Title: More Than Human
Chapter 10: Tried to Stick A Dead Body Inside of Me, or I Think You Should Know You're His Favorite Worst Nightmare
Pairing: RrB/PpG
Rating: R/M, because they're teenagers and a good handful of them use terrible, filthy language.
Disclaimer: Pay your respect to Craig, not me.
Summary: There is no way I can make this sound original, ever. My attempt to write a believable RrB/PpG in high school fic. Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. – Camus
Notes: Immense thanks to my betas, Arrows and Red, who took up the editing arms and helped me drag this blasted chapter across the Finish Line; thanks always to mathkid and juxtaposie, who helped it to the Starting Line all those years ago.

More Than Human, Pt. 2 – Senior Fall Semester
October – Tried to Stick A Dead Body Inside of Me, or I Think You Should Know You're His Favorite Worst Nightmare

Brick didn't turn the lights on when he wandered into the apartment, nor when he entered his room. There was something oddly comforting about the dark, the way it swallowed him, made him invisible to the world. As a general rule, he liked feeling stealthy. Tonight, though, he just liked that he could make any face he wanted, and no one could see.

He sighed, and when he opened his eyes, the lights were on, and Blossom was standing right there in his room.

He jumped, backing into his closed door while she stared at his carpet. Her hair curtained around her face, half-masking her expression, but Brick could see enough of it to feel guilty.

He cleared his throat. "Blossom? What... what are you doing here?"

She looked up at him. His breath stopped.

"I came here," she whispered—

"To talk," he finished quietly.

She covered the distance between them in a few quick steps, her skirt riding up as she did so. He hadn't noticed; how could he not notice a skirt like that? God, it was something.

"I don't want to fight, Brick. I'm sick of fighting with you. I don't want to."

Brick's back flattened against the door and Blossom's arms wrapped around him, that fabulous body of hers pressed to his, and he closed his eyes and touched her cheek.

I don't want to fight you, either.

She kissed his neck, a sweet, soft movement that sparked an aching want in his chest, and he angled her face to his and kissed her back.

He felt the pressure of her hips against his, and that was a dangerous place for them to be; he thought of pushing her away but then thought better of it, and then her knee was moving up his inner thigh and the next thing he knew they were on his bed, kissing and fumbling for each other with the lights on. She felt wonderful there, with her head against his pillows and her back on the mattress she had helped him pick out.

"Brick," she whispered, and oh, that voice. Her trembling hands traversed the span of his chest, skimmed along the line of his torso, and hesitated at the hem of his jeans. He only felt it all; he hadn't opened his eyes since they'd kissed at the door but he could practically see it all anyway, clear and vivid in his mind.

"I don't know," she was whispering, and still her hands wandered, touching him, tugging experimentally at the belt loops of his jeans.

"I'll be careful," he murmured frantically, when really he was thinking I don't know, either, and trying not to shake as he touched her, as he lifted her shirt just enough to let his hand dance against her bare stomach. He didn't even know where to start. He didn't know what to do.

He felt one of her hands leave his jeans, touch his hand, and gently guide it to her thigh. Her skirt had ridden up an unholy amount and he gasped as he touched her bare skin, trying to think as his hand inched up her leg, past the fabric of her skirt, to... to...

Her mouth was on his and at some point they'd shed both their tops (he couldn't remember doing that but didn't much care), and his hand left her thigh to draw down the strap of her bra. Her breasts were soft and she made a little noise when he touched that soft, soft skin, and he pressed down, his arms winding around her bare back, hugging her close, God, he'd never wanted anything this much, he'd never wanted or needed anything, anyone, this much

"Open your eyes, Brick," she said quietly, and he pressed his lips to her shoulder and inhaled. She smelled wonderful.

"Open your eyes," she said again, and he gasped for breath. Suddenly he was shaking, trembling all over, and he gritted his teeth and squeezed her closer and thought, No, I can't, I can't...

"Brick," she whispered, and her hand touched his face, brushed against his hairline as her lips found his. "Open them."

Slowly, slowly, Brick opened his eyes. It was pitch black. He couldn't see anything.

Something felt wrong. He felt heavy, slow. He stared at the darkness, trying to figure out where she'd gone. He couldn't feel her body against his anymore.

Brick forced himself up and rubbed at his eyes, suppressing a yawn as he looked blearily around his room. It was dark; he still couldn't quite see. A dull panic wrestled for purchase in him, but it had to fight through all his exhaustion and confusion as he stared at the dark and searched for her. Maybe she was in the bathroom.

"Blossom?" he tried, his voice cracking and heavy with sleep as he said it, and as soon as it left his mouth he felt stupid, like a needy five-year-old. He closed his mouth; it was thick and dry and felt gross. He'd kissed her with this mouth?

He looked back down at his bed, picturing her there against his sheets and feeling his insides coil. She wasn't here, and that dull panic was growing, expanding rapidly in his chest. He furrowed his brow and reached out his hand, brushing it against his mattress, and suddenly it hit him.

"Fuck," he gasped, horrified as he stared wide-eyed at his empty bed and knowing in an instant that no, Blossom wasn't here. Blossom hadn't been here at all.

The bed creaked as Boomer swung his legs over and made for the corner of his room that housed his acoustic. The mere act of picking it up helped to slow his heartbeat. He sighed as he settled onto the floor and eased the guitar into his lap.

He'd had this dream before. A lot, even. Sometimes it started with him in the water, sometimes he just stood, watching it fill in around him until it crested over his head, fully submerging him. There was never any light, but that was okay. He didn't have trouble breathing, he didn't panic, he just stood there. It was fine. It felt fine.

His hands trailed the strings, plucking idly at them. C. F#. His heart started racing again.

I'll just...

He had left his phone on the bed, so he set his guitar down and floated back, pawing through the sheets until it tumbled out, bouncing onto the carpet.

The phone rang, one, two, three, four rings, and right before it entered the fifth someone picked up.


At the sound of her sleep-heavy, bewildered voice, Boomer exhaled.

"Hey," he said, her image in his head coming into focus.

"Are you—Boomer, it's, like, almost four in the morning—"

There was a commotion on the other end, a hissed, "Give me that," and then, "Boomer? What the fucking fuck?"


"Language," he heard a groggy Blossom reprimand.

"I swear to God, you better get some sleep, because when you get up I'm gonna go over there and kick your fucking ass for ruining mine," Buttercup snarled, and then hung up.

Boomer lowered his phone and sat there for awhile, cradling it in his hands.

He'd had this dream before. A lot. Sometimes it started with him in the water and sometimes he just stood as it filled in around him. There was never any light and he was always alone.

But tonight.

He looked up.

Tonight he had looked up and seen a figure just beyond the glassy surface far above him, the image vague and features indiscernible. The infinite depths of the water had swallowed her name out of his mouth, and he'd woken up.

He looked and looked. All there was to see here, though, was the ceiling fan of his room.

Butch shot up in bed, eyes narrowed as he looked around. The shadows stayed where they were, though, and after a second, he flopped back down. Then he flopped to the left. Then to the right.

Left. Right. Left. Right.

"Rrrrrrrgh." He sat up with a groan, then darted an accusing glare at his lower half.

"This is your fault," he said. Then, after a moment, "Fuck you."

Do other guys have to deal with this shit? The last time he'd asked his brothers if they ever got midnight boners, Brick had left the room and Boomer had said, "Sometimes."

"Do they wake you up?"

Boomer had wrinkled his face. "What? Is yours, like... making noise or something?"

No, it did not make noise. It was just annoyingly persistent. And usually Butch didn't mind taking care of it—he had a good fantasy or two in mind when it came to doing so, in fact. But between the party and the dream...

He sighed, pulling up his knees and thumping his forehead against them. In the dream he'd been sitting on a fence—

I don't really wanna think about this right now.

He stared at his lap, the mess of sheets hiding his erection, and wondered why it wouldn't subside, even when confronted with the dream-memory of watching his brother sitting with Blossom and the real-memory of watching that same brother kiss his best friend at last week's party. If anything, that double-whammy punch should've been a guaranteed boner killer. Should've. But, well, he was a teenager, and there'd been more—

"Ugh," he said, squeezing his eyes shut as it throbbed. She'd been there, too. She'd been on the fence with him, back pressed against his own, with that crazy dream-physics at work because no two people could ever sit on a fence back to back. Nobody ever made fences like that, that wasn't how fences worked. Dreams were fucking stupid.

He sat up again, backing up until he had smushed the pillows against the wall. After a second, he let one of his hands drift down next to him.

Here, nobody's hand met his. There was no gentle, tentative touch at first, no firm, solid squeeze as his gaze moved past the yard and up into the sky. Here, he stared into the darkness of his room, remembering Buttercup tying cherry stems at last week's party, the way her cheeks had been slightly sucked in, the way her lips had wrapped around the cherry every time she pulled one out of her mouth, how sometimes he had glimpsed a sliver of her tongue in between stems. And then there was their sparring match, and it had kinda been like this, where Butch was staring up into the darkness but unable to tear his attention away from Buttercup's face and the bit of her bra he could see.

Butch sank back onto the bed and edged his hands under the sheets.

This is bad.

Brick hadn't had a non-lucid dream in years. He'd forgotten how dreams... could confuse you when you weren't in control of them.

This is bad, he thought again, running his hands through his hair as paced his room, sleep be damned. This is so very bad. What did it mean that he'd had a real dream, one that he hadn't been able to recognize as a dream and then take control of? It was like another nail in the coffin that housed Brick's self-control. When he thought about it, there were things that should've been dead giveaways that it hadn't really been happening. His room had been off. It hadn't really looked like his room at all: it'd been missing the desk, the window, and the shelves. There'd only been the bed. How had she gotten in without a window, and without him seeing her on the way back to his place? And she'd worn a skirt, which was wrong, because at the party she'd been in a simple T-shirt and jeans. Not to mention the party itself had actually taken place last week.

And then there was the stuff that had... that had happened...

Brick swallowed and closed his eyes, trying to focus on getting dressed. If nothing else, he should've known then. He should've known that they'd never happen like that.

Because we shouldn't, he thought fervently to himself. Never, that was something that'd never happen because there was no way and besides, Brick wouldn't ever let that happen. It would ruin everything he'd worked for.

Thinking that made Brick feel better, made him feel a little more in control of things. He sighed and looked back at his bed, barely illuminated in the dim light of dawn.

She'd felt so warm and real and wonderful. It was as if she'd really been there. Here. He thought of her whispering, "Open your eyes," and he wished he hadn't listened to her.

He stared, watching as sunlight gradually shortened the shadows in his room. Eventually he heard a rustling in the kitchen and decided that was as good a time as any to make an appearance.

To Brick's surprise, Butch turned out to be the rustler.

"What are you doing awake?"

"Done sleeping. You look like shit."

"Fuck off," Brick muttered, rooting through the cabinets. "God damn it, I keep forgetting to buy some fucking cereal." He paused and looked back at Butch, who was whistling as he dug the milk out of the fridge. "What's got you in such a good mood this morning?"

"Tugged one out."

Brick slammed the cabinet doors shut. "Welp, there goes my appetite."

"And it's just such a beautiful Saturday morning." Butch tipped his head back as he chugged the milk straight out of the gallon jug.

"Christ, that's disgusting." Brick gagged, grabbing a marker off the counter and scribbling Butch's name on the jug as he drank. "That's yours."

Butch set the jug down and sneered. "Mission accomplished! I am an Evil Mastermind. Sorry Brick, you've just been demoted."

Boomer shuffled into the room then, taking his place groggily at the counter. "Ugh."

Butch looked from Boomer to Brick, then pointed. "You look like shit and you look like ass. Did I miss something last night?"

Boomer glared at him. "What are you so happy about?"

Brick mimed the motion and jerked his head in Butch's direction, to which Boomer responded, "Welp, so much for my appetite."

"Like brother, like brother," Brick said. "Boomer, you look like you haven't slept in weeks."

"Feels like it." Boomer ran a hand over his face and stared at the counter.

"Masturbate," Butch said. "Seriously. That shit helps."

"Is anybody talking to you, jackass?" Boomer snapped.

"Butch, since you're such a morning kind of guy, why don't you go out and get me some coffee?"

"Only because I care about your well-being so much," Butch said, snatching Brick's wallet off the counter and pocketing it as he flew to the door. As he flung it open he tossed back, "I'm such a good—Buttercup?"

Buttercup, whose mitt had been lifted to bang on the door, blinked at Butch. Her eyes were still tinged and muddy with sleep, and from the look of her rumpled tank top and loose pants she hadn't changed out of her pajamas. She caught sight of Boomer at the counter and muscled her way into the apartment.

"Oh, shit," Boomer said, suddenly alert, and tried to take off as Buttercup stalked towards him. She grabbed him as he made a desperate attempt to fly away and dragged him into his room, kicking the door shut. The sounds of a heated scuffle, punctuated by the occasional thump and crash of something breaking, seeped through.

Brick turned his eyes skyward and asked the ceiling, "What the shit is up with this morning?"

"Hey!" Butch, no trace of that morning's smile on his face, shouted at Boomer's closed door. "What the fuck are you two doing in there?"

"I swear, I turn my back for one second..." Brick and Butch looked up to find Bubbles entering the apartment now, arms laden with grocery bags and looking much fresher and more together than Buttercup, clad in a cozy-looking dress. "Good morning," she said brightly to her boyfriend's siblings, and set her burden down on the kitchen counter before floating to Boomer's door. "Buttercup! Leave him—"

The door flew open and a sleep-addled Buttercup trudged out without so much as a grunt at her sister. Bubbles blew her hair out of her face and moved into the bedroom to collect and comfort her poor, victimized boyfriend.

Buttercup headed for the kitchen, angling her head in what might have passed for a nod to Brick. She spotted the milk on the counter and picked it up, staring at Butch's name scribbled on the side.

"Butch, I'm having some," she announced in a scratchy morning voice, and uncapped it and chugged.

"Way to ask permission," Butch said, moving to the kitchen counter and staring at Buttercup's neck as she swallowed. Still drinking, she started rummaging through the bags Bubbles had brought over, only setting down the near-empty jug to start pulling out eggs and sausages.

"I'm hungry," she muttered, to no one in particular. She looked up and blinked slowly at Brick and Butch. "You guys want breakfast?"

The boys exchanged a glance. Buttercup tugged a pan out of the cabinet and cranked the stove on, then rooted through the bags for a loaf of bread, stuffing a few slices in her mouth to keep herself occupied while the pan heated.

"Buttercup, you're making breakfast for Boomer, too," Bubbles scolded as she walked an achy, wincing Boomer back out of his room.

Buttercup tossed two slices of bread on the counter. "There. Breakfast."

Bubbles sat Boomer down at the breakfast bar and sighed, taking the slices and moving into the kitchen to jam them in the toaster.

After what felt like a protracted pause where Boomer sat unblinking at the breakfast bar and Butch and Brick only stared at the two girls in their kitchen, Brick moved to look in the bags.

"Is, um. Is there any cereal?" he asked.

"Oh, Brick, I'm sorry, no," Bubbles said. Her voice was genuinely apologetic, but then she suddenly looked up at him as if she thought better of sympathizing. Despite that, she still asked, "Would you like me to go out and get some?"

"No, that's okay," he said hastily.

Butch had edged to Buttercup's side and was now leaning on the counter next to the stove, watching as she cooked the sausage patties and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. His gaze drifted to her chest, and he only had the sense to rip his eyes away when he dimly realized from the way the fabric was hugging her curves that she wasn't wearing a bra.

"How do you like your eggs, Butch?" she mumbled, yawning.

He stared at the tiled counter for a second, then smirked at her. "Fertilized."

She immediately started snorting with laughter and smacked him. "You fuck."

Boomer's toast finished, and Bubbles loaded the toaster up again before buttering the first two pieces and carrying them over to Boomer. She cooed at him to eat.

Brick fidgeted, looking between the two couples and the open door and daring to feel a little hopeful. But it wasn't like she had any reason to come. Why would she?

He felt uncomfortable, standing there with no one to talk to, and, as stealthily as possible, picked his wallet out of Butch's back pocket and glided to the front door. No one noticed or said "Goodbye," not even after he clicked the door shut behind him.

It was the end of the school day halfway through the week. Butch had not given the dream a second thought. He shouldered his gear for lacrosse and was on his way out of the building when he heard Buttercup's voice amidst the cacophony of student conversation.

"Are you kidding? No way!"

Another voice—male, and one he didn't recognize—pleaded, "But Buttercup, Homecoming—"

Butch instantly snaked through the crowd and was at Buttercup's side in a flash. "Hey! What's up?!"

"Oh, hey Butch," she said. The guy—one of many who appeared to be beseeching her—lit up as his eyes fell on Butch. Butch narrowed his own back.

"Hey, you could help us too!" he exclaimed.

"Don't listen to him," Buttercup muttered.

Butch suddenly realized the guy was actually one of many guys gazing hopefully at him and Buttercup. A few of them were in football uniforms.

"Look, Homecoming's coming up—"

"I don't do guys," Butch interrupted.

The guy gawked at him. "Dude, you are not remotely my type. Also, fucking rude."

"They want our help pranking the school we're playing for Homecoming," Buttercup explained to Butch, then turned back to the group. "Except the school would know it was me instantly, you idiots. No dice."

One of the guys said, "Aw, Buttercup, you're exaggerating—"

"I cut it close last year for you guys," she growled. "I'm not going down for you fuckers, and neither is this one." She grabbed Butch's arm and started dragging him down the hall to the athletics building. "Come on."

"Aw, Buttercup!" the football team whined as a chorus in one voice, and Butch looked wistfully back.

"Aw, Buttercup," he whined. "That sounds like fun!"

"Don't you dare think about helping them," Buttercup warned. "Everybody expects me to pull some crazy prank, so the first thing they're going to do when weird shit starts going down is come interrogate me."

"But Buttercup—"

"No 'but's!'"

"It sounds like fun!"

"You bring it up again and I'll rip your face off," she snarled. "Now quit dragging your God damn feet and go to practice!"

Avoid, avoid, avoid. That was the game Brick and Blossom were playing with each other.

Or one of us, at least, he thought bitterly as the final bell rang and the rest of the English class rose as one body to go. Blossom was first out the door, despite being on the opposite end of the room, but Brick imagined it was encouraged by the fact that she sat next to him.

He gathered his stuff up in a more subdued manner, taking his time and allowing himself to feel mildly irritated. Sure, he'd asked her to forget it had happened, but he hadn't asked her to treat him like dirt. Or lower.

But you brought this on yourself. His face soured as he walked down the hall. What'd he expect? Blossom had been hurt.

Brick's steps carried him to the general vicinity of the studio. They were supposed to practice on their own. Frankly, he didn't expect it to happen, but he wasn't about to let the reason be because he hadn't had the guts to show up.

There were only two girls there, chatting in hushed tones at one wall.

"She was, like, eighty years old or something."

"And stealing? And they haven't caught her? Well, good for her."

"Girls." Blossom emerged from the locker room and snapped at the two girls. "Be more efficient. You can chat while you warm up." She caught sight of Brick, who was leaning against the mirrors, and, after a second, strode toward him.

"Brick, I'm afraid I'm practicing with the girls today."

Brick tried to keep the rolling of his eyes subtle and did not succeed. "Big surprise there," he muttered.

Blossom narrowed her eyes at him. "I've been spending too much time practicing the couples dances and as a result have been shirking my responsibilities as Dance Major. I need to prep with the Company for our Homecoming performance."

The smart thing to do was to let it go and leave.

He stretched a thin smile on his face and said, "We've got a full show to put on. In November. Where we are doing seventy percent of the legwork. Literally."

"The Homecoming game is in October, which comes before November, Brick." She bit out his name through gritted teeth and a tense smile of her own to match. "Do the math."

He bit back the impulse to start screaming and took a deep breath. "You already have set time to work with the Company during the school day on a daily basis. You have a class. Our stuff has to happen outside of the schedule and the prep work I can do alone is a bit limited, seeing as it is a dance routine involving a partner."

"I'm busy."

"I'll wait." He dropped his stuff with a dramatic, violent thump that echoed in the silent studio. Both of them became abruptly aware of the very large, very quiet audience surrounding them.

Blossom gave a very quiet sigh, shifted her weight, then said in a calmer tone, "Fine. After I'm done with the girls. But you can't wait in here."

He stared. "I wait in here all the time."

"Okay, yeah, and you're distracting every time," she muttered, and for a second his anger waned.

Then she said, "I need the girls to be focusing on me, not the boy watching a bunch of girls in leotards dancing in front of him," and Brick blinked.

"What are you—"

"I am saying you need to leave!"

With an irritated groan he spun on his heel and stalked to the doors, many girls backing away as he did so. The doors were those stupid spring-loaded school ones that wouldn't slam. They were stupid. Doors were stupid. Stupid like her.

Brick stood outside on the concrete for a second, trying to get his rage to settle.

The door suddenly opened behind him, and he turned.



"You forgot your stuff," Blossom said, and dropped his books on the ground.

"What the fuck?!" he snapped, but she had already disappeared back into the building.

One well-placed kick sent his books and papers flying, well into and across the parking lot. It would require an embarrassing reclamation later, but Brick was too pissed off to care. His fists were already glowing red.

He zipped around the corner to face the outside wall of the studio and fantasized about doing it, his arms lifted and stretching towards that concrete wall. The mirrors would shatter inside; hell, the whole fucking wall would be gone. And then she'd gape at him and he would say, "Oh, sorry. Am I being too 'distracting?'" That would show her. That would shut her the fuck up. That would give her a real reason to be infuriated with him.

She didn't get it. She didn't understand his goals, his needs, his wants. She was born into a charmed life, where she was perfect and people loved her and everybody told her so. Heroes were like that. The only people they had to watch out for were the bad guys. The bad guys had to watch out for everybody else, including the other bad guys.

It wasn't that Brick wanted her life, or to be loved and accepted. He couldn't give a rat's ass about any of that stupid shit. But she didn't get it. Clearly she thought that whatever reason he had for cutting that off—that whatever-it-was thing that had happened last month—wasn't good enough, because she was Blossom and she was a Powerpuff Girl and she was used to getting everything she wanted. Brick had spent his entire life in servitude to others. Whatever he wanted, he bled for.

She had it so easy. She didn't get it. She didn't fucking get it.

Brick stared at the concrete, his vision glowing red at the edges where his fists stayed raised, itching to blast a giant fucking hole in the wall of her stupid fucking studio. Eventually the red faded, and he lowered his arms.

Stupid girl.

Brick crossed his arms and let his x-ray vision burn past that concrete wall, into the studio. Blossom had her back to the mirrors as she addressed the Company. Brick saw her pause and tense at the abrupt sensation of being watched, and she turned her head to glare.

One of Brick's loose papers flew across the pavement and flattened itself against his leg. He only stared at her, matching her furious glare, and in time the wind picked up again and the paper sailed off into the sky.





Butch dove in front of her, dropped to his knees, clasped his hands together, and wheedled, "Pleeeeeeeaaaaaaaase?"

Buttercup kicked him in the face. "Go fuck yourself."

The twins glanced back at Butch as he picked himself up off the mall floor and dashed back up. Mitch turned to Buttercup and said, "You guys have been at it all week. What's the deal?"

"She won't prank the team we're playing for Homecoming!" Butch said in a voice that spoke of infinite betrayal.

Floyd lit up. "Oh, dude! Last year she moved all the players' cars to the roof of their school! That was awesome!"

"You aren't doing anything this year, Buttercup?" Lloyd asked.

"I hear a lot of other people requesting punches in the face. Is that really what you guys want? Punches in the face?"

Mitch was lost in thought. "There was an elephant last year too, wasn't there?" He looked at her. "Where'd that thing come from?"

Buttercup emitted a low growl, which prompted Mitch and the twins to all jump back and give her a wide berth. Only Butch remained at her side, still begging with his hands held together in supplication.

"I will vanquish all your enemies."

"Vanquished," Buttercup announced. "I got that shit taken care of."

"I will vanquish all your almost-enemies."

"See previous answer."

"I will... pay you lots of money?"

"Keep your dirty blood money, criminal."

"I will be your personal sex slave!"

Buttercup halted, then angled her head veeeeeery slowly to narrow her eyes at Butch. Mitch and the twins hastily retreated another few feet back. Butch only blinked at her, hands still clasped together.

She faced forward and resumed walking. After a couple of seconds, the boys followed.


She whipped around and made a threatening motion that implied someone was about to get uppercutted into the stratosphere. Mitch and the twins had already dived under a convenient bench.

"I am not pranking the other team this year," she snarled. "And neither will you, unless you're looking to get a lot of your blood on my hands."

Again she turned and began walking away. Butch stared after her, then one of the rusty gears in the sort-of machine that was his brain managed a turn.

"What if we pranked our own school?" he said, and this time when Buttercup paused and turned to look at him, her eyes widened and unfocused in thought, he knew he had finally gotten somewhere.

"You could always just tag the school," Lloyd offered.

Buttercup immediately shook her head. "No. Too small. Plus, it counts as vandalism. An ideal prank does little to no damage to the property while still inconveniencing people. You need to minimize property damage while maximizing the pain-in-the-assness for..." Buttercup trailed off as the boys looked at her in awe. "What? I've been doing this a long time. I'm practically a pro."

"Tar all the doors shut," Butch said, beaming with pride at his idea.

"That's vandalism and a fire hazard."


"Tires on the flagpole," Harry suggested.

All the boys murmured in agreement, but Buttercup shook her head. "No. They'd know it was me and Butch instantly. Nobody else can get that high, and it's too far from the roof of the school for a regular student to make a throw."

"What if someone had a crane?" Floyd asked.

"Oh, duh, how could I forget? You get your crane-driving license in a week, the timing will be perfect," Buttercup said. Floyd flipped her off.

"You know, for being the so-called 'expert,' you're doing a ton of shooting ideas down and not very much contributing," Mitch said.

"No vandalism and nothing that could easily incriminate me or Butch, especially when I'm the one they'll be looking at—"

"I thought we took care of that with the whole 'pranking our own school' thing," Butch said. "Won't they just think it's Farmsville High pulling the pranks?"

"Better safe than sorry. We need regular people pranks. Cars on the roof and tires on the flagpole are fun, but if we start doing things that no normal person could do, it's going to get pretty obvious pretty fast who's responsible..."

Butch sat back and studied her as she went on, her expression serious and her eyes intense. She was getting so into it. She had wanted to do this so badly.

He wondered how much of his pressuring her had had to do with him wanting to wreak some havoc, and how much of it had had to do with the recognition that she'd been the one itching to do so all along.

"Huzzah!" Blossom pulled away and threw up some jazz hands in a false approximation of celebration. "You made it through without screwing up today. Good for you."

Brick glared back at her as he stalked across the studio, away from her. "Oh, fantastic news. Why don't you give me a smiley face for my trouble, you hag."

"I'm too young to be a hag," she scoffed.

"But Blossom! You're so mature. You act just like one."



"Your face is stupid."

"Your bow is stupid."

"Your cap is stupid and ugly and it smells."

"And you're a lying little cun—"


There was a groan from the entrance, and Julie stepped in with a group of other girls. "Are you guys still at it? It's been almost a week!"

"Only a week?" Brick said derisively. "It feels like I've wasted half my life in here with her already."

Blossom narrowed her eyes and shot a warning beam at his arm.

"Ow! What the fuck?!"

"Cuss again and I'll be aiming a lot lower."

Having put up with this behavior before and after school for the better part of a week, the rest of the girls knew to give the couple a lot of room—literally. It was getting kinda crowded in the corners when they were stretching and this whole feud was impacting regular Company practice way more than anyone had expected.

Well, Julie had had enough.

"For God's sake, Brick," she said, raising her voice so it echoed and all the small murmurs of chatter faded. "Just ask her to Homecoming already."

The temperature dropped and a heavy silence blanketed the studio.

The gaze of hatred Brick was issuing in Julie's direction was murderous enough to give a grown man a heart attack. But Julie shared classes with Bubbles. She'd seen her in action in Art. She'd taken notes.

As she stared back at a furious Brick, he said, "What makes you think I would even consider—"

"I'm not going."

The room turned as one to look at Blossom, who was kneeling at the boombox next to the entrance and switching out her CDs. There were no mirrors against that wall, and her hair fell forward, covering her face. The room watched her in stunned silence for a bit. She seemed very intent on picking up each CD case and reading every single line of text printed on them.

Finally Brick turned to Julie and said, "Why'd you bring it up, anyway? Haven't you got a date yet?"

Julie, who still seemed to be recovering from her less-than-successful attempt at diffusing the UST (which had only resulted in a lot of uncomfortable T), blinked and said, "Uh, no."

"Then I'll take you," Brick said, and the room burst into muted chatter only so it could fall into a hush again. Blossom continued to busy herself with her CDs.

Julie stammered, "I'm sorry, I didn't—"

"No, don't be," Brick said in a soothing voice as he came up to her and clapped a hand on her shoulder, his eyes dark. "It's the least I can do."

The bell rang, a punctuation mark at the end of his statement, and Blossom said, "Brick, you should get going. Class will be starting soon."

He sidestepped Julie and made for the door, picking up his stuff along the way. "See you, girls." On the way out he passed Blossom. Neither of them paused or looked at each other.

As soon as he was gone Blossom stood and turned, her eyes hard.

"How do you expect to practice when you're crowded at the walls like that? You're dancers, not cockroaches. Spread out. Let's go."

"So that totally blew up in my face," Julie muttered. Without looking up from what she was doing, Bubbles placed a soothing hand on her friend's shoulder. The rest of the Art class was filtering into the room.

"Well, you get to go to Homecoming with Brick now," Bubbles pointed out. "Putting his, you know, entire personality aside, would you really count that as a loss?"

"Trust me, it isn't that," Julie said, drumming her fingers on the table.

A sudden chill descended over the room, causing everyone to pause for a shudder. Bubbles looked up and said, "Brick must be on his way in," and sure enough, the boy in question walked through the door.

"Brick," Bubbles said, returning to the photos in her hand, "the next time you're in a bad mood, could you let me know so I can remember to bring an extra sweater? It's cold enough as it is."

"You know, half the time I don't have one fucking clue what you are talking about," he grumbled, and took his seat next to Bubbles with a heavy thump.

"Heard you asked Julie," Bubbles said.

He grunted. Julie shifted on Bubbles' other side.

"Did you mean it?" Bubbles went on.

"What, does she not want to go?" He leaned forward so he could make eye contact with Julie. "Do you not want to go?"

Julie made a bit of a flailing gesture with her hand and sputtered, "I-it isn't that—"

"Try being nice to this one, Brick," Bubbles interjected, and both Julie and Brick shot her a look. Bubbles declined to look up as she shuffled through her pictures.

Brick looked like he wanted to say something, but then changed his mind and sat back in his chair with a huff. Julie fidgeted, then looked at the blurry photos in Bubbles' hands.

"What're those all about, anyway?"

Bubbles shrugged. "Oh, just going through the stuff for my collage."

Suddenly Boomer burst into the room and dove for Bubbles and Brick.

"Have you seen this?!" he cried, bodily lifting them up ("Hey!" Brick snapped) so he could carry them out the door. "All the bathrooms on the second floor! You gotta see this!"

The rest of the class exchanged glances, then rose as one curious horde and rushed out after Boomer. He'd flown up the nearest set of stairs, Brick protesting all the while.

"Boomer, put me the fuck down or I'll—"

Boomer deposited them in front of a boys' restroom and urged them forward. "Go see—"

"Boomer!" Bubbles gasped, horrified. "I can't go in there!"

"Oh, right," he said, then dragged them both to the opposite door, into the girls' restroom.

There were a few girls at the sinks who turned and erupted into terrified shrieks upon spotting Boomer and Brick. Blossom, who was among them, shrieked something else.

"What are you two doing in here?!"

Boomer ignored her and pushed Bubbles toward the sinks. "Look!"

"Get out!" Blossom ordered, her voice bouncing off the tiled walls.

Brick, who was not keen on having his eardrums ruptured, made a rude gesture at her. "Gladly," he bit, and made for the door.

"Omigosh, goldfish!" Bubbles squealed, and Brick paused.


Bubbles was leaning over the sink and waggling a hand at the basin. "Hi, Goldie! Little Goldies! Aw, aren't you just the prettiest little things..."

His curiosity piqued, Brick started to float back, but was stopped by Blossom's hand smacking into his chest. It then fisted in his shirt.

"Get out," she said again, her voice a low threat.

Hot anger flooded Brick's senses and he made to grab her wrist and fling it away when the bathroom was mobbed by a tidal wave of girls.

"This one, too?!"

"All of them! All of the bathrooms on this floor!"

"Yeah, the boys said it's in theirs too!"

"How'd they do it?"

"They? Do you know who did it?"

"Uh, if I knew who did it, would I be asking?"

The surge of girls knocked Brick into Blossom, who colored and tried to shove him away. He grimaced and shoved back. What resulted was an awkward shoving match, further complicated by the girls who were pouring in to coo at the sinks.

"Stop touching me!" Blossom said, her hands braced against the inside crook of his elbow. The two of them were knocked to the wall by the crowd.

"It's not like I want to!" Brick snapped, and then got shoved into her. His hands flew up to the tiled wall to stop himself from falling over, while Blossom's face went right into his chest.

Despite his anger and frustration, he felt the warmth of her breath through his shirt, the hands that brushed against his sides, and when he inhaled and smelled her shampoo his mind flew to the memory of that night.

Blossom had gone very still, flattened against the wall. Her hands felt hesitant on his body and shook a little before clenching the fabric of his shirt.

"Please leave," she said, her voice now a hush of a whisper, and Brick tried to pull away so she couldn't feel his chest tighten and so he could look at her. He only managed an inch or so.

Her hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. "Please. Leave me alone."

A moment passed before Brick tensed his arms on either side of her against the wall and shoved back. The mass of girls behind him screeched as a few of them got knocked into the opposite wall. There was a faint splash and Bubbles cried, "Boomer! You almost knocked some of them out!"

A very authoritative presence suddenly cleared its throat, and, as if on cue, a circle of girls widened around a steaming Principal Keane. She caught sight of Brick and Boomer and her narrowed gaze narrowed further.

Brick swallowed, then snatched Boomer in a flash of red and sped both of them out of the bathroom.

Bubbles pawed at her pockets for a slip of paper and mumbled to herself, "Note to self: buy sandwich bags."

"Look, sweetheart," the Professor said uneasily as he examined their kitchen. Every available flat surface had some sort of container on it, ranging from coffee mugs to Tupperware, and every last container held at least two goldfish, space permitting. "I know you want to give them a good home, and goldfish are a little more low maintenance than, say, a whale..."

"Oh Professor, that was years ago. Are you going to keep bringing it up?" Bubbles said absentmindedly. She started digging into the fine china cabinet and extracted a few wine glasses to empty her last goldfish baggie into.

"I'm sorry, Bubbles, it's just... you know, you've brought an awful lot of these home..."

"You're going to wash all these glasses and stuff when you're done, right? Because I'm not," Buttercup said, examining the shimmering contents of their blender. "By the way, I'd move these little dudes. This isn't exactly the best place for them."

"I unplugged it. They'll be fine. By the way, Professor, Boomer's coming over to help me install a pond in the back—"

"Excuse me," the Professor suddenly said. "I just remembered something I need to sharpen."

"Is there anything to drink out of in here that doesn't have a fish in it?!" Blossom appeared in the doorway holding two bottles of water. "Bubbles, how'd you even fit them in here in the first place?"


Buttercup dug a drink out of the fridge—an unopened canned soda, so as far as she knew it was mercifully goldfish free—and waved at her sisters as she floated up to their room. Once there she shut the door and gave it a few minutes before party dialing Butch and the boys.

"Yo." Butch's voice echoed on the line.

"Sweet, I didn't know my phone could do this," Mitch said.

"Hey, I think we lost Harry," Floyd said.

"I haven't even said anything yet, you jackass," Harry said. "Where's Lloyd?"

"I'm on speakerphone here with Floyd," Lloyd said.

"Alright, so the goldfish thing worked alright," Buttercup said. "We should do something that'll ID Farmsville High as the culprits next, though. Right now the goldfish have just thrown everyone off."

"Shouldn't we give it a couple of days?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, but we should take a night to prep." Buttercup looked out her window, away from the city.

"You sound like you got something in mind," Butch said.

"I do." She lowered her voice. "Tomorrow evening. Mitch, bring your van. Butch, you should come along too. I'll need your help."

"With what?"

"Catching... things."

Boomer fidgeted as he waited by Bubbles' locker, relaxing only when she entered his line of vision. He hurried forward to help with her books.

"Hey. How are the fish doing?"

"Great." She pecked him on the cheek. "Thank you for helping with the pond."

"They're all still alive?"

"It's only the second morning since I rescued them," she said petulantly. "Surely you have more faith in my pet ownership powers?"

"I was just asking." He laughed as they edged around the rest of the students in the crowded hall. "I didn't mean anything by it. Fish are pretty fragile, after all."

"Pretty tasty, too," Butch jumped in, appearing over Boomer's shoulder.

"You're here early," Boomer said.

"Lacrosse practice. You seriously keeping all those things, Goldilocks?"

"Why, Butch? Do you want some? I suppose Axel and Rose could use a change of scenery—"

"Hold up. You named all of them already?" Butch said in disbelief.

"Oh my God!" screeched a girl at the end of the hallway, and then a symphony (or, well, more of a cacophony) of voices rose in pitch to join her.

Boomer cocked his head. "Is it just me, or does that squealing sound like—"

"Piggy!" Bubbles gasped.

The crowd was parting like the Red Sea for an adolescent pig, snorting and oinking its way frantically down the hall. Its body was slick with something like sweat or oil, and as it barreled past Bubbles, Boomer, and Butch, they spied a #3 painted on its side.

"Holy shit!" Butch cried.

"Oh, it's so cute!" Bubbles squealed, eliciting a look from Butch.

"I wonder what the number three stands for..." Boomer said.

Another round of screaming rose up, and a second pig, going the opposite direction this time, flew by, resembling the first pig in every way save for a spot on its nose and a #5 in place of the #3.

"Holy crap, you guys!" Buttercup streaked over the heads of the crowd to join the trio. "Did you see that?!"

A blur of pink suddenly whizzed by, screaming in Blossom's voice. "What are pigs doing in THIS SCHOOL?!" The pink blur stopped, then doubled back so it could grab Bubbles' and Buttercup's arms. "Girls, we gotta catch them all!"

"Pokemon!" Boomer sang in a small voice, earning a thwack upside the head from Butch.

"Quit embarrassing yourself," Butch muttered.

"All of them?!" Buttercup cried. "You mean there's more than two?"

"That's what the numbers are for, aren't they?" Blossom said, then yelped as the #3 pig shot past her legs, nearly toppling her over.

"Got it!" Butch dove, his eyes dark with purpose.

"Watch it!"

"Good thing you weren't wearing a skirt today," Buttercup pointed out, and Blossom shot her a glare.

Butch, who had wrestled the pig to the ground with no shortage of terrified pig squealing, lost his grip, and the pig continued on its voyage of terror down the hall of screaming students, bringing chaos wherever it went. Butch stood and faced the group, holding up his arms. The girls and Boomer recoiled at the mess of his shirt.

"Catching these things is gonna suck. They're all greased up." His eyes suddenly lit up. "Hey! Who wants a hug?"

"You stay your ass over there," Buttercup said, backing away.

Blossom ignored him and said, "Why didn't you just use your shield to catch it?"

Butch blinked. "Oh! Duh." He turned and threw up a practice shield, whacking an approaching Brick in the face with it.

"Ha!" Buttercup laughed.

"Eep," Butch squeaked, and flicked it off. Brick lost his footing on the slick floor and slipped, crashing into Butch, who landed on top of him.

Kim, who'd been passing by, snapped a quick photo.

"E-mail that to me," Bubbles whispered to her friend.

"Um," Boomer said, staring at his girlfriend.

Brick shoved his brother off of him, taking a second to examine his ruined clothes before narrowing his glowing red eyes at Butch.

Butch made frantic motions with his hands.

"I'mgonnagolookforthosepigsnow," he explained and took off, Brick hot on his heels.

"Brick all greased up." Buttercup sighed.

"Shame he had his clothes on, yeah?" Bubbles said.

"Hey!" Boomer cried.

"Stop that," Blossom said.

"Girls!" A very disheveled Principal Keane was waving at them from one end of the hall. "Get those pigs!"

The girls took off, Boomer tailing after Bubbles. Buttercup passed by Butch, still fleeing a furious Brick, and for a split second they exchanged a victorious little smirk before resuming flight.

The Professor sighed as he stared out at their backyard, now home to four pigs. Bubbles hummed to herself as she fed her goldfish in their newly installed fish pond, courtesy of Boomer.

"Sweetheart," the Professor called, then thought better of it and just sighed again. Instead, he read the numbers on the pigs' sides, then asked, "Where's number four?"

"Blossom's working on it," Bubbles said.

The Professor glanced at the clock inside the kitchen. "It's almost six!"

Right on cue, Blossom flung open the front door, looking tired, irritated, and greasy. She trudged into the living room and joined the Professor at the back door, her eyes dark as she took in the four now-peaceful pigs, snorting and ambling contentedly around the yard. After a long moment, she turned and floated towards the stairs.

"Where's number four, Blossom?" Bubbles asked.

"There was no number four," she grumbled. "I just spent an hour and a half looking for a pig that didn't even exist." Buttercup wandered out of their room just as Blossom hit the top of the stairs. "I swear," Blossom muttered, "when I find out who's responsible for those pigs—"

Buttercup glanced at her and said, "Well, aren't they from Farmsville?"

Blossom paused.

Buttercup shrugged and made her way to the stairs. "Hello? The Farmsville High Hogs. I mean, their star quarterback—Joe-something-or-other—his family owns the biggest pig farm. Farmsville High brings one of his pigs to every game for good luck. We're playing them for Homecoming in a week and a half. Isn't it obvious?"

Blossom watched her sister float downstairs to go say hi to the pigs, her eyes narrowing in thought.

"Hurry up, hurry up," Buttercup hissed, twisting her neck to look at the clock every five milliseconds. "The bell's gonna ring any minute now!"

"Bitch, chill," Butch hissed back, his arms laden with stacks and stacks of paper cups. In a flash of green the entire hall floor, wall to wall, was covered with them, and then he produced two ten-gallon jugs of water from his immense backpack and passed one off to Buttercup. With superspeed, in less than two seconds every cup was filled, and they tossed the jugs to Floyd, who bolted for the nearest exit.

Buttercup and Butch exchanged a quick air-five with Harry, who had been standing watch, and who now took off up the stairs. They dashed back through the hall and across the atrium to the gym doors, fake chatting as they headed towards Principal Keane's office.

The bell rang just as they were halfway there, and the halls suddenly flooded with students. Over in the pranked hallway, there were several yelps, followed by what sounded like a few very unlucky people falling over with a muted splash.

Buttercup and Butch heard Keane's phone ring, and within seconds she had flung the door open and was muscling her way over to the hall. By now there was a large crowd amassed at each end, and the chatter that filled the air was a mixture of shock, confusion, irritation, and awed respect.

Buttercup tugged Butch along after Principal Keane—they didn't look conspicuous; in fact, most students were following her—and she could've sworn she saw a vein pop as their principal stalked across the hall.

Mr. Bean was somewhere midway down, helping up a dripping student. "Principal Keane!" he cried. "None of us can go anywhere without making a mess!" Several other teachers and students trapped within their classrooms voiced their assent. A few teachers and students were working on picking up every cup of water, but they had to keep running back and forth between the nearest bathroom to dump them out. It would take forever.

"Holy—" Butch started, and the Principal turned to give him and Buttercup a hard look. Both of them had the most innocent of innocent expressions on their faces.

"Those Farmville punks sure know how to pull a prank," Buttercup said, shaking her head in disbelief, and that inspired several others in the crowd to join in.

"Dude, yeah, with Homecoming next week..."

"How'd they even get in?

"...Had to be a team effort..."

Principal Keane's eyes narrowed at Buttercup and Butch. Brick came up behind them, his face sour (evidently aggravated to no end at the number of students he was having to shove out of his way), and his expression only intensified when he reached the end of the hall to find it was blocked by hundreds of water-filled paper cups.

He heaved an enormous, irritated sigh, then lifted up and floated over them down the hall.

Butch blinked. "Hey, yeah. We can do that."

A bold girl cried, "Brick! Take me with you!"

"Grow your own powers," he replied without so much as a glance. As he turned down another hall, continuing to float over the heads of the other students, Blossom appeared at the end opposite Butch, Buttercup, and Principal Keane.

"Oh, for—" She groaned, then put on her best I'm-in-Charge voice and commanded, "Everybody back up!" The crowd obeyed, watching as she took a deep inhale, then blew out frost across the entire hall, freezing every last cup of water. Cheering rang out, followed by several formerly imprisoned students kicking over the frozen cups as they walked out of their classes.

Principal Keane took over. "Okay, everybody! Team effort here! As you're walking through, everybody grab a cup and throw it away!"

"What are you gonna do when all the cups of ice melt into cups of water in the trash and everything floods?" Buttercup asked, and the Principal issued her a glare.

"You two," she said, pointing at Butch and Buttercup, whose faces fell.

"What?!" Butch cried.

"Principal Keane, we weren't even—"

"Shut up and come with me."

The two of them exchanged a look, then sighed and followed Principal Keane back to her office. After each took their seat, Blossom walked in after them.

"What are you doing here?" Buttercup asked, racking her brain for anything she may have let slip, while Butch remained stone-faced.

"Blossom told me what you said about these pranks at home last night."

Butch's gaze darted to Buttercup, his green eyes sharp and intense with an unspoken question. Buttercup tried to remember what she'd said, then opted to play dumb. "And that was...?"

"About Farmsville High," Blossom said. "Joe Jones' family and their pig farm. The thing is, I dropped by their place early this morning before school."

No cameras, Buttercup thought. No guard dogs. No guards, period. Had she and Butch been spotted? Had someone been awake in the house and seen them?

"They're missing four pigs," Blossom continued, then stared at Buttercup as if her sister had something to say.

Buttercup returned her leader's gaze with a level eye before saying, "Aaaaaand?"

Blossom blinked. "And you were right. Those pigs are the Jones', and Joe Jones is Farmsville High School's star quarterback. It's Farmsville High. They're the ones behind these pranks."

Now Butch, too, was openly gaping at Blossom, though for reasons other than his usual reasons for gaping at her.

"You're kidding," he said.

Buttercup felt a delirious smile breaking onto her face; she scaled it back to a smug smirk instead. "What did I tell you?"

"I wouldn't expect anything less from Principal Walter," Ms. Keane said under her breath, drawing everyone's attention again. Her gaze had riveted itself to the upper right corner of her office, its intensity suggesting that she was lost elsewhere. "Susan always had a competitive streak, ever since the third grade... that stupid sleepover..."

Blossom cleared her throat and Ms. Keane snapped to. She glanced around her office and uncurled her fists, drumming her fingers a few times before moving on.

"Yes. Well, the point is, I wouldn't put any of these shenanigans past Farmsville High."

"So... what are me and Butch doing here?" Buttercup asked, her gaze darting between their principal and her sister.

Blossom moved to stand by Principal Keane. "Well, under normal circumstances I wouldn't condone this sort of behavior, but given the Homecoming spirit, and Butch's and your... penchant for mischief-making..."

She seemed to struggle with the rest, as if she had to battle some inner voice, then finally looked to Ms. Keane for help.

Buttercup and Butch blinked, then, simultaneously, "What?"

"I gotta hand it to you guys," Harry said, pushing another stack of pancakes to a catatonic Buttercup. "You're really pulling off this double-teaming shit like pros."

A frazzled Butch stopped guzzling coffee long enough to throw a panicked eye across the booth at their friend. "Who said I was a pro? This pro shit is a lie. Who said that? Pro? Pro-what?"

Buttercup summoned enough energy to whack Butch half-heartedly in the solar plexus, while Harry went on, "Tires on Farmsville High's flagpole, may I remind you, was my idea."

Mitch snorted as the twins flagged down a waiter to refill their drinks. "Gettin' a little specific there, aren't you? You suggested doing that to Townsville High."

"Whatever. The point is, I suggested it."

Lloyd reached over to pour some syrup on Buttercup's pancakes while Floyd tried to prod her upright with a fork. "Come on, Buttercup, you better eat something. It's nearly two in the morning."

"Butch, you better eat something, too," Mitch said.

"You and your food can go fuck yourself," Butch said in a rush, bouncing his knee in the booth. He was surrounded by empty sugar packets and a miniature mountain of discarded coffee stirrers. "I just need this shit plugged into a vein and I'm good, I don't need any fucking food right now, and Jesus Christ, where are they with the coffee, I told her to just leave the fucking pot here—"

The boys knew better than to try and stop him at this point. Floyd, having given up on trying to get Buttercup to eat, moved to cut a piece of her stack for himself. As his fork headed for her plate, she snatched the butter knife and slammed it down in his path, where it stuck upright in the table.

"Don't you dare," she threatened. A cowed Floyd retreated.

Both Buttercup and Butch were sporting dark rings under their eyes—a result of the work they'd been doing to keep both Farmsville High and Townsville High in a constant state of prank-suffering. They had considered dropping their plans for continuing to prank Townsville High, until...

Harry sat back and said, "I wonder what happened to those two Farmsville kids who tried to take credit for all our work—"

"Those little dicks," Buttercup snarled, her eyes flashing. She dove into her pancakes with renewed vigor. "Claiming they were the fucking masterminds! Bullshit! Did you even see them? Did they look like they had the brains to put together shit that was half as good?!"

Buttercup continued to stab at her food as if it had committed a great personal injustice against her. Butch threw back the rest of his coffee, then peered into the bottom of the mug, seemingly attempting to will more coffee to appear.

"Well, we got 'em back," Mitch said, trying to reassure her. As soon as Buttercup had gotten wind of the two Farmsville High kids who had "confessed" to the pranks, to the point of physically turning themselves in to Principal Keane, she'd called up the boys in a fit of rage. While the two guys had been in Principal Keane's office, the gang had affixed cotton balls doused with water to the entire surface area of all the Townsville High football players' cars, then done the same to the Farmsville High kids' car. Except with super glue instead.

"The death threat you scrawled on their windshield might've been going overboard, though, Buttercup," Harry said.

"I still can't believe Farmsville High has a swimming pool and we don't," Lloyd said covetously. "You guys got enough Jell-O?"

"What kinda fucking question is that, man, of course we've got enough—" Butch's eyes widened and he shot upright, upsetting several glasses on the table. "You! Coffee over here! Now!"

"How're you going to get a whole pool of Jell-O to solidify?" Mitch asked Buttercup.

For the briefest of moments the hint of a triumphant little smirk materialized onto Buttercup's face. "Ice breath."

"No way!" The boys gaped at her, save for Butch, who was busy wrestling a full coffeepot away from a very flustered waiter.

"How'd you convince Blossom to help?!" Harry cried, flabbergasted.

"In the interest of the Homecoming spirit and all," she said. "Empty the packets in the pool, stir it up, chill with the help of Blossom, and voilà! Farmsville High gets to swim laps in a cherry-flavored, gelatinous wasteland."

The boys clapped as Buttercup yawned and took a bow. Having been asked by their own Principal to start pranking the opposing school, Buttercup and Butch had no reason to be discreet about feats that required superhuman abilities. Farmsville High had now suffered having all the tires of their football team's cars looped around the flagpole; a flock of angry chickens in the air conditioning vents; the statue of their hog mascot relocated to a local Malph's while sporting an old Townsville High cheerleading uniform, courtesy of Bubbles; and the entirety of their football field being covered with mooing, snorting, quacking, clucking, neighing, and various other noise-making livestock.

The unfortunate trade-off was lost sleep. Buttercup, still eating, was tipping forward at the same time, threatening to doze off in a pile of maple syrup-laden pancakes with some fruit compote on the side, and Butch had downed so much coffee over the past few days that, as he told the gang, he'd been "pissing brown." He was currently throwing back mug after mug of coffee as if he were doing shots.

A knock on the glass window drew their attention, and they looked up to see Blossom, looking pretty uncomfortable about the prospect of aiding near-professional troublemakers.

"I want to be back home in bed within half an hour," she said, her voice muffled through the glass.

"That's our cue," Buttercup said, shoving the last forkful of pancake in her mouth. "See you guys tomorrow. Thanks for coming out. Come on, Butch."

They zipped out, Butch clutching the coffeepot the waiter had surrendered. Within seconds he had inhaled it and was in the air with the girls, carrying what looked like two tons of Jell-O packages into the night sky.

What am I even doing here? Brick stared disdainfully at the Farmsville Hogs, facing off against the Townsville Townies on the field for their Homecoming game. Honestly. Who had come up with Townsville High's name? That was like naming a dog Dog. Though Brick wasn't terribly interested, the game itself wasn't bad. Apparently the real entertainment had happened before it'd started, something to do with Principal Keane and Farmsville High's principal.

Next to him, Julie was cheering with the rest of the crowd, which included some of Bubbles' Choir friends—most of the people he'd seen at the beach over the summer, in fact. Robin was the only one whose name he remembered. Mike's letter jacket was like a permanent fixture around that girl's shoulders these days.

You brought this on yourself, he thought. A sobering reminder. Julie would have to leave in a few to get ready for the Company's performance at halftime. He hadn't seen Blossom yet. Not that he was looking or anything.

His cell buzzed, and he glanced at the screen.

Hmm. He answered.

"Hi, Mrs. Morbucks. Sorry about the noise, but I can still hear you."

"Just a brief message, anyway. Since she can't be in touch with you personally, she called to let me know you've a suit waiting for you at Sequor—it's a boutique downtown. Your brothers' are there as well."

Penny, Brick thought, his eyes drifting across the field. "Thanks, Mrs. Morbucks. I..."

His nerves were suddenly all on end, tingling. There was a shadow moving across the field with no owner, and as Brick watched it slipped beneath the Townsville High bleachers.

"I appreciate it," he said, and closed his phone.

"Hey," Julie said, patting his arm. "I've got to go get ready."


After she'd disappeared into the horde of people he edged to the stairs and stole away under the bleachers.

It was uncharacteristically, oddly empty—no groups of people chatting, no couples making out—as if they'd all been driven away by some unsettling presence.

Brick hovered for a short while, looking around, then rolled his eyes and said, "You know, I already know you're here."

"Oh, Brick, you never were any fun," Him said as He materialized, sporting a pout.

"Whaddaya want?"

Him drifted in a lazy circle around Brick. "Just checking up on you. I worry about you, you know."

"You tried stabbing me in the chest last time," Brick muttered.

"That wasn't me, that was just a thing I was playing with." Him clucked dismissively, waving a claw. "I just put it out there. It just so happened to go after you."

"Arguing semantics, are we?" Brick said, a hard edge to his voice.

"You always did like to throw around big words to give off an intelligent air."

"What do you want?"

"I told you! I'm checking up on you!" Him jumped close to Brick, crossing His legs and resting His chin on a claw. He adopted an expression of concern. "How's school going?"

Brick only responded with a level glare.

"Are you eating enough?"


"Excited about Prom tomorrow?"

"It's Homecoming," Brick automatically corrected, then cursed himself. Him was grinning, triumphant at having elicited a response.

"My mistake."

"If this is all you're going to do," Brick said, turning on his heel—

"Are you sleeping okay, Brick?" Him asked.

"Then I'm leaving," Brick finished, floating away.

Him's voice was beginning to fade behind him. "Okay! It's just..."

Suddenly a slender pair of arms wove around Brick from behind, the soft figure of a girl pressed up against his back, and Blossom's voice whispered, "It's just I hear you've been having bad dreams."

Brick twisted away and shoved it back. She made a soft "Oof!" noise when he pushed her to the ground, and she—it rubbed an arm and looked up at him, its expression hurt and uncomprehending.

"Brick," it said, and it looked just like her, spoke just like her, had even smelled just like her when it had pressed up against him. "Not so rough."

"Very fucking funny," Brick snapped. "I knew you were behind them." Brick had been having bad dreams—terrible dreams, by his measure. He could no longer lucid dream; he hadn't been able to since that first dream about Blossom, and the worst was that even though they were on less-than-friendly terms, Brick was still dreaming about her with distressing frequency. More than once a week. Sometimes more than once a night.

It stood in Blossom's body, peering at him. "Behind what? Brick, I can't make you dream anything."

"You are full of shit," Brick growled.

"I can't create something out of nothing," it said, still in Blossom's voice, but with His echoing faintly behind. It began to saunter up to Brick—unreal, how the movement of its hips even resembled hers...

It drew up to Brick and paused, considering him with her wide pink eyes. "In order for me to be able to do anything—anything at all—there has to be the slightest little sliver of doubt..."

A hand at Brick's waist, dimly. "Or fear..."

Another, sliding up his chest. "Or hurt..."

Then Blossom, drawing closer, her lips almost on his. "Or desire—"

A sudden red blast knocked it away. Brick's eyes were glowing red with anger, an anger that faltered as he took in her prone form, splayed and unmoving on the ground.

Tricks, he thought. It's all just tricks with Him.

The figure began to shudder with His laughter, and a crazed smile broke out on Blossom's face, twisting her expression into something almost grotesque. It climbed to its feet with alarming speed and an unnatural movement, and laughed at Brick.

"Brick!" it said in Him's high-pitched voice with Blossom's soft, pink mouth. "Where's your sense of humor?!"

Brick shot out from under the bleachers to the parking lot.

Laughter again, this time echoing in every molecule of air that surrounded Brick as he flew to his car. "The funniest part, you know... the best part is, Brick..."

Brick stabbed at the button on his car remote to unlock the doors.

"Even if I could, I wouldn't have to make you do or feel or dream anything," Him's voice echoed, following Brick into his car. "I'm just a spectator. You're doing fine all by yourself."

Butch spotted movement in the bushes and fired the hose. Something yowled and went streaking off across the street.

"Only a cat," he muttered to himself. There was a door opening and slamming behind him, and he twisted to see Buttercup floating back outside, her top half enveloped by an old bomber jacket.

She shuddered and drew it tight around her shoulders. "Ugh. Much better. I was freezing out here. Spot any Farmsville guys yet?"

"Not since you were here," he responded. For all that Buttercup was King Prankster, due to the prominence of the Powerpuff Girls' home it had become a significant prank target for opposing teams. The night of the Homecoming game was particularly popular, since the enemy assumed the Girls would all be at the game. So Buttercup and Butch were playing guard duty, hosing off would-be pranksters from her front lawn.

As Buttercup sat back down a shadow made a leap over Robin's fence that was the exact opposite of graceful. Butch spied it and shot the hose, and the cry it made when it was hit was definitely human.

"That's right, fucker, move it," he announced. "Otherwise you're getting a blast of something green instead of something wet, and that shit'll sting."

The guy ran off and Buttercup asked, "Was that a ninja suit?"

Butch started laughing. "It totally was! That dork!"

"No, seriously. We've had ninjas attack the house before. Believe it or not it is a giant pain in the ass."

"Well, the dude tripped over a fence, so I'm pretty sure he wasn't a pro. Here. You want to do hose duty for awhile?"

She took the hose and gave it a few perfunctory squirts. "Thanks for keeping me company."

He shifted in his lawn chair. "Yeah, sure."

"The Professor give you a hard time?"

Butch made a noncommittal grunt that sounded like it was forcing the noncommittal part. Considering Butch's gender, and the fact that he was coming within three yards of the house, the Professor had insisted on talking to him. Mitch and the rest of the gang had declined to come tonight—they'd been spoken to by the Professor a while back and had a greater sense of self-preservation.

"What'd he ask you?" Buttercup prodded.

"... Nothing. Or, I, uh, don't... remember." Butch cleared his throat and darted a glance over his shoulder back at the house.


"Could we, um, talk about something else? Because I don't remember. Um. Yeah." When Butch had joined Buttercup out on the front lawn, he'd looked sicker than the time he'd actually been sick with the AB Virus.

She shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Butch's attention was still on the house, and he looked—for once in his life—a little fearful. Buttercup turned and followed his gaze to find the Professor issuing a very hard, frightening glare at Butch from the living room window.

Buttercup aimed the hose and sprayed it at the window. "Hey! Shoo, Professor! Go work on your science! Go on!"

The figure, warped through the wet glass, moved away from the window. Buttercup watched a few seconds more to make sure he was good for his word, then turned to the front again. She smacked Butch's shoulder to get him to do the same.

"Chill. Sorry about that. He's a dad."

"Yeah..." Butch glanced at her, taking in the old jacket she was wearing. "Is that one of his?"


"The jacket. He give it to you?"

Buttercup's face was suddenly shadowed and unreadable. "Nah. It was, um... Mitch's dad's."

Butch was already quiet, but the world seemed to get a thousand times quieter in the pause that followed Buttercup's revelation. She kept her eyes trained forward, refusing to make eye contact. A car drove down their street and turned into a driveway, and she could sense its headlight beams passing over Butch's face.

He sat back in his chair, looking around. Buttercup squirted the hose into the street a couple of times.

"You still... why are you keeping it?"

She stared at her lap. "Dunno. Just... haven't given it back yet."

"Why are you wearing it?"

"It's the warmest thing I own," she explained, then furrowed her brow and looked up. "What do you care?"

Now it was his turn to stare at his lap. "I don't really care."

They sat in silence for a while, Buttercup turning over the hose in her hands.

"I mean," he started, then trailed off, unsure where to go. "I don't know. Just... this shit seems to really bum you out, is all."

She stared at the worn leather hem of the jacket, feeling the M written on the back burning a hole between her shoulders as she sat here next to Butch.

"But it is a cold night, I guess."

"I've been meaning to give it back. It's just... it's like..." She groaned, exasperated. "I don't know. It's like, I hate reminding him of it, you know? Especially since we're talking now. I mean, we don't talk about that shit, and I don't wanna... bring it up with him. Anymore, I mean. Like... ever."

Butch dug the toe of his shoe into the grass. "Yeah."

It would have been an understatement to say Buttercup was feeling a little guilty for putting his dad's jacket on. But it wasn't like she and Butch were... they were just friends.

"Nice jacket," he said, not looking at it.

She rubbed the edge of the worn leather sleeve in one hand. "Yeah."

The following afternoon found the two sisters who hadn't been on guard duty working atop the roof.

"Blossom, help me weigh that corner down," Bubbles said, pointing to indicate the bit of tarp that kept flying up.

Blossom flew over with one of the rocks Bubbles had carried up to the roof and did as she asked. "Are we ever going to see this art project of yours, Bubbles?"

"Maybe." She laid another rock on the last corner and announced, "Done. Now to get ready for Homecoming. Are you sure you're not coming, Blossom?"

Blossom laughed as they flew down to the backyard, now animal-free—the pigs had been returned to the Jones family after last night's game (decked out in Townsville High jerseys, of course)—and into the house.

"Pretty sure. I don't have a dress, anyway."

"You could totally borrow one of mine."

"Still don't want to go, sorry."

Bubbles pouted. "I wanted to do your makeup!"

"Bubbles, you've only got—" Blossom paused to check the clock. "Three hours until Boomer picks you up."

"Oh, I better start getting ready," Bubbles said in a rushed panic, and dashed into their bathroom.

Three hours later (two assignments later, for Blossom), Bubbles was putting the finishing touches on her hair.

"Your dress is so... sparkly," Buttercup said, eyeing their sister from her bed with considerable disdain. "How many vampires died to make that dress?" After a second of consideration, she added, "Please tell me a lot."

"Last chance to change your mind, Blossom," Bubbles said, ignoring their dark-haired sister. "You could always show up fashionably late."

"Busy doing homework."

"You two are freaks," Buttercup said.

The doorbell rang, and the girls heard their father's hurried footsteps, making a mad dash for the door. Bubbles snatched her purse and jetted downstairs.

"Professor!" she scolded. "No!"

Buttercup swung her legs over the edge of her bed and picked a hoodie off of her headboard. "Guess I'll head out, too."

Blossom looked up. "Where? Are you going to Homecoming?"

Buttercup scoffed and gave her leader an offended look as she unplugged her cell from its charger. "What? Please. I'm meeting up with the guys."

"Well, go have fun." A thought occurred to her, and she looked up. "Pranking's over, Buttercup!" Blossom called after her sister as she made her way downstairs. After a second's consideration, Blossom floated to their windows and glanced at the driveway. Bubbles and Boomer were making their getaway, while Buttercup left in a much more subdued manner. Robin, who was in her driveway next door, waved at the three of them.

Blossom opened up one of the windows, a motion that caught Robin's attention.

"Hey! Where's your dress?" Robin cried.

"I'm not going," Blossom called back. "Where's Mike?"

There was a hint of a smile on her friend's face. "On his way. You know, Blossom, it's your senior year. You should go."

Blossom pressed her lips together and shook her head. "I've got things to do."

"Things that start with Math and end in Science?"

"Actually, they're ending in Econ." At the look on her friend's face, Blossom said, "Don't worry, I'm fine."

"It's a special night, Blossom!"

"You know, Buttercup's not going to Homecoming."

"But she has plans! You have... homework."

"Thanks for worrying about me, Robin. I'm fine." With a salute, Blossom shut herself back in her room, against the cries of protest resounding from her friend's yard.

"Sweetie," a voice at the door said, and Blossom turned to find the Professor standing in the hall. "You know, if you change your mind, I can give you a ride."

"Why is everyone making such a big deal out of this?!" Blossom laughed in disbelief. "It's just a silly high school dance!"

"Well, Blossom, it's just..." The Professor leaned on the doorframe and looked around the girls' room before continuing. "It's just that you've always spent... a lot of time in the house. Studying and all."

She crossed her arms and said dryly, "Would you rather I didn't focus on my schoolwork?"

"And you've only ever been to two dances. Your freshman year, and your junior year."

"Buttercup's only been to one—"

"Sweetheart," the Professor interjected, striding into the room to grasp her gently by the shoulders, "I just don't want you to regret missing out on these things. I mean, you're gonna..." He swallowed, doing that dewy-eyed dad thing again. "You're going to be graduating... soon..."

Blossom sighed. "Oh, Professor—"

The home phone rang, and they both looked around for the receiver in the girls' room. Blossom found it buried under Bubbles' mattress and answered. It was for the Professor.

He groaned. "More trouble with the monster barrier," he explained to Blossom after he hung up. "I gotta head downtown."

She helped him gather up his stuff and, with no small amount of frustration, assured him she was fine staying at home alone on Homecoming night.

"I'm a big—" She cut off at the Professor's trembly lip, and amended, "I'll be fine. See you when you get back, Professor."'

As he drove off, Blossom floated back upstairs. Her Physics assignment sat, ready and waiting, and she stared at it for a little bit before sighing and taking her pencil in hand.

Butch and Buttercup stared at Brick's Coil, "parked" carefully on the top of the hotel roof.

"It'd be awesome," Buttercup said.

"It'd be suicide," Butch responded. "He flew it up here so no one would mess with it. If we touched it—"

"We'd just be switching its spot, is all."

Butch gave her a pointed look. "He'd kill me."

She crossed her arms. "Who claimed it was 'always worth it?'"

"I was talking about fighting then. This is Brick's car." Butch started gesturing to himself. "He will cut me and peel off my skin and then let me bleed out to death through my entire body. He might even crucify me afterwards so my corpse can warn other people not to do crazy shit like touch his car."

Buttercup shrugged. "Fine. If you're going to be such a pussy about it—"

A huge boom shook the building, upsetting their balance. The Coil swayed slightly, and Buttercup looked to the coast, her brow knit with concern. She pulled out her phone and stared at it.

"You getting a call?" Butch asked.

"No," she said, frowning. After awhile, she said, "I guess it's nothing serious. Otherwise someone would be calling." She continued to stare at her phone.

"What the hell was that?" Butch said.

She shoved her cell back into her pocket and glanced at the coast one last time. "Beats me."

"You haven't heard from MG yet, I take it?"

It took Brick a second to remember what Julie was talking about. He guided them around another couple as they swayed on the dance floor.

"Oh. Modern Girl. No, not yet."

She pursed her lips in a manner Brick might have, at one point, found cute. "I wonder whose photos were featured. Next to yours, I mean. I hope mine were good enough."

"You're not bad," he said, and Julie snorted.

"Oh, is that supposed to be a compliment? I suppose I'd better take what I can get with you."

Overall, the night had been going fine. It had started with a group dinner, followed by a mass exodus to the hotel hosting this year—again, courtesy of Mrs. Morbucks. And Julie was nice. She was funny. Kinda wholesome looking; there was nothing remotely smoldering or exotic about her looks. Pretty in a plain way, and a decent dancer. Socialized well. Knew her way around a canvas, and made respectable grades.

Brick had spent the entire night repeating this litany of justifications to himself. He was so over getting involved with—and in—other things. They were distracting. He was losing sight of the bigger picture. He had to focus on what he wanted and ignore everything else.

He spied Boomer with Bubbles' head on his shoulder a few feet away, the two of them lost in their own little world, and made a mental note to have a talk with Boomer about that.

"You know, Brick, I have to ask," Julie said, pulling Brick out of his thoughts. She hesitated before continuing, staring at his collar instead of at his face. "Would you have asked me to Homecoming... even if you hadn't been fighting with Blossom?"

His body felt as if it had suddenly frozen from the inside out; even the air around him grew cold as he glared and said in a low snarl, "What's that supposed to mean?"

One drawback to Julie, Brick noted, was that she was virtually immune to his Scary Face. "I mean would you have asked me to Homecoming on your own? Ever? Would it have even crossed your mind if you hadn't been trying to get back at her?" Her lips went thin as she continued to work herself up. "I mean, I don't much appreciate being a prop for your—"

A sudden boom rattled the ground, disrupting the music and upsetting the chandeliers. A few screams echoed in the room, followed by excited, nervous chatter. Boomer and Bubbles exchanged a glance, then looked at Brick.

"What was that?" Julie said, her anger momentarily forgotten as she gripped the lapels of Brick's jacket.

She crossed his mind, briefly, and he said, his voice firm and resolute, "Probably nothing."

Blossom had felt the boom all the way over in the suburbs, and she'd leaped up to look out the window just as the Hotline rang.

"Blossom here," she said. "What's the trouble?"

"Blossom!" the Mayor sputtered. "It's all dark over here and I'm scared!"

There was a scuffle on the other end and then the Professor's voice came on the line, frantic. "Blossom?!"

Her heart shot into her throat; if it was the Professor it couldn't be good. "What's wrong?"

"The barrier's down! Completely! There was a massive power surge and it's completely wiped out the power downtown! We can't get our equipment back online, and the backup generator krzzz destroyed... krzzz electromagnetic krzz—"

"Professor, I'm losing you," Blossom said, trying to stay calm, but with the Professor as panicked as he was...

The lights started flickering, and she managed to make out "Mon—" before the line and lights went completely dead.

A roar echoed from outside, and Blossom dropped the phone and dashed out the window. The power looked to be knocked out for the entire neighborhood, and off in the distance she could see more lights flickering off, as if a cloud of darkness was passing over the city.

Another roar, from the downtown area, and a sudden urgency flared up in her as she thought of the Professor.

The smart thing to do was to get Bubbles and Buttercup, but as she sped downtown and tugged out her phone she discovered that, too, was dead. She frowned, but a scream jolted her out of her thoughts.

I'll have to go get them later. First she had to get as many folks to safety as possible. Then she would worry about her sisters.

As she dashed up to catch a woman who had just fallen out of a building, the monster who had disturbed it roared again.

"Alright, you—" Blossom started to snarl, but she was interrupted by a second roar from another monster, followed by a third from a third, and a fourth from a fourth...

The woman in her arms screamed as another four monsters appeared, and Blossom gaped as the panic that had arrested her senses multiplied tenfold.

At the distant sound of a roar Buttercup's head whipped around, searching.

Butch paused, the Coil raised above his head. "I guess something's up after all."

She set down the car they were switching Brick's with and yanked out her phone. "That's impossible."

Butch shifted the cargo in his hands. "What?"

"My phone's dead. I just charged it before I left—"

Suddenly a pink streak sailed through the side of the hotel, leaving a jagged hole that was roughly Blossom's size, followed by a flying, squid-like monster that went screaming into the roof, where Brick's car had been only a minute ago.

"Holy shit, that fucker is so lucky we moved his car," Butch breathed.

Buttercup took off for the building, but a roar from behind stopped her, and she and Butch looked to see another two monsters bearing down the street.

She swore and shot off towards them instead as Butch set down Brick's car to join her.

Something's coming.

Brick felt it in every nerve in his body, and he pushed Julie aside as he stepped forward, looking around. It was something big. Something...

Blossom came crashing through the wall and in the span of a second Brick lifted his arms to catch her, then thought better of it and swiveled out of the way so the punch table could catch her instead. She jumped to her feet, dripping in foodstuffs and punch, then took in the crowd—especially the girls, with their beautiful dresses and done-up hair—and muttered under her breath, "Great."

A bigger crash pulled everyone's attention, and they turned to see a giant squid smash through the wall, inspiring a new, protracted round of screaming and fleeing. Boomer was beginning to form a sword when Bubbles grabbed him and dragged him away, out into the lobby.

A slimy tentacle shot towards Brick, and he ducked. It rammed into Blossom instead, wrapped around her, and flung her to the other side of the room, where she went crashing into the wall.

Brick was already forming an energy beam in his hands.

You're too involved.

The tentacle flicked up and slammed her into another wall.

You're losing sight of the bigger picture.

Into the chandeliers.

You have to focus on what you want and ignore everything else—

Into the floor, where her head smacked against the floor and bounced—

Brick was moving toward her when she lifted her head, jaw set in grim determination, and blew, icing over the length of tentacle that ensnared her. She then kicked, breaking off shards, and as the monster screamed she threw the limp appendage away and eyebeamed it in the face.

It thrashed around and as it whipped its tentacles about the room, one of them smacked into an unlucky girl. She made a horrified, extremely pissed off noise—she'd gotten a suction cup in the face—and then made more frantic noises as the monster lifted her off the floor and began to fling her around.

Blossom gasped in horror and moved from trying to destroy the beast to trying to save the girl, who was thrown into Brick and sent them both towards the wall—perhaps a small comfort for her, but at a particularly unappealing price, as her face was covered in slime and she now reeked of fish.

"How is that thing retaining any moisture?" Brick wondered aloud as he flung the girl in his arms aside.

As if hearing him, the monster turned and charged. Brick's eyes flashed red, but before he could act Blossom rammed into it from behind, slamming its body to the floor. All of its remaining tentacles dashed up and coiled around her, then whacked her once more into the wall.

Her hair was a mess and her brow was beaded with sweat, but there wasn't a trace of weariness or fatigue in her face. There was only grim determination, making itself known in the tense jaw, the gritted teeth, the hard eyes...

The squid-like creature threw her back outside into the night sky and took off after her. Brick's legs moved of their own accord—one, two steps, and then he was in the air, the wind whipping around him and knocking the boutonnière off the lapel of his jacket.

"Bubbles!" Boomer cried. "What are you—"

"I have to change," she explained, and he blinked.

"'Change?' You have to... are you serious?!"

Bubbles only gripped his wrist harder as they sped back to her house. A roar sounded off in the distance, and Boomer glanced back.

He looked at her again and said, "Do you really think—"

She halted and glared at him, her gaze so sharp he could've sworn he'd been poked in the eyes with a needle.

"I know this is going to sound so stupid, and petty, and, and so, so girly," she said through gritted teeth, "but do you have any idea how much I spent on this dress?"

The question blindsided him, and he stared for a second before going, "Uh—"

"Not just money! The time!" The wind ruffled her skirt as she took to flying again, dragging him with her. "All the shopping I did, all the dresses I tried on? The hairstyle I had to figure out to go with it? The accessories and makeup? I am going home, and I am pulling on a pair of ratty old jeans, and this dress isn't going to see one second of a monster fight because it is the result of weeks of shopping and a lot of indecisiveness and some artistic arranging and a good hunk of cash! I don't care how stupid it sounds! I am not going to risk ruining it!"

Buttercup swung the dazed beast around a couple of times to gain momentum, then let go, flying up to watch it sail far into the distance, back into the ocean and probably well past Monster Island. Below her, the last few straggling civilians were heading east on foot and by car, away from the coast.

"One down," she said to herself, then looked down at Butch, who was entertaining himself by shanking the other monster—limp on the ground—with what had once been a street lamp. She dashed down to the street and ripped the lamp out of his hands.

"Dude! It's not gonna get any deader!"

The twisty little grin was still on his face, and his eyes were sparkling. "But it feels so cool—"

A flying squid monster—or, at least what they assumed was a squid monster (it was missing all of its tentacles and its eyes had glassed over)—sailed over their heads and disappeared into the black night. Blossom flew up, smelling faintly of fish.

"Oh good, you're... here," she said, recoiling a bit at the mess of the monster Butch had been attacking. "How many have you gotten?"

"Two, including this guy," Buttercup said, indicating the dead monster in the street.

"Two for me, too," Blossom said, looking up. "That leaves one more."

"There's another?" Buttercup gaped.

"There's another?!" Butch lit up.

A huge, bone-quaking THOOM echoed down the street, and the three of them exchanged a glance. A giant shadow passed over them, and they looked up. And up. And up.

"Whoa," Buttercup and Butch whispered.

Blossom bit her lip, grim. "Yeeeeah."

Brick saw it. It was huge. It towered over the tallest building, on two long, thin legs that didn't look capable of supporting it. Its skin was milky white and vaguely translucent, and it dragged its arms as it walked, its gait stilted and awkward. Where there should've been a face was only a gaping maw. As it approached, Brick felt the air buzzing with energy, and he looked back. Off in the distance, lights were shutting down—this thing was responsible for the power outages and dead phone lines. It was like a walking voltage spike.

Three streaks—one pink, two green—charged up and began blasting. The thing twitched briefly after each hit, but seemed mostly unfazed. It simply continued to move forward in its slow, methodical manner.

Brick landed in the empty street, staring. A flickering green shield appeared, then moved, the sharp edge of it slicing off an arm, and the thing pulled away and groaned. Sparks ghosted along its body, and it raised its other arm and fired a current of electricity at Butch.

His shield disappeared as there was a pop, followed by a faint stream of smoke and a very audible sizzle, and Brick watched as his brother's figure fell to the ground. Buttercup dashed down to catch him while Blossom circled it—in some kind of pattern, it looked like—and attempted to blast at the joint of its other limbs from behind.

A valiant effort that was rewarded by another surge of electricity, and then Blossom, too, fell.

Brick clenched and unclenched his fists. This wasn't really his business. If Butch wanted to get involved, that was his deal. Brick didn't have to be a part of it just because they were brothers. And the girls... it wasn't like Brick had any real ties to them. And JS, Inc. had told them to keep a low profile...

I shouldn't, he thought. Even though I could. Blossom and Butch rose into the air again, and he dimly registered Blossom barking an order. This is not how it should be. Don't get involved. It's none of my business.

The monster continued to move forward, occasionally shooting at the girls and his brother with its one arm. For all that it was moving slowly, after having lost an arm, it was still remarkably quick to attack, shooting sparks at Butch every time he tried the shield thing again. Blossom flew down and blew, her ice breath frosting over the street and freezing the thing's feet to the ground. It swayed to keep its balance and shot at all of them again.

What the fuck are you doing?! Brick's brain screamed at him, and he blinked as the scenery rushed past on either side of him. His feet pounded the pavement as he sped up the street, almost moving of their own accord, and as Blossom turned to see him approaching, her expression astonished, he kicked off the ground and landed a blow square in what would've been the monster's chest.

Its arc back towards the street was almost graceful and seemed to happen in slow motion. As it went down, its good arm swiped at Brick, who dodged it easily. Blossom was already freezing it before it had fully hit the ground.

As ice crackled over the very top of it, a green glint in the sky hurtled down to Earth, and Blossom, Brick, and Butch shielded their faces as Buttercup landed right in the monster's center. Shards of frozen monster exploded into the air, green light trailing after them. The shards embedded themselves in glass and concrete buildings; Butch had to throw up a shield while Brick and Blossom did the dodging dance again.

"Buttercup!" Blossom scolded. "Watch it!"

"I watched it, alright," Buttercup said as she dusted off her hands, smug. "Watched it go PSHHHH." She indicated an explosion with her hands, smirking at her sister.

"That should fix the electrical interference," Brick said, distracting Blossom from launching into a screaming match with Buttercup. "City will have to kick the power back on."

"The plants are all on the west side of the city, by the coast," Blossom explained. "The only people there right now would be our dad and his team."

"Phone's still down." Buttercup peered at her cell.

Brick pretended to not look at Blossom and said, "Well, yeah, someone's got to get everything back on line—Butch! Put it down!" He made a threatening gesture at his brother, who had picked up a frozen monster shard. "Quit dicking around!"

"Buttercup and I will go tell the Professor," Blossom said, voice firm. And then, with a touch of reluctance, she glanced at Brick.

He suddenly felt very silly to be standing there in a tuxedo.

"Um, thanks for all your—"

Something plowed into Brick, cutting Blossom off, and she gasped as he went skidding across the asphalt, fighting off what looked like a nasty mutated lizard the size of a lion.

"Holy fucking shit!" Butch exclaimed, and Blossom looked up to see another slew of monsters—far more than five, far more than ten, even—of every shape and size, running, flying, crawling, slithering towards them. A symphony of discordant, earsplitting monster cries reverberated in the air, drowning out the very audible sound of her gulp.

"Butch!" she barked, making him jump. "Shield!"

A solid wall of green slammed into the approaching monsters, who all snarled and began pounding against it.

No time to panic, Blossom thought frantically to herself. Think of a plan, think of a plan—

"Butch, stay put! Buttercup and I will work on sending them back; you need to stay here and hold your shield!"

"What?! Oh, fuck that! No deal! I'm not playing defense!" he snapped, and suddenly a very pissed off Blossom was snarling in his face.

"Do not curse at me," she growled. "For once, you are going to do exactly as I say, unless you want to find out what your own kidneys taste like."

A screech from above caught her attention, and she looked up to find a few of the flying monsters had flown up, over Butch's shield, and were now diving towards them. As she took flight to ward them off, Butch and Buttercup exchanged a glance.

On the rag? Butch mouthed at his friend.

Buttercup made a fuck-you face and took off to join her sister.

On the ground, Brick jammed his fist into the side of the thing on him and snapped its jaw before throwing its limp body aside. A solid green streak—Buttercup—crashed, creating a sizable crater in the middle of the road. The monster that had attacked her moved from its fallen opponent to Brick, who snarled and blasted its head off. He took to the skies as the monster's carcass fell and Buttercup began to rise out of the asphalt.

There were three other flying monsters that Blossom was handling remarkably well for being one person, superpowers or no, and as she grabbed the wings of two of them and slammed them into each other Brick made easy work of the third with his eyebeams. A shower of ash fluttered to the ground, and as for Blossom's, she ripped off the wings of each dazed creature.

There seemed to be a suspended moment of time where each one realized it could no longer fly, and then they fell, screaming, to the ground.

"Aw, you guys had all the fun without me," Buttercup said with a pout as she flew up.

"Don't get yourself knocked out next time," Brick quipped, and the dark-haired girl issued him a glare.

From below them, there was an "Oof!" They all looked down to find one of the monsters Blossom felled had landed on Butch. There was a slight buzzing sound, and then the giant green shield that held back the rest of the monsters flickered off.

"Oh, shit," Brick and Buttercup intoned, and the three of them scattered, pulling back as the mass of things that clearly wanted to do the girls and the boys immense harm surged forth.

A burst of wind—colored bright blue, if wind bursts could have a color—blew past them, and Boomer, still suited for Homecoming, twirled the giant, sparking blue weapon in his hands and sliced it horizontally against the mass, cutting several of the larger monsters into several pieces. Those that were small enough to escape were met with a blue blast from Bubbles, and just like that, the majority of the monster onslaught was taken down.

Boomer turned and grinned at the group, brandishing what they could now see was a glowing blue scythe in his hands. "Neat, huh? I'd never even thought of making one of these before!"

"Did you seriously go home to change while monsters were attacking the city?" Blossom said reproachfully to her sister as Bubbles joined them.

Before the blonde could speak, Boomer cut in, his tone serious. "Do you have any idea how much she spent on that dress?"

"You fucks!" Butch shouted as he flew up, covered in monster goo. "You leave me on the ground to hold a fucking wall and then you dump a shitload of dead monsters on me?!"

"Watch the language," Blossom said with a frown. The scythe in Boomer's hands disappeared, and he poked curiously at an eyeball on Butch's shoulder.

"There's still some left," Bubbles assured him, pointing at the ground. Sure enough, a lucky few had survived Boomer and Bubbles' attack and were now snarling from below as they tried to swipe at the girls and the boys.

"There's still more coming."

Everybody looked at Brick. He blinked, realizing the voice had come from him. It took him a second to process; he hadn't meant to speak, hadn't even been thinking the words. He had only been so overcome with a sudden knowledge that the night wasn't over—

The monstrous roars in the far distance almost seemed a punctuation mark to his statement. As they looked up to confirm with sight what they'd just heard, the only movement in that instant was Boomer, who reached out a hand, and Bubbles, who took it in hers.

Butch then broke the moment by saying, almost reverentially, "Dude. Homecoming beats the shit out of Prom."

Someone at the plants had managed to get the communication towers working again and the Professor had called Blossom to let her know that he was fine, that they were working on the monster barrier, and that she and the rest of the girls and boys should focus on getting whatever monsters they could out of Townsville. Which shouldn't have been too bad, except...

Blossom hadn't even known that Monster Island was capable of supporting all the things that were invading the city tonight. None of the friendly ones were present, either—all of the monsters making it in were vicious, snarling, angry things. And yet there was still something off about them... something odd...

She flung another one back out to the water; Butch and Buttercup were at the coast, the team's first line of defense. Bubbles, Brick, and Boomer were all in the center of the city, tracking down any monsters that had already infiltrated Townsville. Blossom herself was midway between the two groups to catch anything in between.

Why are there so many?

There was a sound, then, approaching rapidly, and she tensed and dove out of the way as Butch went flying by. Another huge, Godzilla-esque monster was on its way; she could see the flash of green surrounding it as Buttercup attempted to ward it off. With Butch and his shield down, Blossom dashed up to help her sister, who, true to character, was doing a fine job of royally pissing the giant thing off.

Before Blossom could even work in a punch or beam, the monster took a deep breath and issued a rancid, bone-quaking, sonic boom of a roar so powerful that it halted both girls in their tracks and sent them spiraling dazedly to the ground.

Blossom's brain was still buzzing as she sensed that immense shadow passing over her into the city, followed by a dozen smaller scurrying things. She pushed herself up out of the concrete and started blasting what she could, but then the buzzing in her head started up again...

No. It wasn't in her head. The monsters that had begun pouring in—those of them that she could see from here, about a couple hundred feet into the water—suddenly stopped, as if confronted with an invisible wall.

"They got it!" she cried in triumph to Buttercup, who groaned as she pushed herself up. "The Professor got the barrier back up!"

"Great," Buttercup said, clearly over this whole night. "Now we just need to worry about all the fuckers that we still need to get out."

"No need for cursing, Buttercup," Blossom reprimanded. They both began chasing after the monsters and carried on with the blasting, flinging, and general violence. Once again, there was the nagging little thought in Blossom's head that there was something off tonight... something about the monsters and where they all were going...

Buttercup cut into her thoughts. "You know, for rampaging monsters, these guys aren't doing a lot of city-munching or destroying or... you know, rampaging."

Blossom blinked at her sister. "You're right." Even the first monsters Blossom had faced tonight had not seemed very focused on knocking over buildings or noshing on people. No... every monster tonight had just continued pushing forward, as if they were trying to get somewhere...

"Blossom, is it just me, or are all these guys headed in one direction?"

Buttercup was full of bright ideas tonight. Blossom put a stopper on the defense for a second and rose above the buildings, her eyes on the monsters that continued to move deeper into Townsville. She looked out over the city, where her eyes passed over one green streak a few blocks away, and then further back where there were two blue and one red swirling around the giant monster that had taken Blossom and Buttercup down. As she watched, the massive beast drew its arm back and swiped, catching the red streak and practically whacking it across town. Brick crashed into the side of a building and suddenly the slew of monsters moving into the city changed direction.

Her eyes widened as Buttercup called, "Did you see that?"

"Yes," Blossom breathed.

"What are they after?"

Blossom's gaze darted back to the monster that had struck him. It was now moving away from Bubbles and Boomer, only swiping at them when they became too much of a nuisance. Like the monsters below her and Buttercup, it too was moving in one direction, after...

"Brick," she whispered, a sudden panic gripping her, and she felt herself moving, flying of her own accord as the sound of every snarling monster in Townsville filled her head.

"Brick!" she screamed back at Buttercup. "They're after Brick!"

Stars in his eyes, and not the good kind. Brick groaned and pushed himself up, his head ringing. As he stood, concrete rubble cascaded down the front of his ruined suit. The ground rumbled, its vibrations unsettling the debris at his feet. A shadow passed over the buildings.

Brick squared his shoulders and tensed, at the ready.

"Brick! Run!"

His head jerked to see Blossom go shooting overhead, just as the giant monster rounded the corner and dozens more of every size poured into the street. Blossom swooped down, eyebeams ablaze as she landed hard on the asphalt in front of Brick.

Brick took to the air and followed suit, blasting into the horde of monsters from above.

"Brick!" Blossom cried from below him. "Seriously, run! Head towards the coast!"

"The hell I am! I'm not running!"

"I'm not joking! They're after you!"

Something rammed into him, sending Brick skidding away as he fought it off. Something in his shoulder twinged when he hit the ground.

Conserve your X, he thought, but he was also very, very pissed.

He made short work of the two that were on him and ten more charged in to meet him. The pink blasts further down the street now had various blue and green ones accompanying them; he could see it just beyond the sudden influx of clawed fists and rows of teeth and, in one case, slimy, goopy, green... something.

Brick's eyes flashed red, and the beam that followed seared several of the monsters into ash and several others into halves. The green goop was the only thing he had missed, and it plowed into his face, cutting off his Cyclops beams and trying to force its way into his mouth. Brick was instantly overwhelmed by the taste of salted gasoline made gelatinous, and retched as he fumbled desperately for a hold on it. He managed to get a grip and ripped it out of his mouth, then blasted it into oblivion. Once it was gone he buckled to his knees and heaved, spitting over and over to try and get the disgusting taste out of his mouth.


Blossom's voice again. Bubbles' might've been in there too, as well as Boomer's. He wasn't sure. The next thing he knew he'd been whacked by the giant monster yet again and the thing after that involved metal and his head and vague darkness with a hole of light in front of him and a bigger square-shaped hole of light to his right. He tried blinking himself into consciousness—but wait, he had to be conscious, or else he wouldn't be blinking...

Wake up, this voice in his head said, or was it His, or just his? Wake up, get up, keep fighting, move it you fucking idiot, don't let them take you down—

Okay, definitely his. As he wobbled unsteadily on his feet and blinked over and over again, another voice joined in and asked gently, Do you have a concussion?

He staggered to the smaller hole of light—he'd been knocked into the side of a deserted moving van and had destroyed a very nice-looking couch. It still looked soft, though, and maybe after this was all over he'd come back here and take a nap on that one cushion that was still intact...

He heard Bubbles' trademark scream in the distance, and even from here it felt like it was stinging his brain; he covered his head and crouched, trying to fight off what he knew was an impending migraine.

Suddenly the floor of the van tipped underneath him, and as he lost his balance and toppled, the universe exploded into a galaxy of scaled arms all working towards a single purpose—intensifying Brick's headache.

He heard blasting and snarling followed by more blasting and what sounded like a few well-placed kicks, then a sudden release of pressure from his torso. Things were happening too fast for him to keep up, at least not visually, but he maintained the presence of mind to return the favor when a slim pair of arms encircled him and held him fast.

For the first time that evening he hit the ground gently. Those arms released him, and he automatically tightened his grip to keep her from leaving. His brain was still suffering the effects of one too many hits to the head, but this was a comfort; he wanted her arms here, to stay...

He forced his eyes open, just a sliver, as a hand drifted across his face and touched his hairline. She was blurry and out of focus. Fuck his vision. He had the sudden horrific thought that without Chemical X he might have to wear glasses.

"Brick," Blossom said, and suddenly it was like someone had adjusted the focal distance of a camera. He blinked as he looked at her, his skin tingling where she touched it. A blinking neon sign flashed red, tinting her skin. "Are you okay?" Brick watched her lips form the words and tried to remember why he had not asked this girl to the dance.

A groaning noise from above them drew his attention, and he gasped her name as the neon sign that flickered behind her broke from its metal framing and plunged toward them. Blossom twisted to see, but he threw an arm around her, yanked her close, and then rolled on top of her as he blasted through the concrete.

Electric sparks fizzled behind them, the sound fading in the distance as they fell, and then they hit the floor of the underground and Brick blacked out.

The group was on the last of the monsters, mostly spreading out and seeking those they might have missed. Given his penchant for pugilism, Butch had gone off on his search with the primary objective being quantity, and had lucked out. The little herd of chest-high beasties that he'd discovered had a fondness for charging into a person's midsection at full speed with their very thick, very hard domed skulls, and kept him sufficiently entertained.

In all honesty it hadn't been much of a fight, but the last of them did manage to plow into him, making his lungs extremely unhappy, and as he blasted it away he had to take a knee.

A bellow rang out right behind him, and before he could react it slammed into him, connecting with his back. The sudden explosion of pain in his knee was overwhelming; that one point had taken the brunt of the blow and he torpidly registered a grinding noise.

The pain had barely sunk in before another roar echoed above him, and he suddenly snapped awake and raised himself up—one of his legs didn't move as quickly as it should have, but he didn't think about it. He just shot to his feet, his energy beams building, at the ready—

The monster struck again, its massive, sledgehammer-like appendages connecting with Butch's raised fists. On any other day his beams would've been strong enough to knock it back, but he'd been fighting too long tonight. His muscles were weak and his body felt tired and—as he was soon quite painfully reminded—his knee was seriously fucked up.

His bad leg buckled beneath him at the blow and he went down. The crunch his knee made seemed almost as loud as the scream that immediately tore its way out of his throat, and as Butch's knee ground grotesquely against the asphalt, the pain made itself known in every inch of his body, every anguished cry that was a gasp for breath, and he dropped to his other knee, his arms failing him, his sight failing him, everything was going black...

No, not black. Everything was going green. A blinding green light cut through the monster and split it into pieces, and then it was her figure in his field of vision, all he could see, all he could...

Butch's recognition of his own relief was barely present. His head swam as the whole length of the street, monster bits and all, stretched away from him into the distance—he saw it, there, the edges pulling taut—and then it was tilting on its axis, fast, as he fell to his side.

Hands, then—hands that had pummeled and blasted and destroyed things tonight, hands that were still steaming from the fresh kill, grasped him by the shoulders and stopped his fall.

Buttercup laid Butch down on the ground, face up, and asked frantically, "Butch, can you hear me?"

His eyes were already closing... he felt so sleepy, he hadn't even realized—

"Butch!" She shook his shoulders, then slapped her hand lightly against his cheek, and he blinked. "Butch!"

He saw a bump on her head—man, it was ugly, all huge and swollen—and slurred through a sticky, thick mouth, "Are you okay?"

"Of course I am, you dumbfuck," she snapped, her face tight with worry. Her gaze flew to the mangled knee of his jeans and, after a second, she placed her hands on his thigh (which, funny thing, woke him up a bit). With a low, faint beam coming out of her eyes, she cut across the denim, then down the middle to open up his pants leg and get a better look.

After a moment, she muttered, "You're good at fucking up this knee."

He laughed. "You mean good at fucking up."

"Smug ass," she said. "It looks like you dislocated a bone."

He lifted his head. "Yeah, don't think I'm supposed to have two knees on one leg."

"Saw it happen to a guy in football once," she muttered, grimacing at the memory. "You tear, like, all your ligaments. Less of a problem with Chemical X, but it still won't heal correctly if you don't fix the dislocation."

He groaned as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. "Got a recommendation, doc?"

She rolled her eyes, and then her gaze drifted from his knee to his belt. She reached for the buckle.

"Whoa, hey." Butch jerked back a bit and winced as the motion jostled his leg.

"Don't get any ideas."

"Little late for that, you horny perv," he sneered, earning a whack in the face.

When the last of the belt had slithered out of the loops, she folded it in half and brought it close to Butch's face.

"Open," she ordered, nodding at his mouth, and placed the belt between his teeth. "Bite down."

"Kinky," he responded, but complied. Buttercup then nudged his good leg over, and Butch shifted uncomfortably as she took his thigh in one arm and his shin in the other. She smelled like sweat and monster guts, which sounded worse than it actually was. His hands clenched on the asphalt as he leaned back, his eyes on those versatile hands that had punched and blasted and slapped his cheek and taken off his belt, now resting against his leg.

"On three," she said.

"On your mark," he quipped, and she snorted.

"One," she whispered, and then jerked.

Pain, suddenly, nothing but one blinding instant of terrible, terrible pain, and he gritted his teeth—so hard that they cut into the leather—and slammed his forehead into her back, biting back a scream. Maybe two.

"Oh, you bitch!" he seethed when he'd finally remembered how to speak. He blinked furiously, his eyes filling with tears. "Fuck! Fucking God damn ass hell motherfucker!"

She simply sat still, holding his leg in place while she waited for him to get the cussing and thrashing out of his system.

He spit the belt out. "I'm going to fucking kill you," he whined as he started to settle down, the pain finally fading.

"Ha. I'd like to see you try." She pulled away, and Butch felt a little sorry to lose the sensation of her body so close to his. She gently set his leg down, then sat cross-legged in front of him, picking up the belt and examining the bite mark now decorating it. After a pause, she, too, bit the leather.

"Weird ass," Butch said.

Buttercup was busy examining the belt. "Look, man, your jaw's huge. My mark looks like a baby's compared to yours."

She passed the belt to Butch, who glanced at it. He then lowered it to his crotch. "Yours looks about the right size to me—"

Her fist slammed into his messed up knee, and he howled in pain.

"You fucking piece of shit!" he hissed, his eyes tearing up.

"Like you didn't deserve that!"

"Fuck you," he squeaked as his top half rocked back and forth.

"You wish," she scoffed, and he glared at her.

They sat in silence, staring each other down as the throbbing in Butch's knee subsided. The screech of a flying monster in the distance caught their attention, and they both looked over to see a bright blue streak—Boomer—fly up and form a double-necked bass to whack it away.

"How Fooly Cooly of him," Buttercup said.

"You nerd."

"I dressed up like that kid for Halloween one year," she said, and then jerked to. "Holy shit! Halloween! We got so wrapped up with pranks... we haven't even talked about costumes with the guys!"

"Dude, you're right. It's like—ugh." Butch winced as his knee twinged from the healing process. "It's like next week!"

"Oh, man, I can't believe I forgot. There's, like, barely any time—"

"Well, what've you done before?"

Buttercup lifted her head, biting her lip in thought, and Butch stared at her mouth as she said, "I told you we did The Ring one year, yeah?"

He continued to stare, then blinked and said, "Uh, yeah."

"And then there was the year we all went as employees from rival fast food joints..."

Butch laughed. "What?"

"It was awesome, we staged fights in the parking lots of all those restaurants," she elaborated, grinning at the memory. "Um, we also did horror movie villains one year. Classic horror. Harry was Jason, the twins were the dudes from Clockwork Orange—I dunno their names, I haven't seen it—Mitch was a life-size Chucky, and that was fucking creepy, man. I ought to show you some pictures—"

"Who were you?" he interrupted, and Buttercup's eyes glittered as she smirked.

"Freddy fucking Krueger," she laughed, mimicking the sound of a clacking claw as she raised her hand to her face.

"Niiiiice. Bet the kids went for that."

"Oh my God, you've no idea. I stepped out of my house in broad daylight and kids started running around screaming. Parents wouldn't let me near their neighborhoods since none of the kids would go trick-or-treating if I was there. They weren't big fans of giant Chucky, either."

Butch smirked. "Anybody try to throw you in the school furnace?"

"I'd like to see 'em try, on Freddy Krueger with superpowers," Buttercup snickered. "I got Bubbles, too. After I got back home. She was already asleep. I just stood over her in the dark with my costume still on, and she woke up and freaked. Girl wouldn't sleep in the same room as me for a week."

"A true work of art," Butch said, inclining his head in deference.

Buttercup sighed. "I know." A quiet moment passed before she said softly, "So we gotta come up with something good for this year."

"Hey! You guys okay?"

Butch and Buttercup looked up to find Bubbles and Boomer floating down. They took in the sheared leg of Butch's jeans.

"Dude, what's wrong with your leg?" Boomer asked, kneeling down.

Butch pointed to his thigh with one hand and his shin with the other. "This part and this part went like this." He jerked his arms in opposite directions, and Bubbles and Boomer winced.

"Yikes," Boomer said.

"Gross," Bubbles whimpered.

"We fixed the dislocation. It's just healing now," Buttercup assured them. "Where's Team Red?"

Bubbles looked worried. "We haven't seen Brick and Blossom for awhile now. We thought you'd know where they went."

"Didja get all the monsters?" Butch asked.

"As far as we can tell." Boomer looked around, slight concern touching his features.

Butch sighed. "Quit crying. It's not like him to get lost. Besides, that fucker can take care of himself—"

A very faint, distant cry that could only be picked up by those with superhearing interrupted them, and they all whipped their heads in the direction it'd come from. Buttercup jumped to her feet.

Bubbles' eyes were wide with fear. "That sounded like—"

"Blossom!" cried an equally faint, distant Brick, and Buttercup swore, and Bubbles gasped, before both of them took off.

"Wait!" Boomer shouted as he took off after them.

"Oh, you fuckers," Butch grumbled as he stood. "Leaving me here alo—agh, fuck," he seethed, his bad leg twitching. It wasn't done healing; probably only about halfway. He bit his lip and held it stiffly away from him, trying not to move it around too much as he flew awkwardly after his brother and the girls.

"You guys all continue to suck!" Butch announced as he flew up. "You're the Hardcore Suck variety of people! All of you!"

"Shut up, gimp," Buttercup ordered, and resumed working on the pile of rubble they were gathered around. It seemed to be supporting the building next to it, which was tilting at a very precarious angle.

"How do you know they're in there?"

"Here." Boomer tossed him Brick's cap, covered in building dust. "Hedging our bets. Can't be far."

Butch stared at the cap for a second, then crushed it into his back pocket. "Why don't you guys just blast it open?"

"We don't want the whole thing to cave in," Bubbles said. Patiently, as if she was speaking to a small child. "There's that whole minimizing damage thing—"

"Oh, shit, we sucked at that tonight," Boomer said.

Buttercup groaned as she jerked out a particularly stubborn piece of building, inspiring a low quaking and rumbling. The entire pile of debris started to shift, as did the building leaning on it.

She looked guiltily at the rest of the group. "Uh, oops—"

Suddenly the whole thing crumbled underneath them, and Buttercup, Boomer, and Bubbles all went toppling into the hole. The building that had been leaning on the pile began to follow after them, and Butch swore as he flew up under it and stopped its fall. His leg made it known that it was very, very unhappy at the sudden movement, and the pain in it started to grow as the X in his system was re-directed to help support the building...

The world started to darken around him, and Butch was worried he was passing out until he realized no, he was just fighting a building and the building was winning—the weight of it was forcing him down into the hole. He gritted his teeth and tried to push, but his knee protested—quite effectively—and he had to let it go. The building closed him into darkness; at the very least he'd managed to slow its descent enough so that it hadn't crumbled along with the pile.

He turned, and suddenly found himself sitting on a fence in broad daylight, Buttercup at his back.

He stared.

"What the f—"

Boomer blinked his eyes open and found himself underwater.

Oh, he thought. This again.

Brick stood at the edge of a swimming pool, not quite remembering how he'd gotten there. The underwater lights threw eerie blue tones against the stadium walls and the sterile smell of chlorine burned. He cleared his throat.

His gaze traversed the space, nerves on end. His vision told him he was alone, but he knew better.

Something was painted on one of the walls running the length of the pool, but he couldn't quite read it. He squinted, and, after a moment, walked to the opposite side of the stadium to face it. There, it finally came into focus.

THIS IS YOURS NOW, he read. He looked down.

Water overflowed from the pool onto the tile, up to the walls, and rushed up to meet him.

"Where did you come from?"

Bubbles and Buttercup sighed in relief at their sister's voice. Bubbles ran up to her and wrapped her in a hug.

"Oh, good," Buttercup said. "You're okay. Where's Brick?"

"He was here a second ago."

Bubbles looked around. "Where are all the boys, actually?"

"This looks familiar," Blossom said, her eyes trained on the indeterminate shapes that made their non-environment. It was a mess of color and nonsensical geometry. There was no finite edge to the space, which looked to be inches from their faces at one moment and extending hundreds of feet away in the next. "Unfortunately."

Buttercup's shoulders tensed. "Shit. He's here?"

"I don't think so," Bubbles said, shaking her feet off as she stepped out of a puddle. "It feels very... I don't know. Something. But it isn't Him."

Blossom, driven by the invisible hand of instinct, backed towards her sisters as their environment coalesced into a massive, pulsating swirl surrounding them. Half-formed silhouettes following the spiral track seemed to balloon out, then retreat. But maybe that was a trick of the eyes. She sensed Bubbles and Buttercup backing towards her as well, and within moments they had all met in the middle, back-to-back-to-back.

"Well, if Him's not around, what the hell are we here for?"

"Good question," Blossom said.


Blossom turned her head towards Bubbles. "What's that?"

Bubbles' arms snaked through her sisters', hooking them and pulling them closer to her.

"That's what it feels like here," she said, those big blue eyes wide and downcast. "It's so lonely."

"Shut up," Buttercup said, scoffing. But Blossom felt her squeeze back, all the same.

Brick needed air.

Well, everyone needed air. Everything needed air. But Brick needed it a great deal, in this moment, specifically.

Water crushed him in from all sides, and he fought against it, pushing his limbs through it to swim up.

What am I doing? he thought, and then, Being a fucking idiot.

He shot an eyebeam and it seared through the water, a white jet of bubbles steaming in its wake. But where he expected it to illuminate the stadium and cut through the nearest wall, it kept going, revealing nothing but the murky depths of the water. It disappeared all too quickly into a tiny pinprick of red, and then that was gone, too.

Brick needed air.

Well, he thought, and then, Fuck.


She didn't respond. Butch watched the back of Buttercup's head for a second, then looked over her shoulder to try and see what held her attention.

Boomer looked up and saw her, just beyond the surface. When he opened his mouth and said her name, the water took it from him, muffling it before it could reach her.

Her figure was only a smear of color through the water, and he watched as it turned away.


He kicked off the bottom and swam.

"Do you hear that?"

Blossom and Bubbles looked over their respective shoulders at Buttercup, arms still linked together.

They stood in silence for a second, straining to pick out a sound through the low hum permeating the air. Blossom looked over at Bubbles, who shook her head.

"Hear what?" Blossom asked.

Buttercup's head turned this way and that. Her grip on her sisters loosened.


Boomer shot through the water, trying to reach her before she disappeared. His hands broke the surface, the air cold and almost painful against his skin, but he reached and closed them around her leg and he did not let go.

Brick could see the tell-tale reflections of light bouncing off the top of a body of water, and the pain in his lungs multiplied.

Almost there—

Something closed around his leg just before his hand could break the surface and dragged him back.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

Butch watched, dumbfounded as Brick hoisted himself up onto the fence, facing Buttercup, and moved in to kiss her.

A possessive heat shot through his blood and he felt his heart go into overdrive, its pounding reverberating in his head.

"Am I crazy?" Buttercup asked, her voice going a little frantic. That sound was deafening. "Why can't you hear that?"

Brick only saw darkness when he looked down to try and identify his attacker, but quickly realized there were more pressing issues at hand. Air first. Then he would reach back in and tear the fucker limb from limb.

He kicked against the unseen assailant and managed to pull away, his hand breaking the surface. It brushed something, and he grabbed onto it, a literal lifeline.

He didn't kiss her, though. Butch's anger gave way to confusion as Brick moved through Buttercup, his face, his head, his body passing through her as if she were nothing but a ghost. He pulled close to Butch and Butch instantly pulled back.

His leader lifted a hand and pushed it into Butch's chest, like there wasn't skin there, like there wasn't a sternum or a ribcage or shit like muscle and tissue in the way.

He didn't feel anything. Then—

Brick grabbed onto it and pulled.

Butch jerked back, biting down a scream. His hands flew to Brick's wrist, slick with the blood that was suddenly gushing out of his chest, and then he overbalanced and toppled backwards. Everything stretched away from him into the distance, his world pulling taut at the edges as it tipped on its axis and he fell.

Déjà vu, he thought, and waited for Buttercup to catch him.

But then the pain seared down his torso, to his belly, and he snapped to and grabbed onto Brick's arm with what little strength he could muster. Though Butch was falling, or had been falling, or was maybe about to fall, who-the-fuck-knew, Brick's hand had not budged; as Butch's body had pulled downwards, away from his brother, the hand in his chest moved, splitting a bloody line down his torso until Butch had grabbed on and stopped it himself.

He dangled upside down in the darkness, uncomprehending. The blood in his head was pounding while the rest of it just seemed to be pouring down his face.

Dimly, past the throbbing in his brain that, along with his consciousness, was ebbing by the second, he thought he heard the words "Get up."

At first he thought Brick had said them. But when he played it back in his head, he thought it might have been Buttercup, and the very idea wrenched him. He couldn't see, everything was dark. He didn't even have the energy to lift his head and look Brick in the eye.

Then again, maybe the voice had been Butch himself.

He thought he would test this theory, and opened his mouth, trying to form the words.

Instead, he screamed.

The girls jumped.

Bubbles said, "That sounded like—"

Buttercup tore away from her sisters and shot off into the unknown, shouting Butch's name.

Brick hit the cold surface hard, water pouring out of his throat as he coughed, trying to breathe. Whatever had grabbed him was still clinging to his legs, and he let go of whatever he had used to pull himself out to give himself more leverage to kick it away. He kicked once, then paused when he saw what—or who—it was.

He tried to say Boomer's name, but all that came out of him was more coughing. Boomer was slowly coming to, his death-grip on Brick's leg nearly cutting off its circulation.

What the...

Brick watched a dazed Boomer's chest rise and fall normally, unlabored despite having come out of the water too. He coughed again and pushed his sopping hair out of his eyes, then froze at the smell on his hand.

Smelled like metal. But metal didn't have a smell; that was a myth. Which meant...

He pulled his hand away and stared at it. The blood ran down his arm, thinning into a vague pink as it mixed with the water. He turned his hand over and over again, looking for a cut. Nothing.

Whose blood is this?

Deep dread welled in the pit of his stomach.

He looked down. Somewhere behind him, he heard a popping sound.

"Butch!" Buttercup shouted, her sisters' voices echoing her own. The endless landscape rushed past them for what must have been miles, but now Buttercup saw it all resolving into one dark, purposeful point on the horizon. She surged forward, rushing to meet it, but then she felt the wind change direction and she gasped, coming to a halt in front of a spiral that twisted and sucked the entirety of their surroundings into itself.

She landed hard on whatever passed for the ground in this place and braced her legs against the pull. Blossom had been flying too close to her, and at the abrupt stop their shoulders collided, throwing off Blossom's momentum, and she tumbled past Buttercup before she had a chance to steady herself.

Buttercup grabbed her sister's arm, her feet lifting off the ground, then felt Bubbles' arms fly around her waist, anchoring them both.

"Fly!" Buttercup shouted at them, and they fought against the current that sucked them forward. The pinprick of darkness swirling at the spiral's epicenter beckoned to her, and she shut her eyes against it and pulled.

That idiot better not fucking be in there, she thought.

A sudden pop, and the three of them pitched backwards, yelping as they hit the ground.

"Ugh, my head," Blossom muttered.

"Ow, my boobs," Bubbles squeaked. "Buttercup, please move your elbow."

"Sorry." Buttercup lifted straight off, careful not to put any weight on Bubbles, who'd been kind enough to break her fall. She blinked, a little dazed, then remembered who they'd been looking for.

"Butch!" she shouted, scanning the area.

A familiar line of buildings edged into the sky, visible above the dark pit they were now in, and the moon greeted them, hovering just behind the flag that billowed atop the dome of Townsville Hall. Normalcy. No chaos, no wind, no swirl, no literal vanishing point that sucked everything around it into nothingness. Instead, her eyes fell on... on...

Everything stretched away from her into the distance. The world pulled taut at the edges as it tipped on its axis.


Buttercup heard Bubbles shift behind her. When her sister said, "Boomer?" she sounded very far away.

Every vein in her body seemed to be pulsating and it felt like the blood was all rushing to her throat. She couldn't tell at this distance. She couldn't tell what was shadow and what was deep red, what was moonlight and what was bone. He was just laying there. She had to get closer to tell, but her legs, her legs...

There was motion and sound behind her—urgent, purposeful. Her sisters rushed past her on either side, towards the boys. Buttercup's blood was screaming as it coursed through her.

Quicker, faster.


There was a flash of blue as Bubbles took off, sailing out of the pit. Blossom was urging Boomer to shuck his jacket, then pulled a motionless Brick aside, away from the rest of them. The shadow he threw on Butch shifted, and the moon, already casting an eerie pallor over them all, illuminated him. Deep red and bright white in the moonlight. Her breath left her.


Her legs, her useless fucking legs finally followed orders. She stepped forward and the world wobbled in slow motion around her, but she pressed on, one foot in front of the other, and the entire way she couldn't help but think about how they'd just been talking, just this night, about the same stupid shit, and doing the same stupid stuff they always did, but now if she said his name...

One foot in front of the other, until she stood over him.


She felt her mouth form the word, but heard nothing.

Her knees hit the ground and the pool of blood that circled him seeped into her jeans as she fumbled for his face. She didn't know what to do about the gaping cavity in his abdomen, that giant wound that pulled open and looked liked something out of a horror movie, a thing she couldn't bear to look at.

Butch, she mouthed, or maybe said. She tried to wipe the blood away from his face but only succeeded in smearing it, his half-lidded expression a catalyst that sent her spiraling.

Butch. Butch. Butch.

Was he breathing? How could she tell? She could barely feel anything, much less a puff of warm air past his slack mouth. Everything felt cold and wet, or seemed cold and wet, and the blood inside her was pounding, pumping, screaming—

"Buttercup! Calm down!"

I should've told him to stay put. The fucking idiot. I should've told him not to budge—


I'm an idiot. I can't believe I was so stupid. Stupid.


I should've told him. Fucking idiot.

The second Butch's eyes fluttered open, Buttercup was at his side, biting back a string of apologies. The Professor had told her to give him time when he woke up. She watched as those dark green eyes—the pupils slightly dilated—drifted slowly around the lab, finally taking in the cot he was lying on before looking at her.

Buttercup bit her lip and managed a thin smile. "Hi."

He twitched the corners of his own lips back. "Hi."

She swallowed, trying not to dwell on how faint his voice sounded. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a puny normal human." His eyes flicked back around the room, a little quicker now. "Where the fuck am I?"

"Our place. I mean, mine. This is the Professor's lab." Buttercup glanced at his hand, limp against the cot bed.

"What am I doing here?"

"You don't remember?"

Butch stared at her for a long time, his brow furrowed, then finally shook his head. "No."

A long silence passed. Buttercup looked away from his eyes, still staring, and back at his hand on the bed. It twitched, then attempted to reach for her. The movement was weak, though, and his hand shook a little, so he dropped it where it was.

"Jesus, what the fuck happened?" he asked. "You look... you look really sad."

She forced a laugh and swept her hair out of her face. "Augh. I just... um..."

"What happened?"

"Um..." Buttercup swallowed. "Well. We. Um. We don't know what happened. We weren't all together. But... when we found you, you'd been... cut open."

His eyes widened slightly. "Big cut? Bad cut?"

"Y-yeah." Her vision clouded and she blinked furiously until it cleared again, hoping he hadn't noticed.

"Where? Can I see?"

She almost laughed at his vague enthusiasm. She helped ease the back of the bed up slightly so he could see, and then lifted his shirt.

"Oh, hey, I didn't even notice this wasn't mine," he said, stretching the fabric out to get a better look at it.

"Yeah, your other one..." Buttercup trailed off and didn't finish. His blood-drenched shreds of a shirt were in a bag in the corner, and she would've burned them if there hadn't been a part of her that thought Butch might want to keep them.

Butch paused when he saw his stomach and lower chest. "Holy shit."

Buttercup sucked her lips in between her teeth and bit hard to keep them from trembling. Butch's hands skimmed along the pink line. Pink, where only a few hours ago it'd been a deep, gut-wrenching red. Buttercup blinked the image in her head away and cleared her throat, reaching a hand to touch the top of the scar. He paused.

"Here to here," she said quietly, moving her hand from top to bottom. "I mean, I guess you can see it."

"Who worked on me? Your dad?"

"Not—well, kind of. We have this doctor we call for when things get bad. The Professor was here to monitor the levels of X in your system while they were... you know, operating. That's why you're here."

"I kinda remember stuff," he said. "Now. I mean, not getting stitched up, obviously. But I kinda remember it hurting. A lot, actually. Wait, did I scream like a pussy?"

She shut her eyes, her throat raw. "No."

"No, I remember screaming. Shit, I totally did. Oh, man, what'll that do to my—Buttercup? Hey. Hey!"

Buttercup's eyes flew open to find her vision completely warped.

"Oh, fuck!" she moaned, her breath hitching as she inhaled. She felt Butch's hand at her arm and pulled away, flying behind the cot to the Professor's desk.


She fumbled for a box of tissues and scrubbed the tears away, sniffling. The memories were overtaking her senses now; she could still hear his scream, still feel his body cold in her shaking arms—

"What are you doing?" The cot groaned as Butch tried to twist around to see, and then he cursed under his breath.

"Oh my God, stop moving, dumbass! You're really hurt!"

"Then quit hiding!"

"I'm not hiding!"

"I'm laying here dying on a table—"

"You're not dying!"

"—which means you're obligated to do what I say and I say get your ass back over here or I promise you I am going to die on this table. I will do it. I will die so hard."

The last wave of tears was subsiding. She deepened her breathing, trying not to squeak or hiccup when her breath caught.

Finally, she said, "That's a cot, not a table."


"And you can't make yourself die by sheer force of will."

"Get over here and watch me."

She sighed and walked back to his side, rubbing at her eyes one last time for good measure. She tried to glare at him, and he was obviously trying to glare at her, but neither of their eyes held an ounce of anger in them. Buttercup humored him for a second or two while he stared intently into the distance.

"Yeah. That's some pretty hardcore dying you're doing there."

"Ha. Oh, ugh," he suddenly groaned, passing a hand over his bare stomach. "Something doesn't feel right in there."

"You mean you need to use the bathroom?"

"I mean I feel like an organ's out of place."

"Serves you right, twisting around like that."

"You ran back there where I couldn't see you. It's your fault."

She stared at him and the scar on his midsection. She then tugged his shirt back down over his skin and said, "I know. I'm sorry."

One of her hands alighted gingerly on his stomach, inspiring a sharp intake of breath from him. She jerked it away.

"Oh shit, did that hurt? I'm sorry."

"No, it..." Butch's arm flopped uselessly at her. "It didn't hurt. Just..." His arm stopped flopping, and he sighed. "Fuck, I'm tired."

Buttercup eased the cot back down. "Go to sleep."

"Have you been here? The whole time?"

"My dad wouldn't let me stay while they were... checking to make sure everything was there and sewing you up. He let me back in afterward."

"But after that?"

"Yeah." She traced the edge of the cot with her hand, reluctant to leave. His own hand suddenly wandered over and touched her wrist, and she halted.

"Does your dad keep security cameras in the lab?"

She looked around. "None that I know about."

He exhaled in relief. "Come... come here." He started to move over, struggling a bit, and Buttercup gaped at him.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

"Making space," he groaned.

"You're shitting me. No." She started to tug her hand away.

"I don't want you to leave yet," he said. "And you're not gonna sleep in that chair very comfortably, so... shut the fuck up and come here."

Her skin was buzzing where he was touching her. She relented.

"Don't get fresh with me," she warned, floating up so she could ease herself next to him.

He gave her a look. "Moving over just now felt like fighting a fucking bear. Do you seriously think I'm going to try anything?"

She didn't say anything. As soon as she was lying next to him, though, he gestured wildly at her chest and said, "Oh my God! Boobs!"

A second later he was moaning, "Owwwww," and rubbing at his freshly smacked face. "See, that's the other thing," he explained. "Like you wouldn't be able to fuck me up if I tried something while I'm like this."

She scoffed. "Like I wouldn't be able to fuck you up on any given day of the week." The cot was small and their sides were almost completely touching. Her cheek pressed against his shoulder, and she spit her hair out of her face.

"You bitch, don't spit on me."

"It's not you. It's my hair."

He reached over and pushed it out of her face. She tensed as his hand brushed against her temple.


She wasn't sure. "Yeah."

"You know it ain't your fault what happened to me."

She shifted uncomfortably. "It was a little."

"Don't be a dumbfuck."

"I should've told you to stay put."

"If you'd said that and expected me to listen to you, then you would've been a serious dumbfuck."

She laughed weakly. "I guess you have a point."

"There's a penis joke in there somewhere."

"Don't push it."

"There, too."


"Sorry." His cheek was in her hair, a little. He turned his head into it and she let him stay there for a bit. The back of her hand touched his. His breathing was slowing, and her own eyes were heavy-lidded, and after the night they'd had even the thin, too-small cot felt easy to fall asleep in.

"Butch," she whispered, stifling a yawn.

"Hm," he grunted.

Her hand brushed against his. "I'm really glad you're okay."

Suddenly his arm wove clumsily around hers, and then he took hold of her hand, squeezing it gently.

"Me too," he murmured, and even though her skin went clammy where it touched his she didn't pull away from him.

"By the way, that thing that happened earlier didn't happen."

"What thing? That you crying thing?"

"Didn't happen."

"I don't even know what you're talking about," he sighed, a slight grin pulling onto his face.

She smiled and closed her eyes.

Blossom awoke when the morning was still dim and gray after a fitful sleep. After a few minutes of trying to get back to it, she gave up and rose reluctantly out of bed. The clock said it was only a little past six.

She floated to her dresser, shivering a bit as she dug for a sweatshirt to pull over herself. She did not appreciate having to plow through several layers of Bubbles' clothes just to get to her stuff. Bubbles was going to get a stern talking to later. This wasn't even her dresser.

The drawer threatened to slam as she pushed it back; she caught it and gently eased it back into the dresser frame. As she did so she glanced over at the vanity, pausing when she saw her tousled hair and dark-ringed eyes. It wasn't her best, but still an improvement over the image she'd seen last night.

The quiet creak of the front door drew her attention, followed by steps outside, and she flew to the window just in time to see Butch taking off. He was up and walking. Good. Leaving, though? Before the rest of the house had woken up? He should've stayed to let the Professor check in on him.

It occurred to Blossom that that very thought might have indeed crossed Butch's mind and inspired him to leave in the first place.

She glanced at Buttercup's bed. Empty. She hadn't even noticed. She dashed downstairs, adjusting the thermostat as she did so—seriously, it was like the Professor was storing meat in the living room or something—and then to the lab, where she peeked in and found Buttercup curled up on the cot.

After a brief mental struggle with the alarms going off in her head, Blossom decided not to dwell on it and continued about her morning routine.

"Don't pretend like you've never wanted to do it."

Brick stalked to the end of the bed he'd awoken in and snatched at his hospital charts. He was too angry for the data to make any sense to him, so he tossed them back.

An ill-subdued, sinister laugh punctuated Him's statement. Brick continued to ignore Him as he searched for his hat.

"Here." Him suddenly presented it, dangling from a claw. Brick stared at it a moment before grabbing it and fitting it roughly onto his head.

"Careful. You suffered a concussion, after all."

Still Brick did not look at Him. Instead he turned his eyes to the slim window of his hospital room to check if anyone was coming, then zipped to the window that looked out into the world. Dim, pre-dawn light cast an eerie, almost dead glow over the city.

"I mean, you consider yourself sooo much better than the average human being. And sure, you fly, you've superstrength, you can get all blasty..." Him sighed as Brick slid the window open, letting in the cold morning chill. "But mentally, you've still got a ways to go."

Brick flew out. It was chilly, and he wasn't wearing much—just his Homecoming tux, without the jacket—but the silence was bliss.

Him floated up beside him, making short work of the brief peace Brick had found. "Someone who's really striving to be better than your average human being needs to be strong of mind, not just of body." The way it was coming out of Him's mouth sounded less like advice and more like a taunt. "He never really listens to you, anyway. He always has it coming, doesn't he? You always need to whip him into shape. Teach him a lesson."

Roughing him up is not the same as attempting to disembowel him, Brick thought, but Him's words troubled him nonetheless.

"Eventually he'll need to be made an example of. Possibly. Better that he finds out from you, rather than at someone else's hand, right?"

Brick's patience for the silent treatment never lasted long. "So this was supposed to be a life lesson? Are you actually parenting now?"

"No need to get nasty. You were the one who fell into a vortex."

"I—" Brick stopped, and, against his better judgment, reacted. "'A vortex?' You put a vortex there to teach me a lesson?!"

"Not to teach a lesson," Him corrected. "It's been there for years. I got bored. Eternity is boring, Brick. How was I to anticipate you'd fall in?"

Brick scoffed in disgust. "No wonder we're so fucked up."

"I said there's no need to get nasty, Brick."

"Leave. It isn't enough to ruin my evening with your stupid vortex and that dumb slew of monsters, now you—"

"I am not responsible for that pitiful excuse of a rampaging monster horde!" Him snarled, then settled back into His lilting speech pattern. "I'm almost insulted. Surely you think me more creative than that?"

"This, from the vortex guy."

A claw snapped around his wrist and Him jerked Brick around.


Even as Brick struggled Him snipped off the button at the wrist of his tuxedo shirt without the slightest effort, then held it close to Brick's face.

Not just a button. A tiny... chip, a device of some sort, with a small crack running down the middle. Brick stopped struggling.

"Why don't you go have a chat with your rich, older woman?" Him seethed, bringing Brick's arm down so he could mash the button into his hand. "Let's give credit where credit's due."

Brick stared at the thing in his hand, his brow furrowed. When he looked up again, Him was gone. Of course. He dashed back home, letting himself in through the window to his room. He didn't remember how well he'd slept at the hospital, but it couldn't have been very well at all, considering how much the mere sight of his bed made him want to curl under the sheets and nap forever. He placed the button gingerly on his desk, then started to strip down, pausing when his gaze hit the rust-colored stains on his sleeve. With a grimace, he threw it into the trash.

He heard the front door open and went to investigate. Boomer was asleep on the couch in the living room, while a shadow spilled across the open door of the bathroom he shared with Butch. Brick flew up, pausing in the doorframe. Butch had taken off his shirt and was staring at his reflection as he traced the barely visible lines of pink on his skin. He spied his brother in the mirror and turned.


It shouldn't have felt weird to see him up and walking about, but Brick felt weird nonetheless. The last time he'd seen his brother, Butch had been closer to a corpse than a living thing. And the one to blame was...

Butch nodded at the couch. "He been there the whole night?"

Brick looked back at Boomer. "I dunno. I guess. I was at the hospital."

Butch snorted and turned back to the mirror, examining his soon-to-be-gone scars. "Is that right? What was wrong with you?"

"A... concussion." It sounded like a pitiful excuse to be in the hospital, considering the guy he was saying it to had been all but torn apart.

"You okay?" Brick couldn't tell from Butch's tone whether he was asking out of genuine concern or challenging Brick's injury to top his.

"Me? How about you?"

Butch snickered and glanced at his brother in the mirror. "Walkin', aren't I?"

"Where were you at?"

"You didn't hear what happened?"

"I know what happened, I—" Brick paused, dimly recalling something Blossom had said last night. "The girls' place, yeah?"

Butch gave a low whistle, and Boomer stirred, but didn't wake. "Recovering in style. We all slept in one bed. They wanted to take care of me. They also wanted to 'take care' of me, if you know what I mean, but I said, 'Girls, please! I'm injured. You won't enjoy it, and your pleasure matters as much to me as mine does!' So we took a raincheck on the orgy and just cuddled."

Brick gave him a dry look.

"Seriously, I have it all in writing. It's a contractual obligation."

"Hey, Butch."


The scars were barely there, but they were a vivid red in Brick's mind. He could almost remember it as if he'd actually known, could almost recall the warm, wet sensation of Butch's insides against his hand. If he thought too much about it...

Now Butch turned, confused at Brick's lack of a response. "What's up?"

He was an idiot. He didn't listen. He disobeyed orders. But he didn't deserve... Brick wanted to tell him Sorry, even though he hadn't known. He couldn't have.

"It was a vortex."

Butch blinked. "Oh. Yeah?"

"Yeah. I guess Him put it there awhile ago."

"No wonder. You never did too good with those."

Brick grimaced. "Thanks for the reminder."

Butch turned back to the mirror. "A vortex, huh?"


Butch stared at his reflection and at nothing all at once. "Huh."

By the time Blossom had showered and changed, the Professor was up and moving. When Blossom saw his tired face in the hall he yawned and told her he couldn't sleep.

"Want to check on the patient, too," he said.

"He's left," Blossom told him, in an effort to keep him from discovering Buttercup there. It was too early for her to deal with a surly Professor. "You did great."

It had been the hardest sort of pseudo-surgery the Professor had done before. Of course, he'd only been there to assist the real surgeon, and maintain the necessary level of X in Butch's system, but bodies weren't exactly his thing. And knowing that something that had happened to Butch—another superbeing—could've just as easily happened to any one of his girls...

Blossom gave him an extra hard hug and kissed him on the cheek for good measure.

The house began the slow process of sputtering into life. The Professor got some breakfast going, and eventually Bubbles floated down in her pajamas to help. Blossom tried to call the hospital Brick had been taken to to check up on him, but the nurse who answered told her his room was empty. She resisted the urge to ask for the boys' number from Bubbles and instead turned on the TV to see if the local news was reporting on what had transpired in Townsville last night.

The door to the lab creaked open, and Buttercup wobbled into the living room, digging the crust out of her eyes. She looked around, then focused on Blossom.

"Is Butch here?" she said through her yawn.

Blossom shook her head.

Buttercup grunted something, then continued her wobble into the kitchen.

"The suspect is an unusual one: an as-of-yet unidentified elderly woman, who just earlier this month was masquerading as a nurse at Citysville Medical—"

The doorbell buzzed, and Blossom set down the remote and dashed to the door.

"... The most recent disappearance that fits the pattern is unusual only in that the boy whom police suspect to be her next victim is a resident of Townsville—"

Blossom furrowed her brow and glanced back—Bubbles was peeking out of the kitchen at the TV, spatula in hand—and opened the front door.

"What—Robin?" Blossom cried, shocked at the sight of her friend on their doorstep, still wearing her Homecoming dress. Robin's eyes were puffy and red.

"Blossom," she said in relief, cracking a trembly smile. "I don't know what to do, his parents are out of town and the police haven't found anything—"

"Oh my God," Bubbles gasped, and the girls turned to look at her. Buttercup and the Professor had joined her in the living room. Just between them, Blossom could see a familiar boy's image on screen.

"Mike never showed up last night," Robin said as Bubbles' spatula dripped pancake batter onto the carpet.

-end Ch. 10-