Title: More Than Human
Chapter 1: Just An Old Friend Coming Over, or Blood Never Forgets
Pairing: RrB/PpG
Rating: R, because they're teenagers and a good handful of them use terrible, filthy language.
Disclaimer: Pay your respect to Craig, not me.
Summary: There is no way I can make this sound original, ever. My attempt to write a believable RrB/PpG in high school fic. Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. - Camus
Notes: First and foremost and always for mathkid, who is constantly showing me that no matter how good I may think I am, I could always, always be better. And since that tends to work out for all parties involved, she deserves some major, major thanks. Comments appreciated :) 1/30/11 update – Fixed the formatting issues (again). Breaks now appear as they should.

More Than Human, Pt. 1 - Junior Spring Semester
Ch. 1 - Just An Old Friend Coming Over
or Blood Never Forgets

The landscape of Townsville unfurled like a winter blanket underneath the dim glow of the morning sun as they approached the city. Blossom rolled down the car window a tad just for an inhale of the crisp January air. Next to her, Buttercup was fiddling with the zippers of her backpack, while Bubbles manned the radio in the front seat next to the Professor.

"Pretty morning," Blossom said, more to herself than anything.

"I'd enjoy it more if I was asleep," Buttercup yawned, thumping her head against the window.

"For someone who usually has no problem making her six o'clock practices every morning, you sure like to complain," Bubbles observed.

The Professor sighed heavily, interrupting the litany of protests Buttercup was preparing to launch into. "Seniors in, what, eight months? I could've sworn I was just driving you guys to Townsville High's Freshman Orientation yesterday."

"If you got me a car you wouldn't have to drive us anywhere," Buttercup offered, her eyes lighting up.

"Nice try. You're still not getting a car till your 18th birthday," the Professor said grimly. Buttercup pouted. "Besides, I like driving you girls to school." He sighed again. "I was hoping I'd be able to do it a little longer."

Bubbles turned her attention from the stereo to him. "What do you mean, Professor?"

"Now, you girls know I won't be able to do this as often anymore," the Professor said slowly, and eyed his girls in the rearview mirror. "I've hit a sort of… 'rough spot' with work, and I'll have to put in more hours in the lab…"

Blossom met his eyes in the rearview and responded bravely, "Well, if it's for the good of the people, I'd say that isn't a problem."

"We'll miss you!"

"Bubbles, he'll be right downstairs," Buttercup said, exasperated. She watched the familiar flagpoles of the school come into view and continued, "Man, I'm gonna miss it when you've got this citywide security thing up and running and we're not needed to go out and fight crime anymore—"

"I'm sure you'll still do that, but I'd like you girls to live a little like… well, normal girls—"

Suddenly Buttercup's eyes went wide and she took a heroic dive into Blossom's lap.

"What are you doing?" Blossom cried, indignant.

"Not letting him see me!" Buttercup hissed, as if it were blatantly obvious.

Bubbles peered out the window and instantly said, "Hey, it's Mitch!"

"Stop looking at him, you idiot—DON'T WAVE! He'll know I'm IN HERE!"

Blossom was getting tired of having to be the sensible one. "Buttercup, this isn't a very judicious way to deal with a breakup."

"Did you ever date a friend, Blossom?" the girl in her lap snarled back.

"Will's my friend," Bubbles helpfully offered.

"You don't count. You make friends with rocks and trees, Pocahontas."

Bubbles turned to issue a sour look at Blossom's lap.

"Buttercup, I'd rather you sit up," Blossom said ominously. "That's new clothing you're wrinkling."

Buttercup responded by shifting aggressively against said new clothing.


"Professor, can you please let us off a little further down?"

The Professor sighed, "Buttercup…"

"Pleeeeeease? I really don't want to talk to him…"

With another one of those loving sighs he did so well, he pulled the car further up and let them off behind a conveniently large bush next to the entrance.

"I love you with all my heart," Buttercup said devoutly, and pecked him on the cheek before slipping out the door in a manner that she hoped epitomized stealth.

Bubbles kissed him too before whispering, "Just between you and me, I love you more."

As she left Blossom inched up and asked, "Is everything going okay with work?"

"I'm okay if you girls are okay with it," he answered, voice a little concerned. "Are you girls… okay?"

Blossom smiled and said, "We're okay if you're okay with it."

A swift peck on the cheek, a "Love you, bye," and Blossom stepped out into the frosty sunshine, the snow crunching underneath her new shoes.

Bubbles loved first days.

The way pockets of students clustered around them, socializing, laughing, catching up… the school was at its liveliest on first days, and Bubbles, well, loved life!

"I love life!" she announced to no one in particular, and Buttercup scowled beside her.

"Life sucks," she muttered. "I'm going to go find the boys."

"Mitch hangs out with the boys," Bubbles piped cheerily.

Buttercup considered. "I'll catch up with them later."

"I wonder where Will is," Bubbles wondered aloud, eyes shifting from crowd to crowd.

"Probably off making out with his football," Buttercup quipped, and Bubbles glared at her.

"Hush. I kiss that mouth, you know."

"Which only makes it more disgusting," Buttercup responded automatically.

"What are you two fighting about now?" Blossom interrupted, just as Bubbles caught Robin's eye and waved.

"Kissing dead pigs," Buttercup answered, and Blossom made a face.

"Hey girls!" Robin exclaimed, giving each of them a hug in turn. "Buttercup, you cut your hair!"

Buttercup mumbled something and rubbed her neck, the back of her hand brushing the chin length strands.

"Hi Robin." Blossom smiled as they pulled apart and asked, "So, how was the trip?"

"Eh, well, you know family get-togethers—after three days stuck together you're ready to go postal on 'em."

"Funny," Buttercup pondered, issuing a meaningful look at Bubbles. "I know exactly what you mean."

Something behind the girls suddenly caught Robin's attention, and with a quick glance at Buttercup she said loudly, "HELLO MITCH."

Buttercup's body gave a little jerk and she whipped around, coming face to face with The Ex.

"Hey Mitch!" Bubbles chirped, with a smug little grin on her face.

"Uh… hi," Buttercup mumbled, avoiding eye contact. She self-consciously twitched a hand toward her hair. "Um… how ya been?"

Mitch ignored her and told Blossom, "Principal's looking for you three."

Buttercup made an indignant sort of face while Blossom furrowed her brow. "What for?"

"Didn't say, but she seemed like she was in a hurry. I'd get to it if I was you."

Without casting so much as a look at Buttercup, he brushed past them, leaving the dark-haired girl scowling in his wake.

"Who… who does he think he is, ignorin' me like that?"

"Apparently your ex," Bubbles keenly observed, eliciting a death glare from Buttercup.

"I wasn't talking to you."

"Who were you talking to, then? Since, you know, Mitch wasn't listening."

"Girls, cut it out," Blossom said sharply. "C'mon. Robin, I guess we'll catch up with you later."

"Sure." Robin waved as they left. "And by the way Blossom, I love the outfit!"

A proud little smile lit up Blossom's face, to which Buttercup responded, "Too bad it does little to cover up your ego."

Bubbles decisively looked in the other direction as Blossom readied herself to deliver a sharp retort, but was distracted by an unknown student. The smile he flashed at Blossom was of bold, senior-worthy status, though judging by the books in his arms he couldn't have been more than a sophomore.

"Nice threads," he said affably, eyes lingering on her as he passed.

"Um, thanks," she said with a blush. For all the attention she got from the male gender, she still managed to look surprised every time instances like these occurred. And oh, did they occur. Frequently.

"Turn that over-conditioned, over-brushed, over-inflated red head of yours back around before you cause a collision," Buttercup snapped.

Blossom glared and said in a clipped voice, "Maybe if you paid more attention to making yourself presentable, you could spend less time being jealous of the attention I get."

"Like I'd be jealous of the kind of attention that gets girls kidnapped and ra—"

"Will!" Bubbles suddenly shrieked, bowling over Blossom in her rush to her boyfriend's extended arms.


Blossom and Buttercup, for all their differences, made faces of equal distaste at the generic and yet stomach-churning nickname that had been bestowed on their sister.

Blissfully unaware of their reactions, Bubbles laughed as she lightly kissed Will on the lips. "Hi!"

"Hey, so I saw your shoe ad on the way to school—"

Bubbles gasped and jumped back, her hands flying to her already reddening cheeks. "Oh my God! You didn't!"

"—And you just looked so hot on that billboard I couldn't wait to get here and see you," he finished, as Buttercup gagged in the background. Her ill-masked hacking drew his attention to the Powerpuffs he wasn't currently dating, and after a moment's thought, he added, "You two looked good too."

Blossom smiled politely. Buttercup bared her teeth in an overzealous simper before she resumed looking sick.

"So…" Will said, drawing out the word as he played with one of Bubbles' pigtails. "Wanna go—"

"Sorry, Will," Blossom interrupted, grabbing a very distracted Bubbles by the arm. "We're all supposed to be meeting with Ms. Keane right now."


"Yeah," Bubbles said, despondency settling over her features.

What should've ended the conversation there dragged out a minute longer than it had to, and Buttercup griped at length about it for the rest of their trek to Principal Keane's.

"You know, when I was dating, I didn't need to take an entire five minutes just to say 'Good-bye' to Mitch."

"I thought you didn't get the chance to," Bubbles shot back. "Since he did it first—"

"You're treading on thin ice, sister," Buttercup snarled.

Blossom sighed, again assuming the role of The Sensible One, and quietly marveled that the three of them could exude such polarities in their sisterly relationship. These insults and quibbles over boyfriends, current and former, had been nonexistent when she and Bubbles had opened the door over a month ago on a desolate Buttercup, reeling from immediate post-breakup trauma. Her first and only post-breakup trauma.

The passing thought that she was now the only sister who had yet to suffer from such an affliction inspired a twinge of jealousy. Of the three of them, she had expected Buttercup to be the last one to throw herself into any sort of romantic relationship, much less get depressed about it after throwing herself out.

As they reached the door to the Main Office and she shushed her sisters, she reassured herself that she had long ago decided that the tenuous nature of the High School Relationship was, while thrilling, undesirable on the whole, and that a mature young woman such as herself would only engage in one if a more than appropriate suitor showed up, one unfettered by High School Ignorance, High School Drama, and, over all things, High School Immaturity.

Of course, High School being High School, said suitor was long in coming.

Pushing these thoughts aside with much pragmatism, she gave her sisters one last look that urged them to Please, Be Serious for A Moment, and, stretching a concerned smile on her face, opened the door.

"Ms. Keane," she started, "you asked to see—"

But it wasn't Ms. Keane who greeted them, and the audience that did instigated an immediate defensive reaction. She and her sisters froze as the door shut behind them.

"What are you doing here." Blossom hated how her voice wavered when she said it. She could feel her sisters' muscles tense, in sync with her own.

Boomer leant against the wall, a lazy, haphazard grin on his face as his eyes flickered to the girls, then to his brothers. Butch had perched himself on the corner of the unoccupied secretary's desk, and, with a total lack of regard for personal space, was reaching for various items on its surface and casually examining them. He cast the girls a perfunctory glance, left his eyes on them long enough to smirk, then returned his attention to the nameplate in his hands.

Brick was the only one of them that stood rigid, with his hands in his pockets and his back facing them. He took a moment before slowly swiveling his head round and leveling his eyes with Blossom's. Unlike his brothers, there wasn't even the slightest trace of a smile on his face. His expression was cool, detached, and she almost shivered at the sight of it.

"What are you doing here," she repeated, but neither of his brothers looked back at them, and he only continued to stare.

"She asked you three a question," Buttercup chimed in, her voice hard. "If you aren't going to answer, then get the fuck out."

"Buttercup," Blossom said sternly, and that seemed to get their attention. Butch's gaze slid back up and focused on them, the ever-present smirk widening, while Boomer's eyes merely wandered back over.

Butch set down the nameplate with a thump and began to stand, and Brick turned his head to him and opened his mouth to speak—

A door in the back opened suddenly, and the plump little woman that was the office secretary came scurrying out. "Girls!" she cried, in a voice that was clearly attempting composure and failing impressively, "F-f-fantastic of you to come! Could I, um, maybe see you girls in Ms. Keane's office? Maybe? And, um—I'm sorry, please put that down, sir—"

Butch had picked up a heavy glass paperweight and was tossing it from hand to hand. He didn't look up. "'Sir,' huh?" He looked back at his brothers, grinning. "I'm gonna like it here."

Buttercup pushed forward and snatched the paperweight out of the air, slamming it back down on the desk and denting the wood. "Not for long," she said in a low voice. His lip curled into a sneer and he reached for the paperweight again.

"Girls!" Ms. Naylor squeaked. "Office, please?"

Blossom glanced at Bubbles, then started to follow Ms. Naylor down the hall. Buttercup held back, eyes hard, then finally shouldered past Butch and followed in her sisters' wake.

Butch resumed smirking at his brothers as the door in the back shut. "Off to a great start."

"You're such a jackass," Boomer laughed, turning his eyes to the windows that overlooked the first story of the school.

Brick sighed and lifted his cap for a brief moment to run his hand through his hair. "This was a terrible idea," he muttered, a grim look on his face. If his brothers had heard him, they didn't pay him any mind.

"The redhead's even better looking in person," he heard Butch say conspiratorially to Boomer, and Brick instantly made a threatening noise in the back of his throat as he directed a glare at the two of them.

"Don't even think about it."

"I'm just sayin'!" Butch said defensively, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Just pointing out why exactly I'm gonna like it here."

"What the hell are those three doing in our school?" Buttercup's shriek carried well into the main part of the office.

Butch threw back his head and laughed. "Really. I'm really gonna like it here."

"Buttercup, watch your language," Blossom growled through gritted teeth.

Bright green eyes flashed back at her, but Buttercup clamped her mouth shut.

Bubbles held a hand over her mouth, brow knit deep in thought. "Shouldn't someone be keeping an eye on them out there?"

"Bubbles is right," Buttercup immediately chimed in. "This is a public school. High school, no less. We've got enough idiots running around, we don't need idiots with superpowers adding to it."

Blossom took a deep breath and focused on Ms. Naylor, who continued to wring her hands nervously and looked anxiously from Powerpuff to Powerpuff to Powerpuff and back.

"Ms. Naylor," Blossom started slowly, and three pairs of eyes immediately swept to her.

Blossom made sure to keep her tone cool, composed. "What are these three doing in the school?"

Ms. Naylor drew herself up fretfully and attempted a voice as steady as Blossom's. "Well, girls, recently there was a bit of redistricting of the… the school districts, and as it is, these boys will be attending our school as a result—"

"But the Rowdyruff Boys haven't been around for a long time," Bubbles interjected. "We haven't seen them around, period, for the last, like, five years."

"And we even went looking for them," Buttercup added. "And nothing. We thought they'd jumped town."

"They did," Blossom said thoughtfully. "We scoured the town for them for weeks, and kept coming up empty."

"So what are they doing back?" Bubbles asked, and was met with silence.

Ms. Naylor coughed uncomfortably, and each girl broke out of their thoughts, directing their attention to her. She had a distasteful look on her face, as if she was going to regret what she was about to say. "We've been assured in an anonymous letter that the boys are going to behave, but…"

"But you don't trust whoever sent it," Blossom finished flatly.

The nervous woman nodded.

"And you want us to keep an eye on them."

She nodded again.

Blossom took a deep breath. "Does Principal Keane know about this?"

Suddenly the woman in question emerged, looking weary and a little frustrated. "I know about it, alright," she muttered, then held out a sheaf of papers to the girls. "Ms. Naylor, you're excused. Here, girls."

The three of them obediently took them. "What's this?" Buttercup asked suspiciously, stepping aside so Ms. Naylor could exit the office.

"Your new schedules," Ms. Keane said, and the girls immediately snapped their heads up. "In order for us to keep tabs on the boys at all times, we've readjusted your schedules—"

"What?" Buttercup and Bubbles exclaimed as one. Blossom simply resumed studying her schedule, brow furrowed.

"I know, girls," Ms. Keane sighed.

"That's not fair!" Buttercup cried.

"You haven't even taken a good look at yours yet, Buttercup," Ms. Keane grumbled, wrinkling her nose. "You'll probably prefer it to your old one."

Blinking, Buttercup looked back at the papers in her hand.

"Ms. Keane," Blossom said slowly, eyes glued to her schedule, "my classes are all the same."

"I've been dropped from all my pre-AP classes," Buttercup said, trying to mask her glee. She'd only signed up for them at the Professor's insistence, and the joy in her voice was unmistakable. At Blossom's glare, though, she adopted a more solemn expression.

Bubbles was staring at hers, looking a little hurt. "I don't… my lunch is different. I can't eat with Will." She was holding two sheets in her hand, and her eyes darted from one to the other. "And… how come I have two different first periods?"

The look on Ms. Keane's face was suddenly soft and apologetic. "Well, honey, I'm afraid that with this adjustment, you'll have to give up one of your electives—"

"I have to choose between Honors Chorale and Cheer Squad?" Bubbles said, voice rising in pitch and sounding distressed. "I can't have both?"

"I'm sorry, Bubbles," Ms. Keane said, meaning it.

"But… but Buttercup and Blossom get to keep theirs!"

Buttercup raised a hand. "Um, actually, I was dropped from those Pre-AP classes—"

"You weren't even looking forward to those," Bubbles said bitterly. "Ms. Keane, I don't get it! How come you can't drop Buttercup from, from Basketball, or Blossom from—"

"Bubbles, I'm sorry, I did want it to be fairer, but the superintendent… well, your sisters just… happen to really excel in their school activities—"

The stunned look on the blonde's face silenced her. "I still don't get it…"

"Because I make high grades and Buttercup wins athletic competitions," Blossom interjected, trying to keep her voice neutral. "And that brings the school a lot of prestige."

Buttercup looked a little pleased with herself all the sudden, while Bubbles was clearly hurt. "But… I've been on the Cheer Squad since I was a freshman." She looked down at her schedules again. "And… I just got into Honors Chorale… I had to audition and everything…"

"You have to choose, Bubbles," Ms. Keane said firmly.

The poor girl didn't seem to have any idea which option would be worse. Blossom gently put a hand on Bubbles' shoulder and asked Ms. Keane, "So what classes do we share with the boys?"

Ms. Keane bit her lip, looking apologetic again. "Well, it's just Buttercup and Bubbles, actually, who share classes with the boys." Before the shocked girls could interrupt again, Ms. Keane hurriedly elaborated, "Blossom is in all the Advanced Placement courses, and we can't place any of the boys in those—"

"You can't bump her out?" Buttercup cried, and Blossom and Ms. Keane gave her a sharp look.

"They didn't bump you out of Basketball or Volleyball for the exact same reason," Blossom said sternly.

"Yeah, but..." Buttercup trailed off, unsure how to continue. "Well, it just isn't fair."

"Gee, it sure isn't, huh Buttercup," Bubbles said in a monotone, clearly feeling no sympathy.

Blossom's face was still serious as she looked at Buttercup. "Are you saying you need help watching them?" she ventured cautiously.

Buttercup's offended glare was enough of an answer. "Don't even joke."

Ms. Keane was looking at Bubbles again. "Have you made a choice yet, Bubbles? Choir or Cheerleading?"

Bubbles closed her eyes and sighed, handing one of the schedules back to Ms. Keane. Ms. Keane glanced at it and grinned. "Dr. Wendell will be delighted to add your voice to the choir."

"Yeah," Bubbles mumbled. "But Coach Morris is going to kill me."

"He'll get over it, sweetie," Ms. Keane assured her. The smile on her face dissolved as she glanced at the door.

Blossom gave her a wry smile. "Wishing you were back teaching Kindergarten about now?"

The Principal sighed and rolled her eyes. "Believe it or not, Blossom, when you get right down to the heart of it, kindergarteners and high schoolers have a lot more in common than you'd think."

The boys were almost exactly as they'd left them. Blossom stepped ahead of her sisters as they filed back into the main office, taking care to look all three of them in the eye. Butch winked as their eyes met, and she felt Buttercup bristle behind her.

Ms. Keane came forward to stand between them and extended a palm to indicate each of the boys in turn. "Boomer, Brick, Butch." She indicated the girls. "Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup. Though I'm sure you don't exactly need a formal introduction."

"Thank you, Ms. Keane," Blossom said, and locked eyes with Brick. His gaze hardened.

Ms. Keane cleared her throat and continued. "Now, boys, I feel it's only fair to let you all know that, save for your free periods which are to be spent here in the office for the first few weeks, the girls will be sharing regular classes with you—"

Brick's jaw went tight, Blossom noted.

"Not that we don't feel you're... trustworthy—"

"Ha!" Butch laughed.

"But we just want to ensure everyone's safety. I'm sure you understand?"

"Perfectly," Brick said quietly.

Ms. Keane's smile was thin. "Wonderful. I don't think there's anything to worry about, honestly. The girls will be sure to give you more space in time, based on good behavior, of course."

"I'm sure they could show us a thing or two about good behavior," Butch leered.

"Don't encourage us," Buttercup snarled.

"Anyway," Ms. Keane interrupted, "since we're none of us enemies here—"

Butch and Buttercup snorted and scoffed, respectively.

"—The least we can do is be civil and treat each other with respect and dignity," she continued, raising her voice a little as she glared at the two of them.

"That won't be a problem, Principal Keane," Blossom answered.

"My thoughts precisely," Brick agreed, his voice a near-growl. Neither broke eye contact, not even to glance at their siblings.

"Now, I know it'll seem a little juvenile to do so, but I'd like us all to shake on it." Ms. Keane's crisp tone was punctuated by an indication of her hand between the two parties.

Brick's face twitched, a brief hesitation, and Blossom instantly extended her hand, trying to keep the triumphant sneer from her expression. The look of disgust that replaced his surprise felt like sweet victory. She allowed her Politican's Smile to creep onto her face as she opened her mouth to say—

"We respectfully decline." Buttercup's voice suddenly cut through the air, twisting like a knife in Blossom's gut. She whirled around to face her sister, but Buttercup's eyes were dark and focused intently on the trio opposite them. "Respectfully," she added, her lip curling.

Blossom narrowed her eyes at Buttercup, but she still paid her no mind.

"Respectfully accepted." The tone of Brick's voice was sickeningly smug, and as Blossom turned back to him she caught the faintest glimmer of satisfaction flashing across his face before it resumed its compassionless expression. "Till class, then."

Like Ms. Keane, Blossom was shocked at the sheer… audacity of what had just taken place. Worse yet, this unspoken battle had just ended in a draw for her.

Unacceptable, she thought, as Brick curtly nodded at Ms. Keane and turned for the door.


"Hey." Her concentration was shattered by Butch's sudden attention, and he sneered at her before he could step out the door. "I love your outfit."

Then his eyes lingered, and then they lingered, and before she had the sense to react appropriately he was already gone.

Blossom whirled on Buttercup, livid. "Do you have any idea what you just did?" she hissed.

"I got them out of my sight," Buttercup grumbled. "Mission accomplished."

"Except that that's the exact opposite of what we're supposed to do," Bubbles interjected. Ms. Keane started to herd the girls back out into the school.

"Bubbles is right," Blossom said in a low voice as they nodded at the Principal and huddled in the hall. "Keep an eye on them. Don't let a single one of them out of your sight." A city full of aging villains and a maturing superhero team saw less and less action these days. The girls' skills had only improved as they grew, and their relentless patrolling of the city had discouraged fledgling villains from emerging. With the boys back now, though...

Blossom was already planning emergency weekend training in her head. They couldn't afford to be complacent at a time like this. Occasional monster attacks would not keep them fresh enough if the boys decided to stir up trouble.

She shook her head and looked each of her sisters in the eye, in turn. "I'm going to see you guys later," Blossom said distractedly. "I really—really—need to go wind down some before dance starts."

Buttercup and Bubbles nodded, watching their leader as she crossed the school atrium and turned the corner that would take her through the gym and to the small dance studio. The boys were clustered at the north end of the big space. The one in green turned his head, watching Blossom disappear down the hall. Buttercup made a noise that was somewhere between a growl and a snarl.

"What do you think they're doing back?" Bubbles said as Boomer caught sight of the two of them and gave them a friendly wave. They ignored him.

Buttercup thought for a long moment. "I don't know," she finally said, eyes on Brick as he stared off into space, his attention far away. "But something tells me this is gonna be one hell of a semester."

Blossom grabbed a CD out of her locker and made her way to the empty studio. The smile was on her face before she even set foot on the hardwood. She slipped her CD into the stereo and studied her expression in the mirror.

The boys were manageable. Maybe. Hopefully. They just had to keep on their toes—So to speak, she reflected, bouncing on her little stumps for feet. The music started up and she shook out her limbs, and within minutes she was stretching her tension away, a blissful smile on her face as she danced through the studio, with Brick, Boomer, and Butch the least of her concerns.

After about twenty minutes or so, other girls in the Townsville High Dance Company began filtering in. Some joined Blossom in warming up, while others started stretching in social little pockets along the wall.

"Hey, Junior Lieut." Blossom looked up as Alicia, the Major, joined her. "You're looking far, far away this morning."

Blossom sighed. The Company Director walked into the studio, clapping for the girls to come to attention—the Dance IV class would be joining them soon, she was saying. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Just... a lot on my mind."

"Blossom!" The Director, Mrs. Olson, waved at her, and she dutifully came running. Mrs. Olson handed her a folder. "Do me a favor?"

"Ohhhh, damn." Butch eyed Blossom from across the atrium with much appreciation. "That girl's got her glow on."

Boomer and Brick looked up, the former with more interest than the latter. "You think?"

He turned back towards them with a knowing look as the first bell rang. "The bounce in her step? That smile? That little 'hip thing' she's doin'? Hah! I know post-coital bliss when I see it, and she's radiating it in tidal waves." He looked at her again as she made her way to the East Hall, oblivious to the attention. "Wonder who she's been banging in the locker rooms."

"Blossom? The girl doesn't strike me as the type," Boomer said, amused.

"Type or no, she's smokin' up and down the hall," Butch said, observing the heads that turned as she maneuvered her way through the crowds. "If I want a slice of that, I gotta move fast."

Brick rolled his eyes. "Good luck getting her to 'serve' it to you," he said derisively.

"Always such a pessimist." With a smirk and a nod at his brothers, Butch strode off, a predatory glint in his eye.

"Well, at least Butch is having fun," Boomer remarked, turning to Brick.

"As long as there are skirts to chase, of course he's gonna have fun."

Boomer eyed his brother. "For someone who's supposed to be 'on vacation,' you don't seem like you're having any fun."

Brick sighed. "You. You're a freakin' rocket scientist, Boomer. Now get your ass to class. I'll catch you later."

Butch loved walking past people.

He loved the way they scampered out of the way as they saw him coming, fled to corners and walls like the pests they were. He loved how still and silent they got as he breezed past them, as if he was royalty. More than anything, though, he loved how they would instantly explode into ill-masked whispers and chatter the moment they thought he was out of earshot.

Butch simply loved being the center of attention.

Blossom continued on ahead of him, unaware of her pursuer or the hungry spark in his eye. She disappeared as she rounded a corner, and as Butch approached and rounded it himself—

Buttercup stood leaning against the corner, that murderous look in her eyes again.

His shoes squeaked against the tile in his effort to avoid a head on collision. "Well."

"Stay away from her," Buttercup growled.

He smirked. "Who?"

"I saw the way you were eyeing her from the second story landing," she explained, jerking her head upward. "And don't even think about it."

"You know, I think about a lot of things," Butch shrugged nonchalantly. "Which thought should I not be thinking right now?"

Buttercup straightened and took a threatening step forward. "Anything involving my sister," she said in a dark voice.

Butch considered. "And the ones that involve you?"

"Unless they involve me kicking your ass, I recommend you avoid thinking about those, too," she snarled. "Now get the hell out of here."

He lowered his head and preened. "Make me."

Buttercup glowered at him before making a sudden grab at the back pocket of his jeans and snaking away from him to examine his schedule.

Butch blinked in surprise and gave her an appreciative look. He hadn't even managed to slip a thinly veiled suggestive comment at what had appeared to be Buttercup copping a feel before she'd kleptoed his schedule.

"That was a slick move," he admired, and her eyes flicked to him but she mostly ignored him.

Suddenly her eyes widened. "Oh, you've gotta be BS'ing me." She looked up. "This is your next class."

He snatched his schedule back and confirmed it with a glance. "Huh! What a coincidence." His eyes narrowed and shifted back to hers, a sly grin on his face. "So I guess I'll just go spend some 'quality time' with Blossom—"

"Excuse me?" Blossom said from behind him, suspicion etched all over her face.

"Speak of the hot, post-coital devil," Butch chirped. "Do tell, who was the lucky guy?"

She granted him a steely look and shouldered past him. "Buttercup, good luck."

Buttercup looked like she was going to be sick. Blossom grabbed her hand and squeezed it reassuringly before briskly walking back down the hall, issuing another glare at Butch as she passed.

He was baffled. "Where are you going?"

She turned and gave him a funny look. "Back to class!"

"What? You mean this isn't it?"

She came to a full stop and appeared to struggle with the thought of answering him. "I was just dropping something off."

Butch turned his gaze on Buttercup. "Then why did you make such a big deal about this being my next class?"

"Because," Buttercup said in a flat, miserable tone, "this is my next class."

So much for the hot, fiery redhead suffering from post-coital glow.

"I cannot believe my luck," Buttercup said wretchedly as she shuffled past him into the room.

Butch stared remorsefully at Blossom's hot, retreating back. Oh, those hips. Those legs! Those… hips and legs! "You kiddin' me?" he wailed. "I can't believe mine."

Blossom would've been a far preferable classmate than Buttercup. The latter had the personality of a rabid pitbull and was particularly prone to flying off the handle any time Butch made the tiniest expression of interest in the female form. Her mood did not improve when he asked her why the leash around her neck was missing.

It was a simple question, and it wasn't his safety he was concerned about, but rather, the numerous pieces of feminine eye candy that were bound to get in the way if she suddenly decided to go all Psycho Bitch on his ass. The rabid pitbull did not appreciate the comment.

This went on for two classes—they shared both English and Chemistry together. Both his brothers were in the former, but as luck would have it Butch and Buttercup were seated right next to each other, ensuring she aimed most of her foaming in his direction. At least he'd managed to edge Brick between them for Chemistry so her attention was more evenly split between the two of them, leaving Butch free to ogle the finer looking girls when she was busy glaring at his brother. Eventually the bell signaling the end of second period rang, and judging from the direction they were all headed, they shared the early lunch period.

They lost each other in the crowd of students on the way to the cafeteria, and as fun as it was to antagonize a snarling dog, Butch was secretly glad to be out of her sight. He bypassed the line in favor of finding a seat, sweeping his gaze over the crowded lunchroom. As it had been in the classrooms, several students gave him looks ranging anywhere from wary to curious to curious-and-then-some, with the final category containing a remarkably high percentage of the female student body. He suddenly felt terribly pleased with himself.

"Okay, that shit in there they're calling food? Not eating it," Brick's somber voice suddenly growled beside him, and to Butch's dismay the faces that had been furtively tilted in his direction were now expressing either abject terror or an emotion that went far past curious-and-then-some territory. He turned and scowled at Brick. His brother had an uncanny knack for inspiring those kinds of reactions wherever he went.

"I'm going to go out and get something that doesn't make me want to throw up," Brick muttered, and started heading for the doors.

"I'd ask you to get me something," Butch started—

"And I'd tell you to 'fuck off,'" Brick retorted—

"Except we're not supposed to leave the building," Butch interrupted smugly, smirking as his brother stopped and tensed. "You must be in a bad mood if I'm having to remind you about direct orders—"

"Orders from who?"

The boys turned to see Buttercup, angry sparks in her eyes as she looked from one to the other.

Brick grimaced while Butch sneered, "Your Principal."

"I was only asking to be polite," she snarled back. "Now sit down."

"Pass," Brick said, suddenly disinterested. "I'm going to the library."

"No lunch?" Buttercup asked suspiciously.

"If that's what you're calling that garbage they're serving, then no," he said abruptly.

She scrutinized him a second longer, then caught sight of Bubbles entering the cafeteria. She raised her hand. "Bubbles! Get over here."

Bubbles, who'd been chatting happily amongst friends, visibly stiffened when she saw the audience that accompanied Buttercup.

"Yes, Buttercup?" she said warily as she approached, eyeing the boys.

Buttercup jerked her head in Brick's direction. "Save your lunch for Art. Right now you need to escort this guy to the library."

Several expressions were thrown at her at once: nervous shock from Bubbles, indignant fury from Brick, and ill-reserved glee from Butch.

"Dude! You've got a babysitter!" he cackled.

"Shut up," Brick and Buttercup said in unison, voices equally dark.

Brick turned to Bubbles, who recovered from her initial surprise and met his condescending gaze with level eyes.

The adorable blonde girl astonished everybody as she indicated the door and said flatly, "After you."

"Hey," Boomer said amicably as he came up. "What's up?"

"You know, I've only got one class with you so far, and I'm already sick of seeing that stupid grin on your face," Buttercup grumbled, narrowing her eyes at him.

"You're coming with us to the library," Brick told him, and Boomer's face fell. Buttercup caught the sudden nervousness that flickered across her sister's face and tried to give her a reassuring look.

"But I'm starving!" Boomer protested.

"Deal." With a final chilling glare at the lot of them, Brick brushed past them, Bubbles determinedly on his heels. Boomer bit his lip, then sighed and dutifully followed.

Now a party of two, Buttercup turned to Butch. "And you?" she said brusquely. "Are you eating or not?"

He gave her a long look before turning to the set of vending machines not two steps away. After acquiring a bag of chips he smirked back at her as he popped it open. "I am."

"Clever choice," she admitted.

"So I take it you're my babysitter?" Butch said conversationally.

"Don't call me that," Buttercup snapped. "Go find a seat."

Butch shrugged. "Whatever you say, Mom." He smirked as he walked forward, feeling her glaring daggers into his back. With their banter having reached a standstill, both were suddenly aware of the tense, dead silence in the cafeteria and every other student's eyes on them.

Buttercup's face suddenly did this weird, scary thing—he could feel it, even though he couldn't see it—and suddenly the cafeteria exploded into typical high school socializing, with some strange, stilted undercurrent that seemed to intensify as the two of them approached the tables.

Butch was suddenly reminded of his mission, and studied the clusters of students they passed. Jocks, no; geeks, God no; cheerleaders—eventually yes, but for now no. He needed someone who could feed him essential information, better yet, a group of someones who could tell him exactly what he needed to know.

"Pick up the pace," Buttercup snapped impatiently behind him. "You've cut into enough of my lunch period as it is."

He would've thrown a retort back at her, but he suddenly found himself staring at precisely the clique he had been looking for, seated just east of primo cafeteria parking. Good. Neither distinctly popular nor so far off the beaten path that they were relegated to the ass end of the cafeteria.

The group of guys he was advancing towards ceased their conversation. With one of those amicable-yet-threatening smiles he did so well, he nodded at an empty seat and said, "Make some room?"

The guy next to it exchanged a brief glance with the rest of the group, flicked his eyes behind Butch, then said carefully, "Sure."

Success. Butch sat down and inclined his head in some semblance of a greeting, then noticed that—save for the boy who'd spoken—everyone's eyes were on Buttercup. He turned. Apparently she'd stopped a few spaces back, and the expression on her face was suddenly guarded.

He blinked, then sneered, "Join us?"

She visibly stiffened. With a dark look in his direction, she said, "I can watch you just as easily from the other end of the room," and turned away, waving at a group a couple of tables down.

"Hmph." He turned back to the group to find all pairs of eyes darting glances at the guy beside him.

Butch could only take so much strange, uncomfortable silence. "So I'm Butch," he finally said, emptying a handful of chips into his mouth.

The guys fell into line. That was more like it.



"Twins," the guy next to the twins clarified. "I'm Harry."

"Mike," said the only guy who looked completely out of place, owing to the letter jacket draped over his shoulders.

"I'm Mitch." The guy sitting beside him was still eyeing him warily. "Um… how's it going?"

"Great. But look, I'm gonna be straight with you all, I don't do small talk. I zeroed in on you because I need some information."

"Oh, geez." Mike, on the other side of Mitch, made a bit of a groaning noise, while the other four suddenly seemed very on edge.

"What kind of 'information?'" Mitch asked, eyes a little wild with suspicion.

"Drugs?" Lloyd asked, and Harry whacked him in the arm.

Butch shook his head. "Not drugs, but remind me to ask you about that later."

"Look, we're not a gang or anything," Mitch started—

"I couldn't give a shit about that," Butch said dismissively. "Believe it or not, I'm not actually here to make trouble." He paused. "Sort of. Anyway, I need you guys to break down the real estate here for me."

"'Real estate?'" All of them were exchanging befuddled glances now.

"Girls," Butch said plainly. "Break down the food chain for me, and start at the top."

Mitch continued with the suspicious looking. "What's your angle?"

Butch snorted, as if it were obvious. "I'm not even going to try to make that sexual. I told you, I just want you guys to tell me who's on the list of Girls Worth the Time of Day, starting with the ones at the top."

"Starting with Untouchables?" Floyd said incredulously.

"Yes. Wait, Untouchables? What exactly does that mean?"

The other twin considered for a moment. "Untouchables are... basically the ones who are way out of everyone's league. You know, like super high standards, they rarely ever date..." He exchanged more uncomfortable looks with the rest of the guys. "You really want us to start there?"

"Why not? We all need a goal in life, don't we?" Butch grinned. "I wanna know who the hottest girls in the school are—seriously, the ones that every single guy in this room would give his left nut to be with."

The guys exchanged looks. "Well, if you really want to know," Harry said, hesitant, "it's the Girls."

After a moment, Butch furrowed his brow. "Um, which girls, dude."

"No, he means, The Girls," Floyd said.

"The Powerpuff Girls," Lloyd added.

Butch wrinkled his face, recalling his previous episodes with Buttercup. They weren't fucking serious, were they? "You're not fucking serious, are you?" he scoffed. "I mean, shit, I won't argue with you about Blossom, and Bubbles I can get, but Buttercup? Really?"

Every guy at the table suddenly seemed very defensive. "Look, man, you haven't been around for a few years or something, right?" Lloyd pointed out. "Those girls are, like, prime."

"I mean, the thing with Bubbles is a little weird—she's not really an Untouchable, but she's still crazy cute and looks fantastic in her Cheerleading uniform."

"And Blossom's like a fucking dream—she's insanely smart, right, but she's hot, like, one look at her and you're sunk, you know—"

"Great walk—"

"And oh man, wait till you see her dance—"

"But what about Buttercup?" Butch snorted, darting a glance at the surly girl who was glaring at him from across the cafeteria. "Are you seriously telling me that she's got a spot on top of this list?"

The guys all looked very grim. Mitch took a loud slurp of his soda.

Harry sighed. "She's the freaking star athlete of the school, man."

"She's a bit of a hardass."

"She's a bit kickass, really."

"She doesn't take shit from anyone."

"She acts like she's one of the guys."

"Dude, there're even chicks who dig her."

"Do you really expect me to be surprised by that?" Butch said dryly.

"Look look look," Floyd interrupted, shaking his head and holding up his hands. "The point is, even though she's, um, the 'scariest' one of the three, and the one most likely to rip your balls off if you get near her, the girl definitely qualifies as Prime Real Estate."

"Like Dream House Real Estate."

"Like you've got better odds at winning the Lotto than this piece of property."

Butch was laughing, incredulous. "I don't—"

"Look at it this way," Harry pointed out. "The fact is, the three of them are celebrities. They're public figures. Good looking public figures. Good looking public figures that fight monsters and protect the city."

"And look good doing it," Floyd added, in case Butch hadn't gotten the memo.

"They're famous," Harry continued. "They're popular. I mean, they do freaking everything—one's a cheerleader, one's an athlete, one's a freaking genius, and they just got this crazy high profile endorsement gig over the summer and that's just like the tip of the iceberg. They're so far out of everyone's league that it's impossible for them not to be considered Prime Real Estate."

"Have you seen those ads? For the shoes?"

"Oh Jesus, I love those shoe ads…"

"Those things were advertising shoes? I thought they were advertising wet dreams."

"And the city puts them all over everything."

"Butch, you have to admit that a girl who can kick your ass, while frightening and emasculating on the one hand, is sickeningly hot and sexy on the other," Mike pointed out, finally joining in the conversation. "So Buttercup might not float every guy's boat, but for a lot of the guys in the room, she's definitely worth losing your left nut over."

"Plus I've heard rumor her secret power is in her tongue," Lloyd said solemnly.

The other side of the table seemed to take a moment in silent contemplation of the thought. Butch, Mitch, and Mike only stared at their slack expressions.

"So, okay, the Girls are cream of the crop here," Butch finally conceded. He took a moment to reminisce about the heavenly vision that was Blossom's legs as they (unfortunately) carried her away from him.

Harry shrugged. "Bubbles is probably your easiest shot. Though she's ever only dated jocks."

"That stems more from a lack of other guys asking her," Mike immediately said.

"Says the one jock at the table who's ever dated her," muttered Mitch.

"Hey, I'm just saying I know her, we're old friends, you know—"

Butch wasn't really interested. "And Buttercup and Blossom are definitely Untouchables—one because she's a Scary Psycho Freak Who Devours Men Whole, and the other because…" He paused. "Hold up. Why exactly is Blossom considered an Untouchable?"

"Dude," Harry groaned. "Didn't we just tell you like five seconds ago?"

"No man, I mean, what's her deal? Who does she date?"

"Nobody," the guys all said in unison.

"And it's not for lack of trying," Floyd said. "Guys are always asking her out. She just always says, 'No.'"

"Hell if we know why," Lloyd shrugged.

Mitch suddenly stood, wiping his hands on his jeans. "I'll see you guys later. I wanna beat the Lunch rush when the bell goes off." After a pause, he said, "Nice meeting you."

Butch waved distractedly in the boy's direction. "Huh," he said thoughtfully as Mitch edged out behind him. "I never would've guessed Buttercup would classify as an Untouchable." He made a face.

The guys kept exchanging looks. Butch stared at them. "What the fuck? Do you all have a mad boner for her or something?"

"No," Floyd, Lloyd, and Harry all said simultaneously, vigorously shaking their heads.

Mike moved over, taking Mitch's seat so he was sitting right next to Butch. "She just used to hang with us guys."

Butch looked up in surprise. "What?"

The twins shifted in their seats. "She used to hang with us," Floyd repeated. "We were a... really tight group."

"It's actually kinda weird, not having her sit with us," Harry said, chancing a glance in her direction.

"Huh. Guess I fucked it up for the group today, yeah?" Butch smirked.

Harry shook his head. "No fucking way she'd sit here anyway. Not after the breakup."

"'Breakup?'" Butch's jaw dropped and he gaped at the lot of them, disbelief all over his face. "Didn't you just say she was an Untouchable? I thought she didn't date anyone?"

The guys on the other side of the table clamped their mouths shut.

"Oh, fuck you all," Butch said. "Don't you dare leave me hanging after that."

All of them, Mike included, looked like they were weighing their options: whether to get the information pummeled out of them by Butch now, or the information pummeled back in by Buttercup later.

Mike sighed and said, "Well, the way news travels here, you'd find out by the end of the day anyway. She's only ever dated one guy, and it basically went down in epic flames."

"So who the fuck was it?"

If the guys exchanged another look Butch was going to kick all their asses on general principle. They all adopted grim expressions, and Mike finally nodded in the direction of the door. "He just left the table."

Bubbles stared at the boy next to her as they settled in for their last class. She'd gotten relatively lucky—excluding Art, there was only one class today that she shared by herself with one of the boys, and that was Algebra II with Boomer, who seemed the tamest of the three of them. Bubbles and Buttercup both had History with all three, and judging from how she was acting by the end of class, Buttercup's patience was already wearing thin. Something in the back of Bubbles' mind figured there was a reason they'd opted to place the boys in more classes with Buttercup over Bubbles, and while she couldn't say she was disappointed, she definitely felt offended.

All thoughts of that variety, though, were far away as she took in Brick, looking... out of place in the Art room with her. Not that he didn't belong physically, just... Bubbles was suddenly very interested in seeing the portfolio he must've submitted to place in Art IV immediately as a new student.

"When they told you to watch me," he abruptly said, jarring her from her internal thoughts, "they didn't mean, 'literally.'" He issued a pointed glare at her—trying to intimidate her, she realized. He'd done it earlier, too, when he'd dragged Boomer along to the library; he must've thought she'd crumble like a little girl in the face of two big, scary boys.

Bubbles frowned. Everybody was always underestimating her, she bitterly reflected. Well, the hell with them.

"I know," she said slowly, mirroring his cold tone. "I was only wondering how an evil criminal like you could possibly have any beauty in him worthy of being considered art."

That struck a nerve. He set his jaw and growled, "You'd be surprised."

"Oh, I'm sure," she agreed, sarcasm curling around every syllable. The look of hatred he issued in her direction as the teacher called class to attention felt deliciously deserved and, oddly, refreshing.

The end of the day couldn't come soon enough.

Brick wasn't bothering with his books; he'd expected high school to pose some sort of challenge but clearly that was not going to be the case. He stashed them into his locker with a look of disgust for good measure and slammed it shut, figuring he wouldn't be seeing it again till the end of the school year.

The chilling reminder that he was stuck here—here, for fuck's sake—for another five months only further soured his mood. The girls, too—with Buttercup and Bubbles breathing down his neck all day, it was all he could do to keep from going postal. He hated being watched when he hadn't solicited the attention. His pissiness rose off of him in waves, frightening, sinister, hostile waves, and those with proper senses of intuition wisely edged around him as he made his way to the nearest exit.

He glimpsed Boomer studying a bulletin board, his blue eyes intense. Brick shouldered his brother as he stopped next to him, jarring him from his daze. "What's up."

Boomer shot Brick an impish grin. "My ticket to High School Stardom. 'Scuse me, bro, I'm gonna run."

Before he could weasel an explanation from him, Boomer had jetted off and through the doors of the rapidly depopulating school. Brick turned and scanned the board for what had held his brother's attention—

"I'm warning you."

Brick squinted his eyes and groaned, thumping his head against the board. Jesus bleeding Christ. "What. The fuck. Do you want."

"I want you to watch your language, for one thing," Blossom said in a clipped tone.

Boomer shifted his cargo into a more comfortable position on his back, nodding amiably at the jittery security guards the city had stationed around their complex. Brick had said something about them being around for the first two weeks in some pathetic effort to make sure the boys weren't that eager to cause trouble. They may as well have sent a kindergarten class, seriously. As if twenty grown men would be able to stop the Boys if they really felt like starting something…

He shook his head clear and took off, taking a moment to get his bearings in the sky. He hadn't been here for a few years and was readjusting to the layout of this city, after all, but he could read a map well enough… There, in a suburb literally next door to Townsville High. That was the place. If he really focused his hearing, he could make out the dissonant music drifting from the garage…

He landed in the driveway, startling the three man band in the midst of settling into practice. One at the drums, one clutching a P-Bass, and the other cradling a Squier…

Boomer cocked his head and squinted at the guitar. "Squier Telecaster." He nodded good-naturedly, trying to mask his pride at his own. "Not a bad instrument."

"Um, do you need something, dude?" the brown-haired, scruffy looking guy with the bass spoke up, voice wary.

Boomer grinned and took a step, unsurprised when the group shrank back a bit. "I'm here to… huh. How do the pros say it? Aw, fuck it."

He whipped his Gibson SG around to the front, smirking as he took in their shocked faces. He ran a loving hand along its neck.

"I'm here to join the band," he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"So this is your Welcome Committee?" Brick was making an effort not to turn on his most frightening, scathing glare at the girl in front of him, figuring it would do him no good to fuel any suspicions she might have about his integrity. With the way she was scowling at him, though, he found himself having to exercise a significant amount of self-discipline. "Giving newcomers the third degree?"

"You're no newcomer," she scoffed. "I know exactly who you are."

He bristled. Fuck discipline. He felt his gaze harden and the very air around him went dark and cold. Even Blossom wasn't immune to his effect; there was the barest tensing of her muscles as he angled his head to glare at her properly.

"Is that right," he said in a low voice, letting just a hint of peril wind itself around his words as he took note of the tightening of her jaw. "Why don't you enlighten me?"

Mitch was more intimidated by super-powered beings than he let on. However, having spent a decent portion of his life as Buttercup's only best friend, only boyfriend, and now, only ex, he'd become fairly competent at the art of masking fear.

Besides, Boomer was here on serious business. And in turn, Mitch could not take any job application lightly. There were important matters to discuss.

He stepped forward until he was looking Boomer in the eye, clutched his bass for support, and narrowed his eyes. "What's your favorite instrument?"

"I'm holding it," Boomer smoothly replied.

"Best guitarist?"

"Dude, Hendrix, hands down."


"Freddie Mercury."

"Best guitar solo?"

Mitch was firing these out one after the other, but Boomer didn't miss a single beat. "Cosmetic reply is 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Comfortably Numb,' but I'll have to go with Steely Dan's 'Reelin' in the Years.'"

"Best contemporary guitar solo." This tended to always stump folks, or at least elicit some painfully substandard responses.

Boomer smirked. "The White Stripes' 'Ball and Biscuit.' Though we're ignoring the fact that the past twenty years worth of guitar solos can't hold a candle to the twenty years that came before it."

"I'd argue that point," Mitch said, a little defensively.

The smug bastard that stood before him actually snorted. "And I'd win."

Mitch pulled back a bit to eye him. "Alright," he said slowly. "So you know your shit, I'll give you that. Let's see how well you play."

"You know what, sweetheart," Brick enunciated, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "let me clear this up for you: I. Don't. Care. I don't. I've got bigger things on my mind than juvenile delinquency in your pitiful excuse for a city."

Blossom's eyes went wide. Bigger things? What did that mean?

"Yeah, there's that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look you do so well again." He cocked his head and glowered at her. "I gave up on this place years ago. I didn't come back to waste my time with you and your little 'Hero Play' shit."

"So why bother coming back at all?" Blossom said in a low voice. "It isn't like anybody here missed you."

"As far as I can tell, that's none of your business." Brick stepped close, towering over her, as if he was trying to stare her down. She didn't flinch back. "I told you already, I don't have any intentions of causing trouble. And believe me, even if I did?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "You're barely worth the effort."

"He's such a supercilious… RGH!" Blossom slammed the oven door with unnecessary force.

"Go ahead, say it," Buttercup urged as she manned the stove. "Say he's a bastard, he deserves it."

"I mean, the way he looks at me! At us! Like we're lower than dirt! He's such a… he's so full of himself!" Blossom threw the towel in her hands down on the table. "If he didn't want to come back and came back anyway, he doesn't exactly have a lot of license to moan and groan about it, especially if he made that decision himself!"

"How's the chicken?" Buttercup asked, poking at the veggies.

"CHICKEN'S ALMOST READY." Blossom announced louder than necessary, and resumed looking livid.

"You think he's bad, you haven't even dealt with that brother of his," Buttercup said sourly as she adjusted the heat. "God, the way he looks at girls! Like… like he's a starving man at a buffet, or something! At least Brick's not a perverted jackass!"

"He doesn't need to be perverted to be a jackass," Blossom grumbled, yanking open cabinets and taking down plates.

"And then he opens his mouth! And the way he talks to them, it's even more disgusting than the way he looks at 'em!"

"He always has that look on his face, that 'holier than thou' expression, and I just want to smack him!"

"And then he's all, Oh, you so want me, I'm so hot, you totally can't keep your hands off of me—"

"And even when he's making eye contact he looks like he's insulting you—"

Blossom slammed down the stack of plates just as the Professor poked his head in the kitchen. "Is everything okay in here?"

Two sets of eyes, one blazing green and one blazing pink, whirled on him. "YES!"

As the Professor backed away, eyes wide and hands raised in a gesture that clearly said Whatever, I Just Live Here, the remaining Powerpuff walked into the kitchen. "Are you guys even talking about the same person?"

Blossom bellowed, "We're talking about Brick!" at about the same time Buttercup shouted, "We're talking about Butch!" However, seeing as how they both spoke at the same time, the end result just sounded like… well, two very angry girls screaming in the kitchen.

Bubbles looked between them both, making an Uh, Yeah face. "Been practicing voice projection, I see."

Buttercup shook her head as she turned off the stove and poured the veggies into a serving bowl. "Whatever. Get the chicken out of the stove, wouldja?"

Blossom merely fumed silently as she finished setting the table, then walked out to coax the Professor back into the kitchen.

"The entire neighborhood could hear you screaming, you know," Bubbles said offhandedly as she freed the chicken from its oven prison.

"What, the Pretty Boy hasn't pissed you off yet?" Buttercup muttered.

"Boomer? He didn't do much of anything. Went to class, sat around, joked with other kids… when they weren't, you know, avoiding him in case he decided to kill them. Brick's... scary, but he really wasn't that bad either." She carried the chicken to the table and said thoughtfully, "I don't think Boomer's a very good student."

"Coming from you, that must mean he's awful."

"Oh yeah, like you're an outstanding example," Bubbles retorted, taking her seat as Blossom and the Professor rejoined them.

"Okay, enough of that," the Professor announced in his best This Topic of Discussion is Closed tone. "Let's talk about something happy at dinner." He paused a moment. "For a change."

A week went by in much the same vein, with some adjustments. Blossom, having no classes with any of the boys, was mercifully spared another confrontation with Brick, so her mood was much improved. Bubbles remained neutral but wary. Buttercup, however, was arriving home in worse spirits day by day.

"He is sitting with my friends! Like every day!"

"Former friends," Bubbles corrected as she tried desperately to concentrate on her Algebra II homework. "I don't get this conic section stuff."

"He's joined the boys' basketball team! I have to share the court with him every other day!"

"I heard Butch is pretty good," Bubbles said conversationally, checking her answers. Shoot. She was so going to fail this test.

"And I can't get him to stop jeering at my teammates! And the worst part? They totally encourage him!"

Bubbles scoffed. "You should hear the girls in Choir go on about Brick. Judy has English with him, and can't stop talking about how 'dark and mysterious' he is."

"And now Blossom wants me to go scope out the crowd at the Battle of the Bands tonight because they're supposed to be going," Buttercup snapped scornfully. "I don't get why she doesn't just go herself."

Bubbles' head snapped up. "That's tonight?"

Buttercup didn't say anything. Bubbles guessed she was still sore about leaving the band.

After a bout of silence, Bubbles sighed and shut her textbook. "Well, I'm doomed on this test. Why don't you get ready, I can finish cleaning up in here."

Her sister grumbled something under her breath, but darted upstairs to change. Bubbles piled the rest of the dishes into the sink, listening as Buttercup zipped back downstairs and out the front door, throwing a hurried, "Bye," over her shoulder.

With the kitchen to herself, Bubbles hummed cheerily as she set a plate of food in the microwave for the Professor—he was working late tonight, no telling when he'd emerge from the lab. A sudden chirp alerted Bubbles to her cell phone, and she flipped it open.

"Hey Blossom. Still at your charity thing? What's up?"

It didn't take Bubbles long to find Buttercup at the edge of the crowd of students gathered around the ramshackle stage in the school atrium. Her dark-haired sister was doing her scary pouting face and the crowd was giving her a lot of room.

"Hey," she greeted lightly, and Buttercup grunted. "Blossom mentioned you might… need a hand," Bubbles said, choosing her words carefully. She caught sight of Brick and Butch, about ten feet away in the center of the crowd.

Buttercup snorted and rolled her eyes. "Whatever. It's not like she's been assuming any responsibility for the boys lately, anyway."

"She doesn't—she wishes she could help," Bubbles countered lamely, eyes on Butch and Brick as they socialized—if you could call Brick standing and glaring in three hundred and sixty degrees socializing.

"Wouldn't know." There was a bitter edge to her sister's voice, and Bubbles turned her attention back to Buttercup. "She never tells me anything, anyway."

An uncomfortable moment passed. Bubbles meant to contest it, but the fact of the matter was that Buttercup wasn't in the wrong. She wasn't really given to girl talk, so over the years Blossom and Bubbles had bonded over shopping and hair and Bubbles' boyfriends while Buttercup had busied herself with… well, guy things. Now that she wasn't exactly on speaking terms with her former knot of friends, Bubbles imagined she was feeling a little left out.

Even with her fellow teammates, Buttercup was not, by nature, a social butterfly. Besides, she'd spent the past ten years glued to Mitch and his crew, ostracizing herself from other social circles in the process.

Bubbles sighed and settled a hand on her sibling's shoulder, ignoring the startled look she gave her. "At least the boys aren't giving us more grief than—"

She stopped. Something occurred to her as she stared at the two Rowdyruffs.

Buttercup seemed to read her mind. "Hey. Where's Blondie?"

"Was he here when you got here?" Bubbles searched the audience as the emcee introduced the next band.

Buttercup made to respond, but suddenly her attention flickered to the corner of the stage. Bubbles followed her gaze, seeing Mitch walk on, bass in hand.

"Oh," she said lightly, trying to keep the surprise from her voice. "I didn't realize No Neck Joe was still performing—"

"Cameron graduated early," Buttercup interrupted. "They couldn't have found a replacement for him and me in just a month. That's a lead guitarist and a singer…"

The look of mild surprise on the two girls' faces didn't last.

Bubbles' eyes went wide and she clapped a hand to her mouth. She heard a quiet gasp from her sister, followed by a sudden drop in temperature as Buttercup's gaze steeled. She didn't turn to verify the anger that had clearly hardened Buttercup's face. Boomer was casually taking center stage, adjusting the guitar he had slung over his shoulder.

She chanced a look at the other two boys, not ten feet away. Butch seemed to be stifling laughter, while Brick just stared, shell-shocked.

"His brothers look just as stunned as we are," she whispered to Buttercup. Whispered, because the entire atrium had been subdued into low, rumbling murmurs the second Boomer had set foot on stage.

"The bastard's got a Gibson SG," Buttercup seethed, glaring at the instrument in the bastard's hands. "Stolen, I'll bet. That bastard. I can't believe that bastard's stalking onstage with my band with that guitar in his hands."

"Maybe he sucks," Bubbles said, hearing, for all her sister's anger, the smidgen of hurt behind it. "Maybe he's terrible." She suddenly sensed Boomer looking in their direction. Crap. He'd probably heard them. He did have superhearing, after all.

"I don't see a singer onstage yet." Buttercup ignored her sister's efforts at placating her and instead raked her eyes across the stage for who was going to take the mic stand. Her mood was not improved when the blonde boy stepped up and blew experimentally into the microphone, then settled, planting his feet and cracking his neck.

"You are so kidding me," she hissed, and Bubbles caught her biting her lip. The blonde girl shifted her gaze to the boys once more. Butch seemed to have settled down and was watching with a sneer on his face, evidently anticipating a humiliating episode to take place within seconds onstage. Brick, on the other hand, had a clouded expression as he stared at Boomer. From the look of concentration in his eyes, he seemed to be trying to will a mental message to his brother. If Boomer noticed (which, in Bubbles' opinion, would've been hard not to, considering the intensity of Brick's gaze was practically clearing a straight path from him to the stage), he ignored it outright, humming as he plucked out a couple of notes and turned, nodding at his bandmates.

Buttercup shifted at her side, still looking murderous. Bubbles leant in and comforted in a low voice, "Maybe he sucks. Really. I mean, he'll have to concentrate on singing and playing lead guitar at the same time—"

The stage suddenly exploded into a wave of sound, one that blew across the atrium and dropped everyone's jaw at once, save for Brick's.

Bubbles winced as she watched Boomer's hands flying along the strings, inwardly marveling not only at the magnitude of articulation he was managing, but at the pitch perfect notes he was hitting—at the speed he was going, it was unreal. Cameron had been a good guitarist; she'd heard the band practice many times before, but Boomer was—

"Holy shit," Buttercup gasped as the crowd recovered and started to cheer. "He's fucking sick." She looked as if she might be a whole different kind of sick herself.

"Well," Bubbles said dubiously, "he's still gotta sing…"

After he came in about ten seconds later, Bubbles gave up on making excuses. "Okay. He definitely doesn't suck. Not even a little bit."

To Bubbles' trained musical ear, every single note he hit vocally and instrumentally was spot on. To top it off, he was remarkably charismatic and had great stage presence to boot, and the audience was definitely picking up on his enthusiasm and firing it back in waves. Yet, as easy as it was to get sucked into his performance, Bubbles' thoughts were on her sister, wondering what she made of the crowd's reaction. Buttercup had been a popular girl onstage; she'd been a great performer too. Granted, she hadn't had any formal training and had refused to join Choir with Bubbles and Blossom in middle school, but she had a natural ear for pitch and a throaty, raspy quality to her voice that oozed charisma. Not to mention she'd loved the attention.

Bubbles looked at Buttercup, expecting her to jump the boy who'd taken her place at any moment. But those green eyes weren't fixed on him. Instead they glared at his bandmates—her former friends—each in turn, from one to another to another and back, taking her time especially with the boy plucking at the bass. The bass she'd spent endless months saving up for. The bass she'd given him his last birthday.

The look in Buttercup's eyes as she looked at Mitch screamed hate and betrayal and a deep-rooted aching that Bubbles rarely saw in her dark-haired sister.

Bubbles took a deep breath, sympathetic, and reached for Buttercup's hand.

Buttercup whirled away before they could connect, fuming. "Fuck. This."

She disappeared into the crowd, and Bubbles would've gone after her if there hadn't been three dangerous, super-powered boys clustered too close with too many people. She sighed as the band finished their first number, sending the crowd into raucous, whooping applause. Butch looked disappointed at having missed an opportunity to mock his sibling, while their leader merely looked a little grim. Not a big change from his usual expression.

Boomer seemed to be having trouble keeping the glow from his face. Bubbles smiled wryly, reminded of Buttercup's post-performance exhilaration.

After a moment's consideration, she changed her mind and went off to find Buttercup. Blossom would get after the both of them later, but family... family had to come before the good of the people, sometimes.

Bubbles darted one last glance at the boys in the crowd and the one on stage as he planted his lips against the mic and started the next song. They'd been here for two weeks and hadn't done anything yet. One more night wouldn't make a difference.

The end of the evening found Buttercup sulking in her bed, refusing to address her siblings until the following morning at school. Bubbles was used to waiting. Besides, Buttercup always came around eventually.

"I hate him."

Bubbles threw her dark-haired sister a look and continued to fiddle with her locker combination. "Boomer?"

"I was talking about Mitch," Buttercup snarled, ramming her bag's contents into her locker with unnecessary violence. "But I hate that one too. As well as everybody in the freaking hall who can't shut up about how AWESOME he was last night!"

She issued the Buttercup Death Glare at everyone within a five-mile radius, and sure enough, the hallway chatter expounding upon Boomer's awesomeness instantly subsided and people began furtively emptying themselves into classrooms.

Bubbles shrugged her book tote on and shut her locker. "Except he was, you know, pretty good. From an objective standpoint."

Buttercup had a look on her face that suggested she was torn between calling her sister a traitor or questioning exactly when and how she'd learned the word 'objective,' when Blossom suddenly came dashing up.

"Girls!" she cried, her expression grave. "We have an emergency!"

Blossom and Buttercup were prone to disagreeing about everything, whether it was strategy during a monster attack or what to say during a press conference or what movie to rent on a Saturday night. Bubbles was used to this, and took advantage of the time to meditate in her own Bubbles-y way, considering fluffy, positive things, like puppies and rainbows and Will. Eventually her sisters would stop and ask her exactly what she found so delightful about them arguing the virtues of Koyaanisqatsi vs. Nightmare on Elm Street


However, on this choice occasion, instead of going to her happy place Bubbles' brow was furrowed in deep, serious thought. Her sisters were oblivious to her atypical demeanor.

"You are not serious!" Buttercup hissed.

"We have to keep an eye on them!" Blossom hissed back. "And if that means sacrificing a little—"

"A little dignity? A little pride? Absolutely not! She wouldn't even want us there, there is no way we are going to grovel for—"

"It doesn't matter what Princess wants," Blossom interrupted. "What matters is we make sure that the boys stay out of trouble and that nobody gets hurt!"

"Let Princess take the heat for it! It's her party, her guests, her house! Let them trash it if they want to, or whatever else they feel like fucking up, it isn't our—"

"Watch your mouth," Blossom snapped. "And you're wrong. It is our responsibility. We protect this city. We are responsible for it. And if we don't do everything within our power to make sure nothing happens to it or its citizens—"

Buttercup groaned. "Save the speech, Blossom—"

"—then we take the heat." Blossom took a deep breath and settled back as Buttercup turned to her locker and started to bang her head against it. "… Stop that."

"No." Buttercup carried on with the banging. Next to her, Bubbles' brow slowly relaxed and she sighed, having reached some sort of internal conclusion. She turned to Blossom.

"When is Princess' party?" she asked.

Blossom blinked and looked at her. "Friday. Tomorrow night."

Bubbles sighed again. Buttercup stopped banging—there was a considerable dent in her locker door now—and turned her attention to Bubbles too.

"I'll ask her if we can come," Bubbles said resolutely. She gave her sisters a look. "I'm a better people person, anyway."

The majority of Bubbles' day was spent fervently brainstorming how to convince a girl—who had long ago decided that Bubbles and her sisters were her mortal enemies until the end of all time and then some—that she needed to do her civic duty and extend them an invitation to one of her parties.

Bubbles tried to listen in on as much of the gossip as she could—clearly Boomer was invited, but there seemed to be some speculation as to whether his brothers were going or not. She considered approaching Brick in Art and, after a significant amount of attempting to strategize a plan, Bubbles simply shook out her nerves and leaned over as Brick studied his blank canvas.

"So," she said lightly, making sure her voice sounded casual, "I heard Princess invited you to her party?"

"I heard it isn't any of your God damn business." Brick's voice was almost as cold as the glare he shot in her direction. "Now stop interrupting my concentration."

Well, so much for that.

As class wore on, Bubbles started to fret. How was she going to do this? Princess made no efforts to hide her disdain for the Girls, and no amount of groveling Bubbles was willing to do would get them any closer to Princess' doorstep. Before they'd parted ways that morning, Blossom had suggested they bring Ms. Keane or the Mayor into it and order Princess to invite them, if necessary. But that seemed a tad dramatic.

In any case, thinking about it wasn't going to get Bubbles anywhere. So once the final bell rang and Bubbles had ensured Brick was off the school grounds without anything Evil happening, she set her jaw and headed for the main entrance, where she found Princess.

The redhead stopped chatting with her cohorts long enough to direct a frosty eye in Bubbles' direction before flipping her perfectly coiffed ringlets and turning back to the group.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said in lofty tones, "my Bug-Eyed Freak Shield is clearly on the fritz today." She turned a bemused eye on Bubbles again as her friends obliged her with laughter. "Obviously it wasn't worth the money I paid for it."

Bubbles ignored the dig and smiled as naturally as she could. "Hello, Princess."

Princess' expression soured. "I don't believe I said that to solicit conversation from you. Did it sound like an invitation?"

"Funny you should mention invitations," Bubbles said, trying to look beseeching. If she was this close to the shark tank, she might as well jump.

The other girl's eyes widened and her jaw went slack. "Oh… oh no." She started to laugh, a snippy, high-pitched sound that pierced the air and disturbed the wildlife. "You are not asking what I think you are asking!"

"In all fairness, I haven't asked yet—"

"You don't need to." Princess immediately stopped laughing and turned a grim eye on Bubbles. "Because the answer is no. Though if you were planning on going back in time to treat me with the ten years' worth of respect I so deserve, you could consider asking me again."

"Look, I know we've… had our disagreements in the past, but this is a matter of—"

"Of you not being extraordinary enough for my party?" Princess finished, and at the look she gave her group, they politely snickered. "And realizing that? And also realizing that you and your sisters actually owe me, so the idea that you're the one asking a favor is absolutely preposterous?"

Bubbles couldn't help it; she adopted a confused expression. "Um… what is it that we owe you, exactly?"

"Hello? Acknowledgement of my—ugh, like I even care anymore. At least I can derive some satisfaction out of saying this." Princess cocked her hips and extended a prim, manicured finger in Bubbles' face. "I'd rather drop dead than invite you or your stupid sisters into my house. But if you do, in fact, drop dead, give me a call. Then we can talk."

Princess shouldered her ten gallon purse, and waved at her friends to disperse; her limo was pulling up. Bubbles tightened her jaw. "Princess, please, we're only worried what the boys might do—"

"Oh, trust me, if I have it my way, they can do whatever they like," Princess said in a low, throaty voice, and stepped toward her car. After a few seconds, she stomped her foot. "Excuse me? Care to open the door, you worthless piece of—"

The door swung open and Princess gasped, almost stumbling back into Bubbles. A slender, aristocratic woman was lifting herself out of the car, her eye scrutinizing Princess.

"That's no way for a young lady to talk," the woman said in a familiar snippy, regal voice. "What on earth has your father been teaching you?"

Bubbles blinked. The resemblance was remarkable. Same red hair, same slender build, same angular features—

"M-Mother?" Princess cried. "What are you doing here?"

Against her better judgment, Bubbles gawked.

Princess' mother, who looked to be in her early forties and donned a sharp looking women's suit, crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "I don't understand why you have to say that like it's out of the ordinary for a parent to wish to see her child."

Princess sputtered, "B-b-but I thought—I thought you were in France—"

"Indeed I was. I expected you to join me as soon as you started high school, but since now it is your Junior year and you're still here—God knows what your father was thinking, honestly—it became apparent to me that you weren't going to France of your own volition, so I came to retrieve you." She narrowed her eyes, and Princess—wonder of wonders—actually shrank back a little. "Every Morbucks has graduated from the International School of Toulouse, and your father's stubbornness is not going to break that tradition."

"But I don't want to go," Princess said in a small, petulant voice.

Mrs. Morbucks was undeterred. "Your stubbornness isn't breaking the tradition either, darling. Now say goodbye to your friend and get in the car. We've a lot of catching up to do."

Princess wrinkled her nose and shot Bubbles a derisive look, seeming to have forgotten that the girl had been standing just behind her the entire time. "'Friend?' Please, Mother. This girl is not—"

Recognition was suddenly awash on Mrs. Morbucks face, and she stepped closer to get a better look at Bubbles. Bubbles summoned as cheerful a smile as she could and nodded politely.

"I recognize you," the woman said thoughtfully. Her eyes lit up. "You're one of the superhero girls, aren't you?"

"Mother," Princess said, her voice laced with scorn. "Please."

"Oh, Princess, behave. You know, you and your sisters are very famous, we used to see you on the telly all the time—"

"In Europe?" Princess clamored.

"It really is very brave work you do, goodness, I didn't realize you were so young! And already shouldering so much responsibility!"

"Mother, we have to leave," Princess hissed through her teeth, and hustled into the car. "Now. Please say goodbye and let's go."

"In a minute, Princess. Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners? I haven't even introduced myself." Mrs. Morbucks extended her hand and smiled warmly. "Pénélope Rousseau-Morbucks."

Bubbles took it and nodded. "Pleased to meet you! I'm Bubbles. You just came from France? Comment allez vous?"

The woman's jaw dropped. "Parlez vous français?"

"Hey!" Princess' head poked out of her car window. "I thought you spoke Spanish!"

Mrs. Morbucks looked almost delighted in her shock. "Princess never took to French, and she's got it in her blood."

Princess' head disappeared back into the car.

"¿También puedes hablar Español?" Mrs. Morbucks pressed.

"Ah, sí, para… diez años, mas o menos," Bubbles said sheepishly. "Es uno de mis talentos especiales."

"Can we go now?" Princess shrieked from the car.

Her mother showed no sign of acquiescing to her daughter's wishes. "¿Cuántas lenguas hablas?"

"Bueno, puedo hablar… Inglés, por supuesto, y Español, Francés, Japonés—"

"Eh? Nihongo ga hanashimasu ka?"

There was a muffled scream from the limo.

"Hai, sukoshi hanashimasu." Bubbles nodded, beaming. It was a rare thing for her to feel intelligent, and she was basking in Mrs. Morbucks' delighted reaction.

The woman suddenly had a mischievous glint in her eye. "Ni hui bu hui shuo Zhongwen?"

Bubbles' face fell, and she shook her head apologetically. "Chinese? I don't speak that one."

Mrs. Morbucks settled back, impressed. "Still, three out of four, not including English—you are a very enterprising young lady."

"No, that's definitely not me," Bubbles laughed, shaking her head. "That sounds more like my sister—actually, she speaks Chinese—"

"She speaks Mandarin?"

"Um, she's fluent in Cantonese and teaching herself Mandarin now—"

"Oh my God, you girls absolutely must come over, I need to meet all of you—"

Princess poked an indignant head back out of the window and vehemently shook it. "You can't be serious, Mother! I don't want—"

"Princess, please, keep your voice down," Mrs. Morbucks said sternly. "You're throwing a party tomorrow night, right? Bubbles and her sisters are coming, I assume—"

"Mother! No!"

"Princess!" At the sharp bark of her mother's voice, Princess shrank back into her seat and she glared at the floor, eyes shimmering with tears.

Bubbles almost felt sorry for the girl as Mrs. Morbucks shook her hand one last time, imploring her and her sisters to drop by tomorrow. The glow of success didn't set in until after the limo had turned out of the school lot, and Princess' betrayed expression faded into the distance.

"I don't believe it," Blossom said, very clearly disbelieving it. The look on her face was priceless. "You got us invited?"

"Yay," Buttercup said joylessly from her perch on the couch. She waved the remote around for emphasis as she flipped the channel.

"I love how you say that like you totally didn't expect me to succeed," Bubbles reprimanded their leader, pretending to look hurt. "Doesn't upset me at all."

As Blossom reddened and tried to placate Bubbles, Buttercup laid back on the couch, blindly punching in buttons on the remote, and groaned, "You know what I heard today? I hear there's a boy list. Like, Hot Boy List. And Boomer is at the top of it." The last sentence came out in a tone that Buttercup reserved for cockroaches and villains who didn't put up a good fight.

Her sisters looked up. "There's a list?" Blossom said dubiously, and furrowed her brow.

"The list was updated?" Bubbles asked. "Shoot. I must've missed the memo."

"Aren't you going to thank me?" Boomer grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and poked Brick with it.

"What exactly have you done today that warrants thanking?" Brick grumbled. "And cut that out. You'll ruin it." He took the knife away—the tip was already slightly bent—and chucked it back into the knife holder.

"Hel-lo? It's barely been a month and I've already gotten us all invitations to the richest chick's party?"

"Yay," Butch said joylessly from his perch on the couch. He blinked. "Huh. Déjà vu."

Brick stared into the distance in mock awe. "Oh yes. A social event for stupid young people. I can't wait to surround myself with the scintillating intellect I am bound to encounter." He resumed poking around the kitchen for something to eat and settled on a box of cereal.

"You're welcome," Boomer said proudly.

"You know what I heard today?" Butch suddenly said, a dangerous tone in his voice. He glared at Boomer. "I hear there's a list of boys. As in, Doable Boys. And you—" he pointed at Boomer, "—are at the top of it."

"Stupid lists for stupid people," Brick said through his mouthful of Cap'n Crunch.

Boomer's eyes widened. "The list was updated? Last I checked, this guy was at the top." He indicated their leader, who barely batted an eye.

"Am I even on this thing?" Butch cried, indignant.

"You're like, Number 15 or something," Boomer said in a soothing voice. "I mean, that's pretty respectable, right?"

The following school day Princess was exceptionally frigid towards the girls, so much so that Buttercup had to put on a sweater during lunch. She spent the majority of the day trying to set them on fire with the power of her wealthy glares—clearly she regretted having outgrown the villainous supersuit days of her youth—every chance she happened across them.

After checking in with her sisters at the end of the day—Bubbles and Buttercup both reported no funny business from any of the boys—Blossom let them hurry home to prep for the party while she darted off to the dance studio. All throughout the school year, the Dance Company took from the last bell until five in the afternoon to run drills, rehearse, and plan for upcoming events. Buttercup and Bubbles had to do the same thing for Athletics and Choir, but Choir hadn't started after-school practices yet and Buttercup had Fridays off.

Most of the dancers took off early on Friday anyway, particularly on game or party nights. Blossom wasn't surprised to see only two girls in the studio when she poked her head in.

She passed one of the Seniors on the way to the locker room and asked, "Everybody heading to Princess' party, I take it?"

"They're already gone." Cindy, one of the Senior Lieutenants, nodded in the affirmative. "You might as well take off too, Blossom. I heard she actually invited you for once."

"Not by choice," a bitter voice snapped, cutting through the air, and Princess emerged from the locker room, her dance clothes stuffed into a posh leather bag. She had one good glare left in her, and shot it like a cannon at Blossom as she passed her. "Thank your sister for ruining my life."

An unimpressed Blossom sniffed and rolled her eyes. "Way to be mature about it, Princess."

"Please." Princess' voice echoed in the studio, followed by the reverberating clack of her heels. "You're only jealous because they're stealing all the attention away from you. You just can't stand being second to anyone."

"Like I have any reason to be jealous of a pack of second-rate teenage delinquents!" Blossom snapped, but Princess was already gone.

She groaned and went to go change while the other girls bid their goodbyes, off to the party. Once again, it was Friday, and—funny how all her Fridays seemed to go like this—Blossom had the entire studio left to herself.

Buttercup was asleep on the couch when Blossom finally got home at a quarter to six. The redhead poked her head into the kitchen, smiled at their father, then went to shake Buttercup awake.

"Hey! Aren't you going to change?"

"Change for what?" Buttercup groaned, shoving Blossom away and curling into the back of the couch.

"The party!" Blossom lifted the couch and shook her sister off of it.

Buttercup yelped as she crashed to the floor. "Excuse me! What the hell? I've been ready for the past two hours! Why are you so late anyway?"

"Lost track of the time," Blossom mumbled as she reset the furniture. She figured 'Subconscious avoidance of teenage social functions' wouldn't have been an acceptable answer. "But I showered at the school, so all I have to do is change." She scrutinized her sister's green and black striped hoodie and grubby jeans. "Is that really what you're wearing?"

Buttercup crossed her arms. "This is one of my special hoodies. And for the record, Bubbles has been upstairs 'getting ready' ever since we got home. Get her to haul some ass while you're up there."

"Language," Blossom said automatically, then dashed up the stairs to their room. She tossed her dance clothes in the hamper and started rummaging in her section of the closet, finally settling on a sensible—yet very chic—blouse and skirt. As she changed, Bubbles emerged from the bathroom, frantic.

"Blossom! I need a hat!"

"What?" For all that her clothes took up half of their closet, one in the hall, and the dresser next to her bed, Bubbles was always, always borrowing from Blossom. "Buttercup said you've been up here for like two hours!"

"Where is your Fedora?" Bubbles mumbled, ignoring her sister. "Blossom! Where is your Fedora?"

Blossom sighed and snatched the hat from the closet shelf, waving it at her sister as she walked into the room. "I only wear this for performances, you know—it's not really a—"

"Perfect!" Bubbles seized it and gingerly angled it on her head, tugging at the low, spiky pigtails she'd pulled her hair into.

Blossom stared. "Is that what you're wearing?"

"Huh?" Bubbles said, distracted, and fumbled for a flower brooch on the vanity that she pinned to the hat.

"That's the tightest pair of jeans I've ever seen," Blossom said disdainfully. "The Professor's never going to let you—"

"Oh, they're not that bad," Bubbles said, untroubled. She started to tug on some boots. "So are you going to change, or what?"

Blossom blinked and looked down at her ensemble. "Change? I've already changed—well, I have a jacket that goes with the skirt—"

Her sister stopped and gave her a long look, scrutinizing her outfit. The lighthearted smile disappeared from her face. "Blossom. Seriously. Dress like a…" Bubbles searched for the word. "… Person."

"People dress like this!" Blossom cried.

"People in their forties," Bubbles scoffed, and strode over, reaching to undo the buttons of her sister's shirt.


"Look, Blossom, this is fine for a press conference or a news interview, but you've gotta dress like a teenager—"

"Excuse me?"

Bubbles stopped trying to undress her and crossed her arms. "Think about the kind of look you'd like to see on Princess' face when you set foot in her house."

The look of consideration on Blossom's face said it all. After some protracted rummaging and vehement rejections from Blossom ("A miniskirt in January?"), Bubbles got her into a white sweater dress and black tights.

"It's getting pretty chilly outside, you know," Blossom pointed out.

"You have, like, eleventy billion jackets," Bubbles countered.

"What the hell is keeping you guys?" Buttercup bellowed, kicking open the door. "It's 6:15! Blossom, I thought all you had to do was change!"

Blossom looked panicked. "6:15? The party started at 6:00!"

"Oh, please," Bubbles scoffed. "You're not supposed to show up to a party on time. Buttercup, braid Blossom's hair for me?"

"Don't you touch my hair," Blossom snapped, venomous.

"I wasn't going to, but then you said not to, and now I have to," Buttercup said dryly, and started to undo Blossom's ubiquitous hair bow.

"Blossom, they're just braids," Bubbles said in a placating voice, and dug around for a pair of shoes. "Come on, Buttercup—the sooner you do them, the sooner we can get out the door."

"Are you girls ready yet?" the Professor called from downstairs. "I've been at the door for the past twenty minutes!" He jangled his keys for emphasis.

"In a minute!" they all called back simultaneously.

Blossom flinched and swatted at Buttercup. "You're doing them all wrong, they're too messy—"

"Messy looks better," Bubbles said, handing Blossom a pair of heels. "That's why I asked her to do them for you. Yours always come out too neat."

"Yeah," Buttercup added, rubber banding the end of one and starting on the other. "Your braids wind up making you look like a tall, busty five year old."

"Have you no manners?" Blossom cried as Bubbles looped a belt around her waist.

"Done," Bubbles sighed, pleased.

"Done," Buttercup sighed, exasperated. Blossom examined the untidy plaits and the off the shoulder neck of the sweater. She frowned.

"Oh, it's just for one night," Bubbles chirped, seeming to read her mind.

"You forget we're only going because we've a job to do," Blossom reminded her.

"Well, yeah," Bubbles conceded as Buttercup dragged her out the door. "But making a good impression always counts for something, doesn't it?"

Brick came out of his room and paused, eyeing the clock. "6:15. Was there something going on tonight?"

"Huh?" Butch said distractedly, eyes glued to the television as he played GTA.

Boomer entered the living room, his acoustic slung over his back, and paused. "… Are you guys going to get ready or not?"

Butch paused his game. "Oh yeah. There's that party." He shut off his game and stood up. "Ready."

Brick disappeared into his room and re-emerged with a jacket. "Alright. Let's go."

Boomer scoffed as they exited the apartment. "You guys take forever, I fucking swear to God."

"This entire line of cars can not possibly all be going to Princess' party," Buttercup said in disbelief as the Professor honked his horn. She craned her neck, trying to get a better vantage point from the front passenger seat. "I told you we should've just flown."

"I wish I'd listened to you," Blossom said in a defeated voice.

"I wish you'd listened to her too," the Professor groaned, then squinted in his rearview. "Hey!" He stuck his head out of the window and shook his fist at the car behind him. "Kill your brights! Are you trying to blind me?"

"We couldn't fly!" Bubbles said, grabbing on to Blossom's Fedora for emphasis. "It'd mess up my entire outfit!"

"That," Buttercup said loudly, "is why I only wear jeans to everything!"

"I am wearing jeans," Bubbles mumbled under her breath.

"I said turn down your brights!" the Professor screamed.

"Where's my purse?" Bubbles suddenly cried. "Did I leave it at home?"

Blossom turned and fumbled around for it in the trunk. "You tossed it in the back, remember?"

The car behind them honked, and the Professor and Buttercup yelled, "Nobody's going anywhere! Why are you honking?"

Bubbles shifted uncomfortably, and Blossom gave her a concerned look. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Bubbles said automatically, and fidgeted. "Just… I've been sitting in these jeans for a long time, and they're kinda tight—"

"I told you to change," Blossom said under her breath, eyes on the Professor in case he heard. He was too distracted screaming his head off at the idiot behind him.

"That jerk still hasn't turned off his brights!" he shouted as the guy behind him honked yet again.

"Okay. You know what?" Buttercup undid her seat belt and threw herself out of the car. "This is ridiculous!" A new round of honking started, and Buttercup stalked to the car behind them, kicking out both headlights. "Your brights, asshole! Are you deaf? We only asked you, like, five times!"

She punched the hood for emphasis, denting the metal, then turned, grabbed the station wagon, and took off, soaring to the front of the line and dropping them on Princess' majestic doorstep. She opened the back door for her sisters, who were staring at her.

"Are you coming or what?" she snapped.

"Road rage much?" Bubbles muttered, and Blossom elbowed her. They both got out of the car.

The Professor was clutching the wheel, and said in a strangled voice, "Thank you, Buttercup."

She waved a dismissive hand. "Don't mention it."

As the Professor drove off, the girls turned and looked at the grand doors, flanked on either side by two fierce looking guards. Various clusters of students were arriving, flashing their invitations to the men at the doors and gaining entry.

Blossom looked at Bubbles. "Did Mrs. Morbucks give you any actual invitations?"

Bubbles looked a little uneasy. "No… she just said to show up…"

"You guys are acting like a couple of security guards and a giant wooden door would actually be able to stop us," Buttercup said disgustedly, and strode up to the entrance.

At the sight of her, however, both guards nodded and opened the doors for her to pass. Taken aback at the lack of necessary violence, Buttercup paused and threw a look over her shoulder to her sisters.

Bubbles shrugged and tugged Blossom to the entrance, beaming at the men as they passed. A man was in the foyer to take their coats, and directed them down the hall past the grand staircase, where distinct party noises were audible.

"I forgot how big this place was," Blossom muttered as they made their way down the hall. "Since Princess outgrew the whole 'trying to destroy us' phase, we haven't been here in something like seven years."

"Wouldn't have minded it being longer," Buttercup muttered back, and suddenly they were upon a huge room teeming with people.

"Has this place gotten bigger?" Buttercup said incredulously, taking a few steps forward and tipping her head back to try and see how far up the ceiling went.

Bubbles was remarkably excited for having stepped into a former enemy's abode. "I wonder if Will is here yet? He said he'd be here around 7:00…"

"I wonder if the boys are here yet," Blossom said, fervently scanning the room. "We should each take one, and keep an eye on—"

Bubbles suddenly pulled their leader aside and said in a hushed, conspiratorial voice, "Don't give Buttercup Boomer."

Blossom furrowed her brow and darted a look at their sister, who was squinting at the gigantic chandelier that swung from the ceiling. "What? Why?"

"Because she's been really sensitive about this whole… him replacing her in the band thing," Bubbles said quietly. "I don't think she'd be able to keep her temper if she had to babysit him the entire evening. You should give her guard duty over Butch or Brick instead."

Blossom shook her head. "Not Brick. I'll keep an eye on that one. He's too…" She shuddered. "Too unsettling. It's like I can see him… scheming every time I bump into him. So she'll take Butch, and you take Boomer."

"Where are you taking me, exactly?"

The two girls jumped and turned, horrified to find the boys standing at the doorway. Boomer had a curious expression on his face. Butch's attention was arrested by Blossom's bare shoulders. Brick, the boy with the Permanent Glare, glared at the both of them.

"Could you take me somewhere?" Butch said distractedly, a little glazed.

"Are you joking?" Buttercup was suddenly at Blossom's other shoulder, glowering at Boomer. He smiled beatifically at her. "You brought your guitar? How egotistical are you?"

Before he could answer, Princess bounded up, all smiles at the boys. "Oh my God, you guys are here! And you brought your guitar!" She looped an arm in Boomer's and started tugging him toward the center of the mess of people. "Come on, let me give you a tour." With a look of revulsion in the girls' direction, she added, "Would you three mingle, or something? Don't even think about following us." She went back to beaming at the boys. "Sorry about the company tonight, but I had no choice in the matter."

"No worries," Boomer said good-naturedly, and looked back at his brothers. "You guys coming?"

Brick narrowed his eyes at Blossom, and she tensed.

"Braids?" he said scornfully, and took after Boomer. "What are you, five?"

Blossom bristled, and Bubbles said petulantly, "I think they're cute."

Brick scoffed and called back, "Says the girl who painted her jeans on tonight. Good to see you putting your artistic skills to use!"

"Can I lick you?" Butch suddenly asked, very fixated on Blossom's collarbone, and her jaw dropped in disgust.

"That depends," Buttercup interjected, stepping in front of her sister. "You wanna keep your testicles or not?"

He blinked in disappointment at having his view of Blossom blocked, but sneered at her over Buttercup's head. "Small price to pay for a taste of you."

"Trust me," Blossom said spitefully, "I'd make sure you'd miss them."

He laughed as he passed them. "I love you too, beautiful!"

"Pig," Blossom spat.

It took awhile to get Buttercup out of Kill Mode, and even longer to get Bubbles to stop pouting about Brick's braids comment, but eventually the girls dispersed into the crowd, eyes on the other end of the room where Princess had disappeared with the boys.

As she watched Bubbles and Buttercup get absorbed into the party crowd, Blossom suddenly felt—though let it be taken into account she never let it show—awkward and a little fearful. For a girl who made an effort to always appear flawless and confident, neither awkwardness nor fear were high on her list of emotable emotions. She wasn't big on parties, especially not the grandiose sort Princess was notorious for throwing. While the amount of people was roughly the same, this was different from a game, or a pep rally—at those, Blossom was usually huddled with the rest of the dance team, waiting to perform. And when it came to crowds themselves, her only regular interaction with them was from a podium, addressing them. Now that she was in the thick of it, she found herself completely out of her element.

Thank God she'd let Bubbles dress her, at least. Had she gone with her original outfit, she would've been mistaken for a chaperone. All the same, she felt a lot of eyes on her, which wasn't doing much to quell that awkward fear thing—granted, she never came to these things, so maybe they were just surprised to see her? At least some people were being friendly and waving hello—

"Off the shoulder, huh? Very risqué." A soft, feminine voice sounded from just over her shoulder, and Blossom gasped, whirling around to come face to face with Robin.

"Oh thank God, a face I know," Blossom said in one hasty breath, and immediately latched on to her friend's arm.

"You really don't do this party thing often, do you?" Robin observed, her tone friendly.

"Just keep me company until Brick shows up again," Blossom responded, and Robin raised an eyebrow.

"Tell me you're joking."

"Huh?" At the look on Robin's face, a scandalized Blossom said in frantic undertones, "No! I don't mean we're here together, I mean I'm trying to keep an eye on him!"

Robin laughed. "Take a number. Didn't you see the heads that turned when the boys got here?"

"I'm more concerned about the heads that are gonna roll when the boys decide to stop playing nice," Blossom grumbled. A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she looked at Robin. "Why did Princess invite you?"

Instead of taking offense, Robin shrugged. "She's always invited me."

"How come you never said?" Blossom exclaimed, a little miffed.

"I've never come; I'm only here tonight because I heard you girls were coming," Robin comforted, smiling. "Actually, Princess invites the entire student body every time she throws one of these things, except for you three. She's very mature about this stuff."

Princess hadn't been kidding about taking the boys on a tour of the house. She escorted them through every nook and cranny of each wing, taking protracted pauses to flutter her eyes and purse her lips. She was far from plain looking, but Brick had a thing about redheads. Speaking from personal knowledge, they were often way more trouble than they were worth.

There were several areas clearly designated for partygoers—batting cages outside, a garden maze in the back, a cinema downstairs in the east wing, a dance floor in the basement of the west, and the huge main kitchen leading from the grand hall, where most of the socializing was taking place. It was by the main kitchen where Brick gruffly excused himself and stole away before Princess could protest.

There were stacks of pizza boxes flanked by coolers of soda on one of the kitchen counters, and he snatched one of each. Socializing wasn't high on his list of priorities tonight; he'd much rather find a semi-secluded spot where he could people watch in peace.

He was preparing to take a bite of his pizza when—

"About time you showed up again," an accusatory voice sounded behind him, and he made an effort to suppress the annoyance that suddenly flared up in his chest.

He slowly swiveled his head, locking eyes with Blossom. "You again. What a surprise." He dropped his pizza into the garbage.

"Not hungry?"

"Lost my appetite, wouldn't you know it," he muttered, leaning against the counter and cradling his soda in one hand.

They stood still for a moment, appraising each other. Blossom finally shifted—she looked awkward in those clothes, like they didn't belong on her and she didn't belong here. He made a point of telling her so.

"Uncomfortable, aren't you."

She made a face, instantly going on the defensive. "It's got nothing to do with you."

"Didn't say so, did I? You belong somewhere else."

There was the tiniest bit of threat in his voice, and she picked up on it. She narrowed her eyes. "So says the pot to the kettle."

Blossom was feeling very irritated with herself for allowing her discomfort to show, so much so that Brick had noticed. Weakness in the face of the enemy was unacceptable. She should've taken a moment to compose herself in front of a mirror or something. Too late now, she thought remorsefully as she watched Brick shift, allowing a group of kids access to the pizza. She squared her jaw and did her best to look haughty and condescending, ignoring the breeze on her shoulders and the braids in her hair.

"What do you have your brothers up to?" she prodded, and Brick's gaze darkened.

"I don't know," he said slowly, and leant in. "Why don't you ask your sisters? Since babysitting them is their top priority, not mine."

The kitchen was clearing considerably now—the atmosphere in there was a serious buzzkill. Plus, with Blossom in the room, nobody dared dig through the fridge, where all the beer was stashed.

Brick indicated the space between them. "Is this how you plan on enjoying yourself tonight? Scrutinizing my every move?"

Blossom could feel his glare intensify, burning the dust mites in the air. Her own eyes were steady as she met it. "Evil doesn't sleep, and neither do I."

He groaned. "You come up with that on your own? They should give you an Emmy for that one," he said brusquely, and started for the back door.

Both their attentions, however, were suddenly arrested by an explosion of noise from the grand hall, and Brick instantly changed direction, making a beeline for the door that would take them to the main room with Blossom hot on his heels.

"What's your hurry?" she snapped at him as they strode down the short hall, wondering what nefarious plan of his had backfired.

He ignored her and merely quickened his pace as the room opened up before them.

The crowd had exploded into a cacophony of jeering laughter, shortly followed by wild applause. Above it all, Boomer's voice suddenly rang out, "Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated—"

Brick halted so abruptly Blossom nearly toppled over trying to keep from running into him. The two of them gaped. Boomer was surrounded by a throng of people singing along with him as he belted out Complicated at the top of his lungs, strumming his guitar.

"I can't believe how many of you fuckers actually know all the words to this song!" he shouted, grinning madly as the crowd laughed and cheered in response. "You come over unannounced…"

"I will never be able to unsee this," Brick said in horror, then turned and headed back for the kitchen. Blossom was too stunned to register him leaving. She did, however, recover in time to see Bubbles amidst the crowd of people, overcome with their infectious hilarity as she sang along.

Mortified, Blossom muscled over to where her sister bounced, in the middle of the line, "Honesty promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it—"

"Bubbles!" Blossom shrieked, but her voice was drowned out in the chorus. Bubbles saw her and grabbed her arm, trying to get her to bounce with her.

"Bubbles!" Blossom shouted again, trying vainly to remain firmly planted to the ground. "There's such a thing as dignity, you know!"

"But this is so fun!" her sister giggled, taking a deep breath to launch into another verse.

"You're not supposed to be having fun! You have a job to do!"

Bubbles looked at her as if she'd sprouted horns. "This is a party! Of course we're supposed to have fun!"

Blossom groaned and gave up, shouldering her way back through the singing mob as Bubbles re-joined the chorus. It occurred to her she'd lost Brick, and she threw one last dirty look at the center of attention for distracting her as he finished the song to a wave of cheering and bellowed, "Now how many of you know 'So Yesterday?'"

Brick stumbled into the basement of the west wing and paused for breath, grateful that the pounding bass here drowned out the musical atrocity his brother was responsible for starting. He descended the stairs, first taking note of the dance floor setup—that explained the bass—and then his other sibling, wrapped in a mess of dark hair and long legs against the far wall. Butch looked a little… preoccupied, so Brick rounded the base of the staircase and perched himself on the arm of a sofa. His presence unsettled the couple that was seated, who hastily got up and moved into the shadows.

"Perfect," he muttered in a pleased tone to himself, and flopped down on the cushions. Within seconds there was a figure at his side and a manicured fingernail on his cheek.

He closed his eyes and suppressed a groan as a voice attempting sultry purred, "Would you like to dance?"

"Can you tell me what contra body movement is?" he said evenly, not budging.

The fingers spread into a warm, open palm on his chest. "Are you coming on to me?"

"No," he said resolutely, and waved the girl away. "Why don't you Google it and then come find me."

She hovered for a second, perplexed, then uncomfortably sidled away. Brick noted a cluster of girls eyeing him from another corner—this was going to go on all night if he didn't do something about it. He lifted his head, enough for the pulsing lights to catch his eyes at just the right moment, and they flashed a grim, chilling red. The buzz of chatter in the room died almost instantly, and, after sharing a collective shudder, everyone who'd been looking averted their gaze.

'Much better,' he thought to himself, and settled back to enjoy his drink.

Blossom circled the first floor twice before wandering outside. She heard a sudden crack, followed by whoops and hollers, and went to go investigate.

Princess' Manor had a batting cage. And there was Buttercup, rolling her shoulders back and swinging a bat back and forth, ready for another ball. Blossom stared.

"Buttercup?" she cried, just as her sister swung and thwacked the ball into the air.

"What's up, Blossom?" she said in a surprisingly upbeat voice, and a couple of the folks behind her shouted their greetings.

Blossom scanned the group of athletes, then turned back to Buttercup, livid. "Where's Butch?"

"Search me." The dark-haired girl swung again, sending another ball soaring.

"Are—are you kidding me?" Blossom shrieked. "At least Bubbles was in the same room as her charge!"

"Look, if he'd wanted to do something, he'd have done it by now," Buttercup said in a rare show of intelligent deduction, and spat at the ground. "I've had a long few weeks. I deserve to wind down a little!" She swung this one exceptionally hard, and there sailed another ball, threatening to burst through the net as it connected. "Alright, guys. Someone else take a turn? I'm going to go check out the movie theater." Buttercup gave Blossom a pointed look. "Did you know she had a movie theater?"

The strangled noise of frustration Blossom made just before tearing off back into the house only proved one thing to Buttercup. She sighed and rolled her eyes. "That girl needs to chill the fuck out."

Something kicked Brick's leg, and he glared up at a grinning Butch.

"What the fuck are you doing, sitting?" Butch laughed. The collar of his shirt was sticking out at odd angles and his mouth looked a little bruised.

Brick shrugged and sipped at his drink. "Enjoying myself."

"That's pathetic." Butch flopped down next to him on the couch and, after a moment's consideration, added, "Though probably preferable, considering all the attention I'm getting."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I'm glad you're being an antisocial fuck, for once," Butch said with a grin, his attention suddenly on the girl he'd been cozy with at the wall. The couch bounced as she sat in his lap, and she giggled. Brick ignored them and drank his soda.

The girl was succeeding in tugging Butch up for a dance, and as he rose he looked at Brick and muttered, "Do me a favor and stay on the couch, huh?"

"Don't know what that's supposed to mean," Brick said, a paragon of innocence.

"Oh, fuck off," Butch laughed, and joined his partner on the dance floor.

With a defeated sigh, Blossom sank onto an empty chaise lounge in the hall. She'd circled the house what felt like a dozen times to no avail. Her superhearing was being clouded by all the party noise—the chatter, the music. And her sisters had totally forgone their duties. Didn't they care? Didn't they realize how important it was to protect this city? With all the diminishing monster attacks over the past few years, they must've gotten sloppy—Blossom had too. If only she hadn't let her guard down, if only she'd forced them to train every day so they'd always be on the lookout, always be at the ready for when an emergency arose…

She groaned and rested her elbows on her knees, cradling her head in her hands. She felt like such a failure. And being surrounded by an enormous mass of blissfully unconcerned teenagers was not helping.

"Blossom?" a gentle, familiar voice said, and Blossom lifted her head to find Robin standing over her. "Is everything okay?"

"Hi Robin," Blossom said colorlessly as her friend took a seat.

Robin threw a comforting arm over Blossom's shoulder. "Oh, come on, Blossom. The party's not that bad."

Blossom scoffed. "Yeah. My sisters are well aware. They're not even—it's like they don't even care that there are three boys capable of unfathomable destruction, walking in their midst. Freely. They're more interested in... in..."

After a pause, Robin ventured, "In being teenagers?"

Blossom gave her a look. "Except we can't just be teenagers! We're... responsible for everyone here, for their safety, Robin!"

"But you can't be 'on' all the time," Robin countered. "You guys need to, you know, loosen up and have some fun once in awhile!"

"My sisters have enough fun as it is," Blossom muttered.

"They certainly have an easier time of it than you do. You're way too..." Robin struggled for the right words. "You're very... mature for someone your age."

"Somehow you managed to make that not sound like a compliment," Blossom grumbled, her brow furrowed.

"Look, have the boys done anything yet?"

Blossom hated this question. It avoided the issue. "No. But the point isn't whether they've done anything. The point is what they're capable of."

Robin sighed and patted the redhead's arm. "Blossom, you can't be the... proverbial flu shot for every, you know... strain of flu. Sometimes you have to wait for the symptoms to show before you can treat it."

Blossom gave her a look. "I don't like that metaphor."

"English isn't my strong point. The point is you need to stop worrying and start enjoying yourself. Can you do that? Like, for me? As a friend?"

Blossom showed her just how big a fan she was of the idea by groaning and hanging her head.

"Look, come on," Robin urged, taking Blossom by the arm and dragging her up. "Come dance with me and some of the other girls."

"Oh, Robin, I don't really think—"

"Come on, Leader Girl," Robin pressed, surprisingly resilient as she turned a corner and descended a dark staircase with Blossom in tow. "Act your age for once, and stop being so God damn responsible!"

"Contra body movement: right foot and left shoulder forward, and vice versa."

Brick looked up at the girl, who smirked as she continued, "We do it all the time when walking. We just don't think of it in ballroom dance terms."

She had the build of a dancer—she even moved like one; he could see it in her swishy little movements when she sat next to him. He let her. "So," she continued, "how would you know what CBM is?"

"I'm kind of an expert," he shrugged, keeping his face neutral.

"On dancing?" she said incredulously, laughing. She had a sweet voice, and her pretty face was framed by pretty auburn hair, and man, talk about a pair of legs you could see for miles.

He turned to her and smirked, letting his voice get husky and low. "At everything."

He could practically hear her blushing. "Um, I'm Cindy."

"Hi Cindy," Brick said softly, bumping his knee into hers. "So how do you know what CBM is?"

"Well, I've only been dancing for, like, twelve years," Cindy laughed. "I'm the Senior Lieutenant of Townsville High's Dance Company."

"An officer, huh," he mused. "And an older woman, albeit one who's been eavesdropping."

"Hello, I was only standing, like, right next to her. Why'd you turn her down, anyway?"

"Because I've got standards." His tone was matter-of-fact. "Particularly when it involves me being the center of attention."

The look on that pretty face was incredulous. "You? Like being the center of attention?"

He smirked at her. "Don't believe me?"

Cindy stared at him a moment, a smile slowly spreading on her face. She stood and extended a hand to him, eyes glittering in the direction of the dance floor as a particularly fast, upbeat song started up. "Show me."

Sara—or maybe it was Tara? Fuck, like anyone expected Butch to bother with details like that. Whoever it was, he was about a minute away from turning their dance into the horizontal variety. So he was really confused when her attention was suddenly seized by something over his shoulder—frankly, it was kind of insulting, considering the work his mouth was doing on her neck.

"Oh my God," she gasped, except it wasn't the Oh my God Ecstasy gasp, it was the Oh my God Look at That gasp, and Butch pulled back to see her eyes on something behind him.

"What?" he queried, a little impatiently, and out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash of red.

'Oh, hell,' he thought frantically, and turned to see Brick in the center of the floor, pulling his partner out of a twirl and twisting around her as he did so. The circle of onlookers was already forming, and What's-Her-Name was tugging Butch along so she could get a better look.

Butch grit his teeth and glared at his brother. That fucking fuck. Hadn't he asked him to stay on the fucking couch?

"Goddammit, Brick."

"That bass is really loud," Blossom observed with a frown as she and Robin drifted down the staircase.

Robin paused. "Nobody's moving. What's—"

The two of them stopped, catching sight of what was holding everyone's attention.

Blossom goggled. "Wha—how does he—"

"He dances?" Robin articulated their thoughts quite succinctly, though it made the image before them no easier to accept as reality.

Blossom took a few steps forward, eyes wide. Cindy was with him—she knew ballroom, both she and Blossom had competed before—but with their high level of experience, the girls often wound up having to intentionally backlead their partners when it came to non-competitive dancing (not that Blossom did a lot of that anyway, but that was beside the point). Here, though, Cindy was nothing but follow. Brick was leading her into her moves—leading, like… like he'd had training. Professional training.

The idea of Brick knowing anything about partner dance technique was like trying to fit a triangular block into a circle-shaped hole in Blossom's head. She felt the beginnings of a migraine coming on.

"Closed position," Blossom whispered, dumbfounded. "He's got her in proper closed position."

"What?" Robin asked.

"Now he's swinging her into promenade position," Blossom went on. "That's Latin hip motion, that's same side leading… he's matching her footwork—no, she's matching his—"

Robin made an exasperated noise. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"He doesn't just know how to dance. Those are proper dance steps done in partner dancing. Cindy's… she's not having to pick up any slack, he's moving exactly where he wants her to go and they're not missing a single step!" Blossom cried, racking her brain furiously for a rational explanation and coming up empty. "How does he know this? How can he possibly know this?"

In an uncharacteristic show of emotion, Brick was actually kinda sorta grinning, if you squinted. But Blossom, having superhero quality eyes, could see that his small smile was really a smirk, that his eyes weren't bright and happy but sinister, and he kept his eyes on the audience as much as he kept them on Cindy, gauging their reaction and reveling in their attention. He wasn't just putting on a show, he was manipulating them into liking him.

"Jesus Christ, I hope that boy has a dance card," Robin said, looking around urgently. "I need to get my name on that thing immediately."

Blossom watched as Brick yanked Cindy up close, then, just as abruptly, bumped his hips into hers with such force that she lost her balance and fell back. He leant and caught her, swinging her up and around—she was delighted, she had no idea she was consorting with evil incarnate

Blossom huffed some stray hairs out of her face, and Brick must've picked up on the angry little sound. That, or the dirty look she was throwing him sent a chill through the unfortunate people in her path, and their collective shiver drew his attention. In any case, he happened to look up at that very moment, the smile—correction, smirk—dissolving from his face as he caught sight of her. His gaze iced over, and many of the party guests shuddered again.

He turned just as abruptly away, apparently determined not to let such a thing as the Force of Good kill his mood, except then a distant, familiar sound caught his and Blossom's attention. She immediately took flight and zipped over the crowd.

The sound of police sirens was more distinct now, and everybody was looking around uncertainly, save for three people. Brick's eyes instantly sought out Butch, who came running up just as Blossom managed to clear a space to land.

"What did you do?" she demanded, but Brick was turned away from her, preoccupied.

"What did you do?" he hissed at Butch, urging Cindy into the crowd.

"Nothing!" Butch cried, though a part of him sounded like he was disappointed he hadn't. "… At least, I don't remember doing anything. I think."

"That's not exactly a 'No,'" Brick muttered, but his eyes were back on the door, and before Blossom could demand an answer to her question he'd said something like, "Boomer," under his breath and taken off up the stairs in a streak of red. Blossom had no choice but to follow him, and Butch was right behind her. Though he made sure to keep a safe distance, so he could admire her properly.

Like his dark-haired brother, Boomer seemed to sense Brick's question through the very power of his gaze, and hastily cried, "It wasn't me!" before his brothers and Blossom could land amidst the equally confused upstairs party guests. "I've been playing music this whole time! Ask anybody!"

"Music?" Brick said, wrinkling his face in disgust. "How does what I heard you playing earlier qualify as music in any sense?"

"This is a remarkably elaborate game of playing dumb," Blossom said in a heated voice, and Brick whirled on her, ready to punch some holes in her theory, or possibly just her, when a disheveled Bubbles came running up.

"What have you done?" she cried, apparently aiming her question at the boys, but appearing way too concerned with fixing the misaligned buttons on her blouse.

"It wasn't me!" Boomer cried again. "I've been playing music this whole time!"

"Nothing!" Butch said fervently. "I only smoked, like, one! Maybe two under protest!"

Momentarily distracted, Blossom scrutinized her sister. "Why is your lipstick smudged?"

"I'm a messy drinker," Bubbles immediately said, wiping at her mouth. "Also, since you asked, I haven't seen Will for, like, an hour. Hand to God."

"Alright, I'm here," Buttercup said, emerging like an unconcerned teenager from the mist. "Where's the fire?"

"Right here." Blossom felt a touch on her arm and a sizzling sound. She punched Butch in the stomach.

"Stop bluffing," she seethed, gaze refocusing on Brick as Butch gasped for breath. "Now tell me what you're up to."

Brick looked livid, and a growl started in his throat that instantly subsided at the sound of Princess' hysterical voice.

"What are you doing? You can't arrest him! Don't you have any idea who he is?"

Their view was blocked by a massive crowd around the front door, and Buttercup took off to get a closer look. In seconds she returned, trying to keep the shocked glee from her face and failing in every respect. "They're arresting Princess' dad!"

The sharp clack of high heels echoed in the foyer above the buzz of whispers, and Princess' voice screamed, "Mother! Do something!"

Mrs. Morbucks merely sighed, and then her voice rang out across the room. "I'm afraid the party's over, all. Apologies for the scene. Please leave, if you would, and drive safe."

"Mother! Where are you going? We have to—"

A door slammed, and Princess' voice was muffled as she continued to shriek her throat out at her mother.

Brick turned a grim eye on Blossom. "Happy now?"

"That doesn't absolve you of guilty action," Blossom responded icily.

With a disgusted groan, Brick turned to his brothers. "I've had enough of this. Let's go."

"Can I take her home with me?" Butch asked, dodging Blossom's next blow. Buttercup took a turn and decked him in the head.

"Why?" Brick glanced back, his eyes narrowed. "Were they planning on following us?"

"Don't hold your breath," Buttercup snapped, before Blossom could suggest just that. "And take your garbage with you."

Boomer waved at Butch. "Come on, Garbage. Let's motor."

The second Butch was in the air Brick took off, his red streak already fading as his brothers followed suit.

Blossom sighed, oddly relieved. Then her gaze hardened and she whirled on her sisters.

Buttercup and Bubbles exchanged glances, then angled their heads together.

"That's her pissed off face," Buttercup observed in a conspiratorial tone.

"I was gonna say she looked disappointed, but I think pissed off describes it better," Bubbles agreed.

"I cannot believe you two," Blossom said reproachfully.

"Blossom, seriously. They didn't even do anything." Buttercup shrugged and made her way to the front door, talking over her shoulder. "And even if they had, we were right here."

"Yeah," Bubbles joined in as she took Blossom by the arm and guided her to the exit. "You worry too much."

"And you two don't do enough of it," Blossom reprimanded as they stepped out into the chilly air with another cluster of teenagers. She took a deep breath, preparing to launch into one of her long-winded lectures.

Her sisters recognized that inhale. Bubbles immediately took action. "Do you hear that?" she said abruptly, tilting her head. The sound of screeching tires and frenetic horn-honking was steadfastly approaching, and in a matter of seconds the Professor's station wagon was braking to a hard stop in the grass, digging deep ruts into the lawn.

Their father jumped out, headlights still beaming, and dashed up to the girls. "Girls! I heard sirens! I saw cops here on the news! Are you—"

"We're fine, Professor," the girls answered in one bored voice. Facing giant monsters? Big deal. Mojo Jojo destroying Townsville? Old hat. But man, put cops and teenagers within a mile of each other and he was tearing down doors in a frantic bid to ensure his girls were safe, when they'd been in the living room the entire time. He had a habit of overreacting.

"Thank God," he gasped, clutching his chest. His face hardened. "Was it—"

"Not the boys," Buttercup and Bubbles interrupted. Blossom mumbled something similar, a petulant look on her face. "They arrested Mr. Morbucks for something," Bubbles filled him in.

"Hey," Buttercup said, eyeing the keys in his hand. "You said one of us could drive home tonight—"

The Professor froze as Buttercup and Bubbles suddenly adopted excited puppy expressions, clutching his keys like a lifeline. "Oh... right," he laughed nervously. "Um..." He reached a hand toward Buttercup, then paused. He drifted uneasily over to Bubbles, and pulled his hand back again.

Blossom sighed and extended her mitt. The Professor gratefully dropped the ring of keys into her hand, and Buttercup and Bubbles groaned their disappointment.

"Next time you girls actually do what I tell you to, I'll turn the keys over," Blossom informed them as they piled into the station wagon.

Brick was bored out of his mind.

He seemed to be bored a lot these days. Bored or pissed off. Townsville brought out the best in him, after all, he thought to himself bitterly.

He looked over his completed Algebra test one last time. Boomer had taken the same one yesterday and bitched about it to no end. It had taken Brick just under five minutes to finish. And he still had nearly an hour and a half to go.


The teacher was looking at him suspiciously, and Brick pretended to do some scratch work in the margins of his test. He wanted to just turn in the fucking thing. It was hard enough trying to stay awake in class while the teacher tried to drill formulas he'd already familiarized himself with. It was hard enough pretending that he belonged in all these stupid classes, with all these stupid people who couldn't tell the difference between quadratic and quartic, syntax and simile, Napoleon and Nemo, for fucking fuck's sake. Brick was deceptively smart, and good at a lot of things, but being average was not one of them.

He hated this school. He hated this city. Given the choice, he never—ever—would've chosen to come back. Brick's jaw tightened. This was all Darius' fault. Brick should've contested his decision. Smith would've listened to him, would've caved eventually if Brick had only fought for it

He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Getting worked up about it here wasn't going to do him any good. He was having enough trouble trying to keep himself from calling Penny at home, begging for an assignment, a job, anything to distract him from being stuck in this Godforsaken town. Hell, at this point, he'd even do it for free, money wasn't an issue anyway, not with the monthly stipend JS, Inc. was providing him and his brothers. Penny wouldn't tell, either, she liked the boys, and besides, even if he did find out, Smith himself wouldn't give a damn—

No. Brick grit his teeth and angrily scratched out his fake margin work. He couldn't risk it anyway, with those fucking Powerpuffs and their feeble police force hovering all the time. That, and Darius was expecting it, waiting for Brick to cave in and throw a tantrum about being under-utilized and under-recognized, and Brick would gut himself before he'd ever give Darius the satisfaction.

He sighed and glanced at the clock. Three minutes had gone by. God damn it.

Brick glanced at the teacher to make sure he wasn't looking, then chanced a glimpse of the rest of the class. Buttercup and Butch were in this one too. Buttercup was chewing her pencil in half as she glared at her test, possibly trying to will the answers to magically appear. Butch didn't look like he really gave a shit. He was already half asleep.

Suddenly Brick bristled, sensing something—no, hearing something. Something big. Something—

He looked at his desk in relation to the rest of the room—he was seated up front in the leftmost row, about a foot away from the bookshelves on the wall. That wasn't going to do. He picked up his desk and moved three paces to the right, attracting the attention of the rest of the class.

"Brick," Mr. Ivy said sternly, "What are you—"

Brick ignored him and sat down again just as a giant scaled claw came crashing through the roof, its pinky toe—or what one might have considered its pinky toe by monster standards—squashing the floor where Brick had sat not five seconds ago.

Several things happened, not necessarily in this order: People started screaming and running for the door. Butch woke up. Buttercup took to the air, cursing under her breath and firing her eyebeams as she soared through the hole the giant foot had created. Brick stood up and calmly laid his test down at the now vacant teacher's desk.

He watched as the giant foot disappeared, looking up to see a pale green streak of light, shortly joined by her pink and blue sisters. He and his brother were the only ones remaining in the room now.

Before Butch could get any ideas, Brick grabbed him by the arm and hurried him out the door. "Come on," he urged. "Let's grab Boomer."

"What?" Butch cried, darting a longing glance at the fight behind them. "And miss out on all the fun?"

"We're not missing out on anything," Brick responded, navigating through the mass chaos that had exploded in the halls. "Hurry up, he was in Gym with the blue one, he can't be far. Once we find him we'll take off."

"Take off? Where the fuck to?"

"A front row seat," Brick said grimly. "I want to see what these whiny little girls can really do."

It wasn't a difficult task, finding the girls. The ugly long armed, mono-eyed, scaly twenty-five story high friend they had with them was anything but subtle.

Blossom was having the girls herd the monster as far away from the school as possible. Brick and his brothers trailed them on foot, making sure to stay out of sight. They wound up in an area of the city near the docks, and, after weighing their options, the boys snuck into an office building that was hastily being evacuated.

They stopped on the twenty-second floor, and Brick waved them to the ceiling high windows that made up one wall. Boomer grabbed an office chair out of one of the deserted cubicles and rolled to a stop by the windows. "Primo seats," he commented as he took in the battle raging on below them. "These windows going to be an issue?"

"Too reflective from the outside," Brick answered, opting to stand. "They're not going to see us."

"Are we taking bets? Can we take bets?" Butch asked, pressing his face to the glass. Boomer maneuvered his chair in between his brothers.

"Who's your money on?" he asked.

Butch considered. "She's out." He pointed at Bubbles.

"You think?" Boomer leaned on his knees, frowning in thought.

"Totally. She'll be out in less than five minutes."

"Buttercup." Brick's voice was low, confident. He pointed. "There's no strategy to her attacks; she just keeps hitting the thing head on." He watched as she ignored yet another command from Blossom and shook his head. "She doesn't take orders, either. She's being completely irresponsible; she's either going to prematurely tire herself out or Godzilla there's going to knock her out himself. She's not going to last for long."

"Sounds like someone we know," Boomer laughed.

"Fuck you," Butch said, swiping at Boomer's head.

"Your listening skills could use a lot of work," Brick admitted, his tone serious.

"I listen as good as either of you," Butch grumbled.

Brick smirked. "You don't take criticism well either."

"Anyway," Butch interrupted, eager to get back to the matter at hand, "I think you're wrong, Buttercup'll outlast Bubbles by ages—"

A sudden POP reverberated outside, and all three boys watched Buttercup go sailing into space.

Boomer winced. "Yikes. In the face."

Brick was sickeningly smug. "So how much do you owe me for that one?"

"Whatever," Butch said, keeping his voice neutral. "At least my girlfriend's still in." Blossom had taken advantage of the monster's attack on her sister to zip behind it and power kick it in the head. The thing lost its balance and toppled forward, birthing a huge crater.

"Golf claps." Boomer politely tapped his hands together.

"Her form wasn't bad," Brick grudgingly admitted.

"Her form is pretty fucking sweet, if you ask me," Butch gurgled. "Is there a bucket somewhere I could, you know, drool into?"

The creature started to rise, snarling, and a blue streak zoomed in, uppercutting it into the air. Blossom swung around, raising her leg for another kick. The boys watched for a while as it ping ponged between the girls, limp as a badminton shuttlecock as they volleyed it back and forth.

Butch sighed. "What a woman."

"They oughtta just get it over with," Brick said disdainfully. "Sooner or later it's going to—"

He was interrupted by a sudden, furious roar, and the monster slapped a palm against Bubbles, crushing her into the pavement. Blossom immediately shot down, aiming her fist for the monster's elbow joint, but the monster spat a wad of pink, viscous saliva at her, and the force of it slammed her into the sidewalk. Almost instantly she was up and struggling, but the pink stuff held fast, and the more she strained against it the more resistant it seemed to become.

"Ew." Boomer made a face. "She's covered in that shit."

Brick was eyeing the pink saliva; it was ripe with possibility. He made a mental note to get a sample before they left.

"I never would've guessed Bubbles would be the last to go down," Butch said, shaking his head in disbelief. The girl in question suddenly shot through the creature's hand, and it howled in pain, clutching its injured appendage. Her eyebeams seared across its chest, and she followed up with a hard punch. It toppled backwards onto the street, twitching.

Boomer's face lit up. "Hey! Isn't that, like, me winning through a substitute, or something?"

"You never actually placed a bet," Brick pointed out. Bubbles was rushing to her sister's aid, but hesitated as she got close, unsure how to free her. "That was kind of disappointing, actually. The thing barely put up a—"

"Oh holy fucking shit it's getting up!" Butch cackled, pointing, and sure enough, with shocking agility, the thing pulled itself up on its spindly arms, reared its head, and spat. Bubbles too was now covered in monster branded super glue.

Boomer held up an imaginary microphone. "Now this is a real pickle! How will our heroes get out of this one? Brick! Thoughts?"

"I think that was pathetic on all accounts," Brick said in disgust. "Sloppy work, what kind of superhero team is this? They weren't paying attention to anything, one of them was out of the game within the first five minutes—"

A glint in the sky caught Butch's attention, and he waved at Brick. "Hey. You see that?"

Boomer stood on his chair and squinted his eyes. "Bird? Plane?"

Brick rolled his eyes. "Superman?"

"Too fast for any of those," Butch said. The spark hurtled toward Earth like, like a hunter moving in for the kill, or a woman on a mission...

Buttercup barreled into the beast at full force, and it went flying, leaving a huge concrete trench in its wake and only stopping when it hit a derelict building that crumpled upon contact. The grimace on the girl hovering amidst the dust only hardened.

"Bad fucking time to piss me off," the boys heard her call after it. She caught sight of her sisters and zipped down to help them.

Boomer gave a low whistle. "Daaaaaaamn."

"That was... pretty impressive," Brick permitted, eyes widening ever-so-slightly.

"She whacked the fuck out of that thing," Butch added, watching the behemoth she'd whacked the fuck out of rise to its feet. The movement in the distance caught Buttercup's attention too, and, possibly realizing there was little she could do for her sisters, she took off toward the monster again.

"Stubborn bastard, isn't it?" Boomer idly commented.

"Which one?" Brick retorted. They all watched as Buttercup kicked off the concrete, sleekly dodging more of the monster's spit as she jumped from one building to the next, and got in a good, solid punch to its midsection. It doubled over, then slapped her away. She came crashing back to the concrete, just under the building the boys were watching from. It then broke into a run, screeching as it barreled towards Buttercup, who grimaced as she coughed out dust.

Butch chuckled and ran his tongue across his teeth, completely involuntarily. He knew that feeling, the grit that collected at the gums, the taste of mud in his mouth—

She bulleted up to meet the monster and dodged, grabbing it as it narrowly missed her and used its own momentum against it, flinging it around and up into the sky. After awhile, Boomer started counting, and around twenty-three counts the thing finally fell back to Earth, sending a tremor through the city. The boys wobbled, briefly.

All of them, boys and girls included, watched with bated breath. The monster didn't twitch. Buttercup's shoulders slumped—she'd been more tired than she'd let on—and met her incapacitated sisters on the ground again.

Butch narrowed his eyes as his brothers made more mindless chatter. Something twitched.

A monstrous claw suddenly shot out, snatching Buttercup by one leg and whipping her around headfirst into a building. The concrete shattered from the blow, and she was thrown against the asphalt. A stray green beam shot out, directionless, missing the beast by miles. Still clutching her, it flung her into another building, then into the glass windows of another smaller office building, back into the asphalt, against a junked car on the curb. Several more green streaks of light shot out from her hands, her eyes, none of them connecting with its target.

Brick was shaking his head, disapproving. "She needs to stop doing that. The Chemical X won't have any time to heal her if she keeps wasting it on her energy beams..."

Sure enough, the next time she was flung into a building, a faint smear of red painted itself on the concrete, glittering in the afternoon light. Butch's eyes lit up and he started to lean forward but he caught himself, darting a glance at Brick to see if he'd noticed.

Brick hadn't, but Boomer was watching him warily. Butch ignored him and turned back to the glass.

Finally the monster released her, letting her body slam into the asphalt like a limp rag doll. Her movements were slow and jerky, and she winced, clearly feeling every hit. Half of her face was coated in blood.

The smirk that was threatening to morph into a full-fledged grin was difficult to keep off his face; Butch had to bite his lip to keep the smile from spreading.

Buttercup forced herself to her feet and spat, curling her lip as the monster angled its head. It suddenly raised a foot and stomped down on her.

The boys simply watched. Butch clenched and unclenched the fist his brothers couldn't see, trying to focus on the movement, the tensing in his muscles. If he concentrated he could feel it, really feel it, the searing pain as his body forced itself to keep fighting until there was nothing left, until all the other senses shut down and there was only the adrenaline, the rush, the sensation of struggling not just to live, but to feel alive

A burst of green light exploded underneath the creature's foot, and it slowly, slowly began to rise. Buttercup was straining underneath it, flying at full speed but still struggling with its immense weight.

"She's wearing her body thin." Brick's voice was coldly analytical. "If she keeps up like that she's going to pass out completely. She's expending more X than her system can produce, and it's already doing double duty trying to heal her wounds and power her muscles—"

Buttercup spun out from underneath its foot and shot toward its head. Brick was right, though, her body was tired and her reflexes were weak too, so she probably never even saw the monster's holey palm coming toward her until it had already slammed her into the pavement again. At the curb, still coated in a thick layer of pink, Blossom and Bubbles frantically struggled against their binds, panic in their eyes.

Brick shook his head in disgust. "Stupid."

Butch's eyes flicked briefly to his brother, then back to the scene below as he struggled to keep his expression neutral. He could've kept going. A real fighter would keep going, no matter how weak the body felt, no matter how many bruises or scratches it took.

The monster lifted a limp Buttercup up, dangling her by one leg. After a moment's contemplation, it tipped its head back—

"Oh, shit," Boomer hissed through his teeth—

It swallowed her whole, to the soundless, screaming protests of her sisters. Brick shrugged.

"A lesson in strategy."

"What's the lesson," Butch said distractedly, his eyes still on the monster.

"To have a strategy." Brick's attention was on the two remaining girls, still trapped in their sticky pink prison. "You, of all people, should be paying attention."

Butch was quiet.

The monster moved towards Blossom and Bubbles, then halted. A deep, low rumble, like thunder, shook the air.

Boomer squinted. "What the fuck—"

Suddenly the beast exploded into a million little pieces, and Butch and Brick dove out of the way as a large chunk of it came hurtling through the windows. An unlucky Boomer was slammed into the far wall.

"Oh, fuck! Sick, dude! Jesus fucking Christ!" He rolled the gooey hunk off of him and gagged, dripping in monster entrails.

Buttercup was hovering where the monster had stood, a thick coat of green dripping off her. Her own blood was still visible on her face; it'd actually spread quite a bit, and her pupils looked dilated. But her eyes were still shimmering green, bright and alert. She took a deep breath and inspected her handiwork; they were going to have a fuck of a time cleaning this up.

It took a gargantuan effort to keep the smug, nasty grin off his face as Butch turned to his brother and asked, "What do you make of that?"

His brother wasn't amused. "Defeating that thing required about half the energy she spent and virtually no spilled blood on her part. She didn't take a second to think, or plan. She didn't even listen to her sister's fucking orders, just took off like a headless chicken."

The smile that had threatened to break across Butch's face dissolved at Brick's words. "She got the job done."

"She got lucky." Brick gave his brother a hard look, scrutinizing him.

Butch tried to keep his face apathetic, and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

After a long moment, Brick turned from him to Boomer, who had squished his way back to the group. He wrinkled his face. "Dude. You reek."

Boomer glared at him.

Butch went back to watching the girls—Buttercup had kicked open a fire hydrant and aimed the spray as best she could at her sisters. The pink stuff started to dissolve. As soon as Blossom's head was free, she screamed at Buttercup, "What were you thinking? You could've been killed!"

Even in her exhausted state, Buttercup rolled her eyes and ignored her sister, trying to wash the mess off her via the fire hydrant.

"Come on," Brick abruptly said. "Wouldn't do us any good to be caught at the site of a monster attack."

"Man," Boomer groaned, holding his arms out on either side of his body. "I'm going to need five fucking elephant nozzles to get this shit off of me."

Butch followed them to the exit, keeping his distance, partly because Boomer really did stink, partly because then Brick couldn't see the slow, crazed smile that crept onto his face.

Finally. Someone who got it.

The slow mechanisms of a plan began to form in Butch's head.

"That was reckless," Blossom reprimanded Buttercup for the thousandth time that day at the dinner table.

"It's dead, isn't it?" Buttercup groaned, waving at the Professor to pass the potatoes. "And I'm all healed up already, God."

"You put yourself in serious danger, there!"

Buttercup scoffed. "We put ourselves in serious danger every day!"

"You didn't listen to me!" Blossom angrily stabbed at her food. "If you'd been paying attention when it first attacked, we could've taken it on as a team, but no, you had to—"

"How was your day, Professor?" Bubbles tried to speak over the shouting.

"Good!" The Professor's voice carried well over the argument that was going on at the table. "Except for that lapse in the monster barrier, obviously—but you girls took care of that—"

"Yeah, we sure did, didn't we, Blossom?" Buttercup interrupted. "If it wasn't for you being all trapped in monster spit, I never would've defeated that thing! I just don't know how I could've done it without you!"

Blossom gaped. "You little—"

The hotline suddenly buzzed, and silence settled over the table. After a few rings, Bubbles looked at her sisters, locked in a staring match to the death. "I'll get it," she decided, and zipped to the living room.

"Powerpuff hotline," she chirped as she lifted the receiver to her ear.

"Girls!" the Mayor's familiar voice spluttered on the line. "There's a break-in at the prison!"

Bubbles furrowed her brow and smiled. The Mayor mixed up his words a lot when he was under stress. "A break-in? Mayor, I think you mean break-out—"

"No! I mean a break-in! Hurry girls! There's no telling what they may do!"

After assuring him they were on their way, Bubbles hung up and zoomed back to the kitchen. "There's a break-in at the prison, girls!"

Everybody turned to look at her funny. Bubbles was known to mix up her words when she was under stress. "A break-in? Don't you mean a break-out?" Blossom said soothingly.

Bubbles rolled her eyes.

"You don't have to be so hard on her." Bubbles made sure her voice sounded neutral. The cityscape stretched out below them as she and Blossom flew. "She's, you know... been kinda stressed out this month—"

"She needs to learn to listen," Blossom said firmly. They'd opted for Buttercup to stay at home, considering the energy she'd spent ("Wasted," Blossom had interjected) earlier in the day. "It doesn't matter what personal things she's got going on—she never chooses to share that stuff with us, which is also a mistake. If she's got something on her mind, she should say so. But no, she keeps it all to herself—"

"You know she's never been very good at expressing herself," Bubbles interrupted. "So she lets all her feelings... I dunno, build up—"

"And lets everything out when there's a fight, and winds up going overboard, and wearing herself out, and putting herself in serious danger, like today." Blossom shook her head and clicked her tongue. "It's irresponsible, is what it is."

Bubbles watched as the prison rose up in the distance, seconds away. After a moment, she said quietly, "It's human."

"But we're not."

Her sister's response took Bubbles by surprise, and she shot her a beseeching look. "So what are we?"

Blossom's face was unreadable; she was closing it off on purpose. "Better," she said softly.

Lights and sirens were all ablaze at the prison, and Blossom and Bubbles were instantly drawn to a sizable hole on the least lit side of the building. As they zoomed down, a figure suddenly appeared, silhouetted in the light.

Blossom and Bubbles screeched to a stop, gaping.


"She tried to break her dad out?"

Bubbles nodded her head vigorously at the gaggle of students clustered around her in art. "She'd upgraded one of her old supersuits and tried to bust Mr. Morbucks out of prison."

"What was he in for?"

"The police said insider trading, whatever that is," Bubbles said. "Something to do with money."

"I heard her mom threw a real fit," one of the other girls said in a low voice. "Packed up Princess' things and sent her off to some French boarding school."

"Is that why she's not here today?"

At the other end of the table, Brick gave a heavy sigh. Blocking out this inane gossip was harder than he'd expected. He flipped open his sketchbook and rummaged for a pencil.

"Alright, class." Miss Maybury clapped her hands. "We're having a gesture drawing session, and will be visiting the Dance III class today for it—"

"Yay!" Bubbles exploded. "Blossom's choreographing their piece!"

Brick suddenly went still. Was this someone's idea of a joke?

Miss Maybury continued, "The focus of this visit should be to capture lines of action. I don't necessarily want to see full-fledged sketches, or a lot of detail beyond a head. Your drawings should look more like stick figures. Focus on capturing the moment the body is in movement. With a good line of action, it should be clear even without any details what the body is doing."

Her words went in one ear and out the other for Brick. He frowned. Dancers? Both of them? This couldn't just be a coincidence...

The class filed out of the room, chatting amongst themselves as they moved down the hall to the studio.

"I hear your sister's a real Nazi," one of the guys said to Bubbles. Brick angled his head and slowed down, slightly.

"Who told you that?" Bubbles sounded as if she were pouting.

"No, it's true! My younger sister's in the class, she says Blossom is a real perfectionist—"

"I'll give her that," Bubbles admitted. "She's really good, though..."

The group of students, led by Miss Maybury, traipsed through the empty locker room. Blossom's voice was muffled behind the door, counting out beats and barking orders—

"Girls! Come on! I thought I told you to work on your 6-step last class!"

"Nazi," sang the boy from earlier, and Bubbles kicked him.

Miss Maybury knocked politely, and Mrs. Olson came to the door. She beamed.

"Hey! Right on time. You're in for a treat, a few of the officers were excused from their fourth period classes to help us out. " She backed up to let them in. "Officers, the Art IV class is here—"

The entire dance class whirled around. Blossom was one in a line of three girls closet to the mirrors. Bubbles waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. It dropped off her face, however, when she caught sight of Brick. He inwardly groaned and rolled his eyes.

"Girls, I'm going to go finish up some paperwork," Mrs. Olson announced. "Blossom, you know what to do."

Miss Maybury smiled as the director left. "Hi, Blossom."

"Afternoon," Blossom said, her eyes guarded and on Brick.

"Care to explain what you're working on today?"

Blossom cleared her throat and stepped away from the group slightly. "Of course. The Dance III class is doing a hip-hop routine for the Company's Winter show next month."

"Choreographed by Blossom," Cindy announced. She was one of the other three girls at the front, and she caught Brick's eye and grinned. He twitched his lips in response.

"Where can my students sit so they're out of your way?"

Cindy and the other girl at the front laughed. "Good luck!" the third girl giggled. "She's got them moving all over the place."

"Anywhere should be fine so long as they're against the wall," Blossom huffed, frowning at her fellow officers. "Um, you probably want some... dynamic poses?"

"Oh, that'd be great, where should they sit to catch those?"

"Like Mel said, we'll be moving all over the place, and facing all directions at some point. Most of it will be to the front, of course, so you guys might want to bunch up at the mirrors. But, we probably won't do a full run-through of the routine till towards the end, we're still drilling specific areas—"

"That's fine," Miss Maybury said dismissively. "They can do some free sketching until then. Class, be sure to stay out of their way. Blossom, we're not even here."

Blossom's eyes flickered to Brick and narrowed. "Right."

Brick grimaced and seated himself at the side wall, as far away from her as he could get.

Blossom cleared her throat and went back to instructing. "Okay girls. Let's split up! Middle section, you're with me. You are going to get this 6-step right, or so help me—"

The class split into three groups, with Mel and Cindy taking the other two. Within minutes the studio was a cacophony of voices—the three dance officers barking out eight counts, the art students socializing as they sketched. Occasionally Mel or Cindy stopped the girls and backpedaled, isolating certain counts to re-drill. Blossom, however, singled out dancers.

"Kelly! Extend your arm! It looks like a dead fish!"

"April! Smile! For Pete's sake, you're not at a funeral!"

"Danae! Pay attention, and stop staring at Brick!"

Brick looked up abruptly at the sound of his name. One of the girls was flushed red from head to toe. Instead of glaring at her, though, Blossom was glaring at Brick.

"Brick," she said slowly. "Maybe you should move."

The chatter in the room died almost instantly. Miss Maybury had disappeared from the studio; they could hear her chatting with Mrs. Olson back in the office. Bubbles was seated at the mirrors near Blossom, her wary eyes darting to Brick. He narrowed his eyes.

"Danae's not the only one," Blossom announced. "A lot of you keep staring at him when you ought to be paying attention to your officers."

Brick bit his bottom lip and jumped to his feet. He briskly strode to the center of the mirrors, passing Bubbles, and dropped his sketchbook with a loud thump, turning to Blossom and tilting his head. He was standing directly in front of her now.

"Better?" he snapped, voice acidic. She only glowered at him.

He sat, his glare still boring into her, and flung his sketchbook open. "Please. Don't let me distract you."

Practice resumed with tension heavy in the air. Blossom seemed especially affected; she was counting even louder and yelling more. Brick frequently checked the clock on the wall, unable to lose himself in his sketching.

"You like working in charcoal?"

Bubbles had edged closer, and Brick blinked. After a moment's contemplation, he responded, "I do."

Bubbles shifted. "I like acrylics, myself. I noticed, you do all your sketches in charcoal."

"You sure have been doing a good job of watching me," Brick said humorlessly. He nodded at Blossom. "Tell her to give you a gold star when you two get home."

To his surprise, Bubbles laughed. He gave her a weird look. She cleared her throat and tapped her sketchbook. "So, I like acrylics, but pencils are okay. I like the softer leads, at least a 6B."

"Why are you talking to me," Brick said incredulously, shaking his head.

"I was just noticing, was all. You like softer leads too, don't you? You haven't used anything harder than a 5B—"

"Bubbles." Blossom was staring straight ahead as she blocked in her moves, her voice hard. "You're talking too loud. It's distracting."

Bubbles pulled her lips in between her teeth, curling into herself sheepishly. "Sorry, sis."

Quiet settled in their corner again, the dance counts and idle chatter fading into background noise. Remarkably, Brick found it easier to concentrate, and within the span of a few minutes he began to relax, rolling the charcoal in his hands, blowing away the dust as he scratched soft, thick black lines into his sketchbook.

There was a tap on his shoulder, and he looked at Bubbles. She had an odd look on her face as she studied her sketchbook, one hand tapping the floor next to him. He followed the line of her arm—she moved a loose piece of paper across the hardwood in his direction. He squinted. It was a rough sketch of him sitting, hunched over his sketchbook. Her lines were messy, but confident, and it was actually a pretty good drawing—

He grunted and went back to his work. Five seconds later she tapped him again, and he looked down to find another sheet, this one with a giant frowny face drawn on it. He gave her a look. She pretended to be engrossed in her sketching.

"Okay," Blossom announced, clapping her hands to bring the class to attention. "I think we're ready to block the whole thing out, in eight counts. We'll do that twice, once to time, and then to music."

Cindy's and Mel's groups moved back to the center of the room, and several art students maneuvered their way to the front of the room—Blossom adjusted them as necessary. She blew her bangs out of her face and took a deep breath, staring straight ahead and ignoring the two people directly seated in front of her. "Ready, girls?"

"Go Blossom!" Bubbles whispered, doing a little fist pump. Brick and Blossom both gave her a look.

"Middle section, remember the 6-step," Blossom warned. "We're skipping the opening solo, and going right into the head lift. Five, six, seven, eight—"

The class looked really good, when they were moving in unison. Mel and Cindy were especially good, with wide smiles on their faces, as if it were a true performance. Brick filled several pages with action lines while he was watching them. Blossom, for all that she was right in front of them, wasn't as arresting, he smugly noted to himself. She was too busy watching the class, scrutinizing their every move. Granted, the middle section—her group—had significantly more... athletic moves than the outer sections; they were on the floor a lot, and several girls, he noticed, were wearing knee pads.

It wasn't a perfect performance from top to bottom, and as it ended Blossom immediately started calling individuals out again, analyzing where they'd faltered and offering them advice on how to fix it. Ten minutes of that, and they were ready to go once more.

"To time, now," Blossom said. "You better keep up, we're going straight through. Five, six, seven, eight—"

Again, Mel and Cindy outshone the rest, and again, Brick felt remarkably satisfied that Blossom was rather average as a dancer. He couldn't imagine what Bubbles had meant when she said her sister was really good, but then again, Bubbles seemed the type to hand out meaningless praise by the truckload.

Blossom ran down the list of offending persons once more when they were done, but she did concede a little. "It's looking better, girls. Good job. To music, now—make sure to keep up. I'll freestyle the solo at the beginning for now, watch for my cue to come in. Michelle, do me a favor and hit play on the stereo? Crank it up. Thank you."

A quick, steady beat began pulsing from the speakers, gradually growing louder, and, out of habit now, Brick's eyes were drawn to Cindy and Mel, their heads down. A sudden movement caught his attention, though, and he turned to see Blossom snaking amidst the class, her body carving a smooth path through the crowd.

She moved well—strikingly well, in fact, and her body was forming some damn good lines. His charcoal flashed across the page of its own volition.

She sidled to the front, and there was her cue. The room suddenly burst into motion, the entire place an organized, visual explosion of movement, and Brick blinked, taken aback. Next to him, Bubbles tapped her feet giddily on the floor in excitement.

Put together, he could see the routine was surprisingly complicated. Groups split into smaller sections, like a dividing cell, then rejoined the first, and they moved in every damn direction, but it was fluid, unified. There was a lot of popping going on—he never would've pegged Blossom the hip hop type. But she had them doing everything, from isolation, to strobing, to waving, tutting—

And Blossom. Maybe it was the music. It had to be the music. But she was a completely different dancer now, her eyes bright and far away instead of devoutly focused on the class, the smile on her face so natural it was hard to believe she might be faking it for a performance.

Brick realized he was staring and felt disgusted with himself. He forced his eyes back to Cindy, to Mel, tried some simple sketches. He paused. They looked dead compared to the ones he'd drawn while watching Blossom. He bit his lip and tried a few more. Fuck. He might as well not draw any.

Reluctantly, he lifted his gaze to the girl in front of him. She and the middle section hit the floor, knees digging into the wood, the angle of her hip so sharp it could've cut glass. The charcoal flashed again, and Brick glanced at his paper. The one line he'd just drawn, of that move, that line alone could've been slapped into a frame and sold for thousands.

He couldn't help it; despite what Miss Maybury may or may not have said, he started adding small details. With superpowers, it was easy to keep up. Every move Blossom hit was a deep scratch on the page, and by the time she moved into the next Brick had already sketched her torso, limbs, the path of her hair. She was good. Really fucking good. It almost felt like cheating, drawing her movements, because they were so captivating, so beautiful—

The gears in Brick's brain ground to a sudden halt, and his charcoal snapped in half. He stared at the spray of black dust on his page. What was he thinking?

This sort of thing happened, sometimes—Brick would get lost in his work, and his mind would get away from him. Ugh. What the fuck, brain?

He set his jaw and forcibly lowered his sketchbook. He'd drawn enough; he was two pages away from running out of room. The routine was coming to a close, too—there were a couple poses that Brick very nearly wished he'd captured, but he remained stubborn and crossed his arms.

The art class applauded for the dancers once they were done, and Bubbles jumped up, bouncing up and down. "That was sooo crazy good! You choreographed that whole thing, I can't believe it! The wavy thing you did in the middle was the best, I loved it, sooo cool..."

Blossom laughed and smiled. "Good to hear."

"Wanna see my sketches?" Bubbles prodded, and reached for her book without waiting for an answer. She caught sight of Brick's sketches and paused. "Oh, wow," she said, amazed, crouching and shifting to get a better look. "Those are beautiful—"

Brick slammed his book shut and gave her a sharp look. She straightened, taken aback.

"No need to get all huffy," Blossom said. "She was paying you a high compliment." Gone were those bright eyes, that dancer's smile. The narrow glare Brick had gotten so used to over the past month had taken its place.

Past month. It was February now, Brick reflected. Already? How'd that happen?

He stood up, dusting the charcoal off his hands and wondering whether to get snippy back or just ignore her, when the door opened and Mrs. Olson peeked in. "Brick?"

The three of them looked up in surprise. "Yes?" Brick said slowly, voice wary.

"Oh, there you are. Um, there's... someone here to see you?"

Brick's eyes went wide, taken aback. Blossom gave him a suspicious glance as he walked across the studio and through the door.

"She's here in my office," Mrs. Olson explained, and led him to the edge of the locker room, where a sharp looking woman stood, her pale, freckled face framed by red curls. She looked familiar...

She turned to greet them as they walked in the door. "Hello there. Brick?"

"Yes," he acknowledged, shaking her hand. "And you are?"

"Mrs. Morbucks," the woman said, smiling warmly, and something clicked in Brick's brain. "You were at Princess' party a week or so back, yes?"

"That I was," Brick said, nodding.

Mrs. Morbucks' smile widened. "I knew I'd find you, sooner or later. Well. I have a proposition for you."

-end Ch. 1-