NOTE: FFNET KEEPS SCREWING UP THE FORMATTING ON THIS STORY. Story content is the same, but several breaks were initially missing, and ffnet continues to disregard even my manual HTML fixes. I have attempted to correct this as much as possible, but the most correct version (formatting wise) is on my lj, for any interested parties.
Pairing: Reds (almost)
Rating: PG-13, for language.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with CTN or Craig McCracken. Now please excuse me while I go cry in a corner.
Summary: Brick isn't as dum as he looks, given the right motivation.
Notes: For TheNotebookUndertheBed. Who knows why. Un-beta'd.
Elementary School, First Grade
"It's spelled with a 'B.'"
Brick glares over his shoulder at the tight-lipped, prissy little 'puff in pink.
She crosses her arms. "I mean, if you're going to deface school property, you might as well get your spelling right. Otherwise, there's a sad kind of irony to a blacktop that has 'School is D-U-M,' scribbled on it."
"Who asked you?" he says rudely, standing and chucking the rock he was using to scratch out the words. Recess is almost over, and Brick has spent the majority of it snickering to himself as he rewrites the same message over and over on the blacktop, dodging the other kids. His brothers were with him, but they quickly lost interest in the act of writing and moved on to terrorizing everyone else.
"You caught the part where I said you were defacing school property? You should get a time out for that."
Brick scoffs. "I'll take it. Better 'n stupid school, anyway."
"Time out happens in school, genius," she says haughtily, and he glares at her as the bell rings and she floats past him with a huff. The way she said it, says everything, always makes him feel stupid and angry. He can already see her talking to their teacher, pointing first at the blacktop, then at Brick.
Stupid Powerpuff. Stupid school. Stupid Him. Him made the Boys go. Why, Brick has no idea. Something the Big Guy was blabbing about "education" and "developmental disability." Brick doesn't know what it means, and he doesn't care.
All he knows is that it's dum.
Elementary School, Third Grade
He snorts as he abruptly wakes up.
Their teacher is glowering at him, arms crossed. "Pay attention!"
"No," he yawns.
"Mrs. Harriet, I don't know why you even bother."
A jolt of irritation shoots through Brick as that haughty little voice speaks up, and he fumes at her. Blossom's chin is in the air, and she shoots him a brief glance, almost smirking.
"Brick obviously isn't cut out for school, or learning, or doing much of anything that's going to benefit—"
Brick shows her just how much he can do by blasting her clear into the other classroom.
"Alright!" his brothers cheer from the second room, and immediately join in. "A fight!"
Blossom snarls and blasts back.
Middle School, Summer before Sixth Grade
School is done. Summer is here. The Boys celebrate by raiding a candy store. Naturally, the Girls aren't far behind.
Blossom rolls her eyes after she and her sisters land in the store, broken glass crunching underneath their feet.
Brick is digging through the jellybeans, a task he finds too important to interrupt with exchanging glares. He stuffs a handful in his mouth.
"How are you guys even here? Isn't summer school going?"
"Only retards go to summer school," Butch sneers, continuing to empty Pixy Stix into a colorful pile on the floor.
"That's her point," Buttercup sneers back, and Brick tenses with offended anger.
Bubbles sounds surprised when she says, "You guys passed?"
"Bubbles, please," Blossom says in a tone, a tone Brick doesn't have a word for. He only knows it pisses him off even more. "They had to have cheated, or threatened their way into passing, or something. I've seen the grades when I pass their papers back." She pauses, then, in that annoyingly haughty voice of hers, "If zeroes actually qualify as grades."
Brick stuffs another handful of jellybeans in his mouth, shuddering with rage.
"Like they would actually have the perspicacity to—oh, sorry. I forget, I have to 'dum' down my speech when—"
Brick turns and spits, firing jellybeans out like a machine gun. The Girls scatter, and then fly into battle. Normally Brick would bark out orders, give his brothers some sort of direction, but today, today he's just too angry.
His emotions don't serve him well in the fight. He's too furious to think straight, and besides, girls hit puberty before boys, meaning even these three are slightly bigger, slightly more powerful, and so when the Boys finally trump home to a flighty Him (who has "Just made cookies! Do you boys want any?!"), the bruises Brick has suffered go way past the physical sort.
He lies in bed, glaring at the dark while his aching bruises heal. Blossom figured out ages ago that the quickest way to get under his skin is to throw out words, big words, words he doesn't understand, and then call Brick out by asking him what he thinks she means. Her sisters snicker behind her when she does, which is doubly infuriating. Brick is pretty sure they don't have any idea what Blossom is saying, either.
It doesn't matter how many times the Boys beat the Girls, at least not physically. Brick's seen a dictionary. Blossom's got a lot of words left to insult him with. She's fighting a fight that Brick's never going to win.
He bolts up, despite the protests of his injuries, and leaves to break into a library for the first time ever in his entire life.
Middle School, Sixth Grade
Brick studies his ass off, to the point that his brothers go out terrorizing the city without him, perplexed by their leader's sudden devotion to books. They start off teasing him, but he gives them a faceful for it, so that doesn't last long.
Brick loses countless hours of sleep. There's just too many God damn books. But he plows through them anyway, reading them over and over till the dates and the names and the stories and the formulas and the words stick, embed themselves in his brain in permanent ink. It helps that Blossom is in all the gifted classes and he never has to see her. It saves him from losing his temper.
It's like the longest battle he's ever fought, and Brick doesn't realize how exhausted he is until the first semester is over. But it pays off.
In the second semester of the Sixth Grade, encouraged by his academic progress and lack of violence, the school bumps Brick up. And the look on Blossom's face as he floats into her Gifted English class feels sweeter than any fistfight he's ever won against her.
High School, Freshman Year
"I see you enrolled in the IB program."
Brick turns around to respond; they share homeroom together. She isn't looking at him; she's focused on their five-inch thick History text, eyes scanning the page as she reads.
He smirks. "I thought I could use the challenge. AP just sounded so... dull. Wouldn't you agree?"
She grunts as she flips the page.
"Besides," he continues, resting an elbow on her desk and prompting her to glare at the offending body part. "I wouldn't want to subject myself to anything below my high standard of personal intelligence. Might lose my..." He pauses to relish the taste of the upcoming word on his tongue. No wonder she threw so many of these at him when they were kids.
That glare of hers slides up, follows the line of his arm to his smug, smirking face, and she scoffs and refocuses on her book.
He doesn't move. He keeps leaning on her desk, sneering at her unresponsive face until the bell rings for class.
High School, Junior Year
Brick stares wide-eyed at their Principal, floored by the news.
Top of the class. Top of the fucking class.
Next to him, Blossom—now de-throned—sits numbly, clenching the hem of her skirt over and over again.
The Principal is nattering on about GPA's and test scores and scholarships and opportunities, yes, that's all fine and dandy, great. The only thought in Brick's mind is this: I beat her.
The thought fills him with a twisted sense of glee. All those sleepless nights, that endless reading and drilling and practicing, all for this.
It feels fucking fantastic.
I beat her. I beat her. Her.
Ha! He wants to scream, he wants to stand up on his chair and point at her as he laughs in triumph. Ha! Take that! Eat it! Bite me! HA! Who's the smug little bitch now, hm?!
He doesn't. He remains civil, mature, accepts the good news (fantastic news) with restraint and poise. He knows it'll just make her angrier, more indignant. He can't wait to see her fly off the handle. It's only a matter of time.
"Blossom?" their Principal asks. "Are you alright?"
Brick looks over at her, false concern touching his expression as he takes in her lowered head, her clenched fists, her tightened jaw.
"Blossom, don't let it get to you," he says, his voice dripping with smug, syrupy sweetness. "I'm sure you'll be back on top next year, if you only work a little harder."
She shoots to her feet and walks stiffly to the door. Brick doesn't follow with his eyes; he merely settles back in his chair, stares straight ahead, and wonders if she's going to cry. The possibility that she might makes him so giddy he has to bite his lip to keep from beaming.
He hears her stop as she opens the door. She pivots on the carpet, and he tenses in anticipation, waiting for her to give in to her rage, for her to break down and be the first to physically attack for once. It's been so long since they've fought like that. Brick briefly wonders if he remembers how.
Any moment now. He waits.
"Congratulations, Brick," she croaks, her voice hoarse, and then leaves.
He frowns. He wasn't expecting that.
High School, Senior Year
This year is different.
Where, upon entering Middle School, they traded in violent schoolyard brawls for heated classroom debates and kept that up for the years to come, now even the classroom sparring has dissipated. Blossom is unresponsive to Brick's challenges and insults. She buries her face in book after book, spends every second when she isn't taking notes on finishing her homework, even going so far as to do extra problems.
Brick is top of the class, well on his way to snatching the honor of class valedictorian out of her grasp. But where it seemed the sweetest kind of victory when he first heard, now he finds it lackluster. Boring. Dull. Unchallenging.
He realizes the only reason he felt so excited at surpassing Blossom was due to the expectation that he'd see her dissolve into the type of animal he used to be, the one that had to settle for physical violence when boasting superior intellect was not an option. He took away the one thing that she (and he) had felt made her better than him.
Obviously that backfired. And now, not only is she not throwing punches—she isn't even paying attention to him anymore.
Somehow it makes his victory seem less like a victory and more like a loss.
Brick skips school for the first time since the Fifth Grade. A test day too, no less.
Not that he doesn't get up—he does. He even goes through the whole morning routine, brushes his teeth, changes, eats the Test Day Breakfast Him cooks up. Then, to Him's immense confusion, Brick retreats back to his room.
When his brothers find out, they decide they're skipping school today too, and go back to bed.
Out of habit now, Brick picks up a book and starts to read. When he finishes that he picks up another. He is midway through the second when afternoon hits, and a sudden commotion outside pulls him away, out of the book.
There is screaming and blasting and then what sounds like two dying cats that may or may not be Butch and Boomer, and suddenly the door to his room is thrown open, and a fierce Blossom stands there, quaking with rage.
"You!" she screeches, and snatches him by the collar, then drags him out.
He has to scramble to his feet to keep up. "Hey! What the hell are you doing?!"
She stops and turns to scream in his face. "Where were you?!"
This outburst baffles Brick; where the hell was this reaction for the past year?
"Are you sick? Because you don't even look sick! We had a test today!"
"I know!" he says, struggling to release his clothes from her vice-like grip. She doesn't budge.
"Then why didn't you show up?!" she demands.
"It's called skipping, genius," he snaps, and her eyes flash.
She takes a deep breath and bellows, "You are at the top of our class! The top of our entire school, even! You do not 'skip!' You hear me?! That is not even a remotely viable option!"
"Wanna explain how I did it, then?" he says flatly. "Because I did. All day. It was pretty easy."
"You're going to lose your position!"
His lack of interest enrages her. "You will lose your scholarship!"
She shakes him, gets in his face. "You will lose to me!"
Funny how this is the reaction he always wanted from her, but now that he's suffered almost an entire school year without an outburst like this he feels enormously indifferent to it.
"So?" he says again, colorlessly, and she draws back a fist and punches him in the face.
The act stuns him; he stares at her as soon as his head snaps back into its proper position, gaping. She stands there, her eyes blazing pink and angry, her shoulders heaving with the effort of breath.
"Who wants cookies?!"
Brick isn't surprised to see Him hastily backtrack into the kitchen when Blossom turns her glare on him. Those fiery pink eyes can be surprisingly frightening.
"Doesn't this mean anything to you?" she asks Brick quietly, her fist tightening in his shirt.
He stares at her, still trying to make sense of her reaction. "I—what are you—"
"Doesn't beating me mean anything?!" she demands.
"Of course it does! I mean did! I already beat you!"
"Then why are you skipping school on a test day?!"
Brick racks his brain for an answer, a response, anything other than I don't know.
Blossom answers for him. "You're letting me win."
He sputters, "What?! You're crazy!"
She ignores him. "I'm not letting you get away with it! I've worked too hard to beat you, and I'll be damned if you back out after I've—"
"I don't care!" he shouts.
"Then I'll give you something to care about!" she shouts back. "Do you have any idea how much this matters to me?! Of course you don't! You're so wrapped up in yourself, with your stupid superiority complex... you didn't even care about school or being smart or learning until you started trying to be better than me! And the infuriating thing is you were so good at it! You know I never had to work to be smart? I just was! And then you went and got a brain like, like it was one of those stupid playground fights, and the only thing you needed in order to win was to swing a bigger stick, and I started having to work just to be better than you, you, you of all people! I've put too much effort into this, into winning this stupid fight, and if you back out now..."
She trails off, a little uncertainly, and Brick blinks.
Her face hardens again, and she jerks him close. "I swear, if you just back off? If you let me win? I will make you regret it, Brick."
He makes up the test. He doesn't miss another day.
She seems happier about it—or, well, less angry. She still doesn't talk to him and barely acknowledges his presence. He doesn't really try to grab her attention, anyway.
He does watch her, though. He catches the titles of the books she reads and briefly considers asking her about them. For the first time it occurs to him that he doesn't have a girlfriend. Besting Blossom is a full time endeavor that leaves little room for standard teenage luxuries.
Despite her giving him the reaction he always wanted, Brick can't drum up the same enthusiasm for school the way he used to. Beating her doesn't carry the same weight it did before. But when he thinks of how upset she was, how she glared and screamed and punched him for missing one lousy test... he can't help but feel compelled to.
Blossom is announced their class valedictorian. It was to be expected. Brick had to take a ten percent point loss for missing the one test.
"If you hadn't stopped caring, you might've made it a competition," Blossom grumbles to him at the end of their last class. The first words she's spoken to him since she broke into his house and threw her little hissy fit.
"I missed that test," he points out.
"You could've argued against the point docking."
He realizes he's matching his steps to hers as they walk down the hall. "I guess."
She halts, and so does he. The other departing students edge around them, eager to leave and frustrated at the obstacle they've now created.
"I mean you stopped caring about beating me altogether, not just during that one incident," she says, a conflicted look on her face.
When she doesn't say anything for awhile it hits him that she's waiting for a response.
"I'm fine with being the salutatorian," he says, and the second he does he realizes it's the wrong thing to say.
"There was a time when you wouldn't have been fine with that," she says sharply.
"I—I really did make an effort," he says, kind of pathetically.
"I didn't say you didn't try," she says. "Just... that you stopped caring. And yet you tried anyway. Why is that?"
He stares at her for ages, until the halls are empty, until the final bell has rung, only scantly aware of the knowledge that this is the last day he will walk down this hall and more keenly aware that this is the only day he has ever done so with her. Maybe the only day that he ever will.
"Brick?" she asks, when he doesn't answer, and she has never said his name like that before, in a voice devoid of contempt, of anger, of that haughtiness that used to piss him off so much when they were kids. Her voice rises in pitch at the end to indicate the question; it almost sounds like she's singing.
He doesn't even remember the question. All he can think of is how much it had mattered to her that he not concede victory, and he wonders if she recognizes that he's already done so, in more ways than one.