Chapter Three: And Just Because I Call You Up

"I told Blossom and Bubbles a little bit ago."
"Yeah. How'd they take it?"
"Blossom was pretty pissed about it. She gave me this big lecture about hanging out with you guys again. Whatever. The Professor told her he'd okayed it so that shut her up. I think Bubbles was fine with it. She said she was happy I was following my dreams. She did threaten to disembowel you if anything happened to me so there's that."
"Ah. Super. Glad to hear the Utoniums have such confidence in me an' the boys."
"Welllll...I mean, you used to be criminals."
"What 'bout youse, Buddacup? You gots confidence in lil' ol' Ace?"
"...I don't know yet."

aceofhearts375: theyre finally letting arturo out of the hospital 2morrow. he already wants to start up practicing again. the docs said he should rest up. normally id side with him but idk how ur sposed 2 play keyboard with a busted up arm.
DashofSpice117: i dont blame him. id b bored out of my mind being cooped up 4 so long.
aceofheart375: kid just has 2 much energy for his own good some times. b glad 2 have him back home tho

DashofSpice117: hey does just 1 of u write the song lyrics?
aceofhearts375: nah i write most of em but arturo snake & grubber wrote a quite a bit of our songs 2
DashofSpice117: cool ive working on 1 and I wanted 2 make sure u were down w/ that. i have a tune in mind but i dont know shirt about sheet music tho.
DashnofSpice117: *shit not shirt
aceofhearts375: thats fine i dont really myself. grubber can pro'ly help ya w/ u get done with it b4 u come over u can email it 2 me.
DashofSpice117: (Y)

"We're gettin' offahs from all ovah to record or send in a demo or sign a record deal with 'em! Where was all this int'rest after the Battle o' the Bands!"
"You guys didn't get any offers? Didn't you place third or something?"
"Yeah... we got a few offahs, but they never panned out. They didn't like our "overall sound" or they wanted to get rid o' one of us or we just didn't hear back. And then it got real quiet on that front. We book a lotta gigs, I don't get it."

"I gotta a new bass the other day an' I think my ribs are healin' up nicely. Do ya think in a couple o' weeks ya'd be available t' rehearse or just come ovah an' we can all talk 'bout what we might wanna do soon?"
"Uh, hang on, Blossom would know our schedule better than I would. Blossom! Bloss! Hey, Blossom!"
"What, Buttercup?!"
"Are we gonna be busy the next couple of weeks or nah?!"
"Well...Bubbles has a dentist appointment next Friday, the Professor is going to attend a science convention the day after that, I have a Scouts' meeting two days after that-"
"Okay, okay! What about me?!"
"Oh... I think you just have some comics to pick up on Wednesday? The calendar just says Spore in all caps!"
"Alright! Okay, Blossom says I'm good to go. See ya then?"
"Yup, see ya later!"

aceofhearts375: sorry bout earlier. snake can b... territorial
DashofSpice117: he was being an ass is what he was doing.
aceofhearts375: im gonna talk with him bout it. he need 2 b more flexible when it comes 2 his song lyrics. u just made a little suggestion and he coulda taken it or no but he decided 2 fly off the handle instead
DashofSpice117: it wasn't even JUST that. he was being aggro all afternoon. he doesn't have 2 like me but he doesn't have to dismiss me at every turn. it's really lame and unprofessional. how are we going 2 work together if he acts like that every time we practice?
aceofhearts375: i know and im sure snake does 2. gonna talk some sense into him. im his oldest friend hopefully he will listen 2 me if anyone

"-Hey call me back when you get this, okay? We need to talk. I know you an' Snake are still pretty pissed at each other, but I want you to know I'm not on anybody's side. I'm real worried 'bout the future of the band. I think the two o' youse jus' need t' sit down t'gether an' hash it out-"

Ace said he wanted them to agree upon a neutral location so Buttercup had suggested a little diner on the outskirts of Townsville. It was a newer place; Ace had only eaten there twice. The pie was damn good.
Ace was smiling broadly, pacing in front of their booth. He refused to speak until their food came.
After a big bite of key lime pie, Ace finally said"Look, I don't wanna get in the middle o' yer argument, so I thought I'd send in the best, neutralest mediator I know."
And from halfway across the room came a "Pbthpbthpbth!"
"Grubber!?" Buttercup and Snake exclaimed at once.
"Seriously? How exactly is he neutral? You guys all grew up together." the green Powerpuff griped.
"Simple," Ace said, "It's his Mazes an' Monstahs alignment!"
"Aw, c'mon, bosss, even I know that-"
"Nope, nope, the three o' youse is gonna sit here an' work things out whilst I go sits outside an' enjoy this very excellent pie. If ya haven't come ta an agreement by the time I'm finished eatin' this big ol' beautiful pie, well... can't say I'll appreciate havin' two less bandmates when we're gettin' so close ta recordin' our demo."
Buttercup and Snake glared at each other then at Ace. "Fine." they said.
Ace stood up and headed out the door. Just before he left he pointed at the pie and said loudly "Eh! My compliments ta the chef!"
Ace sat at an outdoor table beside a window so he could see into the diner. He could see Buttercup, Snake, and Grubber talking and gesturing, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. Grubber looked on calmly at the other two as they glared daggers at one another. Ace couldn't read lips, but he got the gist.
It was most definitely going to take longer for Snake and Buttercup to negotiate than it was for Ace to eat seven-eighths of a pie, but that had more to do with Ace's upbringing, the old fear that the his next meal would be days away, (not to mention he was in the middle of a growth spurt) than Buttercup and Snake's combined stubbornness. Of course he had been bluffing, where was he going to find a new singer and a new guitarist on such short notice? Besides, it would be awkward as hell to fire someone who he'd lived with in the same household for ten years.
And, said a small voice in his head, how else would you have an excuse to hang around with Buttercup?
He felt his face warm up at the thought, but why?
As Ace ate he could see Buttercup and Snake's expressions soften, their gestures growing less aggressive, their postures loosening up. Eventually they stopped talking, paid for their pie, and exited the building.
"Well?" Ace asked pointedly as they walked towards him
"I've agreed to lisssten and be open to sssuggessstionsss ssso long asss they are given to me in a ressspectful and conssstructive manner." Snake muttered reluctantly.
"And I've agreed to give only respectful and constructive criticism so long as Snake is respectful and professional towards me." Buttercup said in a similar tone.
"Excellent. Glad ta see youse could settle yer differences without gettin' all violent like on each other. Guess I'll be seein' the both a ya's at practice on Saturday then," Ace grinned and then turned towards Grubber. "Grubber, truly youse are a miracle worker, my friend."
Grubber gave him a thumbs up and blew a small raspberry in agreement.

DashofSpice117: DID U SEE?!
aceofhearts375: see what
DashofSpice117: ok so u kno how theyre rebooting spore for like the 9th time? well they cast that dude who used to play val hallen in those made for tv justice friends movies from like 15 years ago.
aceofhearts375: wtf isnt that guy in comedies usually? thats just a weird fit for spore. if they were gonna get anyone from those old justice friends movies to play spore they shoulda got that guy who played sam r i. dudes a trained shakespearean actor AND he went on to get a whole buncha fancy acting awards after he stopped playing sam r i.
DashofSpice117: yes totally! that guy rules! that speech he gave in jf 3d was epic and probably the only reason to rewatch it.
aceofheart375: yeah even the 3d wasnt that good. it looked about the same with the glasses on as without em

"Hey, Ace, what time was I supposed to come over tomorrow? I can't remember if you said or not?"
"I think we all agreed that six thirty was best? Yeah, definitely."
"Cool. Guess I'll see everyone then."

Buttercup wasn't exactly sure what had possessed her to dress up that day. Usually she just wore her Powerpuff uniform or an old t-shirt and basketball shorts to practice, but today felt different. She dug through her closet and pulled out this nineteen-forties style top, green and black tights, a Pokey Oaks High letterman jacket, a green skirt/suspenders hybrid, and a green bandana which she tied on in the same style as Rosie the Riveter. She looked in the mirror, gave her reflection a quick nod, then headed out the door.
When Buttercup landed outside the Gangreen Gang's front door, she heard loud music thumping from within and what sounded like sizzling. Maybe they were cooking something on the stove top?
Buttercup knocked then paused to wait for someone to let her in. When no one opened the door, she knocked a little louder. She made to knock a third time, when the door swung open. Ace's hair was wet, he wasn't wearing a shirt, and he had a toothbrush sticking out of the side of his mouth.
Buttercup could tell she was blushing profusely, but why?
"Oh, hey, yer here early. I just got outta the shower." he said.
"No, it's 6:35. I'm a little late."
"What, no... it's...aw, shit... the power went off last night. Snake reset the clocks, but I thought I had twenty minutes," he turned back into the house and yelled, "Snake! Hey, Snake! The clock's twen'y minutes behind!"
"I ressset that thing myssself, it ssshould be fine!" Snake's voice came from within the house.
"Well, guess again, dude, cuz Buddacup's here already! An' she ain't early. Her phone says it's 6:37."
"Dammit. I guesss that meansss the clock in the van isss off, too. I knew I ssshouldn't've used it to ressset the clocksss in the houssse."
"Ooo! Ooo! Snake said a swear! Snake said a swear! You know the rules, that means I get to say it, too!" came another voice.
"Fine, Billy," Snake sighed, "Go ahead."
"Dammit!" Big Billy said with glee.
Ace turned back to Buttercup. "Guess we're runnin' a little behind t'day. I gotta finish brushin' my teeth and Arturo and Grubber are cookin' somthin' on the stove. Not sure what it is, but it smells good an' they usually make a lil' bit more'n we need so you can have some if you want."
The Gangreen Gang's new house was a bit small for five people, but it was cozier and more pleasant smelling than their old shack in the dump. It felt like a place that was actually meant to be lived in. A few worn couches, a recliner, and a small T.V. decorated the front room, along with a handful of pictures of the Gang on the wall. In most of the pictures the Gang were making goofy faces or wearing (what Buttercup assumed were) Halloween costumes, but there was one picture where they were all grinning broadly as they stood outside the house. Buttercup guessed the picture was taken the day they had first moved in.
She wondered out into the hallway and peered into the kitchen.
"Hola, Buttercup!" Arturo greeted her. His arm was still in a cast, but he seemed to be able to use it without discomfort as he stirred something in a pot. He was so short that he needed a stool to reach the stove top.
"Pbthpbbbbtttthhh!" Grubber raspberried enthusiastically.
"Whatcha guys cookin'? It smells awesome." Buttercup said.
"We're trying out a new chili recipe. It probably won't be ready until after practice though. Would you like to be the first to try it, señorita?"
Buttercup took the spoon Arturo offered her. "Hmm... it's a little sweet. Never had sweet chili before."
"Normally Grubber and I like to make the chili a bit spicier, but the other three don't like it too much, so we decided to try a new recipe so they might actually eat it."
"I'd be down to try the usual recipe if you guys make it when I come over. I love spicy food!"
"Will do."
After talking a bit more with Grubber and Arturo, Buttercup wandered into the garage. The instruments were set up already and the amps were turned on, but the only other person down there was Big Billy.
"Duh, hey, Buttercup! I heard youse at the door! I like your outfit! You like real purdy today!" Billy greeted her.
"Thank, Billy. I like your jacket. Are we all getting matching ones or something?" she said, eyeing the Gangreen Gang logo on his jacket.
"Yes! Ace said he wants all of us to have one by the time we goes on tour!"
"Which hopefully will be very shortly." Buttercup heard Ace say.
Buttercup turned to see Snake and Ace standing in front of the door.
"Grubber an' Arturo'll be down in a sec. They're jus' makin' sure the chili'll be okay to leave while we're practicin'," Ace explained, "An', hey, Buddacup? Is it alright with youse if we start off with yer song since we ain't performed it as much?"
"Oh, yeah, more than alright! I'm stoked!"
"Good. Billy, Snake, let's do a sound check while we wait."
Everything seemed to be in working order, however, Snake almost immediately broke a guitar string as he was tuning it. After a few choice swears- all of which Big Billy insisted he be aloud to repeat- Snake changed the string.
"Thisss isss my last ssspare ssstring ssso don't expect me to play too agressssively." Snake snapped.
"Noted." Ace said.
After a few more minutes, Arturo and Grubber walked into the garage.
"Glad to sssee you could finally join usss." Snake hissed.
"You know, we don't have to cook your dinner for you every night. If you'd rather rush perfection or have a quicker meal, you could just snack around the house or order from a fast food joint." Arturo said.
Snake glared at him, muttered something under his breath, and then picked up his guitar.
"Alright, we're startin' off with Buddacup's song. You boys know the tune, right?" Ace asked them.
Grubber gave a thumbs up and a raspberry of confirmation.
"Si, señor."
The drum beat started off long, then short, long, then short (it reminded Buttercup of Morse Code), then came the mellow strumming of guitars, the unearthly sounds of the synthesizer, the funky melody of the keyboard. After a few seconds, Buttercup and Ace reached for the microphone at the same time. Ace's fingers grazed the back of Buttercup's hand and it was as though Buttercup had been struck by lightning.
The electrifying feeling seemed to course from her hand up and down her body. Her pulse raced, her cheeks felt hot. She almost couldn't open her mouth to sing.
Did he feel it, too?
Buttercup started off on a sour note, but as she sang, she sounded better and better. Ace started off badly, too, but was it for the same reason as she had?
"Pink, green, and blue streaks across/ The skyyy/ We're a matched set/ Sisters threeee/ Bound by blood and Chemicaaallll XXXXX/ Guess that's our fate/ Our destiiiinnnyyy/ Makes it hard to breakawaaaayyy/ Sometimes, to work on myself/ Find out who I am without yooouuu/ Who I am, who I am, who I am/ Who am I? Sister, fighter, experiment/ Who am I without that? Who am I? Who? Sugar, spice, everything niiice, and Chemical X/ Make up aaalll that I am/ That much I know/ But what am I/ Without the superpooowwwers/ Would I still be me/ Without the hooouuurs/ Of soaring through the clouds/ Who would I be/ If I couldn't lift a water tooowwwer/ Can I find out/ Who I am without them/ Who I am, who I am, who I am/ Who am I? Sister, fighter, experiment/ Who am I without that? Who am I? Who? Born in a laaabbb/ Not exactly a daily occurrence/ In kindergarten/ Not even a week after thaaattt/ I was never going to be normal/ Not when I started off that wwwaaayyy/ But would I even be the same person/ If I had an ordinary upbringing/ But what's ordinary anyway?/ But still I wonder if I could/ Find out who I am without thaaattt/ Who I am, who I am, who I am/ Who am I? Sister, fighter, experiment/ Who am I without that/ Who am I? Who?/ Who, who, who am I/ Without everything that makes me me?"
As the beat faded away, Buttercup became aware of just how close she was standing next to Ace. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, their hands mere centimeters away even as they both clutched the mic stand.
"That was... that was great." Ace said softly.
"Yeah... it was. I..." her voice trailed off.
They smiled sheepishly at one another for a long moment.
"Ahem!" Snake coughed, then said, "Hey, you two dweebsss know we ssstill have a full ssset o' sssongsss we gotta rehearssse, right?"
"Oh, right, yeah. Yeah. Let's keep going." Ace said distractedly.
And as they went on into the late afternoon, Buttercup realized that all that was going through her head was Ace.

DashofSpice117: hey I know I've been busy lately with band stuff but did you want 2 see a movie this weekend or something?
aceofheart375: ?
DashofSpice117: oh sorry I meant 2 send this 2 my friend Robin.
aceofhearts375: oh no worries
DashofSpice117: she said she has 2 go 2 a family reunion this weekend. :/ but I was wondering do u want 2 come see a movie w/ me instead?
aceofhearts375: sure it's a date