back down the road aways. When Throttle was certain they were out of earshot, he turned back to Rogue.
"I don't think it'd be a real good idea to be alone for the next few days. Especially anywhere that Hunter dude is. He's got way bad mojo written all over him, babe," he said.
Rogue nodded. "Ah know. Don't worry, ah've already learned mah lesson on that count with him," she said softly. Before he could ask her what she meant, she turned and walked into the house, closing the door softly and locking it from inside.
Throttle sat staring at the door for another few moments, then put his bike into gear and joined his bros.
They drove back to Alex's home unusually silent, the white and gray mice sensing their bro's tension.
"Yahhh!!" Rogue yelped, laughing as her arms were grabbed from
behind and pulled behind her.
"Okay, girlfriend, give it up with the info on those bikers you got in your house, and I mean now!!" the second female said, standing in front of her, her blonde hair full and wavy, her pretty features drawn ino a mock-scowl, her arms folded across her chest.
"Let go o' me, you pocket-sized picklehead!!" Rogue laughed to Jelena, who held her arms behind her back.
"Pocket-sized? Picklehead?" Jelena growled, grinning. "Watch it, hon! Them's fightin' words!"
"Not a prayer, you batty biddy!"
"Enough, you two!" Decembergirl snapped, grinning. She stared at Rogue squarely again. "Now, tell me about these bikers. All I can get out of Jelena is that they're tall, muscular, and incredibly handsome."
Rogue grinned at DG. "She's got the right of it. What more do you need to know?"
DG glared at her friend and replied, "Lots more, and if I don't hear it all in the next few minutes, I'll have to take away the pizzas!!"
She faked a gasp of horror and dramatically threw her arm over her eyes as she said theatrically, "Oh, Heavens, no! Anything but that! Spare me! Mercy, ah beg you!"
Her two friends groaned and rolled their eyes as they turned to go take seats in the living room. "When are you ever gonna get better at acting, girl?" Jelena called out over her shoulder.
Rogue grinned and followed her friends as she replied, "Soon as you can look me in the eye without havin' to use a chair to do it." She dodged the sudden high kick Jelena lashed out with, and then settled onto the sofa that was placed near a warm fire. She kicked off her shoes and then brought her feet up, curling them under her, and picked up the mug of hot cocoa that was waiting for her. DG always had cocoa ready whenever her friends came over.
DG and Jelena picked up their own cocoas and settled into their chosen seats and waited patiently.
Grinning, Rogue began. "Okay, it's like this: they're friends of my aunt Charley's. They showed up around two years ago from another town or something like that, and they've been hanging out together ever since. Auntie finally talked them into joining her on the trip up for Christmas this year, and so they're stayin' with us for a week or so." She made no mention that the bikers were Martians. If they wanted that fact known, they'd tell the women themselves. "Now, let's see: Modo's about seven feet tall and solid muscle, with one of those broad-shouldered torsos that narrows into a trim, firm waist, which then moves into nicely spaced hips and long, long legs with muscular thighs. He wears blue jeans and some sort of chest protector that shows off his muscles quite well. And he's a gentleman; shy and sweet. To a point.
"Vinnie stands at only six feet, but he's trim and lean with plenty of muscles of his own. He wears two green bandoleers crossed across his chest, a magenta bandanna tied backwards around his neck, and snug blue jeans. He's the original Mr. Ego, though.
"Throttle stands at about 6'2" and is, in mah opinion, the sexiest of them all. He wears a black leather vest, snug blue jeans, a gun belt complete with gun on his left thigh, a red bandanna around his neck, and another one around his right wrist. He's got this deep, husky voice that makes me shiver, and he's the most intelligent of them all, and the most quiet. Remember all those fight stories I told you about?"
DG and Jelena nodded. Then they grinned at her. Jelena fanned herself and said, "Ooh, yes, I remember! I also remember those handsome hunks! My, my!" She grinned and added, "Do you think maybe I could get Modo's phone number? Think he'd want mine?"
Rogue paused only briefly, then grinned and said, "Hard for me to say. Ah don't know 'im all that well yet."
DG grinned as well and said, "They sound absolutely delicious. And they drove you out here tonight! Yes, we saw you. Who was that you were talking to?"
"That was Throttle. And they're going to come back at three in the morning to pick me up!" Rogue admitted.
Her friends sighed and grinned. "Oh, how gallant!" Jelena said dramatically.
"Yup. Oh, Jo'than said to say 'hi' to you, DG," Rogue said.
DG nodded and said, "Tell him I said 'hi' back. What were you and Throttle talking about? Or is it none of our business?"
Rogue frowned and fidgeted. "Well, its a sort-of long story. Just before we came over here, Hunter showed up. Seemed he was all set to take me over to the party at his house."
"That rat-bastard!" Jelena snapped, angry. She knew the history with Hunter. "Well, at least it's apparent that you said 'no'."
"Yep. Throttle jumped in. Ah told Hunter that ah wasn't going, so he offered to drive me over --"
"After what he tried to pull!" Jelena huffed.
"He really is lower than a snake's ballbag," DG murmured.
Rogue nodded, grinning. "Yep. Well, Throttle stepped into the room and told him that ah already had a ride lined up -- with him. We trumped him and he left in a huff. Anyway, when we got here, Throttle told me to not be alone for a few days, especially anywhere near Hunter."
"Do they know about . . ?"
"About Hunter gettin' touchy-feely? No. Nobody knows but you two still."
Jelena snorted. "You're lucky, sis. He could've done a lot more than corner you and steal a few kisses and touch you."
"Don't ah know it. Relax, girl. Ah haven't been alone with him since. Ah ain't that stupid," Rogue said, grinning.
Her friends grinned instantly. "Oh, that one's just screamin' for a tasteless comment!" DG laughed.
"And you're holdin' back becaauuuse . . ?"
"Well, if you really want us to . . ." Jelena said, grinning evilly.
Rogue laughed and said, "Nononononono, that's quite all right. Now, what's this about new goodies?"
Jelena jumped up and said, "Wait! I got somethin' great to show ya!" She disappeared out of the room and up the stairs real quick to the guest bedroom -- she was staying the night as she frequently did when visiting her friends in the states -- and came back down to the living room carrying a sword sheath. She walked up to Rogue and then drew the sword out of its sheath. It was a short sowrd that had a rounded, golden hilt with obsidian and garnets in-laid in it, and curved slightly at the tip. It was made of a light-weight Toreno steel, so it would be even deadlier in her hands.
Rogue's eyebrows rose. "Nice," she commented, reaching out to touch it gently. "Where'd this little beauty come from?"
"It was a gift from another friend of mine. Like it?" Jelena asked.
"Sure. Maybe you, me, an' mah Datchis could have a heart-to-heart sometime with this pigsticker," Rogue replied.
"What do you think, though?" Jelena urged.
"Ah'm thinkin' ah'd better knock off with the crackin' wise about short jokes. Last thing ah need is you slammin' me upside the head with THAT sharp pointy. Black-belt karateka combined with cold stell equals frizzed-up barracuda."
Jelena and DG laughed and then Jelena took the sword back upstairs.
DG got up and went across the room toward her small desk that she kept in there, and opened a drawer, taking out a manuscript. She brought it back to Rogue and handed it to her as she said, "Here. I finally finished that story I was working on. Let me know what you think of it."
Rogue grinned and said, "Hey, that's great! Ah brought mah plans for that new anti-gravity device along with me. They're in mah bag; hold on a sec an' lemme get 'em out!" Reaching down by the end of the sofa, Rogue picked up the bag she'd brought with her and pulled out a file folder and handed it to DG. Her friend went to go sit down in her chair again and then Jelena came back and began reading over DG's shoulder.
It was totally quiet for a while, and then all three ladies finished their readings and looked at one another, grinning.
"DG, this is awesome!! Please tell me you're gonna have this published soon! Ah promise ah'll buy two copies!" Rogue laughed to her friend. "Once again, you've done good!"
"Thanks, girl, ya flatter me," DG replied, grinning. "And this anti-grav design is awesome too! I just want to know, though: what did you cook this up for?"
Rogue shrugged. "Truth? Ah had nothin' better to do when ah thought about it,and then ah figured that maybe it could be turned into somethin' for people who have to load heavy equipment and shipments to use. Might save a whole lot of wear and tear on backs and muscles, ya know?"
Her friends nodded. "Good thinkin'," Jelena said.
DG stood and put her manuscript away after she had handed back the anti-gravity desighn, and then she grinned at her friends. "Pizza time!"
"YEAH!!" Jelena and Rogue yelled, grinning, and the three women trooped into the kitchen to eat and talk for a while.
"Hey, hey, bro! What'd ya say to Rogue?"
Throttle glanced over at Vinnie as they rode back toward their human
friends' home. "Nothin', Vincent. Just wanted to warn her about bein'
alone around that Hunter creep."
The two other bros grimaced. "Man! We heard the fight all the way in the kitchen. He didn't sound too happy gettin' slammed like that," Vinnie grumbled, disgust lacing his voice.
"It wasn't a fight, Vincent."
"Well, it was tense, whatever it was."
"Yeah. I don't trust that jerk. He wanted to get Rogue alone with him bad enough," Modo growled.
"Yeah! You don't think he would have . . ?" Vinnie mused hesitantly.
"NO!" Throttle replied, quickly and vehemently. He didn't even want to think about that. Bad enough hearing that last cryptic remark of Rogue's, leaving him to wonder why he had the sudden, intense urge to find the man and pound him into the ground like a tent peg.
Vinnie and Modo said nothing to that. They just looked at each other, exchanging quick, knowing glances.
Then the mice pulled into the garage at the house and went inside to hang out with the rest of Charley-girl's family.
"Ooooo, here they come! Just listen to those engines . . ! So primal!"
"Oh, hush, Jelena!" Rogue said, grinning at her friend. It
was true; the mice had to be a quarter of a mile away still, and the three
women could already hear the motorcycles' engines roaring towards them.
"Hey, give Modo my phone number, will you? I'd like to talk to him sometime!" Jelena added.
"The man is almost chronically shy! Ah don't think he'll give you a call, but ah'll do it, just the same."
"He can't be shy! He's a biker; bikers aren't shy."
Rogue turned to DG, grinning. "Y' just cain't argue with that."
"Nope. Lay off the brick wall; your head won't hurt so much." DG grinned as the motorcycles pulled into the front yard, then winced as Jelena reached out and nudged her with her elbow enthusiastically.
"Well, they're here. S'pose ah ought to gather up mah stuff 'efore they have to wait too much longer --" Rogue started to say, and then there was a knock at the door, followed by Throttle's voice calling her name politely.
She grinned at her friends, then called back, "Just a minute, Throttle!" Then she turned and ran to get her stuff, pulling on her jacket and book bag, carrying her helmet in her hand. She returned to where her friends stood waiting and hugged them both. "Ah'll call ya sometime in the next couple of days."
"You'd better," Jelena warned her, grinning.
"I second that," DG added, smiling as she hugged Rogue back.
Rogue grinned at her friends, then went to the door and opened it. Throttle stood there, waiting for her patiently. She smiled at him. "Thanks for waiting. Ah'm finally ready." She followed him back to his bike, then straddled it behind him. As they all drove out of the yard, she waved back at the house, knowing the two women would still be watching, then wrapped her arms around Throttle's waist and settled back to enjoy the ride. She yawned as they got out onto the country road. The ride was so smooth and he was so warm . . .
Modo and Vinnie were surprised when Throttle suddenly slowed way down, lagging behind them. They slowed down as well and were getting ready to ask him why he'd done that, when they took a closer look at Rogue, and grinned.
She was asleep, leaning up against Throttle's back, her head resting between his shoulder-blades, her arms wrapped loosely around his waist. They noted that he had wrapped his tail around her waist for added safety.
The mice kept to a slower pace and stayed moderately quiet on the ride back, just to be polite. Finally, they pulled into the garage and parked the bikes. They chuckled as they discovered that she hadn't woken up at all during the ride back. Vinnie reached out and held her upright, gently tugging the bag off her back, allowing Throttle to climb off of his bike. Then Throttle bent down and lifted the young woman up in his arms and they left the garage, Modo closing it down and locking it, and then they all trooped into the house quietly.
They all went upstairs and Throttle carried Rogue down the hall to her room, walked in, and lay her gently on the bed. He reached up and carefully removed her helmet and she woke up slightly, frowning up at him through slitted eyes.
"It's just me," he whispered.
"Mmph," she grunted, closed her eyes, and fell asleep again. He grinned to himself and then he turned when he heard someone else enter the room.
Charley yawned sleepily and she smiled at him. "I'll take over," she whispered.
Throttle nodded and grinned at her, handed her the helmet, and left the room. He went to the room he was sharing with his bros and stepped in. His bros were already in bed, fast asleep. He grinned slightly, then stripped down to nothing but his jeans and crawled into his own bed. His last conscious thought before he fell asleep was, 'Note to self: get Rogue to tell you what happened with Hunter.' Then he was asleep.
When Rogue awoke the next morning, it was to an empty house.
Yawning and stretching, noticing that she was decked out in her sleepshirt
when she recalled falling asleep behind Throttle, she got to her feet and
went in search of her family.
When she entered the quiet kitchen, she found a note on the table, left by Jo'than.
"Sis, we all went into town to do grocery shopping. You were still asleep, so we left you. Hope ya don't mind too much.^ - ^ We'll see ya when we get back. Jo'than."
She grinned and then got out her favorite cereal for breakfast. When she was done eating, she went back upstairs, showered, and dressed, then did a few light household chores. Then she pondered what to do next. Grinning, she decided to work on the anti-gravity device, and made her way out to the garage where the machine waited in her "workshop".
It was a small piece of machinery, about a foot and a half long and half a foot tall, and shaped like a toaster. She began to solder wires to other connections. Rogue worked at this for half an hour, then heard someone enter the garage. Immediately, her hackles rose, because she knew, without seeing, who it was, because she hadn't heard the mice's motorcycles approach.
Turning, she glared at Hunter and said flatly, "Get out of here."
Hunter raised an eyebrow. "Is that anyway to talk to me, dear heart?"
Rogue grit her teeth and growled, "Ah ain't yer 'dear' anythin'. An' we ain't in polite company. Ah don't have to be nice. You aren't welcome here. Get out."
Hunter smiled condescendingly in reply and slowly strolled closer.
He was getting a nagging feeling.
Throttle sat astride his motorcycle in the grocery store parking lot,
his bros on either side of him. And for some reason, he was getting a bad
feeling, but he didn't know what for. He sat there, racking his brains for
an answer, and then suddenly remembered that they had left Rogue home alone.
As he thought about it, the more convinced he became that it had to do with
her, and as soon as he thought of Hunter, every warning bell in his mind
went off, and he knew, without a doubt, that the odious human was bothering
Gunning his engine, startling his bros, he rode off, shouting over his shoulder, "Catch up as soon as you can!"
Then he was gone, racing back toward the house.
"What do you want?"
Rogue glared at Hunter flatly, venom flashing in her cold, green gaze.
Hunter smiled back benignly and said smoothly, "You know why I'm here.
I want you to agree to marry me so that I can get hold of those shares in
your father's company."
'Ye gods, is this man dumb as a box o' rocks, or what?' she thought silently. He mistook her silence for something else and added, "I suppose you want me to say the words again. Very well: Will you marry me?"
She smiled coldly and said, equally coldly, "No."
Throttle cut his engine as he rode over the hill, and coasted the rest
of the way toward the house.
If Hunter was there, and he was sure the human man was there, he didn't want to alert him. So he quietly glided to a stop near the house, got off the bike, checked to make sure his blaster was still strapped to his left thigh, then walked quietly toward the house. When he heard voices, angry and vibrating with tense fury, coming from the garage, he altered course, fully prepared to aid Rogue in "helping" Hunter off the property.
". . . And why not marriage to me?" Hunter demanded.
Rogue let out a quiet hiss of annoyance under her breath. 'Ye suffering
gods, what part o' Take A Hike don't he understand?' she growled silently.
Before she could say anything, he added, "Unless there's someone else
. . ."
She bared her teeth in a quiet snarl and said flatly, "Of course --" and suddenly, they both heard a new voice say, "Rogue?" Turning, they saw Throttle striding toward them. An idea quickly caught in her mind, and she acted upon it. 'Forgive me, Throttle . . .' she thought silently.
Latching onto his arm, she smiled up at him lovingly and said, "Throttle! Honey, ah thought you were gone for the day."
Throttle was no idiot. He knew immediately what she was playing at, if not exactly why. He glanced from her to Hunter and back again, noting Hunter's cold fury, and then he put his arm around her waist and cuddled her close to him. Using his most charming, seductive voice, he said, "Nah, baby, why would you think that? I need all the time with you I can get."
Rogue shivered slightly at the huskiness of his voice, then leaned into him and looked at Hunter.
The human man was obviously furious. He stared at Throttle coldly. "Since when have you been her man?"
"Since a while ago, not that it's any of your business," Throttle replied, equally coldly.
"You're wrong. It is my business. Rogue is my woman."
"Hey, wait a minute . . ." she protested, glaring.
Throttle squeezed her waist, a silent order to stay quiet, and said, "You're the one who's wrong, Hunter. She's MY woman."
Rogue opened her mouth to protest automatically, but she took the hint Throttle gave her again, and stayed silent. She watched Hunter, waiting to see what he would do.
"Looks as though you and I have to settle our difference of opinion," Hunter said calmly.
"If that's the way you want it," Throttle said, just as calmly.
Hunter smiled coldly. Then he whistled piercingly. A moment later, twenty burly goons filed into the garage and spread out in a circle around the two as Hunter backed away.
"Yeah, figured as much . . ." Throttle murmured quietly, a grin shaping his mouth. Then he felt Rogue take up a position behind him, standing back-to-back. "No way, Rogue. Get out of this."
"Sorry, sugah, but ah have a personal stake in this. No dice," she replied.
Then the goons attacked, and they began to defend themselves. Rogue kept two men from grabbing her while Throttle beat back five more. He grinned as he heard the sound of his bros' motorcycles in the distance, and then they were cut off, so he knew they were gliding in silently, just as he had done. Then his helmet got knocked off his head and his features were revealed.
Hunter stared incredulously at the sight of the large, alien mouse while the goons stared at him nervously. Throttel grinned darkly, and then suddenly, Modo's deep voice said, "You need some help, bro?"
Everyone turned to the doorway and saw the two mice standing there, sans helmets, grinning in anticipation.
"For sure, bro," Vinnie added smugly. "I don't mind rescuing you, ya know."
Throttle laughed and said, "Feel free to lend a hand, boys."
His bros grinned darkly, Modo's eye beginning to glow, and he murmured, "Maybe even a tail."
The goons decided to take the offensive and half of the remaining goons charged the two mice in the doorway, knocking them back out of the garage, while the rest of the goons turned on Throttle and Rogue.
Two goons tried again to grab her, and she dropped low in a crouch, then rammed her elbows back into their solar plexus', dropping them breathlessly to the ground while Throttle and the goons attacking him moved out of the garage, and outside could be heard the sounds of the mice gleefully whipping tail on their attackers.
Hunter watched, shocked and incredulous, and then he noticed Rogue running for the doorway to join her friends in the fight. Pulling his gun out of the holster underneath his jacket, he ran forward and caught her, pressing the gun to her temple.
Rogeu went still at the feel of the gun pressed to her head. After all, the last thing she wanted was to provoke Hunter into shooting her. She really didn't want a bullet in the head. That would stink.
"Outside," he growled in her ear. "Slowly."
Gritting her teeth, she slowly began to walk outside.
The mice finished off their opponents and then turned when they heard
movement behind them, and saw Hunter holding Rogue, a gun held to her temple,
and they immediately grew serious.
"Let 'er go, Hunter," Throttle growled. The mice heard Charley, Alex, and Jo'than arrive behind them.
"You heard him, scum-sucker," Alex snarled. "Let my daughter go!"
Hunter laughed coldly. "I'm sorry, Alex, but not a prayer."
"Not even if I sign the shares over to you willingly?" Alex bartered.
Hunter was silent for a moment, and then he grinned and squeezed Rogue tighter and said, "That may happen anyway, old boy. But I want a two-part deal. The shares . . . and Rogue."
Everyone was silent, and then Throttle began grinning as he saw something appear on the garage roof above and behind the two humans.
Hunter saw the grin, and he turned slightly and looked up.
Jelena was crouched there, holding her sword, glaring down at him. She had been driving past a half-mile away and had heard the commotion. Deciding that somebody was threatening her friends and family, she had gone to the house and snuck up to the group, hearing every word.
Hunter saw the deadly cold in Jelena's eyes, and the firm, unwavering grip on her sword. He turned, bringing his gun to bear on her, and Rogue snarled and rammed her elbow into his kidneys, forcing his arm to drop as he gasped, and then she dove and rolled out of the way. He brought his gun around to bear on her again, but by then, Jelena had joined the fray.
She leaped down from the garage and slammed into him feet first, knocking him backwards with a fierce kick, his gun flying from his hand. She waited until he was on his feet again, and then she advanced, slicing quickly and deftly, leaving paper thin cuts on his arms and chest and legs and face, forcing him back with each cut. Jelena glanced at him, saw the meanness, the weakness, and the aboslute horridness of him, and her fury rose. She began to deepen the cuts as she pressed forward.
Hunter let out a cry of pain and rage and fear, and turned, fleeing the area, back to his waiting car, tears running down his face.
Jelena let him go and turned when she heard footsteps running toward her. She grinned as Rogue grabbed her, hugging her tightly. "Whoa, sis! Ramp down, will ya?"
Rogue grinned back. "J, you are AWESOME!!" she yelled happily.
Grinning still, Jelena replied, "You're sayin' it as though it were a surprise."
Rogue laughed and ruffled her hair.
"That was good work, Jelena," Throttle said, stepping forward, grinning.
Jelena saw them, then, really saw them, for the first time. She stared at the three mice, and they waited quietly for her response. Slowly, but surely, a grin appeared on her face, and she walked up to Modo, pulled him down to her level, and planted a kiss on his cheek, making him blush a fiery red. "Hi, Modo. Nice to see you again," she said, grinning.
Modo stuttered as he tried to reply, and finally gave up, grinning sheepishly while blushing still.
Everyone laughed and then Vinnie stared in the direction Hunter had disappeared in, and he said smugly, "Yeah, not bad -- for a dame!"
Jelena frowned, then grinned darkly as she looked past him. Turning, Vinnie's jaw dropped open as he saw one of the goons standing behind him, arms raised over his head to punch him into a pancake. He braced himself for the impact as the arms dropped toward him, and suddenly, Jelena was there, hi-blocking the goon's fists, then crouching slightly to deliver a pile-driver blow forward into the man's solar plexus. When the goon hunched over, gasping and choking, she brought her leg straight up in a kick that knocked the goon backward and out cold. Then she turned to Vinnie, who stared in open-mouthed shock.
Grabbing his green bandoleers, she yanked him forward and held the sword up to the left side of his face. While he kept his gaze on the sword, he listened to her every word.
"Let's get something straight, Vinnie," she said softly. "I'm good, period. Got that?"
He gulped, nodded slightly, and laughed nervously as he replied, "Yeah, yeah, sure thing, sweetheart!"
Jelena let him go and turned to go with Rogue and her family into the house. Vinnie glared at his grinning bros, silently daring them to say a word about it. Swallowing their laughter, they kept their mouths shut, then turned to begin gathering up the goons to deposit out on the edge of the property.
When they got back into the house, they found an intense discussion taking place.
"Wha's up?" Throttle asked.
"We were just discussing how to keep Hunter from trying this again. He wants both the shares and Rogue, and he's not going to stop until he gets both," Charley said flatly.
"And the only way we see it, Rogue has to marry someone. At least for a little while," Jo'than growled.
"How would a marriage stop him? He's the type of guy who doesn't take 'no' for an answer, remember?" Modo asked.
Alex shook his head. "No, it's strange, but Hunter told me once why he doesn't stand for adultery. His father, apparently, had a few affairs, and it drove his mother away. Hunter can't tolerate faithlessness. He has never fooled around with a married woman. Ever."
"Weird," Vinnie said.
"Yeah. If Hunter has one moral center in him, that's it," Jelena added, venom lacing her voice.
The mice were silent, and then Alex said, "The only problem is, there's nobody around who could marry Rogue."
"Why not just forge a signature to a marriage document?" Throttle asked as they sat down at the table.
"Can't," Jo'than said, shaking his head. "We could do it, in a hot Semonian second, but the local Justice of the Peace is new to town, and we don't know his signature well enough to get away with it."
"What about Mustang?" Jelena asked.
"He's on assignment right now. He can't do it," Rogue said. She noticed the confused glances from the mice, and explained. "He's a friend of mine from college. A nice man, and a wonderful friend. He's with the Department of Defense, though, and out on assignment in Nevada."
The mice nodded their understanding, and then Vinnie asked, "What about local boys? Aren't there any good bachelor-neighbors who would do this for you?"
The humans grinned slightly. "Not really. The only men available are either too young or too old to offer any protection against Hunter. He's powerful, and could take their homes from them, and there wouldn't be anything they could do to stop it. They have no power."
The mice were totally silent for a long while. Then Throttle stood and walked around the table to Rogue.
She looked up at him warily. He stared down at her. Then he said, "Rogue?"
"Yeah?" she replied hesitantly.
He was silent for a moment. Then he dropped the bomb.
"Will you marry me?"
"Calm down. I can practically hear your bones straining."
Rogue shot Throttle a look from where she paced in front of the windows in the Justice of the Peace's office. "YOU calm down. It ain't ev'ry day ya get married to a MOUSE!"
He grinned at he from where he lounged against the desk and said, "Maybe it isn't for YOU. But look at it this way: it isn't every day that I get married to a HUMAN, either."
She glared at him again and returned to her nervous pacing. He watched her, eyeing her absently, noting the black pants that fit her like a second skin, the dark green turtleneck and matching leather boots that went up to just below her knees, the way her hair seemed to fly out in every direction as she turned constantly.
He could still remember the turmoil from two days ago . . .
Everyone's jaw dropped open. Then the hurricane struck.
"Throttle, are you--?!"
"Sweetheart, are you NUTS?!"
"What're you thinkin'?!"
"I'm not so sure this is a good idea --"
"I am," Throttle said, cutting Alex off in mid-sentence. He stared at his friends as he said, "Look at it this way: Rogue needs someone young, strong, and tough to help her keep Hunter off her back. I'm all three, plus I'm a trained Freedom Fighter. Best of all, I have no land that Hunter could threaten to take away from me if I don't agree to back off like a good little puppet. Who BETTER to take care of her for a few months until the legal footin' is solid ground again?"
Rogue kept silent, but she still thought, `I don't NEED anyone to take care of me! I need someone to work WITH me!'
Everyone else stared at each other. Finally, they began nodding their heads in agreement.
"I don't like it," Alex sighed, "but I see your point. I dont' have any objection to it."
"But why marriage?? Why not just find this Hunter creep and blow `im away??" Vinnie snapped as he whipped out his blaster and charged it, glowering, while Jelena's eyebrows winged to the back of her hairline.
"Or better YET," Modo added with a glare in his bro's direction, "why not just whip up some kinda fake papers or somethin'?? Yer hackers, you could do it."
"We would, in a hot Semonian second, but the local Justice of the Peace is out of town, and he's relatively new. We don't know his signature well enough yet to fake it," Jo'than said.
"Besides, Hunter owns the Law around here," Jelena added. "You're gonna have your hands full just tryin' to keep them from destroyin' the evidence of your marriage somehow or other."
"We can handle THAT, darlin', no worries on that score," Modo said, priming his arm cannon, his eye beginning to glow red.
"Well, then, there's only one thing left to do, then," Throttle said, and he stood in front of Rogue and looked down at her. "Will you marry me?" he repeated.
She was silent for a long moment, then stood and faced him. "Yes," she replied, and placed her hand in his.
Now he watched her pace nervously in front of the windows as they waited
for the Justice of the Peace, a Mr. John Davis.
Suddenly, she stopped and stared at him, her eyes devouring his rugged physical form as he lounged against the desk. "Are you certain yer willin' to tie yerself down to an alien for a few months??"
He came to attention at that. He stood slowly as he said, "I don't mind. I'll be helpin' my friends by doin' this. An' as ya said, babe, it's only for a few months. But I get the feelin' that you're havin' problems tiein' yourself down to an alien mouse."
She stopped pacing and snapped, "Yes!" Then she grimaced and said, "No!" Rogue sighed and finished, "I don't know, really ah don't!"
"Try," Throttle urged softly.
Rogue sighed, and stared bleakly out the window at the snow-covered ground. "Only a couple'a days ago, ah had a handle on mah life. Hunter was kept at bay, ah had my projects, an' my home was safe an' secure. Now ah find that ah have to marry an alien MOUSE in order to keep myself and family safe from some skolly pusbag. At what point, exactly, did I lose control here?"
He heard the bleakness, the lost confusion in her voice, and his heart contracted in reaction. It was a reaction he'd had around her ever since he met her, and he wasn't quite sure that he liked it. There was Carbine, still, to think of. But right now, here was a young woman, and a friend, who needed some reassurance that everything was going to be just fine.
He walked up to her and turned her about, then pulled her into a hug against him, wrapping his arms around her as she huddled against him, her arms going around his waist. He smoothed his hand up and down her back, his fingers tangling in her hair as he said softly, "It'll be okay, babe."
"Promise?" she whispered against his neck.
"Promise." He drew back and smiled down at her, and she smiled back. Then they stepped apart as the door to the office opened. They watched a small, elderly man enter the room. He had white hair and a balding head, he wore bifocals, and was slightly overweight. He appeared to be a very nice man, though, especially when he saw them and smiled as Charley, Alex, Jo'than, Modo, and Vinnie filed in behind him.
The elderly human man walked up to the two young people and held out his hand to them as he said, "H'lo, all. I'm John Davis. And you would be Throttle and Rogue, am I correct?"
"You are, sir," Throttle said with a grin as he shook the man's hand.
"Yup. Ah'm Rogue," she said as she then shook his hand.
"Well, then, let's get started, shall we?" Mr. Davis said, and he went to stand before the windows as he picked up a book.
They all followed, the two of them standing before him while the others acted as witnesses, standing off to the side.
"Do you have the rings?" Mr. Davis asked.
Throttle reached into his pouch belt and pulled out a little sack cloth and opened it, upending two golden rings into his palm. They were plain, solid gold bands; one large, the other smaller, daintier. They were both wide bands, though. He smiled at Rogue and said, "Hope you don't mind, but you weren't available to go shoppin' with me for these earlier."
"They're fine. Just what ah like," she assured him, and he grinned at her. Then they faced Mr. Davis again.
"Please give me your full names," Mr. Davis requested.
"Throttle Askani Starlifter," Throttle stated, and saw her surprised reaction. He looked down at her and said, "What, babe?"
"Nothin'. Ah just like your name, that's all," she replied.
"Good, `cause you're gonna be sportin' it for a while," he laughed, and she grinned. Then she faced Mr. Davis again and said, "Mah name is Rogue Neramani D'Iste." Now it was his turn to look surprised. She smiled up at him tremulously. "Just like the name?" she guessed, and he nodded, smiling.
From then on, the wedding ceremony proceeded calmly and steadily, and a few moments later, the two were pronounced Husband & Wife. The marriage license was signed by the newlyweds, Mr. Davis, and the witnesses, and then they all said goodbye to the Justice and trooped outside to where the motorcycles waited in the cold winter air.
Rogue was hugged by her family and the two other bros, and then they all informed the newlyweds of the plans for the evening.
"You're not gonna join us?" Rogue asked, surprised, as she looked from her family to her new husband.
"On your wedding night?" her brother asked, laughing. "Not at all, sis!"
"We figured you two could just have a quiet evening at home and get to know each other while we all go out and about to do things," Alex added.
Throttle caught the lecherous winks his bros gave him, and he gave a masked grin back at them.
Rogue was surprised at this, but accepted it, and so she waved goodbye to them all as she and Throttle roared off back to the house.
Throttle grinned at the wry grin his wife gave him as she got up from the table to gather up her plate and his to take them to the dishwasher. "`Scuse me, babe, but those dogs were good!"
"They OUGHTTA be! Ya just polished off forty of `em!" she sassed back, grinning, then turned away to clean up the dishes as he laughed softly.
"Hey, c'mon, darlin'! I'm a growin' mouse!"
"Ya're ALREADY grown!"
He grinned and admired his biceps. "Yeah, can't argue with ya there, babe. Settle for `active' instead?"
She sighed gustily and rolled her eyes as she grinned and said, "Oh, if ah HAVE to."
Throttle laughed, but he also noticed the way her eyes caressed him before she turned away to finish the dishes. He eyed her, watching as she rinsed the plates and placed them in the dishwasher. He had found himself staring at her mouth and thinking of her a lot. Not really understanding, but not fighting it, he got up and went to her.
Rogue stilled when she felt his hands gently take hold of her upper arms. His thumbs stroked her arms as he said, "Let it sit for a while, babe." She turned to face him and found him standing directly behind her. She looked up and found him staring down at her. "Throttle?" she said softly.
"Do you want me to kiss you?" he asked, just as softly.
"What?" she whispered.
"I don't mind, if you want me to."
"Throttle . . . ah . . ."
He smiled fondly at her and held her face in his hands. "Relax," he said very softly.
She sighed and closed her eyes.
Still smiling, he lowered his head towards hers . . .
And they jumped apart as a pounding on the front door of the house startled them. They faced the doorway to the kitchen which led off into the entry hall which then led to the front door, their hearts pounding at their startlement. Then she glanced at him, asking a silent question. His answer was to pull out his blaster, nod silently, and head for the darkened hall corridor. It was understood between them that he would provide cover if it were trouble at the door when she answered it.
Smoothing down her hair and getting control of her rapid heartbeat, she slowly and calmly walked toward the front door as whoever it was pounded again. She opened it carefully just a ways, and the illumination from the porch light showed her two slender, yet muscular figures, each wearing helmets roughly the same shape as the Biker Mice's, and the green, yellow, and brown uniforms of Martian Freedom Fighters, which she recognized from the stories her aunt had told her.
Grinning broadly, she smiled and opened the door as she called over her shoulder, "It's for YOU, Throttle!" Then she turned back to the two figures and stepped back as she said, "C'mon in; it's cold out there."
The two helmets looked at each other, then the figures walked in and removed them while she shut the door.
The slender, yet muscular male figure stood at only about 5'11", but he was undeniably good looking in a male mouse sort of way. His most outstanding feature was his metal tail that lashed back and forth slightly. He had light, wheat-colored hair that contrasted to his brown fur and was obviously an elder mouse, but his dark red eyes still held a lot of warmth as he smiled charmingly at her.
The female had almond-shaped honey-brown eyes, light gray fur, and a wealth of jet black hair that fell about her shoulders. Her most noteable feature was the jagged scar that ran across the left side of her snout and across her cheek slightly. Her eyes studied Rogue coolly and carefully.
"Well, beautiful, I'm going to guess that greeting means that our scanners were right and Throttle IS here," the male mouse said. "Where's that kid hiding, anyway?"
"Right here, Stoker," Throttle said, his voice warm with affectionate pride as he walked out of the hallway, holstering his blaster as he grinned at the new arrivals. Rogue saw the way his eyes went to the female and filled with a tender, loving expression that made her heart ache to see. She shifted her gaze back to the new arrivals as Throttle walked up and pounded hard on Stoker's shoulder.
"Rogue, this here is Stoker," Throttle said, grinning widely between the two of them. "He was our unit leader back on Mars during the Plutarkian wars. Taught me and my bros everything we know about bikin', fightin', and women."
She said nothing, but the wide, mischievous grin she threw at him indicated quite clearly that he was testing the limits of her virtue, and the two men chuckled while the female softened slightly, grinning back a little.
"Rogue, eh? That's an unusual name, but it certainly suits your unique beauty," Stoker said as he sauntered forward, caught her hand, bowed over it, and winked at her as he straightened.
"Oh, ah LIKE him," Rogue said, grinning wryly at her husband as she gestured at Stoker, who laughed delightedly. Then she looked pointedly at the female.
Throttle's voice softened even further and he said, "This is Carbine. She's a general, and the current leader of the Freedom Fighters." And he hugged her tenderly.
But Rogue and Throttle were both surprised when Carbine stood there stiffly, not really accepting the hug, looking uncomfortable. Rogue saw out of the corner of her eye as Stoker looked away, hiding his knowledge of something as Throttle backed slowly away from Carbine, uncertain.
To ease the tension a little, Carbine smiled at Rogue and held out her hand as she said, "Hi, Rogue. I know it's a surprise to see us here. But do I smell hotdogs?"
Rogue grinned and shook the lady's hand, and said, "Ya smell the remnants of what HE put away." Carbine gave an amused glance at Throttle, and then grinned back at the human woman as Rogue added, "But it sounds as though ya'lls hungry. We still have plenty, so come on back into the kitchen while ah make up another round."
"Oh, yeah! Good ol' Earth hotdogs! C'mon, beautiful, let's get cookin'!" Stoker said excitedly, grinning, and he offered her his arm. She took it, and led the way back down to the kitchen.
Fifteen minutes later, the new arrivals were chowing down on more hotdogs and Throttle joined them, seeing as how he always had room for more junkfood. Halfway through the meal, he asked, "So what're you doin' here, Stoke?"
Before he could answer, Carbine did. "Would you believe the Stalkers?" she asked.
Throttle finally quit coughing, cleared his throat, and said, "What? Those whacked out alien Space Mummies? Whaddya mean, sweetie?"
Rogue grinned at him and said, "Sweetie? Cheatin' on your wife already?"
Carbine and Stoker eyeballed him hard. "Wife?" they echoed.
Throttle flushed red and then said, "We got married today. Don't worry, though, Carbine, it's not for long. Just a couple of months and then we'll get an annulment and I'll be free and clear." This was added with a reassuring smile in Carbine's direction. Then he glanced at Rogue and swallowed at the cold poker face she wore.
"You cheatin' dawg. You got the couch tonight, pardner," she said coolly. At his frantic expression, she couldn't contain herself anymore and she slumped over the table, her head on her arms as she laughed herself breathless. When she lifted her head to wipe the tears of hilarity away, she saw him giving her an amused "Why me?" look, and grinned at him crazily before she straightened up.
At the confused glances of the other two, she explained briefly the reasons for why she and Throttle had gotten married, and they nodded, accepting it.
"So, what's this about alien space mummies?" she asked, taking a drink of rootbeer.
"Didn't Charley-girl tell you about the time Rimfire came to Earth and the Stalkers hunted us?" Throttle asked.
"Oh. Yeah! Those dudes, huh?"
"Yeah, from the sounds of it. I just wanna know what's up. Stoke? Carbine?"
"Well, Throttle," Stoker began as he polished off the last of his hotdogs, "somebody busted `em out of Limbo Prison. We don't know who, but the sensors tracked their ship here to Earth. We think they came here to get revenge on you bros. They'll probably go after Rimfire after they get done with you."
Throttle chuckled. "As if. Even if those losers DID somehow manage to take us out, they'd still have to deal with you guys and Rimfire. All by himself that kid is a one-mouse biker gang. He's done real good since he's grown up some."
"Well, thanks, bro! Glad to hear it," Stoker said, his chest puffing up in his pride. When he saw Rogue glancing at him, he clarified, "I trained Modo's nephew, before I got captured by the Plutarkians. Taught him most everything I know, too."
She grinned at him familiarly, and said, "Well, SOMETHIN' must be workin' for y'all to have stayed alive as long as ya have."
They all laughed, and then Throttle said, "So, you decided to come on down here and help us ferret out those glorified horse-trotters?"
"Well . . . that was one reason," Carbine hedged, and from the way Stoker suddenly went quiet, both Rogue and Throttle got the impression that Throttle wasn't going to like what Carbine had to say.
"Ahhh, I'll just go on an' check on a few things in the garage --" Rogue said, and started to get up.
"No." Throttle stared hard at her. "Whatever she has to say you have the right to hear it, now, too."
She said nothing, just slowly sat back down into her seat. He eyed her a moment longer, then looked at Carbine. "Okay," was all he said.
Carbine took a deep breath. "It's like this, Throttle . . . I've met someone else that I like. A lot. He and I share the same interests, think alike most of the time . . . and he's THERE. Know what I'm sayin'?"
Throttle's mouth flattened into a grim line. "You're sayin' you want to break up because I'm busy on planet Earth trying to stop another Plutarkian Invasion and can't talk to you every day, is that right?"
Carbine's mouth flattened as well, and she glared at him as she said, "Yeah, Throttle, that's basically it! I need to be in a relationship where the man I'm with at least tries to make an effort to say two words to me more than once in a blue moon! Ajax --"
"AJAX!!??" Throttle exploded. "I've been dumped for that computer nerd-brain??!! Just `cause he's THERE???"
"Ajax is NOT a nerd-brain, and no, not just because he's there! We have a LOT in common, a lot more than you and I do -- Throttle? Where are you going? I'm TALKING to you!" Carbine yelled as he got up and stalked toward the kitchen doorway.
He glared back over his shoulder at her and growled, "You've said enough." And then he was gone out of the room.
Both Rogue and Carbine got to their feet to go after him, and Stoker reached out and gripped both their arms and stopped them. They looked down at him and he stared back, then gently released Rogue and smiled at her. She smiled back gratefully and silently trailed after her husband.
Carbine reluctantly followed Stoker's silent order to sit down again, and he sighed and said, "Trust me on this, Carbine. You're not the person he needs to look at right now. He needs a woman, all right, but not the one that just up and announced she doesn't want him anymore. And he especially won't want to hear that `Let's be friends' talk. Take it from a guy's viewpoint, okay?"
She nodded silently and quietly took a drink of her rootbeer.
* * *
Rogue found him in the semi-darkened family room, staring moodily out of the window at the dark winter night. He said nothing, but from the way his ears twitched and his antennaes flicked in her direction, he was aware that she was there.
She walked up to stand beside him, not touching him, and just stared out the window with him, silently offering her support.
He knew that she was there for him, and that she was doing her best to help him when he felt like he'd just been punched in the belly by a piledriver. Then she put her hand on his shoulder very lightly. He turned to her and pulled her close against him, pressing her head down onto his shoulder, and just let his face rest in her hair as her arms wrapped around him and hugged him tight.
"Thanks, babe," he said softly.
"You're welcome, sugah," she replied, equally softly.
They both heard the sounds of very familiar motorcycle engines coming toward the house, along with a truck, and they lifted their heads to smile at each other. Rogue let go of him and started to step back away from him, but he kept her close and put his arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him hesitantly, then smiled back and put her arm around his waist and they both headed toward the kitchen to join the others.
As they were sitting down, Throttle looked at Carbine and smiled gently, letting her know that he understood, sort of, and it was cool with him, and saw the relief in her eyes and smile when she grinned back at him. Stoker visibly relaxed.
A moment later, the front door burst open and Vinnie and Modo ran inside. "Where's Carbine??" Vinnie asked, then stopped totally still and stared at both Carbine and Stoker.
"Good idea, punk," Stoker chuckled. "Go ahead and keep your mouth open. You'll save the humans a fortune in heating bills all by yourself with all that hot air."
"Why you skanky old timer --!" Vinnie snapped, grinning, and got ready to leap on Stoker and tackle him about, but Modo grabbed his tail and yanked, causing him to screech wildly and glare at him as he grabbed his injured part. "What was that for?!" he demanded.
"We're guests here, dimglow, remember?!" Modo snapped. "You can't go rough-housin' around here!" Then he grinned at the new arrivals and said, "Carbine-ma'am! Stoker! Glad to see ya! Recognized the Stalker ship, so we figured it was either Carbine or Rimfire, but we sure didn't expect you, Stoke! What're you doin' here?"
"Hey, Modo, my mouse!" Stoker said, and he got up from his seat to whap Modo's ears against his head, causing the taller mouse to laugh as he grabbed his ears.
Then Stoker saw Charley and he let out a happy whoop and he picked her up and swung her around, making her laugh delightedly, and then he hugged her to him tightly as she hugged back, him planting kisses on both of her cheeks. He was just getting ready to target her mouth for a quick peck when an empty rootbeer bottle slammed into the back of his head. He grunted and rubbed his head, letting go of Charley as he glared over his shoulder at Vinnie, who grinned back with a charming smile.
Then Stoker noticed the two human men, one an older version of two images. He held out his hand and said, "Hey, bros. I'm Stoker, and this here is Carbine. We're here to talk with the Bros, if that's okay?"
Alex grinned and shook Stoker's hand as he said, "Hey, there, Stoker. I'm Alex, Rogue's father and Charley's brother, and this here is my son, Jonothan, whom we all call Jo'than. Sure it's all right to stay here. How long, just out of curiousity?"
"Until we get the Stalkers taken care of," Carbine said as she came forward to shake hands with the human men.
Modo and Vinnie immediately picked up on that, and demanded details. So, everyone sat down around the table while they were all brought up to date on everything. Modo and Vinnie looked coldly at Carbine at first after Throttle reported their break-up, but then they relaxed when he also explained that it was cool with him as he smiled at his new wife.
Then, deciding that it was way late, everyone went to bed upstairs, Stoker and Carbine grateful to have comfortable, warm beds offered so graciously. Stoker decided to bunk with Modo and Vinnie while Carbine shared Charley's room and bed with her, and Throttle, after much deliberation, decided to bunk with Jo'than. It wasn't that he didn't want to be near Rogue, he just didn't think he could trust himself to keep his hands off her during the night, not even in his sleep. So, rather than break the rules, he would follow them by distancing himself.
Then everyone went to bed, thoroughly exhausted.
"What do you mean `MARRIED'?!?!?!"
Hunter's roar shattered the dim quiet of his home office. He was standing beside his desk, his various wounds bandaged, and he'd been listening to the report from his number one henchman, Raid. He was less than pleased with the news he received, and he let it be known as he glowered fiercely at the trembling thug.
"S-s-s-sorry, boss! By the time Phrack and 2600 got wind of it, it was too late! It'd already been done! They all got real sneaky on us, and hitched beneath our noses. We had no warning," Raid reported, still slightly trembling. His boss might be smaller than him by a few kilos or so, but Hunter was dangerous in the fact that he could READ people, and KNEW what would hurt the most. Raid had witnessed this firsthand, and he wasn't looking to do it again.
"This is what I pay all of you for: sloppy incompetence," Hunter sighed gustily, his eyes narrowed. "If it weren't for the fact that I'm going to NEED those morons to carry out my orders to undo this mess, I'd grease them in a hot Semonian second."
"Ah, but do you really need them, Mr. Hunter?' came a new voice. A voice that was smooth, mellow, and utterly cold and evil, dripping with charm and false honey.
Hunter and Raid turned to the private access entrance to the office, the one that only they and a few chosen individuals knew about, and watched a short, immense form walk into the dim light.
Lawrence Limburger was 5'10" tall, and weighed 300 pounds. He wore an expensively tailored purple suit, and his hair was blue-black and styled in a pompadour. His eyes, a beautifully arresting violet color, were cold and deadly as ice.
But his most noteable feature -- and one that not many Earthlings knew -- was that he wasn't human. Limburger was an alien from another planet. A planet called Plutark.
And it was his job to begin the invasion of Earth in the city of Chicago by strip-mining it to the ground and beyond.
Behind him, four creatures followed, as silent as wraiths. They were not human either, but unlike Limburger, they didn't bother to mask this fact.
Three of the creatures were gray-skinned, while the fourth was dark red-skinned. They all walked on the balls of clawed feet, and were thin and wiry, though tall. They had jaws and teeth like a saber-toothed tiger's, and nocturnal yellow eyeballs. They wore tall hats, capes that attached to their wrists and elbows, belt-pouches, and breech-clouts all in shades slightly darker than their skins. They said nothing, only watched with keen eyes.
Raid, while aware that his boss was doing business with aliens, didn't want to be visually reminded of this. Hunter was aware of this, and peremptorily ordered him from the room, knowing he could count on the man's discretion. Raid was not sorry to leave, and made his exit with all due haste.
As soon as the door was firmly shut, Hunter gave his full attention to his visitors. "Mr. Limburger. What a . . . pleasant surprise. May I ask who your companions are?"
Limburger smiled in anticipatory pleasure. He rather liked Hunter. For all that he was a human, the man was almost as shrewd and cunning as he himself was, and a true business genius into the bargain. Limburger was relishing working with such a professional again.
"My dear Hunter, these beings are known as Stalkers. They were trophy hunters, feared throughout the known galaxies. While it is regrettably true that the Biker Mice caused their imprisonment recently, I have taken the liberty of liberating them from their profound imprisonment and bringing them here to you in order to help you coagulate your own conniving conjurations," he murmured.
"I see," Hunter said slowly. Then, suddenly, he gave a wry smile and his eyes held more than a trace of heated sarcasm as he said, "No, actually, I don't see. These . . . Stalkers were imprisoned by the very creatures I want removed from my path, and yet you think they can do just that. I'm sorry, Limburger, but I fail to see how they can be of any use. And since I don't see it, and I won't make a move on a married woman, you've wasted your time and resources in bringing them here."
The Plutarkian bit his tongue to keep his temper in check. Oh, yes, the human was DEFINITELY too much like him for comfort. But, such were the drawbacks one had to live with if one expected quality in a performance.
"But you don't mind making a move on a WIDOW, do you, my harried human accomplice?" he purred.
Hunter stared at him intently, then moved to sit down behind his desk, gesturing for Limburger to take a plush seat opposite him. "I'm listening," he said quietly.
Taking his seat, Limburger smiled in satisfaction and quickly outlined the details of the Stalkers' abilities in hunting and marksmanship. By the time he was done, Hunter was eyeing them with visible impression.
"And you're so certain that this trap of yours will work? Won't they just defeat you as they usually do?" Hunter asked flippantly.
Limburger snorted irritably. "NOT if WE work together, Hunter."
Hunter then leaned forward, a cold smile on his face. "What's in it for you, Limburger? You can't seriously be doing this just to get rid of the mice, and the mice only."
"I most certainly can, Hunter. Your petty stocks and contracts are worth nothing to me. I simply want the mice. You have resources I can use to get to that goal. In exchange for your help against the mice, I will help you to get the girl you want in order to get the aforementioned capital that you want to possess. It's a win-win situation, my conniving conspirator."
Hunter was silent for a long moment as he considered the offer. Finally, he stood, prompting Limburger to stand also. Hunter held out his hand and said, "Limburger? You have yourself a deal."
The two businessmen shook hands, smiling in grim satisfaction while the Stalkers grinned at each other, their blood running hot in anticipation of a long overdue hunt.
"Good morning, everyone!"
Everyone looked up from the table with bleary stares or hard glares at Carbine as she strode into the kitchen energetically. She grinned back at them all, amused. After taking a long, refreshing hot shower and getting into a clean, dry uniform, she felt extremely revitalized. As she absently smoothed down her long, black hair, she thought that few things in life felt finer than clean hair.
"What's so good about it?" Vinnie yawned in a grousing tone. "Sun ain't even up yet!"
"That's because it's only 8:00 in the morning, you shardin' dimwit!" Modo replied, grinning at him blearily.
Vinnie tensed, adrenaline surging through his body as he got ready to pounce on his bro, but Charley vetoed that with a sharp chop of her hands and a glare in his direction. His expression mulish, Vinnie still wisely decided to let it go.
Some of the group chuckled sleepily, the rest only tried to wake up enough to tell which way was up. Rogue got to her feet, yawning, and said, "What's needed here is some `Jumpin' Joe Jeezly' coffee!"
Jo'than looked up at his sister, his eyes following her as he asked, "Sis . . . ya sure that's wise an' all?"
"O' course I am," came the reply, and then she bustled around making the coffee.
"What's this jumper coffee?" Stoker asked.
The other three humans chuckled and rolled their eyes. "It's real strong coffee, is what it is," Charley laughed.
"We call it `Jumpin' Joe Jeezly' coffee, `cause that's what Dad yelled the first time he had some," Jo'than said, grinning.
"This'll jumpstart ya tractor, chummy!" Alex added, his face totally serious. Just then Rogue came back to the table carrying a tray with steaming mugs of strong coffee, grinning as she added, "B'sides . . . what's the point o' havin' eyebrows if'n ya can't send `em rocketin' to the ceiling first thing in the morning?"
All the mice looked at her warily as they took their mugs, adding cream and/or sugar as they wanted it, and the humans waited as they all took sips. A moment later, all the Martians let out loud, wild yells as the strength of the beverage hit them, causing their eyebrows to jacknife upward, their eyes to bug out, their jaws to drop open, and their fur to puff up slightly.
The humans tried to muffle their laughter, but didn't quite make it. The Martians all grinned though; no offense was taken. Throttle grinned up at his wife and then pulled her down onto his lap. She looked surprised for a moment, then grinned, yawned slightly, and leaned against him, placing one arm around his shoulders and neck, and sat there contentedly as she sipped her own coffee.
Then Charley and Alex got up and made breakfast, and there was soon a huge pile of pancakes, eggs, sausages, and other assorted goodies. Throttle wouldn't let Rogue off of his lap, so she ate her breakfast from there, casting puzzled glances at him every so often.
Finally, Alex looked at his daughter and son-in-law and said, "Rogue, soon as you and Throttle are done, I'd like you to go ahead and get showered and dressed so we can hurry into town and get those contracts drawn up."
"Contracts? For what?" Throttle asked, surprised.
"Bein' her husband, you're entitled to certain shares and contracts, remember?" Alex prompted. "It's the reason you married her for . . . isn't it?"
Throttle refused to rise to the bait and said, "Oh, yeah. So, what happens with all this?"
"Well, we're going to fix it so that you both get joint control over the contracts, but you both have to approve whatever use either of you might have for the money IN PERSON, or it's no go. It'll get set up so that you can continue to do this even after you get your annulment."
"What's an annulment?" Carbine asked.
"Oh, that's when the marriage of two people gets dissolved after proof is offered that the marriage wasn't consummated," Jo'than explained.
"But . . . how can you offer proof, unless . . ." Stoker suddenly shut his mouth and looked anywhere but at Rogue, who was blushing pinkly at the sudden, swift deductive reasoning that had been aired so publicly. Even Throttle was shifting with some slight embarrassment.
Then all the tension disappeared as more casual conversation started up, and Rogue quietly left the kitchen to get showered up and dressed. When she came back downstairs, Throttle left to go get dressed while Alex went to take his shower.
Finally, they were all dressed and ready to go, and they did, Stoker -- who was also dressed and ready -- driving Alex in on his motorcycle while Rogue rode with Throttle.
Outside the lawyer's office window, Raid waited patiently.
Raising his comm-unit to his mouth, he said softly, "They're goin' over the contracts now. It's been worded so that the woman's HUSBAND gets to share her loot, but they both have to be there in person in order to sign on any use of it."
"Well, we'll just see about that," said the soft voice of Hunter from his wrist-comm.
"Wait a minute . . ." Raid grinned then. "You'll like this, boss. They just fixed it so that in the unlikely event of her death, it all goes to him, and vice versa; if he dies, she gets it all to play with."
There was a soft chuckle and then Hunter said, "You're right, Raid, I DO like that! Well, well, well . . . they've given us just the opening we need. Follow them, but stay out of sight, and report to me the moment those two are alone. That'll give you and the Stalkers an easier time of it in slaughtering him and bringing her to me."
"Good. Hunter out."
Raid smiled grimly and shut off his wrist-comm.
"Throttle, stop here!"
Throttle obediently stopped his bike on the road beside a small, but wide open pasture that was blanketed in snow. "What for, babe?"
"This is a favorite field of mine. Ah come here all the time to just walk about and look at stuff and to think. Ah was . . . hopin' we could just walk around and talk for a little bit. Ya know, spend some time together before we meet everyone back at the house," Rogue said, shrugging her shoulders slightly.
He smiled at her and said, "Sure, babe. No problem." With that, he drove the bike over toward a large rock in the middle of the field, and parked it and they got off. Stoker and Alex had elected to stay in town for a few minutes so Alex could order some more food supplies, and the newlyweds had taken the opportunity to head out.
Now, as they walked around the field slowly, stopping to look at some of Rogue's favorite perches or something, they were unaware of the group of people watching them from the darkened forest surrounding the pasture.
* * *
Rogue watched Throttle walk away toward something that had caught his
eye in the snow. She sighed happily as she looked at him. `He really is
a fine figure of a man -- er, mouse,' she thought, grinning slightly. Then,
she noticed with keen interest that he had bent over to pick something up.
Preoccupied by the past few day's events, he did not notice Rogue as she swiftly bent and readied a snowball. Just as he picked up the shiny rock he'd noticed, she struck. Bent over, his jean clad rear end provided an irresistible target. Her aim was perfect.
Throttle straightened with a yelp of surprise as the hard packed snow stung him. "Sonofa -- you!" He whirled on the grinning woman with a scowl. "NICE sucker punch, girlie, but I'll teach you how to pick a fight!" His advance was rewarded with a blast of snow squarely on his chest that immediately soaked his fur. Laughing and swearing, he dodged and rolled out of her range as quick as he could and scooped up a large amount of snow and fashioned it into a snowball of his own, turning as Rogue's third shot soaked his head (he had removed his helmet at the bike), plastering his hair in a tan splotch over his Field Specs. Standing up, he shook his head like the "drowned rat" he resembled, and aimed his own ammunition at her.
The first icy blast caught her on the hip as she turned quickly to provide a smaller target. Then his next volley arced higher, soaking her shirt and knocking her hat off her head. Her hair spilled in dark red and frosty white cascading waves down her back as she shrieked and backed off, protesting, "Throttle! You weren't supposed to be armed, dammit!"
"This is a fair fight -- women's lib and all that rot, right?" He advanced with his next snowball.
Suddenly, she pulled a sneaky maneuver, dropping to her knees and then rolling to the side of one of the boulders for cover. From there she aimed her next snowball squarely at his navel -- then lowered it.
His return fire went wild, bouncing off the rock and shattering into a fine mist of rainbow colors that matched his vocabulary perfectly.
By this time, both deulists were howling with laughter, and the hidden captors were making bets on which one would win.
Throttle had recovered his breath and was once more in control of his aim, lining up on his scrambling antagonist who had retreated behind the boulder. Her next shot came out at ankle height, soaking a good pair of boots. "Coward! Stand and deliver," he roared in his best Lawrence Olivier voice. His next volley of snowballs danced around her derriere as she scooted further behind the rock with a whoop.
Then, in an abrupt reversal, she leaped to her feet on the far side of the boulder, three snowballs in hand, and flung them in rapid movements, getting him in the ears, the face, and his chest. But her haste was her undoing. The snow had frozen around the rock, and her foot had come straight down on it. Her legs went out from under her and down she went in an ignominous heap, dropping onto the rock and rolling out into the open snowy area. Throttle was on her at once, holding a small snowball to her throat.
"Now I've got you where I want you," he breathed, looking down at her heaving chest as she lay stretched across the ground.
With a breathless whoosh she flailed against him, knocking the snow from his grasp and rolling on top of him as he fell back. Both were convulsed with laughter, shaking, coughing and gasping for air. His hands, warm and caressing, held her close, as much to keep her warm as possible as to touch her. They were both suddenly aware of how close to each other they were as they stared into each other's eyes, their bodies stilling and their breathing slowing as they just stared and stared and stared.
Just as Rogue was getting ready to lower her head to his, they became aware of a soft paffing noise that was closing toward them and she heaved up and turned slightly and they saw the men running for them in snowboots, weapons out.
There was no time for a defense. The men were upon them beore they could do more than get to their feet. There were six of them, and three grabbed Rogue, dragging her away a bit as she fought the whole way, and then one of them slammed his fist across the back of her head and she fell unconscious. Those three men began to run back toward the woods, one of the assailants carrying her over his shoulder. The other three closed in around Throttle in a semi-circle that tightened like a noose around him. His anger heightened as he realized that he'd have to deal with them before he could rescue his wife.
Suddenly, Throttle recalled Stoker's voice during training from years ago, as he always did whenever he found himself in a lone confrontation without back-up: "When you're up against a crew of punks after your ass, make the first move. Cripple one of the pusbags fast and maybe the rest'll back off. At least it'll cut down the odds."
As the three moved within arm's length, Throttle seemed to focus on the leader facing him, then suddenly lunged at the man on the left, thrusting his arm forward, palm open, stopping a couple of inches in front of the thug's nose as if signaling for traffic to stop. All three men were taken by surprise, none more so than the one staring at the open hand. That was a costly split-second mistake, for Throttle simultaneously snapped a wicked kick at the man's genitals. The blow, delivered without any warning eye contact, landed slightly off target on the inside of his thigh. Cursing, the thug stumbled backward, doubled over.
Before Throttle could fully pivot toward the leader, a hamlike fist caught him above the right eye, opening a wicked slash over the brow. He shook his head to fight off the pain. Blood began to seep into his eye and he blinked to clear his vision as he gazed at them through his Field Specs. The leader wanted a quick kill and carelessly took another roundhouse swing at his dazed victim.
Although groggy, Throttle's reflexes seemed to be on autopilot as he blocked the punch. He grabbed the big arm and pivoted to lever its owner in an arc over his shoulder. The ground almost shook when the burly leader landed, but before Throttle could savor that small victory, the third man was on him from behind, clamping a chokehold on him with a forearm across his throat.
Throttle snapped his head back, hoping to rearrange the mugger's nose. He was rewarded with a grunt of pain but he missed his target, catching the strangler on the cheekbone. The suffocating pressure increased. Through the ringing in his ears he could hear a string of oaths that would have done Stoker proud. The smallest fellow, who he'd dropped with the groin kick, was limping toward him.
"Okay, lover boy. It's payback time."
The punch to his exposed midsection tore him in two -- or at least he thought so. Sheer terror drove him to thrash his head sideways in a desperate attempt to reclaim some of the air forcibly expelled from his body. He got one gulp before the arm tightened again, but it was enough to give him strength for another wicked kick. His boot connected solidly with his tormentor's shin.
"Shock! Eddie, can't you hold the son-of-a-glitch still. It's like fightin' a shockin' kangaroo!"
The man holding Throttle relaxed his grip for an instant as his companion backed off. Another breath of air rushed into Throttle's pleading lungs. At the same time he reached back with his left hand and grabbed between the strangler's legs. On target this time, he squeezed and was rewarded with a sharp gasp and freedom from the chokehold.
Throttle had no time for a third breath, however. A tackle from the right that would have done the best linebacker in the NFL proud sent him crashing to the ground. The leader was back in the fray. He and Throttle were locked in a bearhug as they rolled across the snow-covered ground. Throttle finally came up on top, his fist swinging down at the leader's face. He felt his knuckles connect with an eye socket the same instant the world exploded behind his head in a neuralyzing blast that he'd felt somewhere before.
He was rolled off the leader and as he stared up, he saw the four Stalkers staring down at him coldly. As they moved forward, he knew that he was in for a world of hurt before he would die.
They started. A chain reaction of bursts of agonizing pain ricocheted up and down his body, wracking his face, chest, stomach and kidneys. He felt a wicked, burning pain on his arm, and knew that one of them had cut him open. The same sensation was on his belly just below his navel. All at once, the kicks and punches stopped. Or maybe they didn't and he just couldn't feel them anymore. Then he heard a voice. Or maybe he didn't and it was just the ringing in his ears.
"Knock it off, dammit! We can't let you stomp the bastard to death. Hunter said he wants THIS alien jerkweed brought back alive so he can take him out on his own."
"Fine. We've already disabled his vehicle with the silent laser. There will be no trouble," said the Stalker leader.
As the voices faded away and Throttle felt himself being bundled up for transport, he thought to himself, `You're wrong about THAT one, Skeezix! You left me ALIVE.'
Then the world spun around him and he blacked out.
"Where're Rogue and Throttle?"
Alex and Stoker grinned as Alex said, "They took off without us. We stayed behind in town. Before they left, Rogue told me something about taking Throttle sightseeing in Wonder Stripe Park."
"What's that?" Modo asked from where he had Vinnie pinned to the floor. They'd been wrestling as carefully as possible in the wide open family room.
Alex, Jo'than, and Charley chuckled as Jo'than said, "She's always been tagged with the titles of Wonder Stripe, Striped Wonder, Sacred Stripe, something like that. There's this field nearby that she goes to a lot to work on things, and it's unofficially known as Wonder Stripe Park to us."
The Martians nodded, accepting this, but Carbine, who had an uneasy feeling, asked, "But shouldn't they have been back by now?"
"Aww, Carbine, they're probably horsing around and having a good time," Stoker admonished cheerfully.
"For three straight hours?" she shot back.
Stoker and Alex glanced at the nearest clock and saw that it had, indeed, been three hours. Then Stoker saw the look on her face. "What's up, General?"
"I've got a bad feeling," she said, quietly yet clearly.
Everyone stilled and looked at each other. Finally, Charley said, "I've got one, too. Guys . . ?" She turned to Modo and Vinnie.
They were way ahead of her, already on their feet and putting on their helmets. "Let's go," Vinnie said tersely, for once not making any sort of wise-crack. They all trooped outside to the bikes and Alex slid on behind Modo, Jo'than behind Stoker, and Charley behind Vinnie, and they all rode out to the field.
But when they got there, they found the place untouched by marks of any kind. The snow was crisp and clear and unmarked. They all walked around in the snow, searching in confusion, as Carbine shook her head, saying, "But the bad feeling is getting stronger right about here. What in all hells is going on . . ?"
Suddenly, Jo'than let out a shout and floundered through the snow a few yards. He bent and picked up the object he'd seen half-buried in snow, and turned with a grim expression, presenting his find: a pair of dark green fuzzy earmuffs. "These are Rogue's."
"But how could it get there when everything's untouched?" Charley wondered.
"Bros, turn on your helmets and scan for ectotheric energy," Stoker suddenly ordered, and Modo and Vinnie did as he asked. Then swore viciously as their helmet screens lit up with a blanket of iridescent energy patterns, some areas heavier than not. Turning off their visors, Vinnie snapped, "The whole area is blanketed in it. They've been here, and someone covered up their tracks."
The humans listened grimly as Carbine turned to them and explained, "The Stalkers must have caught them. And since they're hunter/trappers, they wipe all traces of evidence away from one of their snares. They use a combination of bio-energy and machines to wipe out their tracks. It's called ectotheric energy. And there's a lot of it around here, which means they've been here, and they caught Throttle and Rogue."
"Can those helmets of yours pick up anything beyond the ectotheric stuff?" Alex asked the Biker Mice harshly.
"Like what?" Modo asked.
"Can it see past the stuff, break it down to find out what got erased?"
Modo and Vinnie looked at each other and then Vinnie said, "With a little bit of tinkering, probably. Charley-girl . . ?"
She was wearing her toolbelt, something she never left behind when trouble was up that involved the mice. She stepped forward, bringing out her screwdriver, and they pulled off their helmets and held them so she could work. Fifteen minutes later, they put their helmets on again and activated their scanners.
"It's workin', sweetheart. Le'ssee . . . tread marks that belong to Throttle's bike parked over there," Vinnie said, pointing fifty yards to his left from where the other bikes were parked. Then he growled low in his throat and said, "There was a laser blast through it, too, which means they messed up his ride so the bike couldn't help."
"Footprints," Modo added. "Rogue's and Throttle's. Looks as though they were havin' a pretty good snowball fight, too," he added with a grin. Vinnie followed his gaze and laughed as he muttered, "I'm gonna rib Throttle for gettin' beat by a GIRL." Then they both got serious as they found the next set of clues.
"More footprints, in a running pattern, coming from the woods over there," Vinnie reported.
"Six of `em, all human," Modo added. "And now I see the hoverboard energy in the air from the Stalkers' boards." Then his eye blazed red and he tore through the snow over toward the boulder and knelt down, touching the snow. When he looked up, Vinnie had the coldest expression he'd ever seen, and the others were grim.
"Blood," he announced. "One or both of them's hurt bad."
A torrent of ripe language issued forth, and then Alex snarled, "I don't think it's Rogue. This has Hunter's stink all over it. I've got a hunch he's workin' with these spitwads somehow, and he wants them both. He needs Rogue intact, and you said that the Stalkers want revenge. I'd say they worked Throttle over before they hauled him off."
The others were nodding as the Biker Mice shut off their visors and waited for a decision.
"Okay, we think Hunter is the culprit. But there's NO WAY he could have sprung those clowns from prison. He may be a shrewd sonofaglitch, but even HE, human that he is, couldn't have done it. He's just too human," Carbine said.
"I woudn't bank on that one, girl," Alex said darkly.
Carbine nodded, accepting that insult, and then she looked at Charley and the bros. "Where's Limburger?" she asked.
"He disappeared about a week before we came up here," Charley replied, her green eyes blazing with fury.
"That's about the time the Stalkers busted loose," Stoker informed them.
"Which means ol' fin-fanny's involved in this," Modo said, his eye glowing red. Stoker nodded. "Looks like it, Modo."
"Well, we know that Hunter and his goons are mixed up in this, Limburger and HIS goons, and the Stalkers," Jo'than said.
"And we know how to deal with all three," Vinnie snapped, his tail lashing. "So let's go whip some TAIL!!"
"Ramp down, Gung Ho," Charley snapped. "We can't just go barreling in there. We don't know where Throttle and Rogue are, or what condition they're in. We could do more damage TO `em by bustin' in like a herd of elephants!"
"Besides which, I think we ought to get Jelena and DG in on this," Jo'than said.
"Who?" Stoker and Carbine asked together.
"Close friends of Rogue's who are REAL good at hunting and tracking and fighting," he replied, grinning. "Not only that, if we leave them out, we'll never hear the end of it, and it'd be worth my peace with them to leave them out of this. So, I say we bring them in and fill them in on what's happening and why."
"But won't they freak out when they find out we're . . ?" Stoker started.
The humans shook their heads. "Jelena already knows about the guys," Charley supplied. "DG is pretty open-minded. She'll like all of you, and she'll be more pissed about Rogue getting hurt than getting wired by the sight of you."
"I don't think it would be a good idea," Alex said. They all looked at him. "Look, the less people who know about this, the better. And besides which, something could go wrong and that's two more people to worry about right there."
"But, Daddy, ya know those two can fight just as well " Jo'than began.
"I know they can. But it still wouldn't be a good idea. So drop it." Alex stared hard at his son, then at the rest of them, and one by one, they nodded.
"Okay, then, let's get going and formulate a plan of attack and rescue," Carbine said, and they all went back to the bikes.
Throttle groaned unwillingly as he felt consciousness returning.
"Throttle?" The voice was soft and the hands that gently touched his face, holding his head steady, were even softer. His mind instantly recognized her scent and touch and voice, and he felt a smile trying to form on his mouth.
"Rogue," he breathed, then coughed. "What's goin' on?"
"We're locked in a storage shed. Ah managed to get Hunter to agree to givin' you a cot to sleep on. How d'you feel?"
"Like a mile o' bad road," he grunted, wincing as even the tiniest breath made his ribs sting and his cuts burn. He heard the wry amusement in her voice when she replied, "That's a pretty accurate description for how ya LOOK, anyway."
"Oh, thanks so much, babe. You won't win any flirtin' prizes, ya know," he teased, and tried to sit up. She was there immediately, bracing him and letting him take it at his own pace as she said, "Easy, Sugar. Don't over do it. Gonna need yer muscle to get us outta this."
"Give me a run-down on our options," he ordered.
"There's two guards who come to check in us every few hours or so. In the meantime, I've been doin' some searchin', and ah found a cannister of gasoline. The guards don't say anything, so ah don't know where yer bike is, just that it's been taken out."
"Yeah, I know, babe. I heard the Stalker leader boast about it before I went under," he muttered, mulling over the gasoline. "That gasoline may be our ticket out of here."
"We can't burn our way out of here, can we?" The walls were corrugated metal, so she knew there was no chance of that despite the flammable materials inside the building.
"Try this idea. We dump the gas into one of those plastic pails I see sitting over in the corner --"
"How can you see in this near pitch black?"
"These Field Specs adapt to differences in light easily to always allow clear vision," he explained, then continued. "Anyway, we put the gas in a pail, make a torch with some gas-saoked ragstied to a piece of . . . of . . . that green lumber!" he said, pointing at the wood. "You take the torch and sit across from the cot. Keep it hidden behind that crate. When our guards come in to check on us, I'll be over here in the darkness. While their attention is on you, I'll dowse them. When they turn toward me, you just touch the torch in the fire --"
"WHAT fire?" she asked, slightly irritable.
He chuckled weakly. "Whoops, gettin' a little ahead of myself, babe. Sorry." With that, he slowly got to his feet, then grabbed one of the crates and quickly cracked it into pieces and arranged them into a neat, tiny pyramid-shaped campfire. Finding two irregular, short pieces of metal, he struck them together until they created sparks that landed in the fire and caught on the dry, ready wood, until the fire burned bright and cheerily, yet well-controlled. He grinned at her look of astonishment, then continued.
"Anyway, you touch the torch into the fire and shove it in their noses. They'll freeze," he finished on a note of certainty.
Rogue lowered her head and stared thoughtfully at the floor that she could barely see in the dimness. Throttle misunderstood her silence. "Look, babe, sure they might get off a round or two at me, but they'll be partially blinded from looking at you over the fire. Besides, as soon as I pitch the gas, I plan on kissin' the floor, real quick. And by then," this was said with a grin, "the others will have found out what happened, followed us here, and created a ruckus, and we can join the party. What say?"
With her head still lowered, Rogue spoke very carefully. "Throttle, the plan might work -- and ah'm all for joinin' the others once they get here -- but it has one serious flaw." She raised her head and stared directly into his tight face. "If those men don't see you in plain sight as soon as they open the door, they won't come into the shed . . . Ah'll have to pitch the gasoline." She watched his face harden.
"No," he snapped too loudly and immediately listened hard in the following silence for any outside noise that meant someone was coming. He heard nothing, his sensitive ears straining.
Rogue continued in the same inexorable fashion. "Throttle, if this is our only chance and we blow it, we're all dead. Including the others when they get here. Think, Throttle. If you make a mistake, you'll be responsible for our deaths."
As soon as she spoke the words, Rogue was afraid that she had gone too far. His face seemed to crumple, and suddenly he looked for all the world like a scared, lonely child. With a shock, she realized enigmatic man she'd married was filled with fear . . . fear for himself, yes, but most of the fear was for his friends, and all of it was for her. This arrogant, devil-may-care Freedom Fighting Biker Mouse was struggling to fight back panic!
Throttle Starlifter had always had to worry about the troops under his command when he'd been a Freedom Fighter, and he always privately worried about his bros. He had worried about Carbine, and he certainly worried about Charley. Rogue knew with absolute certainty that if he were alone facing this danger his fatalistic courage would sustain him. But now he was terrified for her . . . his wife. She knew the thought that one or both the gunmen might get off a shot at her as she threw the gasoline filled him with horror. Rogue lowered her head and said quietly, calmly, "Please, Throttle, think, think!" The seconds dragged.
"Your logic is impeccable. Somehow, that seems a bit unfair for so beautiful a woman."
Caught completely off guard, Rogue snapped up her head. Throttle was managing a wobbly grin. "Chauvinist," she replied tenderly. "Would my logic be easier to accept if I looked like this?" She crossed her eyes and ballooned out her cheeks.
Throttle threw back his head, but managed to stifle his laughter. He admonished her in a strangled whisper, "For stars' sake, Roguie, don't do that. You look like a constipated Plutarkian."
Rogue wasn't sure whether he had reached for her or she for him, but the two wound up hugging each other fiercely until the suppressed convulsions of tension-purging laughter subsided. He tilted her face upward and looked into her clear green eyes. "Now, before we get real busy, I'm going to do something I've been wanting to do for a while, babe -- I'm going to kiss you."
She started to say something, but he wouldn't let her. Quickly, yet carefully, he lowered his head and kissed her. It was brief, yet lightly caressing, and she found herself wondering how it would be in later years. But as he pulled away and she opened her eyes to look at him, she mentally chastized herself for thinking such thoughts. They would be getting an annullment soon -- provided they lived through this.
She smiled at him warmly and said, "Ah liked it. You're a nice kisser."
"Hey, doll, I'm a GREAT kisser. I'll prove that to you again once we get out of here. Now, let's get going," he said, forcing a brazen cheerfulness he really didn't feel.
They worked quickly, getting the torch and fire and gas all set up. When everything was ready, he issued instructions one last time. "Let's get to work. Toinght, sweetness, you get to play duck in the shooting gallery. Just remember, as soon as you heave the gas, get that beautiful butt of yours down. Hit the deck."
She nodded. "Yes, sir. I intend to protect my butt -- at least from our captors."
They gave a final check to their preparations, then faced each other in awkward silence. Throttle quirked a smile. "Remember?"
Rogue nodded. "Watch out for my . . ." she patted her rump. "You can count on it. I've grown attached to it." As Throttle opened his mouth to speak, she quickly added with a smirk, "Yes, Mr. Starlifter, ah am well aware of your own attachment."
Hefting his unlit torch with a husky chuckle, Throttle moved over to the fire. He added a few more sticks to it as Rogue, obscured in the darkness, sat down on the plywood square they had placed over the open mouth of the gas pail to keep its stench from filling the shed. Now the wait would begin.
* * *
The small rescue party waited on the edge of Hunter's property, the humans
using binoculars to scan the area, the mice their helmets.
Now, they waited. The plan was to get a fix on the captives, Throttle's bike, Hunter, and the Stalkers, then plow in and blow things up while simultaneously trying to capture the bad guys and make certain their friends were okay.
Binoculars were put away and visors were turned off. Everyone glanced around at each other.
"Ready?" Stoker asked quietly.
Everyone nodded affirmative, and lifted their weapons. Charley, Alex, and Jo'than had been supplied with Martian blasters.
"Then let's, ROCK --!" he roared.
"And RIDE!!" the others echoed with him, and they all gunned their engines and rode forward, moving toward Hunter's property.
Within a few seconds, klaxons went off, sounding an attack, and Hunter's people moved to defend.
* * *
Throttle was dozing, but the sound of the klaxons and the crunch of gravel
outside awakened him as quickly as a splash of icy water.
He heard Rogue's soft warning voice from the darkness and acknowledged it. He checked the fire. It had to be just right -- enough light to impair the captors' vision in the shed, but not enough to reveal Rogue's exact location. He added another stick just as he heard the rasp of metal and saw the door jerk open.
Framed in the doorway against the gray light of the new dawn that had arrived were two silhouettes. The big, burly form of Raid moved into the gloom of the shed, followed cautiously by the short, scrawny man who was with him. "Well, what the hell we got here, a shardin' cook-out?" he asked Throttle with inane good humor.
"Shoot, Mouse-boy, you ain't got enough time left to earn your merit badge." The shorter man's voice chimed in with a vicious, nasty edge.
Throttle had to keep their attention focused on him as long as possible. He swallowed the taste of bile and forced a provacative sneer to cross his handsome face. "Twiggy," he addressed the shorter man, "anyone ever tell you your mouth's as foul as a scummy pit?"
The small man's face hardened into a venomous mask and his gun hand twitched ashe stepped past Raid. Raid's vacuous grin froze at the insult. In the light from the fire, he looked like solid stone.
With a hiss of fury, the smaller man commanded, "Cut the crap. It stinks in here. Say, where's the broad?" The question was answered as both men were drenched, head and shoulders, by a cascade of gasoline arcing out of the darkness.
Rogue had been ready, standing in the shadows, bucket cocked. True to her word, when she had heaved the gas, she tossed the bucket aside and dropped immediately to the concrete floor, pressing her body so firmly against it that she thought she would surely stamp an impression on the hard surface. But no shots came, only a choked cry from a voice she thought belonged to the smaller killer. "Wait, don't shoot!"
Another long moment passed and Rogue looked up. Both raid and the small man were facing in her direction, frozen in a crouch with gun-arms extended. They resembled greasy wax statues in a cheap amusement park.
Throttle was standing to the side, his flaming torch not three feet from them. "Holdin' your fire was a good idea, man," he complimented sardonically. "I bet the muzzle blast would have set off you two bastards like Roman candles."
The smaller man let out a high-pitched, hysterical giggle. Raid grimaced. "Damnation, mouse, watch that torch! Shock!"
Throttle inched closer. "I am watchin' it, you vicious son-of-a-glitch, and I want you to watch it -- real close!"
Still sprawled in the darkness, Rogue saw throttle's contorted face and heard the rage pulsing in his voice. Her own voice was soft and firm. "Don't do it, Throttle. Please. Don't do it . . . UNLESS WE HAVE TO."
Rogue's voice had an impact on all three men. Throttle halted his slow advance and Raid gave a quiet order to the shorter man. "Drop your piece." The man complied immediately. Unaccountably, the woman's voice from out of the darkness was almost as terrifying as the nearby torch. Slowly, Raid dropped his own weapon. He had caught the steely emphasis, <<unless we have to>>, and knew that he was scant inches away from a horrible death.
Throttle's voice was calm now. "Okay, boys, link arms and back out of the shed very slowly. You better hold tight to each other because if either of you tries to break the link, I'll weld you together permanently." He brandished the flame menacingly.
As the tense procession got underway, Throttle called out to Rogue, his attention never once shifting from the two in front of him, "Babe, pick up the guns."
Crossing behind him, she complied, handing the big revolver to Throttle and keeping the smaller automatic for herself. She could hear the sounds of their friends and family on the compound, going about their rescue with a great deal of cheer, and when she heard a familiar battle cry echoed by two pairs of healthy male lungs, she grinned and almost laughed in relief.
* * *
"Hurry it up, doll, we don't got all night!"
"Put a sock in it, Vinnie!" Charley hissed back as she tightened the tranny on Throttle's bike. Modo grinned back at the two over his shoulder from where he kept watch at the door for any signs of enemy incoming, then turned his attention back to the outside.
While the others distracted and harassed Hunter's goons and maybe tried to get to him, Charley, Modo, and Vinnie had used the other two Martian motorcycles to home in on Throttle's. Knowing that his was damaged and that Throttle would be needing his bike, the plan was to use the cover of the distraction to get to the bike and let Charley repair it so that it was up to speed again.
"Done!" she snapped, and repacked her tools as Throttle's bike flashed its lights and beeped, popping a wheelie and revving its engine in its joy to be mobile again. The other two bikes answered with beeps and flashes and then Charley packed up her tools and slid astride Throttle's bike as Vinnie and Modo climbed astride theirs.
"Remember, sweetheart, we ride straight for Throttle and Rogue. Don't --" Vinnie began, but he cut off when Charley impaled him with an irritated green gaze.
"She knows what she's doin', Vinnie," Modo said, grinning slightly as he activated his visor. Vinnie grunted non-committally and activated his own visor.
"Well, what are we waitin' for?!" he screeched happily, and they blasted out of the small room where the bike had been kept and plowed through the snow and a few dozen of Hunter's henchmen.
Charley looked down at the screen which the bike obligingly displayed for her. In truth, she was doing little more than piloting the bike while it moved under its own power. Following the homing pattern, she led the way toward a storage area. The bike began to slow, and the other two slowed with her, and they stopped just as they saw Throttle and Rogue come running toward them from between two buildings with huge grins on their faces and toting guns in their hands.
Charley grinned back in relief and then let out a tiny yelp as Vinnie's tail whipped around her waist and hoisted her onto his bike behind him while Throttle and Rogue scrambled onto his.
"You okay, bro?" Modo asked gruffly.
"Rogue?" asked Charley.
"We're both fine," Rogue replied.
"Although I'm gonna need a vacation after this vacation," Throttle said, patting his arm, then his belly where dried blood was visible in his fur. "But for now, let's gather up the others and nail these jerkweeds. Get ready, rowdies! Let's ROCK --!"
"-- and RIDE!!!!" they all roared, and raced off to collect the other humans, Stoker, and Carbine.
* * *
Hunter regarded Raid and the smaller man, whose name was Scali.
They had been found tied up back-to-back, then dangled upside down. Both looked the worse for wear after an encounter with one irate mouse. Now they stood looking at him stiffly, waiting for their orders and reprimands.
"You let one beaten mouse and a human woman get the drop on you. Amazing," he murmured, and saw Raid flush deep red in wounded pride and embarrassment. He turned to gaze at Limburger, who was visibly sweating. "Well, Limburger, it seems that this idea of yours was less than a success. Why am _I_ less than THRILLED with this?"
"I had not planned on --" Limburger began, but Hunter waved his hand, cutting him off. Limburger subsided, but his eyes narrowed. He would teach this mud-crawling mammal a lesson in addressing his superiors . . . at a much later date.
Hunter turned to the Stalkers. "You managed to bring them in the first time, gentlemen. Think you can stop them all this time and bring me the woman again?"
The Stalker leader nodded his head once, sharply. "We can do it, and will do it, gladly. These Martians owe us for our humility."
"Oh, just put it on our tab," came a cocky voice from the radio on Hunter's desk, and they all whirled to face the west wall when it suddenly disintegrated in a deafening blast. In the newly destroyed wall sat all the motorcycles and their riders. As they watched, Alex, Jo'than, Charley, and Rogue got off their rides and spread out to cover the perimeter with their handguns at the ready, all their expressions cold and deadly as they stared at their enemies.
Hunter smiled smugly at them all and murmured, "DO come in." Then his gaze shifted to Rogue and he said, "I'll deal with you later, DARLING."
"Deal with this, you --" Rogue started to snarl and step forward, but Throttle's arm straightened in front of her, blocking her path, and she stopped, shooting a speaking glare at him.
"You're all going to be placed under arrest," Throttle said. "The cops have already been called in, and they'll get here and find all the damaging evidence they'll need to against you, Hunter, and you, Limburger. The Stalkers, though, are gonna go back to prison with Stoker and Carbine."
The bad guys obligingly let out the obligatory laughter, but more than a few were worried. Incredibly worried.
"Why, my dear, diligent doormice --" Limburger started, but he shut up when the mice all looked his way with cold glares.
"We've had it with you, Limburger. You're going to prison WITH the Stalkers. Providing you don't need to go to the hospital first," Throttle said.
"You can't possibly --"
"Aw, man, we're wasting time! Let's just get it over and done with, huh?!" Vinnie snapped, his tail lashing.
"For once I agree with you, Vinnie," Charley stated.
The bad guys looked on in dawning horror as their protagonists suddenly began to move toward them slowly, steadily, resolutely.
"Well, I guess that takes care o' that."
Everyone was lounging around the Davidson household in various locations. The Stalkers were on board their ship former ship in the maximum security vault on board, along with Limburger.
DG and Jelena had been called and informed of the whole mess and they had promptly come over to the house. DG had ascertained that Rogue was alright while Jelena tore Jo'than a new breathing whole for not putting up more of a fight in trying to add them to the group. Then she cheerfully outlined in detail what she would have done with her sword and a few of Hunter's body parts, making everyone blink in surprise, and then grin. DG merely let out a few honest Anglo Saxon expletives that caused eyebrows to hit hairlines, and that was the end of that.
Carbine, Jelena, and Stoker were with Modo, Alex, and Jo'than in the kitchen. Charley and Vinnie were in the rec room; Vinnie had foolishly challenged her to a game of Twister, and DG was refereeing the game. Rogue and Throttle were in the living room, relaxing.
Throttle looked down at her after she uttered that statement from where she sat next to him on the couch. He had his arm around her, and the lights were all off except for one lone lamp in a corner. The fireplace was lit as well, giving dim illumination. He liked the way the firelight played over her face, turning her skin complexion all peaches and crimson, making her green eyes dance. "Yeah, I guess so, babe. How come that's makin' you look so down?"
Rogue sighed and stared off into the far side of the living room as she thought about it. Finally, she turned her head to look up at her husband and said, "Ah guess `cause in a few days, we'll be gettin' an annulment an' y'all will be goin' back to Chicago, an' ah'll be stayin' here. Ah won't get to see you as often, if ever."
Throttle traced one finger down one of her cheeks and grinned at her as he said, "Ahh, hey now, darlin'. You're sayin' that like it's a bad thing."
Rogue tried to grin and failed. Throttle sighed. He tightened his hold on her and stared off into the darkened living room as he thought about it. Truth to tell, he wasn't looking at all forward to getting the annulment and separating himself from this young human woman. He had grown REAL fond of his wife in the short amount of time he'd been with her. And, if he wasn't reading things wrong, she was just as fond of him, which made his heart beat faster and his stomach muscles clench as though he'd been punched.
They were both silent for a long, long time. Finally, he sighed and let her go and got to his feet. He slowly turned to look down at her and he said, "I don't want to get an annulment, and I don't think you do, either, babe. If . . . If I'm right . . ." He couldn't finish. He simply held out his hand to her silently, offering her the promise of a lifetime.
Rogue stared at his hand, then up at his face, then back at his hand. She knew what he was offering.
With no hesitation, she put her hand in his. He pulled her to her feet and slowly led her up the stairs.
* * *
"Right foot, green!" DG called out.
Vinnie grunted and stretched under Charley, who was grimacing as she crouched sideways over his chest, stretching to hold her position. Finally, after careful concentration, he managed to place his foot on green.
And then it was ruined as Charley suddenly sneezed and collapsed on top of him, knocking him flat on his back as she rolled to her side. He was laughing his triumph as he rolled over to look at her. She was facing him with a wry grin on her face, and for some reason she just seemed extra pretty to him, and his breath caught in his throat. He coughed and then searched for something to say to cover his sudden hesitation. Forcing a smug grin, he said, "You did real good tonight, sweetheart."
"So what else is new?" she asked flippantly, rolling her eyes. Then she caught sight of something that made her smile mischievously. She began scooting closer, her eyes half-closed.
Vinnie suddenly became nervous. He had no clue what she was doing (HAH! Since when did he ever?), but he was in too fine a mood to get tricked into doing something stupid that would make her mad at him. "Uhh, Charley-girl, what're you . . ?"
DG saw where this was going, and quietly left the room and headed for the kitchen. The other two never even noticed her exit.
"Vinnie . . ." Charley said softly as she draped an arm around his neck. He gulped, and then followed her gaze when she looked up to her left and jerked her head. He stared at the mistletoe hanging overhead for a long minute before realization dawned on him, and he swiveled his head back to look at her, a frantic question in his eyes.
When Charley nodded, smiling, a slow grin spread across his face, and then he quoted one of his two favorite bros: "Oh, Mama!"
A moment later, Charley made him a very happy mouse.
Vacation time was over. It was time for everyone to return to their own
"Keep your powder dry, Stoke," Throttle said as he gave his old commander a comradely punch in the stomach. Stoker returned it, grinning, as he said, "You do the same, bro. Who knows? I might just stop in sometime to see how you mudpuppies are doin'."
"Hey, drop in anytime, Stoker," Modo said, grinning as he grabbed up the elder mouse and gave him a fierce hug.
Stoker laughed and then bopped the younger mouse on the snout with a balled up fist and laughed again as Modo dropped him in an unceremonious heap into the snow. He got to his feet and brushed himself off and said, "I'll pass along the messages to your families, guys."
"Yeah, well, just you keep in mind to tell them how studly we're going about saving the universe . . . as usual," Vinnie grinned smugly, his teeth flashing in the weak winter sunlight.
Stoker shook his head, laughing softly, and then grinned wryly at the others as he jerked a thumb at Vinnie, saying, "You just can't argue with that."
The others laughed and then Throttle and Carbine faced each other. She looked at him nervously a moment, then stuck out her hand to him. "Thanks, Throttle. For everything."
He grinned at her, then pulled her close and gave her a hug. "S'cool, Carbine. And you're welcome." He ruffled her hair, and laughed softly at the mock-irritated look she gave him as she soothed down her hair. The other two went forward for their own hugs, and then Stoker and Carbine headed for the ramp to the ship as Stoker said with a grin, "Hey, Rogue! After you get your annulment, maybe you'll consider lettin' me make a play, huh, doll?"
Throttle wrapped his arm around his wife's waist as he said, "Forget that idea, Stoke. We aren't gettin' an annulment."
Everyone stopped and stared at the two. Rogue was looking slightly embarrassed. "What? Why not?" Alex asked.
"Because, we . . . can't," Rogue said quietly, and flushed a light pink to the roots of her hair.
Everyone went still as they caught the implications of her statement. After a moment's loud silence, Alex stepped forward and looked at his daughter. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
She met his gaze and said, "Yeah, Daddy. Ah wanna stay with Throttle."
He sighed and then grinned as he said, "Well, you're a grown woman. You know what you want. Best of luck, kids."
The smile of pure joy she flashed his way was nearly blinding as everyone chuckled. Stoker sighed mockedly and grinned as he said, "Ahh, well. Win some, lose some, eh?"
"So when do you plan on winnin' one, old timer?" Vinnie shot back.
When Stoker would have charged the younger mouse, Carbine grabbed his shoulder and held him back as she said, "We've wasted enough time, Stoker. We have to get the prisoners back for trial."
He grumbled his agreement, then grinned at his favorite warriors, as proud of them as if they were his own flesh and fur. He threw a jaunty salute and took off into the ship with Carbine.
Everyone moved back as the turbines whined to life. As the ship lifted into the air and slowly moved off into the sky, they all said the only appropriate thing they could say in unison:
"RIDE FREE, CITIZENS!!!"