Note: This is my first BMFM story ever (four ridiculously long years, countless edits and about fifty title changes in the making) and I'd just like to thank in advance anyone and everyone who takes the time to read it. I'd also like to send out a great big thank you to everybody who read and supported my previous works. I love you all.
It's time to leave
Can you make it on your own?
It's time to breathe
Can you follow me back home?
~Nothing Left; Delain
Throttle woke up with a throbbing headache. The funny thing was he didn't remember going to sleep tonight - or doing anything that would cause this sort of pain and disorientation. Funnier still? He had absolutely no idea where on Earth he was.
The room - or wherever it was - was dark. Or at least he thought it was. All he could see was a grayish-black haze. He was pretty sure he was inside somewhere, though. The air was still and it was completely silent, so he couldn't be outside. Not that his hearing was doing much better than his eyesight right now. There was a buzzing in his ears, and it felt like his skull was stuffed with cotton. What the hell happened, anyway? The last thing he could clearly remember was taking off with Charley and his bros for a hot dog and root beer run.
He could only figure that they had been ambushed while on the road, but that wasn't the only thing. There was an unpleasant medicinal taste in his mouth - a sure sign that he hadn't just been knocked out, but drugged.
He had no idea who had done this to him or why, but he was awake now - sort of - and he had to figure out a way out of here...as challenging as that was probably going to be. Aside from not being able to see a thing his entire body felt like lead, and his skin was tingling unpleasantly beneath his fur, making it hard for him to feel anything. He tried several times to get up before he realized he was up.
He was standing - make that hanging - with shackles around his ankles and wrists. His arms were lifted above his head, and until he woke up he had been dangling limply from them. Wincing, he shifted his numb feet until his weight was on his legs; his arms and wrists ached in painful relief as the strain on them eased.
With his feet under him now, Throttle waited a few minutes as his senses slowly returned. The buzzing in his ears continued and his mouth still tasted horrible, but the tingling across his body was starting to fade. He experimentally tugged at his bindings and heard the clink of metal; whatever was holding him in place wasn't going to break, even if he had all his strength. Which he didn't.
In fact, he felt downright weak. And as he was moving around an odd warmth started to spread through his veins, a warmth that made him feel relaxed and mellow. The drug doing its work, no doubt. Throttle decided to be pissed about it later; right now he felt ready to go back to sleep.
He was just starting to close his eyes - it wasn't like he was using them right now anyway - when he heard a grunt to his left. Throttle perked his ears up and took a sniff, but it was no use. His sense of smell was so dull right now it was almost non-existent.
Fortunately, he recognized that grunt. "You awake, bro?" he asked quietly, in case someone else was listening.
Something metal rattled for a moment. "Yeah, I'm awake," came Modo's unhappy voice. "You?"
"More or less."
Throttle gave his head a shake, though it didn't help clear it much. "A word of advice," said Modo, sounding as tired as Throttle felt, "don't move the tail."
Throttle's tail was so numb he had almost forgotten about it. Despite the warning, he automatically tried to lift it. He felt a tug; it was pinned to the floor - by something with sharp points, from the feel of it. Nice.
He breathed a sigh, making the fur on his chest ripple. "Any ideas?"
"I'm workin' on it," Modo said with a yawn.
Throttle sighed again - and stopped with a frown. He'd felt the touch of his own breath on more than just his chest. Frowning harder, he wiggled in his shackles for a moment and came to the unpleasant conclusion that air was touching places it shouldn't. "Stupid question time: am I standing here naked?"
"Yup. So am I. Don't look, please."
"Wouldn't even if I could. Which I..."
A light suddenly dawned. Throttle wiggled his nose a moment, then let out another sigh. "Well, that explains it," he said dryly, referring to the absence of the familiar weight on his face. "Fill me in; where are we?"
"Dunno," said Mod quietly. "It's hard to see in here, wherever it is; the light is really weird. It's not bright, but it's makin' me squint. Everything looks foggy, like the place is filled with smoke, but it's not."
Throttle tried to think of who - or what - had both a place like this and a bone to pick with them, but he was drawing a blank. Not that his mind was working all that well at the moment. "Anything else?"
"Not much. Looks like some tables. Some odd tubes in the walls. There are some wires, some glass container, some computer hardware..."
"Sort of like a...lab?"
"Yeah, pretty much like that."
"Swell. Where's Vinnie?"
"Right next to you. He's still out, though."
"Any sign of our weapons? Or bikes?"
There was something else Throttle knew he should ask - something important - but he couldn't remember what. Before he could wrack his addled brain, he heard a swish in the distance - a high-tech door sliding open, from the sound of it. Quiet footsteps approached.
"Anyone we know?" Throttle asked quietly.
There was a pause before Modo answered. "No. He's stickin' to the shadows so it's hard to tell, but he doesn't look like anyone - or anything - we've come across before."
Not very reassuring. "Can you elaborate?"
Another pause. "He's tall."
From somewhere in front of him, Throttle heard a shuffling sound, followed by something...else. He wasn't sure whether to call it a trilling or a purring or what. It was creepy.
"Don't be frightened," said a voice - an extremely strange, disturbing voice. It was high-pitched but had an underlying guttural sound, as if normal speech was far from the sound it ordinarily used to communicate. Who or whatever it was, Throttle was sure of one thing; it wasn't from Earth, or Mars, or any other planet in this particular galaxy.
And it had them tied up in a lab-like environment. Definitely not reassuring.
"I mean you no harm and I have done no harm," the voice went on. Throttle felt an unpleasant chill as it took a trilling breath before continuing. "We are a gentle race on a most noble mission."
Vinnie suddenly groaned loudly. "A noble mission that includes chainin' us up?" Modo asked dryly.
"Most subjects are not very...receptive to the experiment."
"I'll bet," Throttle said darkly.
Vinnie groaned again. Metal clanked for a moment. And then...
"Two questions: where the hell are we, who the hell are you - and where the hell is Charley?"
Oh, yeah - that was the important thing Throttle had been trying to remember earlier. Where was Charley during all this? "That was three questions, Vincent," he noted dryly.
"My head hurts. Shut up."
"She is fine," said that voice straight out of a cheap 1950s horror movie. "I have taken all the samples I require."
"Samples?" Vinnie echoed shrilly. "Samples? I swear, if you so much as pulled out one hair from her head-"
"I assure you, she is unmarked," that warbling voice cut in. "I must go now, but you will be released in a matter of moments. You will find your effects in a box on the table in front of you. Your friend is asleep down the hall."
There was a swish of fabric, and then the mysterious speaker was gone, the door hissing shut behind him. Less than a minute later their shackles opened with a noisy click.
Muttering darkly under his breath, Vinnie kicked his bindings off and hurried by. Throttle moved more slowly, rubbing his sore limbs until he felt the cool metal of Modo's hand press something into his palm. "Your specs, bro."
Only as Modo had told him, it was awfully hard to see in here, even with them on. He saw the tables, tubes and wires that Modo mentioned earlier, but they were all but lost in the murky haze in the air. The wires and narrow tubing that coiled through the walls looked like they were only supposed to carry power...but the row of large glass cylinder-shaped objects to his left, mostly hidden in shadow, looked like they were supposed to serve a different purpose. He'd thought he'd seen everything by now, but there was something chilling about everything he was looking at, it was so freakish and unknown.
"Come on. Let's find Charley and get out of here."
He didn't need to say it twice. They found a metal box - which had all their clothes and weapons, just as promised - dressed in a hurry and quickly located the automatic door. A few paces down the equally shadowy, hazy hallway was an open doorway that led to a small, grayish room. Sitting inside on a metal table was Charley.
Throttle half-expected Vinnie to make some crack about them getting here too late - she'd had time to put her clothes back on - but he didn't. Instead he hurried forward, a look of worry on his face, and put a hand on her arm. "Are you okay?" he asked, voice full of concern.
Modo was eyeing her with just as much worry, a look Throttle knew he was mirroring; Charley didn't react at all, either to them entering the room or to Vinnie's question. Instead, she sat with her head hung so low her hair hid her face as she fumbled to button her shirt, which hung partway open, giving a faint glimpse of the white of her bra. Vinnie looked torn between looking away and looking closer.
"You're not hurt, are you, Charley-ma'am?" Modo asked softly.
Charley gave her head a small shake and rested her hands on the edge of the table. Vinnie frowned as he slowly drew his hand away. "Nothing, um, weird happened here, did it?"
Charley finally looked up as she slid her bare feet to the floor. Her green eyes were oddly bright. "Nothing worth mentioning," she said lightly - a little too lightly, Throttle thought.
She fumbled to tug her boots on. "Let's just get out of here. Now."
No one argued. Sticking to the corridors that were lit, as odd as that light was, they soon found themselves outside. The building they had just exited looked just like any other condemned factory found on the outskirts of the city, facing an empty, weed-invested field that stood between them and the highway. Their bikes were waiting for them nearby, unharmed and ready. They hurried home without further discussion.
A day or so later, just to satisfy his own curiosity, Throttle took Modo - Vinnie was busy hovering around Charley, who kept insisting she was fine - and went back to the factory, only to discover that every last trace of alien presence had up and vanished. Nothing was left but empty, dusty rooms and broken pieces of metal equipment.
"That's messed up," was Modo's assessment.
Throttle couldn't disagree, but there was nothing they could do about it now, so they quietly went back to the garage. They didn't talk about the weird incident after that, and within a few days it was all but forgotten. Throttle carefully inspected himself and didn't come across any anomalies, a report his bros echoed. Whatever had been done to them didn't seem to have any permanent or noticeable effects. Thank goodness.
As he and the others rode to the edge of town in the quiet of the night, Throttle barely saw the road they were on as he clutched the handlebars of his bike with numb fingers. It felt like a dream - or a joke. They had been relaxing in the garage, goofing around while Charley worked on an engine when the radio had crackled. At first they thought it was nothing - mere static - but then they heard a voice. Stoker's voice, in fact.
"Time to get off your butts, boys; the tide of war has turned in our favor. Meet us outside town, because we're flying in to take you home."
The entire way, Throttle kept expecting to wake up, but then they crested a hill and there he was - with Rimfire, no less.
"Something must be wrong - they landed that ship without crashing," Vinnie cracked weakly.
He looked dazed. Throttle could relate. "This had better be for real," he warned as he dismounted his bike.
But the looks the two were giving them could only be genuine. Grins like that didn't come out of nowhere. They were both overjoyed and barely containing it, and Rimfire didn't even look annoyed when his uncle gave him a hug like he was still a shrimp. "What's it like back home?" Modo asked quietly. "Is it really...over?"
"It's not perfect," the aging general stated, "but it's getting there. That's part of the reason why we decided to come get you three. You get to help us finish cleaning things up."
"Gladly," said Throttle.
It was what they had been waiting for. To return home - and to life the way it was supposed to be. He kept expecting to wake up, but the crickets around them kept chirping, the ship looming in front of them didn't disappear. "You got anything you need to take care of before we go?"
Throttle gave his head a shake. "Nope. We can leave right now, if that's what everyone wants."
He turned to the two standing behind him, expecting them to make some kind of remark, but they were both silent. The mirroring looks of awe and hope on their faces said it all. "Well," Vinnie finally sighed, "it'll be a shame to deprive this planet of me, but..."
Rolling his eye, Modo nudged him, then looked over by their bikes. "Charley-ma'am?"
She had been so quiet all this time Throttle had almost forgotten she was with them. She was standing next to Vinnie's bike with her hands in her back pockets and was absently scuffing the heel of her boot on the ground, her head hung down. Modo's cheery demeanor drooped. "Don't be sad, Charley-ma'am. We'll come back and visit someday. Promise."
Charley shrugged and didn't look up. "Sure."
"Hey." Throttle reached over and gave her arm a squeeze. "We will. Mouse's honor."
She lifted her head then; her eyes were tired, and she didn't really seem to see him, even though she was looking right at him. She flashed a weak half-smile before it faded. "Hey, I'm just thinking about all the peace and quiet I'm going to have now," she joked. "I might actually start getting some real work done again."
"Well, when you're tired of being all good and productive, we'll be sure to drop by and fix that."
She shrugged again; Throttle took a step back as Vinnie suddenly came up. For once, he didn't look like he knew what to say. "So," he began awkwardly, fidgeting.
"So?" Charley echoed. She took her hand out of her pocket and thumped her fist against his shoulder. "Try not to break too much stuff when you're cleaning up Mars."
Before Vinnie could respond she gave a small wave, pivoted on her heel and started walking away. Vinnie watched as her slender figure grew smaller as it faded into the distance, looking like that wasn't quite the goodbye he had been expecting. Throttle had to admit, he was kind of surprised himself. But she didn't so much as look back.
Shrugging, he asked, "You two ready?"
"And how," said Modo.
A deep frown on his face, Vinnie cast one last look over his shoulder before grabbing his bike and following the rest of them into the ship. Then the door closed after them...and in moments they had flown up into the stars, leaving Earth behind.
Four months, Charley thought. Four months had already gone by since the guys left. Funny, she would have thought it would take longer than that to get to where she was now. But here she was, sitting in a stuffy bank, waiting impatiently to sign the final papers.
"And you're sure this is what you want to do, Miss Davidson?" the man sitting across from her asked.
Charley pulled herself out of her thoughts and forced herself to look down at the documents on the desk in front of her. She didn't want to look; she wanted to get out of here. She wanted all of this to be over.
She looked away from the desk and rested back in the chair she was sitting in. It wasn't very comfortable. You'd think one of the biggest banks in town would be able to afford softer furniture. "I'm sure."
The broker gave his head a shake, clearly perplexed. "I still don't understand," he said, as he had stated repeatedly since she first contacted him. What was his name, anyway? Ah, who cared. It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore.
"I get that business is rough, and I agree that you're probably better off cutting your losses like this, but the garage is worth a great deal more than what you're offering it for."
So it was. Everyone thought she was crazy to give it up for a fraction of its real value - and after all she had been through to keep it. But she didn't care about the money at this point. She just wanted to get rid of it. She needed to get rid of all of it.
"We've been through this," she said tiredly. "This is what I want to do. I just want it off my hands. I don't care about the price. So just sign the papers finalizing the deal so I can get out of here already, okay? Thanks."
The broker gave his head another shake - he clearly thought she was nuts - but he took out his pen and started writing, the tip of the pen scratching noisily on the crisp paper. Charley felt a sense of the unknown looming up - like a great void was opening up beneath her - but she didn't care. Diving into a black void and disappearing sounded like a good plan right about now.
As the pen continued to scratch, she let her eyes wander the room. It was classy enough, with real wood desks and counters and expensive fake plants that almost looked like the real thing. Off to the side was the waiting area, where a man who looked like he was in his late twenties was watching the small TV. Ordinarily it was tuned to something innocuous, like the local news or a cooking show, but the guy must have gotten bored because it had been changed to some action flick.
Watching so-called action films made Charley yawn in boredom these days. After all she'd been through, watching gunfire and explosions on-screen was beyond dull. Yet she found herself growing interested in spite of herself; most action films didn't include a scene with a woman wearing a bathrobe kicking the crap out of an assassin in her kitchen.
"What is that?" she wondered.
The man smiled at her. "The Long Kiss Goodnight."
Charley nodded absently and looked down at the paper being pushed closer to her. That was kind of appropriate, actually.
So long old life, she thought as she signed her name at the bottom of the document that officially relinquished her of all ownership of The Last Chance Garage.
I've kissed you goodnight.
"So, what's the word, General?"
Smirking, Carbine looked up from the pile of papers she was rifling through. "No word, civvie. Just filing away old reports."
Grinning, Throttle rested his elbows on the desk, stretching his long legs out in front of him. "Got some time to waste, then? I sure do."
After spending the last two years locking away prisoners and cleaning up all the scattered debris, there wasn't a whole lot to do lately.
"Nope. After this I've got to see about some new recruits."
"And after that?" Throttle pressed.
Visibly stifling a sigh, she stood and turned away. "Today's just not a good day. Sorry."
Throttle tried to suppress the frustration rising inside him and failed. You'd think with the planet being at peace now she would have a little free time - AKA time for him - but no.
"Fine," he said, pushing away from the desk. "Guess I'll go take a ride."
"Have fun," the General called absently.
Throttle snorted quietly as he headed outside into the warm afternoon air. Fun. That was one thing the two of them hadn't had together since...well, since before the war. And when was the last time they had real, genuine fun in the bedroom, anyway?
The thought made him stop walking and think back. He thought for a good minute, but he couldn't remember. And if he couldn't remember, it had to have been a really long time.
Knowing it would only make him upset if he dwelled on it, he pushed his wandering thoughts from his mind and headed to his bike - and then stopped again as something occurred to him. Maybe, he thought with a small smile, it was time to take more than a quick ride.
"Life is good, huh?" Modo noted, with a happy sigh. It was nice to lounge at home with his nephew and Mama for a change. Outside, people were moving around their daily lives, calm and comfortable. The local gardens and surrounding wild foliage was still sparse, but thanks to careful tending, it was coming along.
"Yeah, it's great," said Rimfire, sounding a little bored as he suddenly got up and straightened his vest. "I've got patrol duty, so I'll catch you later."
"All right," sighed Modo, sad to see him run off so soon. "Say hi to your sister for me."
Rimfire waved and was gone. Modo hung around for a few minutes more, listening to the sound of his mama's knitting needles clack - and then he heard the familiar sound of an even more familiar bike engine pull up out front. Grinning, he headed outside.
Throttle pulled to a stop and hopped off his bike. "Hey, bro. You busy?"
"Busy bein' calm and peaceful," Modo responded.
"That's nice. Want to take a trip?"
"Where to?" Modo wondered.
Instead of answering, Throttle just smiled at him. Make that smirked at him. Modo stared, feeling puzzled...and then it dawned on him.
"Yeah," he said, feeling himself grin again. "I think I'm up for that."
They went to track down Vinnie, which didn't take too long; he'd been pretty sulky lately and didn't drift very far from the residential district. "Hey," Modo called as they approached, "you up to taking a trip to Earth?"
Vinnie spun around. "You mean, go see Charley?" he asked.
Vinnie raced off to where his bike was parked, whooping loudly. "You could show a little enthusiasm," Throttle called after him.
Snickering, the two of them headed to find a small ship they could borrow.
It was early morning when the three of them landed in a wooded area just outside Chicago. It was sometime in early summer, so the air was comfortably warm and fragrant, the trees lush and green and the flowers in full bloom. "Yup, something's definitely wrong," Vinnie commented after they landed smoothly amid the shrubbery. "That's twice now."
They left the unscathed ship safely hidden in the underbrush and rode off into town, riding over smooth road and passing by thriving businesses and crowds bustling along the sidewalks. "Looks like nothin's changed," Modo noted as the three of them turned a corner onto a relatively quiet street.
"One thing's definitely changed," Throttle corrected with a grin. "It's a lot cleaner."
"You got a point."
For once, Vinnie didn't have a remark of his own to add. In fact, Throttle noticed that he had turned abnormally quiet since making his wisecrack about their landing, and when he glanced at him, Vinnie looked distracted - maybe even a little anxious.
Throttle grew quiet himself as he looked around, taking in the sight of the slightly dingy but otherwise debris-free road. This section of the city always had less traffic, roughly a mile away from Charley's garage. That was where they planned to head first, of course. There was time to visit their other favorite haunts and grab some hot dogs later.
Only as they headed down the street that they all knew led to the garage, a completely different sight came into view. Throttle slowed to a stop, barely noticing that he had quit accelerating. "What the...?"
Beside him, Modo opened his mouth and closed it a handful of times, clearly at a loss for words. Vinnie was another story.
"What the hell happened to the garage?"
Throttle just gave his head a shake, too stunned to even think about responding - not that he had any idea what to say right now. In place of where The Last Chance Garage was supposed to be standing was a generic gas station and truck stop. Just beyond the gas pumps was a small diner simply named 'Susie's.'
Modo was scratching his head. "Um...maybe Charley-ma'am expanded while we were gone?" he said uncertainly.
"Does that looked 'expanded' to you?" Vinnie spat, irritated.
Standing near the back of the station was a small, equally generic-looking repair shop. There was no name on it. Throttle didn't know who owned or built this place, but...he had a weird feeling that Charley had nothing to do with it.
"Come on," he said, dismounting his bike. "Only thing we can do right now is start asking questions."
The interior of the small diner was just what you would expect for a place just off the expressway; white-and-black checkered floor, red vinyl covers on the booth seats and bar stools, lamps with white glass shades hanging over the tables. A handful of truckers were sitting up at the front counter, sipping steaming cups of coffee. Sitting near one of the windows in a booth was a family who looked like they were on vacation, laughing like they didn't have a care in the world.
A short, slightly pudgy woman dressed in a mauve waitress dress and white apron was working behind the counter; she flashed a warm-as-a-mother's smile when she noticed the three of them standing by the door. "Well hi, boys, can I get you anything?"
"Uh, three root beers," said Throttle, still feeling a little dazed as he looked around.
Someone at the counter snickered, obviously amused by the order. "I'll take another hot coffee, Suze."
"You got it, Dave."
Three freshly-opened glass bottles of root beer were left on the counter; the three of them absently picked them up. None of them were sure where to begin so, as usual, Vinnie took the blunt, direct approach. "What happened to The Last Chance Garage?"
Susie looked up from the coffee she was pouring, her expression a trifle puzzled. "The what?"
"The place that used to be here before...all this was put in," Throttle explained.
"Oh - that. It was bulldozed after the owner sold it."
Throttle nearly sputtered root beer up his nose. "What?"
"Charley-ma'am wouldn't do that," Modo said firmly. "She loved that place. It was her life's work."
"She wouldn't do it willingly, anyway," Vinnie added darkly.
Susie was frowning at them now. "Look," she said as she wiped a rag over the counter, "I don't know the details - I just run the diner. If you want to know all the particulars, you'll have to ask the company that owns the station."
Finding out what happened to the garage wasn't really the issue; what they wanted to do right now was find Charley. The rest of the details would follow. "I agree that she wouldn't give the garage up on her own," Throttle said as they left the diner - after paying for their drinks, which they almost forgot about until a sharp throat-clearing and an angry glare from a waitress reminded them. "Only..."
Only there weren't any Plutarkians left on Earth. But the only way she would let the garage be bulldozed was if something had driven her away, so it had to be something...else.
"It would be real simple if we could just ask her," Modo pointed out, "but we have no idea where she moved to. It's a big city - if she even stayed in the city."
Vinnie scowled for a moment - and then his expression cleared, as if he had just noticed something. "How 'bout we check the phone book?" he suggested, pointing to a nearby booth.
"That's a shocking display of brains for you," Throttle quipped.
Though in all honesty, none of them were really in the mood for jokes right now, so they all grew quiet as they pored over the hefty book anchored next to the pay phone. The book had been issued that year, but even though they double, triple, and quadruple-checked, there wasn't any mention of a Charlene Davidson.
"Well, that blows that idea to hell," Vinnie grumbled, slapping the book shut.
"Easy, Vinnie," Throttle told him. "We'll find her."
It wasn't going to be easy, but all they could do was start asking around town, starting with other shops and mechanics. Charley was fairly well-known with local bikers; someone had to know where she went.
They started with the small garage out in back, only to leave a little while later empty-handed. No one around here seemed to know her name. Undaunted, they headed back into town, where they spent the rest of the afternoon asking around repair shops and biker bars.
A handful of people perked up with recognition when they mentioned Charley, but they were just as bewildered as the three of them were over what had happened to the garage. "One day it was just gone," a burly, bearded fellow reported. "No one knows where she went, or why she had the place torn down."
Everywhere they went, they got the same story. The day quickly wore on and the sun was already going down when it suddenly occurred to them to try showing her picture - which Vinnie just happened to have. Naturally. Their close friend's image sparked more recognition, but earned them no further information.
Not until - just as they were ready to give in to their growling stomachs and take a break for a while - they absently showed Charley's picture to a man playing pool on their way out of a dimly-lit bar. The man took it with a look of interest. "The name doesn't ring any bells," he noted, squinting at the image, "but she looks an awful lot like one of the mechanics who works at that huge garage a few miles from here."
Vinnie immediately perked up. "Really? You think it could be Charley?"
The guy shrugged and handed the picture back, then leaned a hand on the edge of the pool table as he put his other hand in the pocket of his jeans. He was fairly young - early to mid-twenties - with shaggy black hair, worn, ripped jeans, scuffed boots and an old leather jacket adorned with zippers and studs. Multiple piercings glittered in each of his ears. "Don't know the name," he mused, "but the resemblance is pretty strong."
"Where is this place?" Throttle wondered.
"I can take you there," the young biker volunteered with a grin. "I work there myself. In fact, I own the place. Name's Alex."