Charley climbed down from her bedroom at the garage. Throttle's bike was gone. He had left last night still in a huff over BatWing, which had only gotten worse when she had suggested that it wasn't much different from what they did. It really isn't. He can be so practical and so idealistic at the same time. In a perfect universe, all the bad guys would get a day in court and sent to jail forever. He would get over it.
She surveyed what was left to do on the Turtles' van. A week's worth of work without help. Tala wasn't going to let them stay at her place that long. She had been dropping less than subtle hints last night.
"Okay, Charley-girl, it's time for help. At least now I have all the materials. That Smarts was pretty good with all the radios."
She locked up and drove the tow truck to Tala's. Nobody was in the garage, and Tala and Vinnie's bikes were gone. Charley smiled. I wonder which one went stir-crazy first. Still, Vinnie wasn't a bad mechanic when he was focused on the task. And that was harder than just fixing it yourself.
Upstairs in Tala's loft, Throttle, Ryan and Leo were sitting in the sunken couch area in a leader's huddle. Throttle did look calmer. Maybe he was over being upset about BatWing. Eight was loading the dishwasher in the kitchen area while Smarts watched from the counter behind him. A plate of biscuits sat next to the redheaded young man, and Charley grabbed one. "Good morning."
Eight waved hello from the sink. "Morning." Smarts pushed up his glasses and gestured at the couch. "Ryan finally succeeded in calming down your boyfriend."
"Good, I wasn't having much luck. You guys busy today?"
"Unfortunately, not. You need assistance with something?"
"Fixing the Turtles' van. There's the delicate stuff and the time-consuming stuff, and I only have one pair of hands. These biscuits are delicious."
Eight turned slightly to give a thumbs-up and sign something to Smarts.
"He's almost finished, and we can go back to the garage."
Throttle rubbed her shoulder as came up behind her. "Hey babe. Not working this morning?"
"Recruiting help. That van is a bigger job than I'm used to."
He grimaced slightly. "I forgot all about that thing."
"Yeah. But your rep isn't on the line."
"Guess it is a little bigger than a bike. Do you need me?"
Charley grinned. "For this? You put in your time. Besides, I wouldn't want to interrupt your male bonding session."
"Well, we needed to see if we could work together without Allie tellin' us what to do." Throttle glanced over his shoulder. "The Mutates have their own ways of handling things. Need to learn more 'bout that."
"Fine, then I'll know where to find you when it's time to start getting stuff for the party." She kissed his cheek. "You guys ready?"
Eight circled his finger and thumb into the ok sign. Smarts nodded, "We can follow you on our bikes."
"Okay, let's go."
Di savored the bite of juicy sausage. Donatello stumbled into the spaceship's kitchen area and headed straight to the coffeepot. She smiled and swallowed. "You're not much of a morning person, are you?"
"No, easier not to be seen at night."
"Have some breakfast. Eight outdid himself. I'd give him a job as a chef any day."
"At least it's not leftovers." He fixed a plate and took a deep breath. "Di...."
"We need to reexamine Zack today. He should be in a better state for poking and prodding. Not to mention us being in a better shape to do it. And we need to check out your leg again. And apparently there's a party tonight, so we need to make sure everyone can go."
"We need to talk."
She scraped her bottom lip lightly against her fangs before answering. "Please, I'm not ready to end it yet."
"It? So you like me too?"
"Did you have any doubts?"
"Once or twice I thought I could just be delirious." She smiled. "But I don't think we should end it just cause you're the Leader. Unless the Mutates are going to riot over you dating a non-Mutate."
Her fork clattered against her plate. "What?"
"You don't want to date?"
"Of course I want to date. How did you know I'm the Leader?" The blood pounded in her ears. "No one's supposed to know."
"It wasn't hard to figure out. You always refer to the Mutates as your people. You're more used to giving orders than taking them. Sometimes you reminded me of Leo with the responsibility issues and when you inspire others to listen to you. It made sense. I guess every so often you gotta leave Forsaken and make the Mutates circuit and check up on things."
"Every couple of years. It's not exactly safe for me out here."
"I haven't told anyone, thought I suspect Allie already knows."
Di leaned against the table. "We were friends for years before my father took charge of the Los Trozo Research Facility." She tried to swallow the bitterness. "Skulls brought her to Forsaken when she was still his second. It's hard to hide who I am there. But Allie's safe. Val Tech would have to mind rape her with a teep before she'd tell."
"Telepath." She studied the surface of the table. "And now you know."
"I'm not going to tell, Di."
"I know that. I'm just paranoid."
"You have a good reason to be. You can't trust everyone."
"Not only that. I don't want Val Tech torturing my people for what they think they know."
Donnie rubbed his face. "So I know who you are and why you have to go back to Forsaken. And you know I won't tell."
"And I know I have to give you up when I go back." She moved away from the table. She rapidly blinked her eyes and could see the wall in front of her.
"Why? Would they really riot?"
"It wouldn't be any of their business. But I have to go back to Forsaken."
She heard Donnie moving behind her. "You're talking about two things that aren't logically connected. Yes, you have to go back to Forsaken, but why does that mean we have to stop this?"
She leaned against his hands on her shoulders. "Are you going back with me?"
"No, my brothers still need me in New York."
She pulled away, "Then...."
Donnie turned her around. "Then it's a long distance relationship. Once we get Zack and Allie back and settled in, I bet I can get away for a visit. As for keeping in touch, give me some tools and I'll give you the longest range Turtle comm I've ever built." His brown eyes locked with hers. "Unless, you'd rather--."
Di planted her hands on the back of his head and drew him to her for a kiss. Donnie wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer. When they finally parted, she said, "I didn't think I could have both."
"Well, I'm going to make sure you have both as long as you want both."
"I think your taking the harder job."
"I don't think yours is up for grabs." He kissed her again.
Sparks bounced the human baby on his knee. "I should've been more specific. No babysitting before, after, or durin' the party. Course, I would've gone shoppin' but I don't got a bike. Seemed to be what Charley based her getting-ready-for-the-party assignments on."
"April usually does everything herself to keep it from getting screwed up." Zack finally found the button that controlled the position of the bunk.
"She said she didn't have time for that and fixing the van, so they better not screw up. And yeah, that's a direct quote. Tala put her on speaker phone."
Zack chuckled as the bunk adjusted to a sitting position. "Put him up here and give your arms a rest. Whose baby is he?"
Sparks set him in the middle of the bunk and started putting up the rails on the sides. "Dad's practically adopted him, but he's a Mutate baby. They found him when they rescued the prisoners."
"He's also the first second-gen." Di stopped to ruffle the baby's brown hair before taking Zack's pulse. "You owe him your life. His DNA enabled us to figure out what was happening to yours."
"Well thanks, kiddo. What's his name?" Zack tickled his tummy.
"Val Tech didn't record it, if his parents had the chance to give him one. How are you feeling?"
"Strong enough to go to the party."
"Course you are," Di smirked.
"Are you still mad at me?" Sparks asked quietly.
"No, and I'm sorry for yelling at you."
"That's okay." He swung his feet as he sat in the chair. He didn't want to ask, but she needed to know. "Have you told Dad yet?"
"What? That I yelled at you?"
"No, that you're taking the baby."
Di turned from the computer terminal. "Sparks, I have to take him back to Forsaken. He'll be safe there and his DNA may give other couples a chance to have children of their own. And he'll have a fuller life. There are more children; we have a school."
"I'm not the one you have to convince. From what I've seen, Dad really likes kids. Too bad I'm an only child."
"I hate to do this. It's better to keep kids with who wants them." She turned back to the terminal. "Every child should grow up feeling wanted."
"He's too cute not to be wanted." Sparks leaned against the bunk's rail. "And Dad'll understand. Just break it to him easy."
"This kid needs a name," Zack said. "It's not fair to be called the baby all the time. And it's not like you Mutates use last names."
"You want to name him?" Sparks asked.
"Why not? He saved my life."
"What do you want to name him?" Di turned back around.
"Kōun. It means chance in Japanese."
"Chance, huh? That's a cool name." Modo leaned against the back of the chair next to Zack's bunk.
"Thanks, but pronounce it Kōun. You like it, kiddo?"
Kōun blew a raspberry and spouted gibberish in Zack's face.
"That's his 'yes,'" Modo chuckled.
"So you got everything for the party that Charley told you to?" Sparks turned to look at his father.
"And delivered it to Pete's already. What makes you think we can't handle somethin' like that?"
"Cause you guys are always dumpin' responsible stuff on Charley and never takin' her for fun stuff."
"We do take Charley on fun stuff, but we don't want her to get hurt. You either."
"Well, Zack, you're okay for the party. But nothing strenuous," Di added.
"I forgot to pack my dancing shoes anyway."
"Speaking of packing, Donnie got utterly confused digging through your back pack for your hairbrush. He kept muttering something about 'too big on the inside.'"
Zack squirmed a little under Di's curious gaze. "Does the term 'bag of holding' mean anything to you?"
"Well, I can always fit more into that bag than I should. Don't know how."
Kōun crawled to the edge of the bed and shook the railing with a yell.
Modo chuckled, "Alright you, Kōun." He grabbed him, and Kōun giggled as he swung through the air. "Don't make a big fuss."
Di sighed, "Modo, we need to talk about Kōun."
Modo swiveled his head to look at her. "Nothin's wrong with him?"
"No, he's perfectly healthy. Can we talk in the hall?"
"Where didja get a bag of holding?" Sparks asked as the grown-ups left.
"Same place I must've got gargoyle DNA."
Sparks nodded as he moved closer to the door. Di spoke quietly to Modo. His back didn't betray how he was taking the news. She laid a comforting hand on the arm holding Kōun. Sparks scampered back to the bed.
"He's not yelling," Zack said in a hushed tone.
Modo came back inside, jiggling Kōun to keep his mood away from the baby. "You know?"
Sparks's tail ended up around his leg. "Yeah, sorry Dad."
"Yeah, well, the scoreboard ain't no place for a baby. You gonna be up here a while?"
"Do I need to do somethin' else?"
"Nah. And I know where to find ya if somethin' comes up."
"He took it pretty well," Zack said after Modo and Kōun left.
"He's not happy, tho'."
"No, he's not. But he not very old; he can have more kids."
"Yeah, I just don't know if I wanna share him. The baby, Kōun, he didn't have anybody, so that was okay. But Dad actin' as goofy as Vinnie over a girl?" Sparks slumped in the chair.
"Hey, nobody's coming to take you away. And your Dad'll need you to cheer him up."
"Got a point. And we got a party."
"Yeap, party, party, party! Question."
"How do you know what a bag of holding is?"
"Roddie had some Dungeons & Dragons books too. She said they were Throttle's before he discovered bikes." Sparks snickered.
Charley watched Pete's face as she finished her piece of Felipe's birthday cake. He was still digesting everything she had told him. She glanced around the main bar room. The party was a success. Sparks and Zack were both being gracious enough to play with the smaller children. They were testing the endurance level of all of Felipe's new toys, even if Sparks shied away from the attention Manuela and Isabel gave him. The rest of the adults were talking in small groups. The Turtles still hadn't seen their finished van yet. She was saving unveiling it until after Felipe's part in the party was done.
"Lene." Pete sighed and drew Charley's attention back. "I don't know what to ask first."
"Try alphabetical order."
"Are you safe, Lene?"
She glanced away from his serious face. Modo and Kōun had joined the rest of the kids. Vinnie and Tala stood at the jukebox arguing over the music. Throttle turned and smiled at her. She returned it before turning back to Pete. "I'm safer now than I've been since Dad died." She swallowed hard. "Believe me, I've had the hardest time proving I'm capable."
"Well, you shouldn't be dating anyone that doesn't treat you as precious as you are."
"I knew you'd take their side. I should stay home and cook while they go save the day by blowing up everything in sight."
"Wipe that frown off your face, young lady. You know that's not what I meant. You're Chuck Davidson's daughter and if anyone doesn't think you're capable, they're idiots. Your strays at least have the excuse of being thickheaded males from another planet. But you can't fault their instincts."
"Women and children first." Charley sighed. "I understand it, with everything they went through in the war, but it still gets annoying."
"Now the war's here. Heh, and my old man said I wouldn't amount to nothin' as a biker bum. Look at me now, helpin' an underground railroad and in the middle of an alien invasion. Too bad Chuck missed it." He tugged at his black beard. "Okay, a little business, do you think Val Tech will team up with them whatchacall 'em? Plutarkians? Aw, that's right, you weren't there for that part. Allie-Cat."
The blonde, young woman, who had finally traded the black, hip-hop ninja garb for blue jeans and a T-shirt, untangled herself from Mike's embrace. She hopped onto the bar counter beside Pete. "Don't you two look cheerful. And Mike says I can kill the mood of a party."
"I like talking business and so do you. So now you get to spill; Val Tech and the Plutarkians?"
Allie reached behind the counter for a root beer. "She probably picked Limburger 'cause he's the easiest to manipulate. Refreshing change of pace from the Shredder. As far as teaming up with him again, I doubt it. Too much double-crossing."
"But there are other Plutarkians," Charley reminded her.
"Then it depends on how badly she wants what they've got. Now what that is," she rubbed her hand wrapped in an Ace bandage, "I don't know. She was ranting about revenge during our conversation."
"She's still mad 'bout San Diego?" Pete chugged his beer.
"San Diego, San Francisco, and every place before that. Guess you can add Chicago to the list."
"Do you think she's still after the guys?" Charley glanced over her shoulder at them before returning her attention to Allie and Pete.
Allie shrugged, "Maybe, but you know about her and Val Tech now. It won't be a sneak attack."
"Having to deal with Limburger's sneak attacks are bad enough."
Pete glanced over his shoulder. "They're okay with me knowing 'bout them now?"
"I finally convinced Throttle you're safe. But your standing with the Mutates helped more."
"Wow, I have standing."
Allie laughed. "And the best bar in Chi-town." She jumped down and went back to Mike.
"That boy does her a world of good," Pete observed. "Like yours does for you."
Charley felt her cheeks grow hot. "Pete."
"Here he comes now."
Throttle wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "Manuelo and Serafina are ready to call it a night."
"Okay." She swiveled off the barstool, and joined the group gathering at the door to see them off.
Serafina embraced Charley and then kissed each of the adult mice on their snouts. "This is the second time you have reunited our family. Muchos gracias." Charley couldn't decide which macho biker mouse was blushing the hardest.
"But Momma, we wanna stay and play with Sparks." Manuela protested as Nina helped her and her sister with their jackets.
"You can play with Sparks another day," Modo said.
Sparks's tail lashed as both Manuela and Isabel grinned at him. He managed a weak smile that didn't alleviate the caught-in-headlights expression in his eyes.
"As soon as we get a new house, Mommy?" Isabel tugged on her jacket.
"Sí, Sí, that'll work."
Serafina kissed the Turtles. Mike chuckled, "I could get used to this getting thanked thing."
"Not too used to it." Allie smirked as she hugged Serafina back. "Take care of that man of yours. He's a bad guy magnet."
"But one for good ones too." She was careful not to jostle Trash as she hugged the injured Mutate, Di, and then Mona. Each of the male Black Bones got their kisses on the cheeks as well.
Manuelo shook hands with everyone before carrying Felipe outside. The others followed escorting the family safely to their taxi.
Raph, in the rear of the group, noticed the yellow and green van parked next to the Tavern. "Alright, our wheels!"
Tala moved to Charley's side as the rest of the group descended on the van. "Testosterone surge is the same no matter what the species."
Charley smirked. "Like you don't have a close, personal relationship with your bike."
"I never said I didn't have any testosterone. And don't make fun of Hot Stuff. We owe each other too much."
"Hey, I get dibs on target practice!" Mike yelled as the laser cannons added to the roof swiveled.
"You're a lousy shot, Michaelangelo!"
"But I never busted the van, Raphael!"
Allie shook her head as she and Eight came back to where Charley and Tala stood. "They like it."
Eight chuckled and signed to Allie.
"You did good work on the hull then. Mike told me it looked like an accordion." Allie turned back to Charley. "And you did good work with everything else. Donnie's already poking under the hood."
Charley buffed her nails against her shirt. "Glad they're pleased."
"Pride's universal too." Tala grinned.
Eight moved his hands fluidly and Allie translated for him. "Eight wants to know how you know that?"
"Personal observation of at least twenty different species. It's heavily populated out there." Her hand swept across the star-filled sky.
Eight followed her hand and stared up. He sighed heavily and lumbered back inside. Tala glanced at Allie. "Was it something I said?"
"I don't know." Allie followed after him.
"I better tell them 'bout the changes I made." Charley headed to the van, ignoring Tala's shrug.
Vinnie bounded past her. "Good work, Charley-girl, but bikes are better." He rejoined Tala.
Charley shook her head as she joined Donnie at the front of the van. He turned to keep the engine and the mechanic in his field of vision. "Must've been extensive damage."
"The way you built the frame stopped it from being worse."
"Got the idea from how they have to build fire engines for New York." He glanced at Di, "But we can compare notes tomorrow. My brothers tease me enough about all work."
A pair of tan-furred arms wrapped around Charley from behind. "We have to yank her away too," Throttle said.
"Not tonight." Charley leaned against him.
Di laughed as she took hold of Donnie's arm. "Looks like your brothers are enjoying exploring it. Shall we leave them to it?"
"Yeah, Leo will keep them from blowing anything up." He strolled with her back to the door.
Charley turned inside Throttle's embrace and put her arms around his neck. "I want to dance, hunky mouse of mine."
"Oh yeah?" He kissed her. "Well, let's get back to the music." He kept his arm around her shoulders as they headed inside.