Chapter One: I'm Not In Love; So Don't Forget It
Ace had been in and out of juvie for about ten years. The first crime he'd ever committed was stealing some cash from his old man's wallet. He'd run away with his friends and they'd hidden out in Snake's tree house. They ate all kinds of junk food and stayed up past their bedtimes. That lasted until the old bastard had reported them to the fuzz. The fuzz had caught them and turned them into Ace's old man, who proclaimed that he was most definitely pressing charges.
Ace and the Gangreen Gang spent several months in juvenile hall, with way bigger, scarier kids than them. Most of them were teenagers, whereas the Gangreen Gang were barely old enough to be registered in the school system. That was half the reason Ace had engineered a breakout. That and the sheer thrill of it.
From then on Ace and the Gangreen Gang made their home in Townsville Dump, committing petty crimes just to get by. Ace's old man had been a neglectful, abusive jackass and the rest of the Gang's folks hadn't been much better either, so life in the dump, though hard and rather... smelly, had been practically peaceful. After scavenging through the dump for some supplies and using stolen money to buy others, they'd even been able to a build a small, shed-like structure to live in.
Though their crimes had at first been about surviving, Ace soon realized he actually enjoyed his life of crime. (Perhaps not the most usual thing to realize at such a young age.) So the Gangreen Gang went from stealing food and clothes to stealing electronics and other valuables and picking fights and causing vandalism and graffiti. Then when the Powerpuff Girls came on the scene, well, how could Ace resist picking fights with a bunch of good-two-shoes superheroes?
He'd even come up with this scheme once to trick the green Powerpuff, Buttercup, (who'd had a big crush on him) into being distracted enough by the Gang and his "friendship" that they'd be able to take out her two sisters. Buttercup had caught wind of it just in time and Ace got the buttkicking of a lifetime. Initially he'd told himself "Eh, I'm seven. I ain't got any interest in romance anyways", but as he got older, he realized what a rotten thing he had done to Buttercup.
It gnawed at him for years.
As he got older and started entering his late teens, he began to realize that he didn't want to be a criminal anymore. Ace was getting closer and closer to adulthood; if he kept up like this, in a few years he and the rest of the Gangreen Gang would be charged as adults and do time in prison. He realized he didn't want that for himself or for his friends, for that matter.
So his plan to make big bucks another (completely legal) way? Starting a band. They even kept "the Gangreen Gang" as their band name. And they were pretty damn good if Ace said so himself.
Ace, of course, was the band's singer/bass guitarist, while Snake played electric guitar, Big Billy the drums, with Lil' Arturo on the keyboard, and Grubber was masterful on the synthesizer and occasionally played the harp. While Ace wrote most of the songs, Snake, Arturo, or Grubber would sometimes come up with something good and that would get added to the band's repertoire.
They had actually competed and placed third in the Battle of the Bands and had cult following amongst Townsville's teenage population. They might even be on their way to a record deal soon. Still, Ace felt something was missing. Another band member, maybe. Ace had talked a lot about possibly adding another singer to the group; someone who could hit the notes he couldn't.
And as fate would have it, Ace was about to find his second singer in the most unlikely of people...
They'd gotten a pretty sweet gig that night. The owners of Townsville Concert Hall were big fans of the Gangreen Gang's music and had eagerly agreed to book them as soon as they had heard the Gang was interested in performing on their stage.
"You kids are talented as hell! You remind me a little of Greg and myself back in the day. We used to be in a punk group back in the eighties with some of our buddies. 'Course, we didn't get nearly as big a fan base as you, but we did okay for ourselves. After we got married, we bought the concert hall and renovated it and the rest is history." Wade T. Hudson had beamed.
"Thank youse for this opportunity, sirs. We ain't had this big o' a venue since we was still in the Battle o' the Bands. I hope we can look forward ta doin' business with ya in the future." Ace had said.
"Of course, of course! Your show's nearly sold out already and we just announced we were holding it here a few hours ago." Greg River had said.
He did actually like Hudson and River. For adults, they seemed alright to him. No ulterior motives. They just wanted a good show from a good band.
The Gangreen Gang had shook hands with Hudson and River then headed back to their house. It was a lot nicer than the shack they used to live in as little kids, but still small and cozy and close to the dump. (Billy had been disappointed that they weren't going to live in the dump still, but Snake had reminded him that they had real money now and could live anywhere in the city.
"Besssidess, who'sss gonna build usss a houssse in the dump?" he'd said.)
They didn't need to get ready just yet, but they still had a set list to put together. They were only going to have an hour and a half show, but Snake and Arturo wanted as many of their songs in the show as possible so they were looking at closer to three hours. (Grubber had only requested two of his original songs be performed and as they were some of Ace's favorites to sing, he'd obliged.) As the afternoon wore on, Ace was beginning to grow impatient with his bandmates.
"Do we really need to keep Let Me Share My Poison With You in? It's kinda, uh, how do I say this p'litely? Tacky." Ace pointed at the song in question.
"I'm very passssionate about that sssong. It's my masssterpiece, Accce. It capturesss my esssence asss an artissst." Snake insisted.
"Look, if you switch out that and Scaly Days, Scaly Nights, I'll let you keep in About a Hatchling."
"Fine. What about Rattler Bluessss and Fangsss?"
"You know Rattler Blues wears my voice out too much. Fangs is fine so long as Billy's alright with it. Billy, do ya think you'll be able ta keep with the beat in Fangs? Your wrists doin' good 'nuff?" Ace asked the cyclops.
"Yeah, sure, Ace." Big Billy nodded vigorously.
"Okay, Arturo, onto you. I don't think we need that many songs about your lucky comb tonight. Pick one an' only one an' we'll talk about the rest, capiche?"
"But how am I supposed to choose between She Makes Me Look Good and Maria Conchita Teresa Rosalita?" Arturo whined.
"I dunno, dude, figure it out or have someone else help you. I don't have time ta babysit all of youse. I still gotta figure out what I'm gonna wear t'night and do my vocal exercises!"
He marched into his room and locked the door behind him. He slumped down the wall, only allowing himself to take a deep breath once his back reached the bottom.
Ace liked being the leader; he liked the respect and he liked being treated as the smartest and the coolest of the group. But the Gang constantly looked to him to solve all their problems and resolve their conflicts. They were all roughly around the same age, but he was treated as the Parent to them all. He rarely got any time to himself. It could be exhausting as hell to be their leader twenty-four/seven.
Ace took a moment to collect himself, then began rummaging through the clothes he reserved for when the Gangreen Gang got a gig. His best pair of shredded jeans, a white and purple shirt, his favorite sweat bands, a new leather jacket (He'd painted a kinda exaggerated, cartoony version of himself on the back that served as the band's logo. He didn't care if that made him seem self-obsessed), a pair of boots that were like cowboy boots but not, and, of course, his signature pair of shades. He got dressed then stood in front of the mirror.
Ace peered at his reflection. He had a few zits and five o'clock shadow. His hair was messy and he was conscious the he hadn't showered that day. Other than that, he looked pretty good, if he said so himself. Ace broke out the hair gel and cologne (he was out of deodorant) and for a little added flair, he decided to- rather messily- put on some eyeliner...not that anyone would see it with his sunglasses on.
Satisfied with his appearance, he decided to do a few vocal warm-ups.
"Me me me me me! Do re mi fa sol la ti! A E I-" Ace began.
"-Snake! Snake! Make 'im knock it off!" Ace heard through the door.
"Ssstop it! You're sssupposssed to be helping Arturo pick between sssongsss in the first place, Big Billy. Grubber, help me out, dude!"
Ace knew when he'd heard enough of an argument to intervene. He was as ready as he was going to be anyways. He sighed and headed back out to the main room.
"Alright! Alright! Enough already!" he exclaimed.
Things had calmed down by the time they'd piled into the van, but everyone was still at least a little ticked off at each other.
"Look," Ace said as he pulled into their designated parking spot, "It shouldn't be that hard to come to decisions like that without arguing, boys. It doesn't matter how long a concert we gots, we ain't gonna be able to fit everything single song in. There's a lotta songs I really wanted to sing t'night, but I left 'em cuz I know you boys were real excited 'bout doin' some classic rock covers an' I wanted to make sure youse guys got to perform a bit of your songs, too. We all gots to make sacrifices, ya got me?"
"We're sorry, Ace." Big Billy, Arturo, and Snake said. Grubber meerly blew a raspberry in response, but Ace got the gist.
"Now, we're gonna bring our equipment in and then... we're gonna rock the socks offa the good people of Townsville! Whaddaya say, Gang?"
The other boys cheered in response.
"Then let's get out there and do it!"
With the help of a few Concert Hall employees, it took them a little under a half hour to unpack their instruments, their amps, and a few wardrobe changes. They were done earlier than they thought, so they decided to do a thorough equipment check.
When Ace got up on the stage, he immediately felt confidence and a burst of energy surge through him. He felt like this every time before they performed and it was what made him realize he belonged up there. That there was something out there for him that he was good at other than committing crimes. Ace had never told the rest of the Gangreen Gang that, but he knew they felt it, too.
"Ready, Billy, Grubber, Arturo, Snake?" Ace called to his bandmates.
"Ready, boss!" they called back.
"One, two, three, four!"
First the drums, then the guitars, the keyboard, and the harp began to play. Ace tapped his foot to the beat of the rhythm then started to sing.
"It's easier bein' green than you think/ A few funny looks ain't enough to break my confidence/ Got my boys/ Got my fists/ I'm ready to throw down if you are/ I'll go out with a bang/ Who's stupid enough to mess with the Gangreen Ga-" Ace's voice faltered and died as he saw them in the audience a few rows behind Hudson, Rivers, and the dudes in charge of their sound check.
It was a free country; they could attend his concert with paying tickets like everyone else, but why the hell had they been invited to watch the Gang's sound check? Ace didn't want to call attention to the fact that he'd seen the three of them there, so he faked a coughing fit.
One of the employees handed a bottle of water up to Ace. He took a long swig.
"Better this happens now and not during the concert, right, boys?" River said.
"You're absolutely right, sir. Gimme a second an' I'll start where I left off." Ace nodded vigorously.
River gave him a smile and Hudson gave a thumbs up. Continue whenever you're ready, boys, they seemed to say.
Ace still felt shaken at the sight of the three of them in the front rows, but he continued singing the song.
After they'd confirmed that their equipment was working properly, the Gangreen Gang headed backstage to wait. Big Billy, Arturo, and Grubber wandered off to use the bathroom, get snacks, and take a power nap, respectively. Ace waited until the others were gone then cornered Snake in the other boy's dressing room.
"Did you see them? Tell me you saw them." Ace whispered.
"In the third row. Of courssse, how could I misss them? They're ssso... colorful." Snake hissed in response.
"What are they doin' here an' why would they even want to come to our concert after all crap we did to them over them over the years?"
"Beatsss me, Bosss. Maybe they're keeping their eyesss on usss. Making sure we don't "misssbehave" tonight."
"If they do anything and I mean anything to screw up our concert t'night, I'll show them goody-two-shoeses some misbehavior. I'll show them- Who'm I kiddin'? Even if they're the guilty party, they've been good, upstandin' citizens way longer'n we have. Let's keep this on the down low. Only the tell the others if you think you absolutely have to. We can't let them know we know they're here just yet."
Out in the auditorium, the sounds of voices and footsteps filled the air. Judging by the volume, they were going to have a full house tonight.
A combination of nerves and excitement filled Ace with a jittery energy. They weren't even signed with a record label yet, but they were able to draw in crowds that big. It didn't even feel real.
Hudson peered at them from the other side of the stage curtain."You're on in three, boys."
The Gang all gave him a thumbs up. Hudson walked back out and onto the stage.
"Folks, our show is about to start in a couple o' minutes! For the first time ever at Townsville Concert Hall, local legends and Battle of the Bands finalists... the Gaaanngggreeennn Gaaannnggg!" Hudson shouted into the mic.
The auditorium erupted into applause.
"Everyone 'bout ready?" Ace asked the others.
Ace took a took a deep then let it out. He felt like he could've done more to prepare for that night, but that didn't matter now. It was time and he was as ready as he was going to be in that moment.
The curtain rose. A sea of faces looked back up at the Gangreen Gang. The audience cheered as soon as the Gang came into full view.
"What's up, Townsville!" Ace shouted into the microphone.
The audience shouted back in excitement.
"We've got a great ssshow for you tonight!" Snake said.
Grubber blew a wet, slimy raspberry into the air.
"Uh, hi, I'm Big Billy!" Billy grinned.
"Ready, mi hermanos?" Arturo asked.
"Ready!" they said.
Billy started on the drums, then Ace and Snake joined in with their guitars, then Grubber on the synthesizer, and Arturo on the keyboard. Ace leaned into the microphone, almost touching it. He had been smiling before, but now his face dropped into a more somber expression. He was still, almost stiff; only strumming his guitar and tapping his feet. (He didn't like to dance much during this song.) Then he started to sing.
"This place is our home/ It's not much at all/ Some might call it a dump/ And ya know?/ I think they might be right/ Garbage garbage, every where garbage/ Other people's broken dreeeaamss/ Dropped on my laaawnnn/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage/ Can't step a foot outside without steppin' in someone else's crap/ Broken glass and broken people; they all come here to die/ Lived here since I was a young boy/ Wonder if I'll ever really leave/ Ran here from one dump to another/ All we had was each other/ Hopin' to find an escape/ But instead we lived in this place/ Garbage garbage, every where garbage/ Other people's broken dreeeaamss/ Dropped on my laaawnnn/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage/ You can never come clean/ Never really give up everything bad about yourself/ Sometimes all you are is trash in a sea of garbage/ No better than all the shattered things on the ground/ You gotta get out before it piles up around you/ Promise me, okay?/ Garbage garbage, every where garbage/ Other people's broken dreeeaamss/ Dropped on my laaawnnn/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage/ Is what they told me am/ Wonder if this place is a reflection on me/ Are we as bad as they say?/ Don't they know this isn't how I wanna stay?/ Is it time to change/ Clean up this place; clean ourselves up/ Rejoin society (do they even want us anymore?)/ Are we even ready? I want to be/ But I worry I'm not/ I don't want this to be who I am/ I don't want to be... Garbage garbage, every where garbage/ Other people's broken dreeeaamss/ Dropped on my laaawnnn/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage/ Other people's broken dreams/ Other people's broken dreams/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Dropped on my lawn/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage."
The audience clapped as the song ended. The Gangreen Gang began hurling garbage bags into the audience; some had signed t-shirts and merch, some were empty, a few had actual garbage in them. (Nothing too messy or disgusting, after all people were going to have to clean it up later) The crowd devoured it, seemingly delighted to have even empty trash bags.
They sang Fangs next, which was more drums and synthesizer than anything. The drum solo in the middle was intense and Big Billy tended to injure himself whenever they performed it, but that things went off without a hitch.
"...You don't wanna bite me/ Cuz I'll sure as hell bite back/ And trust me it won't be pretty/ I'm like an animal/ Finally uncaged/ And my fangs are ready to strike..."
They sang She Makes Me Look Good and one of Grubber's songs, Young Punks- which had been called "a teen anthem" and "the most beautiful, yet darkly comedic ode to teenage angst I've ever heard" in a passionate review in the Townsville Tribune- before going backstage to do their first costume change of the night. The Gangreen Gang arrived back onstage wearing spacesuits. They each carried a helmet, which they quickly set down at their feet. They began to play their instruments, except for Ace, who set his guitar down in the middle of the stage and started to moonwalk. They launched into a mash-up between Space Oddity and one of their own songs, I Went to Outerspace and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt.
They sang a few more covers, but after that they went back to original songs. Everything was going great. The crowd was loving them. And then they got to the final song of the night. They broke out all their lasers and pyrotechnics. Grubber was doing double time, playing both his synthesizer and his harp. (He always did like to show off by playing the harp with his feet) Just as Ace broke into song, he heard a faint noise. Like the grinding and screeching of metal. He ignored it though and kept singing.
"...You're in for a wild ride/ Hop in the van/ Let's get moving/ We need to go now/ Hurry up and let's blow this joint/ We're on the run again!/ Run again/ Run again/ Runaways from the law/ Superheroes think they're a match for us/ But they got another think coming/ Cuz we're the boys in green/ And we sure are mean/ No one should mess with us cuz/ We're the Gangreen Gan-"
The sound of screeching, crunching metal rang throughout the auditorium, louder than anything going on onstage. Ace stopped singing and stared up at the ceiling. The crowd's gaze went from the Gang to the place where the noise was emanating from. With one final crunch, the roof was torn off the concert hall.
It was hard to see in the gloom, but whatever had ripped the roof off the place was enormous. A giant scaly creature grinned down at them before aimlessly the roof somewhere into the darkness. It landed hard off into the distance. Ace hoped it hadn't landed on anyone.
It leaned in closer and the lights hit it. It looked like an ear, if an ear could be larger than a building, deep blue and scaly, with a mouthful of jagged fangs on its earlobe, and a single, milky white eye on the top of it. It's long, unnaturally muscular arms reached down into the building. Its grime encrusted hands were aimed straight at Ace.
Ace dove to side, but the ear creature lunged towards him and caught him in his grasp, knocking down the rest of the Gangreen Gang and their instruments in the process.
"Ace!" The Gangreen Gang yelped.
Ace kicked and squirmed in the ear thing's hand, but it held tight. Then it began to squeeze him. He couldn't breathe and a red haze filled his vision. Ace was going to pass out... and then he was going to be crushed to death. Before he blacked out, he saw a flash of color out of the corner of his eye. Pink, green, and blue. Like a mini rainbow.
Ace snapped out of it as soon as he was placed on the ground.
His ribs ached and he was sure at least three of them were cracked or very badly bruised. In fact, he was certain he was more bruise than anything else. And it hurt to breathe. He was alive though.
At first, it was hard to sit even sit up. His head pounded and he could hardly see through the sheer pain. Once his vision cleared, he saw chaos all around him.
People were stampeding over one another to get out. Chairs were knocked over and splintered across the floor. Snake and Big Billy were trying to help the audience get out safely, but even though though they were using their microphones, no one seemed to be paying them any attention. Grubber laid still on the stage. He had a black eye and a bloody knot on his head. He was breathing though and he had a steady pulse. Lil' Arturo was nowhere to be seen. Ace hoped he was just down there with the others and that his height made him hard to see.
Up above, the Powerpuff Girls were fighting the monster back. Bubbles was unleashing a sonic scream into its enormous ear, while Blossom seemed to speaking calmly and at a normal volume (was she trying to reason with it? Bore it to death?), and Buttercup... Buttercup was singing at it. She actually had a pretty good voice. No, a great voice. Ace stopped and stared at the green Powerpuff for a moment, taking in the sound of her voice.
Buttercup turned away from the creature for a moment and locked eyes with Ace. She frowned at him. Not angrily, but like she was concentrating.
Ace swallowed dryly. Aw, damn, what if she comes after me?
Buttercup turned back to her sisters, seemed to say something, (Ace couldn't hear what) then dove down at the stage. Ace winced as she swooped him up in her arms.
"This isn't- I didn't do nothing! I swear!" Ace squeaked hoarsely.
"Duh, dude we know. We're not here for you, we were staking out your concert-" Buttercup said.
"So you admit you were spyin' on us!"
"- because of big and eerie up there. For the past few weeks, it's been going to rock concerts and wrecking up the place an' you guys were gonna be next. It's attracted to the noise. We don't know if it makes it mad or if it likes it. We need it to leave and I need your help. Blossom is hoping to bore it to death, Bubbles thinks the loud noise pisses it off and'll make it leave, but I think it's here for the music. So let's give it the singer it wants, just not the kinda music it's used to from him."
Buttercup rolled her eyes. "We're gonna do a duet, doofus. Do you know Love Makes the World Go 'Round? That's about as peppy as it gets."
"Uh, yeah, I think I know most o' the words."
"Good, cuz once we get up there, we need to start belting it out."
They had flown to the ceiling now. Bubbles was still screaming at the creature and Ace was now close enough to hear that Blossom was reciting the periodic table.
"Ready?" Buttercup asked him.
"Nope, but we can pretend I am."
They flew right up beside the monster. It grinned wickedly when it saw Ace. Ace grinned back and he and Buttercup began to sing.
"La La Love, La La Love makes the world go round!/ Love, love, love, la la love, la la love makes the world go round!"
It glared at them in confusion.
"You. Sssinggg. Wronggg. Sssonggg! Thisss. Isss. Ssso. Cheery! Ssstop!" the ear bellowed at them.
"...Love, love, love, la la love, la la love makes the world go!" Ace sang. It hurt to sing, but he managed it, maybe because of the adrenaline, maybe because he'd gotten good at ignoring pain over the years.
"You can't hurt me with the things that you do/ I'll pick up dandelions and I'll give them to you!" Buttercup sang.
"Puppy dogs, kitty cats, swimming through love! La la love makes the world go round!" they sang together, almost yelling. That was especially hard on his ribs. It was hard not to start panting or doubling over during that part.
The creature snarled, it's milky eye turning bright yellow as it swung at them. Buttercup deftly dodged out of the way and its fists smashed into jagged metal instead. It howled in pain as it clutched its bleeding hand. With its good hand it made a claw and swiped at Blossom and Bubbles. It didn't manage to catch either girl, but one of its filthy, yellow nails had left a deep gash on Bubbles's forehead. Bubbles let out a small whimper before going right up to the creature and punching it in the teeth. A spray of rotting teeth rained down into the auditorium below.
"That's what you get for for scratching up my face!" Bubbles said. She closed her eyes and blew a raspberry worth of Grubber at it.
Unfortunately, that left the blue Powerpuff distracted and open for attack. The creature grabbed her by the pigtail and swung her around in a circle.
"Bubbles!" Blossom and Buttercup shouted.
Blossom lunged at its hand, trying to make it let go of her sister. She was too late. The creature hurled Bubbles up and into the night sky.
"Shi- you two! Keep singing! I'm going to get Bubbles!" Blossom told them.
"What do we do? I don't know any other super peppy songs." Buttercup hissed at him.
"Maybe it'll get annoying if we just keep singin' the same thing over and over. It's worth a try. And, uh, maybe we can get back onstage. You get the boys, tell 'em what we're playin', an' I'll start singin'." Ace replied.
Buttercup dropped him off on the stage and zoomed away in a streak of green light. She came a few seconds later with Snake and Big Billy. They were both confused about how they got there and then startled when they saw Buttercup hovering above them.
"Alright, let's getting cracking!" she said.
"Wait... where's Lil' Arturo? Did you see him down there?" Ace asked.
"No... I didn't. Crap. I'll go around the room again. You guys, just starting singing." Buttercup flew off again.
"Sssinging? At a time like thisss? What'sss that chick planning?" Snake griped.
"Boys, have you seen Arturo?" Ace asked them. He hoped they heard the urgency in his voice and would answer.
"Not sssinccce that giant ear guy grabbed you and knocked Grubber out. But I wasssn't... wasssn 't paying attention to him I guesss." Snake looked down at his feet in shame.
"Billy?" He looked towards the taller boy hopefully.
"I dunno. Sorry, Ace." Big Billy said.
Ace's heart sank. Arturo was the youngest member of the Gangreen Gang. Ace had been looking out for the kid for over half his life. He'd screwed up tonight, when Arturo needed him to keep an eye on him the most and now he was missing. Arturo could be dead.
"He- he's probably fine. Might be hidin' out in the bathroom. Y-you know how he gets when he's nervous. Pro'ly just stomach trouble! Yeah, stomach trouble," Ace said half-heartedly."C'mon! We can't just wait fer 'im to get over here. Start playin' those instruments, Gang!"
Snake picked his guitar up from the stage and Billy dove behind his drum set. Ace's guitar had been destroyed when the monster had tried to crush him to death so his only instrument left was his voice.
"Just follow my lead, you've heard this song before." Ace instructed them.
"La la love makes the world go round/ La la love makes the world go round! La la love..."
The more they played, the more annoyed the monster looked. It tried jamming its fingers in its ear, but still seemed to be able to hear them.
Powerpuffs pink and blue dove back into the building. Ace didn't get a good look at Bubbles, but judging by the fact she was flying on her own, she was probably okay. They started picking up groups of people and flying them outside to safety. Once they'd gotten everyone out of harm's way they returned to the stage.
"Where's Buttercup?" Blossom asked them.
"Ssshe'sss looking for Arturo. No one'sss ssseen him sssinccce that thing attacked." Snake said.
"Shoot. Maybe we should- do you guys need anymore help over here?" Blossom said.
"Yesss, either of you two play the keyboard or the harp or- and thisss isss a long ssshot- the sssynthesssizer?"
"Bubbles used to take piano lessons, that's probably close enough... I suppose I could give one of the other two a shot." Blossom said uncertainly.
"Go nutsss." Snake said.
As Bubbles got into position behind the keyboard, Blossom's eyes darted back and forth between the harp and the synthesizer. She probably had no idea how to play either one. Just as Blossom was about to choose one, a loud whoosh of air and a burst of green light came hurtling down in the front row. Ace stopped singing and jumped off stage. The impact made him wince. He hadn't expected to feel that in his ribs.
Buttercup was on her knees in the orchestra pit, panting. In her arms she cradled someone very small and very bloody. His clothes were torn and he was covered in scratches and gashes and splinters of wood were stuck in his bare skin.
Ace took Arturo from her. He looked even worse up close. His breathing was weak and shallow.
"Arturo," Ace croaked. "Where... where did ya find 'im?"
Ace was thankful he hadn't lost his lucky shades; he didn't want Buttercup to see him cry.
"Under a pile of broken chairs. He looks like he was... trampled or something." Buttercup said.
Ace stood up, still holding Arturo against his chest. "God... if... if, um, the cops an' the ambulances don't get here soon... I'm not sure Arturo's gonna make it."
"I-I'm sorry. I found him as soon as I could."
"I don't blame youse, Buddacup, jus'... help me get 'im up on stage. We'll put 'im with Grubber. We gotta- we gotta keep singing, okay? We gotta get that thing to leave."
Buttercup guided Ace back up the stage steps. Ace hadn't realized everyone had stopped playing the song until they were all standing in front of him expectantly.
"How isss he?" Snake asked.
"Not good. He needs t' lie down. Put 'im with Grubber," Ace gently handed Arturo off to Snake. "And here, wrap 'im up with this." Ace took off his jacket and gave that to Snake, too.
Snake laid Arturo down at the back of the stage.
"Ressst easssy, little buddy." he told him.
Grubber was still unconscious, but he seemed to be stirring.
"Buddacup, youse up fer another duet?" Ace asked the green Powerpuff.
"Ready, if you are, Ace." Buttercup said.
Buttercup and Ace sang their hearts out. They harmonized together beautifully. Ace couldn't tell where his voice ended and hers began. It was a moment of unity Ace had never shared with anyone before. The thought of singing together with Buttercup or even just listening to her sing by herself made Ace's heart race. Snake and Big Billy played harder and better than they ever had before. They didn't miss a single note or flub their timing once. Bubbles was a passable keyboard player, but Blossom had clearly never used a synthesizer before in her life.
The ear monster started screaming and wailing. "Ssstop. Make. It. Ssstop. You're. Hurtinggg. Meeee! What. Did. I. Ever. Do. To. You?"
This disgusting, thick blue ooze poured out of its ears. Ace wasn't sure if it was blood or earwax. It stank something awful whatever it was.
"C'mon, Girls! Now's our chance!" Blossom shouted.
A tiny rainbow of light flew straight into the thing's "face". They were but a streak of color as they fought the ear monster back. Only when the thing moved out of eye sight did Ace allow himself to collapse from the pain. Billy caught him and helped him sit down.
The adrenaline had worn off and now Ace was nothing more than an aching, throbbing mess.
"Duh, you need anything, boss?" Billy asked.
"Some water maybe." It hurt to talk, it hurt to breathe. Ace just wanted this day to be over so he could go home and go to sleep.
A "pbthpbth" sounded in the background. Grubber was awake. Well that's somethin'. Ace thought.
Thankfully the cops decided they were too beaten up to mess with right then. That suited Ace just fine. He's wasn't in the mood to have to talk with the fuzz right now. He was more concerned with his friends.
Grubber and the still unconscious Arturo were immediately hauled off in an ambulance and taken to Townsville General Hospital. Snake and Big Billy had a few cuts and bruises, but nothing major enough to warrant a hospital visit. Ace was determined to stay on-site until everyone else was tended to, much to the disapproval of the paramedics.
Although the Powerpuff Girls were injured in the fight, their wounds had healed by the time emergency services had arrived. They were sticking around though. Ace wasn't sure why. Maybe to make sure everyone was alright.
Buttercup flew by his stretcher just then and Ace decided he needed to ask her something before she and her sisters left.
"Hey, Buddacup, can I ask you somethin'?" Ace got up the courage to say.
"You have a really, really good voice. I ain't just sayin' that ta butter youse up or anythin'- um, I thought we sounded really good up there t'gether even though we was singin' that really cheesy sing. I've been lookin' fer another lead singer fer awhile now an' I was wondering: would ya be interested in joining our band?"
Buttercup looked shocked, like that was the last question she'd expected him to ask. "Oh. I thought we sounded pretty good together, too. Can I think about it though?
"Yeah, yeah, of course. Take all the time ya need."