Chapter Five: Big Boys Don't Cry

After that, it was obvious to almost everyone that they were dating.
It wasn't like they were trying to hide it, but the weird glances they got from strangers when they held hands in public got on Buttercup's nerves. Not that she was surprised by it; a superhero and an ex-villain getting that chummy must've been a strange sight. Still, she wished they'd mind their own damn business.
Buttercup had dated a few other people before (though being as they had been mostly middle school romances, they didn't last very long), but her connection with Ace felt different, more special somehow. There was something about him that felt like home. Now that they were together, it was so easy to talk to him about almost anything and more often than not, they fell asleep after talking to one another late into the night. They tried not to let it affect their concert performances, but sometimes they'd both yawn all through rehearsal. Considering how busy they were on-tour, those late night conversations were one of the few one-on-one activities they had time for; though Ace had promised Buttercup he'd take her out for a real date when they got back home.
Telling her sisters and the Professor that she and Ace were together now hadn't been too awkward a conversation (though Buttercup knew she was going to get teased mercilessly for it), but things had been extremely awkward between her and Snake since he'd found her and Ace almost kissing. He would hardly look at or speak to Buttercup since then, and she thought she knew why. Buttercup had never meant to try to embarrass Snake or make him feel jealous, but she couldn't talk to him long enough to explain that. Luckily, Arturo, Billy, and Grubber had been far more welcoming of the news and it had arguably made Buttercup even closer with them than before; they had quickly become the little brothers Buttercup never had.
She wanted to make things up to Snake, but how? Of all of the Gangreen Gang, Snake had always been the hardest to read, the hardest to get close to. How could Buttercup reassure Snake that she wasn't trying to rub their relationship in his face?
Ace had, at first, assured her that Snake would get over it, just to give him some time. Then when it affected band practice, he said he'd talk to Snake, but he couldn't ever seem to get Snake alone to talk to him in person. So things were at an impasse until Snake decided he was ready to talk. Until then, Buttercup had resolved to be extra nice to him.
This worked for about three days, until a particularly tense band practice one day. Everyone had been in a bad mood, after having very little sleep the night before, due to a raucous party in the suite next to theirs that had went on until 5:47 AM (Buttercup knew the exact time because she had been staring at the clock all night, waiting for it to end). Snake, though, was in such a foul mood that he'd almost brought Big Billy to tears with a single scowl.
"Dude, not cool, 'pologize t' Billy." Ace scolded him.
Snake muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously unapologetic and unrelated to Big Billy.
"What'd youse just say? Speak louder soze the whole class can hear ya."

"I. Said. "What're you gonna do, sssick your Powerpuff on me, bossss?"" Snake said through gritted teeth.
Everyone went quiet. The air felt cold and heavier all of the sudden, like Snake's words had dumped 9 feet of snow on top of them.
"Snake. Not cool, 'pologize t' Billy an' Buddacup. Now."
"No."
"Do it," Ace growled, "Or yer outta the band."
Snake looked stunned. "Bossss... you wouldn't..."
"Yes, I would. Now, do it or—"
"Everyone get out."
Ace looked startled to see the command coming from Buttercup. "Wait, what?"
"I'll handle this. Everyone, but Snake. Get. Out."

Everyone but Buttercup looked shocked at her demand, but they cautiously crept to the door and left the room.

Buttercup locked the door behind them and then turned to face Snake.

"Look, Snake, I know it's awkward seeing me date your ex or whatever, but you've got to be more profess—" Buttercup started.
"It ain't about Accce being my old boyfriend. We're better off assss friendsss and not assss a couple. It'sss about him being hurt one too many timesss. Hell, I did sssome of the hurting myssself. I don't need him fooling around with a Powerpuff long enough to ssssee it dessstroy him. I don't trussst sssomeone as goody two-ssshoes assss you to not get sssick of hisss bullssshit and decccide to totally change him and break up our family in the procccessss!" Snake snarled.
"Is that what happened last time he dated? Look, I don't want to change Ace. Sure, there's a few things he could work on, but I like him as is. And why would I ever want to break up the Gangreen Gang? You guys are my family, too."
Snake glared. "That's what the lassst one sssaid, that ssshe didn't want to break up the Gang... but ssshe did and ssshe nearly got Accce killed by her creepy exxx. How do I know you won't ssscrew him over in the end, too?"
"Because, I'm not her, whoever she is. I don't know how long things will last between us, maybe the rest of the tour, maybe the rest of our lives, but I do know one thing: I love him," Buttercup choked out, "Funny... I haven't even told him yet."
Snake's face softened a little. "I loved him, too. Look... jussst... jussst take better care of him than she did, than I did, okay?"
Buttercup nodded. "Okay."
They talked things out a little longer and by the time the rest of the Gangreen Gang came back into the room, she and Snake were talking and laughing like old friends, much to Ace's surprise.

Later that night Ace said to her "I don't know what happened in there when we was kicked out, but thank you, Buddacup. It feels like everything might just go back to normal."
Buttercup kissed him on the cheek. "It was nuthin'. I jus' worked the ol' Buttercup charm on him."
Ace grinned. "I think we could all use more o' that "Buddacup charm" in our lives. Who knew youse were so good at conflict resolution?"
"Weeeeelllll, when you've been a superhero as long as I have, you kinda hafta be to avoid getting the town demolished every other day."
"Yeesh. Was we ever that bad when we was still bad guys?"
"Naw, not usually. You were small fries in comparison to Mojo Jojo and HIM and stuff."
"Thanks, I feel so much bedduh 'bout my life o' crime." Ace said dramatically.

"Hey, you guys were plenty pains in the ass. Remember when that Jack Wednesday guy send you to our school? Or when you got super powers? Or when you teamed up with Sedusa? Or..."
"Yeah, I get your point. We were a handful back then, huh?"
"I mean, you're still a handful now, too."

"Yer not wrong, green-eyes, yer not wrong."
The next several band practices went off without a hitch, much to everyone's relief, but especially Buttercup's.

It was the night before their next big concert and Ace decided to sneak downstairs to get a quick late night snack. He was sharing a two bed suite with Buttercup while Snake and Big Billy shared another and Grubber and Arturo shared the last. He preferred it that way. Being able to have that much alone time with his favorite person was, dare he say it, wonderful. He'd never become smitten with anyone as quickly as he had Buttercup.

She made him feel like a better person.

When he came back into the room, Buttercup was sitting on the floor, crouching over a small object. Her back was to him, so Ace couldn't see what it was, but it seemed like she was stroking it and muttering something he couldn't quite make out.
"Buddacup?" Ace asked softly.
She jolted upright as if she'd been electrocuted. She snatched the thing up and hastily shoved it in her jacket pocket.
"Whatcha got there?" he tilted his head to the side, a small smirk playing across his lips.
"It's- it's nothin'- nothin' ta concerned about! I wasn't doin' anythin' weird or embarrassin', honest! Just, uh... um..." Buttercup spluttered.
"Look, if ya got weed or somethin'... I ain't no narc-"
"No! No! No! Nothing like that! It's, uh... just somethin' I do for good luck. It's silly, really, but I've been doin' it since I was a little kid. It soothes me b'fore I do somethin' stressful is all."
Buttercup looked down sheepishly and pulled the thing out of her pocket. The green fabric was worn, frayed, and about the size of a hankie or bandana, but it was clear what it had once been.
"It's my old blankie," she admitted, "How uncool is that?"
"You ain't the only one with a good luck charm. You think I wear these things outside at night cuz it's too bright out?" Ace indicated his shades.
"Yeah, but, that's different. You're shades are cool." Buttercup said.
"Maybe so, but ya know how many kids come up to me askin' if they're a Housestaunch thing or whatever it's called?"
Ace wrinkled his nose and Buttercup laughed.
"Ya know, I think Blossom used to be into that until a couple years ago."
Ace snorted. "Why am I not surprised?"
"I tried to read part of it, but I didn't understand what the fuss was about."
"Same."
There was a brief pause and then "Hey, since it's late out an' everyone else should be asleep or in their rooms, did ya maybe wanna, I don't know... uh, sneak down to the pool fer a little bit? Be nice to get in there without people hasslin' us fer autographs an' what have you."
"Sure," Buttercup said, "Let me go change into my swimsuit."
Technically speaking, no one was supposed to be in the hotel pool that late at night, but they kept the door unlocked and there were no security cameras, so Ace felt pretty good about their chances of getting caught. Save for a few pranks here and there, Ace hadn't done anything this mischievous in a long time, so he couldn't help but feel a tiny thrill "breaking into" the pool. Plus, seeing Buttercup in her bathing suit was a nice bonus.

"Jus' try not t' splash too loud. We don't need someone complainin' 'bout the noise an' comin' down here—"
"Whatever you say, square." Buttercup said and immediately splashed him.
"What'd I just say?" Ace laughed as her splashed her back.
Buttercup retaliated by splashing him hard enough that his shades fell into the pool. Once he retrieved them, he responded with a mini whirlpool to which she made a tiny tidal wave. They collided, making a bigger tidal wave before collapsing back into the water. Laughing, Buttercup and Ace shared a look, before sharing a kiss under the moonlight.
They splashed and played for about 45 minutes before going back up to the room and going to sleep. Looking back on that night, Ace wondered what he would've done differently if he'd known this would be one of their last few private moments together. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

"Maybe he already knows, but I want to tell him anyways. Is it too soon, do ya think?" Buttercup asked her sisters.
"When you know, you know!" Bubbles crooned from the phone.
"Yes, absolutely it is. How long have you even been dating? A few months?" Blossom's voice scolded.
"Hey, I wanted advice. Now I'm just more confused!"
"Yeah, well, you asked me what I thought!" her sisters said in unison then giggled.
"Jinks!" they said at the same time, laughing even harder.
"Giiirrrlllsss! Help me out!" Buttercup complained.

"Do what's in your heart!" Bubbles said.
"Listen to your brain and you'll do what's right!" Blossom said.
"Of course you'd give me completely conflicting advice. Fine. Thanks for your help, I guess." Buttercup said, ending the phone call.
Head or heart? Naw, it's gut time, baby. she thought, resolving to tell Ace how she felt as soon as she saw him next.
Unfortunately, that was slightly sooner and more public than she'd planned on. Not five minutes later he texted her that the boys wanted to meet up at a local restaurant for lunch. Okay, she thought to herself, maybe she'd catch him before the others showed up. No such luck. Grubber and Big Billy were there with him already.
"Hey, Ace, can I—" Buttercup started.
"Buttercup! Duh, come sit next t' me!" Billy said.
"Uh, okay, um, I actually wanted to tell Ace—"
"Tell Ace what, duh?" Billy asked.
"Well, it's kinda pers—"
"It's okay! Grubber and I can cover our ears! Right, Grubber?"
Grubber nodded enthusiastically. They both grinned up at Buttercup as they held their hands over their ears. Billy briefly uncovered one ear to give her a thumbs up.
"Well, this isn't how I wanted to do this but, I wanted to tell you that I lo—"
"Oh, good, we got here before the ssserver took everyone'ssss orderssss! What'ssss lookssss good on the menu, boyssss?" Snake said as he and Arturo approached the table.
Irritated at being interrupted again, Buttercup stifled a growl.
"What did we miss?" Arturo asked.
"Nuthin' much. Buddacup was jus' 'bout t' tell me somethin'. Wasn't youse, Buddacup?"
Buttercup felt herself go red and suddenly she was sweating profusely. The Gangreen Gang nodded at her encouragingly. And suddenly, Buttercup knew she couldn't say it right then, not in front of everyone.
"What I meant t' say was, um, I lo— I love y— I love you in that jacket! Where'd — where'd you get it?"
"Oh, this ol' thing? Pfft, I think I got it at the Grungetorium! Yeah, we an' Snake was shoppin' there in April and I found it. It was half off. Good thing, too, cuz it woulda cost me a pretty penny otherwise."
"It really suits you! You should wear it more often!"
"Ya think so? Well, whatevah the lady says, I does!" Ace beamed.
Internally Buttercup was kicking herself. She didn't care about his silly plaid jacket; she cared about him. But when would she have the time and place to tell him?

They stepped offstage to thunderous applause.
"They like usss, they really like usss!" Snake said in a goofy voice.
Arturo and Billy giggled and Grubber raspberried in agreement.

Ace took a moment of reflection, thinking back on the tour from the beginning when they had just added Buttercup to their roster to now, their second to last stop on the tour. One more concert and this whole thing was over...
He turned to Buttercup and judging by the wistful expression on her face, she was thinking much the same.
"Can't believe it's almost over, huh?" he said to her.
"Nope. It's startin' to feel like this whole thing was a dream..."
"Ya wanna get outta here? Just fer a minute? We could get ice cream or something?"
"Yeah," Buttercup said, "I'd like that."
Ace quickly told the boys they were stepping out for a minute and then Buttercup flew them to the nearby ice cream parlor. They sat outside licking their ice cream cones (Ace - Chocolate Overload and Buttercup - Spicy Cinnamint). Ace was about to offer Buttercup a taste of his ice cream, maybe awkwardly use that as an excuse to finally use the ol' "L" word, when he heard a loud click and saw a flash of light bright enough that it bothered his eyes through his dark shades. Then another click, another flash.
"Shit, it's the paparazzi. Here, hold my cone."
"Wha?" Ace asked.

Buttercup ignored him and plopped the cone in his free hand. She turned to face the crowd of flashing cameras, took a deep breathe, and let out an echoing scream. The unlucky SOBs who weren't able to cover their ears dropped their cameras on the sidewalk, shattering them. Somehow, it seemed only to affect those Buttercup had aimed at, as Ace and the other parlor patrons were unbothered.
"GO! NOW!" she roared.
The pap took off running in fear and Ace wondered briefly if they'd ever tangled with an ultra superhero before.
"Yeah, and youse beddah stay gone!" Ace called after them.
Buttercup allowed herself to relax and sit back down. A few of the other patrons cheered, but most went back to their own ice cream.
"If they're anything like the pap in Townsville, they'll be back. Friggin' vultures. We better eat quick and leave. I hate that we can't even have one quiet little moment together without someone or something getting in our way."
"Hey, look at it this way, once we get back home, we'll have all the time in the world t'gether."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

They were flying frantically across the moonlit sky. Every few seconds Buttercup seemed to blink in and out of existence and each time she blinked out, Ace dropped closer to the ground. When she faded back in she was always able to catch him, but it was a vicious cycle of soaring and falling and catching.
"Ace. We're running out of time. I'll be gone completely soon and when I am, you need to-" As she pleaded with him, she disappeared again.
He was sure that this time was the last time she'd be able to save him. This was the last time they'd ever speak. Ace closed his eyes, waiting to make impact with the ground. He could practically feel his bones shattering already.
She just barely caught him (or so he assumed. He dare not open his eyes again) and then she continued speaking as though there'd been no interruption "- take care of them. Take care of yourself. Stop the fusion. Find the Guides, they'll know what to do!"
"Who are the Guides? How will I know them?" Ace asked.
"You won't until you do. There are four. One you know already, but it won't be who you think or who you want it to be. The second and third, you know of, but have never met. They are brain and brawn, courage and wisdom. The fourth you have never known, nor will you suspect. He is young, but he is more powerful than you know. They must be united at all costs. Remember-"
But before she could finish her thought, Ace felt himself shaken awake.
"Wuh thuh-"
Buttercup stood at the side of his bed. Her green eyes were filled with concern. "I-I'm sorry. You kept tossin' and turnin' and you were talking to yourself. I couldn't make it out, but you sounded really freaked out so, I thought I should wake you up. Do you remember what you were dreaming about?"
"No," Ace lied. "Not a thing."
She still seemed worried, but she shrugged and said "Pro'ly 'bout time to get up soon anyways. I'm gonna sneak down to the breakfast bar before it's too busy. Want anything?"
"No, not hungry yet." He waved her off.
Ace waited until he was sure Buttercup was gone to rummage around in his bags. He pulled out a beat up green notebook and began to write down what he remembered of his dream. He'd been keeping a dream journal since that night at the recording studio. As weird as it all seemed, Ace was sure there must be some truth to them, some hidden meaning. He would tell someone about them tomorrow, Snake or Buttercup, probably. Yeah. Yeah, tomorrow seemed as good a time as any. The tour would be over and they'd be home again. She didn't need to deal with that on top of making sure the show went well. Yeah. Yeah.

It all went to hell backstage at that the concert. Their last concert. It still felt weird to say that, even now.

They were laughing and ribbing each other, but Ace couldn't tell you what any of them had said. If it had actually been funny. Probably had been. Grubber had made a joke, too, and Grubber was always hilarious. What was it he had said?
Suddenly, Buttercup's phone rang and as it did, it lit up, flashing pink, green, and blue. She froze a beat. The laughter and teasing stopped.
"I have to get this. They wouldn't call me right now if it wasn't an emergency."
"Oh, c'mon, this is our biggest show t'date! Why now?" Ace groaned.
She ignored him and answered the Powerpuff Hotline. It wasn't on speakerphone, but Ace could hear the Mayor of Townsville as clearly as if it had been.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear! Powerpuff Girls, it's an emergency! Please hurry! Mojo Jojo has been spotted trampling across Townsville Beach in his Robo Jojo! I fear if he isn't stopped soon, someone will be gravely injured!"
"We're on it, Mayor!" Buttercup said and hung up. She turned back to Ace.
"Shit! I have to go! Mojo's wrecking the beach! I'll be back before the concert is over, I promise!" she spoke so quickly it took Ace a few seconds to comprehend what she's actually said. And by the time he had, she was already up in the air.
"Wait- wait! B'fore youse go, I haves somethin' I wanted t' tell ya!"
"Can't it wait until I get back? I gotta- I gotta go help Blossom and Bubbles."
"I- yeah, yeah, it don't mattah when youse hear it, jus' that ya do!" he agreed enthusiastly.
She nodded then flew off in a streak of brilliant green light.
He waited until he knew she was out of earshot then whispered "I love you. That's all I really wanted to say."
But Buttercup wasn't back before the end of the concert. Or after the concert. Or during the afterparty. She wasn't even back by the time the Gangreen Gang made their way back to the hotel.
Ace flopped down on the couch and pulled out his phone. Surely if she had needed to be gone this long she would've texted him, right? He didn't find any texts from Buttercup, however, but instead about twenty or thirty increasingly frantic texts and voice mails from her sisters. His breathe hitched in his throat as he listened.
"Hey, Ace, we were wondering if you've seen Buttercup... she kinda, uh... well, just let me know, kay? Bye. This is Blossom, by the way."
"Okay, so, I may have understated the importance of the last voicemail. So, when we were fighting Mojo Jojo, he tossed Buttercup really far away. Possibly into the ocean? She, uh, hasn't come back up, we don't think, but it's possible she swam away. Yeah, yeah! That must be what she did! So, if you've gotten ahold of her since then, call us. Or have Buttercup call us. Whatever works for you! This is Blossom, by the way."
By about the sixth or so message, Blossom's voice was ragged and shaking. Ace could hardly understand her anymore. Gone was the optimism and assurance that Buttercup was probably fine, just hanging back or pulling a prank.
"- searching the ocean for her. She could be unconscious or injured or- or- the Coast Guard is on the lookout, too, and we have a bunch of volunteers looking for her by boat and plane and helicopter. We'll- we'll find her soon, I'm sure of it."
The next three calls were little more than choking, ragged sobs with a few words in between. He skipped to Blossom's final message, hoping for better news, but there was none to be found. Blossom's voice came out so low and raspy he barely recognized it.
"They said they're not looking for a body, but I think they're just saying that to make me feel better. She's been under so long... I don't even know if... what are we going to do without her? Please, please let me know if you've seen her. You're my last hope."
Ace couldn't listen anymore. His hands shook so hard he was surprised that he hadn't dropped the phone. If put-together, high-strung Blossom sounded this broken and afraid, he didn't even want to imagine what Bubbles sounded like.
He allowed himself a few moments to take a few deep breaths and calm down a little before picking his cell phone up again. He could barely open his contact list and dial Buttercup's number, but he managed.
"Budda-Buddacup, i-if youse get this, please call me back or yer sisters or somebody. Please, please be okay. I'm beggin' ya, green-eyes. Give us somethin' so we know yer out there." he pleaded into the phone.
He was about to send her a text as well, but he heard a banging on the door.
"Bosss! Bosss! Open up! Turn on the newsss! Turn on the newsss! It'sss- over in Townsssville… you need to sssee!"
Ace didn't answer Snake, but instead stiffly stumbled to the door and opened it. As soon as Snake saw his friend's face, he knew that he'd already found out.
"Fuck, dude, I'm sssorry, I'm ssso sssorr-" Snake started, but before he could finish, Ace collapsed into his arms.
Ace hugged him a little too tightly as he sobbed into Snake's shirt, but if Snake cared, he didn't say. He clung to his friend for a long moment before allowing Snake to help him back into his room. Snake half-carried Ace to the bed and proceeded to wrap the other boy up in blanket upon blanket.
"She's... gone. Just gone. What if they never find her again? And I... I never got to tell her that I-I loved her." Ace stammered.
"You didn't have to sssay it aloud. Ssshe knew, ssshe knew," Snake patted his shoulder. "Keep an eye on your phone and on the newsss for any updatesss, there'sss gotta be sssomething new sssoon. Do ya need anything or do ya want me to leave you alone for now?"
"Stay. Please."
Snake texted the rest of the Gangreen Gang what he was doing and then he sat on the bed beside the pile of blankets that covered Ace. He stayed and watched the TV for news with Ace until he finally fell asleep sitting upright at around 5:00 A.M. Ace, on the other hand, could not bring himself to drift off until almost noon; fearful that he'd miss some important update if he so much as rested his eyes. And when he did, he fell into a dreamless slumber, much to his disappointment. He had hoped against hope that Buttercup would at least be waiting for him in his dreams.
He almost felt relieved when he was shaken awake.
"We have to get out of here. Now. Grab your ssstuff and we have to get the hell out. Everyone elssse isss in the van." Snake said urgently.
"What? Why?"
"I can't exxxplain now. You'll sssee… it when we get to the van."
""It"? Whaddaya mean "it"?" Ace frowned at him.
Snake ignored Ace and started hurling Ace's stuff into a suitcase. He had appeared to have already packed up Buttercup's things, because the other side of the room was neat and almost bare.
"Hey, hey, Snake, talk to me, man. What is it now?" Ace asked.
"Look outssside. Up in the sssky. Can't misss the damn thing." Snake said, not taking his eyes off of his task.
At first when Ace peered out the window, he saw nothing and was about to call Snake over to point whatever it was out, when a flicker in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned towards it and felt his knees buckle beneath him. The horrible, lumpy, green object sat as plainly and calmly in the sky as the sun or moon might. It mocked him now in its serenity as it had mocked him in his dreams. He felt himself gag and resisted the urge to vomit on the floor.
It had come, at last, the planet in the sky, to Fuse with Earth.
"And that'sss not all. Did you sssee the little bassstardsss on the ground? They ssshowed up out of nowhere when it did. They've been attacking people left and right sssinccce they appeared." Snake had correctly interpreted Ace's silence as shock.
"But, how? Why... why now?" Ace asked as he gawked down at the little green, gelatin-like creatures below. Their slimy faces reminded Ace of a jack o' lantern.
"Your guesss isss asss good asss mine, bosss. Now, c'mon, help me grab this ssshit ssso we can leave," Snake said. "Oh, and you're going to need this." And he gestured towards a crowbar lying in the middle of the floor.

The next weeks were wreathed in chaos and bad news. More and more people were being attacked and going missing every day. The hospitals were filling fast with the sick and injured with hardly any doctors and nurses to go around. Cities were being destroyed and seemingly terraformed with acidic green goo. Exposure to the substance for too long would leave you with burns, lesions, and if inhaled, would overwhelm your sinuses with electric green mucus.

It wasn't safe to go outside without bringing some kind of weapon. DexLabs and KND's 2x4 Technology seemed the most effective, but in a pinch, just about anything blunt would do. There were all sorts of creatures from Planet Fuse running amok, but the most common were the Fusion Spawn. They weren't especially strong, but they traveled in packs and were surprisingly quick for things with no legs. They'd chase you for four blocks before they got bored and gave up.

And sure, you had people like Ben Tennyson, the Kids Next Door, and the remaining two Powerpuff Girls giving speeches about hope and heroes, but to Ace such words had never rang hollower. With all that had happened since that day Lord Fuse had first invaded, the search for Buttercup had all but been called off. The Gangreen Gang had hung up missing person posters over every conceivable surface, but they had yet to receive so much as a measly, little tip about her location.

Ace's depression worsened by the day. It was so hard to feel hope, so hard to cope when he couldn't even hear Buttercup's raspy voice or look into her green, green eyes any more. He hadn't even dreamed of her since the night before the invasion. He stayed locked in his room most days, avoiding pitying looks and words of reassurance.

The rest of the Gangreen Gang tried to give him space, but they knew Ace couldn't continue on like this and expect things to change for the better. In an effort to get Ace out of the house, Snake had signed the Gangreen Gang up to perform on Fuse Resistance Radio's concert event at the end of the month.

"Look, bosss, I know I don't know what you're going through right now with Bu- with your misssin' girl, but we're all goin' through sssome ssshit right now, on account of the intergalactic war. I think it'd be good for everyone to have a morale boost, essspecccially you." Snake spoke to Ace softly and slowly, choosing his words carefully.
Ace shrugged. "I've been workin' on some new material lately..."
"I know you've been. Do ya think any of it'sss ready? Could we do that for the ssshow?"
Ace shrugged again. "Maybe... I don't got any idea what it should sound like though. I ain't gotten 'round ta writin' the tune, jus' the lyrics."
"That'sss alright, bosss, we can come up with that part together. Whattaya sssay?" Snake stuck out a hand to Ace. He didn't take it, instead lamely fistbumping his friend's hand.
"Good enough."

Ace swallowed. The audience may not have been as big as they'd been on tour, but Ace had never been so nervous. He scanned their faces; their expressions ranged from determined, fierce, and hopeful to scared, angry, heartbroken, and utterly blank and they were all staring straight at the Gangreen Gang.
He swallowed again then spoke "It's been awhile since we performed in fronta anybody... since before the war began, in fact... I know we're all missin' someone we love: a family member. A friend. A hero. I wrote this song fer my missin' hero an' I wanna dedicate this to everyone who's gone missin' durin' this travesty. Buddacup, if yer out there, this is fer you."
It hadn't gone great the last time they'd tried to rehearse this song. Ace's voice had cracked, quivered, and shaken the whole time and at one point, Ace had left the room altogether because he hadn't wanted to cry in front of everybody. That day, he might not've felt better exactly, but he felt more... steady.
He nodded along to the soft, synth-y tune as he strummed on his bass. As he started to sing, he felt his voice start to quaver, but then a wave of strength flowed through him. He could do it. For Buttercup.
"Little but slowlyyy/ We fade awaaayyy/ Where have we gone/ Where could we go/ And what do we dooo/ Without our minds/ Where did you go/ Where did you go/ All by your lonesome/ Take us with you/ What are we now/ What can we become/ Without you?/ Where did you go/ Where did you go/ Beyond the horizon/ Will you come back to earth someday/ Is it that a silly little hope/ Or are you still with us/ Looking out across the pier/ A secret smile on sweet lips/ Where did you go/ Please, where did you go now/ Where did you go/ Give us a hint/ We'll be on the lookout as long as we need/ Are you watching over us, ol' green-eyes/ Or is that that just a trick of the liiight?/ C'mon now, we gotta know/ Give us a sign/ Where did you go/ Where did you go/ Scattered like ashes through the wind/ Washed away by the rain/ Never thought that'd stop you/ From comin' back home/ Thought you'd be first in line to tell me I was wrong to worry/ If you're still out there, hope you'll hurry/ Back to us/ Can't wait to hear a sarcastic comeback or two/ Long as it's comin' from you/ Are you out there/ Are you out there and if so/ Where did you go/ Where did you go/ Where did you/ Where did you go..."
Their small audience applauded and Ace felt like a weight had been lifted off of him. He left out a small sigh and allowed himself to smile for what felt like the first time in centuries.
Snake lightly punched his shoulder. "You did good out there, bosss, you did good."
"Thanks fer makin' me do this." Ace said.
"My pleasssure, bosss."
Ace didn't feel back to normal or quite himself and maybe he never would, but this... this was a start. He allowed himself a small moment to think about Buttercup again, the self-assured smile she'd had on her face as she had promised to be back before the concert was over, and then he asked "Okay, now who's ready fer an encore?"

Meanwhile, miles away...

The dark waves crashed violently against the beach. If you had been paying attention to the ocean that night, you would've noticed that the tides were not the only factor in the aggressiveness of the waves, for kicking and thrashing in the water was a lone, brightly clothed figure. As the figure finally broke free from the water and landed upon the sand, she let out a ragged breath. She opened her eyes to survey her surroundings and she realized that she recognized nothing about them. She was dizzy, her vision was blurry, and her head was pounding, but she had made it out of the water at least.
She allowed herself a moment to collapse upon the sand and think. She had been under the water for hours upon hours without drowning. That wasn't normal... that much she knew. Thinking back before that, there was only static. Her skull ached whenever she tried. She remembered nothing from before, not even her own name. She thought maybe it started with a "B" or a "D", but other than that, the static let nothing through.
She lay there until her vision cleared and then she crawled forward through the gritty sand and into the lights of the nearby city. She saw a sign declaring the place "Orchid Bay", but the name didn't ring any bells. If she'd ever been there before, she couldn't say.
She tried to walk further into the town, but her knees wobbled so badly that she knew she wouldn't be to stand at all. Seeing a nearby bench, she padded over on hand and knee and collapsed upon it.
In her exhaustion, however, the girl hadn't been paying attention, for if she had, she never would've picked that bench to lay down on... not so near to the swarm of angry green blobs surrounding the area. As soon as she closed her eyes, a hideous shriek filled the air. They leapt at the bench, covering her in their foul, gelatinous bodies.
Not only were they surprisingly hefty, but whatever they were made up of burned her skin and clothes on contract. She cried out in pain. She could not go out like this, not after everything she'd endured just trying to escape the ocean, but she was so weak. She closed her eyes and when she opened them again, beams of bright red light burst from her eyes, disintegrating the blobs on impact. She leapt upwards in shock and as soon as she did so, she realized that she was now floating several feet above the bench. I guess it's just one of those days, huh?
But the remaining gelatin-like creatures were not so easily caught off guard; they leapt back at her in full fury. They spat up at her, only just missing the hem of her bright green skirt. They may not be able to reach her with their acidic loogies, but the girl definitely wasn't out of danger yet. She didn't know the first thing about flying and she could feel herself wobbling and sinking closer to the bench. Furrowing her brows and squinting, she glared at the creatures with all her might, but not so much of a spark sputtered out of her eyes. She swore angrily to herself as the little snotballs cackled at her efforts.
"Oh, you little shits think you're so funny! How's this for funny?" and she spat a monstrous ball of spit back at them.
A resounding explosion lit up the night sky as the ball of spit hit its targets. The remaining creatures turned into a green mist and evaporated. There was no sign they had ever been there, save for a small, black ring of burnt grass.
"Holy shit, holy shit, I can do that, too, I-"
Car alarms and sirens sounded throughout the city. The girl didn't know how she knew, but she could sense that the explosion had set off alarms several miles away. Overwhelmed by the cacophony of sound, the girl did the only thing she could think to do; she flew as far away as she could.
She didn't as far away as she would've liked, but in her exhaustion she hadn't been able to cover much ground. (Or rather, air) She had managed to land on a radio tower which was beaming out the signal from a station called Fuse Resistance Radio. She hadn't learned as much as she'd have liked by tuning into the station, but she had gleamed that this Fuse guy was responsible for unleashing those little green blobs upon the planet... amongst other things. She touched her head absently, wondering what else he was capable of and if it had anything to do with her memory loss.
And, she'd managed to tune in just in time for a concert. Several different bands played that night, but only one really stuck out to her: the Gangreen Gang. There was something about them... listening to them, well, it felt like home. Wherever that was. Whoever that was. The vague sense of familiarity soothed her for the first time since she'd emerged from the depths of the ocean. She leaned backwards, allowing herself to rest her eyes, if only briefly.
Buttercup, huh? I wonder who she is... I hope he finds her. the green-eyed girl thought as she drifted off into slumber.