AUTHORS NOTE: This is the last chapter of 'Friends'; I will be updating 'Family' shortly, hopefully within the next couple of weeks.

I do thank everyone that's read this ~ especially if you left a review. I hope everyone liked it. I know I'm happy; not only did I actually get to write a story and delve a bit deeper into some of my favorite characters, I've actually managed to finish a story. Thanks to LittleTiger488 and DancesWithCorpses for being my betas and self-esteem cheerleaders....again. I couldn't have done it without them.

And just as a teaser for all the Dot fans out there – whether I like the character or not, I am planning on a side story with her to come out at some point.

Enjoy.

Chapter 8 – Back to Normal

How the hell does this shit come off?

Stupid Mime and whining about his stupid hat. He shouldn't even wear a hat; looks like some furball Dennis-the-Menace wannabe running around in it.

Should have left it but nooooooo, I had to take it as a spoils of war like I was gonna do anything with it besides gloat for a while before tossing it in the fireplace and watching it burn to a cinder.

Growing frustrated but mentally crossing his fingers in hope, Montana dunked the hat in the lake again. If he plunged it into the water enough times the white stitching might actually come clean. Biting his lip he pulled it out of the water and looked at it.

Alas. Still dingy.

Sitting back against a rock he pulled out the bottle of dishwashing liquid he had pilfered out of Foghorn's supplies and poured it on the white stitching. Perhaps if he simply drenched it and left it on there it would chase the dirt out.

He was half tempted to just give it back to the Mime the way it was. Surely he would be happy to just have it back? He or his brother could clean it up…right?

Montana almost started to stand, thinking that would be easier. Then he wouldn't have to sit there and scrub it to try to get it to some semblance of clean like it had been prior to his flinging Wakko up into the trees. No one could hold him responsible because the hat had landed in the dirt and gotten filthy could they?

It would be easier…

But, Jeeves had said before that just because something was easier didn't make it better. The butler was not a big fan of shortcuts.

Montana sighed, unwilling to think about the butler at the moment. He would think about him later. After he had a chance to think of something to say to the man that would not sound trite or insincere.

Other than a couple of sarcastic comments along the lines of 'would you like assistance removing yourself from the hole Mister Max? That is within the boundaries of my contract I believe' Jeeves had not spoken to him.

The butler had helped him and Plucky out of the mud hole eventually, escorted them to the lake to get cleaned up and had sat next to them when they got back to camp and everyone was winding down for the night.

But he had not spoken, not to him. Jeeves had been fairly talkative with everyone else, enjoying his coffee around the fire after scaring the shit out of everyone under the age of thirteen.

Other than asking if he required anything before he retired, Jeeves had mostly ignored him, an unusual feeling Montana did not care for. Even when Jeeves was angry at him for some misdeed the butler had always wished him a 'good night'.

Last night he had not.

Not that Montana blamed him.

Lying in his sleeping bag next to Jeeves and a still slightly spooked Plucky, Montana had almost spoken, wanting to beg him to stay and that he was being a jerk and he was sorry. He almost would have said anything Jeeves wanted to hear in order to get him to stay though.

Pride had stilled his tongue though, and he hadn't said anything. Eventually Montana had heard first Plucky, then Jeeves drift off to sleep.

Montana had lain awake half the night trying to find the correct words to tell the man in the morning, but despite his own vast vocabulary he hadn't come up with anything better than 'I'm sorry' which seemed so…crude. Unfinished - like there should be more to the statement, about how he knew that he had wounded the butler and had no idea how to adequately express how apologetic he was.

Only knowing it was extremely late, Montana had fallen into a fitful sleep at some point; when he had awoken the sun had not risen. A quick check of his watch told him that it would not be too long. He had debated just crawling back into the sleeping bag and staying there forever before coming up with a different idea. Lying in bed would only waste time when he could be doing something worthwhile.

Angry at himself but determined to try to patch at least one of his friendships he had decided to sneak out of the tent and head to the lake. He doubted he would get in trouble - it wasn't like Jeeves was speaking to him. Since he had changed their unusual relationship to 'employer and employee', Montana doubted Jeeves would actually give him a dressing down for it. It was not 'protocol' to scold your employer.

The way Jeeves was acting, he probably wouldn't say anything at all, which Montana found actually hurt. Jeeves was - or had been - a pain in the ass at times but he had worried enough to be a pain in the ass. The cold, businesslike indifference was a nasty contrast and reminded him of his father and their own strained relationship.

Montana sighed; those days were over and it was totally his fault. He wanted to cry but blinked the urge back. He was no longer an infant and he had no one to blame for the disintegration of that bond except himself. Jeeves would never forgive him - the most he could hope for would be that the butler would begin calling him 'Master Montana' again before he departed for England in a few months.

Unwillingly he had imagined what that would be like. How much would his life change?

His family would get a new butler of course. And whoever it was would probably be just as good as Jeeves at his job. His family hired the best and paid their help well, mostly because Mother and Father's bitchy high-brow attitudes when they were there would not encourage employees to stay unless the wages were top notch.

Or they found another reason to stay on and put up with the job. Montana doubted that being the butler to a rich snobby family's American domicile that only housed one child and was visited a handful of times a year by his parents was all that rewarding whether the pay was excellent or not.

His life in that regards would go on much like before. The new butler would undoubtedly be able to pay the household bills, take him to his classes or activities or find some way to transport him and would continue to cook. He would find any additional tutors that Montana required if it was something that Jeeves had formally tutored him in. He would be able to run the house, serve tea or handle a twenty guest dinner party and answer the door and serve his father brandy in the study when he bothered to come to America from England.

Montana would no longer have to worry about trying to convince Jeeves he needed to call his cousin over at Sega and have him sneak out a copy of the newest video game before it hit the market. Jeeves had never told him no, but he seemed to enjoy torturing Montana, making him almost beg and squirm and try to think up a thousand different reasons why he should get it early. When Montana was at the point of begging and howling in frustration Jeeves would laugh and finally relent, calling his cousin to have a copy shipped to them.

Montana sighed; fine. He could just demand the new butler buy it for him when it hit the shelves. Unlike Plucky, he wouldn't up and die if he didn't get the newest game in his hands the minute the cartridge was put together.

Maybe it wouldn't be…bad.

He probably wouldn't ever have to worry about getting in trouble for missing curfew or going where he wasn't supposed to. He'd never have to endure another damned lecture about how 'a proper young gentleman' should behave or how something would be a 'learning experience' or how doing something he didn't want to do would be 'character building'.

The new butler would probably be the usual 'yes man' that most stereotypical butlers were, simply there to collect a paycheck, like the character actor that played his butler on 'Tiny Toons'. Montana could simply ring for him and the man would appear, let him scream at him for five minutes and then disappear until the next time he wanted something or to throw a tantrum.

No, the new butler would probably be much easier to deal with. He would never have to worry about any of that anymore. Hell, the new butler might be so unconcerned about his behavior he'd never get punished for anything again. He'd never have to polish a piece of silverware again or have to write a book report because he got a bit too cheeky with Jeeves.

This would be exactly what he wanted. No more rules and regulations and restraints. Absolute freedom. No more lectures or being forced to do something.

Life would be great.

Montana tried to convince himself of that.

No matter how hard he tried or how he worded it to himself, he failed. His life would be completely wrecked.

But maybe…maybe it would be better for Jeeves. The man had put up with a lot from him over the years; maybe he was just tired of it and missed his real family. Jeeves could go back to England and continue on with his life, being able to visit with his sister and her family and no doubt happy to have finally gotten rid of his ungrateful ass.

God he would miss him and his dry sense of humor and his long insufferable lectures. He'd miss having Jeeves force him to do something and when he'd sulk and demand to be left alone the butler telling him how 'character building' it would be.

He'd miss telling Jeeves about his day. He'd miss their casual dinners, both of them sitting at the table eating and him filling in the butler on whatever prank or joke he and the others had pulled.

He wouldn't have anyone there to watch when he was at his fencing competitions.

Jeeves would frequently get in the pool with him, challenging him to laps or just goofing around. They currently had an ongoing chess game; whenever one of them walked by the board set up in the foyer they would make a move; Jeeves was beating him quite soundly thus far.

He would never have the opportunity to sit and watch 'Green Acres' with him again since Jeeves had an addiction to old American comedies that he should probably seek treatment for at some point. But as much as Montana picked on Jeeves for it and tried to convince him to watch something filmed in the last decade he still routinely sat on the couch in Jeeves' room with him and watched anyway. Sometimes he would flip over to watch BBC or something else from his home country and explain to Montana what his life had been like growing up.

His own family did not want him except as the heir to the Max family name and the one person who did want him to associate with him he had chased off with his own bitchy attitude, showing that the apple might not fall far from the tree after all.

He tried not to be like Father but he really was his father's son after all.

With a regretful look towards the still sleeping Jeeves, Montana had managed to push all his feeling back and crawl over the butler and the snoring Plucky and creep stealthily out of the tent. He would apologize to the duck later. It wasn't the first time he had to say he was sorry for something he said or did to Plucky despite his claim that Montana had only apologized three times since he had known him. Montana knew he had apologized way more times than that. And hadn't for a few times he should have.

He put up with a lot from Plucky, but the duck put up with just as much shit from him. And Plucky had been talking to him last night, even if he was mostly telling him he was an idiot and just threw away something Plucky himself would actually kill for most times.

His relationship with Jeeves was undoubtedly damaged permanently, but he could try to salvage the other ones. If nothing else, he had learned from Jeeves that if he really messed up, saying sorry would go a long way.

Saying sorry and repairing something he damaged would go further. If only it would be that simple with the butler.

But Wakko was simple, as far as apologizing would go. He would give Wakko his hat back; just sneak down to the lake and rinse it off. And while he was down there no one would see him and bother him since no one had been awake.

He just didn't realize how hard the damn thing would be to clean. He had no idea how long he had been down there, but it seemed like forever.

He wished Jeeves was speaking to him, if only so he could ask him the best way to clean it since his dunk-it-repeatedly method was not proving to be too successful. Jeeves had some crazy concoction he mixed up in the kitchen occasionally to remove stains that he had shown him years ago. Yet another 'learning experience', this one due to Montana having used the fancy linen to try to clean up a spill in the wine cellar and trying to lie about it.

Years later he was still pissed Jeeves made him scrub them clean. Jeeves said he knew he wasn't allowed in the wine cellar - he could get hurt and there was no reason for him to be down there. The bottle broke because he had been playing down there. He had been careless enough to grab the fancy linen to attempt to clean up the spill, not to mention trying to lie about it, he would have to scrub the linen clean as well - after wiping up the spilled wine.

Plus he got grounded. Very unfair all the way around. All Jeeves had cleaned up was the broken glass.

But Jeeves' lesson had worked. He hadn't snuck down to the wine cellar in years and he wouldn't touch the fancy linen now even if he cut his arm off and it was the only fabric in the house in which to make a tourniquet. He had never lied to Jeeves again - the threat of what would happen the next time he lied to him was enough to make Montana rethink the idea. He would try to talk around whatever he was being accused of doing, he would offer excuses, he would try to change the subject, but he rarely lied. Jeeves was the one that would help him if he got into some sort of trouble - all in all, it simply made the most sense to be honest with him.

And damned if Jeeves' little recipe didn't work. That linen had ended up spotless…after a few hours of scrubbing.

He wished he had the stuff for it now. Montana was pretty certain that no one had lemon juice and vinegar lying around and even if they did, he wouldn't ask - they would want to know why he wanted it.

Too bad. After having learned the recipe he had used it several times, mostly to clean up some of the more interesting messes he or one of the others had created. He had almost laughed at the other's faces the first time he had started demanding lemon juice and vinegar; he rarely cleaned but he had the basic idea of how it was done.

Sighing, he pulled out a sponge and began scrubbing at the lettering gently so he would not do more damage to it. Hopefully Wakko would appreciate it. He wasn't sure how he was going to give it to the boy, but figured that if he just threw it at him when they all eventually piled in the cars to go home Wakko would understand the gesture. He wasn't stupid.

He wondered if it would be enough. Wakko was a forgiving sort, he had been since Montana had met him, but they had been dreadful to each other, Buster too.

As he dunked the hat he wondered if he should approach Buster as well. Buster was a bossy bastard and seemed to think no one but himself had any sense sometimes but he counted the bunny as one of his closest friends. Losing him would sting just as badly as any of the others.

And damn it, Buster would be easier to talk to…because this fucking hat isn't coming clean!

Fuming and annoyed to the point he was about to toss it in the lake and just buy Wakko a new hat, Montana felt a presence behind him about a second before a shadow engulfed his hunched over form.

And there was only one person who had sneaking up on him down to an art form.

Bloody hell.

Montana was dreading trying to talk to Wakko. But, after their fright and humiliation in the woods, the Mime had been slightly more tolerable.

Well, they weren't talking still.

But if they weren't talking they weren't fighting and that was tolerable enough for now. And Wakko had tried to apologize a few times; he was just too stubborn to listen to him.

But while there was hope Wakko would accept his apology and start speaking to him, Montana had no such certainty with this one.

He leapt up from his crouch and quickly stuffed the hat in his pocket, turning to face him. Montana didn't want him to see what he was doing. If he saw Jeeves would undoubtedly make some smart assed comment about doing it for him since he was the 'help' and that was what he was paid for.

For whatever reason, Montana wanted to do it.

"Out for a morning constitutional Mister Max?"

Montana gritted his teeth at the question, mostly so he wouldn't beg Jeeves to stop calling him that. It was humiliating; it was causing some curious looks from everyone each time Jeeves spoke it.

Not to mention every time he said it, Montana felt like it was a small slap in the face, reminding him of what he had said before.

"Yeah, looking at the water," Montana finally muttered, rubbing at the back of his neck for a moment while trying to act disinterested in the butler.

Say something stupid.

"Do you require assistance sir?"

"To look at the water? No, I think I can handle that on my own."

Stop being a smart ass and just say sorry!

"Very well sir."

"I - "

"If you do not require any assistance, I shall return to camp to prepare for breakfast and begin packing our belongings for the return trip."

Wonderful; I can hardly wait. Return to a cold house with none of the occupants speaking except in clipped precise tones and doing their best to avoid looking at each other. It shall be like Mother or Father being home except that I will not have their departure to look forward to.

I would rather be left in the woods; I will be just as alone here.

"Jeeves, wait - "

"Yes sir?"

Montana opened his mouth, getting ready to speak but lost his nerve at the last moment, especially under Jeeves' dispassionate look.

"Never mind," he muttered, turning his back briefly to look back out over the lake and feeling Wakko's sodden hat weighing down the right side of his jacket and soaking it. "I'll figure it out."

"As you wish Mister Max. If you will excuse me."

With that Jeeves turned on his heel, disappearing up the trail leading back to the camp.

Montana sighed, running a hand through his hair and swearing at himself for not saying something. For his first time alone with Jeeves since the incident, that had been just as awkward and uncomfortable as he imagined.

The ride home would no doubt be worse. Then actually getting home, something he had been begging for all weekend, wouldn't be a relief. It would just be the beginning of a new nightmare. Even the thought of calling Mary did not bring much cheer.

Plucky used to spend so much time at his house Montana had seriously thought of giving the duck one of the six bedrooms there. It now looked like he might be spending more time at Plucky's house now.

He turned, mostly to confirm that Jeeves was gone before going back to trying to get the hat clean with lake water and dishwashing soap.

Jeeves was gone, disappeared back up into the woods and no doubt enjoying a cup of coffee with the other adults. Even now they were all probably thanking the deity of their choice that this weekend was finally over and swearing to never, ever do anything with the children again.

But there were objects on the ground where he had been. Salt, vinegar and a bottle of lemon juice sitting in a small blue bowl, a toothbrush lying on the rock beside it.

Montana sighed testily; he hadn't said a word and Jeeves still knew what was going on. He had thought he hid the hat well enough, but Jeeves moved just as soundlessly around the woods as he did at the house.

Should have known he would have snuck up on him. But, even if he had seen what he was doing, at least he didn't have any smart-assed comments about doing it for him.

Montana was curious why Jeeves had not said anything, especially since he obviously knew what he was doing but decided to not be to crabby about it. At least Jeeves had the ingredients on hand to make his foul smelling but effective stain remover.

Sighing and not looking forward to what the rest of the day would bring, Montana began to mix the ingredients, wrinkling his nose at the smell. When he was done he started to gently dap at the embroidery, pleased to see the coffee-brown stain slowly fading from the lettering while trying to formulate in his mind what he was going to do.

XXXXXXXXX

Have to find it! Because if I don't -

Breathe dude.

OK, don't think like that. Because you were gonna leave it behind. So, if you don't find it, it's not a big deal…right? It wasn't ever like you were gonna do anything with it.

Buster shifted his weight back to his heels momentarily, wiping at his forehead. Fifteen minutes of searching through leaves and brambles and dirt and still nothing. No sign of his missing book.

If he didn't find it in the next few minutes he would have to head back. When he had told his father he wanted to take one last walk in the woods, Dad had nodded but told him not to be long.

Buster snorted; what had he expected? To just wander down the path they had all been tripping down in terror last night and just see it sitting there like a prize? After their panicked dash down the path it had no doubt been buried in the mud.

He cast a glance towards the mud hole, wondering how long it had taken the adults to dig it. Probably not long - after getting everyone clean the adults had a good laugh about it around the fire. They knew the value of teamwork plus they had pointed out if the kids had been working together they would have no doubt figured out they were being fooled to some degree.

Buster didn't think so - Yakko leading them and Bugs going chicken had sort of thrown them off course. But he would think twice about saying the adults were too old to pull pranks again.

Him and his big mouth.

Well, maybe not all him - the others had helped. At least Wakko admitted he had sort of asked for it too. Of course Max's moody ass didn't offer anything constructive to the conversation and he had just sat on the log next to the babbling Plucky and rather relaxed looking Jeeves.

Buster shook his head; he had liked Max. When not in one of his moods he was a lot of fun and he had thought the other boy had plenty of good qualities to outweigh his bad ones.

Then again he had thought the same of Plucky.

He sighed. Maybe their good qualities didn't outweigh the negative ones after all.

No matter what he didn't see their friendship resuming when they returned home. Neither boy seemed inclined to apologize and even if they did, Buster wasn't sure he would accept.

The bossy comment had stung. He wasn't bossy - he didn't think. He just was usually the one that thought things through most times and it wasn't his fault that none of them could come up with a decent plan. Well, most times; sometimes one of them could surprise him.

Of course Wakko had agreed and said sometimes he was bossy…

Buster rubbed the bridge of his nose. Fine. Maybe he was a little bossy and had a habit of ordering them rather than asking them to do something. And yeah he had a habit of ignoring their ideas in favor of his own. He'd have to work on it; he would admit he made mistakes too.

If Max or Plucky approached him, maybe he would accept an apology, or at least talk to them. He wasn't sure Wakko would, but then again Wakko was notoriously forgiving. If coaxed with enough pretty words and given a halfway decent apology, Wakko would accept.

Buster rolled his eyes. Too many 'ifs' or 'maybes'. If someone did this, maybe this would happen…odds were no one would say anything. As angry as they had been prior to running for their lives, Buster didn't see things changing overnight.

Their team was most likely finished; at most they might begin an uneasy truce at some point, nothing beyond saying 'hey what's up' at some function or if they ran into each other at the mall.

Buster closed his eyes, starting to realize what he had lost. Babs was great - hell - she was as good as any of the guys most times, but the guys were something special.

He had really enjoyed playing with them, whether it was a video game marathon or their makeshift little band which was starting to sound pretty good. Buster had been quite proud of himself for figuring out where each of their talents lay and assigning them their unofficial roles.

And they had had so much more to look forward to together…

Birthdays were coming up. Wakko's season was finished; they all would have been hanging out together, enjoying the time off and each others company and teasing the girls, just being young and looking forward to becoming teenagers and all the excitement and adventure that would entail…

Maybe it would be better - Max and Plucky had more bad qualities than he wanted to deal with, he decided with a firm nod.

While intelligent, protective and loyal, Max could have a nasty sarcastic streak, an explosive temper and an attitude that was hard to deal with at times. Max's towering sense of pride and haughty attitude also made him difficult to deal with. Plus his saying that Buster was bossy - a total lack of respect for not only his feelings but his intelligence - had hurt.

But for the last time…He wouldn't need to worry about that anymore.

Plucky would rewire a stereo and make it a popcorn maker if he wanted to, but Buster had gotten into enough trouble for some of the things Plucky had tinkered with at his house. Dad still wasn't over Plucky 'improving' the blender, mostly because the strawberry ice cream they had shoved in there had left pink splatter stains on the ceiling. And sure he could beat any video game put into his feathered hands, but really, was that worth putting up with his sarcastic nature, moodiness and ego? Not to mention the racist comments, though Buster had to admit they had slowly been dying off.

Wakko…thank God the other boy had talked to him last night. Buster had been wary but secretly relieved when Wakko had hunted him up to talk, apologizing for dragging him into the entire mess with Max. And thankfully, Wakko had accepted his own apology.

They were OK - they were just missing the other two members of their little troop.

The 'Fab Four' was no more. It was the end of a powerful friendship and for all his intelligence and talents Buster had no idea how to fix it. A simple 'sorry' probably wouldn't breach the gap, not this time.

Depressed, he buried his face in his hands for a moment. Damn he'd miss those idiots and all the crap they put him through.

He pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind; it was over and done with. At least he and Wakko were talking again - things were a little tense, but that was to be expected. Wakko had already invited him to come spend the night over at the tower, something he probably wouldn't have done if he didn't want to deal with Buster and his bossy attitude. And of course his invitation to stay at Buster's house was as open as it ever was.

Buster was happy to know he wouldn't leave the woods totally friendless.

But while happy he had his best friend back, he wanted his book back almost as badly. And he was running out of time.

He glanced around; further up the path was where he and Wakko had gotten Max and Plucky with the skunk. If he had been paying more attention yesterday he would have recognized the area and been more wary. Max and Plucky had chosen almost the exact same spot to put their snares.

The book could have been lost anywhere, and with its dark brown cover it would blend into the dirt and leaves. He would never find it. He had almost asked Wakko to come help him, let him in on his dirty little secret but had stopped at the last minute. He just got his best friend back - he didn't want the other boy to laugh at him like he was a nerd, upset over losing some stupid writings.

And he had decided to leave it behind last night, not to write anymore…no one would ever know…

Shit. He would know.

With a sigh he almost dove towards another pile of leaves, tossing them over his shoulder in his haste.

"If you're looking for snares relax; we didn't lay anymore."

With a startled yelp Buster sat up, feeling a few pine needles clinging to his hair and fur. That was definitely a voice he didn't want to hear right now. He turned, his eyes already narrowed to glare at the figure on the path.

Max. Holding a hat - Wakko's hat.

Damn jerk.

Why had he been upset over losing his friendship?

"Come to gloat that you got the last prank in Max?" Buster asked, already going into defensive mode as he stood, brushing at the top of his head. "Might wanna give that back to the person you stole it from - I doubt it will fit your big head."

"Shut up you blue dust bunny," Max snorted, taking a few hesitant steps towards him. "I didn't come here to prank your silly ass, not this time."

Buster waited, tensing up and preparing to grab his mallet. Max was strong and quick; he wasn't going to let his guard down and have the other boy beat him to a pulp. He watched, surprised, as Max absently rubbed at the back of his neck - one of his telltale signs of being uncomfortable.

"What do you want Max?" Buster hissed, trying to cover his nervousness with a false sound of bravado. If Max detected weakness he would probably spring a surprise attack.

"Look, truce OK?" Max finally said, looking awkward. "I just wanted to talk."

Buster eyed him for a moment. Max seemed somewhat sincere…but Max was also slick and a good liar when the need arose.

Well, he might be able to lure others into a false sense of security. Buster knew him better.

But damn it he really sounded sincere, his voice awkward and hesitant and weary.

Buster wanted to believe him but he began to scan the surrounding woods, already excepting a trap of some sort. He was separated from Wakko and had no backup. Plucky could be hiding somewhere, ready to pull a rope to spring whatever trap these two had decided to lay out.

"Why me Max?" Buster asked. "I thought I was the bossy pain in the ass - "

"Well you are!" Max snapped before inhaling, looking like he was trying to calm down. "But…you're also the most level headed of the four of us."

"The four of us?" Buster laughed unpleasantly. "I think we're pretty well split now, thanks to you - "

"And Wakko," Max said simply. "I know you two are still buddy-buddy, but you can't seriously pin it all on me. I know I didn't drop a skunk on myself or kill a car battery of my own choosing. You forget about that? Or are you going to continue to claim you knew nothing about it?"

Sighing, Buster again asked, "What do you want Max?" Glancing around again he asked, "Where's your partner in crime? He getting ready to sneak around and pie my ass or something?"

"No, I just…um…"

"Wakko's at the camp - can't really prank him with the adults around. Guess that's why you came after me - because I'm the one alone?"

"No! Buster, look, I just want to say - "

"So, whatcha got planned now?" Buster accused. "Gonna try to have me step in a bear trap next?"

"No! I never tried to cause you an injury! I wanted to talk to you and say sor- "

"Yeah, rabbit snares - on a rabbit!" Buster shot back, talking over him. "That wasn't dangerous at all! My nose is still sore - "

"Hey, that damn skunk could have hurt me but you seemed to conveniently forget that when you were dropping it on my head!"

"We didn't drop it on your head!" Buster yelled, clenching his fists. "And we tried to say sorry but you didn't want to listen! And now I can see you're trying to do it again, have me apologize and beg for forgiveness so you can tell everyone that you - "

"No I am not! I'm trying to apologize to your bloody ass! Damn it I thought you would be the easiest to talk to since you're the smartest of us!" Max snapped. Turning to leave he added, "You know what - never mind. Keep pawing through the leaves and looking for traps, I don't care. I have no idea why I bothered to say anything."

Buster watched him starting to walk off and struggled to calm himself. Max had come to apologize? Him? Buster wondered if Jeeves or someone made him or if he chose to on his own.

He went through his own memories, knowing he was acting unreasonable now. Max would apologize on occasion if he really screwed up - and without prodding.

And it wasn't like he was the only one that had to apologize for anything…

"Monty, just…just wait," Buster sighed, stepping warily onto the path and swearing he would never, ever even entertain the notion of even speaking to Max if he was luring him into some sort of trap. Taking a few steps towards him he added, "Fine, we'll talk."

Max turned, looking over his shoulder and asked, "No traps? No tricks?"

Buster shook his head, watching Max. He seemed genuine, and while he was extremely slick, Buster figured he knew him well enough to talk.

"Not if you're on the level."

Max nodded.

"Fine."

Buster waited for a moment before deciding he might have to prod Max a bit. Max sometimes wanted to apologize but for all his big talk most times he seemed clueless on how to start. And as usual, now that he was agreeing to talk to him, Max looked like he had no idea of what to say.

"Well?" He asked, crossing his arms. "You did come to me. So…talk."

Running a hand through his hair Max said, "Look, I know you probably do not want anything to do with me, and I can not say I blame you but…"

Taking a deep breath and looking like he was gaining some confidence in what he was about to say he continued while Buster waited.

"I just wanted to say I was sorry - this whole weekend's been an almost unending nightmare. " Max said, sounding like he was trying to push as many words out in the same breath. "But now that it is ending…" He took a deep breath before saying, "I didn't want it to end, especially not like this. I have pissed off Jeeves to the point that he is going to resign - "

Resign?

Buster blinked while Max continued to drone on. Max might never admit it, but that would kill him. Buster knew he liked the butler and he again wondered what happened.

Now wouldn't be the time to ask.

" - and I will be losing my family; I do not want to lose my friends too," Max continued, his voice firm but with a slight begging intonation behind it. Slumping his shoulders and momentarily glaring at the ground he muttered, "I'm sorry; I hope you will accept my apology. I let this all get out of hand. I should have just listened to you from the beginning and - "

"Monty, just chill pal," Buster said, slightly touched.

"I do not even know what else to say. I could have just ignored you and Wakko, I could have told Plucky to settle down, I could have tried to just make the best of a bad situation but I chose not to and this blew out of proportion. And you did not deserve what I said - you are not that bossy most times and Wakko is not as much of an idiot as I said he was. Even your voice cracking is not as bad as I made it out to be."

That had to be one of the most sincere and heartfelt speeches he had ever heard from Max, almost Oscar worthy. Buster continued to study Max as he stood straighter and looked him in the eye. Max had his usual perfect posture but he was giving off the hopeful air of a puppy that was begging to be adopted.

Buster eyed him for a few more moments, detecting no sign of deceit. Max's usual snippy tone made it difficult for him to give an apology without it coming off as sardonic and insincere, but this time he seemed sincere - no tricks, no guile, just…apologetic.

Still too much pride, but he had come to say he was sorry, he wanted to be friends…could Buster really turn him down? One of his chief complaints about Max was his haughty attitude and his complete disregard for Buster's feelings yet here he was, hat in hand so to speak…

If Max of all people could offer that humble an apology, he could do the same.

"It's not like you're the only one who screwed up this weekend. I could have ignored a lot of it or tried harder to calm Wakko down - you know how he gets - but I went along and did the pranks just as eagerly as he did." Sighing he admitted, "And I know I get bossy sometimes; I get in my head that I'm the only one that can think and ignore what you guys say sometimes and I don't mean too. Out of all of us you're the most well read and spoken - "

"For all the good it's done me. I have lost my family and my friends - "

"Don't start the poor little rich boy shtick Monty; it doesn't sit well on you," Buster warned.

He knew Max hated the saying being applied to him with a passion. Max scowled at him and Buster smirked; when Max got too down on himself it was easy to make the comparison. Then Max would get angry and snap himself right out of his funk.

"I won't ask what happened with Jeeves - "

"Something I have got to try to work out with him," Max muttered.

" - but you haven't lost all your friends," Buster said, going forward to him. "Definitely not me. I'm sorry - I'm sorry that we fought, I'm sorry you had a miserable weekend, I'm sorry for every insult I've ever thrown your way." Holding out his hand to Max he asked, "Forgiven?"

Max eyed his hand for a moment like he expected Buster to have a joy buzzer hidden in it. Buster continued to hold it out and sighed in relief when Max grasped it tightly for a moment.

He had figured Max would never apologize - maybe the trip had done him some good after all. Max had shown some maturity anyway, coming to him to apologize. Buster hated to admit it to himself, but pride would have forced him not to go to Max or Plucky to talk, at least for a very long time.

"Forgiven," Max said firmly before releasing his hand. "I'm glad we could work this out."

"Me too," Buster admitted, feeling a stupid grin split his face.

"Get that look off your face rabbit. You look like you're about to start singing from happiness - "

"Hey!" Buster snapped, shoving Max lightly on the shoulder. "Stop being an ass."

"Apparently, I can not help it," Max smirked. "This is no Disney movie - "

"I was gonna sing for Babs when we got back."

He would too - nothing real romantic, leave that crap for Wakko. But he'd find something to sing for her.

"Thanks for warning me; I shall be sure to purchase earplugs," Max said snidely. "Personally I do not think Babs has done anything to deserve it but…" he shrugged. "When you decide to do it, know you still have your bass guitarist. Even if the rest of the band is pretty much gone."

It's like the Beatles, except there's no Yoko everyone can blame. We destroyed ourselves.

Buster shook his head.

Maybe with a little work we can get our unofficial lead singer and piano player back. And our drummer.

"Thanks. At least I have most of my friends back."

"Plucky?" At Buster's look Max shrugged. "Plucky is…Plucky. He's calmed down though still angry at me for…something that happened before…If you talk to him he will listen."

"Who knows with him," Buster said, sighing but still happy. "I'm just happy I'm talking to you and Wakko again. I was afraid I would have to hang out with Hampton."

"I would rather be left in the woods," Max said, smirking. "I try to only associate with people who are worthy of my time."

There's the Max we all love to hate.

"Max, you're an asshole - don't ever change," Buster laughed, happy to be slipping back into his easy comradery with the other boy. Frowning for a moment he gestured towards Wakko's hat still hanging limply in Max's hand. "What are you going to do with that?"

Max paused before thrusting the hat at him.

"Just…give this back for me would you?"

"Give it back yourself," Buster said, wrinkling his nose at the soggy cap. "I'm almost afraid to ask why it's wet."

"Because I washed it."

Buster raised an eyebrow at him. Max barely knew what a sponge's function was. Sure, he had helped clean up some messes they had all made - mostly because if the mess was cleaned up it couldn't be pinned on them. But Max rarely volunteered or willingly cleaned.

Max broke into his stunned reverie by adding, "Don't look at me like that - I know perfectly well how to clean; I just rarely choose to do it. And that was filthy. You know…I don't know, I thought it would be nice if I cleaned it up."

Buster raised his other eyebrow.

Nice?

"I think it would be nicer if you gave it to him yourself. You stole it," Buster pointed out and ignoring the frown that crossed Max's face. "And you cleaned it up."

"I doubt he will have anything to do with me."

"You said the same thing about me," Buster said, shrugging. "Just apologizing and giving it back will go a long way with Wakko."

"As will it with Plucky, though you will have to stroke his ego a bit no doubt."

Buster sighed; if he apologized to Max, he could apologize to Plucky. He was even willing to coddle the duck a bit, stroke his already over-inflated ego so he would listen to him long enough so he could apologize.

"I don't want to, not right now in front of the adults," Buster admitted. "They'll all go on about how we learned a valuable lesson and this was - "

"- a learning experience and it built character," Max muttered, sounding annoyed and depressed at the same time. Looking up at Buster he said, "Get Wakko to come out here and I'll talk to him. I can do the same for Plucky. If nothing else, telling Wakko he can have his damn hat back will bring him out here and I can ask him why the hell he ratted us out to begin with."

Buster paused before nodding. It was a decent idea - that way if either of the other boys wasn't quite in a forgiving mood, an argument could be avoided in front of the adults. Buster hadn't been expecting their prank last night - no telling what they would do to them next.

"Good idea," Buster acknowledged, catching Max's look.

"Glad you agree," Max said, already turning to walk off.

"Though he didn't rat you out - and I don't think you guys did to him either," Buster called after him.

"We'll see," Max said. "Be back here in fifteen minutes."

Damn; and he says I'm bossy?

Buster felt his annoyance tempered with delight though. There might be hope for their little troublemaking posse after all. Plucky and Wakko couldn't be that hard to convince to at least talk.

He cast one last longing look around the path. He had come out looking for his book, but it was obviously gone, a remnant of this weekend's fighting. He would be leaving without it, but he was leaving with something much more important.

At some point he could get a new book, if he ever wanted to pursue his childish hobby again. He could add to his collection of friends but he couldn't replace the ones he had.

XXXXXXXXXX

" - we get your sister and go to dinner, the whole group. Even if the little miss couldn't go with us - I say - even if the little miss couldn't go with us, no reason she can't get dinner with us."

"Uh huh."

"And I know it was sort of crazy with you four trying to one up each other; hoped you had fun anyway."

"Uh huh."

"Know I did - don't seem like you were real into it."

"Uh huh."

"Probably go again in a while if you wanna go again."

"Uh huh."

"Can tell you're thrilled with the idea."

"Uh huh."

Wakko leaned back in his seat, only half listening to Foghorn as the rooster continued to talk. He was too busy thinking and looking out the window as they drove out of the campsite for the last time. If he half listened though, he could figure out when and where to put his 'uh huhs' so it at least looked like he was paying attention.

Dot would probably be curious about the entire weekend, though she would probably find Yakko's tales far more interesting. Yakko was in on all the stuff the adults did which was always vastly more remarkable.

Wakko had been a little jealous at first - Yakko wasn't that much older. To his way of thinking, Yakko should have given him a hint about the big prank they all pulled last night.

He shivered slightly; he had been scared out of his mind for awhile. When the adults started disappearing he had been getting worried. They had done it so stealthy and with such precision that none of them had a clue they were being had. When the big object had come hurling through the camp and scattered feathers everywhere he had almost passed out in terror, thinking something happened to Foghorn.

At least Yakko had told him on the side that it was nothing more than a pillow with a hole cut in it. Foghorn had just put a brick in the pillow to give it weight before handing it over to Mr. Bunny, who had catapulted it across the camp.

If that wasn't bad enough then Yakko had disappeared. Wakko would admit he had been about to go into a screaming panic at the thought that Yakko might have been part of some monster's banquet.

He grumpily thought that Yakko should have given him a clue or something. He was his brother after all - Yakko wasn't one of them - the adults. Soon, but not yet. At first he had thought his brother was mad at him, but come to find out Yakko said it was just a lesson in teamwork and a chance for the adults to mess with the kids a bit. Plus their fighting was getting on everyone's nerves and they were worried about getting caught in some sort of trap.

Propping his chin on his hand, Wakko hoped Yakko wouldn't become too adult, at least not for awhile. He wanted Yakko to still play ball and run around and challenge him to Pac-Man. Yakko was his guardian and adult figure, but he was his brother too.

But, Yakko was older - he liked to do a lot of things he didn't like to do. Though when he told Yakko that he said given enough time he more than likely would. Yakko said though that when Wakko wanted to do the same stuff, Yakko would be running around trying to prevent him from doing it.

Wakko sighed; Yakko always had to be so confusing. No wonder he hung out with the adults most of the weekend - they could all be confusing together. He supposed that Yakko was pretty much an adult now, almost anyway. Yakko had told him off to the side he might go golfing one weekend. Wakko had tried real hard not to laugh at him.

He did anyway though.

Wakko smirked as his attention turned to the CB. His brother was holding the mic down on Bugs again while the rabbit said something. After a second all the other adults were jumping in to ask Bugs to repeat himself, causing the rabbit to moan and yell at Yakko again.

Yakko probably wouldn't become too grown up, at least not for awhile. Yakko liked to play too much.

Turning slightly and catching the Toyota turning out of the corner of his eye, Wakko watched it for a minute, pleased with the way that had turned out.

Max's apology, while welcome, had come as a surprise.

When Buster had told him Max wanted to talk to him, Wakko had initially refused, expecting it to be the setup for another prank. Buster had to plead and almost beg his stubborn ass to go up the path to even talk to Max. That asshole was responsible for him losing his hat; why should he have wanted to talk to him?

Buster kept assuring him it was no setup - he was to bring Wakko, Max would bring Plucky, and they would have their own meeting. It would be out of range of the adults, there was a truce going on so no pranks - from either side. They could work this out themselves.

Wakko had finally agreed of course. While still expecting at least a pie in the face, with the insistent way Buster was talking to him, how could he not? He didn't want to get his best friend mad at him again, not for something so minor.

Wakko reached up, touching the still damp cap.

Buster had been right, as usual. Not only had Max actually wanted to talk and set things right before they went home, he had his hat.

He hadn't wanted to listen, not really. Max sure as hell didn't listen to him when he tried to apologize but when Max wanted to talk it was different? What a bunch of crap.

Wakko was glad he had though; Max had seemed genuinely sorry for everything blowing up the way it did. He even apologized for accusing him of being a backstabbing street rat, claiming he wasn't thinking when he spoke and how he didn't want to lose his friendship. He didn't even think Wakko being a grease monkey was all that bad - at least he had some usable skills. And he said he realized that Wakko hadn't intended for them to get in as much trouble as they did - it was just one of the times a simple joke had gone wrong.

From anyone else Wakko would have immediately accepted it. His own stubbornness had prevented him from forgiving the other boy as soon as he spoke. He was still half expecting it to be a trap, and the other half of him was still hurt and mad that Max had acted like he did.

But Buster had pointed out it wasn't like Wakko hadn't said some pretty mean stuff to him too - he had wanted to apologize a couple of times before. When looked at that way, Wakko had nodded. And he'd much rather be friends with Max than not.

Wakko sighed; he was mostly just mad and disappointed that his friend had acted like that. But Wakko would admit that he could have tried harder to ignore it - Max wasn't the only one being difficult this weekend. Even Yakko had told him not to let things progress too far.

He had tried not to; he could take some joking. Wakko always considered himself pretty laid back, but Max had pushed it to new levels. But he was apologizing; how could Wakko refuse to do the same?

Max had gladly accepted his. Wakko had to admit Max was more well-spoken and put together than the rest of them. Plus he had apologized first which went a long way - obviously he could let go of a grudge better than the rest of them which said a lot.

Even Plucky and Buster had made up, though they hadn't been at each other's throats the same way he and Max had been.

He had finally accepted - despite all the differences between them, they could be very much alike in a way. They had even shaken on it - that pretty much sealed the deal. Even Plucky had volunteered his own apology before starting to quiz him on how the winch was hooked up and how the vehicles' electrical system worked, something Wakko had willingly told him, or as much as he knew anyway. Plucky was no mechanic, but he had some idea how the electronics worked. He even acknowledged that if he hadn't been so distracted by actually playing the video game he would have seen that Wakko was duping them.

Like Buster said, together they were much stronger. Divided, they had been easy pickings. They should have been teamed up and going after the adults all along.

Which was true - then they all wouldn't have looked like idiots in the woods. Wakko got over it quicker than the others though; in hindsight, it had been kinda funny, even if Yakko had helped set them up.

Wakko and Max had thrown a few verbal spars and insults at each other, though Wakko would admit that he might have been a bit hasty. He hadn't even given Monty a chance to speak before he attacked. But the others had managed to get them calmed down again and they had all actually begun talking.

After that, Wakko had been willing to forgive him. Wakko had been delighted - he had his friend back, but Max hadn't looked as happy. He still looked stressed and depressed. Pulling Max away from the others Wakko had finally been able to coax out of him that he had screwed up with Jeeves and the man was quitting.

He had been a bit shocked about that, especially when Max told him that he had begun attacking the man after Wakko had pointed out he was hired to spend time with him. Wakko had never been more ashamed of himself in his life - until reminded, he had forgotten he had said that.

He had immediately told Max he had run out of things to fight with him about and blurted that jibe out after Max accused him of being a kiss ass. He hadn't meant it - he sure didn't expect Max to run off and start fighting with Jeeves about it. It was an empty and unfounded insult, based on nothing.

Luckily Max had said he didn't blame him for it - he realized Wakko was just being a jerk like he himself had been. Wakko, still embarrassed about his part in it offered to say something to Jeeves, tell him he planted the idea in his head.

Max had refused, saying that he was sure the association with Jeeves was over. He would work until his contract expired then would return to England; he had said as much. He sincerely doubted that anything Wakko could say would change that. Max even admitted he had tried to say something to Jeeves, but he couldn't find anything intelligent to say.

Wakko had nodded in understanding, having been in that position himself, but suggested that Max simply apologize to him. When Max pointed out he had tried, several times, Wakko told him not to get all longwinded and boring; just a simple heartfelt apology. While Wakko's jibe had planted the idea in his head, Max was still the one that fought with him. It might not stop the butler from leaving, but it couldn't hurt.

When Max had said he doubted something as simple as 'sorry' would change anything, Wakko had shrugged. He thought their friendship was over, but a simple apology had gone a long way hadn't it? If he was serious about the butler not leaving, it couldn't hurt to try. Max had sighed and said he would make an attempt, but expected nothing.

Wakko hoped he did and that the butler didn't leave. Max didn't have parents active in his life, but he had someone who was willingly filling the role, which was good. The butler - like Yakko - had stepped in, and Wakko thought that in some ways that was just as good - at least they wanted to do it. Neither of them were forced.

Wakko didn't want to think what would happen to his friend if the one person who cared about him left. Max was a jerk sometimes, but he was his friend - he didn't want to see him hurt.

Besides, Max had found his hat. Well, he admitted he had grabbed it when he slung Wakko in the air, but he had kept it and cleaned it up.

Wakko reached up, taking his hat off his head briefly and looking at it while wrinkling his nose at the smell. This hat had given him a lot of problems over the weekend. If he ever went camping again - and he doubted he ever would - he knew one thing. He was leaving all headwear at home.

If he had any hesitation about not forgiving Max, it disappeared when Max told him he had cleaned it up. If Max cared enough to get out of bed early and willingly do that, Wakko would forgive him. If the others hadn't been around he probably would have hugged Max - he really hadn't wanted to tell Elmyra that he lost the hat she had given him.

But, he would have hated to tell her he lost a couple of friendships over the weekend too. He was happy Max had approached him; Wakko knew he wouldn't have done it, not after he had gotten turned down twice before.

Shit. Elmyra - he wanted to get her a stuffed skunk. He wondered if that little store had one - maybe they did. Yakko had said the little store was packed full of crap and they were going to stop there anyway before they left for drinks. Maybe he could even get one for Dot - she'd like that. He knew she didn't have any skunk stuffed animals and -

" - and are you…Pay attention when I speak to you son!"

"Uh huh."

"Don't uh huh me boy!" Foghorn said loudly. "Don't pay attention to what's going on around you! If you did - I say - if you did you mighta known you four were getting had last night!" Laughing he added, "You four were floundering around in that hole like a herd of stuck calves!"

"Sorry Foghorn," Wakko said.

"Been working together you mighta figured it out…but I ain't counting on it!" Foghorn laughed, pounding on the steering wheel in merriment. After a moment he cut his eyes to Wakko. "You ask your brother about going out one of these weekends?"

"Going where?"

Sighing, Foghorn said, "Never mind boy. I'll go myself. Understand after this weekend if you don't wanna spend all that time with me. It's gonna be - I say - it's gonna be a lot of work anyway and - "

Huh…Work?

What's he talking about? I don't want extra -

Oh shit!

In the prank war he had totally forgotten to ask Yakko about going to some of the car auctions and other places to look for a project car for Foghorn. The rooster had even mentioned it once or twice since he had first asked, saying there was a few upcoming car auctions they could go to.

Wakko put his hand to his forehead - how could he have been so stupid? He should have asked before when Foghorn had first mentioned it, but he had been so worried that the others would laugh at him he hadn't. And Max had admitted that even if he thought the car obsession was a bit weird, he didn't mind it - it was what made Wakko 'him', and being his friend meant accepting his 'oddities'.

Sort of like Wakko accepting his fruity fencing stuff. He liked Max and he'd accept whatever hobbies he had, but he still thought his friend looked silly dancing around with his little sword.

Now Foghorn probably thought he didn't want to go. And he did - not just because he liked working on the cars, but he liked doing stuff with Foghorn too.

Max had mentioned he needed to talk to Jeeves; he said he had angered all his friends on this trip. Wakko didn't press him for details; Max didn't like being pushed if it was something he wanted to keep private.

But Wakko didn't think it would be a bad idea for him to take a page out of Max's book. Like he finally told Max, sometimes a simple 'sorry' could go a long way. And as badly as they had messed up, it would probably go a long way with Foghorn.

" - sure you'll want to run around with your friends - "

"Yeah! I mean no! Um…I forgot to ask him," Wakko said sheepishly. "But I wanna go!"

"Gotta ask him first boy." Foghorn looked at the radio before looking back at him. "Guess you'll wait and just ask him at home. See that you four finally made up - don't wanna start up that GearHead nonsense again."

Wakko looked at him for a second before shrugging, holding his hand out for the mic.

"I don't think they'll start back up."

"No? You sound pretty sure. Confident that is."

"We talked. We just agreed we all have different strengths and stuff." Inhaling he said hastily, "And if they do…I don't care. I like working on cars and I wanna go with you - "

"Glad to hear it Socket!" Foghorn crowed, slapping him gently on the back before handing him the mic. "Knew you had it in you!"

Grinning Wakko took the mic, getting ready to call for 'Ladies Man' before pausing.

He had been so happy he made up with his other friends and that Yakko wasn't really ticked off at all that he had forgotten to say anything to Foghorn, and not just about the show.

"Um Ratchet? Thanks. I did have fun - "

"Really?"

Wakko nodded before saying, "Yeah, thanks for taking me." Halfheartedly shrugging he added, "Sorry we were all fighting - "

"Don't worry about it Socket."

"Yeah, but we sort of messed up your weekend - "

"Didn't mess up mine - thought most of it was sort of funny if a bit dangerous," Foghorn said, giving him a look. "Rabbit's gonna need therapy and a week at a resort being waited on hand and foot to recover from this." In a quiet mutter Foghorn added, "Might have to join him for that though."

"Yeah; you and Bugs don't really have a lot of the same interests," Wakko mused quietly. "Like I don't ever see Bugs wanting to come camping again and he doesn't like working on cars or sports. I'm surprised you're best friends and don't fight all - "

"Don't need to have all the same interests to be friends," Foghorn interrupted. "And don't think we don't fight. Every set of friends fight about something eventually." Sighing he added, "Me and Bugs - I say - me and Bugs fight all the time but we apologize, laugh about it and move on. You'll find that saying sorry every now and then strengthens a friendship."

Well he knew that.

It was nice to know that he wasn't the only one that had such a knock-down fight with his friends though. It didn't make him feel like quite the jerk he had before anyway.

And he hadn't pissed Foghorn off too bad, if the rooster still wanted to have him help pick out a car to work on and wanted to go camping again sometime.

He called for his brother on the radio, hearing him answer with Bugs yelling and joking about something in the background.

Wakko had been worried that he might be leaving the woods with one damaged friendship, two ruined ones and a really annoying nickname everyone would just continue to say to him to bug him.

Instead all friendships were not only intact but strengthened since everyone agreed to at least respect each other's quirks and interests.

The weekend had been a success; if nothing else if someone called him a 'GearHead' again he could smile and nod. That was who he was.

XXXXXXXXXX

Come on Bugs…just go already…

" - and like I was saying doc; don't know if I'll ever recover from this weekend - "

"It wasn't that bad Bugs," Yakko said, watching the rabbit lean against the counter of the gift shop and convenience store while stirring his overly sweetened coffee.

Just…turn your head or something - I just want a little cup!

"It was - and I probably could have beat Foghorn at this, if I had a little more time."

"Is it always a competition with you two?"

Bugs paused for a moment before saying, "Well…not always doc. Just most times."

Taking a sip of his coffee with a contented sigh and muttering about how much he was happy he had coffee that didn't taste like it was strained through used cheesecloth, Yakko shook his head, amused.

Upon arriving at the store Bugs had practically ran inside, making a beeline for the coffee machine. When he finally got the beverage poured he had begun drinking it like it contained heroin.

Yakko shook his head, watching him. Bugs really needed to lay off that stuff, maybe switch to decaf and use a lot less sugar.

And go wander the store with the others - Yakko wanted to pour his own cup, hoping to get a few sips in. With Bugs glued to him though he didn't see that happening.

"It was good for you to get out of town and relax - "

"Relax? If I wasn't already a grey hair those little goons would have made me grey!" Bugs moaned, sipping at the cup briefly while eyeing Yakko. "I mean my table, and the raccoon, and messing with my chair…and I can't find my sunglasses again!"

Yakko smirked to himself as the rabbit continued to complain and watched the four boys run around the store. Even Max was looking somewhat more cheerful than he had before. Yakko watched Buster and Wakko team up and lock Plucky in the cooler while Max smirked.

He shook his head when Plucky, still trapped on the other side of the glass breathed on it then wrote something filthy in the fog. That brought the other adults, looking harried already over to try to get them to calm down.

"See - look at that!" Bugs said, nodding his head towards the group. "They are all probably laughing at me - they probably snuck back to the car and put my sunglasses on my visor.!"

Yakko sighed. At some point he might tell Bugs that his sunglasses were on top of his head where he himself had pushed them when they got in the car.

He didn't think it had been a bad trip. Sure, he would have liked to have gotten to know the Double Mint Twins a bit better and not had to go screaming down the street looking like a freak, but the rest of it hadn't been awful. After all was said and done, Yakko actually felt quite relaxed.

He wanted to get back to civilization - the trip was a welcome break but it was time to head back to real life.

As disastrous as Bugs felt the trip was, Yakko felt the trip had done everyone good. Like Bugs - before he was in such a damn hurry to prove he could do it he was running people off the road in his haste to be first. Despite his griping, he had actually been the last in line of their little convoy and seemed quite content to be there.

Not to mention he had gained a little more respect for Foghorn's skills in the woods. No, Bugs probably didn't appreciate them much, but he had acknowledged that someone did know more than he did.

The four boys weren't fighting amongst themselves anymore. Wakko seemed to have relaxed and accepted his role as the little car nut of the group if his talking about it over the radio was any indication.

Yakko was actually quite proud of his little brother - he hadn't just rolled over and given up his hobby because of the others picking at him about it. True, he had defended himself and his interest in a rather unusual fashion, but damn it the whole thing had been funny.

But no matter what, Wakko still wouldn't buy a gift for Elmyra. His brother had come to him, soggy hat perched atop his head and almost begged him to buy two of the plush skunks on the shelf while shoving crumpled money in his hands.

After pressing him, Wakko had confessed that one of the skunks would be for Dot - then Yakko had to press him more that it wasn't a gift that was intended to start a fight. He could see Wakko doing that - giving it to Dot and saying she stunk. He was a bit embarrassed to say he was wrong; Wakko had been buying it to be nice because 'it stunk she couldn't come'.

With that reasoning Yakko had agreed, even grabbing a stuffed fox for Dot.

Wakko wouldn't say who the other one was for; just 'a friend'. Yakko had laughed at him of course, and Wakko had looked as confused as he usually did when he laughed at him.

He'd figure it out in a year or two.

Watching his brother run around and act like an insane person, Yakko shuddered, remembering what Jeeves had said about Max and Mary. No doubt in a year or two he would be dealing with the same thing with Wakko.

At least he would have backup and support - something Jeeves desperately needed at times. Yakko felt sorry for the man as he watched him across the store.

The last time he had spoken to Jeeves, Max had still not said much to him, though he had looked like he was trying. Jeeves had seemed pleased regardless. He said sometimes, actions spoke louder than words and 'Mister Max's' actions of that morning had proven he had at least gained something on the trip. He expected, in time, that 'Mister Max' would say something. He said he knew the boy well and sometimes 'Mister Max' needed time and a bit of prodding. Jeeves pointed out that while he would immediately accept any apology the boy had to offer, he was under no obligation to make it too easy for him.

Yakko had shrugged before agreeing, happy that things seemed to at least be on the mend for them. And he had told Jeeves he could call him to talk or vent; Yakko had pointed out in a year or two he might need to do the same thing.

The man had readily accepted, pleasing Yakko.

He was actually pleased about all of it really. The others had accepted him into their group. He wasn't quite an adult, but he was getting closer and they were welcoming him more and more, a role he was rather comfortable with. Mr. Bunny and Foghorn had almost always treated him like an equal but seemed to hold back slightly, like they were always aware they were talking to a child.

No longer though; instead of growing quiet when he walked by or changing the subject, they now easily talked about a variety of subjects within his presence. Jeeves as well. Yakko, despite the pranks he had secretly been pulling on Bugs, felt like he had matured somewhat on the trip.

Or at least was being viewed as more mature by everyone.

Well, all but Bugs; the rabbit still seemed to look at him as a child. It still chafed a bit, but Yakko had decided to just accept it for now. Like Foghorn said, Bugs was worried, and his worry wouldn't turn off because of a camping trip.

Besides, he had pulled an entire weekend of pranks on the so-called king and not been caught. He wasn't going to volunteer that information of course, but it was nice to know he had done it.

"Hey Bugs?"

"Yeah Yakko?"

"Thanks for bringing me out here. You were right - you tricked me - but you were right. I needed to come out and do this."

"Course you did doc," Bugs said, throwing his arm around Yakko's shoulders. "Everyone needs a break now and then. Just trust that I know best every now and then huh?"

"Yeah…Look Bugs," Yakko said quietly, quickly remembering what he had decided to say to the rabbit last night, especially after his conversation with Jeeves. "I know I say this…well, never. So here goes; thanks. For everything, not just this vacation." Gazing at his brother who was now running around the store chasing after Buster and Max he added, "All three of us. I'm not trying to sound like a Hallmark card, but I've been able to raise Wakko and Dot - and have some semblance of a normal life myself - because of you. You and the others anyway. I owe you - "

"You've never owed me a thing doc," Bugs said casually but wearing a flattered look. "But you're welcome. But just so you know, you're doing it. I just helped…show the way sometimes. And I'll continue to do so, as long as you want me to. I don't ever want you to feel like I'm being pushy or you can't come to me about anything - "

"Hey, you're my Da-Doo," Yakko shrugged before grinning at Bugs. "Who else would I go to? Your opinion means the world to me!"

"Great - remember that the next time I don't like your 'flavor of the week."

"You're just too picky when it comes to girls."

"With your history with females, I'm allowed to be," Bugs sighed before smirking. "But I'll get my payback in the end. You'll have Wakko and Dot to deal with; I'll get to sit back and laugh while you're running around going crazy because of the potential love interests they'll have."

Yakko shuddered at the statement; no doubt Bugs would prove to be correct. He almost wished Wakko and Dot could stay the ages they were forever.

"Well, baring our differences in opinions when it comes to my dates," Yakko said in a serious tone. "I meant everything I said. Because of you, what I've learned from you and what I'll continue to learn, I'll be able to take care of Wakko and Dot the way they deserve to be taken care of. And you keep an eye on me so I don't go crazy, like tricking me into taking a break - "

"I'm just glad you came. Personally, I think I need a break to recover from this break."

"It wasn't that bad was it? Honestly?"

Yakko eyed him for a moment. True, pranking Bugs at every opportunity had been a blast and was the one of the many reasons the trip had been so damn enjoyable, but he hadn't wanted to ruin the rabbit's vacation. He had hoped the rabbit had some fun…

"Well….not all of it doc," Bugs admitted, shrugging his shoulders before grinning. "Got to spend time with you; can't say I didn't enjoy that. And I finally got the boys back some; that was worth it. Though I still owe them…so much," he muttered darkly. "It'll be a cold day in hell when those four can get away with fooling me…"

Yakko shivered. Even if he had been tempted to tell Bugs the pranks were him, he wouldn't after that statement.

"Still had to listen to Foghorn's big mouth," Bugs groused, watching as the chicken finally extracted Plucky from the soda cooler.

"Challenge him to a round of golf," Yakko suggested. "I know you could best him in that."

"I could best him in any activity that doesn't include me having to play Daniel Boone all weekend," Bugs muttered. "Besides, you said you might go this time right?"

Yakko nodded, rolling his eyes.

Bugs had almost leapt for joy when he had casually mentioned that Jeeves had suggested a round and Yakko had just asked a simple question. Now Bugs wanted to teach him the game. Yakko shuddered again, wondering what he had gotten himself into.

Looking across the store and grabbing Foghorn's attention Bugs shouted, "Hey Loud Mouth - wanna play a round of golf one weekend? I got Yakko as my partner!"

Oh jeeze what did I start…

Foghorn started laughing, nudging Jeeves in the ribs while saying something over his shoulder to Mr. Bunny.

"Notice he won't accept - "

"He hasn't not accepted," Yakko said. "He's busy dealing with the boys; they're pretty wound up right now."

"True…looks like they got into a whole pot of coffee." Looking at Yakko he asked, "You gonna grab a drink or what? We'd like to get back to civilization before dinnertime."

"Uh…right Bugs."

Slightly disappointed but not letting it ruin his mood, Yakko grabbed a cup, turning to the hot chocolate machine. He had been hoping the rabbit would turn and he could just get his own cup of coffee - fixed the way he liked it - but with Bugs right there, that would be impossible.

"Coffee machine's here Yakko."

"Huh?"

Did he just say…

"You're just gonna switch it anyway and I can't drink anymore hot chocolate. No more marshmallows," Bugs smirked.

"You…" Yakko swallowed, a bit nervous. "You knew?"

Oh God how much else does he know?

"Oh yeah," Bugs drawled, taking another swallow of his coffee before turning to refill his cup. "Figured it out awhile ago. The more tired and stressed I got, the more hyper and hysterical you got. Didn't take a genius to figure it out doc."

Yakko watched him warily, fully expecting Bugs to say he knew every prank had been him the entire time. If he was lucky Bugs wouldn't blame him for the stuff he really wasn't responsible for, like the tent and…

Well, mostly just the tent.

He supposed the raccoon could be blamed on him indirectly, though he honestly hadn't known the little beast would climb in Bugs' truck. Foghorn did warn him not to feed the animals or leave food lying around…

Crap. Bugs was gonna kill him before he got his driver's license.

Scratch that - Bugs was going to kill him before they left the store. He was probably going to shove him in the coffee maker.

Yakko started to edge away from his mentor slightly, already eyeing the exit as Bugs continued to speak.

" - and I can't believe you thought you could fool me doc," Bugs said, shaking his head like he was talking to a naughty toddler. "I told you I was the master. I knew almost from the beginning of this trip that you were nabbing my java. It mostly amused me to see you work so hard to hide it, burning your tongue as you gulped it down."

Yakko glared at him for that. He had burned his mouth, several times.

He mentally patted himself on the back though. Bugs knew about the coffee, but he still hadn't figured out who was pranking him. Hell, Yakko figured he must have done an excellent job - the rabbit still thought the runts were responsible.

"So…" Bugs sighed, handing him a medium cup. "Just go ahead; I'll even buy your cup. But please…go easy on this stuff OK? It ain't good for a kid."

Damn it! Kid?

Yakko pushed aside his annoyed feelings.

Free. His favorite four letter word. Add coffee to the end of it and any situation improved.

Grinning like an idiot he pounced on the coffee maker, delighted that for once he could actually drink the stuff. Bugs may still be treating him as a 'kid' but he was letting him drink some coffee; that to Yakko was a major improvement.

Funny how Bugs hadn't mentioned anything else…

"But remember doc - you can't fool me. Those little monsters think they've gotten off scot-free with their malarkey this weekend. I don't know how they did it, but when I figure it out…"

"Right Bugs," Yakko sighed, taking a quick sip of his drink. "You'll teach 'em."

"But they need to remember something. You'd do well to remember it too."

Euphoric at having coffee the way he liked it despite his disappointment that he'd never be able to steal Bugs' again, Yakko looked up, curious.

"What's that Bugs?"

Leaning in, Bugs looked directly in his eyes and spoke.

"I got long ears doc, but I've got an even longer memory. And unlike twelve-year-olds, I don't act without planning. A lot of planning."

Yakko gulped to himself, crossing his fingers that Bugs never figured out that he had been doing more than engaging in coffee thefts over the weekend.

XXXXXXXXXX

I'm gonna break his damn foot.

Feeling Plucky kick the back of his seat again, Montana gritted his teeth and glared out the window, trying to ignore the duck. If he ignored Plucky he might be able to press back the urge to jump in the back seat and throttle him.

With a final kick, Plucky hooted in glee and fell back into his seat and Montana relaxed slightly. Plucky would get bored pestering him and concentrate on the video game soon enough.

Montana stiffened again when he felt Plucky hit him on the shoulder a bit harder than he had been previously and rolled his eyes, telling himself it was his own fault.

When Plucky had been pestering him at lunch Montana had shoved another soda at him, hoping to keep him occupied. All he had done was get the duck more hyper than normal. Next time he would just dump the entire glass over Plucky's head.

At least he was being entertained by the game system again. Before they left the campsite Montana, desperate to shut Plucky up for awhile so he could think, had presented the fuse to him. Plucky had looked delighted and happily put it back into the panel. Hell, it gave him and Wakko something to talk about; the duck had happily quizzed a rather flattered Wakko on the different fuses and their functions.

Fuse in place and video game once again active, Plucky had crawled into the backseat, snapped the game on and was already picking a game before his rear end touched the seat. After a moment he had looked up, asking if Montana was going to join him or if he wanted an invitation first.

Montana almost had; it would be better than dealing with the frosty treatment he was still getting from Jeeves. If he sat in the back, at least he could pretend that Jeeves was still speaking to him and that everything was going to go back to normal. The ride home would be slightly more pleasant than he had been anticipating, but he hated to build up false expectations.

Besides, it would make the ride home pass quicker and why would he want to do that? When they arrived home, he wouldn't even have Plucky for companionship, let alone anyone else.

And who would he have anyway? His parents? He snorted; they weren't due home for another month at least the last time anyone bothered to inform him but he did not care. Even when they were in the same room with him he usually felt like they were still thousands of miles away.

Like Jeeves now.

Honestly, Montana didn't want to go home anymore. Home would mean isolation and loneliness, the pain of which would be intensified simply because he was not used to it. He had companionship at one time - he was the one that destroyed it.

He should have just kept his mouth shut, suffered through the rest of the weekend and not said anything. Or at least thought about how what he said was going to sound; Jeeves was always harping about 'thinking before speaking'.

Not sure why, Montana had shook his head, deciding to sit up front with the butler. He would like to think that perhaps he would get enough nerve to apologize, but was willing to admit he probably wouldn't.

What good would it do? He was afraid that if he opened his mouth he might simply make things worse. Besides, he had just about begged Jeeves in the woods to listen to him and the butler hadn't even responded - no way he was going to embarrass himself again. Bad enough Yakko had more than likely seen it, though he gave no indication he had for which Montana was thankful.

Plucky, to his credit, hadn't complained, just gave him a knowing look and had settled back, slapped a pair of headphones on and began to play. He had not said a word, just groans if he messed up on his game or howls of success when he won, but he would constantly kick the back of Montana's seat. Or tap the back of his head. Or smack his shoulder on occasion. Or tap the game controller on his head.

Constantly. It was maddening.

Montana had ignored him, staying silent and looking out the window. He knew Plucky was trying to help prod him along and he appreciated it but the damn duck didn't know when to back off. Constantly smacking him was doing nothing more than giving him a headache and tempting him to break Plucky's wrist.

Feeling another swift kick low on his seat, Montana clenched his fists and turned, looking at Plucky around the seat. The duck, headphones still glued to his head, gave him a sweet smile, shrugged, then gestured towards Jeeves with a 'go on' motion.

Montana gave him the finger, turned, and felt Plucky kick his seat again.

Deciding to follow his original plan of ignoring Plucky, Montana swept some of his long hair out of his eyes before turning his head slightly, trying to covertly glance at Jeeves. Maybe if he got some sort of sign out of the man, he could gauge what his response would be if he said anything. The silence had long since become uncomfortable.

The butler had been talkative with everyone at lunch - well, not him of course - but the rest of the group. He had seemed to be in a good mood. Montana had almost spoken to him then, but when Jeeves had asked if 'Mister Max' required anything beyond him paying for his meal, Montana had dumbly shook his head.

Jeeves had not even sat next to him at lunch, saying something about 'protocol' not allowing him to eat with his employers and that when they returned home he would begin eating his meals in the kitchen where the help should eat. The 'employer' would henceforth eat in the dining room.

Montana had almost screamed in frustration. He hated the large fancy dining room with its thick cream-colored carpet and the Mahogany table that was so gigantic that one almost had to yell to be heard by the person at the other end. It was stuffy, boring, and meant that his parents were home if it was being used.

He hated eating in there; it usually meant that he would have to endure listening to endless conversations about stocks and banking or fashion. Or complete silence since his parents had absolutely nothing in common beyond their last name.

He usually wished for the silence. Not only were the conversations dull, he was not invited to participate in them, even if he had any knowledge of what they were speaking about. The stock market and banking bored him as much as his mother's fashion.

And Jeeves knew it bored him; the butler would wink at him when he served the family, letting Montana know he knew he was bored. Usually if he behaved though, Jeeves would play a game with him later or fix him a sundae or something.

And if it was boring when they were there, he could just imagine how dreadfully dull the room would be without them there. He shivered slightly.

Feeling another kick in the seat Montana sighed. He wished he could explain to Plucky that his constant bugging him was not assisting him any. Plucky had bugged him for awhile to apologize, saying that he had apologized to everyone else, and Jeeves was the one he was probably the worst to.

He didn't seem to understand that since he was the one he had behaved the worst to, Montana didn't think a simple 'sorry' was going to work, not this time. He had no idea how to even begin to phrase it.

"Do you require something Mister Max?"

"Yeah, for you to stop calling me Mister Max," Montana muttered, turning to look out the window.

"I believe Master Plucky is trying to get your attention," Jeeves said, continuing to stare out the windshield as he followed Foghorn's truck and not acknowledging that Montana spoke. "I dare say if he kicks your seat one more time he is liable to push his way through."

"It's nothing, don't trouble yourself," Montana muttered, turning to glare at Plucky again.

He scowled; the stupid duck was playing his game again and acting like he wasn't fully responsible for Jeeves focusing on him. Montana turned to look at Jeeves before returning to studying the landscape out his window.

"I apologize Mister Max, but I did rent the vehicle for this rather foolish excursion. I do not wish to pay for the damages." Deprecatingly he added, "Though with the vast amount of wealth I have accumulated over the past nine years caring for you, perhaps it would not hurt me to bad, financially."

Montana sighed. So much for hoping that perhaps he would be able to speak to Jeeves; he obviously didn't want to hear a thing he had to say. He might as well get used to the idea that there would be a new butler come -

He jumped, angry and annoyed when he felt Plucky give a rapid succession of kicks to his seat.

Unsnapping his seat belt and kneeling upwards in the seat so he was glaring down at the duck he yelled, "God damn it Plucky stop! I'll fucking say it when I'm bloody good and ready!"

He felt his scowl deepen when Plucky gave no indication that he heard him. The duck glanced up briefly as if surprised that Montana was glaring down at him. Plucky gave him another syrupy sweet smile while still clutching his video game controller, then had the nerve to kick the seat again.

Hard.

Montana tumbled backwards, barely catching himself on the headrest. Annoyed, he started to climb in the back seat, intending to wrap the controller's cord around Plucky's neck and tie him to the bumper when he heard Jeeves begin speaking again.

"I know it is not my place to question my employer's actions, but I would highly suggest that you return to a seated position. If you wish I will pull over to the side of the road. I will of course add detention time to my time card."

"That won't be necessary," Montana muttered crossly, giving a final glare to Plucky before sitting in the seat again.

He huffed, crossing his arms before feeling the vehicle begin to slow. Curious, he glanced over at Jeeves. At the butler's look Montana sighed and grasped the seatbelt. Jeeves was fanatical about seatbelts; he usually refused to move the vehicle until everyone was securely buckled in - in the front seat anyway. He tended to get lax about the rear seat.

Montana felt the vehicle begin to speed up again and stiffly sat back, closing his eyes and wishing he could figure out how to talk to Jeeves without sounding like a total idiot.

And to somehow kill Plucky and not wind up in Panic Pen for his efforts. It now felt like the duck was tap-dancing on the back of the seat.

Montana looked at Jeeves again. Maybe Wakko was right - short and simple - just blurt it out and see how it goes. The atmosphere was thicker than old porridge now and that was with Plucky in the car. Montana didn't see it improving once the duck left, and every second that passed brought them that much closer to home.

He briefly thought about waiting until Plucky went home. He was desperate enough to actually beg Jeeves to stay and he really did not want anyone witnessing that, especially if the butler ignored him or refused to accept his apology.

Besides, when they got home Jeeves said he was calling his father and resigning. If that happened, it would be too late. His father would begin looking for a replacement for Jeeves, and Montana knew that no matter who he hired, no one would be an adequate exchange.

Taking a deep breath and hoping Jeeves would at least listen Montana looked down at his hands tightly clenched in his lap.

"I'm sorry."

Not hearing Jeeves respond Montana glanced at him. The butler had glanced over at him for a split second before returning his gaze out the windshield. Montana studied him; he knew Jeeves well enough to know that even if he wasn't looking directly at him he was still listening.

After a moment of no response Montana decided to try again, already feeling like he was wasting his time.

Jeeves probably wouldn't stay; he had made that clear enough. But Montana was hoping apologizing would at least make him feel better.

Maybe.

"I said I'm sorry."

"I heard you the first time Mister Max," Jeeves replied.

Confused and hurt at the reply Montana turned from looking at Jeeves to looking back out the window.

"Fine, you don't want to accept my apology - "

"It is not that I do not want to accept; I am simply waiting to hear what you are apologizing for. A generic 'sorry' is hardly heartfelt and could cover anything. Are you sorry for eating the last piece of pie? Are you sorry for - "

"You know very well what I am sorry for," Montana muttered, not looking at him. "You know what? Never mind - "

Plucky's foot made contact with the seat back so violently that Montana was convinced his lower spine was bruised.

"Damn it Plucky knock it off!"

He didn't of course, he continued to pound out a rhythm on the back of the seat and Montana clenched his fists. He just made up with Plucky; killing him now would be a shame.

"Perhaps if you simply said what is on your mind Mister Max - you are after all the employer yes? When you speak I will certainly drop everything I am doing and concentrate on you, no matter how trivial the subject matter is. I live only to serve you."

"No you don't," Montana mumbled. "Or maybe you used to, I don't know," he sighed quietly, slumping back in his seat. "Never mind, it's complicated."

"Mister Max, I find everything with you is com - "

"Stop calling me Mister Max!" Montana snapped, crossing his arms and glaring out the window. "It's annoying and insulting! I get it, I was a jerk! I shouldn't have said anything! I would not rather be with my parents, I had no intention of calling my Father and having him replace you and I sure as hell shouldn't have accused you of looking at me as just a paycheck OK?"

"And why is that?"

Montana turned from glaring out the window to look at Jeeves, half frustrated and half perplexed at the question.

"Why?"

"Yes, Mister Max, why? How did you arrive at such an enlightening revelation when twenty-four hours ago you were convinced that I saw you as nothing more than a walking dollar sign?"

Annoyed he floundered for a moment, trying to come up with a decent answer to an unexpected question. He should have expected it, knowing Jeeves. Montana had actually hoped Jeeves would just say 'OK, all is forgiven'.

How stupid could he be?

But, he had to come up with something good. He wanted to apologize and Wakko had suggested staying simple and heartfelt.

"Uh…because you…uh…cook my meals? Um…pay for anything I want? Get my video games months prior to their release?"

Lame.

Jeeves did not look at him or speak, but Montana saw one eyebrow cock up and decided to try again. Grasping at memories, he recalled the countless times Jeeves had talked to him or lectured him or just plan nagged him about something. Sometimes he expressed worry or exasperation at something he had done; other times he expressed praise or delight.

If nothing else, Jeeves was consistent. He was always around.

If he was careful and tried to speak intelligently, he might be able to formulate a coherent sentence. Time to just swallow his pride, stop stuttering every time he tried to talk to the man and just say what he felt.

"Because you are a constant pain in my ass."

Montana saw Jeeves' other eyebrow shoot upwards, giving him a startled appearance and he decided that might not have been the best way to say it.

"Let me rephrase," Montana said, turning to look fully at him. He still appeared to be paying attention, alternating between watching the road and listening. "You're the one that bugs me to get good grades or call when I'm late or wants to meet every damn person I even casually mention…"

"Do you have any idea why?"

Sighing and still searching for the best words to say what he meant without sounding insulting Montana said, "Because you care. You get into my business constantly; you want to meet everyone, you want to know who I'm with, where we're gonna be, who we're gonna be with and why. You nag the hell out of me about behavior and protocol and building character. It's annoying and aggravating…but…you care, more than just because I am your job."

"True." With a small sigh himself Jeeves added, "I am not trying to be a constant pain in your arse. This camping trip for example was not only supposed to be a learning experience, but you were supposed to have fun!"

"I did…sometimes…"

"I want to see you grow up to be a successfully functioning adult. I want you to get out and experience new things, pick new hobbies and interests beyond video games and trying to sneak off with your lady love for longer than five minutes so you can do more than chastely kiss each other."

"I know - "

"I always have your best intentions in mind, whether it is making sure you eat correctly or having adequate social interaction with your peers." Developing a hard edge to his voice he added, "That you would get the idea that I simply cared about a weekly paycheck is not only preposterous but incredibly hurtful. You can treat me as a servant or you can treat me as a friend; but you will not flip-flop when it is convenient for you."

"I know, I know! I'm sorry I didn't mean any of it!" Montana said, hearing the begging tone in his voice and not caring. "I did not really mean - "

"My paycheck begins and ends with making sure the house is cared for and that you do not kill yourself and have sufficient tutoring. Anything else I do is because I want to; some one has to do it and your parents are not able - "

"My parents." Montana snorted. Jeeves never spoke bad about his parents; whenever he was younger the butler always talked around his questions, why they weren't around. It was not protocol to speak ill of his employers. "I'm not five Jeeves; you don't need to make excuses anymore. They don't come home - "

"- because they are very busy. But they love you very much and care for you - "

"Uh huh. Good God Jeeves this is not a fairy tale! Trust me, say what you want; I was lying when I said I was going to call Father - "

"I will not speak ill of your parents; they are very busy and…perhaps…are a bit misguided."

"Way to sugarcoat it Jeeves."

"There are many elements of the Max estate the must be cared for - "

"And all of them are more important than their son," Montana interrupted snidely. "Don't bullshit me Jeeves - "

"Keep the language to a minimum please."

"Well it's true isn't it? When's the last time they asked about me, I mean really wanted to know what's going on in my life, not just that I'm not doing anything that would bring disgrace to the family name? Do they know my hobbies? My friends? Do they even know the show's ended? I have not told them - have you? Did they watch every episode like you did? Do you ever remember them showing up for a filming?"

"I have spoken to them at length about many of the things you just mentioned - "

"I'm sure. You told them, they said 'yes, fine' then told you when they were going to be home. Ready the dining room for another big dinner party, make sure the chef is on retainer and is available at the needed time, and that Montana behaves and doesn't embarrass the family because they need to make a good impression."

Jeeves didn't contradict him and Montana continued to speak in a quiet voice.

"Mother and Father never bothered to come to a Christmas party at the studio." Laughing and trying to keep the bitter intonation out of his voice Montana added, "I can't remember when either one of them bothered to come home for Christmas or a birthday. You've spent every single one with me." Sighing and slumping back in his seat again he said quietly, "The only concrete way they've shown they give a shit about me was by hiring you. If you were not there, no one would care would they?"

After a moment Montana turned to look at Jeeves, who had stayed silent through his ramblings.

"What happened yesterday…about what I said. I didn't mean it - "

"Nor did I," Jeeves interrupted. "I spoke out of turn yesterday and I apologize. It was not my place to say anything about your parents. They care; I was wrong to even imply that - "

Shrugging and cutting him off, Montana said, "You were not wrong. They don't care do they? They did hand me off to the butler." Snorting and speaking quietly he added, "Funny though, I've never really minded. They're just the ones that foot the bill for my living expenses."

"Montana, do not think that. They may have a different way of showing how they feel but they provide - "

"Oh, they provide for me; they throw money around like confetti. I have wads of it shoved into my hands anytime they come home. That's different. You show it, every day." Montana sighed, noting that Jeeves used his given name instead of the despised 'Mister Max. Still gazing out the window and concentrating on the best way to say what he actually felt he spoke quietly. "You know, every now and then I meet someone that doesn't know me or recognize me. If you were around, they thought I was your son. I never bothered to correct them. Sometimes I even pretend it myself; I'd rather be the son of the butler."

Jeeves was silent for so long that Montana feared he'd spoken too quietly and that Jeeves had not heard him. Or was uncomfortable at what he just said and was formulating a lecture on appreciating his parents or how he would never want a child like him.

Montana felt his face go warm; he had just inadvertently embarrassed himself and Jeeves. He really should have just kept his mouth shut, let those facts stay hidden in the deepest recesses of his mind. Self-consciously he looked back out the window, wishing now they would get back home quickly so he could go hide in his room.

"Thank you. It takes great strength of character - not to mention a healthy amount of confidence in me - to admit something like that out loud. I can not tell you how proud that makes me."

Surprised at the whisper, Montana turned to look back at Jeeves who was gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were turning white.

"I have never had the opportunity to have children though I have always wanted them. If I ever had a son, I would hope he would be a lot like you."

Flustered at the unexpected flattery, Montana blushed and quickly looked back out the window, muttering, "Thanks. Sort of sucks huh? Both of us want some sort of family and neither one of us has it - "

"I disagree. A wise person recently pointed out to me that family is more than sharing the same blink line or last name. Family are the ones that can hurt you the most, disappoint you the most, surprise you the most…and yet are the ones you would never change or trade or want them to be anything other than who they are. They bring great joy and pride and comfort." Glancing over at Montana he added, "And I have always felt that way about you. You are the most exasperating child at times and with you entering your teen years I confess to being bloody frightened to even imagine what I shall have to put up with from you next. But I would not change it either."

Inhaling slightly, Montana pondered what to say next.

Perhaps it would be better not to say anything, but he still felt like he had not given the man an adequate apology.

"I'm sorry Alex," Montana said, using Jeeves' real name.

He rarely used the butler's real name. Sometimes he used it when he was in big trouble and was trying to appeal to the butler to not punish him too badly; occasionally it worked. Mostly though he used it when he was trying to be sincere and couldn't think of anything meaningful to say. Jeeves was a nickname - sort of like the Warners using 'Da-doo' on Bugs. It was the playful substitute for 'dad' - all the heartfelt feelings that went with the word without overly freaking anyone out.

Jeeves picked up on it too, turning to look down at him briefly.

"I'm sorry I said what I did, before. I have never looked at you as a family servant until…well…never mind," Montana said, shaking his head. Wakko had obviously not meant it and saying anything about it now would simply be snitching and continue the negative feelings. "Something said in anger. I still think you are a pain in the arse but I don't want you to leave. But…if you do…I just don't want you walk away and leave hating me."

"This wise person I spoke to recently also reminded me I can easily walk away from a job. It is much harder to walk away from family." Reaching out and putting his hand on Montana's head for a moment Jeeves added, "Relax Master Montana, I neither hate you nor do I have any intention of leaving. I am afraid you will be stuck with me for awhile."

Montana felt himself just about slump in the seat in relief, the icy panic that mingled with guilt and depression for the last day fading.

He started when he heard Plucky make a weird cooing noise from the back seat.

Damn it. He had forgotten about the duck and he had probably heard his sappy sounding apology. The dipshit was probably laughing his head off.

Still though, he probably would not have issued an apology of any kind if the duck had not goaded him into doing it.

Putting his most arrogant face on, Montana turned in his seat to look back at the duck before sighing. The duck had his hands clasped under his bill and was smiling at him with a hopeful expression and a bit of a wet look in his eye.

Watching him for a moment, Montana finally sighed and in a monotone voice said, "Fine Plucky. Thank you - I would not have done it unless you pushed me. You're the best friend I could ever ask for, what would I do without you. Now, don't start crying. And stop kicking my fucking seat."

Montana managed to see Jeeves' hand coming towards his head to pop him and ducked just in time, smirking at the butler. Jeeves smirked back, paused, then smacked him lightly on the head when he turned.

Sniffing in a mocking manner, Plucky answered, "I'm like your Jiminy Cricket - without me you'd be lost wooden head." At Montana's glared he stuck his tongue out and said, "Screw you, I'm a sucker for happy endings." Crawling up on his seat to lean on Montana's headrest he added, "And you're welcome. And hey Jeeves, I'm glad you're sticking around."

"Thank you Master Plucky."

"And just so you know, thanks for bringing me," Plucky said, tapping on the back of Jeeves' seat. "Sorry we were pains in the ass and all but," the duck shrugged slightly. "It wasn't all bad."

"I am delighted you had a good time," Jeeves replied. "And you were not too much of a pain; the entire ordeal was worth it simply so I could see you two floundering about in the muck while screaming."

Montana rolled his eyes. One of the less enjoyable aspects of the trip.

"So Jeeves…I tried it. Camping I mean," Montana clarified. "You can't say I didn't try it."

"No, I can not Master Montana."

"And your rule is I have to try it. You didn't say I had to like it - you said I had to try it. So…I tried it."

"Yes you did Master Montana. And?"

"It was all right," Montana said hesitantly.

He didn't want to hurt Jeeves' feelings, but he didn't want to encourage any further camping adventures either.

"I see. And you would not lie to me I am sure. So…you liked it." Jeeves smirked with a light tone that suggested disbelief. "And if I said that we had been invited again to go camping next weekend you would be interested? And you as well Plucky; I would not want you to miss out on a new adventure." After a short pause he mused, "Perhaps we will make it an entire week trip."

Montana froze, hearing Plucky make a small quiet 'eep' sound from behind him.

After a moment, Montana almost yelled, "Fine. I hated it. I hated almost every single aspect of it, from digging a hole to relieve myself in to jabbing my food with a stick to cooking over an open flame and being coated in a fine layer of dust and insect repellant despite the fact that mosquitoes don't drink blink!" Inhaling to calm his ramblings he added, "I like doing stuff with you. I am glad we made up; I think we have a better understanding of each other."

"We do - "

"And I swear I won't ever take you for granted anymore but I don't ever, ever want to do this again," Montana stressed. "This was a bloody nightmare. I like doing things with you - really - and I'm glad you brought Plucky along. Next time, can we please do something that does not involve sleeping with only a piece of nylon between ourselves and the great unknown?"

Montana was relieved to see Jeeves wearily roll his eyes before agreeing.

"Did you get it cleaned?"

Surprised at the question Montana nodded before saying, "Yeah, it came clean. Thanks. Everything is normal. Well, as normal as it gets for us. The gesture was appreciated anyway."

"I think you perhaps learned something on this trip after all, telling me that I did not end up wasting an entire weekend chasing after you."

"Uh…Jeeves?" When the man turned to him Montana said, "When we get home…I mean… OK, look, I was watching you cook before, then Foghorn this weekend…think we can resume our cooking lessons sometime?"

Jeeves looked surprised before nodding and Montana settled back in his seat, content. He hadn't lost anything this weekend after all, though he could have with his pain in the ass attitude.

He had his friends back now and he might have found another hobby. But, he had gained his family back. He didn't want to repeat the weekend, but it hadn't been a total waste of time after all.

"We will go back to the house, clean up, and meet the rest of our party for dinner," Jeeves said, breaking into Montana's thoughts. "You are of course invited Plucky. If possible, please wait to call Miss Mary until we return. While I am quite sure that was one of your many reasons for your reluctance in coming this weekend, we shall be on a tight deadline."

Montana thought about it for a moment as Plucky snorted.

She was one of the reasons. Any moment not spent kissing Mary was a moment wasted as far as he was concerned. But Mary was a pretty understanding girl; if he didn't call tonight and called tomorrow she would understand. Hopefully.

Montana decided he could call her tomorrow. Jeeves had given him the past nine years; he could spend one night not talking on the phone and just hang out with Jeeves.

"I will call her tomorrow. Perhaps when we get home tonight we can just hang out, watch television or something. Make it a family night."

He saw Jeeves grin and heard Plucky make his pleased cooing noise from the backseat again and smiled slightly to himself.

No, this weekend hadn't been a waste at all. It had just showed him exactly how much he had been taking things for granted.

He rolled his eyes though; Jeeves would no doubt bring this up in the future.

Jesus. It was a 'learning experience'.

XXXXXXXXXX

" - and we'll have to do this again…maybe by ourselves though. Or with Foghorn and Wakko - they actually seemed to have fun. I don't think the others would want to go again; I see Bugs running to the nearest spa to be waited on hand and foot for the next week."

"Yeah."

"I was really productive. I got stagnant in my writing; got lots of notes done out here."

So did I…at least you still have your notes.

Sighing, Buster glanced over at his father as he continued to talk happily about the weekend while steering the Jeep down I-5. His father had been chatty anyway, growing more talkative as they got closer to home.

Only a few hours out now…

"I hope you had some fun anyway; I know it was bad there for you for awhile."

"Dad, I had a good time, really. If anything it helped; we can fight and argue and everything else but in the end we're still friends." Looking over and grinning at his father, Buster added, "Trust me Dad, it wasn't bad at all."

He had thought it would be for awhile, but it hadn't been bad. It had certainly ended a lot better than he had thought. Not only did he have all his friends back, the four of them had gained a bit more respect for each other.

Buster had no delusions - he knew they would all argue amongst themselves again at some point about something. While the four of them could be very alike, there were so many differences in personalities that it would be inevitable that there would be small flare ups among them.

But he was pretty sure they would never fight as violently as they had this weekend. They had gained too much respect for the various talents and interests that each other had; while he was sure the others would continue to declare him 'bossy', he was sure it would be said in more of a joking manner rather than as an insult. And some day his voice would stop cracking; he could put up with some good-natured joking about it for awhile.

The thought of losing the three of them had been depressing. Now that he knew what he could have lost - what all of them could have lost - he would try to do better at making sure their usual spats didn't get out of hand, even if he had to muzzle the other three idiots when they became too deranged.

"You four seemed like you were getting along better in the store."

"Yeah, we're fine," Buster said with a nod, deciding to rejoin his father's conversation. "It was just a big misunderstanding," he shrugged. "This time when one of us talked, the others actually listened."

They had almost been like normal, laughing and joking. Max had seemed slightly more subdued than normal. Plucky seemed slightly more hyper and Wakko wouldn't shut up about going to look for some car but their usual way of interacting with each other had seemed…different, but in a better way.

Buster couldn't put his finger on it - they were just closer, more respectful of each other and what they could have lost if not one had bothered talking for the fifteen minutes it had taken to clear the whole disagreement up.

"You'll find that lots of arguments will be avoided if you actually listen to each other," Bernie said, glancing at him. "Half of Bugs' problems would have been avoided if he had just listened…and kept his eyes open more."

"Right, though we wouldn't have laughed as hard if he did listen."

"Well, no, Bugs provided a good amount of entertainment on the trip." Cutting his eyes to Buster he asked, "You have a good time? Really?"

Buster thought about it for a moment before nodding.

"Yeah, yeah I did. Thanks - this was a good idea. Maybe we should go again - by ourselves. I don't think Monty and Plucky had as bad a time as they made out, not really, but I doubt they would ever want to go again."

"You four were entertaining, I'll say that," Bernie said. "But amidst all the craziness I think everyone still found time to settle down and relax. Like I said, I got bitten by a brainstorming bug - even started working on a new story."

Curious, Buster asked, "What about?"

"Oh, new script," Bernie said, waving him off. "For the Warners - about if Dr. Scratchansniff went on vacation and the Warners snuck along."

"In the woods?"

"Oh, the woods, a cruise ship, a trip …still needs a lot of work. I've got plenty of time to work on it," Bernie said. "Watching you four got me thinking about a few plot ideas. I get a lot of my inspiration just from watching you."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah; lots of my story ideas I get from real life. Not every story has to be completely fantastical. Sometimes, truth is stranger and more entertaining than anything that you could dream up in your head."

Good to know.

Buster continued to listen, turning in his seat and pushing the seatbelt out of his face to watch his father better. Just because he had made the decision not to write anymore didn't mean he couldn't pay attention to what his father was saying.

" - and not sure how many more I'm going to be able to use for 'Animaniacs' though or any of the other shows. The marketing department for the studio wants to start taking some shows in a different direction. I've got a few scripts half finished that I turned in and they were given back." Shaking his head with a wry grin he added, "Not politically correct enough. Want more kid friendly learning shows with less comedy."

"Maybe you should do a script about that?" Buster suggested. "It could be like one of those stupid very special episodes, and if anyone could make that funny, you could."

"Not a bad idea; I might," Bernie mused.

Buster watched him for a moment, almost seeing the wheels in Dad's head turning as he began to formulate ideas.

"Will they cancel 'Animaniacs'?" Buster asked, curious and a bit worried. "And if that happens, what will happen to you? And Wakko? The Warners live - "

"Oh, don't worry about that Buster," Bernie said, putting his hand on Buster's head comfortingly. "I doubt the show will be cancelled anytime soon; it's too popular, and if it's popular, it's making money. How many shows have I written for that got cancelled? They always need script writers; I'll just move to another show."

Buster nodded. That was true and Dad was well known and talented enough he could get work anywhere in the industry. Even if it wasn't script writing; he could write for lots of things. And he was always working on a new idea for a book or short story.

" - and even if it did get cancelled, Yakko and the others signed the guardian ad slavus . The Warners will be safe until Yakko turns eighteen." Chuckling he added, "Even if the studio wanted to renege on the deal, I think there's two or three people around who would willingly sign guardianship papers for the three of them. TIS would have a bad time trying to fight Bugs for them."

Buster breathed a sigh of relief. That was also true; the Warners would be safe regardless of what happened with their show. He had a fear of his friend being dragged back to a home and disappearing in the system.

" - and before I forget…"

Frowning, Buster watched as his father leaned forward, one hand gripping the steering wheel while the other went back into his Hammerspace. After a few seconds he brought something out.

A brown, leather wrapped book.

Oh no…

"Think this is yours." Bernie held it up for a few seconds before holding it out to him. "Or I figure anyway." When he didn't get an answer he asked, "Is it or am I way off base here?"

Swallowing hard and nodding, Buster reached out, closing his fingers around the book, half in sweet relief that it was back in his possession and not floating around where anyone could find it. The other half of him was confused and terrified - where had he found it? Had he read it? Had anyone else? If he had read anything, what did he think? Was he embarrassed that his son wasn't a great writer like he was?

Looking at the cover, which was slightly battered and dusty but otherwise unharmed, Buster asked quietly, "Where did you find it?"

"I didn't," Bernie said, giving him a grin. "Foghorn did, him and Wakko - "

"What?" Buster croaked, growing worried.

He was surprised that Wakko hadn't said anything. Buster was amazed that he hadn't laughed and laughed about his best friend having such a nerdy hobby.

And Foghorn - Buster knew the rooster was obviously intelligent and saw more than he let on a lot of times, but he couldn't see him being overly impressed with writing as a hobby. It wasn't manly, not like working on cars or talking about motorcycles and sports -

"Yeah, found it when they were walking on the trail. Foghorn looked at it, read a few passages - "

Buster felt himself blushing and starting to sink lower in his seat.

If he had read any mention of Babs…

His life was over. He was going back to the campsite and finding the first bear he could and begging it to eat him, just to put him out of his misery.

" -after reading a few things, he thought it was mine," Bernie finished. "When he gave it to me I was surprised for a few seconds. When I looked through it I figured out whose it probably was."

Oh no, Dad read it too?

This was one of those all encompassing public humiliations that Buster had always read about in books. He had always dreaded it happening to him but he had never really expected it would happen. And his father had a weird look on his face, like he was going to get sick any minute.

That gave Buster his answer before he even asked the question.

Dad didn't think anything he had written was worthwhile. It was all bland, uninspired tripe, not worthy of being ripped out to line the bottom of a bird cage let alone being read by anyone. Dad was ashamed that his son had gotten none of his writing talent and was insulted that he would cheapen the art by trying his unskilled hand at it.

Buster looked at the book briefly, contemplating tossing it out the window. He could tell his father that he had been goofing around or trying to entertain the guys. He could say anything except that he hadn't been seriously attempting to write like him.

"Look, Dad, this really wasn't - "

"I didn't read everything - "

Oh thank God.

" - and I was just trying - "

" - because there's quite a bit in there," Bernie finished, taking his eyes off the road for a few seconds to look at him. "But what I glanced at was pretty good."

Buster stopped talking and trying to offer excuses at that statement.

Pretty good? Dad thought what he read was 'pretty good'?

"You..you did?"

Buster sat up a little straighter. Dad was complimenting his writing; he wasn't offended or insulted that his son was writing.

"Well yeah; you're really good at content and description." Stealing a little glance at Buster he added, "Doesn't seem like I'm the only one that pulls from life experiences - I noticed some familiar personalities here and there."

Buster felt himself color again. Sounded like Dad came across some of the stories he would rather he have not read.

"When did you start writing?"

Shrugging Buster muttered, "When I broke my leg a few years ago. I got bored with playing video games all the time; I watched you so often I picked up a pencil and started playing around." Holding the book up a bit he added, "I bought this awhile ago - I thought it looked cool, like something Indiana Jones would use."

Laughing, Dad said, "Yeah, it does! My first book was black leather; reminded me of something James Bond would have written in."

Buster snorted, not surprised. His father loved Bond movies. Buster liked them well enough, but what he really liked about them was curling up next to his father on the couch with a bowl of popcorn watching them. He had written several super spy stories, getting inspired after an afternoon marathon of watching the movies with his father.

Pursing his lips, Bernie added, "Like I said, I didn't read much - "

"Thanks," Buster mumbled.

Dad could have read the whole book if he had wanted to, but he said he didn't. Buster was happy to hear that; Dad hadn't tried to embarrass him by reading stuff he had wanted to keep private. Dad had also picked up on the fact that he wanted to keep his hobby secret by not making a big deal when Foghorn found the book.

And Foghorn glanced at it enough to think that Dad had written his stories? Dad, a professional writer? That was kinda cool.

" - and I'd like to read more but…" Dad trailed off and shrugged. "I'm a little disappointed you didn't want to share them, but I understand. I have a file of stuff I don't want anyone to read."

"I didn't want to share them because I didn't want to disappoint you," Buster said sheepishly. "They're not very good - "

"Well, how would you know if no one else has read them? And what I saw I thought was great. I'm actually quite proud your writing!" Dad said, sounding pleased. "There's no way I would be disappointed! There's no greater honor than for your son to take after your own profession."

"Really? Because I'm not as good as you - "

"Well first, don't compare yourself to me. Don't compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Write to please you, not me, not your friends." Putting his hand on Buster's head again he said, "I'm still so thrilled and proud you write - and for this long. Even your mother would be proud - Holly wrote some too."

"Really? I thought she was a cook?"

"What, all she could do was cook? You can have more than one talent you know," Dad said. "Holly wrote mostly poetry, a few parodies, nothing real long or epic."

"Well, I'm like Mom then," Buster sighed, halfheartedly flipping through his book. "I've never written anything epic either."

"You're just starting out Buster, finding your own style and interests," Dad said. "If you enjoy it and stick with it, you'll be writing epics in no time."

Maybe…

No, I swore off this hobby…didn't I?

Buster wasn't so sure now though. His book was back, his father wasn't offended or embarrassed; he sounded really happy to find out he was writing.

"Did Mom ever have anything published?"

"Nah, she wasn't interested in that. She just wrote for fun."

"For fun?"

"Yeah, she enjoyed it. Holly was a big reader anyway; had a voracious appetite for literature. It was only natural she'd enjoy writing as well. But she liked writing."

"I like it," Buster said quietly. "A lot."

"And that statement right there makes the best writers. You should write because you feel like writing."

"I just didn't show you or tell anyone because…" He paused a moment while thinking and phrasing what he wanted to say in his head. "Everyone would laugh, think I was trying to be like you even though I wanted to write - "

"Why? You four give each other a hard time, but it's no different than Wakko's love of cars. You have a different interest than them; you respect theirs right?"

Buster nodded; even if he didn't before, he did after this weekend.

"Then they should be able to respect yours as well."

"They would probably think my stories are lame and laugh - "

"Buster, write to please yourself, not someone else. And I hope you don't think I would laugh," Bernie said, looking down his nose at him.

"No…I was afraid you'd be embarrassed," Buster sighed. "That the son of a writer was this bad - "

"But you're not bad," Bernie insisted. "True, you need some help in a few areas, but no writer's perfect. Even I have people read over my work; I miss stuff all the time, confuse facts, repeat myself…" Dad gripped the steering wheel a bit harder for a moment before saying softly, "If you want, I kept her writings. If you want to read any of them."

"I do!" Buster said enthusiastically while wincing at his still cracking voice.

"I'll show you when we get home," Bernie said. "And if you ever want to…I don't know…share ideas or decide you want a proofreader…"

Buster nodded but didn't speak, looking at one story he had written a few weeks prior about a heroic daring young pirate. He was quite proud of it; the dashing pirate - the youngest pirate ever - sees and rescues a pretty serving girl from having to walk the plank because she didn't want to marry the cruel captain.

He began to skim his writing. He had been reading a book on pirates at the time for his social studies class and he had tried to be really descriptive. Like when the young swashbuckler attacked the English ship, swinging across the rope he could feel the rough rope under his gloves. Or when he fought with all the soldiers on the plank when he was grabbing the girl the waves were splashing the icy Caribbean waters up on him…

He held the spot with his thumb. He might not want to share everything he had written with his father, but maybe this one. He liked most of it, but he knew it needed some help.

"I think…I have this one story I wrote," Buster said, glancing at his father before looking out the window nervously. "I'd kinda like some help, if you want to read it…it's got lots of action and stuff. When we get home, if you want…"

"I'd love to," Bernie said warmly before grinning widely. "Thank you for trusting me." Looking out the window before stealing a glance at Buster he added, "I was worried that this weekend had been a waste, that you didn't have any fun, but I think it was a success. I hope, in time, that you'll be proud of your writings and you'll want to show them off to other people."

Listening to his father begin talking about how he started writing when he was Buster's age, Buster leaned forward eagerly in the seat. While listening and enjoying the new level of closeness with his father, he thought that the weekend had been a total success after all - and he couldn't wait to get home.

He was closer to his father than ever, he was closer to his friends than ever, and someday, he might have enough confidence in his own work to talk about his favorite hobby as much as Wakko or the others talked about theirs.

XXXXXXXXXX

" - and you should have seen them hanging - "

"Seen? You should have heard them - "

"Shut up Max - our screams still weren't as loud as yours were when we dropped - "

"Yeah, you were def - "

"No way!"

Surprised, amused and feeling slightly left out, Dot delicately took a bite of her chicken nugget as the four boys talked over each other.

She was a bit startled at the pranks; a few had seemed vicious. She shook her head; once again the boys managed to surprise her. The meaner they were to each other the happy they appeared to be.

Dot shrugged as Max and Plucky began to describe in detail exactly how awful Wakko was at swimming and the shade of green he turned when he went up the tree in the snare.

She couldn't understand them, but they appeared to have had fun even if Max and Plucky swore they would never go again. The four of them were all gathered around each other talking and laughing, Upon arriving at the restaurant, the boys had quickly taken the end of the table, out of reach of the adults and had happily began regaling her with tales of their weekend.

They weren't as deep as Yakko, but they never were. Yakko had come with Bugs to pick her up from Molly's house and they had both told her how beautiful the area was and the things they saw and did. Even Bugs wasn't left out of the fun; apparently when they weren't trying to antagonize each other, Bugs was the victim of their pranks.

But at least Yakko had listened to her talk about her own weekend; she had tried twice to talk to the Fab Four but each time she started one of them would begin talking and the conversation would immediately turn to them.

It did sound like they had fun…Dot could admit she was a bit jealous; it did sound like fun. Maybe not the skunk being dropped on her head; happily Wakko had just gifted her with a stuffed one instead.

Laughing at something Wakko said, Dot looked over at her other brother. Yakko was in some deep conversation with Bugs and Mr. Bunny, while Foghorn and Jeeves were talking, the rooster half bent over the table to speak quietly to the amused looking butler.

She sighed happily; Yakko looked a lot better than he had been. The past few weeks he had seemed stiff and unhappy, but now he looked like his relaxed normal self, happily talking to his friends. Dot noticed that he seemed more comfortable with them, easily trading jokes and laughing.

Bugs had told her that Foghorn had even let Yakko drive his truck which surprised her. Foghorn could get defensive about his truck. But Yakko had beamed when Bugs had spoken about it - Dot wished she could have seen it. She knew he must have been great like he always was at stuff.

Figures, she missed all the good stuff. Again. But she was happy her oldest brother was back to normal. She missed Goose too, but Yakko had taken her death very hard and she had been worried about him even though he kept insisting everything was fine and he was alright.

Like Wakko, she could pick up that he was lying about it.

" - and it's too bad you couldn't come Dot, you would have loved it."

"I know Wakko," Dot sighed, looking back at him. "I wanted to go really bad! Molly wanted to go too - "

"Why?" Max said, laughing and tossing a napkin at Plucky. "No one wanted to have a tea party in the woods."

Dot turned to give Max a nasty look. Wakko and Buster did well by dropping a skunk on him.

"Yeah, that's why there was no girls there," Buster agreed. "It's not like you and Molly would want to swim in the lake or sleep in a tent."

She decided that Max and Plucky did just as well by flinging Buster and Wakko up in the trees.

"Yes we would have!" Dot said loudly. "We slept in a tent - "

"Where, the backyard?" Wakko laughed. "Come on Dot, you and Molly screamed when me and Buster had worms - "

"Only because you were trying to throw them on us!" Dot hissed, curling her lip up slightly in disgust. "You don't have to be gross to want to go camping - "

"But it helps," Buster said, getting a small smirk on his face. "You would have been scared all weekend. You would have died if you had seen all the mud and dirt - "

"I'm just thinking about her sitting in the mudhole singing 'I'm Cute'," Plucky drawled, causing the others to laugh. "If nothing else her singing could scare off the bears."

Dot felt her good disposition towards the four boys evaporate.

They had been decent; she should have figured at some point they'd go back to being jerks towards her. They didn't have anyone else to direct their nasty little jokes all weekend so they had tortured each other. Now that they were back they had a new target; her.

She just wanted to tell them about her weekend; Wakko had even said he wanted to hear about it even though she knew he didn't like horses.

Maybe if she tried…

"And I'm sure you looked real manly out there Plucky," Dot said in an even tone, glaring at the duck. "Especially when you were screaming in the mudhole for someone to save you. What?" She asked when the four of them blinked and looked at her. "Did you think you idiots were the only ones that were going to tell me about the weekend? I heard your voice went to almost ultrasonic at one point Max."

She sighed in relief; thankfully Yakko had filled her in on the parts the four of them neglected to tell her.

She really wished she could have seen the four of them floundering in the mud, thinking they were about to get eaten by a monster. Yakko didn't pull huge pranks often, but when he did he really went all out. She never even thought about the other adults pulling pranks. Bugs maybe here and there but Porky wasn't a bit prank puller.

"I was not scared," Max snapped. "I was - "

"What? Trying to make enough noise to scare off the animals?" Dot asked, pleased that she had managed to silence them mostly. "Anyway, I'm glad you had fun. I had fun too."

She started to tell them about her weekend, how her, Molly and Webbigale gorged themselves on funnel cake. How Molly climbed up on the counter and almost fell into the cotton candy maker and how Ms. Cunningham got so mad at her they almost left and about all the different horses they saw. About how she was excited to have seen that horse show and was looking forward to taking part in the upcoming one.

She could also see she was quickly losing their interest. Max threw a fry at Wakko, who threw one back. Then Buster got involved, then Plucky and soon there was a small food fight going on. Dot sighed, wishing she was sitting near Yakko. Yakko would listen; he always listened.

" - then we went shopping!"

She noticed the four of them pause long enough to smirk and roll their eyes and she braced, already knowing some insult was coming.

"Figures, shopping," Plucky said. "They probably tried on their frilly pink dresses and did each other's hair - "

"All while moaning that each and every dress made them look fat," Buster chimed in.

"No fathead," Dot snapped, clenching her fists under the table. "We went looking for our outfits for the show!" Seeing the four blank looks being directed at her she calmed down slightly.

They were boys, therefore stupid. They needed things explained to them slowly and with as few big words as possible.

"They'll be ready in a week. Don't you four pay attention?"

Seeing the looks not change, she sighed.

"I said I have a horse show coming up, and I'm gonna be doing a jump - "

Dot heard Wakko mutter 'oh God again? I'm not going' and turned to glare at him.

"It's not just any show! This one's special -I'm gonna jump and you're gonna be there."

"No I'm not," Wakko said, already turning from her to talk to Buster. "I've got plans."

"You don't even know when it is!" Dot almost yelled at his back.

"I don't have to - trust me, I'll make plans."

I wish they had left you in the tree!

Why did he have to be a pain? He had been nice before, giving her the skunk and saying he wished she could have gone with them and he sorta missed her. Now he was back to being a jerk.

She wanted him to go. Even if he didn't want to go she wanted him there, watching and cheering for her and telling her she did 'faboo' even if she didn't.

She swiped at her eyes, already growing frustrated and upset at the boys laughing and her brother's stubborn instance on being a jerk.

"Wakko, you have to go! Yakko said so!"

And I want you there!

"Dot, I don't like horses. I don't want to be around them; they're smelly and boring - "

"Funny, so are you and your friends, but I'm not only around them, I'm eating with them," she snapped back.

"I assure you I do not smell," Max said haughtily. "Upon entering my house before getting dragged to this asinine dinner party I can promise you I showered for almost an hour."

"It didn't help," Plucky answered.

Ignoring them, Dot addressed Wakko again.

"Well, Yakko said you had to come - "

"Big surprise," Wakko muttered. "Figures he doesn't ask me, he just assumes I want to do everything he does." Louder he added, "And I'm not; I'm going to look for a car with Foghorn and Yakko said I could go. And there's a few car shows coming up - "

"When?"

When Wakko didn't answer Dot asked again. When he still ignored her Dot threw her napkin on the table, saying, "Fine, I'll ask Foghorn. In fact I'll even invite him to come so you won't be able to get away with not coming! How do you like that?"

"Not as much as I'm gonna like seeing him tell you he prefers four-hundred horses to your measly one," Wakko smirked. "No one cares about your stupid little horse."

"It's not stupid! No one cares about your stupid cars either but - "

"I'd rather hear about cars than horses," Plucky moaned. "But I don't care about either. Can't you take your sibling squabble somewhere else?"

"Shut up Plucky!" Dot said sharply. Turning back to Wakko she said, "And I'm gonna ask him right now!"

"He's not gonna wanna watch a bunch of girls," Wakko laughed. "No one likes to watch girls - "

"Speak for yourself Mime," Max said from across the table, where he was watching the conversation with an air of bored amusement. "Depending on what they're doing, I know I enjoy watching girls. You'd be amazed at the things I've seen them do on…certain channels - "

"And besides, you don't even know where he is," Wakko said, pointing and ignoring Max. "He left the table with Jeeves a few minutes ago."

Fuming and starting to grow upset, Dot looked towards the other end of the table. Foghorn and Jeeves were gone; she hadn't noticed.

"Well, I'm gonna find him!"

"You do that."

Seeing the four boys huddle over the table top at each other, whispering and laughing, Dot felt her face start to twist into a pout.

"I will!" Standing in her chair she added, "You just wait! I'm gonna find Foghorn and ask him and he's gonna say yes and tell you - "

"You can ask - I say - you can ask and I might say yes. Mostly depends on what it is I guess."

Shoot.

Dot turned, seeing Foghorn looking at her with a quizzical expression. Beside him Jeeves was surveying the entire group with a curious look, finally turning his gaze to Max.

Dot blushed slightly - she had intended on finding the big rooster and asking him, but without an audience. If he said 'no' at least the boys wouldn't hear and say 'told ya so' before laughing at her again.

But she also knew Foghorn was a bit of a sucker for a sweet face and a pouty look. He was almost as bad as Yakko; a bit of a pleading tone, bat her eyes and say pretty please and they mostly let her have her way. Flash the dimples if things started going in a bad direction and she could have him and half the other adults eating out of her hand.

"Just sit down Dot," Wakko said, leaning back in his chair and looking pleased. "He's gonna say no - "

"Don't say what I'm gonna say boy!" Foghorn boomed, putting a hand firmly on Wakko's shoulder. "Do that all the time - always trying to put words in my mouth! Speak too much boy - gotta listen sometimes!"

"Huh?"

Dot ignored Wakko's confused look, instead turning and putting on her most winning smile for Foghorn and leaning on the back of the chair so she could look directly into Foghorn's face.

"Foghorn! Oh I was hoping to find you!" She said breathlessly.

Lisa said if you could get a boy to believe that you thought he was the most important thing in the world, you could get them to do pretty much anything you wanted. Right now, her attention was solely on Foghorn - he was the most important thing in the universe right now.

She'd show those stupid boys.

"Well here I am little miss. Must be important - I say - must be important, way you're fretting and - "

"Oh it is!" Dot gushed, talking over him. "See, I was telling Wakko and the rest of the buttheads about my horse show. I'm gonna do a jump this time, not just the little kid stuff of sitting on the horse, but going over a hurdle."

"Sounds like - I say - sounds like an impressive feat!"

"Oh it's gonna be!" Dot bragged. "I've been working on it for months because I want everyone to see it and be proud of me!"

"Well now - sounds fascinating. You can tell me all about it later on - "

"And Wakko said you don't like horses - "

"No I didn't!"

" - and you wouldn't want to come watch some dumb horse show!" Batting her eyes at Foghorn and clasping her hands under her chin she asked, "And that's not true is it?" Twisting her mouth downwards in a slight frown while widening her eyes she asked beseechingly, "And you like me right?"

"Boy what've you been telling her?" Foghorn said, cutting his eyes to Wakko. Turning back to Dot he said, "Course I like you! And I like the little horses and pony's and farm critters - "

"So you'll come to the show and watch?"

"Huh? Me?"

Dot watched as Foghorn turned to give Wakko a withering look.

"Yes you Foghorn!" Standing up fully in the chair and twitching her tail delicately she added, "I really want you there! I want all my friends there! And you're my friend right?"

Foghorn blinked, looking surprised before crouching next to the chair to look her directly in the face.

"Course I'm you're friend - don't be ridiculous!"

"But he's not gonna watch your horse thing," Wakko said, looking at Foghorn. "We're supposed to look for a car - "

"So you're gonna come?" Dot gasped, partially acting but partially excited, looking directly into Foghorn's face and ignoring Wakko.

She thought Foghorn might say no or have some excuse not to come, like saying he had something else planned but he seemed serious. He was plastering a big smile on his beak while shooting a look towards Wakko who glared at him.

"I'd love - I say - I'd love to come watch you jumping and prancing around on your pony - "

"What? Foghorn!"

Dot beamed up at Foghorn as Wakko started whining and the other boys laughed. She ignored them; at least they were laughing at Wakko instead of her for once.

"Damn Mime, looks like you lost," Max jeered happily, ducking the fries Wakko threw at him. "So which is fruiter in your opinion? A horse show or my fencing?"

"You will? Oh thank you!" Dot exclaimed, throwing her arms around the startled rooster's neck. "It's gonna be fun - "

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Foghorn grunted, briefly putting his massive arms around her and engulfing her in a blanket of warm feathers. "Sounds like fun - "

"Oh it will be!" Dot exclaimed, throwing a triumphant look at Wakko who was sulking. "There's the contests and shows and they'll be petting zoos and funnel cakes and - "

"It's gonna be so boring!" Wakko moaned, briefly hiding his hands in his face while the others continued to laugh. "Don't go Foghorn, we're supposed to go look at cars!"

"Those cars been rusting - I say - those cars been rusting in some forgotten barn for thirty plus years boy. They'll wait another couple weeks for us. Little miss here only does her first horse show once. Don't wanna miss that."

"Speak for yourself. I don't wanna go!"

Dot tilted her head, curious, when Foghorn leaned over towards Wakko. Raising her ears she was able to hear Foghorn mutter very quietly 'relax Socket; sometimes gotta do what you don't wanna do, especially for family'.

Socket?

She frowned, wondering what that meant. Wasn't a socket a tool?

When Wakko went to speak and Foghorn cocked an eyebrow at him he quieted and Dot put it out of her mind.

Boys were weird. She heard the things they called each other in front of people; who knew what they did when no one was around. It seemed to make Wakko feel better though so she decided to be happy. After all, she won - not only was Wakko going to have to show up, now Foghorn would be there too and she honestly liked the big rooster. And maybe he would have fun; if looked at that way she decided she didn't need to feel even the slightest bit guilty about asking him to go just so Wakko would have to go.

"It's all settled then," Foghorn said, standing and stepping back to stand near Jeeves. "I'll be there - whole group's gonna be there." Cutting his eyes to Jeeves he added, "Know you Brits like your horses - "

"Indeed." Looking down at Dot Jeeves asked, "You ride English I presume." At her nod he nodded. "Very good. I prefer Western riding on my television."

"Oh." After a moment Dot hesitantly asked, "Do you ride?"

"Quite well," Jeeves answered. "I used to play polo - "

"Now hold on - I say - now hold on there!" Foghorn said loudly, putting a hand on Jeeves shoulder and almost physically turning him around. "You didn't say anything about no polo! I'll try golf - I aint getting on no pony!"

"Relax Mister Foghorn," Jeeves said calmly. "No one would let any animal suffer such a fate." Looking Foghorn up and down he added, "You would need two horses anyway. You could have one under each foot and ride them like you were in the Moscow Circus."

Dot watched, breath held and eyes wide as Foghorn started before laughing at the comment. She felt herself relax; at least Foghorn wasn't mad.

"I wish you the best of luck at your show Miss Dorothy - "

"It's Dot. Not Dorothy," Dot said insistently before beaming. "And you can come too! Leave Max at home."

"Capital idea!" Max called from across the table. "Jeeves, listen to the girl."

"No, I do not think I will do that," Jeeves muttered quietly. "Though I can assure you Miss Dorothy - "

"Dot. Just Dot."

" - that we will both be there."

Max let out a noise that sounded like something dieing before saying, "Hell no Jeeves. I don't ride horses and I don't watch them either - "

"You briefly rode at one time Master Montana - "

"Yeah, real brief," Max snorted. "Unless you find a horse with 'Bentley' stamped on its ass I'm not riding it and I'm not going to any damn kid show to watch it."

"You said that about camping. Correct me if I am wrong though but did we not just spend three nights in the woods?"

When Max opened his mouth to protest further Jeeves added, "Consider it yet another learning experience on the road to manhood. We're going."

Dot saw Max snap his mouth shut before beginning to rumble and mutter under his breath saying 'This is your fault Wakko; just had to drag the rooster up into this chicken shit conversation'.

She ignored him, giving a cheery wave as the two adults meandered towards the other end of the table.

"I might have to go but I won't like it," Wakko said, slumping back in his chair with his arms folded. "Don't gloat; it's not cute."

"I'm always cute," Dot said brazenly. "You're just mad I was right and you were wrong."

"Monty, you looked pissed," Plucky said, sharing a relieved look at Buster since neither of them had been suckered into going.

"Oh you think genius?" Max asked snidely. "Would have been nice of you to help me out."

"Sorry Monty, didn't want to attract attention to myself," the duck shrugged.

"Cowardly craven duck."

"The day you have to go to that - I'm not spending the night at your house."

"Asshole."

Dot threw Wakko a triumphant look, feeling inordinately pleased with herself. Now two more people would be coming; Max would be a jerk and probably boo her from the sidelines, but she bet the others would cheer for her.

Her first real show; not just sitting on the horse or going around at a lopping trot, but a real maneuver she would be judged on. It wasn't going to be a big jump, but she was excited about it. She wanted to invite anyone she knew to come watch; Bugs said he was going to come.

Porky was obviously going, not only to offer her moral support but because he was volunteering to help organize parts of the show, directing the contestants to their positions and stuff. Plus, he was treasurer of the Neighborhood Horse Association - ToonTown Chapter. And it wasn't even going to be a show restricted to ToonTown like the last few she had participated in; it would be outside the town.

Dot couldn't wait; for once she was going to shine, and not just because she was 'Dot Warner' or the sister of Yakko. People were going to go and just see her, not the actress, not the family act, or a studio publicity stunt, just her.

Lost in thoughts about the show, Dot started to sit back down in her chair with the intent on finishing her meal. Not paying attention she sharply rapped her knee on the table, causing it to jump.

In show motion she saw her cup of soda spill and she let out a shriek of dismay, seeing it fall over, drenching her shirt and skirt and splattering on her face.

She felt her lower lip start to tremble as almost everyone in the restaurant turned in her direction and the four boys started laughing.

"Brilliant Miss Dorothy, real graceful and elegant," Max howled, smirking nastily at her. "You're gonna wow them at the show with that maneuver!"

"I'm happy it wasn't her fancy show clothes," Wakko laughed, wiping at his eyes as he grabbed a few napkins to begin blotting up the soda dripping in a small brown stream off the edge of the table. "She'd probably want me with her to by more and tell her which - "

"Oh shut up Wakko!" She snapped, cringing in embarrassment and snatching some napkins to try to wipe down her face. "All of you just shut up!"

They didn't; they kept laughing at her and she wanted to cry and smack all of them at the same time.

Maybe she shouldn't have made Wakko come, or Max. If she hadn't stood in her chair to talk to Foghorn she wouldn't have hit the table and spilled the soda. If she hadn't done that she wouldn't be the laughing stock of the restaurant.

She clenched her fists and sniffed, determined not to cry, not here, not in front of all these people and especially in front of these four -

"Settle down you goofs. Covered in soda she still doesn't look as foolish as you four in the mud puddle."

Dot turned, breathing a sigh of relief. Not matter what happened Yakko would help her. He always helped her and stood up for her.

"Oh come on Yakko, it's funny!" Buster exclaimed while looking like he was at least making an effort at not laughing.

"No it's not!" Dot snapped angrily while climbing down out of her chair, slipping slightly as her feet hit the wet floor. "This is my favorite - "

"Oh go buy a new one," Max chuckled. "It's just a shirt - "

"That wasn't what you were saying when you were marinating in tomato soup and vinegar," Yakko said, directing his attention towards Max. "At least we can wash Dot's shirt; yours had to be burned if I remember right stinky."

Dot smirked slightly as Yakko's comment wiped the smile off Max's face. Even Plucky stopped laughing as hard as he had been.

"Let's go Dot," Yakko sighed, gently steering her away from the table. "I'll take you to the bathroom, get you cleaned up - "

"I can do it," she said insistently.

"I know you can do it but I don't want you wandering around this place by yourself," Yakko replied before shrugging. "I've been listening to Bugs run the waiter ragged while regaling him with his drama queen attitude about 'the weekend he had. I lived it once; I don't need to revisit it the actual night I get home. Besides, if I have to listen to the four goofs howl over a glass of spilled soda I'm going to lose what little bit of sanity I have left after this weekend."

Sniffing, Dot nodded, sorry Yakko had to leave the table and whatever conversation he had been having, but happy he had.

"I just wish I could get them back," Dot said, clenching her fists. "I wouldn't have laughed at them if - "

"That's because you have more brains than the four of them put together," Yakko interrupted, leading her down the long hallway. "And more maturity and common sense."

"Everyone saw - "

"Oh who cares," Yakko said dismissively, waving a hand towards the restaurant. "I can't imagine that everyone in this place was that interested in someone accidentally spilling a soda."

Dot nodded, hoping he was correct.

"Forget them," Yakko said, putting one arm around her shoulder while avoiding the soggiest spots on her shirt. "Come on cheer up. I heard you got Foghorn and Jeeves coming to watch you."

"And Max. And Wakko." Sniffing and sounding as gloomy as she now felt she added softly, "Nether of them wants to go and hates me. I should tell them they don't have to go - "

"Hey, none of that," Yakko said, crouching down to eye level with her. "Neither of them hate you - "

Should have heard what they said; you'd think differently.

" - they'll have lots of fun…probably. I mean they didn't want to go camping but they went and liked it…sort of…sometimes. And everyone wants to go and see you perform." Managing to hug her and not get soda on himself he added, "And I know I want to see you - doesn't that count?"

Dot nodded, accepting the hug. Of course it did; even if no one else showed up, seeing Yakko on the sidelines cheering her on would be rewarding enough.

"You're gonna do great."

"Hope so," Dot said. "I hope they won't spoil it - "

"They won't," Yakko said, getting a dark look on his face. "If they try, I'll throw them in the pen with the wild bulls and have the other riders use them for the calf-roping portion of the show."

Dot giggled and Yakko grinned at her.

"Go get cleaned up, I'll wait here," he said, pointing towards the girl's bathroom while leaning against several boxes that were piled against the wall.

He turned to look up at the boxes briefly before looking at her, starting, then looking at the boxes again. Dot watched him, seeing a strange gleam begin to shine in his eyes.

"Hey Dot…remember what you said before, about wanting to pull a big prank like we did on the boys?"

Curious, Dot nodded. She did; she was jealous that Wakko got to do something with Yakko she didn't get to do. She had been envious when told about the prank in the car the adults pulled with Yakko. She loved Yakko and he always did all sorts of neat stuff with her, but she'd really like to pull a prank with him.

Still eyeing the boxes, Yakko asked quietly, "Wanna pull one?"

"Huh?" Confused but intrigued, Dot stepped forward, ignoring her sticky shirt and skirt. "Didn't you say - "

"Well, some pranks are bad; like the snares. Others though…" Yakko trailed off for a few seconds before muttering to himself, "It's just…thinking ahead…you can hand me these…I really shouldn't; I'm supposed to be an adult; they've started to really accept me…but could it be pinned…course you'll have to be sworn to secrecy…"

Dot frowned slightly, wondering if Yakko had managed to get some sort of brain injury in the woods. It did sound like a wild weekend.

"You're right…we shouldn't…"

"I want to!" Dot said quickly, not wanting Yakko to drop the idea before he even said it. "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing dangerous…and if we play this right, nothing that can be pinned on us. Definitely shut the boys up though - "

"I'm in," Dot said immediately.

"Good…"

Trailing off, Yakko looked around before quickly tearing into one of the boxes.

"Hurry and get cleaned up as best you can. Come right out; I'll be here waiting. Then we're gonna take a little trip out the back door."

Watching Yakko begin to shove rolls in his Hammerspace, Dot quickly turned and ran into the bathroom. Her weekend might not have been as wild as the boys was, but it was going to end on a high note.

XXXXXXXXXX

This is priceless…

" - and I wanna know who did it…now!"

"But it wasn't us - "

"It never is!" Bugs snapped, silencing Buster.

"Calm down Bugs," Mister Bunny managed to choke out in-between his laughter. "The boys were all with us - "

"Oh, sticking up for them - again - even knowing what they're like and watching them this weekend!" Bugs fumed, stalking around the lot and glaring at all the curious restaurant patrons entering or exiting the establishment. "The insanity never ends with this crew!"

"Once again you're just over exaggerating," Foghorn roared, slapping his knee in merriment. "Look at the little tykes - all innocent and - "

"Over exaggerating? Innocent little tykes? Look at my car doc!" Turning to glare at the four boys Bugs snarled, "OK, which one do I kill first?"

"No blood shed, Bugs," Foghorn said, grabbing Bugs' arm. "They're kids - I say - they're kids. Just a harmless prank." Chuckling as he examined the vehicle thoughtfully he added, "Things wrapped up tighter than a Christmas present; only thing it needs is a big bow. Boys sure know how to wrap a car, gotta give em that - "

"Again! Why am I again the target!" Bugs fumed before he said beseechingly, "I'm a reasonable bunny! I don't bother the kids!" Whirling around to face the four stunned boys he demanded, "Why me huh? I swear I like you kids! I figured the scare in the woods would be enough but no…you wanna prank war? I'll get you four!"

Feeling a large smile come to his own face as the rabbit swore revenge on a group of eleven and twelve year olds, Yakko glanced down at Dot and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. She looked up and shared a conspiratal smirk with him before turning her wide dark eyes back to Bugs' car.

Yakko tried to keep most of the smirk off his face as he watched the group. The four boys were amused, stunned, and slightly worried; Bugs had a rabid look on his face.

"Toilet paper! Again! You four maroons don't learn!"

Amid the boys' protests and the roars of laughter coming from anyone near, Yakko watched the manager come out, looking panicky as he headed towards the enraged Bugs.

"Mister Bugs! My word - I'm so sorry - "

"I'm sorry too!" Bugs sighed dramatically. "It's my fault for associating with these four goons."

Yakko watched the twitchy man apologize to Bugs repeatedly, offering to send his employees out to take every single sheet of toilet paper off the Mercedes and about how these sort of shenanigans never happen at his establishment.

Yakko rolled his eyes. He didn't think ahead much when he came up with the prank despite assuring Dot that this would be fine. He knew the boys would get blamed since they had a reputation for this sort of prank and he knew good and well it would get Bugs all worked up. And just boxes and boxes of toilet paper sitting outside the storage room just waiting to be put to a good use…

He hadn't foreseen the manager of the eatery having a heart attack because one of his best customers who was also one of the biggest stars in ToonTown got his car toilet papered in the alleyway.

Wait until they looked a bit further down the alleyway…

"I can assure you sir, this will never happen again! When you come back, if you will call ahead I will move my car and you can have my own personal parking space!"

"When I come back I won't have the four terrors with me and won't have to worry about this sort of malarkey!"

Yakko snorted quietly to himself, exchanging a glance with the young tiger that had been their waiter earlier.

Bugs was a big tipper and normally an ideal customer. Tonight though he had been the worst sort of customer - the 'runner'. Nothing was cooked or seasoned to his taste, his drink needed constant refilling; as soon as the waiter brought one thing to him, Bugs immediately thought of something else he needed. While the waiter was there Bugs had talked the poor guy's ear off about his weekend of roughing it in the wilderness. When Foghorn had told the waiter that normally the only place Bugs 'roughed it' anywhere was usually at the nearest Hilton and began to fill the harried waiter in on the weekend, the rabbit had finally shut up.

Everyone at the table felt compelled to leave a larger tip than normal for the guy.

Yakko gave a nod to the waiter who grinned back at him. He and Dot owed him one.

They had managed to get out an open rear door with rolls and rolls of toilet paper, going to their chosen victims' vehicles. While he Toonsped around the cars Dot was tossing him the rolls of toilet paper so that both vehicles were thoroughly encased in tissue.

When they were done, laughing and anticipating on what expressions would be on their victims' faces, they had gone back to the rear door only to find it locked. Temporary panic had ensued; staying outside was not an option nor was going in the front door. Going through the front door they would be immediately spotted.

Yakko had been worried for a few moments - he remembered what Bugs said about having a long memory. Dot had wanted to try to slide down the chimney like Santa Claus or hiding.

He wouldn't hide; he was seriously considering if he could get down the chimney.

He had been looking at the dumpster, wondering if he could jump onto it then the balcony and up to the roof when the back door had opened and their waiter had come out, looking for a short smoke break and a breather from Bugs.

Yakko and Dot had looked at the man, shamefaced and worried while his eyes went from them to the one immediately noticeable toilet papered vehicle.

Startled, Yakko had been debating on running, denying or offering the guy a twenty to keep his mouth shut when the waiter had spoken about it being a bit cloudy and how it was no doubt going to rain. He himself loved rain and hoped it poured.

He had then stepped around them, holding the door open.

Relieved, Yakko had grabbed Dot's arm and almost dragged her back inside. They aroused no suspicion when they had arrived back at the table, despite the fact that both of them were out of breath and Dot was still a sticky little ball of fur. Apparently, the acting lessons really had paid off.

Everyone had been in a good mood when they had finally paid the check and departed.

Then…all hell broke loose in the alley.

Rounding the corner and spying his vehicle, Bugs had come to a dead stop, causing Plucky and Mr. Bunny to run into his back and almost sending him sprawling to the ground.

His vehicle looked like something a mummy would drive. Yakko had congratulated himself; he had even wound a large clump of tissue up and around the antenna.

Bugs had screeched, rounded upon the four delighted boys and began demanding to know which one had did it before deciding that all four of them were guilty. Then he demanded to know why they did it - and how. None of them had been out of sight for longer than a few minutes and he knew they couldn't Toonspeed well enough to get that thorough a job done.

Once again, he refused to listen to any protest or denial, even from the other adults.

Yakko looked down at his delighted sister again, deciding they made a pretty good little team. If he ever needed a backup the next time he decided to prank Bugs he'd have to keep her in mind. She had been perfect - not only by helping throw him the rolls, but also by simply staying cool under pressure. She hadn't flinched when going back to the table to deal with the boys' taunts, instead only exchanging a knowing look with Yakko before going back to her cold nuggets without a word.

And she had decided she had another way to get back at Wakko and the other boys - after all there were lots of cars in the lot and no one would ever think she and Yakko would behave this…childishly. Yakko had been leery, but after hearing who her victim was, he had instantly agreed. After all, she was helping him prank his chosen target; he just never realized that she could be so devilish in her planning.

Who knew such a deviously clever mind lurked behind such a cute innocent face?

Not that he wanted to encourage her in behaving badly - he was supposed to be the role model, the adult one. He assuaged any guilt he felt about it by telling her that she just needed to try to think before she did some pranks. Not that she wouldn't; Dot was very much a thinker; maybe not so much as him, but that would come in time.

Every now and then though it was nice to engage in a little fun, and what more fun could there be in pranking the king of pranks with his baby sister? The past month he knew he had been a bit of a downer. The weekend had helped him recover and he felt more like himself. This was like a welcome back to normalcy prank.

Laughing at a comment from Foghorn, Yakko bent down, picking Dot up and balancing her on his hip.

"I'm glad you're back, I missed you," Dot mumbled into his neck.

"It was only a weekend Dot - "

"No, before. You're back to being happy."

Am I?

Yakko thought about that momentarily. He supposed he was; he hadn't realized he had been transparent enough in his melancholy that his younger siblings had picked it up. He knew Wakko had to a point; it made sense that Dot would notice as well.

He had played more this weekend than he probably had the last six months. He felt relaxed, rejuvenated, ready to face whatever was ahead of him. He hadn't really had a feeling of being alone and friendless since coming to the studio, but had noticed a deeper bond being developed between himself and the other adults. Even Bugs was beginning to grudgingly view him as an adult. Almost.

"I was always happy," Yakko muttered quietly. "This weekend just made it a little clearer what I have to be happy about." Watching Jeeves try to not laugh overly much at Bugs while trying to shield Max and Plucky from the worst of Bugs' rantings Yakko sighed. "You know I love you right?"

Raising her head, Dot frowned slightly before nodding and saying, "Yeah?" Grabbing his face and pushing herself upwards she added, "You know I love you right?"

"Of course," Yakko replied. "But, if you ever feel like I'm doing something bad, or mean or unfair, tell me OK?"

"I do," Dot said simply, giving a small shrug. "You just don't do it that often."

Let Wakko hear that.

Yakko had already gotten an earful from Wakko. Normally he didn't put up that much of a fuss about going to a show for Dot; this time he was, though part of his complaint was he wasn't asked. Yakko had shrugged and asked him, getting a no.

He had told Wakko he was going anyway. They went to his recitals and such; he could go to a horse show. Dot wanted her whole family there and on such an important day Yakko wasn't willing to do anything to make her upset or nervous.

Yakko sighed; he was this stubborn at eleven. He hadn't been joking when he told Jeeves that Wakko was going to play hell on his nerves.

"Good to hear," Yakko said. "Just say something if you do feel that way. I saw what happens when the lines of communication get a little crossed. Don't ask," he added when Dot started to open her mouth. "It's their personal business though it's worked out. I just don't want it to happen with us."

Looking confused, Dot nodded before glancing over at the four boys.

"When do you think they'll see?"

Yakko didn't answer; he assumed it would be any minute. Bugs was still storming around in a circle while the manager continued to apologize and the others laughed. But his circle was ever-widening; any minute he would look up -

"Holy…Oh…Oh ho ho…" Bugs whistled before laughing, a slow sarcastic guffaw that echoed through the alley and grabbed everyone's attention. "Oh you four…you did it now."

Mostly confused looks greeted that statement. Yakko tried to wipe most of the smirk off his face while Dot struggled to keep her face in a neutral expression.

"Mine was bad enough, but at least I'm not going to skin the four of you and hang your hides on a fence. Foghorn though…"

When the rabbit went back to laughing, Foghorn started forward towards him.

"What are you on about you silly rabbit…What the - I say - what the hell?"

Here we go.

With expectations of one hell of a show, Yakko quickly followed the group further up the alley. Dot squirmed in excited anticipation in his arms, already snickering quietly.

Foghorn was standing in the alley, one hand on his head, the other clutching his chest in open mouthed shock.

Yakko choked back a laugh while secretly hoping the rooster didn't have a heart attack. Dot hid her face in his shirt, her little shoulders shaking in barely contained mirth.

The four younger boys seemed to have determined that with Bugs, a thoroughly wrapped car was a delightful sight to behold. With Foghorn however it was deadly.

Foghorn whirled with a dangerous glint in his eyes and the four boys quickly scattered, taking refuge behind one of the other adults that was watching with expressions of amusement.

Bugs was laughing quite loudly at Foghorn and his misfortune.

"What doc?"

"Stop snickering rabbit!" Foghorn demanded angrily. "Look at my - I say - look at my truck!"

"Oh I'm looking…gotta admire those boys and the way the can wrap a car huh?"

"Ha ha rabbit - this is my truck!" He waved dismissively at Bugs' vehicle. "Yours is just a rental." Turning to the four boys he asked archly, "Which one of you is gonna claim it?"

"Oh, I see, now it's a big deal. I mean I think you're just over exaggerating - "

"Over exaggerating? Look at my truck!" Foghorn roared. "When I figure out which one did - "

Dot put her hands over her ears while laughing at the spectacle going on in front of her. Yakko just grinned.

How could he not be happy? He had his family and a group of close friends who no matter how much they argued and fought would instantly be at each other's side at the first sign of trouble.

"Remember; they're just kids…right doc?" Tossing his head back and beginning to cackle again, Bugs added, "Gotta love the little tykes like your own, right Foggy?"

"Go jump in a stew pot rabbit; I gotta figure out which kid to kill first."

"Well Foggy, I think I have every right to decide that - I mean this is my second time." Reaching into his Hammerspace and retrieving his mallet he added, "Of course, you're welcome to help me."

"Delighted…I'm thinking the boy first," Foghorn said lightly, eyeing Wakko. "Knows better than to mess with a man's ride."

"I was thinking Buster…he knows better than to mess with me."

Yakko looked up, catching both Jeeves and Mr. Bunny looking at him knowingly and he shrugged before smirking, half lifting a still grinning Dot at them as Buster quickly scooted behind his father. Yakko held his free arm out for Wakko, who looked unsure of where was the best place to hide from Bugs and Foghorn's wrath.

Plucky and Max quickly went to hide behind Jeeves. Yakko agreed that all four of them had every reason to worry, and he and Dot had every reason to take this secret to their graves.

It was starting to rain.

Yakko started running towards Bugs' car, Dot throwing her head back and laughing as the rain splashed down upon her face. Wakko was running beside him, laughing while still insisting he didn't do anything to the cars.

Down the alley way, Yakko could see Buster and his father leaping puddles as they raced each other to their Jeep.

Jeeves and Max were running towards the vehicle, though Jeeves beat Max simply because the boy paused long enough for Plucky to catch up. He looked annoyed though; Plucky wasn't exactly hurrying.

Bugs, grumbling loudly but looking somewhat amused, was helping Foghorn get a bulk of the soggy paper off his truck.

Things were definitely back to normal. As usual in his life - and in the life of the others he had gotten to know better over the weekend, things were hectic, maddening, as crazy and unpredictable as a hurricane, but he wouldn't change anything.

After all, it took both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow, and his life would be lacking color without his friends.

~ Fin ~