ish

written by Teakettle and scone

chapter 1: S.U.L.K. (Spacey Uno Little Knows)

"Excuse me?" The Media Technology Assistant coughed to catch their attention, glaring malevolently over the collective shoulders of the TND. "Are you working? Due to the implementations of Library Regulations 1000.56 Beta Code C through 1000.89 Gamma Code, no one may enter the sacred space that is the library unless they can prove definitively that they are engaged in academic work." He coughed again, wetly this time, belying a thick layer of mucus in his chest. Four winced with distaste, wondering what exactly was growing in there to make that sort of a sound.

One blinked, emerging from the absorbed fog he entered when working on anything. "What did you say?" he asked, somewhat irritably, distracted and irked at having momentarily been dragged out from 'The Zone.'

"Look, if you're not working on anything, we'd really like you to wear some kind of insignia designating you as a non-worker. You know, a nonproductive element, a parasite on the decent, hardworking pillar of this school that is The Library Community. If, within 15 minutes of being presented the insignia to wear, you continue to exist, we'll have to move you over to the door on the left, where a special convoy will take you to… a place. A SPECIAL place. For nonworkers."

"Look," One snapped, removing his sunglasses in frustration. "Look, this, right here, in THESE HANDS, is my Advanced Placement European History Book. On this table here is my trusty laptop. On this trusty laptop is a 15 page paper concerning the defense position of the European Union. What, if you ventured a professional guess, would you say I was doing?" He slipped his sunglasses back on and look back down at the screen. Four smirked a bit, indicating he'd heard the debate but continued jotting down some notes. Three stared at a particularly fascinating whorl in the wood grain. Five, her headphones on as always, was dead to any world outside of her French textbook and her Miles Davis CD.

The man blinked, eyes narrowing into piggish little slits, nose crinkling unappealingly. "If you're going to be difficult, we could go talk to the Delightful Dean. And as I've told you before, those sun glasses-"

Nigel jumped up from the table with surprising dexterity, swinging his legs around to stand nose to nose with the balding Media Technology Assistant. "I give in," He growled menacingly.

Four jerked his head up in shock. "No you don't," he corrected, somewhat shocked. "You NEVER give in. Not even when we all want pizza and you want Sheppard's pie! Not even when we all want a pot of coffee and you're up first, and any descent human being would help his friends out. You just insist on making earl grey and telling us it's good for us!"

Nigel took a moment to glare at Wallabee, teeth grit, before returning his attention to the somewhat confused Media Technology Assistant. "That," he said with extreme enunciation, "Is not the point at issue here."

"As I was saying, you found me out. I was not studying. I was wasting valuable library space studying the ancient art of kabuki performance. Any moment now I plan to procure some makeup and perform Madame Butterfly for the whole bloody library. Want a ticket?!" Number One had begun panting a bit with rage.

Kuki discreetly whispered, "Nigel, Madame Butterfly is an opera. In order to qualify as kabuki…"

"Also not the point at issue!" Nigel screeched.

"But I do love Madame Butterfly!" Kuki added supportively, trying to soothe Nigel. "I'm sure you'd make a great Geisha abandoned by an American GI to give birth alone and in shame and die miserable and alone!"

Abby had taken off her headphones when the screeching interrupted an artful saxophone solo. Her typical concern for her Peerless Leader's wellbeing peaked with the increase in his panic attacks. In earlier days he had been relatively unflappable, but the strain of Fighting Evil for 17 years straight, the last four of them with ever diminishing support, had made him, though not uncontrolled, much more volatile.

"Nigel," she began in a calming voice.

"Don't start with me today Five! Yes, Library Man, this entire paper was merely an elaborate front, a clever ruse to deviously take up space in your nearly deserted library! I'm trying to take over, to undermine your authority! I'm exerting my evil influence and crashing your computers, drinking the blood of the innocent. You've found me out, you clever bastard!"

Three winced. "I sense… anger, Numbuh One. How long has it been since you had your tea? I could make you some."

"You just sensed that now?" Wallabee muttered sardonically. He leaned back idly to watch the show. His eyes betrayed a hint of concern for Nigel's ever worsening discipline record. If thing kept up, it might even rival his own one day in the far future.

"You do it all wrong!" Nigel whipped his head around to glare malevolently at Kuki. "It's green! Tea shouldn't be green! Only lizards are green! By god tea is brown, black or grey, Three! And if there's never milk in it or scones near it, logic dictates that it IS NOT TEA!"

Bright, shimmering tears welled up in Kuki's large brown eyes. "If you are what you drink, then I'm a lizard! But you're the cold blooded one, Nigel, and it's not easy being green!" Gathering her things up in a huff, she stormed out of the library, smacking into Numbah Two as he entered, striding briskly. "What?," Kuki shouted, even further irritated at his lack of concern for her. Having caused her to drop her books when they collided, he stood there dumbly instead of helping her pick them up. "Are you going to be mean too, you people-smacking-into lizard hater? Are you going to insult my national cuisine?! How about my favorite color! Everyone hates me!" Sniffling, she ran out towards her beloved photography lab.

Two stood where he was in confusion, half of a sandwich in his sturdy hand. His eyes caught Five's, and he mouthed 'what?' before noting that next to Abby stood the Media Technology Assistant and Nigel, quite obviously on the frequently-trod warpath. Over the years Nigel had worn it into a deep trench, widened it into a broad highway. Wrapping the sandwich and shoving it back into his satchel with practiced ease, he ambled past the ample NO FOOD IN THE LIBRARY! Signs and made his way to the table where his friends sat.

One stared after her, looking more irritated than concerned. He was certainly unused to being disrespected by a member of his team, no matter how unreasonable he'd been getting lately. The shock diffused his anger slightly, though he still felt the pressure of hormonal rage.

"Boy, I won't have you getting smart with me. How about we have a little chat with the Delightful Dean?"

"Do it," Four growled, "And you'll have a little chat with my Delightful Fists."

"You too!" The Media Technology Assistant frothed, "I'm getting sick of your insubordination!"

"I'm not a 'boy.'" One seethed, angered at yet another assault on his teenage dignity. Yet again, the rights of the young were being infringed upon. Nigel wouldn't be Nigel if he didn't combat such abuse at every occasion he saw it, and even many occasions when it simply didn't exist. "Ill-bred dogs can be called 'boy.' I'm not in that category. Mr. Uno will suffice."

Two arrived as the Media Technology Assistant attempted to regain what meager control over the situation he'd ever had. "No hats in the Library!" He jerked a knobby finger at Two's worn pilot's hat.

"It's really more of an appendage than a hat," Two offered nonchalantly.

The adult once again performed the subtle dance of eyelids that resulted in a disapproving glare.

"I wear it for medical reasons." Hoagie said, unshakable.

"Just what are those?"

"It's a personal problem. Involving fruit."

While Two stalled for time, Four fobbed around in his immensely messy, battered black backpack. The SLEEP device (Super eLite Extermination of Everyday Problems) was in there somewhere. Invented by Hoagie at the age of fourteen, there was no surer, easier way of knocking an enemy out. It had the drawback of only having one good shot in it before it had to be recharged at the base, but it was reliable, and Wallabee kept it around for those little problems when his usual excessive displays of kung fu mastery were just rather inappropriate.

When his hand finally brushed the cool metal, just as Hoagie was explaining what kinds of fruit were really at the root of the "personal problem," ("Kiwi, for example…") he smirked. With confidence, he pulled out the SLEEP, only to discover that the safety had been too well oiled and slipped during the drive to school. This was always a risk during the life-threatening adventure Abby referred to as driving. Many things, such as entire bones and muscles groups, permanently shifted position as Abby conquered every pothole by jumping the truck with the worst suspension in the world over them at 70 miles an hour. SLEEP had apparently expended it's might on… his lunch, a Snickers bar.

"Damn it, what is an unconscious Snickers going to taste like?" he groused, wondering if even the power of SLEEP could knock out the vast collection of preservatives in every bar. Shrugging, he grabbed Five's textbook right out of her hands and, wielding it as expertly and gracefully as he did his nunchucks, dealt a mighty blow to the Media Technology Assistant's spine, dropping him to the floor with nary a sound.

"Excellent work, Numbuh Four," One said crisply. As always, he recovered rapidly from his manic state, retreating into his bizarrely British professionalism in his continuous effort to project his authority.

"And you're an excellent piece of work. What the hell were you thinking? How many times can I knock this man out before we get suspended en masse?"

"Abby would like to point out that, for once in her life, she was not actually involved." Abby set down the book and swung towards her leader, holding her hands between her splayed knees. "How many times has Abby offered you somethin' to calm you down, Numbuh One?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "And you know it's the very best stuff Abby has. Abby wouldn't offer Number One any less than the best."

One's eyebrow twitched. "That's very… kind of you, Abby. And very illegal. As much as it pleases me that your job dealing in such substances gives you self satisfaction, please respect my choice not to… shop in your particular market."

"Numbah Five thinks this is all a fancy way of One saying he'd rather be an anal-retentive ass the rest of his life than take some time for his'self, to chill."

"The phrase 'anal retentive ass' is too repetitive. Look, even if I had time to 'chill' in–"

"Um, guys?" Two asked, somewhat irritated. He and Four had efficiently tied the Library Man to an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. Even if he managed to worm his way out of Four's expert knots, the book would weigh him down and further delay his return to The Front Desk. "Where do you think we should hide him?"

"The Cheese Information Section," the two chorused in unison. A long ago grant from an eccentric but rich alumni had furnished entire rows in the shadowy nether depths of the library with every text on the making and consumption of cheese known to man. It would have been a popular make out spot due to its privacy, were in not for disturbing, ancient but pervasive vague odor of musty cheese. "Perfect," Abby concluded, "no one ever goes there!"

Two interrupted, "I go there! Frequently! To be near the cheese! I find it relaxing to do my homework there- so quiet, so peaceful, so… cheesy!"

"That," interrupted Abbigail, "Is because you's a cheese lovin' freak, my man."

"That true," Hoagie admitted sadly.

The four laboriously dragged the heavy, weighted body back to the abandoned section. "What," grunted Nigel as they swung the corpulent man around a bend in the shelves, "Is up with Kuki lately? She's hypersensitive, flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, has lost all of her usual good temper, and has not taken her duties as seriously as she usually does!"

"Said the pot to the kettle," muttered Abby to no one in particular.

"What?" Nigel snapped, sharp ears always on the lookout for dissent among his team that needed quelling with a swift application of his unquestioned authority. Abby chose not to elaborate. "What?" Nigel repeated, angrier now, putting the body down and his hands on his hips.

Four, as always, was the least inhibited by tact. He knew the value of telling his leader the truth- any good commander needed the most and best information possible. "Kuki's in a weird mood, lately, yeah, but then again you've just described yourself." He put his corner of Fat Adult down, swiping his sweat away with a flick of his hoodie sleeve. "I mean, we do fewer missions than usual. It's a dry spell, so you're on edge. You always are when we don't have much to do. But you seem busier than ever – you complain about homework constantly, everything stresses you out – which isn't like you – and you spend every bleeding free moment with that fucking bitch Lizzie."

One sighed, preparing to rehash a constant argument he'd thought they could avoid for at least a day. "I'll thank you not to call her that. She's a perfectly nice girl. She's important to me. You're my best friend; the least you can do is make a bloody effort to understand that occasionally I like seeing her!" He grumbled in a lower voice, "You just don't understand because you can't relate, never having had a girlfriend."

Four's left eye twitched a bit. During the KND's last battle with the Delightful Children a bit of shrapnel had clipped his temple. He's spent a few days in the hospital recovering, and though the scar was nearly invisible, his eye did tend to twitch oddly when he was particularly upset. It had been one of their last battles as the KND. When they'd reported for decommissioning and reassignment from the KND to the TND, Wallabee had known, though less so than Nigel, that their comfortable way of life was about to expand in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable and frightening. Whereas the team consisted of One's most important friends, the group, and especially Nigel, were without question the most important people in Four's life.

He frequently wished he could return to the simplicity of his life in the KND. That was a life in which Nigel never hinted that Wallabee was somehow defective. Back then the fact Four couldn't relate to or trust people outside of the KND didn't matter because their collective world had consisted only of each other. That, he reflected, had been a world where Nigel wanted to spend all his time with his Team. A world where he didn't fuck Lizzie three nights a week and didn't think anyone was more important, more interesting or absorbing than Four.

"Don't talk as if I haven't got a wanker," Four sneered. "If I'd wanted a girlfriend, any girlfriend, I'd have had her backwards and forwards by now. But if the best you can do is Lizzie, count me out!" Nigel gapped in indignation, more surprised at Four's harshness than eager to defend a girl who he felt he was drifting farther from with every day.

Abby, always sensitive to the emotions of the people around her, noticed the tic signaling that Four might actually be hurt. She motioned to Two to help her start dragging again. "A little help here, you two?" She called. The two turned around as if suddenly noticing the presence of your friends and an unconscious, sad middle aged man. The started hefting, and within a few minutes they'd found a good cranny to stash him in. By the time he woke up or got free of the ropes and dictionary, Two would be back from running home to get his equipment, standing in front of him waiting with a STEM (Short Term Experience Makeover). Two would, with a degree of satisfaction that a violator of teen rights was being dealt with, explain that the librarian had suffered a schizophrenic episode, hidden in this corner, and felt a sudden urge to check himself into Morning Glory Heights Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Walking out into the better lit sections of the library, which suddenly seemed more populated now that its tyrannical Führer had been relocated, the TND blinked, adjusting their eyes to the increased light.

"I maintain Three's out of it. More than usually so, I mean. I'll see her after lunch, I suppose I'll make amends. Though perhaps she, or rather her culture, owe the world as a whole a greater debt. I mean, they did attempt to foist that sad imitation of real tea on innocent people…"

As usual, the Team ignored One in Rant Mode. They gathered their things and, leaving the library, drifted out towards the cafeteria. "Vile Library Nazis," One muttered. "I never did get to finish my paper." Two could not help glancing at the Non-workers shuttles with morbid curiosity and some fear. Abby just rolled her eyes at their pretentiousness. It was only when One and his trim black leather briefcase turned a corner in the wrong direction that Four became suspicious.

"Where do you think you're going?" Four tried for levity. He floundered somewhere between rude and achingly overexposed. "I know the food's bad, but even you do need to eat."

"It's Wednesday," One said as if it were obvious. "I always eat with Lizzie on Wednesdays. You know that."

"Right," Wallabee muttered. "I hope you have an excellent time, Uno. I'm sure you're relieved by the change of company. Not too tedious, am – are we?" Before Nigel could get out the typical response (namely Exasperated Sigh Number 6) Wallabee stalked off.

Nigel hated fighting with Four. It was like playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. The rules were unknown and unknowable. Everyone involved always ended up casualties of the game. He felt like Alice- terminally confused. Remembering his favorite childhood book now made him uncomfortable. Like most of his childhood, his experience of it was saturated with Wallabee, who he was beginning to feel he did not know well at all despite all they had shared. He walked towards the courtyard where Lizzie waited, feeling anxious and unhappy.

Abby shook her head in the aftermath. "Abby thinks – " she looked down at Two, whose height she'd eclipsed early in their freshman year. "Odds are that Hoagie doesn't wanna know the details of what Abby thinks. But it involves One, Four, and a general relieving of tension."

Two rolled his eyes. "Tension? Four's just angry – as usual. When will you understand no one here wants your 'magical' products, Abby? I've gotta go get STEM from home. These days it'd be less trouble just to carry it with me everywhere we go. Catch you later."

"Get a clue about what Abby was suggestin' while you at it, Two." She muttered, rolling her eyes. "But now that Two mentions it, Five could do with some Herbal Refreshment herself," she said, walking towards the nearest exit and fishing her lighter from her pocket.

In the rarely explored depths of the extensive gym department, Wallabee Beatles massacred an innocent punching bag. If the punching bag had been a person, Wallabee would have been a murderer several times over by now.

"Stupid," punch, "Fucking," punch, "Nigel," punch jab kick, "Acting like he's commander all the bleeding" Roundhouse punch, "time!" He stepped back and panted before attacking with renewed fury. When enraged, Four was inexhaustible, as his many opponents had learned over the years. /If One were still such a good commander, he'd be with us more. He always used to say that was important, being 'in the trenches.'/

"Now he's in Lizzie's trenches," He spat, not enjoying the pun at all. It felt like heresy, insulting anything about One's leadership. It felt like lying and petty jealousy, insulting One at all. But he felt clean hating manipulative, nasty little Lizzie who was always betraying Nigel's trust and always being forgiven. It felt entirely justified.

/Goddamn it Nigel/, he thought bitterly. /You draw all the wrong lines. You trust me in everything but the most important thing, and give that to someone you don't trust at all. Or shouldn't, if you do. Not smart – not prudent./ "Not fucking fair," he ground out, taking another swing. He dropped his hands at the wrong moment and the bag swept him to the ground with the force of his own swing.

He lay there, not crying, not moving, just breathing. He lay in his own sweat as the bag swung above him, always looking about to drop. He began to shake, feeling directionless and lonely, like a ship in a storm chasing a star that deeps disappearing behind malevolent clouds. One always ripped him up. One shook him nearly apart, and never seemed to notice that the pieces wanted putting back together again.