First on the bad list,

And your the last on mine.

Lookin' for a scapegoat,

Long past due

_"Where do I hide" - Nickelback

"What do you mean?" I asked, moving aside for them to access the front counter. The Stronghold guy pretended that Layla wasn't causing a scene and put their things on the counter for Mr. Wong to ring up.

"How'd you get that black eye?" Layla questioned, calmly. You know, just from her tone and very calm pushiness, I thought she'd make a great social worker, but that's just me.

"My whole face is black, the eye doesn't make a difference," I said. And, quick to change the subject, I added, "You told them about me?"

"Were you attacked? Because you know there's some villain wannabes going around attacking…our school's students," Layla told me, ignoring my question.

I didn't see the logic in that. Honestly, if they preached anything at Sky High, it was secrecy and protection of identities. How would a villain, not even an actual villain at that, get their hands on the school roster?

"No," I shook my head. "I got this doing my own private business. And that whole villain wannabe thing probably isn't true. Like Freshmen Friday at my old school."

"Freshmen Friday?" Stronghold asked.

"Yeah, you know, when all the seniors are supposed to gang up on any freshmen they see and do the worst bullying they can? Totally didn't happen. They said it would happen to sweat us out," I answered. "The villain wannabe story was probably made up so that you guys wouldn't go around blathering about school."

Layla didn't look convinced. But I didn't really care unless she planned on attaching herself to me like a leach for the rest of my term at Sky High. Which, to be honest, would suck big, hairy balls.

"Violet, I just want to-" Layla started. She wanted to do what? Know? Help? Meddle?

Alright, this girl was forcing herself in, I decided. So I attempted my best at kicking her the fuck out…nicely.

"Look, Layla," I said, cutting her off, "I know the whole protectiveness thing is programmed in at school, but I'm a big girl. Totally legal and everything. I should be able to take care of myself. And," I added, "If I can't, then I'll have to rely on my superhero of a roommate. Speaking of which," insert fake glance at watch, "I have a study group with her in ten minutes."

Layla still didn't look convinced. I just settled on a "Nice seeing you, really. Bye." and disappeared out the door. I really got a feeling she was going to make it her job tracking me down in school because she thought someone was after me.

Why couldn't I have just not talked to her in the elevator? Just let her stare at me and make it so she doesn't know me by face, school, hospital, and name. For Christ's sake, why the fuck did I give her my name?! My roommate doesn't know my real name! Most people call me by my last name or a variation of nick names. Why couldn't she have just stopped fucking staring at me or waited until she saw me in the hallways at Sky High to place my sorry ass?

I made sure to be hasty, turning the corner as quick as I can without running. Once I got a few blocks away, I slowed my pace. I barely stopped to pop four aspirin and take a drink of water. Then I turned into the first shortcut I learned. I turned out a few streets away, a few blocks away from the bus station. It was getting dark and I knew this part of town.

The bad part.

Normally, if I chose to walk through this part of town, it wasn't unless I had a switchblade, pepper spray, or brass knuckles (taken from Ramona). Or, hopefully, all three.

And, right now? I looked beaten and vulnerable. That was a bad way to look in this section of town. I checked all of my pockets and my tote for something, anything. There, in the bottom, were Ramona's brass knuckles. I put them on my left hand and continued walking.

And then, I had this crawly, sneaky suspicion that I was being followed. And I mean the women's instinct kind of feeling, like knowing you're going to have a visitor or that the chicken is going to burn. I tightened my grip around the brass knuckles.

Now it's more that a feeling, now I can hear quick, heavy steps coming up behind me. I quicken my own pace, trying to not let on that I knew they were back there.

A hand came down on my shoulder and I spun, putting all of my strength into a punch to my follower's face.

It wasn't until they were on the ground that I realized I recognized the person. A guy about 19 with cropped brown hair that had orange highlights and a neon green sweatshirt under a leather jacket. He was another metahuman in Ramona's actual study group. I knew him. But his steps usually weren't so loud…looking towards his feet, I saw he was wearing a pair of steel-toed work boots. That explained it.

"Billy?" I asked, and was immediately at his side.

Billy (or Bill or Will or Liam or Mr. Fierce, never William) rubbed his cheek where I'd hit him and muttered something in Russian, probably a curse.

"Damn, Buggie, you got a mean punch," Billy groaned and I offered him my ice pack.

"Buggie" was just a variation of his old nickname for me, which was something like "roach".

"What are you doin' back here?" I asked, helping him to his feet and picking up his torn-up backpack off the ground.

"I smelled you, saw you," he grunted, shouldering the bag. "With that shiner and looking a hella out of it. Got worried and was comin' this way anyhow."

Billy's father is this old hero in Russia called Panther (or whatever the Russian equivilent to that was). Guy was infused with feline DNA and it got passed to Billy. He's got really intense senses and reflexes. I'm seriously talking landing on his feet after falling and knowing everyone he's ever met by smell (not to mention loving on you after you eat fish). For me to have caught him off guard like that, he must have something on his mind.

"How'd you get that anyway?" Billy asked as we turned the corner of the bus station. He gave me back the icepack and I pressed it to my mouth because my busted lip had developed a heart beat of it's own.

"I tried to use it to break some girl's fist," I joked around the pack. He laughed. It was a raspy sound but Billy always sounded like that. "How've you been?"

Billy absently ran his hand though his hair, ending with him scratching the back of his neck. "Just got fixed up from a fight. Had my ass kicked."

"How bad did you get beat?" I asked. He looked fine, without a single scratch on his face or hands. But I noticed he was limping slightly. Billy grinned and lifted his sweatshirt and wife beater, displaying his entire, bandage-wrapped abdomen, blood seeping through and everything. I was in the middle of trying to figure out how deep the wound would have to be before he stopped being able to walk when Billy dropped his sweatshirt back down.

"Want aspirin?"

"Nah, got painkillers from the ER. Just need to get back to the dorm and-"

"Sleep?"

Billy grinned. "Work on my term papers."

"What classes?" I asked.

"Psychology 102 and Creative Writing 102."

Oh, yeah. You were required to take some sort of writing class (I'd taken mine during the summer) and I guessed that he took his for another year because he liked it. Maybe he was a good writer or something, but then again, he mainly spoke in sentence fragments, barely using the word "I", and most of the writers I knew made sure to abuse the dictionary and thesaurus, even in casual conversation. Then he looked at me, shuddering.

"You cold?" He asked. See?

I was in overalls and a thin sweater. I shook my head. In fact, I was almost overheating. I tucked the plastic bag into my tote and pocketed the brass knuckles, rolling up my sleeves. Billy looked at me like I was insane.

Billy glanced up at the sky, nose twitching. "Smells like snow," He told me.

We reached the bus station and boarded the 119 headed towards campus. When we got there, Billy made a face and went towards the boys' dorm. But his room was on the floor below mine. I turned and saw that the Nirenberg Coed dorm (also known as the mutant dorm) was pounding music and had flashing lights on two of the floors. Great.

Okay, did I think it was a good idea to put all the future heroes and young powered beings in one convenient place? No. But it apparently kept harassment from regular people to a minimum.

I had fight my way through to the stair well and climbed to the third floor, nearly stepping on a few entangled couples on my way. When I reached my room, I entered without knocking. Before I turned on the lights, I heard a squeak and I looked to the left side of the room, where Ramona's bed was.

What I saw was embarrassing, for me. And Ramona. And Reid Simmons, too. (I was only able to recognize him because of his glow-in-the-dark green hair dye job.)

But luckily it was dark so I could just mutter a 'sorry', fumble around the top drawer of my dresser (which was right by the door) for clothes, and back out of the room with minimal retinal scarring.

"Ah, Daniels!" I heard Ramona squeak. "Wait-"

"Nah, nah, you two continue what you're doin'. I'll just go hang with Richie for the night," I shouted into the room before shutting the door and heading down the hall to Richard's room.

Richard was leaning in his door frame, arms crossed, a knowing smirk playing across his face (sexy). He was decked out in plaid and chains, with tattoos and a load of piercing and hair sticking so straight up in the air, it must have taken enough hair gel to stick a dog to the wall. From behind him, I caught a glimpse of black wall paper and posters and head-banger music pounded out through the doorway. He motioned for me to come in, which I happily did.

Richard didn't have a roommate, well he did once but I never got the full story on that, so there wouldn't be any complaints about me staying. I sat down in a bing-bag chair that was in the corner, dropping my tote and the folded up Pjs I'd retrieved from my room. Despite the fairly stereotypical description I just gave you, Richard is all cookies and tea. And English, too.

When I met Richard over the summer, I had a one hell of a crush on him almost instantly. It was sort of weird to me because it usually took a while for me to develop a crush on someone, so I mentioned it to Romona. At which point she explained to me that his mutation was bodily chemical control. He can control chemical signals in you brain that triggers reaction, as well as his own body, mostly through physical contact. Richard uses this to his advantage in his love life by making himself release an extreme amount of pheromones that affect basically everyone he comes into contact with.

Sometime during the fall, after a series of vivid and embarrassing dreams about him, I talked to him about it and he agreed to stop doing the pheromone thing when I'm around.

I rubbed my hands over my face, willing my cheeks to stop burning. "That was utterly embarrassing," I said. It sounded muffled against the palm of my hand.

Richard chuckled so low, I would have thought it was a growl if I hadn't seen his shoulders shaking between my fingers. "If you 'ad gotten 'ere sooner, I would've been able to warn you," He said over his shoulder. Richard closed a heavy textbook on his desk and set it on top of his microwave. Then he started stacking folders.

"Where were you?" He asked, continuing to straighten the piles of papers, books, and pamphlets. I'm pretty sure it would have been awkward if anyone else had asked, but Richard didn't exactly expect an answer. He was asking to get the question out of his head so he doesn't obsess over it.

I removed my hands from my face, leaned back into the light of his green stand-up lamp, grinning. "Take a look for yourself."

He turned his attention to me, squinting. He noticed the black eye, the busted lip, and probably the bruise on my jaw. His brow furrowed. Then he undid the Velcro straps of the glove on his left hand and approached me.

Oh, shit. I hated it when he did this.

I braced myself against the wall as Richard put his hand on my cheek and my blood started to boil under the skin in my face. Bright white spread over my vision as the burning increased. I shut my eyes and clenched my jaw as he moved his hand up to my forehead. Richard mumbled something that was so heavily accented, I didn't understand it. Then I felt what I assumed was the equivalent of my brain exploding and I was out cold.

(This almost always happens when he sees me after I've been in a fight. He hypes up the chemical signals that make white blood cells respond and makes them act like they're on steroids. This drains energy extremely fast, which causes fainting.)

My cell phone vibrating in my pocket is what woke me up. I shifted and pulled it out. The reminder that I had to be at Sky High in an hour popped up on the screen. I groggily pushed it back into the pocket of my overalls and rolled over. I had been face down in Richard's bed, completely twisted up in the sheets, and he was nowhere to be found. A Post-It on the bedside table read, "Went to morning class. -R".

I rolled out of the bed and realized I was fully dressed, minus my Chucks. My sweater had a few drops of blood on it and smelled like sweat and I really didn't want to go to my dorm room so I pulled a shirt out of the top drawer of his dresser and also managed a pair of plaid skinny jeans. The shirt was an ancient AC-DC t-shirt with the locations of all of their concerts listed on the back. I changed my shirt and took off the overalls. A quick glance in the mirror showed the bruises on my face almost completely faded.

I pulled on the jeans (they were a bit baggy, but I'll take what I get) and Chucks. Getting everything together, I prepared to step outside. It was nice and dark inside Richard's room, and my headache hadn't subsided yet. Sucking it up, I pulled open the door.

Yeah, the hallway lights only made the headache worse. Closing the door, I turned to walk towards the stairwell.

One look outside of the big widow at the end of the hall told me Billy had been correct in his assumption it would snow. As warm as I was all the time, I seriously doubted I could go out in two feet of snow in a short sleeve shirt. Going back into Richard's room wasn't an option (I didn't have a key.) So, unless I wanted to borrow something from somebody, which I didn't, I'd have to go back to my room.

I had to prepare myself to do this, too. Finally, I knocked on my own door.

A shirtless Reid answered, looking groggy.

"Hey, Daniels," He greeted, rubbing his eyes. Reid stepped to the side, letting me inside.

"Where's Ramona?" I asked, dropping my overalls and sweater into the dirty clothes bin. I wrestled a heavy soccer sweatshirt from an chair stacked with clothes and books.

"At breakfast with somebody," Reid answered. He picked up his shirt from the floor and pulled it on over his head, sitting on the bed. I pulled the sweatshirt over my head and gathered my books. I absently glanced at the alarm clock poised on top of a tall book shelf. 6:55 a.m.

"Shit!" I grumbled, throwing the strap of my bag over my shoulder. The bus for Sky High picks me up at 6:40. "Shit!"

"What?" Reid jolted up off of Ramona's bed, alarmed.

"I missed the bus to Sky High," I complained.

"You go to-?" Reid asked. I nodded. He suddenly started pulling on his jeans and a sheepskin jacket. Reid laced up his shoes and opened the door. "Come on," He said, motioning for me to go through it.

"What?" I was surprised. He gave me a "are you stupid?" look and said, "You need a ride to Sky High, right?"

I nodded. Reid grabbed me by the arm and lead me down the hallway, towards the stairwell. I was confused. Did he have a flying car or something? As soon as we cleared the entrance of the dorm, Reid seized me around the waist and crouched down. The two of us shot off the ground so fast I almost dropped my books. His hand clamped over my mouth to stop my scream. I almost passed out again. We flew beneath the clouds for a few seconds until he found a thin patch. Reid said something, then I was soaked almost completely through.

Reid didn't even hesitate to figure out where the school was; before I knew it, I was being lowered onto the front lawn of Sky High at 7:10. Frost had formed on my eyebrows and lashes, and my sweatshirt was frozen.

Reid's condition was the same as mine, but he didn't seem so phased by it and just brushed everything off absentmindedly. It took me a few seconds to recover body heat. By the time I'd turned to thank him, Reid had apparently jumped off the side of the school.

The warning bell rang.

Since I wasn't even in the building yet, I decided a sprint was necessary. When I actually reached the classroom and added another tardy to my nonexistent record, the teacher stopped me from sitting down by shoving a schedule – Post it pass combo in my face. Apparently, Dr. Robins held through on the Combat class. My new schedule consisted of Combat class followed by a two hour Control Aide.

I managed to find my way without getting too lost.

You will just never guess who's in my new Combat class. Okay, maybe you will because it has to happen for this to be considered actual fan-fiction. Sitting all along the bleachers in Gym B (There are apparently two because it's easier or something) was who else besides Layla and her posse. Layla's attention immediately snapped to me. I noticed Jenna a few rows above them and went to sit with her.

"Hey, Daniels," Jenna greeted. She looked tired and a little annoyed. I started to wonder why before remembering this wasn't her first class of the day.

"They changed your schedule?" I plopped down next to her. She glanced at me, smiled, and flicked a few strands of white-blond hair out of her face while nodding. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "My bad."

"No prob, Daniels," Jenna said, sighing. With a grin, she added, "I hate having advanced trigonometry and situation evaluation first thing in the morning anyway. Maybe now I'll actually pass."

I smiled back as I shrugged out of my jacket. I almost put it right back on, though. Jenna was radiating cold like a Popsicle and the bleachers under us were practically frozen, solving the mystery as why she was sitting alone.

"Something wrong, Jen?" I asked.

Jen glanced down at Layla's group and back at me. She grumbled, "No, I must be naturally syncing up with the weather outside." and I nodded my head like I actually bought that.

Her pyro guy was down there, pointedly not glancing anywhere near our direction. Fight? Break up? Should I care? I decided interfering would be a breach of her privacy (not to mention his, and he has a reputation) that I don't want to get involved in because I got the feeling that it would yank me within reach on Layla.

Pyro glanced back quickly and Jenna immediately turned to me to avoid meeting his eyes. "Are you doing anything later?" She asked, quietly.

"What day is it?"

"Wednesday," Jenna answered, then she hesitated and pulled out a small day planner. "Yep."

"I have a family dinner tonight," I said.

"Aren't you in college?"

"Yeah, but that's where my tuition money comes from. Plus, good ol' soul food," I answered, smiling at the thought of my mom's cooking. "But if you want to do anything tomorrow, I'm free after my art history class."

Jenna nodded, right when the teacher finished taking roll. He was a super strong guy that stood at about eight feet and had a neck almost as thick as my thigh. I call him Mr. Neck.

"Alright," Mr. Neck started. His southern drawn voice was booming, but it didn't look like he was straining to make it that loud. "Today, we are going to be starting defense maneuvers and blocking. As, some of ya'll already know, not all attacks are physical. Some villains have guns, shoot electricity or another element, and even just plain throw stuff at you. The first half of the year will be spent learning how to evade attacks by any means necessary. Can I get an example? White! Stronghold! Get down here!"

Jenna sighed and dragged herself up out of her seat. Stronghold must have noticed her annoyance and slight anger, because he started to look a little worried. Or constipated. Either one. And both looks were probably warranted, because I would have soiled myself if I was in his position.

Jenna turned Stronghold into a Popsicle midair in ten minutes and the rest of the class period was spent trying to defrost him safely.

Then I had a two hour Control Aid class with Jenna. She had to leave after the hour with the rest of the class and I got to meet the next class. My partner for this class period was Vince Valenti. He was a senior who was built like a house with a shaggy, former Mohawk and black fuzz on his chin.

He stepped into my insulated booth and offered his hand, grinning. I shook it while he said, "Hey, I'm Vinny."

"Daniels," I said. Vinny set his backpack and several layers of sweatshirts and sweaters outside before the coach sealed it. He must have heard about all the clothing that had been destroyed in my booth. The coach tapped on the built in computer. He told Vinny to power up and told me to take off the bracelets when he had. Vince braced his body and his skin molded outward, becoming shinny and metallic. His hair changed too, now resembling wires. He smiled again, and I saw that even his teeth and tongue were metal.

I lowered the power of the bracelets first. Vinny furrowed his eyebrows and looked around. I waited for a second.

"Do you feel that?" Vinny asked, waving his hand vaguely.

"I did that," I said. "Is the feeling painful?"

"No. Kinda like a itch," Vinny said, absentmindedly scratching the back of his hand. I disabled the bracelets completely. "And that kinda feels like a sunburn."

Vinny held out his arm, away from the rest of his body. I started to focus on it. Vinny started talking. While his arm slowly grew white hot, he obliviously told me about most of his family tree, his mega-hot (in the literal, fire breathing way) girlfriend, Jackie, his last three years at Sky High (adding a, "I never saw you before this year, though. Did your powers develop late?"), and explained that he was put in here to test his resistance to various powers. Then, he started going into just why they put him in here with me.

"Well, you know how they do field assignments to see how far you are at the end of junior year? Oh, wait, you don't. Sorry. It's something they do, but only with people who's powers are really well developed. Well, mine was to spy on this low level villain hiding out at an old nuke facility," He grinned sheepishly.

"My spy skills aren't the best, so the villain found me, and threw me in a this big vat of radioactive toxic waste. And I didn't even feel a thing. Well, except heat." He shrugged, making a confused face. "Like that time Jackie threw me in the furnace in the basement."

And, quick to defend his girlfriend, he added, "But only after I pissed her off royally. I told her to blow the whole Homecoming idea out her ass because I seriously haven't been to a single school dance since the sociopath Gwen took over everything our Sophomore year and the tux I rented got totally ruined. That was $1900 out of my own pocket! I heard that some other wacko tried to take over during the Winter Ball last year. Wait, it was the Yule Ball. Anyway, Stronghold and Peace took his ass out so fast, his head was spinning. I just know some shit is gonna happen this year, and I'm keeping my ass out because ya never know what could happen. Greenpeace could dump Stronghold before, and he'd get all bummed and not go, and he's the only reason Peace goes, and then we're just screwed. I don't really think anyone has the balls to step up-"

He kept on like that until the coach tapped his knuckles against the clear side of the cubicle, then pointed to his wristwatch when we had looked at him. We were out of time. I turned on my bracelets, and started pulling on my jacket.

"-and, you know, most girls like her flip if you make a face at them when they say something, so me telling her all that shit to her face really pissed her off. That was at the beginning of the school year last year. And we just made up last month. I swear, girls with grudges. Oh! No offense intended, Daniels, I was just talking out of my ass-"

I was relieved when the bell rang and he hurried to his next class. Then I remembered that he was probably going to be my partner for the rest of the year and I wondered how long it would take him to run out of things to talk about. Probably the whole year.

I had to endure the gut wrenching early dismissal bus all the way back to solid ground.

My phone started buzzing as soon as the bus touched down. Sky High was too high up for cell phones to be picked up by cell towers, and it wasn't uncommon for my message box to be almost completely full when I came down. I unlocked the keypad and opened the list of text messages.

Dinner 8, not 7 – Mom, 8:43 am.

Need Engine notes...help? - Reeves, 8:50 am.

Lunch 11:30? - Ramona, 9:02 am.

I sent each a message that said, "k", because I'm really lazy when it comes to text messaging. Then I called my voice mail.

"You have three new messages. Message one, "'ey, it's Richard. You forgot some things in my room. I didn't want to put them in your room with Simmons skulking around. Just come get them whenever you want. Bye." Wednesday, December 13th, 8: 29 am. Message two, "Hello, Miss Daniels, it's Dr. Robins. We're ready to begin testing tomorrow, at noon. Please bring an extra set of clothes. Have a good day." Wednesday, December 13th, 9:30 am. Message three, "Hey, Daniels, it's Ramona. I, uh, want to talk to you about last night. It might sound a little obsessive, but I wanted to make sure you, ah, got my message. Well, I'll be at Moe's Dinner at 11:30 if you decide to come. Bye." There were sounds of her fumbling with the phone, then a click, followed by, "Wednesday, December 13th, 9:50. There are no more new messages. To delete any of these messages, please press one-" I hung up and checked the time.

11:02.

I was quite positive that trying to go back to the dorm and grab a shower before heading over to Moe's wasn't going to go well. Ramona was already reading way too much into me immediately fleeing at the darkened sight of her naked and tangled in the body parts of another naked person. If I showed up more than ten minutes late or called and told her that I couldn't come after sending a text that meant I would, she would think I was avoiding her.

Ramona's major is Psychology, and she isn't above trying various methods to "fix the emotional problem between us". (It has happened before, in case you were wondering.)

And the last thing I need on my ass is another worried, in-my-business super-powered woman.