Oh my goodness! Thank you so much to all of you for the code name ideas! Honestly they were all so good, it was really tough to pick just one. At the end of the day, I had to go with MisguidedPenguin, because I'm a sucker for a good acronym. The more I looked at it, the more the idea for this chapter came flooding into my mind. I really hope you guys like it :D You're getting this one early, since once it was written, I just could not wait to share it. I'll try to get another chapter typed up by Saturday though.

Also a huge 'thank you' and 'hi there' to all the new faves and followers. Seeing the positive responses to this thing really does help to kick my ass in gear and get me writing. Believe me, that kick is definitely needed at times. And a great big massive bear-hug (from 6' away of course...lol) to all those that reviewed on the last chapter. Honestly, there was so many that I am just writing one big thank you up here so that I don't add a shite-ton of words to the count. Just know that I have read all of them more than once though.

Zafirya, I know what you mean. Thank god we don't have to wait for it to come out in print! Lol. HeartAngel1796, that is actually an eventual evolution of the plot, so fingers crossed for Minden later on. IcyForest, I see we feel the same way about the operation name. Lol. And apparently are on par with our Snotlout headcanon too! Great minds think alike it seems :P

Stay safe everyone! I need you all around to keep reading my story ;) JK, but seriously. Be safe out there. It's a scary world right now.

ooOOoo

Heather and Astrid had been plotting and scheming since Friday. Trying to figure out how on Earth they were going to get close enough to Sabrina to discover what she was up to. It was highly unlikely that they could simply befriend her, and then slowly infiltrate her inner circle. Especially since it was no secret that Astrid and her friends didn't like Sabrina. Not that Sabrina liked the three of them overly much either.

She and her clique went everywhere together too, so there was no way to get Sabrina on her own and force her to spill the beans. Not that Astrid actually thought the conniving wench would tell them anything useful simply because they asked her to. She would probably just lie and say she loved Scott, or something ridiculous like that. Scaring people into talking really only ever worked in the movies. In real life, that was just called harassment.

Still, the thought of roughing Sabrina up just a little bit was rather tempting. If it wouldn't result in the three of them getting suspended or expelled, that is. Rachel suggested they should plant a mole in her midst instead. Either a person or the wired version, but that was easier said than done. Sabrina was a cheerleader, not an evil villain, and they weren't real spies. They couldn't just tap her phone or whatever.

Resigned to being sneaky instead of blunt, Astrid, Heather, and Rachel took to trying to figure out Sabrina's schedule. Trailing her on the sly as best they could in the crowded hallways. Hoping to end up in the right place in the right time to hear her say something incriminating. Tyler keeping tabs on the disgusting couple for them outside of school. Much to his displeasure.

By the following Thursday, they had figured out Sabrina's school/cheer practice schedule at the very least. Which meant that instead of tailing her, they were able to beat her to certain places and lie in wait for her. Such was the reason Rachel finally came up with a code name.

"Operation G.R.O.S.S."

"What," Astrid and Heather both spouted. Looking up at Rachel in confusion as she settled herself on the bench beside Astrid. A notable grimace on the female twin's face.

"Well, I was waiting in the bathroom for Sabrina and her stooges to enter after English class," Rachel replied blandly. "You know, as we had discussed. I was hiding in a stall when they came in, like a good little spy. Watching through the crack between door and wall. Unfortunately someone else came in and took the stall beside mine."

She shuddered visibly then as she added, "I'm not sure who they were, but they had on pink and blue sneakers and are suffering from gastrointestinal issues of the darkest kind. Well, I could only stand it for so long before I had to bail. Not that it matters, since I seriously doubt the cheerleaders would have lingered in there to talk boys either. Hence, our mission will now be known as Operation GROSS, or 'Getting Rid Of Sloppy Sabrina'."

They all burst out laughing at that. Astrid punching Rachel lightly in the shoulder as she pushed the tray of food they had bought towards her. "You know what, I actually love it," Heather chuckled. Dabbing at her tears with the corner of her napkin. "It's pretty fitting really, and who doesn't love a good acronym."

"I know I do," came a startlingly familiar and entirely unexpected voice from behind them.

All the girls glanced around in shock to see Eret, Dagur, and Hayden approaching them with lunch trays in hand. Not that Astrid really had to look. She would recognize Hayden's voice anywhere. "What are you three doing here," Astrid asked in surprise. Seeing many of the other students (mostly girls) eying up the sexy trio and she felt her hackles instantly raise. Then she felt mildly smug instead at the fact that they were on first name terms with these beautiful hunks of man, while the other ladies could only look from afar.

"Uh, we work here blondy," Dagur drawled with an eye roll. "Or did you forget that part already," he asked with a chuckle. He and Hayden pushing in beside Heather as Eret plopped himself down beside Rachel. All of them diving into their burgers and salads as if they ate with students every other day. The crazy female twin looking like she had just died and gone to Valhalla as she nearly swooned against Eret.

"Yeah, but shouldn't you guys be eating in your offices or the staff room or something? I mean, aren't people going to start talking," Heather asked quietly. Looking pointedly around at all the overly curious faces filling the lawn.

"Talking about what," Eret countered. "The entire school knows that Dagur is your brother by now. There is absolutely nothing weird about Dagur and his buddies having a casual lunch with his sister. That her friends are with her is no surprise. Unless Hayden decides to start getting freaky with Astrid on the plastic picnic table, that is," he added cheekily. Making a telling flush rise in Astrid's cheeks. "That would certainly give the kiddies something to talk about."

At that, Hayden used his fork to flick a perfectly aimed piece of dressing-covered carrot at Eret's face that splatted beautifully against his lightly stubbled cheek. "Really, a dirty picnic table outside of a school cafeteria," Hayden scoffed as they all started laughing. Eret plucking the carrot chunk off his cheek with a mock scowl and throwing it back at Hayden. "Even I have much more class than that. Now, you and Rachel on the other hand..."

Hayden trailed off with an eyebrow wiggle. Rachel just grinned at Eret before leaning up to lick a spot of ranch salad dressing off his cheek. "Sweet lord woman," Eret yelped. Backing away from her abruptly and nearly falling off the bench in his haste. "Keep your tongue to yourself! Are you trying to get me fired?!"

"Nope," Rachel replied with an evil smirk. "Just trying to get you naked in my bed. Maybe covered in ranch dressing," she added deviously as she licked her lips seductively. Everyone else laughing out loud at the whole display.

"Sweet stalkers, someone save me," Eret grumbled. Leaning as far away from Rachel as he could and eyeing her up as if she was a live grenade with the pin pulled. The blonde just leered back as she slid closer to him again. Leaving him no way to escape without actually getting up and walking around the table.

"You're on your own with that," Hayden chuckled. "Speaking of gross things though," he segued smoothly, and Dagur barked out a laugh. "What was that about Operation Gross and loving acronyms?"

Astrid could feel her cheeks flush pink again, even as she tried to think up some sort of believable lie. She forgot to account for Rachel's lack of filter though. "We're spying on Sloppy Sabrina to see why she really wants to be with Scott," she informed them simply. "Especially since we refuse to believe that she stole Scott from Astrid just because she is sooooo infatuated with him."

Astrid glared at Rachel before glancing back at Hayden. A mildly guilty grimace on her face as she wondered what he was going to think of that. Was he going to be disgusted by her petty meddling? Or even worse, was he going to think she was jealous of Sabrina?!

"I would have to agree, but why do you care what she wants with him," Hayden asked as those mesmerizing green orbs met Astrid's gaze. "Are you suddenly wanting him back now that he's got someone else?"

"Of course I don't want him back. I know what he's trying to do," Astrid blurted abruptly. "He's trying to make me jealous, but it's never going to happen." Her vehemently proclaimed words leaving no room for doubt. Astrid couldn't stand it if Hayden started thinking that she had any lingering feelings for Scott, because she didn't. Her mind was much too preoccupied with incredibly inappropriate desire for her physics teacher to be bothered with her ex. Not that she could actually tell Hayden that...

"I just don't trust her. She's a conniving monster and I don't really want Scott to be used," Astrid offered with a shrug when Hayden arched a brow at her. "Honestly Scott might be a bit of an idiot, but he wasn't actually a terrible boyfriend. He's just... Not the one I want," she added. Allowing her gaze to linger a little too long on Hayden as she said it.

If Hayden saw through to the real meaning of those words, he didn't show it. Simply lifting his own shoulders in a half shrug now as he stated, "that's fair I guess. Wish I could say the same for Victoria, but I actually want that bitch to get used. Let her know what it feels like. Turns out you're a better person than I am."

"Not at all," Astrid scoffed back. "If I find out that Scott cheated on me with Sabrina, which I honestly doubt he did, I will kick his ass from now until next Christmas. I am certainly not below getting petty either. You're looking at a stone cold killer," she joked with a laugh as she gestured to herself. Hearing Hayden give that sexy chuckle of his in return. Those gorgeous green eyes sparkling with humour when they met hers, and she felt a sharp ache of longing clench in her lower belly.

It was weird to sit here in the middle of the crowded school field and talk about their exes like this, Astrid thought. As if they were nothing more than friends, and had never been. Especially when every part of her had wanted to climb over the table and kiss the small scowl right off of Hayden's perfect lips instead. To crawl into his lap, grab him by the tie, and make him forget all about that cheating cow. Her hands itching to reach out towards him. Even though she knew full well that she couldn't. Wasn't even sure if he wanted her to, for that matter.

"Remind me not to get on your bad side," Dagur chimed in with a grin at Astrid. The banter that spurred between he, Rachel, and Hayden now breaking Astrid out of her very dangerous thoughts, and she tore her eyes away from Hayden's wonderfully kissable mouth. Seeing Heather gazing at her with an arched brow from her spot beside her brother. Astrid feeling yet another telling blush creep into her cheeks. Was she seriously that obvious?! Mentally slapping herself, Astrid forced her mind to focus on the conversation instead. Ever conscious of the interested stares their group was currently getting as they schmoozed with the coaches and teacher.

When there was only 15 minutes left until the bell, Hayden started gathering up his tray. "Well, I better be off," he stated. Unfolding his strong yet lanky frame from the bench as he pushed to his feet. "Gotta get back to the Oswald building and set up before my afternoon class starts. I'll see you three lovely creatures again very soon," he shot at the girls with a wink.

"See you soon Hayden! We miss you already," the three girls chorused brightly in carrying voices. Every student within earshot whipping their heads around to gape at the group of them again. Making Hayden give that throaty chuckle again. The one that Astrid loved so much, and another shiver of longing ran down her spine this time. Even as he shook his head in exasperation at the three troublemakers.

"We should probably get going too," Eret said as he and Dagur got up from the table. "We'll leave you ladies to your scheming. Let us know how it goes or if you need our help," he added with a wink of his own. Dagur mussing Heather's hair slightly and making her scowl as the girls bid them goodbye as well. Then all three guys started sauntering back across the grass. Hayden's tailored grey slacks hugging his firm behind in a way that should be illegal. If only because it was a seriously distracting hazard to Astrid's health. Not to mention her sanity.

Astrid's eyes followed Hayden for far too long, but her's certainly weren't the only ones. It was absolutely maddening just how many of the girls were staring at the trio of sexy men. Men that they would never get to have, by the way! Hayden and the other two all somehow seeming completely oblivious to it as they laughed together. Looking so painfully glorious and sinfully tempting that Astrid couldn't really fault the other girls for ogling. Despite the futility of it.

When Astrid finally turned her attention back to her table mates, it was to find both of them staring at her. "What are you looking at," she asked stupidly. Trying to sound confused, but only succeeding in sounding super guilty instead. Like she had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar after her mom had just finished baking a fresh batch.

"What indeed," Heather scoffed. Folding her arms over her chest and arching a brow. "If you could have stripped him with your eyes, you would have. I was almost sure you were going to take up the offer of getting bent over the picnic table. Even if it wasn't actually being offered."

"Oh shut up," Astrid grumbled. Picking at her food now instead as the blush crept higher up her face. "Why are you ragging on me?! Rachel was the one that licked Eret's face! I didn't even touch Hayden," she felt the need to point out in her defence. "Wanted to though," she muttered under her breath so her friends wouldn't hear. Just because she had come to terms with her feelings for Hayden Haddock last week did not mean that she was going to shout it from the rooftops.

She was saved from having to say anything else though by the sudden sound of a less welcome voice nearby. Looking over, Astrid saw Scott and Sabrina walking towards the doors amidst a group of their friends. Taking a path that led right past their table. "Oh my gosh! You're sooo funny Scott," Sabrina was gushing. Twining her arm through Scott's and giving her best fake laugh at something he had said. Looking up at him coyly through her fake lashes as she hung off of him like some sort of external tapeworm.

"Haha, yeah, I am pretty funny," Scott grinned back at her. His eyes flashing over to Astrid and her friends briefly. Clearly hoping to see some sort of telling emotion on Astrid's face. Unfortunately for him, there was nothing to see. Well, except maybe disgust at how obviously phoney Sabrina was, and perhaps a touch of shock for the fact that Scott couldn't see it. Since Gobber had finally given Scott the position of Captain on Tuesday, Sabrina had been even more clingy and revolting than she already was.

"Bri, you're still coming tonight right," the preppy blonde named Stacey asked in a somewhat whiny way then. "I don't think I can make it through my whole shift without you. It's poetry night," she grimaced dramatically. A few of the guys guffawing at that.

Sabrina glanced up at Scott imploringly. Her lower lip pouting out. "I don't like poetry," Scott replied without thinking. Then, at Sabrina's scowl, he cleared his throat. "But if you really want to go, I guess I can manage it," he backtracked. Offering her a charming smile instead.

"Yay," Sabrina almost cheered. "You're the best ever! I'll make it worth it, I promise. Pick me up at 7," she added brightly. Stretching up to kiss his cheek before she and her friends took off into the building. The sight making Astrid kind of want to hurl. It was like watching a terribly written and poorly performed romantic comedy.

The guys were still laughing at Scott now, and he turned to glare at them. "Laugh it up fellas," he growled as he crossed his beefy arms over his solid chest. "You guys are coming too." The laughing abruptly cut off now. Only to be followed by a chorus of groans instead. The faithful stooges caving instantly to their leader just like good little sheep. Scott shooting Astrid one more look before heading into the building with his football friends.

Astrid stared after them for another moment. A thought forming in her mind. "You guys want to go to a poetry slam tonight," she asked as she turned her attention back to Rachel and Heather.

"I was just thinking the exact same thing," Heather grinned back. The same devious light shining in her green eyes.

"It's better than lurking in a stinky bathroom, so I'm in," Rachel agreed. "You guys owe me a coffee and a brownie though. To make up for the trauma that I endured today."

"That's fair," Astrid chuckled. The three of them grabbing their trays and heading inside now. Many eyes following them as well, and Astrid couldn't resist rolling her eyes. Making it back to the Oswald building just as the bell was ringing. The rest of the day passing relatively quickly. Especially the hour and half spent in physics class, which went much too fast for Astrid's liking. She never really got her fill of staring at Hayden, even if it was ever so terribly wrong of her to do it. It wasn't to be helped though. Maybe if he didn't look so gol-darned cute.

Once they were back at the apartment, the girls raced through as much of their homework as they possibly could. Then they all broke to shower and get ready for their night out. After adding just a touch of make-up, Astrid picked out her skin tight dark wash jeans and a black off shoulder smock top with lace detail around the trim. Braiding her hair off to one side, she slipped some red high heeled pumps on her feet for a splash of colour. Inspecting herself in her full length mirror and smiling before grabbing her jean jacket and heading out to the kitchen.

Heather was wearing a lacy pink halter top and a knee-length white skirt with pink cherry blossoms scattered over it. Her hair up in a stylish knot. Strappy silver sandals on her feet and a simple pink cardigan slung over her arm. Rachel sporting daisy dukes, fishnets, a pink and black t-shirt with a cropped leather jacket over top, and her untied combat boots with spikes on them. Her long blonde hair tied up in an artfully messy bun. Next to Astrid and Heather, Rachel looked like she was going to watch a poetry slam at a biker bar instead.

Taking Heather's silver Mercedes for the sake of stealth, the girls headed to Hunter's Cove extra early. Texting Tyler and Frank on the way to meet them there. Arriving in the relatively quiet side street of downtown Berk, they parked down the road a little rather than take the spot right out front. Hoping that they were far enough away that Scott wouldn't be able to recognize the relatively plain car.

Climbing out from the passenger side, Astrid looked over at the nondescript cafe. It's grey exterior bearing only the name of the place in script-like letters over top a scarlet logo that looked kind of like severed elk antlers and a misshapen skull. There were a few skateboarders loitering on the sidewalk, along with some last minute shoppers milling between the second hand thrift shop on one side and the home decor store on the other. The sounds of car horns and the bustle of traffic from the city centre a few streets over reaching them like a muffled cacophony of indiscriminate sound.

The low hum of the distant factories along the east river was reverberating over everything. They were the sounds of life. Of home. Making their way down the street, Astrid could feel the eyes of the skaters on them. She was intent on ignoring them though until one let out an impressively loud wolf whistle at the three girls. Turning abruptly at the sound, Astrid saw the one wearing a red hoodie grinning widely at her. Winking cheekily as his friend in a grey shirt face-palmed before shoving him bodily off the wall they were sitting on. Astrid just rolled her eyes and walked on. Muttering about stupid boys.

Entering the cafe, they found it almost completely empty. After picking up large caramel macchiatos and gooey iced chocolate brownies from the counter, they selected a couch near the front corner. Not right in front of the window of course, but near enough that anyone entering would need to look around the corner to see them easily. The couch was one of those heavy orange and brown things right from the 80's that every grandparent seemed to have had at one point or other. Making Astrid wonder if it was actually a hide-a-bed, and then cringing at the thought of what the mattress looked like.

They had nearly polished off their brownies by the time other people started showing up. A bunch of bohemian looking artist types with flyaway hair and multi-layered clothing came first. Those were followed by a group of boisterous teenagers from the local high school enjoying a weeknight out. Next came a passel of stoners, some goths, and the skaters from outside. Astrid paid barely any attention to the whole lot of them though. Then Tyler and Frank showed up and bought drinks before coming to join them. Frank's hot chocolate sporting an unreasonably large mountain of whip cream and chocolate flakes.

The next group however, very much called Astrid's full attention. The bell over the door chimed again, and in walked a group of very familiar faces. It wasn't Scott and Sabrina though. It was Hayden, Eret, and Dagur. Looking perfectly handsome and casual in jeans and t-shirts. Miss Cope, Miss Queen, and an unfamiliar man with long reddish-blonde hair tied back in a ponytail came in with them. Queen and the ponytailed man holding hands.

It was certainly strange seeing teachers outside of school. Dressed like normal people even. Rather than her typical grey pantsuit, Miss Queen was actually wearing black jeans, gold flats, and a gold t-shirt with black detailing across the bodice. The man with her was just as tall as her, well muscled and handsome, and wearing dark jeans and an army green t-shirt. He looked tough, and just as no-nonsense as Queen. Oddly though, Queen also looked genuinely happy for once. A big smile on her face as she leant affectionately against the man, and Astrid realized in surprise that Mala Queen was actually really pretty. Who knew?!

Cope, on the other hand, was her usual bubbly self. A big smile on her gorgeous face, and perfectly smokey shadow making her bright blue eyes pop. She was wearing faded and torn skinny jeans and a stylish red top with bell sleeves that both accentuated her curves perfectly. Black and silver pumps on her feet allowing just a peek of red painted toenails to show. Her long brunette hair down and falling in softly curling waves over her shoulders. She looked absolutely stunning and Astrid felt herself slump in her seat slightly.

"Holy shit! Cope is fucking hot," Tyler spouted in surprise. "Like, I knew she was good looking before, but... Wowza! Gonna keep this image in the spank-bank for later when..."

"Shut up idiot," Rachel growled as she punched her brother. Cutting him off mid sentence, but not quite soon enough to keep Astrid from wanting to both barf and murder him. "Can't you see Astrid's crushed! Have some respect!"

Crushed was a good word for what she felt, Astrid thought sadly. With his red t-shirt and jeans, and her red top and jeans, Cope and Hayden looked like a couple. A beautiful couple. The type you would see in a movie and think 'there's no way people that perfect really exist'. Unfortunately they did, and they were here. Together. They were also both laughing at something that Dagur had said.

The entire group of teachers didn't even notice the five people hiding on the couch. They simply went to the counter and purchased their drinks before heading to a group of seats slightly in front of where Astrid and her friends were sitting. Queen and her guy sharing a wide wingback chair and Eret in his own recliner while Dagur, Cope, and Hayden all plopped down on a faded blue love seat with their backs to Astrid and the others. Their voices easily discernible over the mellow jazz pumping from the speakers.

It did prove that their spot was a good one, but Astrid couldn't help hating that fact now. The sudden urge to bail before she had to see Hayden and Cope cuddling up together starting to churn in her gut. Clearly recognizing this, Heather reached out and placed a steadying hand on Astrid's forearm. "They are at a poetry slam with a whole group Astrid," she pointed out quietly. "And they brought Queen. Would you seriously bring her on a date?!"

"I guess not," Astrid grumbled. "If they start snuggling or kissing though, I'm out," she stated. Crossing her arms over her chest and scowling. Frank and Heather both gave her sympathetic looks. Before Heather could answer though, in walked the whole reason that they were here in the first place. Scott, Sabrina, and a herd of their dumb friends.

Sabrina was dressed in a silver mini dress and calf length black boots. Her make-up and hair done up way too excessively for a quiet poetry slam in a backstreet cafe. She looked like she was going clubbing instead. Her blue eyes scanning the room briefly, and a Cheshire Cat smile growing on her face when she spotted Hayden and the others. Her hips suddenly seeming to sashay more purposely than before.

It was at that moment that Astrid had an inkling of suspicion. A suspicion obviously shared by both Rachel and Heather, as they both turned to glance at Astrid with furrowed brows. The three of them studying the petite blonde even closer now. The cheerleaders chose a grouping of seats then as the jocks headed up to the counter to get drinks for everyone. Sabrina draping herself back over Scott the moment that he sat down and almost making him spill his coffee. The sight of him blowing on his burnt hand making Astrid snort a laugh.

About 10 minutes later, the LED lights dimmed. A man that looked like a draft dodger, complete with long and scraggly grey hair and tie-dyed shirt, stepped up to the mic on stage. Tapping it and making the speakers squeal in protest. Everyone grimacing and clutching their hands over there ears in response. The man muttered a half-assed 'sorry' into the mic, before announcing that the reading would begin. Inviting up the first presenter in his sleepy drawl.

When two of the stoners meandered up to the stage, Astrid slumped down further in her seat. Propping her feet up on the low coffee table in front of them and letting out a groan. Watching with building horror as one of the guys pulled out a set of bongos from the back of the stage while the other guy stepped up to the mic and unfolded a small stack of very dirty paper.

"This is gonna suck so hard," Astrid grumbled.

"You've got that right," Heather agreed with a grimace. Slumping down beside Astrid and crossing her own arms. Frank was probably the only one that looked really interested. Although, he was also just a nice enough guy that he would be willing to feign interest for complete strangers.

"Still better than a stinky bathroom," Rachel supplied half-heartedly as she and her brother slouched on Astrid's other side. Rachel glaring at the stage when the one guy started banging on the bongos with no real apparent rhythm in mind. The other guy mumbling almost incoherently into the mic as he continually fussed with his notes. The crinkling sounds of the paper the only really discernible noise.

After three more terrible poems and one poorly sung ballad about a yak, Astrid had finished her coffee. Trying not to look at the laughing group on the blue love seat, she made her way up to the counter to order another. Too distracted by her thoughts to notice the person coming up beside her. "Can I buy you a coffee Beautiful," a deep voice asked from beside her.

Turning her head, Astrid gazed at the young man leaning against the counter for a moment. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she first tried to decide if she knew the man or not, then whether or not he was being serious. This was a coffee shop, not a bar. Who picks people up by buying them a coffee? This guy apparently.

"To apologize for my dumb friends," he clarified with a tentative smile. That was when Astrid realized that she did recognize him. He was the skater that had been embarrassed by his immature friend. The one that had shoved the whistling idiot off the wall.

"Oh! Uh, thanks but no," Astrid countered politely. "It's no big deal, seriously. As a girl you kind of just get used to it," she added blandly. He chuckled softly at that.

She supposed he was cute, for a skater. Close to her height without heels, his dark brown hair was cut short on the sides. The longer top swept to one side over liquid looking brown eyes and moderately shapely brows (for a guy). His face just slightly too oval to pass as rugged or chiseled. Lips just a little too full and nose just a little too small to balance out, but no less attractive for it. His clothes were a mix of skinny black jeans, tight grey t-shirt, and red spiked belt and skate shoes.

He looked nice enough, but Astrid wasn't really in the mood to hook up. "Alright," the guy answered easily. Looking slightly disappointed, but not pushy or angry at least. Then he held his hand out to her. Grasping hers in a firm handshake. "The name's Paul, and I'll be over there if you change your mind," he added. Pointing to what was clearly his group of friends squashed on the couches right near the stage. Astrid could even see Mr. Red Hoodie sitting there.

"Astrid," she returned simply. "Thanks again for the offer, but I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you. As an independent woman, I tend to buy my own drinks these days. Coffee or otherwise. Have a good night Paul." Then she added, "thanks for shoving your friend for me though."

"Anytime," he joked. Winking at her and smiling before walking away. Astrid watching him go with a sigh.

"Does the same apply to me," came a different, and very recognizable, voice from her other side.

"Hayden," Astrid exclaimed as she jumped slightly. Turning towards him as a wide smile split her cheeks. "How do you keep doing that?! And what are you even doing over here?"

"I came to get another coffee, and I showed up just in time to hear you turn that poor young man down. He's probably going to go back to his parents' basement tonight and write his own heartbroken limerick now," Hayden replied cheekily. Leaning his hip against the counter and casually crossing his arms and ankles. Glancing after the dark haired skater boy with a gleam of humour in his green eyes.

"The life of the newly single," Astrid drawled back with an eye roll. "I nearly punched one of Scott's football buddies in the throat last week. He just wouldn't seem to take the hint and go away."

"I would have paid good money to watch that," Hayden joked. "Speaking of which, you never answered my question. Do I get to buy your coffee, or are you too independently feminist now to even let your friends pay?"

"Oh, I am more than willing to take handouts from my friends," Astrid grinned back. "Especially the filthy rich ones like you and Heather." Hayden barked out a laugh at that. The two of them giving their orders to Stacy then. Astrid barely resisting the urge to snort when the preppy blonde batted her eyelashes at Hayden as he tapped the very obvious platinum card on the reader. Making Astrid suddenly wonder if that card even had a limit, and if so, what was it? Probably something stupid, like 10 million bucks.

As they waited for one of the other baristas to make up their drinks, Hayden settled those intoxicating eyes on her again. "So, why did you turn him down," he asked interestedly. "A guy who offers to buy you coffee instead of booze can't possibly be all that bad. Granted his style could do with some help, but you never know. Maybe he would turn out to be a good one."

"Maybe he would," Astrid assented. Sparing a glance over at the skater boy and his buddies crammed on the sofa together. "It doesn't matter though, because I'll never find out. Unfortunately for him, he's not the one I want," she added. Looking up into Hayden's eyes and seeing something there she couldn't quite place. Though it could almost be mistaken for understanding, mixed with just a tinge of regret.

Trying to change the subject before it could get too awkward, Astrid glanced away towards the group of teachers instead. "Speaking of good ones," she said quietly as their coffee cups were set on the counter by a smiling brunette girl. Hayden thanking the girl and passing her a tip that she took gratefully and pocketed. "Miss Cope looks beautiful tonight."

Hayden followed her gaze now. Blowing gently on his steaming drink for a moment before taking a thoughtful sip. "Yes, I suppose she does," he agreed simply. "Amelia Cope is a beautiful woman, after all." Astrid could feel his eyes on her now, and she forced herself to look back towards him. Mildly afraid of what she might see there. Wistful longing or lust for Miss Cope might just break her. An apologetic look of 'let you down slowly' certainly would.

Instead of either, Hayden was gazing at her with that same odd mixture of understanding and regret. "Unfortunately for her, she's not the one I want either," he said quietly. So quietly that Astrid almost missed it over all of the other chatter filling the cafe. Her breath caught in her throat, and she could feel her eyes widen. Before she could say anything back, he gave her a somewhat apologetic lopsided smirk and started walking back to the group of teachers.

Astrid was stunned. Numb. Had he just told her to her face that he wanted her too?! After all, hadn't that been the subtle, or maybe not quite so subtle apparently, hint that she had been dropping each time she had used those words. Was this really happening right now? Without even knowing how or when, she had somehow picked up her coffee and made her way back to her friends.

Heather glanced over in acknowledgement, before suddenly halting in her conversation with Frank. "What's wrong Astrid," she asked. The concern in her tone evident, and making Astrid wonder what she looked like. Pale? Flushed? Sickly?

She didn't feel pale or sickly though. Startled maybe. Stunned, a little. Elated, definitely. Also a fair bit confused and emotionally torn.

"Nothing. I'll be right back," she muttered quickly. Setting her mug on the little table in front of the couch before taking off to the bathroom. Not even noticing anyone on her way. Pushing open the door, she chose the first stall on the right. Locking the door and dropping the seat before sitting on it. Putting her elbows on her knees and leaning forward until her face was in her hands. Taking yoga breaths to try and calm her now racing heart.

If her gut was right, and this time she was sure that it was, Hayden had just admitted that he had feelings for her. What was she supposed to do with that?! Realistically, Astrid knew that she had only two options. Take this wonderful gift and hold it close to her heart. Knowing that he liked her while keeping her silence and behaving herself. Forcing herself to focus on school every single day while constantly worrying that someone was going to snatch him off the market before the year was up and they were free to date.

The second option was to take this knowledge and do something about it. Convince Hayden to start a secret and incredibly forbidden/illegal relationship with her. A relationship that could get them both kicked out of school if it was discovered. Leaving Astrid with an incomplete education and dashing all of her dreams of her future career in one go. Especially since Valka would certainly never hire her after something like that. Astrid would fight tooth and nail if she had to in order to keep Hayden from getting arrested, but there was no way that his family still wouldn't be shamed by the scandal.

So what did she do? Was it worth risking it all for something that might come crashing down in flames. Her future? His reputation? What if it didn't come crashing down though? What if it really ended up being the Cinderella story that it had felt like at the end of summer. What if the scullery maid actually got to keep the prince?.. More importantly though, was she really willing to risk someone else taking the prince while she was busy dragging her feet?

Knowing that she wasn't going to figure this out in a bathroom stall, Astrid started to get to her feet. Then she promptly sat back down and kept very still as the door to the washroom opened again. The sound of Sabrina's voice preceding the sight of her stiletto heeled black boots. A gaggle of her girlfriends loyally trailing along behind her.

"I still can't believe you got Scott to come to this awful thing," one of the girls was saying. Their collective shoes coming to a stop in front of the mirror. Obviously touching up hair or make-up.

"Of course I did," Sabrina scoffed back. Her bubbly facade gone for the moment as a surprisingly cool voice took it's place. "That boy will do anything for me."

"Well, he's a nice guy," one of the other girls chimed in. "You're so lucky. My boyfriend would rather be gored by bulls."

"Luck has nothing to do with it," Sabrina purred. Her smug tone making Astrid want to strangle her. "Scott's certainly a nice enough guy though. Not to mention, he's rich. He'll do for now, but let's not forget that the real prize is Hayden." Instantly Astrid's ears perked up. So she had been right about Sabrina after all! That conniving hoe-bag wench!

"Looks like Cope has already beat you to that prize," the first girl drawled sardonically. The tiniest hint of exasperation leaking into her voice.

"Pfft, Cope's got nothing," Sabrina snorted arrogantly. "Astrid and Scott were dating for 4 years before I broke them up. Hayden and Cope have only been going out for a couple weeks," she pointed out. Astrid barely suppressing a snarl as her fists balled up in rage. Everything in her wanting to charge out of the stall and smash Sabrina's overly made-up face off the sink.

"If they're even a thing, they won't be for long," Sabrina added then with a cruel laugh. "Now come on ladies. The boys will be waiting for us." There was a bit more scuffling at the counter as each girl checked herself one last time in the mirror before they all filed out. Astrid still sitting motionless on the toilet lid as she tried to process what had just happened.

Apparently Operation GROSS had been a stunning success. Especially the hiding in bathrooms part, even though it wasn't a planned stake-out this time. After giving it a few minutes so that she didn't look too suspicious, Astrid got up and washed her hands before making her way out of the bathroom. "Our place. Now," she said in response to Heather's inquisitive glance. All of them taking the hint and following her outside. Probably just thankful to bail on the last half hour that still remained of the terrible poetry.

Once back at their apartment with Tyler and Frank, Astrid told her friends everything. Right from the cafe counter encounter with 'Paul' and Hayden, to what she heard in the bathroom afterwards. By the end of it, she was pacing back and forth between the living room and kitchen. Unable to sit still with her head so full. Mostly of thoughts of Hayden, but the others were understandably more interested in the Sabrina thing.

"I knew she was an evil bitch, but this... Talk about playing the long game. Going to all the work of breaking up you and Scott, just so that she could use him to get to Hayden," Heather stated in disgust. "That's just low. Who even does that?!"

"Maybe she really is a super villain," Tyler offered from his spot on the living room floor. Stormfly perched happily on top of his head as he made ridiculous cooing noises at her. Probably trying to communicate in bird-speak.

"A super villain would never be stupid enough to reveal their entire plan in a public bathroom where anyone could overhear them," Frank countered. Busily nervous eating from a bag of ketchup chips as he sat stiffly on the couch between Heather and Rachel.

"Clearly you've never watched James Bond, Austin Powers, or any other spy movie really," Rachel drawled with an eye roll. Grabbing a handful of chips from the bag as she shook her head at Frank. "Villains are all about exposition. Seriously. It's like they want to get caught." All of them turned to look at her. Astrid even stopping in her pacing to stare at her friend in shock.

"What," Rachel asked in confusion. "Exposition. The act of voicing obvious or unnecessary things for narrative effect. Also to provide explanation of difficult ideas or backstory, but that's not really the most common use in movies or tv shows, now is it," she clarified with an eye roll. As if she was surrounded by imbeciles.

"I know what exposition is," Astrid blurted. Nearly choking on her laugh. "I'm just shocked that you do."

Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. "I'm a complicated person," she offered before cramming a handful of chips in her mouth. Crumbs scattering down the front of her t-shirt that she didn't even bother to brush off. Yep, complicated summed up Rachel pretty well.

"So what do we do now," Heather asked quietly. Voicing the most obvious question of the night. "Now that we know what she's up to, how do we out her? We can't exactly run up to Scott and tell him. I mean, without proof, it's just going to look like you're jealous and desperate to have him back so you're making up lies."

"I know," Astrid grumbled. Resuming her pacing again. "If only I'd had my phone out and recording," she cursed under her breath. Gesticulating wildly with her hands in her frustration. Even punching her fist into her palm to vent some of her pent up feelings. Frank wincing at the dull smack as his cheeks paled.

"It's not like you knew that she was going to come in there and spill her guts," Frank offered gently. Clearly trying to make her feel better, but it wasn't really helping. "What we need to do first is warn Hayden," he added. "Hayden will listen."

"I know. I know. I'll talk to him after school tomorrow," Astrid muttered distractedly. "We have physics last period, so I'll just stay behind after class." The thought of that... Disgusting... Scheming... Tramp laying one finger on Hayden making Astrid want to hit something other than her own hand. Preferably Sabrina.

"Okay, but on the matter of Hayden though," Heather started again. Much more slowly this time. The sound of his name pulling Astrid back to the here and now again. "Now that he has essentially told you how he feels, what exactly are you going to do about it," she asked tentatively. "You never actually said anything back, so you've kind of left it hanging in limbo..."

"Oh, that's simple," Frank stated. "She's going to tell him they need to wait until after she graduates to decide anything, of course. After all, it would be a criminal act for them to do anything right now."

"A criminal act you say," Rachel muttered. Stroking her chin thoughtfully. "Now that gives me a great idea for Halloween costumes..."

"Not to be Captain Obvious here, but haven't they already done something," Tyler pitched in with an eye roll. "Many somethings in fact. All over Hayden's expensive condo and car."

"That was before term started though," Frank squeaked. Blushing right to his hairline as Rachel and Heather both sniggered at his obvious embarrassment. "Astrid wouldn't dream of doing that now!"

Dream of it, she had though. Stopping her pacing again, Astrid faced her friends. A truly wicked grin spreading across her face now. "You're not wrong Frank," she answered slyly. "I actually plan to do a hell of a lot more than just dream of it. In fact, I completely intend to seduce my physics teacher. Starting tomorrow."

Frank audibly gasped as everyone else simply stared. Rachel even freezing with a chip halfway to her open mouth. "Sabrina may have taken Scott from me, and we will fix her for that, but Hayden is all mine. I'll be damned if I let that vile cow steal him too. She will rue the day she ever chose to go toe to toe with me..." Astrid trailed off with an evil cackle. Not even caring about the shocked looks on every one of her friends' faces now.

"You do realize how many rules you will be breaking if you do this," Rachel said into the loaded silence that followed Astrid's proclamation. Peering at Astrid suspiciously. "Both school and federal."

"Of course I do," Astrid exclaimed. A sense of giddy expectation starting to build inside her now. An unfamiliar anticipation of the chase that she had never experienced before this moment. Maybe because she'd only ever been the one being chased before now (usually unwillingly). "I know full well what could happen Ruff, but that just makes it more exciting doesn't it. Sometimes you need to stoop to his level before you can beat the Devil," she finished with a smirk.

"Who are you and what have you done with Astrid Hofferson," Tyler asked as he rolled over to gaze up at her. Everyone else finally breaking down laughing at the look of enraptured wonder on both twins' faces. Of course Astrid knew exactly why it was a bad idea, but she just couldn't care. Besides, as Hayden himself had taught her, the danger of being caught truly did add to the thrill. Really, he only had himself to blame for this, Astrid thought with a chuckle.

ooOOoo

Oh boy, so much stuff to unpack... I'll leave it to you guys, since I'm off to take a recovery nap after a seriously long night shift.

IcyForest, it looks like you were right...

Seriously, I would love to hear what you guys thought of the chapter. How do you think Astrid's seduction of Hayden is going to go? Will she have him eating from her hands by Halloween? Or do you think he has enough willpower to hold out longer? Christmas maybe? Who's going to be the first to find out when it does happen (cause we know darn well it will)? Who will be the first outsider to find out?

Like Astrid said though, the silly boy really did bring this on himself. Maybe he shouldn't have been QUITE so good between the sheets :P lol

*Bonus marks for anyone that noticed my sneaky little hat-tip to mine and Jay Baruchel's shared Canadian heritage... Ketchup chips! Woot Woot!