Disclaimer: I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Hannah Davidson, Johnson, Dr. Ryan James, and Margo Whitney belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.

This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.

This story is set after Evil Jack: In Sickness.

Evil Jack: For Worse title graphic by Kindra Coates

Hannah Davidson leaned her back against the wall of her mother's garage. The sun shone down on her knees. Her uncles told her to guard the bag of kitty litter that towered over her head. But they just wanted her to watch while they played.

Uncle Modo revved his purple bike near the end of the block. The tires hit the puddle of oil in front of the Last Chance, but he controlled the skid heading for the bottle. His bike turned and faced the way he had come. The back tire hit the bottle and sent it flying.

"Foul!" Uncle Vinnie laughed as he sat on his red bike.

"I know that." Uncle Modo pushed his bike out of the oil slick. "I need a root beer. This sun is killin' my concentration."

"Excuses, excuses. You just knew you couldn't beat my last skid."

Uncle Throttle grabbed another empty bottle and the can of used oil. "Now, Vincent, don't let your mouth outperform your bike." He poured oil where the tires had pushed it away.

Hannah screwed up her courage. Uncle Vinnie didn't notice as she got closer to his bike. "Uncle Vinnie, can I play too, please?"

"Sure thing, kiddo." He set her in front of him and wrapped his tail around her waist. "Hang on."

She gripped the edge of the seat. The red bike revved and they moved to the starting point before heading toward the oil slick. The wind stung her eyes. All the buildings on the sides of the road blurred. The sound of the tires changed and the bike spun. She saw Uncle Modo in the door of the garage twice. Uncle Throttle stood in the street. The brakes screeched and the bike stopped, sending out a fan of oil into the air. She watched it splatter all over Uncle Throttle.

Sound whooshed back to her ears. Glass broke on the cement. The engine ticked and clicked as it cooled down. Then Uncle Throttle and Modo yelled together, "VINNIE!"

"What? She wanted to play. She even said please."

Hannah giggled. Oil dripped off Uncle Throttle's fur. He opened his mouth and shut it again without answering. She squeezed her hands to make her fingers stop hurting. She craned her neck to look at Uncle Vinnie's helmeted head. "That was fun! What's our score?"

Monster screeching brakes made everyone look down the road. Mommy climbed out of the blue tanker truck. She marched straight for the oil slick. "Hannah Charlene Davidson!"

It was never good when Mommy used all her names. But acting tough always worked for her uncles. "Hi, Mommy, did you see me playing bottles 'n broodies?"

Mommy's face got red and then white. "Did I see you? You get in the garage right this second, young lady!"

"But Mommy!"


Nobody argued with that voice. Uncle Vinnie lifted her past the oil slick with his tail. Why was she getting in trouble for playing a game? She looked back out the door. Uncle Modo hadn't moved and the root beer bottles were broken around his feet. Mommy was yelling at Uncle Vinnie and Throttle. Maybe she wasn't in trouble. But then she used all the names, Hannah sighed.

Throttle's brain had reconnected to his mouth, but he couldn't get any yells at Vinnie past the ones Charley issued.

"What the hell were you thinking!"

"She asked to play. She even said please." Vinnie crossed his arms.

"And that makes it okay to take her skidding across the pavement without a helmet!"

"My tail was wrapped around her the whole time!"

Charley's pale face reddened again. "Does your ego function like an airbag?" She balled her fists. "You're in such a suicidal hurry to break your neck, you want me to speed up the process? Get over here!"

Vinnie gestured for Charley to clam down. "You're overreacting, Charley-girl."

"Overreacting to you trying to kill my daughter!"

Throttle winced. He didn't know Charley could get her voice high enough to hurt eardrums.

"She was completely safe," Vinnie continued in a shakier voice.

"Just how crazy are you?" Before anyone could answer that, Charley turned to Throttle. "Why didn't stop him?" She glared at Modo. "Or you?"

"I was inside." Modo's metal thumb pointed at the garage.

"Does it look like I had a chance to stop him?" Throttle held out his arms with the oil dripping off them.

"Nobody needed to stop me."

Charley planted her hands on her hips. "All that velocity has squashed your brains. Even you're wearing a helmet for a stunt that could break your neck!"

The hands in black, fingerless gloves patted the helmet. "Okay, one little mistake...."

"Little!" Charley exploded. "You're just as demented as Karbunkle!" She stormed into the garage.

Vinnie's shoulders slumped. "Now that was a low blow." He turned to Throttle.

"Don't say anything, Vinnie, or you're gonna be in deeper quicksand." Throttle took a deep breath. Hannah was fine, and his bro was trying to be nice--in his own adrenaline junkie way.

Modo stepped out of the broken glass. "I guess movie night is canceled now. You calm Charley down. I'll take Vinnie back to the scoreboard and explain why you tell kids no."

"I hate being told no and I'm pretty sure Hannah hates it too." Vinnie pushed his bike out of the oil.

Modo mounted his bike. "This is gonna be a long lecture on the motivations of grown-ups."

Throttle waited until they were out of sight. Yelling had stopped emanating from the garage. Which was good because he didn't want to do anything until after this junk was out of his fur.

He emerged from the shower after what felt like hours under the water. He cleaned his shades and looked around. Where was his vest and boots? He reentered the garage dressed in jeans and socks. Good thing they had left their laundry at the garage again.

Hannah had his vest laid out on a bench and scrubbed it with a shop towel. She glanced up with red-rimmed eyes. "I'm cleaning it with the stuff Mommy uses on her boots. I got your boots already."

The vest looked fine, and the boots looked like they had been polished. "So I guess you're sorry for helping Vinnie splatter me?"

She looked down with a trembling bottom lip. "Mommy says I can't play with you guys ever again!" Tears welled out of her green eyes. "It's not fair!"

"Aw, Princess, I'm sure that's not what your mommy meant."

"She said I couldn't break my neck on a mouse-approved stunt until I was a grown-up." Hannah's inhaling sniffle ended in another sob. "She said if I touched a bike I'd be grounded till I'm thirty!"

Metal on metal banging echoed. It sounded like Charley was beating someone up with her pots. Throttle remembered Modo's mother doing the same thing when she was furious. "Come on, let's go talk to your mommy."

Hannah wiped off her tears. "Watch your tail. She was talking to herself about tying knots in them."

"Thanks for the warning." He took her hand and headed back to the kitchen door.

Those... those... those mice! Charley slammed the oven door. After two near death experiences, you'd think they'd be a little more careful with Hannah. But no, break her neck along with theirs. Why let Jack have all the fun of killing her?

The pot of Brussels sprouts boiled over. She jerked it off the burner and avoided splashing the water. Tears pricked her eyes. Why do they always make me be the heavy?

The swinging door between the kitchen and garage opened. "Do we need a white flag?" Throttle led Hannah to the stairs in the corner. They sat down on a riser.

Charley set the pot on the reduced flame. "I suppose she cried to you and you think I need to stop being a horrible ogre."

"No, but Hannah needs to know something and you should listen."

She gave him her best this-better-be-good expression.

Throttle turned to Hannah. "Both you and Vinnie deserve to have your ears pinned for you riding without a helmet. You both know better."

Hannah shuffled her feet. "I forgot 'cause I wanted to play too."

"Right, and you went straight to your Uncle Vinnie 'cause you knew Uncle Modo or me wouldn't let you." Hannah didn't look up. "But that's not why you can't play all the games we do."

"But Mommy said I couldn't play any games." Her bottom lip poked out.

"No, Candyland is safe. Hide 'n seek is safe. But the games on bikes are training exercises so we get better to fight Limburger."

Charley's arms dropped to her sides. "All those suicidal sports trying to break your necks?"

"You know how Vinnie is, Charley. If you called it training, he'd never do it. Give his ego a chance to win and we can't stop him."

Hannah grabbed Throttle's knee. "So when can I train too?"

"We'll discuss that after you get your own bike."

She sighed. "I'm never going to get big enough so my legs hit the ground."

"And you're going to have to learn to protect your brain box." Throttle tapped the top of her orange hair. "So Mom, what's her punishment for breaking the helmet rule?"

Charley stirred the bubbling spaghetti sauce. "Help you clean up the mess in the street, and then bath and bed right after supper. No movie tonight."

"Yes, ma'am."

Throttle led Hannah out while Charley turned her attention back to supper. Throttle understood. Modo got it too, but he helped raise Rimfire. So why didn't Vinnie the idiot get it? She drained the spaghetti noodles. She may never know the answer to that.

She had two plates served when Hannah and Throttle closed the garage bay doors. "Throttle, you staying for supper?"

"Yeah, I will." He headed to the kitchen. "Don't fall in the sink, Hannah," he called back to the bathroom. Charley handed him the plates. He put them on the table and followed her into the kitchen. "Are you okay now?"

"I'm better. Get the silverware. Are you going to pin Vinnie's ears to the wall?"

"Do you want me to? I was gonna throw his helmet at him until he got a clue."

"What's wrong with a stern talking to?"

"And how many times have you got Vinnie to listen to a stern talking?" Throttle held the door open for her. "I seen it happen once when he was twelve and Mama Bola had his ear in a twist."

Hannah sat at the table. Charley put the last plate down. "Let me see those hands."

She held them up, "All clean."

Throttle made a face at his plate. "Did you have to go so heavy on the green stuff?"

Charley smirked. "Remember what Grandma Bola said: it's good for you." And nobody but Vinnie had a problem following her set-a-good-example-or-else edict from Mars.

Throttle speared a Brussels sprout and shoved it in his mouth.

"I like Grandma Bola." Hannah twirled the spaghetti on her fork and most of it slithered back to the pile. "When can we see her?"

"When it's safe enough for us to go to Mars or for her to come here," Throttle answered.

"'Cause we're civilians, right?"

"That's right."

The phone rang. "Always at dinner." Charley answered the handset left in the garage. "Last Chance Garage."

"Charley-girl, you're not still mad, are you? 'Cause I'm really sorry about forgetting the kiddo's helmet." Modo made a noise in the background. "Right, and she's not old enough for bottles 'n broodies and I'll never do that again."

"All right, Vinnie. If you can actually remember that, I won't tie knots in your tail."

"Yeah, 'cause that would ruin our date tomorrow night."

Charley felt her heart stop. "You're asking me out?"

"Yeah, you don't have plans, right? Modo said he'll baby-sit and Throttle's gotta call his General."

"Put Modo on the phone."

Modo's unruffled drawl answered, "Charley-ma'am?"

"Vinnie didn't get attacked by pod people on your way back to the scoreboard, did he?"

"No, he just realized you hadn't had any Charley time and taking you out would be fun." He paused, then continued. "Yeah, we're all shocked when he makes a logical conclusion like that."

"You're ruining my chances!" Vinnie wailed in the background. There was a scuffle over the phone and Vinnie's voice returned to the receiver. "Come on, Charley-girl. Let's go have some fun, please."

"All right, Vinnie, tomorrow night."


She hung up before she lost the rest of her hearing. Throttle with a walled-off expression stabbed a meatball. "So Vinnie finally asked you out." He stared at his plate. "Maybe you should've lit into him years ago."

Charley took a bite rather than answer that. Her heart was still in the strange, excited beat it had gained when Vinnie had asked. But the mood at the table had shifted.

"What's a date?" Hannah had spaghetti sauce on her nose, cheeks, and forehead.

"Mushy stuff," Throttle answered.

She stuck her tongue out as she made her bleaugh face. "Do I have to go?"

Charley answered that one. "No, you're staying here with Uncle Modo."

Hannah turned to Throttle. "How come not you?"

"General Carbine is calling from Mars." He stabbed another Brussels sprout.

"More mushy stuff." Hannah slurped spaghetti noodles with gusto.

Throttle picked up his plate as he stood. "I better hit the road. Thanks for the grub."

Charley joined Hannah in saying good-bye after he took his plate to the kitchen. She couldn't help feeling Throttle was depressed. But why should he be depressed?

In the Freedom Fighters Headquarters on Mars, Stoker walked down the deserted hallway. Quiet night, and winter keeping the rats and Sand Raiders holed up, so there shouldn't be anything to worry about. He shook his head, Old man, you're calling down the sandstorm. He looked into the communications room, and stopped in his tracks. The space radio was off, but the female general sat in the chair in front of it. He hadn't seen the unsure expression reflected on the equipment since she was a private. It had no business on her face now. He leaned against the doorjamb. "You actually went through with that sandblasted plan."

Carbine's black headfur blocked her brown eyes for a moment when she turned. "It's none of your business, Stoker. And even if it was, you ain't always right."

"Fair enough, but I'm better at reading people than you. And even you don't think it will bring him home."

Carbine's indignant look deflated into uncertainty before she steeled her jaw. "It will work. He just needs a kick to the gears to get his priorities straight."

"You two have been dating how long and you don't realize this gives him license to hunt Plutarkians across the whole galaxy?"

She slouched in the chair. "I repeat, it's none of your business."

Stoker resisted the urge to bop her head with his metal tail. She was hurtin' and he couldn't take the pain away. "You're right, it's none of my business."

That startled her into looking up. "You never agree with me. You got your tail captured by Sand Raiders rather than agree with me."

"Can we agree to stop bringin' up my unfortunate incarceration so much, since we're actually gettin' along?"

"Sorry. But you always...." Her snout wrinkled.

"I don't hero worship, Carbine. Not when I can remember when you was snot-nosed private. Everyone else on this planet wants to treat you like you're lava, and have the right. You pulled what's left off Mars out of the quicksand. But I'm not lettin' you get a swelled head 'bout it."

Carbine blinked. "Thanks, I think."

"Stoker's friendly ego deflation service. Ninety-nine percent effectiveness." He grinned and a smile broke out on her grey-brown face. "Come on, you look like you could use a drink before bed. And the bartender fixed his still."

Carbine nodded. "Okay, that sounds good."

Modo sighed gazing at the silent radio on the work station. It wasn't right to do repair work without heavy metal. But Hannah was asleep and he didn't want to go through all the loops to get her there again. She was a good pup, if prone to fur-raising stunts that will make them all go white prematurely. But she was so smart, and he didn't want to go through another interrogation.

They had stayed in the garage bays after Vinnie and Charley had left. Modo worked on Li'l Hoss and Hannah tightened and loosened nuts and bolts on a metal block. "Uncle Modo, can I ask you somethin'?"

"Sure thing, Li'l Bit. You need help with that?"

"No, Mommy said I can leave it out as long as I put the ratchet back. I wanna ask 'bout Mommy. Why does she want to do mushy stuff with Uncle Vinnie?"

Couldn't start with somethin' simple like how do fish breathe could she? And she had zeroed in on his misgivings. Modo hadn't dared air them, not after Throttle's said-too-casually criticisms of Vinnie's exuberant plans. While true, Charley and Vinnie were no longer eighteen, it wasn't nice to say it when Vinnie had been working up the nerves for years. Hannah waited. "Well, grown-ups like doing mushy stuff, it's part of being a grown-up."

"Mommy already told me all that. What I wanna know is why Uncle Vinnie?"

"I don't know. Are you worried 'bout it?" He was, but there wasn't anything he could do. He couldn't make Vinnie grow up, he couldn't make Carbine come for a visit, he couldn't stop Throttle from wanting to be a daddy to Hannah, and he couldn't stop Charley from getting hurt. Hopefully, he could shield Hannah from the worse of whatever fallout there was.

"Not worry, zactly." She put the ratchet into its drawer in the tool chest. "Mommy's always yellin' at Uncle Vinnie. More than she yells at me. And there's gonna be more yellin' if Uncle Vinnie becomes my stepfather."

Modo dropped his wrench. "Where did you learn stepfather from?"

"Ronnie from school s'plained it. Her mommy and daddy got divorced and her mommy married another guy and he's Ronnie's stepfather now. That's not right?"

"She explained it right, but I don't think your mommy and Uncle Vinnie are ready to walk down the aisle yet. If ever."

Modo looked at the engine parts in his hands. No radio was a small price to pay not to have another conversation on that level again tonight.

The red bike slid to a stop inside the garage bay and Vinnie pulled off his helmet. "She ain't here." His shoulders slumped and his antennae drooped.

"You losing Charley when she's alone with you is becomin' an alarmin' trend."

Vinnie pushed buttons on his bike's computer. "She's at Quigley Field. And I didn't lose her, she got mad and stormed out."

Modo felt his grey fur spike. "What happened?"

"It was like being on a date with Throttle." The white mouse stuck his tongue out. "When Throttle's on one of his responsibility kicks. And why didn't you remind me about having money?"

"The date was your idea. I thought you had some."

"Modo, this is me. Always assume I'm going to screw up."

"Don't hate me when I remind you later you said that. So Charley paid for dinner?"

"We should've went to Andy's, not the Hard Rock Cafe." Vinnie squirmed on the stool. "Just a bunch of tourists and business people and models. And the food was expensive, and that made Charley harp about jobs and money."

"Vinnie, do you ever ask how the garage is doin' financially?"

"Why should I? You and Throttle do."

Modo stared at Vinnie in disbelief. "Even you can't be that dense."


"And I'm called the slow one. Charley just had to spend a chunk of change to get Hannah in school and buying supplies like the gasoline. She's still paying the hospital bill, and repair jobs have slowed down."

"That explains why she harped on a job, but it doesn't explain the water."

"Water?" Modo raised his eyebrow over his eye.

Vinnie squirmed on the stool. "I had made a joke 'bout goin' necking at the lake. Charley said come up with something else and went to the restroom. While she was gone, a sloshed miniskirt model came up to me and said it was a great idea."

Modo covered his eyes with his flesh hand. "Tell me you didn't try to pick her up."

"I stayed in my seat, and she proceeded to drape herself over my back and shoulder. I couldn't pick her up even if I had needed to."

Modo made a silent plea for patience. "Tell me you didn't start flirtin' with another girl while out on a date. With Charley. Who knows how to use a bazooka."

"I never got a chance to flirt with Miss Long-legs-and-firm-melons. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and my brain shut off."

"And what about Charley?"

"She said 'Here's your drink,' and dumped a pitcher of water on the miniskirt model's head. My ear is still ringing from that woman's screech." Vinnie's shoulders slumped further. "Charley stormed out and I dried out while washing dishes to pay for the food."

"You better hope Throttle talks her out of using a bazooka. Remember what she did to Rod Van Ham? Though I can't say I'd blame her."

Vinnie crossed his arms. "All Charley needed was a little fun. She didn't even try to have a good time."

Modo screwed a bolt into place. "So you decided to move onto the gal that does want to have fun?"

"I didn't even get contact info. And you'd want to hook up with her too if that bod had been pressed against your back."

"Let me try to get this in terms you'll understand." Modo placed both hands on his knees. "Charley doesn't want fun. She wants a grown-up who's gonna be her partner and help her raise Hannah. Do you understand that?"

"Yeah, but...." Vinnie moved off the stool. "She's not my kid. I can't get past that. And I'd hate to screw her up like me."

"Then you're probably better off letting Charley go, so she can find somebody else."

"Why am I the one doomed to have the unrequited love affairs? I so didn't sign up for that."

"At least this way, you get to keep Charley in your life."

Vinnie grunted, staring out the garage door.

"Well, I'm the baby-sitter; I get the couch. Be sure to lock up when you're done thinkin'."

Charley sighed. One of these days I'm rebuilding the prototype and giving it rocket jets. Her blue repair bike was parked outside, and she always felt guilty about sneaking into Quigley Field at night. But by the sounds echoing through the stadium, she wasn't the only one down here. Someone was using the batting cage. And this late at night, it probably wasn't a member of the Nubs.

She peeked out of the tunnel, clenching and unclenching her fist. The black bike was parked next to the pitching machine and its headlight illuminated Throttle in the batting cage. Who else would be here? She headed down the stairs to the field.

The tan mouse drank from a glass bottle and set it in the corner behind him. He covered the bottle with a batter helmet before taking the stance with the bat. "Ready, girl."

The bike beeped. Wires connected the bike and the pitching machine through the chain-linked fence. A white baseball shot out of the machine. Throttle's bat connected with a crack, and the net at the end of the batting cage caught the baseball. "Are we doing any good here at all?"

"Yes." Charley curled her fingers around the wires of the fence. "What are you doing?"

Throttle shook his helmeted head as he picked up the bottle. "Nope, that's not how you play, Charley-girl. Drink, swing, and then you ask a question." He opened the gate and passed her the bottle.

The whiskey burned and she coughed. Throttle took the bottle back and passed her the bat as he stepped outside the cage. She plopped the batter's helmet on her head and took the stance, ignoring the way her scalloped-neck, green blouse bunched up on her shoulders. "This feels like a macho version of Truth or Dare."

"But there's no dare part. You get an answer to your question. Now swing batter, batter."

"Ready." Charley told the bike. The bat completely missed the baseball. "Great, I still suck at this." She tossed the baseball into the hopper attached to the pitching machine. "So why are you playing drunken baseball?"

He took a swig before trading places with her. "Trying to take my mind off things. Stop thinkin' so much. Ready." His swing sent the ball to the back of the cage. "Where's Vinnie?"

"I left him at the Hard Rock Cafe." The second swig went down easier. "Where he is right now I don't know." She also missed her second ball. "I think this is the same pitching machine from high school. It didn't like me either." She stepped out of the cage. "What are you thinking too much about?"

Throttle took his swig. "Things Carbine said. Things I can't have." He missed his baseball. "Why did you leave Vinnie at the Hard Rock Cafe?"

She crossed her arms. "Because I didn't need any more proof that he's an inconsiderate jerk that refuses to grow up."

"Damn, what did he do?"

"That's breaking the rules."

"True, take your turn."

Charley swallowed the whiskey. This time the ball touched the bat, and went careening to the side instead of straight back. "What did Carbine say?"

He took a swig. "Cheese, you got to that fast." He took another swig. "She said it's over. It as in us, not somethin' positive like Plutark's sun went nova. She's tired of waiting on me to get my priorities straight."

She froze. "Throttle, I'm sorry. I...."

"Don't." He took the bat, and took another swig before pressing the whiskey bottle into her hands. "I'm not sorry and I doubt Carbine is either." He stepped into the cage. "I don't want you to be sorry." He popped the baseball up over his head and stepped back as it came down. "Now, what did Vinnie do?"

"You don't need to hear about my romance problems. Not right now. I should go."

"Charley, no." He grabbed her arm. "Please... I mean if it's gonna mess with how the team functions, I need to know. And if he hurt you, I'm gonna whip his tail."

"You don't need to do that. My heart's not broken. It's just annoying. He expected me to pay for the date because he didn't have any money. I'm supposed to break into a party slut like I'd want to be one even without a kid at home. And when I got back from the restroom, he had the party slut his eyes had been on all night draped all over him."

Throttle let go. "Which hospital is he in?"

"None, unless he had an allergic reaction to the pitcher of water I dumped over both of them." Charley plopped down on the grass with the whiskey bottle. The swig lingered in her mouth before swallowing. "I'm tired of waiting for him to grow up when there's other grown-ups around."

"He has issues with responsibility." Throttle sat beside her. "His mother never wanted him and made sure he knew it. Being with you isn't simply being with you any more."

"I understand he has issues, but I can't wait for him to get over them." Charley took a swig.

"No, you can't wait for him. Like Carbine can't wait for me."

"Are you really okay, Throttle? You're down here playing drunken baseball."

He took a swig of whiskey before answering. "Mourning what could have been. But I can't deny that things weren't working for us."

"So you don't miss her?" Her heart thudded.

"No, I don't. I think I'm drinking because of the surprise of that." He shook his head. "We got away from the game."

"It's giving me flashbacks of failing softball in high school. I don't want to swing any more." She took a swig. "It's your turn for a question, I think."

"Okay," he scooted closer. "You don't need a Vinnie, so who do you need? Or what do you need?"

She leaned back on her hands. "A guy who loves me and wants to be my partner. Why do you want to know?"

"Make sure my train of thought matched yours." Throttle twisted to face her. He pulled his helmet off, then his shades. Charley felt her cheeks growing hot under that gaze. After a long pause, he said, "I shouldn't ask that."

"You, break the rules? Shame, shame."

"Alright then. What would kissing you be like?"

"There's only one way that question can be answered." Her heart pounded and she tingled all over.

He brushed his fingers against her cheek and into her hair before pulling her to his lips. Charley wrapped her arms around him. His muscular arms kept her in the air. She brought her hand up to the back of his head, tangling her fingers in his headfur, to press their lips tighter together. The tip of his tail trailed up her side. Charley moaned into his mouth.

Throttle shifted and freed one hand to squeeze her breast, just hard enough to make her break off the kiss with a sharp intake of the night air. He turned his lips to her neck, nuzzling her skin. This blouse exposed so much for him to touch. She ran her hands against the fur on his pecs. He shuddered when she grazed his nipples with her thumbs.

Charley moved her hands up his shoulders, pushing the vest out of the way. He laid her on the grass to shuck off the vest. He leaned over her with a smile and took hold of the hem of her blouse.

"Wait." Charley sat up.

He leaned back with an ashamed expression. "Cheese, I'm sorry, Charley. I wouldn't, I mean, it's been a while, got my signals crossed. I wouldn't."

She giggled. He looked so cute beating himself up. "I said wait not stop."

"Are you drunk?" The top of his snout wrinkled with his eyebrows.

"No, but doing it on home plate of Quigley Field has never been a fantasy of mine." She kissed him. Then leaned back and watched the comprehension dawn on his face.

Throttle grinned before whistling. The black bike whipped the wires out of the pitching machine. Once free, it rolled forward. He scooped up his vest and helmet, handed them to Charley, and scooped her off the ground. He settled on his bike and cradled her on his lap. "Scoreboard?"

"Scoreboard." Charley wrapped her free arm around his neck.

The microwave beeped. "Campbell soup again," Jack MacCyber muttered. Keeping a low profile had definite disadvantages, like limited kitchen setup. Delivery was out and you didn't want to become a familiar face to restaurants.

He stirred the soup with a plastic spoon. The warehouse cost too much to rent a separate apartment and he needed the warehouse. Setting up the equipment in an apartment building where some neighbor was bound to get suspicious, not a good plan. He set his prepackaged bowl of soup on the desk in front of the stacks of nine television screens and monitors. The first six showed the interior of the Last Chance Garage.

Why the hell did she reject a life with him for this repetitive existence? And he had the video proof just how boring it was. The white mouse rebalanced his bike's tires with slumped shoulders. The upstairs monitor revealed the grey mouse stretched out on the couch. His knees bent over the arm rest. Charley's bedroom door was open and the room empty. Jack lifted out the plastic spoon. The hot liquid had warped the bowl of the spoon where it wouldn't hold any soup. He dropped it back into the soup and growled.

A movement in another monitor caught his eye. The tan mouse, Throttle returned to the scoreboard hideout on his black bike. With Charley draped over his lap.

Jack's jaw slacked. "What the hell?" Vinnie always acted like a jealous twit. She went out with Vinnie, wearing her nice blouse and boots, a date. But here she was hugging the bare-chested Throttle. Throttle who had talked to somebody on their communication system and then left for a few hours. "Why didn't I get mics? Amplification range sucked, right."

Throttle's hands caressed Charley's sides, took hold of her hips, and pulled her closer. He kissed her.

Jack clenched his teeth together. How dare he. How dare he!

Charley's head fell back with a soundless laugh. Throttle's mouth landed on her neck, and his hands pulled up her green shirt. His fingers brushed over Charley's peachy skin. He said something that made her laugh again.

Jack remembered sliding his hands over that inner hidden skin, and marveling how soft and smooth it was compared to Charley's callused hands.

Throttle set Charley down on the back of the couch. He caressed her leg as he slid the boot off. Charley's long, red-brown hair covered the back of her bra. It swayed as she lifted her other leg.

That hair always felt so soft and silky when he ran his fingers through it. Too bad he never grabbed hold of it and forced her to look up at him with tears in her green eyes. Jack shook his head. "Remember that for later."

Charley hooked her jean-clad legs around Throttle's waist and hugged him closer. She ran her hands over his chest and paused with her hands still on his pecs. Throttle threw back his head. Jack thought he saw the tan tail swishing in the air. The mouse's arms wrapped around Charley and crushed them together.

Jack glanced away from their passionate lip lock to the recorder for this feed. Recording away. The white mouse turned off the garage lights in the other monitor. He headed upstairs to the garage's living room area. Did he know that Charley went home with Throttle? But more importantly, what did this do to Jack's plans?

He wasn't inflexible. That was the point of waiting almost a year before taking away everything she holds dear, before making her beg for mercy, before showing she had wasted it all. He could wait and see how this played out. He looked back at the scoreboard feed.

Throttle's hands cupped Charley's ass. His tail wrapped around her waist and pulled her from the couch, still kissing her. Her legs were locked around his waist. He stumbled a little but didn't drop her. They headed back towards the beds.

Jack opened the fly of his jeans.

Charley entered the garage, and closed her eyes against the sunshine streaming through the windows. Despite a sensitive head, she felt good. It would have been better if Throttle had woke up too, but he had been dead to any noise she made dressing. She touched the mousehead tracking necklace resting on her chest. He knew where to find her. She hummed as she filled a plastic cup with water from the cooler.

Modo peeked out from the kitchen. "You didn't bring the bazooka from the scoreboard with you, didja?"

Charley shook her head.

"Then oh good, you're back. It's not like you not to call."

"The first time I overslept since high school, cut me some slack."

"I should charge you extra." He chuckled as he leaned more into the garage.

"You wanna get cut off from your favorite root beer?" She threw the cup away. "Did you have any problems?"

"Not last night, but this morning," Modo winced. "Both me and Vinnie tried to braid Hannah's hair. She says she's ain't comin' out 'til Mommy's here to make her look pretty."

Charley laughed. "You guys are covered in fur. Hair's not that different."

"Yeah, but fur's short." He brushed his real hand against his abs.

"I'll see to her when I go change." She hit the controls to the garage bay doors. The corrugated metal rolled up, revealing an older man with a bushy white mustache waiting on the sidewalk. "Chef Andy!"

"Late start, Charley?" he asked with a smile.

"More like last night never ended." Modo laughed as he went back into the kitchen.

"I need a more discreet babysitter."

"Time for my clunker's checkup." The old man dangled his keys in front of her face.

Charley smiled. "Do you need a lift back to the diner?" She led the way to the office.

"Nope, Doc says I need a little more exercise. I'm gonna walk back."

Whatever she was going to respond with was lost when she saw Vinnie. The white mouse sat at her desk with his chin in his hands and stared at the garage's ledger. "Vinnie, what are you doing?"

"Oh. Modo pointed out that I don't know how the garage is doing. So I thought I'd learn from this thing."

"Do you even know what you're looking at, son?" Chef Andy asked.

Vinnie glanced back at the account journal. "Numbers. They are definitely numbers."

"Money in," Charley pointed to a column, "money out. And that's what should be in the bank."

"Okay," Vinnie thumbed through the pages while she handled Chef Andy's paperwork. Once the older human left, he stood up. "About last night."

Charley crossed her arms. What is he going to come up with to justify his behavior this time?

"I'm sorry about the whole fiasco. I was a jerk on a whole lotta levels."

"Apology accepted. Now I have to get started on Chef Andy's truck."

Vinnie stepped into her path. "Wait, there's more. Modo and me had a talk. I understand now you need Mr. Dependability."

"Vinnie, you are dependable...."

"But not with family and kids and jobs. Blowing up the bad guys, winning a bike race, that's what I'm dependable for. I can't put another kid through the hell I grew up in." He shook his head.

"A bad childhood doesn't mean you can't ever have a family."

"But it's not what I want now. Maybe after the war," he shrugged. "But it's not right to string you along, promising something I can't give."

Charley softened. "Vinnie."

He looked her in the eye. "I want to still be friends, but just friends, Charley."

"You'll always have a place in my heart." She hugged him hard. Vinnie stiffened, but relented and hugged her back.

Throttle rode to the garage in silent running mode. His head still pounded by the time he went around a truck parked on the street and parked beside Charley, Vinnie, and Modo's bikes. Aspirin, he needed aspirin. Charley kept some in the first aid kit in the bathroom.

He swallowed the white pills dry. Why didn't Charley stay until he woke up? Did she have second thoughts? He didn't; he loved her and he loved Hannah. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with them. He had wanted that for the longest time.

But what if it wasn't what Charley wanted? He gripped the sides of the extra-large sink basin. The way they have meshed before, how it felt just the three of them at supper, and last night. She had to feel something too.

He felt a poke to his gut when he stepped out of the bathroom. How to explain this to Vinnie? Sorry, bro, I fell for the girl too and got drunk off my ass and slept with her. No hard feelings. The poke twisted like a knife.

"You'll always have a place in my heart." Charley's voice came from the office. Throttle glanced inside. Charley and Vinnie embraced like there was nothing else in the universe.

He stumbled back into the bathroom. She wanted Vinnie. He sat on the toilet. Whatever Vinnie said to her must be on a top ten list of apologies. Hell, the top five.

She wanted Vinnie. He took off his shades and rubbed his eyes. He tried to steal his bro's girl and she still picked him. He swallowed hard trying to move the lump in his throat. It was okay, he would survive. Charley's happiness was all that mattered.

Throttle stood up and shoved his shades on his snout. The rumbling of an engine filled the garage.

Charley climbed out of Chef Andy's truck, now parked inside. She grinned. "Morning, sunshine. And it is still morning."

"Hey. Where's Modo and Vinnie?"

"In the kitchen. I think they're working on breakfast. Or maybe lunch."

He had to look away. "I don't know how to say this." Her smile faltered and left her face out of the corner of his eye.

"Just say it. I'm a big girl. I can handle it."

"Last night was a total lack of judgment. We should pretend it never happened."

Her mouth dropped open and snapped shut. "Is this to get back with Carbine?"

He hadn't expected Charley to go there, but it was too good an excuse not to use it. "We have years on the road, Charley. I can't give up on that until I know there's no hope." He faced her directly.

"She won't even come and see you! You deserve better than that."

"Even with that as a given, it's too soon to go chase another piece of tail no matter how willing."

Tears welled in her green eyes and Throttle wished something would shoot him. "That was low, Throttle. Even if you just want to file it under friends with benefits, after six years, I'm not a piece of meat." She crossed her arms. "You don't want Modo, Vinnie, and Carbine to know? You're not giving me a good reason to cooperate."

His gut recoiled, like she had punched him. Hell, listening to Carbine's breakup speech last night was easier. "You're right," he said stiffly. "That was uncalled for. I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted. There's nothing to tell anybody. Last night never happened. And it will never happened again." She stomped past him and climbed up the ladder to her bedroom.

"Not for us," Throttle whispered.

"Back off, Charley. I know how to fix my own bike!"

Vinnie looked up from his bike. Two weeks of growling from Throttle, so now what? Throttle hunched over his black bike. Charley stood over him with a wrench. The white mouse set down the electric lug nut tool in case he needed to tackle Charley. Her face was white, but she turned on her heel and marched into the kitchen. Vinnie glanced at Modo.

The grey mouse frowned. "Throttle, this is her job. She's the mechanic."

"I don't need her criticism. This day has been bad enough." The wrench slipped and Throttle's left knuckles dashed across the nut. He pulled his hand back with a growl.

Hannah came out of the kitchen."Uncle Throttle?"

His snarl vanished as he turned. "Yeah, Princess?"

"Can you help me with my homework? Please?"

Throttle took her hand. "Okay, I'm not getting anything done here." Hannah led him out through the kitchen.

The door didn't stop swinging before Charley was back. She knelt next to Throttle's bike. "Let's get this done before supper, okay?"

Vinnie chuckled. "That's pretty sneaky, using Hannah as interference."

"Not like any of you are giving me much choice." She grunted as she got the laser back on.

"He's upset about about the fight today," Modo said as he pulled down some new tires. "We should've avoided a trap like that."

The black bike beeped as it retracted the laser. "So what's your excuse for his snarling last week?" Charley eased the bike upright.

"She's right, breaking up with Carbine has sent him through a loop." Vinnie put a new tire in place and tightened the lug nuts. "You need to talk to him, Modo."

"Me? Why not you?"

"You're better at the emotional stuff. And you're bigger than he is."

"Sheesh, I'll do it since I'm the one with the issue." Charley stepped back from the black bike. "Okay, I'm done."

"Almost," chorused both Vinnie and Modo. She headed to the bathroom.

Throttle came back through the kitchen. He stiffened. "That was low, Charley."

Charley came out drying her hands on a clean shop rag. "You weren't listening to reason, so I went with the cute factor. Hannah did need help and so did your bike."

"That's not your call to make." Throttle crossed his arms.

Charley balled up her fists. "Stop taking your bad mood out on me because the female you want to fight with is on another planet!"

"I'm not hung up on Carbine!"

"You wanna be a prick for the fun of it? Well, not in my garage with me tools, my inventory, and my expertise! The way you ride those bikes, you would have needed totally new machines three years ago. I've kept 'em running! And that should earn me a place on the team even without keeping you guys fed." She shook the shop rag in his face. "And I'm not letting myself get thrown off the team saving my planet because you're having a bad breakup!"

Vinnie stood and noticed Modo did too. Throttle wore his poker face, so there was no way in hell anybody knew what he thought. And all Vinnie could think was they both thought Charley would storm out of our lives because I did something stupid.

Throttle swallowed hard. "I didn't mean to act like a prick. I know how much we owe you."

"Just treat me like you used to, okay?" She headed past him.

Throttle's antennae drooped as the door swung shut.

"It's not Charley's fault."

"Vinnie, I know your Casanova tendencies may find this hard to believe, but sometimes the cure ain't a new woman."

The white mouse rolled his eyes. "Modo, I hope you picked out a light and fluffy movie. We need a good laugh."

"I got the latest James Bomb. Hannah picked Iron Giant." Modo's red eye trailed Throttle's slumped shoulder progress to his bike.

Vinnie went into the kitchen. Charley stood at the sink and stared out the tiny kitchen window. "You okay?"

She wiped her cheeks. "Yeah. Wash your hands and help me get supper upstairs." She grabbed a filled serving platter without turning to show Vinnie her face.

His antennae twitched. Something else was going on with Charley. And he was going to find out what.

Hannah jumped up when the credits to the Iron Giant played and faced the grown-ups on the couch. "That was so cool!"

"Yeah, you picked a good movie, kiddo." Vinnie ruffled her fair as he passed her heading to the bathroom.

"I want one for Christmas! Make one for me, Mommy."

Charley laughed. "I can't build a skyscraper-tall robot."

"What about an Uncle-Modo-tall robot?" Hannah twirled her red-orange hair around her finger.

"You're silly, my little girl. And it's time for bed."

Hannah dashed to the armchair. "I want Uncle Throttle to tell me a bedtime story tonight. Please, Uncle Throttle." She clasped her hands together and blinked at him. Uncle Throttle was always a sucker for the blinking.

He smiled, more real than any face he made during supper. "Alright, Princess. Let's go." She pulled him to her bedroom. He stopped at her bookshelf while she climbed under covers. "What story do you wanna hear tonight?"

"Actually, I wanna ask ya a question." She leaned against the headboard. Uncle Throttle sat besides her on the edge of the bed. "Why are you making Mommy cry?"

He looked at the closed bedroom door and then back at her. "Making your mommy cry?"

Hannah looked at the quilt. "She thinks I'm asleep. And it's always after you've been grumpy with her and you two fight. Like tonight before supper."

"You heard that," he grimaced.

"You were loud."

He sighed. "It's complicated, Princess."

"That's what Mommy calls a lousy excuse." She crossed her arms. "You were always here and now you're not."

"You know your mommy can find you a new daddy."

"Right, but she's not looking hard. I heard her say that to a customer."

Throttle blew some breath out. "Hannah, you shouldn't be eavesdropping."

"And Mommy calls that changing the subject and she doesn't like it when I do it."

"Okay, your mommy can find you a new daddy, even if she's not looking. When she does, he's not gonna want me hanging around all the time. So I'm trying not to."

That sounded honest, but she still had to know. "So you still like us?"

Uncle Throttle hugged her. She crawled into his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Princess, how I feel about you and your mommy hasn't changed." He rocked her. "I want what's best for you."

"So why can't you be my daddy?"

He stopped rocking. "It doesn't work that way, Hannah." His voice sounded like his nose was stuffed up. "It's gotta be a deal between your mommy and a guy."

"That's not fair." Hannah leaned back to look at Throttle's face.

"That's why we gotta be fair 'cause life isn't."

"Can't you pretend to be my daddy until Mommy finds me one? Please?"

He shook his head. "I don't think your mommy would like it."

She leaned her head against his chest. "Nobody has to know. I won't even call you daddy, Uncle Throttle."

"Alright, Princess." He put her back in the bed. "I'll be your pretend daddy."

"And no more fighting with Mommy?" She pulled the quilt up to her chin.

"And no more fighting with your mommy." He kissed Hannah's forehead. "Goodnight, Princess." He left her bedroom.

Hannah smiled. Now, maybe things will get back to normal.

Modo gave Charley a nudge after Throttle took Hannah to bed. "The movie wasn't a downer."

Her smile didn't reach her eyes. "Even I can be affected by invoking Superman, okay?"

"Yeah, I guess. My other choice would be you're still upset about what happened earlier." Her attitude was reminding him of something he couldn't identify.

"Please." Charley hopped off the couch. "I wouldn't be able to talk to any of you if I stayed upset over the little spats."

Vinnie leaned on the back of the armchair. "But that wasn't a little spat."

She hit the rewind button. "He'll get over this and things'll get back to normal."

Modo leaned forward. "But you've been upset too. And not just 'cause Throttle's riding you harder than us."

"You get upset when he leaves early too." The white mouse came around the chair.

"I've been stressed that's all. I'm not upset with Throttle."

Modo looked at Vinnie's disbelieving face, then back at Charley. "You expect us to believe that?"

"I don't care what you believe."

"I know how to make you talk." Vinnie flexed his fingers.

"Don't you dare, Vinnie!" Charley slapped his hands, but he managed to wrap arms around her and tickled her. Charley shrieked with laughter.

"Tell us what's wrong, Charley. Or I keep tickling."

Her head shook, which was more understandable than the "no" she tried to get out between inhalation and laughter. She bucked, and they both fell on the floor still entwined. Modo moved his feet so they wouldn't get rolled on.

Hannah's bedroom door opened and Throttle approached the seating area. "There's no way she's gonna sleep through that."

Vinnie quit tickling and pulled back from Charley. She gasped down air for a few minutes. She rolled to her feet. "Let me tell Hannah goodnight." She passed Vinnie and slapped him.

"Ow." He rubbed the back of his head.

"That's getting off light," Modo said. "Better watch out."

"I'll see you guys at the scoreboard." Throttle headed to the stairs.

Modo twisted to watch their bro. "You're bailing again?"

"Yeah, Denise Richards is one of the Bomb girls." Vinnie ended the comment with a growl and suggestive waggle of eyebrows.

"I'm not in the mood to watch anybody get the girl, even James Bomb."

"That pretty much rules out all genres but documentaries and horror," Modo pointed out. But Throttle was already down the stairs.

The grey mouse looked back at Vinnie, who shrugged. "You're bigger and that's all I'm gonna say."

Charley shut Hannah's bedroom door. "Okay guys, we can start the movie." Her puzzled expression cleared with the sound of a motorcycle's engine. "He bailed on us again."

"Got it in one, sweetheart."

She sighed. "Vinnie, go fix the popcorn." He started to sputter. "Do it or I'm locking you in the car with Hannah and her Disney sing-along CD." She flopped onto the couch.

Once he was sure Vinnie was out of earshot asked, "Why is Throttle getting you so down? Especially when you're givin' him hell back?"

Charley's shoulders slumped more. She drew her knees up for a hug. "I think I depended on him too much. Not that you and Vinnie haven't helped, but Throttle always did more. I guess I started thinking of him as a rock I could always lean on and he's not. And the constant yelling at me is just getting annoying." She sighed again. "Maybe you guys shouldn't hang here so much. It's not like I can leave to give him space."

"It don't work like that, Charley. I know you never got a formal induction, but you are part of the group, not a groupie that can be dropped." Modo shook his head. "Cheese, I hate havin' to pull the big brother act on Throttle."

"You don't have to."

"I'm the only one left. Throttle's just as irritated at Vinnie as he is with you." The grey mouse shook his head. "If you two were a couple, I could understand the reaction. Oh well, I'll just hit his head until the real Throttle returns." Her green eyes widened. "It works on cartoons." Her eyes widened some more. "Kidding. Just kidding."

The next two hours passed pleasantly enough before Modo and Vinnie headed back to the scoreboard. Modo half listened to Vinnie's opinion on the film because he finally remembered what Charley's mood had reminded him of: his sister after Rimfire and Primer's father walked out.

"I mean I enjoy a shower scene as much as the next guy, but Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist?" Vinnie pulled off his helmet. "That's too fantastic for a James Bomb movie."

"Maybe the next one will be better," Modo answered. Throttle leaned back in a chair, throwing the basketball at an iron girder and catching it on the rebound. Now how to get rid of Vinnie so he could talk to Throttle?

"So why are you back?" Throttle chucked the ball.

Vinnie scratched his head. "Because my bed is here."

The tan mouse caught the ball. "Great way to avoid the situation."

Vinnie grabbed the ball after Throttle threw it again. "The only situation we've got centers on you. I'm not exactly avoiding you, Mr. Antisocial, Bad-Ass, Biker Mouse, am I?"

"You wanna put all your problems on me now!" Throttle surged to his feet.

Modo kissed the intention of talking to Throttle reasonably tonight good-bye.

"The problem is you, Throttle! Charley and me haven't done anything and you keep chewing us out!"

Throttle's hands curled into fists. "How long is it gonna take for you to get your act together? You have got to stop putting yourself first, and for Ares' sake, don't put the mission in its place." He stomped to his bike. "I'm not gonna be here forever to make up for your deficiencies." He roared out of the scoreboard.

Vinnie and Modo only looked at each other in the echoing silence. "That went well," Modo said.

"Really?" Vinnie's antennae perked.

"Reminded me of Cocono Canyon."

Vinnie's ears and antennae drooped. "That was worse than the Pit of Doom."

Modo sat and pulled off his boots. "Okay, new plan. Let him ride it off. Tomorrow, after he comes back, you vamoose."

"You're gonna deal with this? Sure, I'll vamoose. Hell, I'll drive to another continent to get Throttle back."

"I don't think ya gotta go that far. We just need to keep him separated from you and Charley until his head is straight."

"Okay, I'll give Charley the heads up." Vinnie pulled himself into his hammock. "Does my act need straightening out?"

"Nah, I think it's as straight as it is capable of getting."

Charley loaded her breakfast plate into the dishwasher. The sun streamed in through the window, too beautiful to spend this Sunday cooped up in the garage. "Hannah, you wanna go to the zoo today?"

Hannah finished slurping her cereal milk. "Can we?"

"I don't have any other plans. Do you?"

"Nope. Can we get the uncles?"

"We can ask them to come, but they may not want to."

The little girl carried her bowl to the sink. "Don't they like the zoo?"

"I don't think your Uncle Throttle likes anything any more." Charley took the bowl, and shoved it into the dishwasher.

"He can't throw a fit if I ask him." Motorcycle engines roared into the garage. "I'll ask 'em!" Hannah ran through the swinging door.

Charley shut the dishwasher door and followed her. Hannah needed to know they would still go even if the fuzzy boys said no.

Vinnie and Modo pulled off their helmets. "Where's Uncle Throttle?" Hannah asked.

"That's the million dollar question." Vinnie bounded off his bike. "He's not here?"

"Haven't heard from him. What's wrong?"

"He stormed out last night," Modo answered Charley, "and he never came back. The tracking signal for his bike isn't working either."

Charley's heart thudded. Hannah grabbed hold of Charley's leg. Modo and Vinnie both looked at her trying to hide the fear they all felt. "Here's the game plan. First, you guys go check with Chef Andy and Four-by if they've seen him. If the answer is no, we'll move to phase two."

"Tear apart Limburger Tower!" Vinnie pounded a fist into his open palm.

"Put Limburger Tower under surveillance," Charley said. "We can't let Limburger know Throttle is missing."

"But if he has our bro!"

"Charley's right, Vinnie. If Fishlips has Throttle, he's gonna brag and gloat, so we'll know." Modo laid his flesh hand on Vinnie's shoulder. "Let's get the easy options out of the way first."

"Alright, alright." Vinnie climbed back on his bike.

"And keep me posted. If we have to storm Limburger Tower, you will need me."

"Yes, ma'am." Modo saluted before they peeled out.

"Mommy, is Uncle Throttle gonna be okay?" Hannah's lips trembled.

Charley sat on a bench and pulled Hannah onto her lap. She hugged. "Your uncle Throttle is the bravest, smartest mouse I know. He is fine." She laid her cheek on her daughter's red-orange hair. "He's fine."

Throttle blinked his eyes. His shades were gone, but his eyesight wasn't on the fritz. He moved his arms. They were manacled, but the chains were loose on the concrete floor. He sat up. His vest and neck bandanna were gone, along with his gun, gun-belt, and nuke-knucks glove. The manacles were latched around his ankles over his boots. He looked up at a heavy metal door inset in the cinder block wall. Other than missing a doorknob, it looked like a regular door. Four chains not hooked to him led to one bolt in the floor. His chains connected to a long, half-cylinder, vinyl-covered, cushioned thing laying on the floor. It reminded him of the things the Grizzlies practiced tackling against. Why would something like that be in a prison? It looked like it was hooked to a metal track on the floor. Okay, this was officially the strangest cell he had ever been locked in.

What the hell had happened? He had to get away from Vinnie because Hannah wanted a daddy and Vinnie and Charley couldn't see it. Something had knocked him off his bike. The surroundings ruled out Limburger Tower, those cells tended to be all metal. An ambush wasn't the Pit Boss's style. Maybe one of the super villains Limburger had hired before? They tended toward flashy plans. MacCyber could, but it wasn't him. Now ambush and the Road Ravens had gone together before.

Throttle heard something scraping against the metal door and stood up to face it. It swung out with a slight creak in the hinges. The mouse shook his head. "I think I'm guilty of giving you too much credit."

MacCyber leaned against the doorjamb. "Why? No mere human could capture any of the mighty Biker Mice?"

Throttle kept his arms loose. The chains had slack he could take advantage of. "That you weren't stupid enough to come back to Chicago."

"You know if you want a mystique like Batman, where everyone quakes at the thought of pissing you off, you need a lot more work on it. Fancy stunts on souped-up bikes just isn't intimidating."

"Image nothing. It's paying you back for what you did to Charley and Hannah."

"I tried to make a family with them."

"Based on a lie."

MacCyber smirked, "Take a roll in the hay behind my bros' backs but I'm gonna treat you like shit afterwards. I'm sure Charley said yes to that. Oh yeah, you're so much holier than me."

Throttle felt his stomach drop. "I don't know what you're talkin' about."

"Come off it. I got the video evidence. You two make quite the porno pair. But Charley always lost her inhibitions when she got excited. Does she still get wet when you kiss the back of her neck?"

"Don't talk about her like that." Throttle's hands curled into fists.

"Impressive display of denial there. You so in love with her, you can't believe anything nasty about her? That's it!" MacCyber laughed, "Too bad she doesn't feel the same way."

"Like you are the expert in Charley. You had to have her memory wiped and even then she didn't stay with you."

The human man stood up straight. "The bitch never knew what was best for her. I tried to show her how we could be a family, but she didn't listen. She'd rather spread her slutty legs for you aliens. I treat her like the slut she is and she still isn't happy!"

Throttle took a step forward. "Don't call her that."

"She isn't worth defending, you moron. It doesn't matter how much you love the slut, she's gonna go for the next fuck. Isn't that happening right now?"

Throttle growled and rushed forward. The chains stopped him short of the door.

MacCyber reached his right arm to the wall outside the door. Something slammed into Throttle's back. It had the slight give of a cushion but it strained forward and the chains pulled his arms and legs back. MacCyber entered the cell. "You think I'm the bad guy here, but I'm not. Oh, I'm all about punishing Charley, but the slut earned it. So I know what you're going through, I gave her everything and she left. I had to hold her down for the sex she owed me."

"You son of a rat! You raped her!" Throttle could barley hear himself yell with the pounding blood in his ears.

"She was running back to you freaks! It's a lesson you'll learn, Throttle. She was in Vinnie's arms the second she learned you were gone. He'll be in her bed tonight. She is a slut!"

"There's a special place in hell for bastards like you." Throttle strained against the chains. "And I will see you go there."

MacCyber shook his head. "Some lessons must be beaten in." He cocked his fist back.

Throttle couldn't curl his abs around the blow to his stomach. The next punch hit the side of his jaw and knocked his head to the left. A matching blow to the other side split his lip as his head moved to the right. MacCyber stepped back, and Throttle could only hang his head and try to get his breath back. "So tell me, how bloody does Charley like her bait?" An uppercut hit Throttle's chin, knocking his head back.

Uncle Modo spending the night on the couch was not normal. Hannah closed her sneaker's Velcro straps tight. Everybody knew Uncle Throttle was in bad trouble, even if the grown-ups didn't say so. Uncle Modo and Vinnie acting like the panicking chickens in Chicken Run was not normal. And Mommy was scared.

Yeap, the grown-ups needed her help alright.

She headed down the stairs and then into the garage. They sat around the table barely eating. She climbed into her seat next to Mommy. She picked up a sausage biscuit. "What's the plan today?"

"Keep looking," Uncle Vinnie answered, "since Limburger was a complete bust."

"Everything was a bust yesterday," Uncle Modo added. "You don't think the military has him, Charley-ma'am?"

Mommy shook her head. "There would be Army guys looking for you two. Same thing goes with Men In Black."

"Knock down a perfectly good theory."

Hannah wiped the bread crumbs from her mouth. "Who do I ride with?"

Vinnie blinked at her and busted out laughing.

She scowled. "I'm serious, you need my help."

"For what, Li'l Bit?" Uncle Modo tried not to smile.

"Climbin' through an air vent. You guys are too big."

Vinnie's head almost hit the table, he laughed so hard. He suddenly stopped and jumped in his chair. "Who kicked me?"

Mommy looked at her seriously. "Hannah, I know you want to help rescue Uncle Throttle. But the best thing for you and me to do is pretend like everything is normal in case Limburger is watching."

"Yeah, but...."

"No, buts. We can't afford him to attack now. That's why I'm opening the garage and you're going to school."

The biggest problem with Mommy, Hannah thought on the school bus, is how she gets you to do the very thing you didn't want to do.

School was a blur of not learning. Miss Madison pulled her aside when the last bell rang. "Hannah, is everything okay?"

Hannah looked into her teacher's warm, brown eyes. "I'm worried 'bout my uncle." Have to keep things normal-looking. "He's sick." And he'd be mad if he knew I was fibbin'.

"Oh, I'm sure he'll be better soon. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

"Okay, Miss Madison." She escaped to the bus line.

The students had to stand on the sidewalk in a big group. Hannah looked at the driveway where the pickups waited. A green motorcycle parked with the cars and mini-vans. The rider was all in black, including his helmet, which he hadn't taken off. The only color on him was a red neck bandanna just like Uncle Throttle's.

Hannah dashed through the crowd of kids and pushed a few of the bigger ones out of the way. The students were heading to the cars. A teacher's aide yelled something to Hannah, so she called out, "My uncle!" as she hit the pavement. She stopped, panting, at the motorcycle.

The rider didn't take off his helmet or lift the visor, but his head tilted down to look at her.

She could stare down everybody in her class. "That's Uncle Throttle's bandanna. And you're not Uncle Throttle."

The rider nodded.

She wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, but Uncle Throttle needed her. "Take me to Uncle Throttle."

She plopped a helmet sized for her on her head. He scooped her up to sit in front of him. They roared off from the school in a direction Hannah hadn't ever gone before. Regular city buildings soon changed to huge, fat buildings with garage doors and not a lot of windows. There were lots of train tracks, and they crossed a few.

The bike idled in front of one of the fat, metal buildings. The rider pushed a button on the handlebars, and the garage door rumbled up. The big room inside was empty. The shelves of TVs didn't take up any room, and neither did Uncle Throttle's bike laying on her side.

Hannah vaulted off the green bike and ran to the black one. It didn't move, beep, or flash the headlight. She touched the handlebars. The bike still didn't turn on. This is bad. This is very bad. She dropped her helmet next to the bike. That crash didn't get a response either. She turned back to the rider.

He pointed to the room inside an open metal door. She settled for a fast walk to the door, staying away from the rider in black. He didn't make any sudden movements toward her, so she peered into the room.

The tan mouse stood in the middle of the room looking at the floor. She found him! And after Uncle Vinnie had laughed at her. "Uncle Throttle!" She tackled his leg in a hug, but there was some funny post behind his back that messed it up. "Uncle Throttle!"

His red eyes blinked. "Hannah?" His face looked funny--puffy in spots and blood was around his mouth. "Hannah." He couldn't hug her 'cause chains pulled his arms back. That bad feeling was back 'cause Uncle Throttle looked scared. He looked behind her. "Run!"

The rider yanked her up by her backpack. She slid out of the straps. Her sneakers hit the concrete and she ran. Her first steps stumbled but the door wasn't that far. If she could wake up Uncle Throttle's bike, she would blow everything up.

She was almost at the door when the gloved hands wrapped around her upper arms close to her shoulders. He lifted her into the air. "Let me go!" She let loose her Halloween scream. Her kicks swung in the air and she kept screaming.

The rider carried her toward Uncle Throttle, who struggled to get loose. The rider forced her down on the ground so hard her knees bent and her butt hit hard. He grabbed a thick bracelet attached to a chain and put it around her leg. He reached for another one and Hannah kicked. Her foot hit the bottom of his helmet and knocked it crooked on his head.

The blow hit her head above her ear and knocked her against the concrete. She remembered feeling like this, in the bad apartment. She didn't need Uncle Throttle shouting "You son of a rat! She's your daughter!" to know who was hitting her again.

She looked up with hot tears running out of her eyes. "Daddy?"

The rider took off his helmet, showing the hair and beard the same color as her hair. And his face was red and twisted. "That made thing is not my daughter!" He turned the snarl to Hannah. "You are nothing to me, a created thing that never behaved, never listened, always whined. You should have drowned in the river."

Uncle Vinnie's voice turned on in her head. They had been talking about the bad guys in a movie. "Bad guys are usually bigger than you are. So you just AWOO in their face. That surprises them so you can make your move."

She didn't have a move, but it might work any ways. She stood, and curled her hands into fists. "AOOOWOOO!"

Daddy shut up as his mouth fell open.

Hannah moved closer to Uncle Throttle. "Mommy's gonna whip your tail!"

Daddy stared, then marched out, and slammed the door shut.

She leaned against Uncle Throttle's leg. "Hannah, are you hurt?"

"Don't think so." She took a deep breath. "But I wanna sit down."

"Sit down, you earned it." She curled her legs cross-legged. "That was very brave. I'm proud of you."

She looked up with a smile. Uncle Throttle smiled too. "So what's the plan now?"

"Wait and see what happens next."

Hannah glanced at the door, then back at him. "That plan sucks."

"Tell me about it, Princess. Tell me about it."

"We have looked in every dive we can find." Vinnie tried to keep his shoulders from slumping, but it was a losing battle. "And nobody has seen Throttle. Limburger doesn't have him. So what now?"

"Mars doesn't know anything?" Charley asked with a weight in her chest. She didn't want to bring up what she had thought of.

"Stoker finally called back," Modo answered. "They're gonna check to see if anybody like the Stalkers have come to Earth. And he said he'd come if we don't find Throttle in a couple of days."

Vinnie didn't even have a snide comment about Stoker. Now was the time to say it, before Hannah got back from school and could overhear. She hugged herself. "What about suicide?"

"No way. Not Throttle!" Vinnie hit the workbench so hard the tools jumped on it.

"He hasn't been acting like himself for weeks!"

Modo wrapped his arms around her. That brotherly hug spilled her tears over. "No matter how bad the Invasion got, even losing his entire family, Throttle didn't go there. And many did. The breakup may have made him mental, but not suicidal." He scooped up a shop rag with his tail and passed it to her. "What 'bout the hospitals?"

Charley dried the tears. "Dr. James said Throttle wasn't at his hospital, but he'd check with other hospitals in Chicago. There's Hannah's bus."

The yellow school bus rolled to a stop, but Hannah didn't bounce down the steps. Bailey, the driver, was one of her customers. "Hannah didn't get on, Charley. I figured one of her uncles must have picked her up."

Charley didn't remember the bus leaving. She woke up to Modo sitting her roughly on a bench. "Breathe!"

Vinnie hovered. "Okay, first stop is the school and see what they say."

"Let me lock up," her voice sounded distant.

"You're not fit to ride," Modo said.

"You stay here. They're probably on their way."

Charley looked at Vinnie, "You think Throttle?"

"It's logical."

"You better go. Go before the teachers all leave." The bikes peeled out. Charley wrung the shop rag in her hands. She put it on the bench as she got up to pace. If Throttle had Hannah, well and good. Charley picked up a small screwdriver off a workbench and twirled it between her fingers. If this was some stunt concocted because Hannah was pissed about going to school, Charley needed to rethink the mom position on corporal punishment.

When did you call the police? They could look for Hannah. Better wait for Vinnie and Modo to check-in. She should've went with them. They'd forget to ask something.

What if a predator snatched her? Oh God, did Hannah understand that the world could be such a bad place?

Damn, what was taking the speed freak so long to reach the school?

The phone rang. Charley stuffed the screwdriver into her pocket. Her hand shook as she picked up the receiver."Last Chance Garage."

"Hello, Charley."

No, it can't be. But it makes too much sense. The lead in her stomach turned icy. "Hello, Jack. I hope you're calling to explain you've gotten mental help and you're prepared to make child support payments."

"I offered you a family and you rejected it. Too late to cry about it now."

"As if I would take your money, you bastard. What do you want?"

"I'm throwing a party. The guests I already have are aching for you to join us."

Charley swallowed. "What have you done?"

"No, it's what I will do if you don't come. 90432 Rutherford."

She reached for the pen hanging next to the phone base.

"No, no, Charley. No leaving notes for your other playmates. This party isn't for them. And I can see and hear everything you do, so don't even think about calling them. 90432 Rutherford, no weapons, and you have thirty minutes. Or all you will find here is a couple of corpses. Lock up the garage, I know how you'd hate for anything to happen to it." He hung up.

"Shit." The garage was under surveillance. She couldn't get her tracking-signal necklace or her Glock. She shook her head, locked the outer office door, pulled down the garage bay doors, set the alarm, and left out the back door.

Her tow truck was parked in her waiting yard behind the garage. Thanks to lack of customers' cars, she didn't have to waste time with that gate. She glanced at her CB unit and gritted her teeth. Jack would be monitoring the channels. Her glance fell on the silent radio before coming back up to the road.

She pulled into Manuelo's convenience store. He had a working pay phone. She dug the money out of her pocket along with the screwdriver. There was more than one way to pack a weapon. And there was more than one way to communicate with Biker Mice.

Modo decided he should deal with the teachers and Vinnie agreed. "Unless she's Van Halen hot, then you'll need the Van Wham charm." Modo rolled his eye.

No worries, the woman behind the office counter desk was as far from Van Halen hot as you could get. Rhinestone-studded glasses perched on her pudgy cheeks and lightbulb-shaped nose, her hairdo needed one color, and she seemed frozen in place. "Good afternoon, ma'am. We're here to pick up Hannah Davidson."

She looked up at Modo. "That's not one of the students still waiting for a ride," her surprisingly deep voice answered.

"She wasn't on the bus," Vinnie said. She looked at him and the white mouse gulped.

"We thought she may have missed it," Modo finished. "We're on her list of approved pickups." Not that he knew what that meant, but Charley had drilled it into their heads to say it to school officials.

"Damn, I need a cigarette. Terry, you back there?" She boomed the question down a hall leaving the main office. A petite, blonde woman younger than Charley trotted out of the hallway. "These guys have misplaced Hannah Davidson."

"Oh, she got on a motorbike. Said it was her uncle. She's got three uncles listed on her pickup list."

"A black motorcycle?" Modo asked.

"No, it was green." Terry frowned.

"Throttle must have got a new bike," Vinnie said. "Couldn't wait to show it off. They're probably back at the garage now."

"Thanks for the help." Modo called as Vinnie pulled him out the door. "What the hell? You know Throttle would never trade in his bike."

"I know that. But I think whoever came must have made Hannah think of Throttle to go with him."

"But we've talked to her about going with strangers."

Vinnie climbed on his bike. "I bet she was pissed 'bout this morning and havin' to go to school and decided to rescue Throttle on her own."


"It's the kind of stunt we would've pulled as kids. And I think we did."

"Good point." Modo turned on his radio and computer. "Hannah left her tracker at the garage."

"Biker Mice calling Last Chance Garage," Vinnie said into the CB. "Man, I said put it in her ear, but Charley got indignant and you guys took her side. And now the kid is missin' and we need to track her." Vinnie turned back to the CB. "Come in, Last Chance. 10-24. Why ain't Charley answerin'?"

"Her signal's at the garage too," Modo frowned.

"They're both gettin' earrings with tracking signals now. And we have gotta find Throttle so I can totally rub it in his face 'bout being right."

Modo turned the radio up a little louder. Sweet Georgie broke in. "And now we got a special request to our number one listener, Modo! Man, I don't know what you did to the lady but this song is for you. By Ray Charles and the Stampeders."

Hit the road, Jack and don'tcha come back
No more no more no more no more.
Hit the road, Jack and don'tcha come back
No more.

"You had a date on this planet?"

"No! It's a message from Charley."

"But why would Charley tell you to hit the road?" Hit the road, Jack and don'tcha come back. Vinnie growled. "Hit the road, Jack. MacCyber."

"Shut up, Vinnie, I'm callin' Sweet Georgie!"

Charley drove into the warehouse at 90432 Rutherford. The door rumbled down as she parked. Throttle's bike laid on its side to her far left and a green motorcycle was parked near it. She shut the truck door to look forward.

Jack stood at the front fender pointing a gun at her. "So you finally learned to follow directions."

"It was never the directions; it was who was giving the orders. Where's Hannah and Throttle?"

"I have the gun, I make the demands. Turn around." Charley twirled like a ballerina. Jack's mouth twisted. "Are you trying to piss me off?"

"Just enough for you to throw me in wherever you have Hannah and Throttle locked up."

"Clever, clever Charley. But not clever enough. You couldn't keep me out." Jack stepped closer, circling around her. "Maybe you didn't want me out."

"No, you got lucky."

He sidled up behind her back. Charley gritted her teeth to keep from jumping away. He combed her hair while boring the gun barrel into her back. "So what are you willing to do to get out of this mess?"

"You are not getting in my pants again, Jack, unless you blow my brains out and rape my corpse."

His hand curled around her hair. "But you fucked the rodent." He pulled her head back so she stared up at him. "Why does he get you and I don't?"

"Because he's everything you're not," she answered in a low, angry voice.

Jack released her hair. "I saw how he treated you. I saw you crying in the night. He doesn't love you." He brushed her hair to her right shoulder and ran his fingers against her neck. "Why put up with it?"

Charley jerked her head away. "If you understood love, you wouldn't need an explanation."

"He used you. I remember you being rather contemptuous about that a year ago."

"His using me for rebound sex is hardly on the same scale as turning me over to Karbunkle for experiments." She turned to look at him. "Question and answer time is over."

"He who has the gun gives the orders."

"And you should have a chat with Limburger on how well that works. Now either I see Hannah and Throttle, or we see who can kick whose ass."

Jack grabbed her arm and marched her to a metal door set in a cement block wall. A bar pivoting from its center kept it locked by resting in brackets on the wall. A lever too big for a light switch was next to door. He forced her to open it and shoved her inside without releasing his grip.

A post in the center braced Throttle upright with his arms and legs pulled back. Hannah sat next to his leg. The tightness in her chest eased some.

"Mommy!" Hannah started to stand but plopped when Charley waved her down.

"A happy family reunion," Jack sneered. "Only you're not a family. No husband, no wife, and a fake kid. Come on, Charley, you're not happy you got what you wanted?"

Throttle's antennae were drooping but looked at her. Swollen points dotted his jaw and snout, and she could see bruises discoloring under the fur on his muscular torso. "You look like hell, but I'm glad to see you," she said, sounding calmer than she felt.

The mouse smiled. "You forgot your bazooka. I was all ready to tell you to shoot him and not worry about our egos."

"I wasn't given much time to pack."

"Geez, you two are pathetic." Jack shoved her forward. She landed against Throttle. He grunted with a hint of pain. Jack cocked his gun and pressed it against the back of her head.

She was chest-to-chest with Throttle and he strained to get loose. "You shoot me, and your fun is over, Jack."

"And you have such a repertoire of fun, doesn't she, Throttle? Any special requests? I'm willing to extend the period for making last requests if they're entertaining enough."

"Go to hell, MacCyber."

"Gee, Charley, I don't think we ever did that one." Jack toyed with her hair. She curled her fists. "Maybe you should demonstrate."

"Take these cuffs off and I'll be glad to," Throttle snarled.

"What do you want, Jack?" Charley focused her eyes on Throttle's ear, and not his red eyes.

"Another porn show, but you two don't seem to be in the mood. You haven't even given him a happy-you're-alive kiss."

"Maybe 'cause a gun at my head and in front of my daughter puts me out of the mood."

The gun eased away. "So there's nothing between you? Prove it. Kiss him. Show me the truth."

"What kinda sick game are you playing, MacCyber?" Throttle looked as shocked as Charley felt.

"You two just made a drunk mistake? Kiss her, make me believe it. Or somebody's going to get a bullet in them. Who do I want to see bleed first? Maybe the brat, you'd both hate that."

Charley glanced at her daughter's white face. Her heart pounded. She shifted her head to look at Throttle as he shifted his head. She couldn't look him in the eye, so she shut hers and planted her lips on his.

Their mouths opened, the kiss deepened, and all the feelings she had been suppressing for days came flooding back as their tongues twisted. Her toes curled. She loved Throttle, and there was no way to hide that from Jack, and he was going to kill them all. How much more time could she stall and get? And why didn't it feel more pressing against the pleasure from the kiss?

Jack pushed her aside. She fell on her hip and arms and looked up to see Jack hit Throttle across the face with the gun butt. "You bastard!" She kicked and her boot connected with his knee. Jack staggered back, but aimed his gun at her. "What did you expect to happen?"

"For you not to be a slut for once!" the human man screamed. Charley moved her legs. "Stay down, you bitch!"

"I don't do what you tell me to!" She crouched to spring at him.

Jack aimed at Throttle's head. "I'll blow his brains out!" He kicked a pair of manacles attached to chains toward her. "Put them on your wrists." Charley gritted her teeth, but complied, snapping the cold metal shut around her wrists. "This could've been avoided, Charley, if you had only made the right choices."

"They weren't the right choices; they were the choices you wanted."

Jack walked to the door, slamming it shut behind him. There was a whirring gear noise and the post behind Throttle pulled back and lowered to the floor.

"Look out!" Hannah cried as Throttle started falling.

Charley tried to hold him upright, but she couldn't support his dead weight. His arms wrapped around her, his hands cradling her head as they crumpled to the floor together.

"You okay?" Throttle asked above her.

"Remember the day when Limburger used the buzz-cycle to cut Chicago from Earth and how I came back to the garage after learning what he was up to?"

"Yeah," he answered cautiously.

"Today is tied with that one." His arms were still around her. "You can let go now."

"I'm trying. What day is it?"


"I think I've been up on that thing for two days."

"Okay, you gotta roll over. Hannah, help." Between the two of them, they pushed and pulled Throttle onto his back. Charley wiggled out of his arms, and he grabbed his shoulders with the opposite hands. "You better do low back stretch too. Knees to the chest."

He pulled them in as much as he could. "Ow, I'm looking into yoga."

Hannah wrapped her arms around Charley's neck. "Mommy!"

She hugged her. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

"He hit me once. But I hollered like Uncle Vinnie and he hasn't messed with me since."

Throttle grinned. "She did a good impression too."

"Do you have a plan?" Hannah slid into Charley's lap.

"Yes, Mommy has a plan. Sit on the floor." Charley reached into her boot and pulled out the small screwdriver. "Let me see your cuffs."

"Yeah!" Hannah stretched out her legs. "This is already better than the wait 'n see plan."

"We established it sucked, but lacked a replacement," Throttle added.

"Okay, Hannah, this is the plan." Charley started picking the lock of the manacle with the screwdriver. "When Jack comes back, me and Uncle Throttle will tackle him. While he's fighting us, you run. Get out of this warehouse."

"And find Uncle Modo and Uncle Vinnie!" Hannah clapped.

"No, you find a policeman."

"But you need Uncle Modo and Uncle Vinnie."

"That's not your part of the plan. You find a policeman. Tell him you're lost and get him to get Chef Andy."

The manacle sprang open and Hannah pulled her leg out. "I don't like this plan," she said.

Charley put her hands on her thin shoulders. "Hannah, I love you and I have to know you're safe."

"He took me from Chef Andy before."

Charley wished she could wipe the pain from her daughter's eyes. "Then both of you stay at the police station. I need you to do this."


Charley wasn't convinced. "What are you going to do?"

"I'll run, I'll find a policeman, I'll go with Chef Andy. But I think I should get a motorbike out of this."

"We'll discuss that later." Charley turned to Throttle. "Okay, your turn."

"No, yours." He rolled to sitting. "Hand it here." He held out his hand for the screwdriver.

"Throttle, I can get you loose faster."

"Probably, but you are NOT staying in those chains a second longer for MacCyber." The venom in his voice surprised her into handing over the screwdriver. He bent his head over her wrist to hide the expression in his eyes. There was nothing between them, he had said so. So why did their hands burn while he held it to pick the lock?

"You know, you two kiss just like in the movies." Hannah hugged her knees as she made this observation.

Throttle's cheeks flamed under his tan fur and he dropped the screwdriver. "Of all the things to talk about," he muttered.

"I bet Dean and Hogarth's mom kiss like that when Hogarth isn't around."

Charley's face felt like it was on fire and she didn't make eye contact with her daughter. "Hannah darling, please don't compare me to an animated character."

"Ditto," Throttle added.

"I'm just sayin' if you wanna make him mad again. He didn't get that mad with me and I kicked him in the head."

"Tactical advantage noted," Throttle said. "Now drop it, please." They sat in silence while Throttle concentrated on the lock. It sprang free. He took hold of Charley's right hand before asking, "Why didn't you tell us everything MacCyber did to you?"

"You know everything he did." Charley felt the heat ebb from her face.

"And you're the one who always says we need everything spelt out. You didn't spell out what MacCyber had done to you, what he didn't have outsourced."

"Did he brag about it?"

"Admitted to it. I think he was trying to prove we had common ground. That was the point I started seeing red and everything out of his mouth made me madder."

"I thought you and Modo had guessed. Vinnie never picks up on anything."

Throttle's hand shook. "If we had known, that sandblasted son of a rat would have never lived to see sunrise the night we got you back." The venom back in his voice made her look up to his angry and hurt face.

"Please don't lose it now. You can't coordinate fury."

He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply before looking at her. "What happened between us...?"

"Was consensual," she said, "drunk consensual, but I knew what I wanted. Not the same thing at all."

He looked relieved. "Good. He filmed it."

"He filmed it? Bad enough he saw it." The manacle dropped off, and Throttle relinquished the screwdriver. He stretched his legs out toward her while hugging his shoulders again. Charley started on the right leg's manacle. "Not that I couldn't guess with all the porn show references."

"Are porn shows what Uncle Vinnie watches on cable when he thinks I'm asleep?" Hannah asked. "Movies with a lot of screaming."

"No, those are horror movies," Throttle answered. "He doesn't have much common sense, but he does know what genres will get him killed. Especially after the not-clearing the wrestling pay-per-view incident."

The manacle fell free, and Charley moved to the other leg. "You can't watch horror or porn movies, Hannah. Does Uncle Vinnie let you?"

"No, he turns the channel if I come out, and he said before I wasn't old enough."

The post sprang up and Throttle's chains jerked him back and up. He yelled with pain. Charley and Hannah sprang to their feet. The metal door was swinging open. Charley changed her grip on the screwdriver and ran for the door, slamming her shoulder against it. The door hit Jack and he staggered back. She punched him in the jaw. "Hannah, run!"

She saw the orange-red hair blur past her before Jack tackled her back into the prison room.

Hannah opened the people-sized door out to the street and ran down the sidewalk. This was the way Daddy had drove her from the school. All the other huge buildings seemed empty of people. She crossed the train tracks that intersected with the street and stopped to breathe. Now she looked back. No Daddy, so Mommy's plan was working, but Daddy hurt Mommy before and Uncle Throttle couldn't help. Hannah stomped her foot.

A motorcycle engine echoed through this empty neighborhood. Uncle Modo and Uncle Vinnie, she had to find them first. She darted down the street the sound seemed loudest.

Motorcycles were parked in front of a tiny brick building set back from the road. She didn't see Li'l Hoss or Uncle Vinnie's red bike but maybe they parked somewhere else. She ran into the building with a biker mural on the outside.

It was dark, with a few areas of light at the counter, over booths, and over green tables with balls on them. It was a bunch of men, dressed like Mommy's customers, and they all stopped talking and stared at her. But no Uncle Modo or Uncle Vinnie. A lump filled her throat.

"Hey, Tina, don't y'all card here?" Somebody called out.

A black-haired lady threw her dishcloth down on the counter before moving to stand in front of Hannah. "Hun, where are your parents?"

"I was lookin' for my uncles. I heard motorbikes. I thought it was them." Tears spilled out of her eyes. "Mommy's in trouble and needs my uncles." The lump in her throat made it hard to breathe.

"Hey now, sweet pea. No need for that." Tina-ma'am set Hannah on the counter. She walked around to the side with all the glasses, and filled a plastic cup with cola from a hose. "Here's a Coke. What's your name?"

"Hannah Davidson." She took the soft drink.

"Davidson owns the Last Chance Garage." One of the men sitting on a stool, "And she's got some guys that hang with her."

"So who's got a CB and can put a call out to these guys?"

"I'll do it, Tina." Another guy headed outside.

"Look," said the voice over the CB speaker, "Georgie Brown's shift is over. I don't have any messages for him or you. And if your violent friend in the background does come to the station to whip my tail, he's gonna meet Chicago's finest. Over and out."

Vinnie kicked the ground. "You know his home address, right?"

"I'm a fan, not a stalker," Modo glared.

"Maybe he's in the phone book?"

The CB channel crackled. "Easy Riders Social Club looking for riders connected with the Last Chance Garage. Got a 10-17."

"That's a bar on this side of town, I think," Vinnie said.

Modo hit the talk button. "10-2. Home is Last Chance Garage."

"We need somebody for a 10-22. Lost lamb wants her family. 10-16 at Easy Riders Social Club."

"10-4. Over and out."

Vinnie revved his bike. "You think Hannah got away from MacCyber?"

"Who else qualifies for 'lamb'?"

They roared into the warehouse and industrial section of the city. The bar had a faded mural from the movie Easy Rider painted on the front and a dozen bikes in the parking lot.

Hannah sat on the bar, drinking from a plastic cup. "Uncle Modo!" She set it down and launched herself. Modo caught her. She hugged his neck. "Uncle Vinnie too!"

The bartender lady laughed along with the patrons. "I guess she does belong to you."

"Thanks for taking care of her. We were lookin' all over the place."

Hannah let go long enough to wave. "Bye, Tina-ma'am."

Modo carried her outside and her demeanor changed. She grabbed the top of his chestplate and tugged it to make him look into her face. "We gotta rescue Mommy and Uncle Throttle! NOW!"

Vinnie stood tiptoe to look over Modo's shoulder. "You know where they are, kiddo?"

"Yeap," she pointed down the street.

"Let's go whip some tail!"

Throttle strained against the chains, but he couldn't loosen his arms. MacCyber tackled Charley and pressed her against the floor. "What exactly are you trying to do, bitch? This neighborhood will eat the lab rat alive."

Charley's knee slammed up between MacCyber's legs. He curled into a ball with a moan. She scrambled to her feet. Her kick hit his butt. "You pathetic asshole! She is my daughter!" She kicked him again. "Not a thing." Kick. "Not a freak." Kick. "Not a lab rat." Kick. "And she knows how to survive, thanks to you!"

MacCyber lashed out with his feet, but Charley jumped out of reach. He reached his knees before she gave him a left hook to the jaw. Throttle put his right foot against the cushioned post and pushed. Nothing budged.

Charley punched MacCyber again, but he caught the fist and twisted her arm, forcing her to turn as he stood up. "P.E. boxing class only takes you so far, Charley."

"Which is why I learned other skills." Her right arm swung back as far as it could and her fist struck MacCyber in the hip area.

He released her. The screwdriver handle stuck out of his side. Charley whirled to face him. He clamped his hand around the screwdriver but didn't try to pull it out. He staggered back, glancing behind him to make sure he headed to the door. He got outside and Charley woke from the daze.

The door slammed in her face. "Damnit!" She slumped against the wall.

"I'm impressed. You and Linda Hamilton been working out together?" Throttle grinned as much as he could with his heart still pounding. MacCyber didn't hurt her. He could have but he didn't.

"Yeah, the workout is Sigorney Weaver approved. I better see if I can disable that contraption bare handed." She pushed off the wall.

The steel door swung open. "Charley!" But she moved before Throttle shouted, grabbing MacCyber's gun arm and pushing it aside. The slugthrower's explosion echoed in the room. MacCyber punched Charley in the stomach and she crumpled to the ground.

Pain erupted in his right thigh and Throttle screamed. He glanced down; his jeans soaked up blood. Why so much blood? He had been shot before but not with so much blood. Everything was hazy and the pain made it hard to concentrate.

MacCyber laughed without mirth. "Watch him bleed to death, bitch." The door slammed shut.

Throttle struggled to open his eyes. When did he shut them? Charley's white face with frightened green eyes was in front of him. "Stay with me, Throttle. Stay awake."

"Don't have anywhere else to be." His voice was slurred. She moved his thigh and fresh pain erupted. He screamed without realizing it was coming out.

"Sorry, Throttle, sorry!" Charley jerked her hands away. "The bullet's still in your leg. No exit wound. I'm going to have to move your leg to put a tourniquet on it to slow the bleeding. It's gonna hurt."

He gritted his teeth. "Go." He managed to only grunt while Charley tightened her belt around his thigh above the wound. He couldn't tell if that changed the blood flow or not. She stared at his wound like it was a leaky fuel line. "Charley, there's something to tell you... I gotta tell you."

"Save it." She tore the right sleeve off her blue work shirt, wadded it up, and pressed it against his wound.


"Save it. You are not giving me the macho mouse version of last words, last requests, or who gets your bike."

"Hannah. She, the bike, knows already."

Charley grabbed his jaw so he had to look in her face. "My point is you ain't tellin' me that crap 'cause you are getting out of here with me! Understood?"

The building shook with an explosion.

"Boom?" Throttle fought with his brain to stay awake.

"Took their asses long enough!" Charley grinned. "Vinnie! Modo! In here! Vinnie!"

He wasn't going to make it. The world was fading, even Charley screaming next to him sounded further and further away. And she was screaming for Vinnie; what did he have to hang on for? "Just be happy, Charley." He closed his eyes.


"I want you happy," he whispered, letting go.


Vinnie jumped his red bike over the crater the laser turret made in the street. "Hannah, why didn't you warn us about this thing?"

"It wasn't on when I left!" She huddled against Modo's torso.

MacCyber must've made improvements to it. Lard-butt's turrets on the tower weren't this good at tracking. "I thought you were taking it out, bro!" He yanked his tail out of a blast.

Modo swerved to avoid another laser beam. "You just gotta have a little patience!" His laser cannons locked on the turret and he fired. The warehouse shook as the turret exploded.

Vinnie pivoted his bike and shot the garage door. He leaped through the hole with Modo and Hannah following. They swerved to avoid Charley's tow truck. The warehouse was empty. "Cheese, he's better at disappearing than Houdini!"

Laser bolts rained down. Modo grabbed Hannah and dove for cover while Vinnie and the bikes returned fire. MacCyber sat on a green bike surrounded by a blue energy field. They hovered near the roof. "Aerial flanking fifteen!" Modo's bike beeped and changed its location. But the laser bolts bounced off the energy field.

Modo stowed Hannah underneath the tow truck and returned fire with his arm cannon to no avail. "We need a new plan!"

Vinnie laughed as he holstered his laser pistol. He popped the bazooka off the side of his bike. "Eat missile, Jack!" The missile shoved against the blue field and pushed the field, the bike, and human through the roof before exploding. "That was extremely satisfying."

Modo frowned at the rain of debris. "I'm noticing a lack of body parts."

"Spoil the mood, why don'tcha?" He put the bazooka away.


He jumped, knowing the consequences of that tone of yell if he didn't. But it sounded wrong, like Charley-girl was behind a wall. He spun around. Tow truck, bikes, huge TV setup, metal door in concrete wall; he jumped off his bike and ran to it.

Throttle slumped against the chains keeping him upright and Charley pressed a wad of cloth against his bloody leg. Her other hand rubbed the tan mouse's face. "Don't you die on me, Throttle! Don't you dare let that bastard win this one. Please Throttle, don't leave me! Not like this." She turned to yell again and saw Vinnie in the doorway. "Get your flares over here! What the hell took you guys so long?"

"Modo, first aid kit!" He yelled over his shoulder before jogging to Charley's side. "What happened?"

"He got shot, the bullet is still in there, I can only slow the bleeding instead of stopping it, and he just passed out." Charley ended with a sob.

Vinnie pulled out a flare and knelt at Throttle's left leg. "Pulse?"

"Still going, but getting weaker."

Modo skidded to a stop in the doorway. "Oh Momma!"

"Get over here to catch him when I undo the chains." Vinnie moved to Throttle's left arm. Modo handed the white box to Charley, and got his hands under Throttle's arms. Between the three of them, they got Throttle onto the ground and Charley and Modo got a better bandage on his leg. "Do you got a merit badge in surgery, Charley-girl?"

Charley wiped the worse of the blood off her hands with an alcohol wipe. "No, but we know a guy with a degree. You guys take Throttle to the garage in my tow truck and prep him as much as you can." Modo nodded comprehendingly and Vinnie decided to let him give the instructions on that. "Let's move him."

Vinnie grabbed Throttle's feet while Modo grabbed his upper half. "What are you gonna do, sweetheart?"

"Fix Throttle's bike or borrow yours to get Dr. James." She opened the passenger door of the tow truck for them. All three of the bikes rolled around the front of the truck with Hannah in front holding a silver box in her hands. "Hannah?"

"I pried it off Uncle Throttle's bike and she woke up. I put his stuff and my backpack in the truck, too. And the bikes watched me the whole time." She held out the silver box to Charley. "Is Uncle Throttle okay?"

Charley placed the device in the back of the tow truck. "He will be." She took Hannah's hand and faced the black bike. Its headlight flashed. "Throttle needs a doctor. Are you functioning?"

The black bike popped a wheelie and pivoted. Its laser cannon popped out of the head tube between the handlebars and fired, blowing up the TVs.

Hannah pushed her helmet onto her head. "I think that means yes."

The bike returned to face Charley. "Will you let me drive you to get the doctor?" It revved then popped out the side car. Charley put Hannah in it, and turned to Modo and Vinnie. "My truck and Throttle at the garage in one piece and we will meet you there."

Vinnie turned to Modo as the girls squealed out of the warehouse. "So it's okay if we don't arrive at the garage in one piece?"

Ryan James rubbed his eyes. That brought the computer screen back into focus, but didn't give him any desire to finish the paperwork. So the rapid knock on his office door was more than welcomed relief. He let in a disheveled Charley Davidson wearing a torn shirt and holding her daughter Hannah. The woman had blood on her clothes. "Ms. Davidson, Hannah, what's wrong?"

"Throttle's been shot." She swung Hannah to the ground. "The bullet's still in his leg. We can't bring him here. I tried to stop the bleeding," she started shaking.

He pushed her into a chair. "Deep breaths, Charley. Just answer my questions. What part of the leg?" He pulled out his briefcase and started packing things that would help him perform kitchen table surgery.

"In the right thigh."

"Did the blood spurt out?"

"It oozed and welled, not spurting like a nicked hose. There was just so much of it." Hannah tucked her head under Charley's arm. Charley looked up. "Is that a good sign?"

"The artery probably wasn't damaged, and yes, that's good. Any allergies to any medications? Or anything that doesn't work?" He pulled the gift set of scalpels and probes his mother had given him when he got accepted to med school. They would come in handy now, even though he had teased her then.

"I've used iodine, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin; I've never need anything stronger. Modo usually knows stuff like that." He didn't like how bleak her expression got. "Since Throttle can't answer questions."

"He's unconscious?" She nodded. "Was it a fight with that mad scientist?"

"No, it was my ex." She glanced at her daughter.

Ryan knew when to drop a topic. He closed his briefcase. "Okay, I just need some items from the supply room, and I can make your house call."

Charley roared the bike into the garage. Her clenched stomach eased when she saw Vinnie coming out of the kitchen.

"Throttle's upstairs. Modo told me to boil water."

She set her helmet on a workbench. "Great, when you're done with that, can you look for bugs? You and Hannah, please?"

"Fine time to worry 'bout pest control, sweetheart." Vinnie crossed his arms.

She silently counted from five. "Hidden cameras. Jack bugged the garage. We need to get rid of them." She pulled Hannah out of the sidecar, passing the briefcase to the shaken blond man climbing off.

"Oh! The bikes can scan for that, especially if they're broadcasting."

"Great," she led Dr. James up to her bedroom.

Modo twisted from the sheet-covered workbench with Throttle--wearing only his boxers--laying on it. "We had to take the tourniquet off."

"Tourniquet?" Dr. James headed straight to Throttle's leg. Modo let go of the gauze over the wound.

"He was chained upright when he got shot, and I was trying to keep him from bleeding to death," Charley explained.

"Upright? That's why he's unconscious. The human body passes out if pain crosses a threshold while you're standing up. Doesn't work when you're laying down and get hurt."

Modo frowned, "But we're not human."

"As Margo loves to remind me, you guys aren't so different biologically speaking." Dr. James opened the briefcase on the bed. "Don't ask her what tests she has ran on your blood samples. I wish she wasn't on vacation right now. How does lidocaine work on you guys?"

"Earth drugs have had the same effect on us that they have on you. And Throttle's not very allergic. Vinnie you'd wanna test first."

"Blood donation?" He took out a vial of clear liquid and a syringe. "And how much does he weight?"

"Throttle's 'bout two hundred sixty pounds. And I'm a universal donor for mice." Modo held the gauze on Throttle's leg.

Dr. James looked away from filling the syringe to appraise Modo. "You're the medic?"

"Of last resort 'cause I can sew. I can put a stitch in if somebody needs it. And I was never told how to dig a foreign object out. We shoot with lasers on Mars." His metal hand closed into a fist.

"I can dig. But if we need a blood transfusion, we'll have to go to a pharmacy." The doctor tossed an electronic blood pressure cuff to Charley. "Take his blood pressure. Next step is giving him a local anesthetic and we'll wash up while it takes affect. I don't want to give him a total anesthetic."

Charley wrapped the cuff onto Throttle's upper left arm, and pressed the on button. "It says one hundred twenty-five over seventy-five."

"That's pretty good. I don't think he lost as much blood as you feared." Dr. James inserted the syringe's needle in Throttle's thigh. "Come hold the gauze in place, while Modo and I wash up." Modo led him to the bathroom.

Charley stared at Throttle's battered, shade-less face. He looked so peaceful. Just be happy, he told her. How was that even possible when he kept lashing out? He hadn't lashed out in the warehouse though.

Dr. James nudged her. "Go wash up, we left the gloves in there." She did what she was told. She pulled on the latex gloves as she came back into the bedroom. Dr. James was showing Modo where to hold the sponge. "This is messy for an entry wound."

"The bullet ricocheted," Charley answered. "I was trying to get the gun away from Jack and it went off, but it was facing the wall."

"Focus, Charley," Modo rumbled. "Throttle's had worse fallin' off his bike."

She blinked, looked down at the unconscious mouse, then back up at the medical team. "Instructions?"

"Give me the long probe out of the case in the briefcase. It'll look like a thin pair of needle-nose pliers." Dr. James carefully inserted them into Throttle's wound. "More light. The bullet fragmented."

She stripped off the latex gloves and opened the trapdoor. Climbing down the ladder, she saw Vinnie dangling by his tail and one arm from the engine block chains and trying to grab the light fixture. Hannah sat on the red bike. "She says it's in the light."

"I'm working on it."

Charley grabbed her under-the-hood light. Hannah looked up. "Mommy?"

She looped the power cord around her shoulder. "Just need more light." She climbed up, and plugged in the light after shutting the trapdoor. She held it over Dr. James right shoulder.

"That works great." He pulled a slag out of Throttle and dropped it onto a paper plate. "One more piece. He's lucky. It missed the artery and the bone." He dropped a second piece of metal on the paper plate. "Okay, Charley, I need the stitching kit out of the briefcase."

She handed the light to Modo and found the package in his briefcase. "So now what?"

"Watch for signs of infection, let him wake up on his own, keep him off the leg for the next couple of days. If he needs to get up, don't put weight on it. Take a painkiller if necessary, but avoid loading up on ibuprofen because it thins the blood." He snipped the black thread close to the skin. "I'll make another house call in a few days in my own car."

Modo glanced at Charley while swabbing the blood off Throttle. "And she's one of the safer drivers we got."

Dr. James cleared his throat as he headed to the bathroom. "Maybe I'm just not a motorcycle guy."

Charley packed the briefcase, wiping off anything used with alcohol wipes. "He was unconscious and bleeding, and I stopped short of being Evil Knieval."

"I'll give you a ride back," Modo said, as he threw away the bloody gauze and wipes.

She turned down the covers on her bed. "You grab the head, Modo, and I'll get his feet."

"Maybe we should get Vinnie?"

"Who do you think lifts the engine blocks when you guys aren't around? Now heave!" Charley tucked Throttle into the bed as Modo carried the workbench out. Dr. James touched her shoulder. "Thanks, Doctor, I'll find some way to pay you for this."

"We'll figure that out later. But here's a free prescription for you. Share the load before you break." She nodded as he left, and pulled a chair next to the bed and sat.

Hannah poked her head into the bedroom. "Mommy?"

"You can come in, baby."

She tiptoed across the room. "I got ready for bed all by myself." She tugged at the yellow Disney Belle nightgown she had on.

"That's a big help. Is Uncle Vinnie finished?"

"Don't think so. He told me he didn't need any more help." Hannah looked at Throttle. "Is Uncle Throttle gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, he's gonna be fine. We just have to wait until he wakes up."

"I can wake him up! I'm good at waking up."

Charley scooped her daughter onto her lap. "No, Hannah, he needs to sleep."

The little girl snuggled against Charley. "Mommy, am I a thing?"

"It's a person, place, or thing. You're a person, Hannah. Why?"

"Daddy said I was a made thing."

Charley took a deep breath. Damn Jack. "Babies are made, but as people not things. You know Jack said it that way to hurt you."

Hannah's puzzled green eyes looked at her. "How are babies made?"

"A piece of the mother and a piece of the father grows into a baby. And then the baby grows up into a new person. But that's why we have the same color eyes, and you and Jack have the same color hair."

Hannah leaned against her. "Okay. But if Daddy doesn't want me, do I have to call him Daddy?"

Charley rubbed her chin on Hannah's head. "My daddy always said any man could be a father, but only special men got to be daddies. Jack is your father, I can't change that. But he's not your daddy and you don't have to call him that ever again."

Hannah twisted to look at Charley again. "So why can't Uncle Throttle be my daddy? Isn't he special?"

How the hell do I answer that? Charley thought. Yeah, it's a great idea, honey, but I gave him my heart and it wasn't enough. He didn't kiss me like he hates me.

"Why can't he be my daddy, Mommy?"

"Nobody's asked me for the job."

"Uncle Throttle!" Hannah scrambled onto the bed, laying on her belly next to him. "That's not true, I asked you. I want you to be my daddy."

Charley blinked. He was okay, Jack didn't kill him. Vinnie tapped the doorjamb, and she joined him at the door. "Throttle's awake."

"Great," he said quietly. "I found all the bugs in the garage. Do we have to sweep the scoreboard too?"

"Yes, most definite yes. How many did you find?"

"Six total. You should be happy to know the bathrooms were not bugged. I was."

Hannah burst into tears. She shoved against Charley and Vinnie's legs running out. "Hannah?" Charley called after her.

"What the heck?" Vinnie glanced after the kid and back to Throttle.

Charley chased her daughter into Hannah's bedroom. "What's wrong?"

"Nobody wants to be my daddy!"

Charley picked her up and sat on the bed. Hannah wrapped her arms and legs around her mother and buried her tear-streaked face against Charley's neck.

Vinnie walked to Charley's bed. "Great way to return to the land of the living."

"Go after them."

"Hey, for once, I didn't do it."

Throttle's hands curled into fists. "Damnit Vinnie! You want Charley. You're gonna have to be Hannah's daddy!"

Vinnie tried to make sense of this rant, and it was uncomfortable seeing tears in Throttle's eyes. He and Charley were finito; why was Throttle a chapter behind? "Um, Throttle...."

He closed his eyes. "I just broke Hannah's heart. I'm not a rival any more, bro. Hannah wants a daddy. And you'll score points with Charley. Go."

Rival? Vinnie resisted the urge to scratch his head. Throttle was in love with Charley and Hannah, duh. But why was Throttle trying to hook him and Charley up? Vinnie found Charley in Hannah's bedroom. "You need to talk to Throttle."

"Oh hell no. He does not get a free ride for hurting my baby." Her arms tightened around the little girl on her lap.

"Okay, tell him that."

She stared at Vinnie and he stepped back. "Go get me the bazooka and I will!"

Vinnie gestured "no" with his hands and head. "Don't do anything you'd regret."

"I'm having a hard time seeing the regret, sorry."

"Give Throttle a chance to explain before blowing him to kingdom come."

Hannah turned to look at Vinnie. "Where's that?"

"I don't know, kiddo. Mama Bola always said she was gonna send us there. Come're." He plucked Hannah from Charley's lap and swung her to his hip. "Now, what are you cryin' 'bout?"

"Uncle Throttle won't be my daddy," she sniffled.

Charley crossed her arms and glared.

"Won't or can't? Which did he say?"

"He said can't but there's no difference. MacCyber doesn't wanna be my daddy and now Uncle Throttle, so what's wrong with me?"

Vinnie looked at Charley. "He said can't, Charley, find out what's wrong."

"What part of hell no don't you understand?"

Modo stepped into the bedroom. "What's goin' on?"

Vinnie turned to him. "You're home now?" Modo nodded, looking puzzled. "Help me." He passed Hannah to Modo, and turned to face Charley. "You are talking to Throttle or else."

"I'm not going, Vinnie, and you can't make me."

"I wish you had picked the easy way." He slung her over his shoulder.

"Vincent Van Wham! Put me down right now!" She hammered his back, but he ignored it as he carried her from Hannah's bedroom. Modo stepped out of the way. "Put me down or you won't be able to sit on your crotch rocket for six months! I mean it, Vinnie! Put me down!"

He kicked her partially open bedroom door. Throttle struggled to sit up. "What the hell are you doing?"

Vinnie planted Charley in the chair next to the bed. She pushed him, but he didn't budge and leaned into her face. "You sit or I will tie you to that chair. And don't think I won't do it." Charley crossed her arms. Vinnie stepped back to include both in the instructions. "We are sick and tired of whatever is goin' on. So you two aren't leavin' this room until you work it out." He left them staring at him and shut the door.

Hannah and Modo waited for him in the living room. "What did you do that for?"

"Yeah, what she said."

Vinnie shook his head. "Cause Throttle got it in his head he can't be your daddy 'cause you mommy wants me to be your daddy. So they need to work it out."

Hannah looked at Modo and then back at Vinnie. "But Mommy doesn't want you."

"Could you find a better way to phrase that, kiddo?"

Throttle blinked. He had been clear this time, but the ego who walks in the shape of a mouse had deposited a furious Charley and left. "What's wrong with Vinnie?"

"What's wrong with Vinnie? What the hell is wrong with you?" Charley focused her ire on him. "Do you have a mental affliction now so you can only be nice when held prisoner?"

He leaned against the headboard. "I don't know what you expect of me." Like I'm supposed be cheerful handing you over to Vinnie.

Charley's exasperated sign interrupted his train of thought. "I expect you not to take out how you feel about me on my daughter. All she wants is a daddy. Couldn't you do that despite how you feel about me?"

"You want me to lie to her."

"Yes, Throttle, I expect you to tell the five-year-old a little white lie after the hell her biological father put her through and after I had to explain what the difference between a father and a daddy is! And of all you fuzz heads, you were the last one I thought I had to explain this to."

Maybe it was the drugs they had used to patch his leg, and that's why he didn't feel like he was in the same conversation as Charley. He shook his head as much as he could without the room spinning. "Is that how you make families on Earth? Why do you want to make things harder for Vinnie?"

She uncrossed her arms to cross them again. "What does Vinnie have to do with anything?"

Maybe they gave the drugs to everyone else instead of him. "Charley, all I want is for you and Hannah to be happy. You picked Vinnie, fine. But you can't expect me to lie to Hannah about it."

"Picked Vinnie for what? He just now gotten over being jealous of Hannah."

"You two have enough to work out without me undermining Vinnie."

She leaned back in the chair. "I think I should've asked whether blood loss causes brain damage."

Why are both of them tormenting me? He lost his patience. "You're the one who said he'd always have a place in your heart!"

"As a friend! And that's all he is!"

"A friend?" His jaw fell open.

"I see where Hannah's getting the eavesdropping habit from."

He pulled the covers away to get to her, to hold her, and to make sure this was not a hallucination. Charley moved to the edge of the bed, and put her hands against his chest. He gripped her arms. "If Vinnie was what you wanted, I wasn't getting in the way. Whatever made you happy."

"So you said nothing had happened, and kept leaving so Vinnie and I could be alone."

He let her go. "I couldn't watch."

She swatted his head. "And it never occurred to you to ask! The five-year-old asked! Maybe you should get pointers from her." She crossed her arms again.

Throttle rubbed his head. "Okay, I deserve that."

"You better make sure Vinnie or Modo spend the night to give you pain meds because you deserve a lot more." She poked him in the nose. "Do you realize what you have put me through for the past two weeks? I've only slept with two men and you were having me regretting both of them. All because you can't open your mouth."

He caught her hand. "I stole you from a bro."

"Vinnie never made the cut, Throttle. And he initiated the let's-stay-friends speech."

"Okay, I'm an idiot."

She smiled slightly. "That's a start."

"Will you give me a chance to do it right for you and Hannah? Start over and woo you the way you deserve to be wooed?"

Charley's green eyes filled with tears. "I can't." She took a shaky breath. "I can't."

Throttle felt a void invading his insides. Charley deserved a man who trusted her without reservation. He could never show her enough trust to make up for these two weeks. The void turned into an icy mass in his gut.

"I can't keep putting me and Hannah through this. She needs stability."

No, it wasn't fair to promise something to Hannah and then jerk it away. He swallowed, but the lump in his throat didn't move.

Charley gripped his hand harder as Throttle tried to pull it out of her clasp. "I can't keep starting over with the man I want to marry!"

He felt his heart stop. "But I'm not a man," he said in a low voice.

"Mouse then! You! I love you and I want to marry you, you big lummox!" She mashed her mouth against his, and Throttle wrapped his arms around her, kissing her like he thought he never could again.

He heard the door open. "Okay kiddo, she didn't kill him. It's safe to go in," Vinnie said.

Charley and he stopped kissing when Hannah crawled onto the bed on Throttle's other side. He brushed her red-orange bangs away from her heart-shaped face. "Is the job to be your daddy still open, Princess?"

Hannah looked at Charley. "Do you want him, Mommy?"

"Yeah, I think we need him around."

Hannah grinned and launched herself at Throttle's neck. "I have a daddy!"

"Ease up, Hannah, I can't breathe." She slid down to sit on the bed. Charley leaned her head against his left shoulder and he circled his arm around her waist.

Vinnie and Modo grinned near the door of the bedroom. "You do realize I fixed this." Vinnie's grin grew wider. "Vinnie the emotional screw-up fixed this."

"I think Dr. Phil's job is safe," Modo said.

Throttle winced. "Vinnie, I never meant...."

"Don't go down a dead-end street twice, bro. I'm not daddy material and I'm cool with that, Charley's cool with that, and Hannah's cool with that. But if you two wanna experiment with a ménage à trois?" He wriggled his eyebrows.

Charley and Throttle both shook their heads in unison, and Modo hit Vinnie in the shoulder.

Hannah bounced on the bed. "So when is the wedding? You have to have a wedding now."

"First, we need to decide what type of wedding," Throttle answered. "Do you want a Martian one or an Earth one, Charley?"

"I don't care. Which one keeps you from leaving?"

"I know the Martian one does. Never made a study of Earth marriage laws."

"So we'll have a Martian wedding."

"Okay, take an earring out of your right ear." Charley looked at him curiously, but sat up and took the gold stud out of her ear. Throttle took out his silver miniature morning star. "This will work until we get a new pair for both of us to wear." He smiled, "Maybe something green to match your eyes."

Modo stepped forward. "Charlene Davidson, do you want Throttle to be your husband and join his clan?"

"I do."

"Put your earring in his ear. Now Throttle, do you want Charlene Davidson to be your wife and join her clan?"

"I do." He reached without prompting and hung his earring in her right ear lobe.

"You are now married," Modo announced. "Kiss the bride."

Though the hazy sweetness of kissing Charley, Throttle heard Hannah protest. "That's it!"

"Well, the ceremony got a lot shorter during the war," Vinnie explained.

Throttle smiled as he pulled back from Charley. Her smile didn't reach her eyes. He brushed his fingers across her cheek. "It's not what you wanted."

Her smile grew rueful. "I want you. But I thought I'd at least get to show off a fancy dress."

"I'll give you an Earth wedding, I promise. As soon as I figure out how."

Charley snuggled against his left shoulder and Hannah snuggled under his right arm. "It doesn't matter," Charley answered. "I'm not losing you now."

Modo shooed Vinnie out of the bedroom and shut the door. Throttle circled his arms around his family and closed his eyes.

The End

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