Chapter Ten: Recovery
"She still treats me like a little kid! What do I have to do to prove I'm not a baby?"
Modo hid his grin from the indignant kid. His rant reminded him of Rimfire's complaints from so many years ago. Under different circumstances, Sparks would probably be begging to join the Freedom Fighters.
He finished ordering the combination lunch/supper/post-fight party room service and turned back to the grey-furred boy. The grin was carefully tucked away. "She loves ya. She doesn't want ya to get hurt."
"And I love her. She practically the only family I got left. That's why I wanna help."
"The only reason?"
"Okay, okay, so it's more excitin' than gettin babied. Is it a crime to want to live an adventurous life?"
"Nah, but maybe you shouldn't be in such a hurry to grow-up."
"Yeah, but sometimes there doesn't seem to be enough grown-ups to go around."
Throttle and Charley staggering through the main door spared Modo from finding a suitable remark to that. "Oh mama!" He crossed the room in a few steps and grabbed hold of them both. Charley looked exhausted. Her green eyes were bloodshot and ringed with dark smudges. A wide bruise was growing darker around her throat. She leaned heavily against his flesh arm.
Throttle leaned just as heavily against his metal arm. He hadn't seen his tan-furred bro this battered since the Plutarkian prison transport. The stinkfish had found it simple to beat up a guy who couldn't see to hit back. The knot on Throttle's left cheek was swelling the eye shut. Another knot was swelling on his right temple above his ear. And too many cuts to count.
Modo helped them to the couch. His sight had gone red. He kept hold of them until they sank into the cushions, then turned and started striding to the door.
"Modo? Modo, where are you going?" Even Charley's voice sounded sore.
"I'm gonna find that scumbag."
"You don't need to," Throttle said quietly.
"There's a medkit in my bathroom."
"I'll get it, Charley-ma'am." Sparks opened the door behind him, realized it was the right one, and entered.
"I don't suppose I could get a glass of water?" Charley tried to smile but the effort only emphasized her weakness.
Modo fixed a glassful and brought it to her. "Did you two see Vinnie?"
"Yeah, he shooed us away. Didn't really feel like arguing with him. Roddie and Tala can keep him in line." Throttle winced as he eased back against the cushions.
Charley took the medkit from Sparks with shaky hands. Modo gently took it from her. "I'll take first aid duty tonight."
Vinnie gave out a triumphant cry. It startled Tala and she turned from the piloting instruments and looked over the railing of the large catwalk. "Found a live one!" He knelt beside a large mouse with coppery-red fur. "But he might not last too much longer."
She ran down the metal stairs and to his side. "Clutch. Damal cie! We gotta get him to the medics. Let's get him on my bike." Between the two of them, they got Clutch draped over the crankcase of the blue racer. "You'll be okay?"
His cocky grin was back. "You're worried 'bout my state of mind, Doll-face?"
"Oddly enough, yes. Flight mode." The wheels of her bike split apart becoming horizontal to the floor. The magnetic pulse slid the bike over to and through the ruined elevator doors and gently down the empty elevator shaft.
She could hear Roddie's irate voice above the noise of her engine and the medics rushing to her side as she landed. "I outrank him, damnit! Oh, I know he's right, Axle, don't even start defending him. But it's my bridge and I want to see what that son of a rat did to it!"
"Not much equipment-wise." Tala said as she helped the medics move the large mouse to a stretcher. "Only one survivor though."
Clutch groaned as the medics strapped him down. "Axle? Where's Axle?"
The cream-furred mouse started forward then stopped, closing her red eyes.
The medics started rolling the stretcher to their transport. Roddie shoved Axle
forward. "What's wrong with you?"
"But My Captain?"
"But My Captain?"
"How much more obvious does he have to be? He's calling for you. Do I have to order you to go with him?"
"No, My Captain." She climbed into the medical transport and sat next to the stretcher, taking a large coppery red hand in between her own cream ones.
"Maybe all this will be worth it if those two get together." Roddie said with a soft sigh as the transport rolled away.
Tala shook her head. "You are an incurable romantic."
"I like to see people happy, and people are happy when they're with the ones they love, and our species continues to flourish. A win-win-win situation. If that makes me incurable, oh well." Her solid blue eyes gleamed mischievously. "Speaking of romance, what's between you and the white bundle of adrenaline?"
Damn, I really wished she hadn't noticed. But then discretion isn't part of Vinnie's make-up. Nor mine, if one gets picky. "I'm trying to give him a fair break. No one can expect anything more. And we don't need any help from you. He's pushy enough for a dozen people."
The mouse tossed her black hair into the air. "That hadn't even crossed my mind. Just," she paused, "just treat him well, Tala. No matter what happens. I don't want my first crush doing something stupider than usual because of a broken heart."
"I think you've got the body parts he's concerned with mixed up."
Roddie laughed. "He's been horny ever since puberty hit. But he can be incredibly sweet when it occurs to him."
There had been hints of that by the way he handled things between them in the ravine on Mars. Tala frowned slightly; I really don't want to think about that. She was saved from finding something to say by the sounds of rocket jets firing down the elevator shaft.
Vinnie landed and parked his bike between Tala and Roddie. "Miss me, ladies?"
"And you're here now, why?" Tala said quickly, avoiding Roddie's gaze.
"Lance and his team kicked me out. I don't know what made 'em so nervous. I was just lookin at the flight controls."
"You guys can't fly a ship anywhere without crashing it and you went near the flight controls?" Roddie groaned. "Get him out of here, Tala. We can handle clean-up."
A female mouse in a flight suit ran up to them with a quick salute. "Ivero and the other miners are reporting from what's left of Internal Security headquarters. They want to speak with you, Captain." Roddie quickly followed her.
Vinnie sighed. "I may not know much military protocol, but I think we've been dismissed. Can I see you back to your ship?"
"I got rooms in the same building you do. I spend enough time on that ship as it is."
They rode sedately side-by-side to the building. The white mouse broke the silence as they parked their bikes in the neighboring parking garage next to Throttle and Modo's. "Some date, huh? What do we do for a follow-up?"
"A shower," Tala answered absently as she undid the red and black armor jacket.
"Really? Okay. Didn't think you were ready for that. But I can understand the overwhelming need to see my studly bod in all its glory." He flexed proudly.
"When I invite you to share a shower with me, there will be no doubts about what I want." They got into the elevator up into the building. "But just to clear up any confusion, what I want now is a nice, long, private shower and I'll see you in your rooms afterwards. Understand?"
"Perfectly." He grinned. "I'll go chaperone Throttle and Charley . . . I mean see how they're doing."
"They must've had an interesting imprisonment," she said dryly.
"Imprisonment nothin. I wanna know where Throttle slept last week when he spent the night at Charley's!" Tala shook her head. "It's not whatcha think, Doll-face. Throttle won't tell. Which means it's gonna be so easy to rag him about it."
"You're impossible. But I'm beginning to think I like you that way." The elevator stopped at her floor and she stepped off.
"Tala, wait." Vinnie put himself between the elevator doors and held them open. "Didja have a good time? Before we got interrupted? After we got interrupted? At any time at all?"
"Yeah, I did." She planted a quick kiss on his suddenly serious mouth. "I'll see you later," and pushed him back into the elevator.
His "AOOOW!" echoed down to her ears.
Modo had done a good job patching up Throttle. They included Sparks in their post-fight joviality, cheering the kid up. Charley tried hard to concentrate on what they were saying. Sparks was describing how Modo got them up to Tala's ship. It was so hard to concentrate; she was so tired.
Throttle noticed. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Charley-girl? You okay?"
"Nothing hurts. I'm just tired. I think I'm gonna have to cut my partying short."
"Are you sure you don't need a doctor?" Modo asked.
"I'm just tired. I'll be fine with some sleep."
"Then Throttle better stay in his own bed tonight." Vinnie said with a grin. He shut the hall door behind him.
Throttle's blush glowed underneath his tan fur. "That was uncalled for."
"Truth hurts," the white mouse replied cheerfully. "Speaking of tellin the truth, is this one of those attachments formed in prison? Or have ya been sneakin' outta the scoreboard to see Charley for a long time now?"
"That's it!" Throttle tackled the younger mouse around the waist and dropped him to the floor.
"But somebody's gotta look out for her!" came out of the tumbling ball of fur in Vinnie's voice.
Modo stared at his bros then turned to Charley. "Huh?"
Now it was her turn to blush. "Throttle and I are . . .."
"You're not upset, are you?"
"Why would I be, Charley-ma'am? Cause the girl of my dreams is gone? Nah." He sat down next to her on the couch and gave her a brief hug. "I just want both of ya to be happy."
"Swallow your pride, Throttle. Just admit I got great taste in women. I was the first one to recognize Charley's babe potential." Vinnie cried out between blows.
"Potential?" Charley muttered.
Modo grinned wickedly and squatted next to the two wrestlers. "Yeah, Vin, you got great taste in women. But no follow through. Suppose this means I'll end up with Tala."
"Over my dead body and rusty bike!" The white mouse leaped on top of Modo and pulled him into the fight.
Sparks turned to Charley with wide-open eyes. "Do they always do that?"
"Is it a biker thing?"
"I honestly don't know. Ask 'em about it when they stop." She stood up. "Good night, guys." She made it halfway to her bedroom before her legs started to buckle.
Modo reacted to her and Sparks's startled cries first. He rolled out of the fight and underneath her and caught her before she hit the floor. "Charley?"
"My legs! I can't move my legs!" She tried to fight the hysterical tone in her voice. "I don't know what happened."
Throttle's strong arms wrapped around her torso and pulled her into his lap. "It's gonna be okay." He stroked her hair. "It's gonna be fine."
Modo pulled off one of her boots and the sock under it. "Can you feel this?" He pinched her toe.
"Okay, wiggle your toes. Come on, Charley-ma'am, try."
"I am trying!"
"Shush, it's gonna be okay."
"It's not okay, Throttle! Oh god, what if I never walk again?" She burst into tears and couldn't stop them. Throttle hugged her tighter.
"We need a doctor," Sparks said in a small voice.
"What mouse doctor is gonna understand a human body?" Throttle's voice was gruff and worried.
"I'm on it." Vinnie ran out of their suite.
Tala threw open the door of her suite holding a very damp white towel around her body. Vinnie pushed his way inside. "Something's-wrong-with-Charley-girl-she-can't-walk-and-needs-a-doctor-but-we-don't-know-if-the-doctors-can-help-her-since-she's-human-but-if-they-can-help-you-they-can-help-her-or-maybe-your-medbay-in-your-ship-the-room-with-the-robot-arms-maybe-you-can-find-out-what's-wrong-but-she-can't-make-her-legs-move-and-I'm-pretty-sure-it's-something-those-Internal-Security-rats-did-to-her." He took a deep breath and an eyeful of the towel just barely covering her breasts and stopping where her legs started. "You're naked!"
"Your powers of observation are astounding. Now do you mind telling me again what's wrong?" She quickly put her free hand over his mouth. "Wait, take three or four deep breaths and shout it to me slowly through the bathroom door while I get dressed."
He trailed after her through her bedroom and stared at the thin metal door she disappeared behind. "It's Charley-girl," he shouted obediently and felt stupid. But he remembered her crying face and spurred himself to continue. "She can't walk or make her legs move or wiggle her toes."
The human woman opened the door dressed in a T-shirt large enough to fit Modo and a pair of blue jeans cutoff at mid-thigh. She briskly dried her blonde hair and the towel muffled her voice. "I'm a mercenary, not a medic. Why come to me?"
"You're human. And maybe you know a doc here that can handle it or your medbay on your ship." He dug up the most hopeful expression he had and plastered it across his face. "Please, Tala. She's crying."
She bit her bottom lip. "I don't know any medics here. Let's go see if MC can help. What did Internal Security do to her?"
"Note to self," she said as she left her rooms with the mouse trailing after, "Vinnie's way of dealing with a crisis is thinking up something that requires his running to do it before getting all the facts."
"Hey! It's true, but hey!"
"Fine, but don't get so flustered you can't handle anything else."
"What do you think your and Throttle's job's are, huh?"
Sparks stayed out of the way. Throttle had finally stopped Charley's crying, but Modo looked like he was going to start any minute. She must mean an awful lot to 'em. She was nice to me and she doesn't even know me.
The hall door jerked opened and slammed shut. "I got Tala!" Vinnie announced.
"Like I can wave my hands and make everything better." The human woman knelt in front of Throttle and Charley. "What happened?"
"My legs stopped working!" Charley took a deep breath and continued shakily. "I can feel things like pressure or Modo pinching me, but I can't make them move."
Tala frowned and brushed her damp blonde hair off her forehead. She gently moved Charley's long chestnut hair off her neck and tugged down the collar of her shirt. "Famak! They put you on a jolt bed?"
"Exhaust didn't name it."
"A little metal knob pressing against your spine sending an electric current to disrupt your nervous system leaving a sore like carpet burn on your neck?" Charley made an affirmative noise. "That's a jolt bed. How long were you on?"
"I'm not sure. Fifteen minutes, maybe."
Throttle tried to hide his worry. "That sounds 'bout right. Is it . . .?"
"Permanent?" Tala supplied bluntly. "No, she just needs to let her body rest till it sorts itself out. Go to bed, get some sleep, and you'll be fine in the morning. Or whenever you wake up."
"Are you sure?" Modo insisted.
She rolled her blue eyes and turned to Vinnie. "Is there anything wrong with the way I walk?"
The white mouse blinked. "Not a thing."
"There you have it. I think he's put in enough time to be considered an expert."
Vinnie blushed sheepishly at her implications.
"Your original diagnosis was correct, Dr. Davidson." Throttle stood up with her in his arms, staggering slightly. "Bed rest."
Tala waited until they reached Charley's bedroom door. "Throttle, are you aware that your right leg is bleeding?"
His tan-furred shoulders cringed as Charley stared at him with a concerned expression. "How long has that been hurting you?" She demanded as he kicked the door shut with his heel. But they could still hear the rise and fall of their voices.
"They sound a lot like Roddie and Lance," Sparks observed.
"Probably similar circumstances." Tala stood up, moved to the table, and helped herself to some of the food.
"The first thing a girl wants to do when she becomes your girl is to start managin' your life," Vinnie pointed out.
"But the male--despite claims to the contrary--needs and/or wants to be managed." Tala smirked as she popped a potato chip into her mouth.
"I don't need managin'!"
"See, claims to the contrary."
Modo patted Sparks's shoulder reassuringly. "You'll understand when yer older."
"I'm not sure I want to."
Throttle came out of Charley's bedroom wearing a confounded expression. "I'll be back."
"Be sure to get a note so Charley-girl'll know you found a doctor." Vinnie chuckled as the hall door slammed shut. "How long do you think I can keep it up before he gets really annoyed with me?"
"Bout five minutes ago," Modo answered. "Leave him alone. You should be happy for 'em both."
"Am I giving the impression that I'm not? I'm thrilled! Throttle's a lot better for her than McCyber and vice-versa with Carbine. Hey, you're not upset, are ya? I'm sure Tala could probably find a girl for ya."
"I draw the line at playing Cupid."
"That's not what your card says."
"Don't bother, Tala-ma'am." Modo sighed. "I don't expect to find love again. Not after being so stupid with it the first time. And no girl's gonna want a half-rusted freak of a mouse."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Tala said quietly. "After all, personality is supposed to be the most important thing. And I hear that some women are suckers for the whole single fatherhood thing."
The three mice stared at the human in confusion. "What are you talkin 'bout? I don't have any kids."
"But Sparks looks just like you--even down to the same buck teeth!"
Sparks felt his mouth go dry and his stomach clenched. He got up from the table and stared at his face in the decorative mirror. He turned back to the table and found his features and shocked expression on the face of the older grey mouse. "She's right."
"It's a bad habit, sorry."
"No, no, no, no." Vinnie shook his head. "No way. The only girl Modo has ever gotten that close to was Stella."
"That's my mother's name."
"And she died five years ago and Roddie took ya in." Modo stared strickenly at him.
The hall door opened. "There you are," Roddie said relieved as she entered. "I was starting to get worried."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Modo bellowed.
The black mouse frowned. "Tell you what?"
"He's Stella's son!" He pointed a shaky finger at Sparks. "He's my son!"
Tala grabbed Vinnie's hand and pulled him to his feet. "We're outta here."
"But babe it's just gettin good!"
"I'll make it worth your while." She promised, dragging him into the hall and shutting the door behind them.