Hey; it's like my dream to hang out with Speed and Lash so I decided to live vicariously through a story. I know it's slow to start, but the next chapter is when the cool warm fuzzzy things we all like to read start coming out; AWWWWW, friendship makes me happy. This is just the start of the fabulous trio and next chapter we'll jump a year ahead to the good stuff. Okay, enough prologue to my prologue, read on!

9191919

School is a strange thing; even if you only watch someone from afar and never speak, you feel like you know them. There's always a vague sort of familiarity attached to other students and you relish in it. Even if it's something stupid like seeing them in the mall, it's almost like having a friend in a strange place. They'll always be that person from your school, that one person you might know in a crowd of hundreds.

That's sort of the way it was with me and Lash Gregorios. He and Speed McGonagall lived down the street when I was small, beginning the very first day I can remember. Before we got our powers, we were familiar faces who occasionally spoke at block parties or played with Tonka trucks at the park down the way. I knew them back when they weren't Lash or Speed, but James and Michael; I greeted their mothers cordially when I ran across them in the grocery store and other mundane things like that. Maybe we were connected way back when, even before I was aware of it. Even before we got to Sky High.

Speed later told me in a moment of joking vindictiveness that he remembered me from the first day of preschool; I wore a green bow twenty times too big for my head and was already missing a tooth. He'd been jealous because he was a late bloomer and hadn't lost a tooth yet; that was just the start of his competitive streak. Lash only grinned when Speed told the story, adding in, "Hey, I liked the bow."

So the first day of my freshman year when I stumbled out of the bus, practically kissing the firm ground beneath my feet, I didn't find it strange when I looked across the yard and felt familiarity sweeping through my bones; Lash and Speed were leaning against a tree looking like God's gift to man, which they thought they were back then. I knew them from our street, Mockingbird Lane, from the beauty shop Lash's mother owned down the street, from the time Speed's father had lent my father a weed whacker, from the day I'd clumsily offered Lash's sister my cat to stop her six year old tears.

I waved across the school yard, that awkward wave you give people you've known forever but never really talked to. Lash noticed and nudged Speed in the side; both of them gave that awkward wave in return, just raising their hands in acknowledgement. I took in a deep breath and gazed around the school yard, watching the students greeting one another and lounging around the luscious grounds; this was going to be good for me. I could feel it.

Now I feel obligated to mention that I'd always felt sort of awkward in my younger years; I was tall and gangly, practically towering over my friends, and my bushy red hair didn't curl elegantly the way all the other girls' did. My eyes weren't a cool color; they were just sort of muddy green. My teeth were too big, my freckles too numerous, and my feet too big: size eleven. The situation had only improved slightly as I matured into a fourteen year old: my hair was tamable with product and braces had done their work with my smile. Otherwise, I still felt like the string-bean fourth grader I'd always been. Perhaps it didn't help that my mother had laid out my clothes that morning, forever steady even on the first day of high school; I was wearing my lucky green dress, embroidered around the neck line with shamrocks that mother swore would "give me luck."

As I tripped over my too-large feet and nearly ate it, I suddenly didn't feel so lucky anymore.

"Whoa, watch out," said a friendly voice, accompanied by a strong-armed catch.

I looked up to find a kind looking boy with wide eyes and a healthy head of brown hair smiling down at me, helping me into an upright position with a startling easiness. "Will Stronghold," he introduced with a handshake, engulfing my awkward skinny hand in his meaty one.

I grinned widely, the only way I could, and replied eagerly, "Mackenzie MacHaryas, just call me Mack. Nice to meet you Will." When the name struck a bell, I asked curiously, "Relation to Steve and Josie Stronghold?"

"Yeah, my parents," Will replied, smiling vaguely. "You know them?"

Suddenly feeling a little intrusive for even mentioning the subject, I blushed and mumbled, "Oh, yeah, I think our parents worked together back in the day. Cougar and Brainwave...yeah, dad and mom to me, hehe," I chuckled nervously, suddenly self conscious.

A look of recognition passed over Will's face as we began walking towards the front of the school. "Sure, sure, I've heard mom and dad talking about Cougar and Brainwave tons of times. For some reason I didn't know they had a daughter."

"I don't think they really let out my name in the superhero community until they knew I had powers," I replied, feeling that darkness I was so accustomed to infiltrate my good mood. Sure, I'd gotten my powers eventually, but somehow my parents' reluctance to acknowledge me prior to this always stung in retrospect. What if I'd never been able to do anything impressive? What if I'd ended up a dud?

Will interrupted my thoughts. "Hey, I understand what it's like to be a late bloomer. So, what's your specialty?"

Knowing he meant power-wise, I reshouldered my bag awkwardly and said, "A little bit of both worlds. Mostly telekinesis, but I can kind of summon animals like dad. Except it's only one animal...and it doesn't like me very much."

Will laughed in an indulgent way, one which I attribute to knowing me a short time and finding my over share strange. "You'll get the hang of it. Good luck on your first day, Mack."

"Yeah, thanks...bye Will," I muttered, waving goodbye lamely and watching him leave, quickly linking arms with a pretty redheaded girl. She kissed his cheek and I found myself momentarily jealous over the sculpt of her hair; it was smooth and curled only slightly, accompanying smooth, pale skin and a well formed body. Seeing a prettier redhead always frosted my cookies.

I progressed into the school, which was large and white and glassy; it felt so enormous and warehouse-like in the morning light. Whereas other students seemed to know where they were going, I couldn't quite get the hang of it. I found several freshman gathered around a bulletin board, apparently trying to find their locker assignments. I was able to make out the number "313" next to the name "Packenzie Macharyas." I sighed; a misspelled name was obviously an omen.

Locker 313 was located between the science labs and the history rooms. It wasn't a bad location, I suppose, but there didn't seem to be a difference between my locker and the lockers halfway around the school. It was all incredibly uniform. As I set down my bag and opened my locker, squinting at the lock-programming instructions on the inside of the door, a voice hailed from my left.

"Hey, Mackenzie, right? You live on Mockingbird."

I looked up to find Speed opening the locker beside mine as Lash looked on, eyes half-hooded lazily. They were bigger than I remembered them; Speed had matured into an enormous kid, both up and down and side to side. Lash seemed to have grown up and no where else. They dressed the way I remembered, Speed in his sneakers, shorts and band shirt, while Lash distracted you from everything else with his striped arms; he'd worn striped shirts since the day he gotten his powers in the fifth grade. As I looked his way, Lash locked eyes with me behind his sweeping black bangs and I flushed; there was something exhilarating about him.

"Yeah, just Mack," I finally answered, mustering a smile. "Speed and Lash, isn't it? I guess I'm not allowed to use real names here..." I sort of trailed off, laughing lightly. I squinted again at the directions inside my locker, trying to seem casual and as though them talking to me wasn't the most exciting thing in the past ten minutes; as a child, I'd always found them cool.

Speed laughed at my comment, a laugh that was slightly sinister but still boyish at age seventeen. "Yeah, it would ruin our rep," he joked in return, though I could tell he was being slightly serious.

"My sister said you got your powers a few weeks ago," Lash said suddenly, though his voice made the comment seem anything but sudden. His voice was deep and smooth, lilting and casual. Casual like I could never be. Though he looked like a brooding sort of kid, he offered me a smile as though giving an honest effort to be nice. I was sort of flattered since word on the street was that Lash and Speed were anything but nice at this school.

"Yeah," I answered, smiling as I fiddled with my lock. "I was being lazy and wished the cereal box would just come to me at the breakfast table and...well, it did. So I have the power that every couch potato in the world only dreams of."

To my surprise, Speed laughed and Lash chuckled; they just didn't seem like the humorous types. "Dude, no way! I wouldn't leave my room. Ever," Speed decided, earning an eye roll from his best friend.

"You don't leave your room now," Lash replied, causing me to laugh slightly.

Speed shot the skinnier boy a look but said nothing in protest; it appeared that his tough-guy attitude only stretched so far where his best friend was concerned. I'd never seen one without the company of the other, not since I was four and they were six. It almost gave me hope for all the best friends in the world.

"So, hero test today?" Lash probed me.

I groaned slightly, recalling my mother's pep talk about the hero test. "Yeah. I think I'm gonna hurl."

But Speed let out a disbelieving snort and exclaimed, "You ain't gonna be anything but hero, right? I mean, your parents are Cougar and Brainwave. They're right up there with Stronghold's rents, you've got nothin' to worry about."

I gave up on programming my locker lock and muttered almost mutinously, "Yeah, that's the problem. If I don't get into the hero classes, my mom's going to get all disappointed and my dad's going to go on one of his rainforest trips until he gets over the embarrassment. I'm they're only child; what if I...suck at this?"

Another blush crept over my cheeks when I realized how evocative this last statement had been; here I was again, over sharing with near strangers. But unlike Will, the two bullies beside me seemed unperturbed by my feelings.

"Aw, fuck it. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Just kick the shit out of the car, you'll be fine," Speed assured me, seeming to honestly think that I would have no trouble with this whole encounter.

Finding his profanity strangely comforting (and a good deal akin to my mother's,) I shook out my shoulders and said almost calmly, "Right, kick the shit out of the car."

Lash shot a sideways glance at Speed and pushed off the lockers, walking closer to me; soon he had taken the locker lock in his nimble fingers and begun to program it without a single eyeshot at the instructions. "Is your address okay for a combination?" he asked, dark eyes dead set on his operation.

I replied vaguely, "Sure," looking back and forth between Speed and Lash. Being the space cadet I am, a strange thought had only just struck me; why were they being so nice?

My mother had told me the stories she'd heard floating around Bernadette Gregorios's beauty shop; from Lash's mother herself, tales of bullying and trouble at school had spilled forth. Speed and Lash were perpetually in fights (though one sided whoopings could hardly be considered fights) and when not fighting, they were mouthing off to teachers and skipping class (though Bernadette insisted that her lovely "James" still made perfect grades.) Bernadette had even confided in my mother, a dear friend, that the two boys had been involved in the second rise of Royal Pain in their sophomore year. From what I could glean from stories, Speed and Lash were practically high school super villains.

"Hey, wait a second," I said suddenly, shaking my head slightly, rather confused. "Why are you being so cool to me? I mean, aren't you bullies up here or something? Villains, right?" I took my bag from Lash's hand, as he'd been about to place it inside my recently programmed locker. "I don't want to be part of some scheme or get my head flushed everyday for the rest of my awkward teen years, so I'll just get lost before you eat my eyeballs or something. Thanks for the locker...yeah." I dragged the bag away behind me, trying to scamper off as best I could before the bullies turned dark and decided to beat me up for my insolence; I couldn't believe how off my guard they'd caught me! They'd even tricked me into waving hello when I first arrived! Sneaky little devils...

"Hey! What the hell?"

I blinked in surprise as Speed appeared in front of me, bringing with him a mighty wind and a rush of stray homework papers; several nearby students winced as their hair rushed up in the breeze; they were almost used to Speed's powers, "almost" being the operative word.

"Um, just what I said," I attempted to say strongly, ending up sounding like a strangled kitten; my voice always got small when I was nervous.

"We were just being friendly!" Speed exclaimed in what appeared to be frustration, throwing up his chubby arms and sighing deeply.

I blinked. "Look, I just want to get through this test and hopefully remain invisible. Getting hiked up a flagpole by you two probably won't help me with that, so I'm just going to peace out."

When Speed looked imploringly at his friend, Lash ran a hand through his thick black hair and sighed, sounding more resigned than anything. Finally responding to the pleading in his best friend's eyes, Lash walked forward to meet us and looked me directly in the eyes, hands easily placed in his pockets. "Obviously you know what happened last year. And, obviously, it wouldn't make us the most popular guys around in a school full of do-gooders. So, Speed and I were thinking that maybe we should try hanging out with a person who knew...'earth' us and not just 'school' us."

Of all the dirty, rotten excuses I'd expected them to drudge up, this was certainly not the foremost. I blinked for the umpteenth time, wondering how my eyes had yet to water, and cleared my throat in the awkward silence; Lash and Speed were still watching me expectantly, looking as honest as the day they were born. Actually, both of them looked quite nervous, Speed especially; it was clear at this point that Lash was the thoughtful one and Speed the active one. Between the two of them, they were actively thinking through their next step in life; apparently, the two loner bullies were beginning to yearn for some alternative companionship.

Unless they were just being tricky.

"That's an interesting thought," I said neutrally, finding myself in a strange position. I didn't want to be cruel in case they were telling the truth, but my defense mechanisms screamed rather pitifully that this might be a trap to publically embarrass me or something like that. I wasn't sure which way to turn. "You've got to understand...I'm not the most popular person either. I mean, kids have called me 'Beanstalk' since middle school. I'm not a popularity girl."

"Who said anything about being popular?" Speed interrupted, looking slightly disgusted by the very word. "We still wanna beat the shit out of people, we just need a neutral third party."

Hearing the words "neutral third party" coming out of Speed's stupid looking expression made me smile falteringly; this was all sort of cute in a funny, sad way. "Right. Well...I still don't understand why you're going out of your way to talk to me. I mean, there's tons of other 'neutral third parties' walking around. Don't you think you could pick another neutral third party?"

The two boys exchanged nervous glances and I cocked an eyebrow; apparently I was on to something. There was a fishy element to all of this and I was beginning to smell rotten produce beneath their flimsy excuses. Speed gulped and Lash closed his eyes as though praying for guidance; apparently they'd come to the end of their rope. Speed opened his mouth to say something but Lash's fiery black warning glance stopped him the first time around. Lash was just going to remedy the situation with some smooth talking when Speed blurted out the awful truth.

"Our moms made us."

I squinted slightly. "Sorry?"

"Idiot!" Lash exclaimed, hitting his own forehead and throwing up his arms imploringly to the skies.

"Whatever, she can take it," Speed replied roughly, crossing his barrel arms. Turning back to face me, he explained crassly, "We're still on a tight leash from last year and our mom's told us if we didn't make nice with you, they'd stop letting us hang out. So we can do this the easy way or the hard way." When a threatening edge found its way into his deep tone, I found my negative thoughts welling up in full bloom; no wonder I'd been so wary to concede. It was all a ploy.

"Your moms are using me as a rehabilitation device?" I asked disdainfully, feeling some sort of hurt creep up in the back of my throat. Stop being so affected, Mack, jeez. This is no time to start being so girly; they're assholes, get over it, live and learn, all of those clich├ęs. If you expect hurt, it'll never surprise you.

While Speed looked confused by my suggestion, Lash sighed slightly and attempted to explain in greater detail. "It's not like that. Your mom said something to my mom about you having trouble making friends in school and our parents," he gestured to Speed and himself, "thought that maybe having another person hanging around might keep us from getting in to trouble this year. Like a...neutral third party."

Realization began to dawn on me as the hurt continued to sink in; having trouble making friends at school. Mom was interfering in my person life again...not that it had done much before now, seeing as though the truth still stood: I was a loser. A geek. An outcast. It wasn't because I was ugly or because I had strange interests; it was because I had no confidence. I'd always looked strange, I'd always been strange, and not even other strange kids could handle the baggage which came with being seen with me. Apparently, the only friends I had were to be bought as a ransom device by my mother and her devious gossip friends.

Several feelings entered my system and created a numb sort of haze: hurt, bitterness, confusion, and most of all, submission. Cold, tired submission.

"Fine," I said finally, reshouldering my bag and gazing at the boys half hooded. "It's not like I have friends anyway."

I turned and began to walk away when I noticed footsteps falling in line beside me. I glanced haphazardly to my right and noticed Speed walking blithely along beside me, glaring occasionally at underclassmen as they passed. On my left, Lash was loping right along with his long legs making a perfect line in tune with his body; he was fluid and intimidating, probably fascinating to an artist somewhere.

"What are you two doing?" I asked, trying to keep my voice as civil as possible.

"Coming to watch you in the hero test," Speed replied, glancing at me as though this were quite obvious.

I blushed as I noticed stares and whispers aimed our way; obviously, it was quite unusual to see the great Lash and Speed walking with someone else, especially some weird freshman girl. "Don't you have class?"

"We only have class when we want to have class," Lash responded calmly. I looked over to see if he was joking when I realized just how serious he was; those oil-spill eyes didn't lie.

Drawing in a calming breath, I murmured, "Do what you want."

The three of us walked in silence towards the gym, where the loud speakers had informed us that the dreaded test was to take place. I clutched my bag tighter and tripped once or twice, no doubt affected by the eerie stone soldiers at my side; as we rounded the corner towards the gym, a small boy actually took off running at the mere sight of them. If I'd had trouble making friends before, I could only imagine what might happen now.

The gym was large, slightly dim and dusty with heat; several students were already milling about in their gym uniforms, avoiding each others eyes as they whispered mantras to themselves ("Be one with the power.") I sighed heavily and made as though to trek towards the locker room, only to be stopped by a meaty hand on my shoulder.

"Remember what I said earlier, right? Kick the shit out of the car," Speed informed me quite seriously.

I muttered frostily, "I'll try to keep that in mind," before breaking away from his hand and trudging towards the locker room with heavy feet. It was one thing to have overprotective brothers messing with your groove on the first day of school: having two unwanted wannabe super villains tagging along was a completely different story. As I entered the locker room, I could hear whispers and incredulous gasps already aimed my way: word had spread that a new super villain was in town and she was a gangly redhead with two parasitic psycho friends.

My locker was located beside the boiler room, which was making quite a bit of noise at the current time; the clanging was almost deafening and I grimaced, opening my locker to find scrubby gym clothes folded neatly inside. I was just a winner in the education system.

I appeared to be the final one to arrive when I entered the gym a minute later, extremely conscious of my chicken legs and nonexistent breasts. As I arrived on the scene, an imperious looking gym teacher barked out, "Thank you Ms. Macharyas for arriving last."

I winced as his beady eyes met my fearful ones; apparently the class had taken role and I hadn't been present for it.

"To congratulate you on your tardiness," the teacher continued, "You will be tested first."

Gulping, I closed my eyes fretfully and felt my knees knock pitifully together; to punish me for being the most awkward being in the room, I was now being forced to perform in front of several strangers. It was perhaps my greatest fear next to needles, public performance was, and I was definitely not looking forward to whatever awaited me on the platform. My mother had taken the liberty of informing me that I need only stop a car from falling on my head to be placed in the hero class. The only problem was that I didn't perform well under pressure; what if I got flattened?

"Get up on the platform, Macharyas," the coach demanded, beckoning me as he readied his pen against his clipboard.

The other students turned to watch me as I made my way towards the stage at a slow, clippy pace. As I reached the ladder steps, I found my large foot hooked on a stair and without further ado, I fell in a tangle of limbs to the floor. My classmates roared with laughter as the coach rolled his eyes and I felt my cheeks nearly melting off my face; in the corner of my eye, I could see Speed and Lash shaking their heads in the bleachers.

"Power?" the coach asked me boredly as I stumbled to my feet.

"Telekinesis," I replied quietly, practically stammering. "And...and some animal summoning. Kind of."

"Kind of?" the coach echoed, staring narrow-eyed at me. "Any relation to Lance Macharyas, the Cougar?"

Somehow I'd just known he was going to ask me that. "My dad," I replied, voice barely a whisper.

"And that means Beulah Macharyas is your mother, then," the coach continued, sounding as though he were more eager to meet me by the minute. When I nodded dumbly, my red curls already frizzing in the humid summer morning, the coach roared, "Well then, this should be no trouble for you. Car!"

Before I could barely react, there was a loud beep from above me and the sound of an enormous object falling from the ceiling weighed in on my senses. The animalistic bits of me screamed "DANGER!" as I conjured up the least bit of courage I had; my mind's eyes zoomed in on the falling object and with my soundless command of "stop," every sound in the gym came to a complete and total halt. I dared open my madly shut eyes to peer up at the car levitating eerily a few feet above the Coach's head and, relieved and pleased to notice the slight pressure of the car's weight on my telekinesis, I waited patiently for the coach to give me my verdict.

"Well," the coach continued with a slightly indulgent smile, "I'd say that's a Hero."

"Thank you, Coach," I said meekly, smiling slightly as I stepped down from the platform amongst slightly surprised looks of acceptance. Before I could make it all the way down, however, loud cheering and claps from the stands sounded out across the gym.

"NICE! WOOO!" Speed hollered, clapping his meat slab hands together raucously.

"Mockingbird Lane kicks ass!" Lash chimed in, clapping his large friend on his thick shoulder.

"Friends of yours?" the coach asked shortly.

I blushed profusely and replied almost coldly, "Neighbors," before turning on my heels and preparing to return to the group. At my reply, several of the students exchanged glances and one even dared to speak, though I found it somewhere in my small supply of courage to shoot them a terrifying green gaze. They quailed and quieted almost immediately, fading back into the group.

The coach, who's voice I was beginning to notice was extremely loud and occasionally painful to listen to, had called the second name on his list and was torturing the poor boy for his height or something like that. I stood off to the side, watching the proceedings politely until a surprising rush at my side caused me to gasp.

"Don't do that!" I exclaimed in a hushed whisper, clasping a hand over my heart as Speed grinned at me.

"C'mon," he said, grabbing my arm and beginning to drag me away. "You're done here."

"But I'm supposed to watch everyone else, right?" I asked lamely, finding myself dragged forcefully away as the coach snarled angrily at one of the weedy tall boys in the front row; he seemed not to notice my current plight.

"Boomer doesn't care," Speed scoffed, managing to get me all the way to the door of the gym where Lash was waiting patiently. The taller boy pushed open the door and we walked through together, though Speed still had a firm hold on me. All I could do was splutter in confusion as Lash held up my bag, which he had apparently retrieved.

"What the-" I asked confusedly, brow furrowed.

"I got it for ya," Speed replied dismissively when he noticed my confused expression.

"You went in my gym locker?" I cried, aghast. "That's like my personal stuff!"

"School books and a dress," Lash replied, eyebrows raised. "Yeah, really personal."

I flushed brightly and grabbed the bag from his outstretched hand, getting rather mad at this point. "How dare you! I don't even know you two and you just attack me on my first day of school, going on about how your moms want you to be friends with me, the poor little friendless girl! And now you're just going through my shit like you actually know me! Living on the same street doesn't make us friends, okay?"

Lash and Speed actually looked surprised when I screamed this in their faces, clutching my things to my chest as I ranted hysterically. When I was finally finished, chest heaving, I looked down at the ground and felt suddenly very mean; even though everything I'd said was quite true, it just seemed cruel to yell it in their faces. I knew it to be true that they'd never had any friends but one another and it was probably difficult to understand how to make another when they hadn't done so since first grade.

I let out a stream of breath and murmured earnestly, "Look, I'm sorry, but I've never been very good with people and having two guys just come up and say 'hey, be our friend' doesn't exactly work in my head."

Speed furrowed his blonde brow and crossed his arms, declaring strongly, "Well it's not like we wanted to just drag some girl along with us but we don't got a choice. We're still in deep shit for the whole 'Royal Pain' thing and we're just trying to get our parents off our backs. The way I see it, we can both get something out of this whole thing. Our parents leave us alone because we did what they wanted and your mom stops thinking your a social dumbass; mutual whatever, right?"

I looked at him levelly for a moment, wondering why his words didn't affect me in a negative manner; I mean, he was practically suggesting that we make our friendship a business agreement. A mutually beneficial business agreement with far more perks than downsides...

"I see what you're saying," I said quietly, nodding my head along with the idea. "Yeah," I muttered, voice getting stronger. "Win win situation."

"So as long as we spend a certain amount of time together at school and go over to each other's houses regularly, our parents'll get off our backs and we can go back to the way things used to be," Lash finished, shaking his black hair from his eyes; I'd already noticed him do this several times and chocked it up to some sort of tick.

"But let's face it," I said slyly, smiling turning upwards in a crafty crescent moon. "You've got more to lose than I do. I'm not the social retard my mom thinks; I could make a few friends if I really wanted to. But you two...you've beaten up everyone and their mom here. You wouldn't have a chance."

Lash and Speed's faces went blank for a split second before they began to understand that there was perhaps more to me than first met the eye. Lash narrowed his dark eyes and crossed his striped arms confrontationally, murmuring, "What are you getting at?"

"I'm just saying that you better be nice or you can say goodbye to your freedom," I replied, feeling quite unlike myself; I felt like a seductive temptress from the movies, the evil puppeteer who had the heroes in the palm of her hand. That was strange; when had I become the villain and them the heroes?

"You're good," Speed nearly spat, squinting one eye and widening the other; it made him look positively comical, as though he were thinking too hard.

"You're a little more...talkative than I expected you to be," Lash said, tossing his hair to the side and watching me curiously. "You don't seem like the friendless type."

"Welcome to Maxville public school, where the skinny raccoon-eyed blonde flourishes and the oak-tree redhead despairs in the AV lab," I half joked, reshouldering my bag as the awkwardness caught back up to me; the seductive movie woman disappeared behind a curtain of now very untamable red hair and I felt like the normal foot-in-my-mouth self.

"Well you're hardly the weirdest looking thing here," Speed assured me in what I suppose was meant to be an attempt at consolation. "I mean, there's that weird glowing kid and his girlfriend, the guinea pig. And I mean, Peace and his weird Goth shit...just weird, man."

Lash grinned and entered in, "And then there's Speed. Hang with us and no one's gonna be staring at you..."

"Shut up," Speed laughed with a grin as he reached over and began to give his friend a high-speed noogie, which looked very violent and disheveled Lash's already unkempt black hair to the point of unrecognizability.

I couldn't help but laugh at the two, marveling over how two supposed "bullies" could treat each other so lightly. "Yeah, you're right; as long as you two stand next to me, I'll know why the other kids are pointing and laughing."

The two boys looked almost stunned by this joke even as I laughed but soon they were laughing too. "Watch where you're steppin', Macharyas," Speed warned, grinning. "We're the Big Bads around here."

"Uhuh," I murmured as the bell rang down the hall, signaling the end of our first period class. "Well, I better get back to gym class before that weird gym teacher sends goons after me or something. I guess I'll see you two later?" It was so strange to finally say that to someone; I was most likely going to see these two later, as we were currently bound by contract, and it was reassuring.

"Yeah, later," Lash agreed, raising a hand in farewell as the two boys made their way towards whatever class they so desired. Something in me admired their freedom to roam, the way they didn't care about the consequences of their actions. But another part of me realized that the freedom Lash and Speed celebrated was fake; real life wasn't like that. They would end up either working low paying jobs or becoming super villains. It was a sad truth I'd just come to accept after watching my mother's friends function in the real superhero world. You couldn't make it as just anyone; you had to be the next Commander or Jetstream to really get anywhere these days. My parents were lucky and I knew it.

9191919

Lunchtime was the time I really dreaded most in school; it was the one part of the day when other students could really determine how many friends you had. I was unused to having company during school meals so when I stepped out of the lunch line and found Lash and Speed waiting for me not ten feet away, I smiled.

"Hey," I greeted lamely, finding it slightly pleasing as they smiled in return and jerked their heads towards a table. This was all so surreal, suddenly having friends whether or not we were part of an agreement of any kind.

My disillusionment happened right then.

"Out of the way, chump change," Speed barked at a freshman boy, zooming up to him and knocking his food to the floor. "This is our table."

Lash added in his two cents by stretching out a long striped arm and tripping the unfortunate freshman until he was laying in a pile of his own lunch. Several nearby students averted their eyes, as though afraid to meet eyes with Speed and Lash lest they be next. I watched the whole scene with little or no feeling, as I didn't know the boy and only cared a little what happened to him. The way I saw it, much worse things could've happened than him walking away with pasta-soaked trousers. At least I thought the main course was pasta...it appeared to be moving so I wasn't about to judge.

"Take a seat, Macharyas, and enjoy the sweet life," Speed practically crowed, setting down his enormous lunch bag and preparing to unwrap his many hoagies.

Lash did the same on the other side of the table, nodding for me to pull up a chair at the end. Trying to ignore the judgmental stares I was receiving from my peers, I sat in my specified chair and hefted my fork bravely, staring down the still moving lunchmeat. Was it...gurgling?

I poked it slightly, earning looks from both adjacent boys.

"Is it still bubbling?" Lash asked after a moment, staring quizzically down at the mystery meat.

"I think maybe," I mumbled. "Is it...pasta?"

"I was thinkin' casserole," Speed mused, leaning in closer to take a whiff of the concoction. He screwed up his nose and snorted. "Ugh, that ain't pasta or casserole. That's..."

"Enigmatic at best," I concluded. "This would be why all of the smart kids brought bag lunches. Okay; lesson learned."

I reached for the basket of crackers a little ways down the table but found myself unable to reach; Lash quickly remedied the situation with a simple arm stretch and I found myself momentarily blinded. The stripes on his arm certainly created an optical illusion when he used his powers like that.

"Here; my ma packed an extra sandwich by accident," Speed offered, sounding as though he were unused to offering anyone anything. He looked uncomfortably honest and it made me smile again; these boys were really growing on me.

"Sure; thanks. What kinda sandwich is it?" I asked curiously, unwrapping the hoagie and examining the insides.

"Roast beef, I think," Speed replied, shrugging; he only really cared about the Tuna sandwich he was currently emaciating.

I grinned. "I love roast beef, awesome."

"And if you like the inside of Oreos, you've got yourself dessert," Lash laughed, earning a laugh from his overweight friend.

I furrowed my brow; I was obviously an outsider to this particular joke. "Sorry, what was that?"

"Nothin', Speed and I only eat the cookie part and it used to piss off my mom," Lash explained dismissively, waving the subject away with his hand as he ate his own sandwich, which appeared to be peanut butter and jelly.

"That's funny," I said bewilderedly. "I only at the cream part and we always had left over cookies."

Speed and Lash blinked, exchanging glances. "Weird," Speed muttered finally.

And thus, in the strangest way possible, began the likewise strangest friendship the world has ever known. I can't say whether or not it started with them cheering for me at my placement test or when we discovered our symbiotic Oreo eating styles, but we were inseparable from that day on. I don't know what it was and maybe I still don't, but we complete each other. Speed and Lash were doing fine on their own before I ever came along but I seemed to add the neutrality they always wanted. Sure, they were going for the whole pretentious bit when they used the words "neutral third party," but that's exactly what I was. I was the final piece in the three-part puzzle of our intertwining live, no matter how corny it sounds. Freshman year was without a doubt the best year of my life so far, all the way from the day Speed and I got Lash striped underwear from his birthday to the day Speed tripped into my mom's Boston cream pie and we laughed for hours. I know it seems like I left out formative years of our relationship, but it was my sophomore year that was really important.

Sophomore year...it changed everything.

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If you've gotten here, that means you read my chapter and I thank you most sincerely! I would love to share this story with others because it just makes me feel like a million fuckin' bucks, so do me a favor and review, even if it's only one word or if its anonymous or you just type in your name. Just a word is all I ask!

KOLU