SPECIAL NOTE: Whooo...this is a pretty special story. It was heavily collaborated alongside fellow awesome KND writer, Lord Malachite. This took us a couple of weeks to get down too. I highly suggest working with someone on a writing piece in the god-awful hours of the night. You never know what you'd come up with!
EDIT: Nothing changed. I just broke it into chapters for easy reading (even I don't have the patience to read through it all in one sitting).
The darkness no longer felt so tangible as her eyes adjusted to it. Indeed, if what had been revealed to her bore even the hollowest of truths, then darkness might one day become her only friend. There were too many emotions to line up, straighten out, explore. Anger, sorrow, resentment, resistance, resignation.
Rachel McKenzie, Codename Numbuh Three Sixty-Two, Supreme Commander of the Kids Next Door. She had been a lot of different things during her childhood. For her brother. For her parents. For the KND. But when she laid the tapestry of her life before her, the one thing she had never done was take time out for herself. How many different hats had she worn in the KND alone? Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. All of it for a reason. Rachel had always prided herself on fulfilling her duties without complaint.
I've spent my entire life tending to the needs of everyone else. All I ever wanted was to just ride off into the sunset. Is Chad right? Will I be denied even that? Her head drifted upward for answers, revealing the night sky, its moon illuminating the hole in the ground she found herself trapped in. It was an old well, of little use to the school anymore.
While the hole wasn't flooded with water, it was still damp and musty, the stone walls slick with slime and moss. And her sneakers were soaked from standing in the stagnant, ankle deep water. More than likely they were ruined--a perfect ending to her perfect day. Any other decent field operative would be armed with basic 2x4 tech to get them out of this mess. So what did it say about her that calling for help might be her only option?
Chad said he would come back for you.
You can't trust him.
Then who should I trust?
Call Nigel or Fanny. Neither would tell what really happened.
.....I don't really feel like seeing either of them right now. They couldn't possibly understand, anyway. How did I get into this mess?
Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to...
The answer, of course, was less complex than one would think. All it required was going back to the beginning...
Rachel believed that her school was home to the snootiest of snobs. Strict dress code, teachers who failed children on purpose for a delicious piece of bribery and students who might as well wear a tie and briefcase. They already acted like adults. They would be more at home in Mr. Boss' office than in a school.
But of course, they had an image to uphold. Appear to be a philanthropist for the greater good, for those less fortunate than them. Every year they held up festivals to help fund money towards public schooling, just to hold up the charade...
She obviously had a purer intention than most of the other families that donated. She had her father donate to the blind, having donated last year for the deaf. She wanted to at least go through the physically challenged than have the money go to better lunches for teachers. People seem to care a lot about those trivial pursuits these days.
She really didn't expect KND work to sour her already dreadful day. Not when she's too busy working the pie booth. Of course, Chad had to eat her karma up by 'helping the kids have fun', aka shooting them with water pistols. How he was here of all places, even appear in the same state as her, was a mystery on it's own.
It figured, really. This was supposed to be a nice Saturday night away from KND work. Just her and the pies and the conscience of having raised money for people who were truly less fortunate than her. And as long as she was in the pie booth, she could keep her interaction with her snobby, nauseating classmates down to a minimum. Rachel had never been popular at her school--something which she knew stemmed back to a social faux pas she had committed back in the fourth grade when she blew off an invitation to a classmate's birthday party because she had KND work.
Of course, passing up on Veronica's invitation wasn't her only infraction--she ended up skipping out on most social events and had turned herself into something of a pariah. While she wasn't exactly bullied, too often she would walk into the girls' room and hear a conversation abruptly end, or catch people pointing at her and whispering conspiratorially to her friends. People didn't approve of her.
But then, Rachel didn't seek their approval anyways. She was comfortable being by herself, with only Harvey to look after. Of course, her little brother was the type to get himself into trouble. More than one of their teachers considered his phobia of being touched to be serious--he had several marks on his record for insubordination due to teachers making the mistake of literally attempting to put him in his place. Fortunately, donations from their father usually smoothed things over with the school. But unlike her father, she wouldn't be around to make excuses for her brother forever.
Rachel tried not to get involved herself unless she felt that Harvey was in real trouble. While she got significantly high marks in most of her subjects and usually did her homework, some of the teachers seemed not to trust her due to her noticeable differences from the other snubbed elite children. She couldn't be as easily manipulated as the others.
Not all of them were like that--Mr Rafferty, her biology teacher, always seemed to brighten up when she came into class, as did Mrs. O'Leary, her English teacher, whom appreciated Rachel's clean poetry and prose in her written assignments. And finally, there was Coach Hagen, a man who had shown her the only physical means of expression and stress relief that she had been able to find in her Academy--gymnastics. "You have the legs of a gymnast!" He praised her frequently, which made her a little uncomfortable but also seemed to give her hope. The fact that she could perform even the most basic feats after too long flying a desk on the Moonbase gave her a large boost of self-confidence.
Rachel's life was complex, but manageable. She could handle it. She could handle her messed up home life. She could handle her annoying school life. She could even handle all he responsibilities of the KND. But now they were beginning to mix violently. Rachel watched in exasperation as Chad Dixon, formerly Numbuh Two Seventy-Four and the boy she had been forced to replace, chased kids around the fair with two small but powerful water pistols, spoiling their cotton candy and soaking them enough to cause trouble with their parents. Wasn't he a teenager now? Couldn't he just go listen to some rock music and talk about sports or girls or cars or whatever it is that young teenage boys do?
The KND operative in her howled and growled with protest over Chad's decision to humiliate and scare off the children, but she endured. Regardless of the problem at hand, she held a firm rule of keeping her personal and professional life separate, though it seems like Chad would rather do away with her internal rules, despite not knowing of them. She turned away, hoping that watching the attack would calm her down.
No good. Their cries grew louder. Why couldn't the adults do something about it for once?!
She growled and slammed her hand on the table, causing a few blueberry pies to dangerously shake from the force. Her fellow worker raised an eyebrow at the scene, but said nothing.
Even after he defected from the KND, he continues to be an ever dominant presence in her life. It was very annoying.
Giving up to the snarls in her gut to kick his teenaged behind all the way to China, she discreetly retreated into the back to where her backpack was lying beside the boxes of pies. Should she just call for back-up instead?
No, definitely not. It's one idiot without his B.R.A and no other Teen Ninja gear on him. I can handle him myself...!
Besides, calling for backup when she was already on the scene and had the element of surprise might make her look weak. While some of her field skills were getting rusty from disuse, she had to have the confidence to outwit Chad.
How hard could that be? He was driven mostly by his ego and the belief that he was superior to kids--a boy who thought that he was better than the KND itself when he decided to leave, betraying them all. Groaning inwardly, she took assessment of her situation. She had a communicator in her backpack she could use to get in touch with Moonbase. There was also a change of footwear in there--currently, she was sporting a pair of dress shoes with elevated but wide heels for better comfort and support. While she knew her father would have preferred to see her wear some of her fancier footwear to this event, she couldn't risk falling over and smearing pie all over some presumptuous adult's jacket. Still, the sneakers were a better choice if she was going to take on Chad.
She would have to make do with her black dress, it was long enough to keep her warm. Mercifully, she had been able to talk her father into allowing her to wear it. Her mother had been insisting that she wear this obnoxious white skirt to the fair, the one with the ruffles that went around her waist and billowed slightly downward. Rachel had always hated the thing, it was just too girly! Of course, her mother still had fantasies of turning her into a debutante--and it wasn't an argument that she was certain her father was going to support her on.
"Hey, Candace, I need to take a break for a little bit," Rachel called as she kicked off her heels, removing her sneakers from the backpack so she could slide them on. "Would you be able to hold down the fort?"
Candace waved her answer in bored fashion. Obviously being a service to someone when you've been served all your life didn't seem so fun in comparison.
By the time she composed herself for a psuedo-battle, Chad had migrated toward the horseback riding booth and began to terrorize a bunch of shrieking children until he caught sight of a few beautiful teen girls by the Ferris wheel. He put up his best bad boy smirk and opted to mingle with them instead. They were no doubt amused by his terrorist-like 'playing'. Typical teenagers.
She halted from her purposeful stepping toward the once-assailant. Maybe he stopped his tyranny for now and she could return to her booth like a dutiful student in peace...?
...until he caught wind of her approach and jumped away, aiming his water pistol at her.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Supreme Commander Numbuh Three Sixty-Two! Having fun?"
"Hardly," Rachel answered dryly. "You seem to put a damper on the festivities these days."
He snorted at the pun. "Good one. Did Numbuh Two teach you that one?"
She slowly placed her bag on the ground, wary of the pistol. She REALLY didn't want to explain to her parents why her good dress got soaked...
"You are in violation of code 714 of the Children-Teens Game Treaty: 'No rough-housing in designated school events unless it is mutual in both parties'---"
Chad's once smug expression turned sour and his grip on his weapon became more forced. "Don't you DARE explain the Treaty to me! I was there when it was established!"
"You're bitter," Rachel egged on, using the distraction to reach behind her and unhook the F.O.S.S.E.Y. from her belt. "Your days have ended in the KND, Chad. Stop putting the blame on the very people you once tried to protect!"
"And you can see how far that got me. Not even so much as a thank you. All of you ungrateful little brats just couldn't wait to steal my entire childhood away from me! I gave and I gave and I gave to the Kids Next Door, and I never asked for anything in return. And you know what's so sad about it? All I ever really wanted was the chance to prove I could keep serving the KND loyally. But no one wanted to give me the chance. They were all afraid that I would betray them." There was something about the way that Chad grinned at Rachel that she distinctly disliked.
"Between you and me, Three Sixty-Two, my actions were far less out of malice then they were out of spite. Although I must confess, I always wondered how you got suckered into taking my place. I couldn't help but notice that you didn't turn the world upside down playing TAG, so there must have been something going on behind the scenes," He dragged the fingers of his right hand across his chin, trying to look perplexed and intrigued. "And of course, you're not such a kid anymore yourself." There was the smirk again. He looked at her in the same way a snake looked at its dinner. "Maybe you should consider joining us. I can already think of a special assignment for you, Rach..."
"---I don't think so." On the outside she was calm and collected, but internally the nagging voice in the back of her head that was once small, piped up louder at the invitation. It was her voice, only older and filled with a bitterness reminiscent of Chad's. It screamed to take his offer and save herself of the terror of losing her memories, of her friends. She squelched it down once more.
But even she couldn't hide it anymore. She was growing up as well, practically a near preteen in comparison to the others.
But that was a bridge she would come to one day. All that mattered was taking a traitor down.
"They needed me, traitor. You up and left for your own selfish reasons, betrayed us and violated the most honorable traditions of the Kids Next Door," She gritted her teeth as the once dull ache of Chad's departure suddenly turned sharp. "We looked up to you---I looked up to you!"
The smirk on his face only grew darker. She wanted to slap that smile off of him.
"Tell me why!" She demanded, swiftly aiming her own weapon at him as a threat. It looked like child-like standoff to the crowds that walked by. Just a show to them. "As Supreme Commanders, we represent every characteristic of the KND: tradition, honor, perseverance, compassion and strength! Why did you take the easy way out?! Why did you slander that title?! Why--" She choked out the last sentence bitterly. "---did you leave me alone with your mess?!
The F.O.S.S.E.Y. wasn't going to be enough. She wanted to strangle him when he looked at her, like she was a toy, or another girl with a crush that he could play with and dispose off. Chad shrugged his shoulders indifferently, not seeming to be the least bit intimidated by Rachel's reaction.
"That's the problem with you KND types." Chad explained. "You're too stuck in your ways, in your ideals. You're too limited." He shook his head. "Listen to yourself! Even to this day, you want to believe that there's some larger rhyme and reason. You need to believe, don't you Rachel? Because the truth will shatter you like glass, destroy your entire way of thinking, of life. That's why I'm going to tell you." He reached towards her, causing Rachel to flinch in a mixture of fear and revulsion. She clutched her F.O.S.S.E.Y. tightly, bringing it to bear as the chicken attached squawked indignantly.
"You'll nothing." Chad said as his fingertips made contact with her hair, stroking it gently. "You were always one of the smart ones, Rachel. Pretty too. You should come with me. I could take you to so many places..."
Rachel let out a breath she didn't even know she'd been holding. A part of her brain felt as though it had short circuited. No one other than her father had ever said something even passingly romantic to her, but this was a boy that offered more than that--he offered acceptance. No one at school ever accepted her. Her life was a constant struggle for survival between her family and her school situation and the ever oppressive call of KND duty. But this...this was different. Gently, she leaned into touch, relaxing momentarily until her eyes went wide with realization of where she was, who she was, who he was, and what she was doing. "Stop it." She commanded, stepping backwards out of his reach. She cursed herself inwardly for her voice sounding so weak and unsteady.
"Is that really what you want?" He asked.
Her answer was an egg from the business end of her weapon. "Why did you do it?" She whispered, already dreading the answer but feeling that she had to know.
Chad looked her in the eye and said something she didn't even think he was capable of. "Because I could."
And then, for a moment there, something that she once thought unshakable inside of herself snapped cleanly in two.
The world seemed to rock on its opposite axis and she felt detached from the matter at hand.
Because he could.
This was more intense than a simple teen vs. child squabble, a simple desire to stop an obnoxious teen from messing with a few kids. A force told her to go after him. Something told her that his intentions were more than meets the eye. He came here for a reason and now it was as clear as day.
"Y-you're..." She trembled in a mixture of fear, resentment and strange enough, excitement. "...here to recruit me."
His stance changed and he straightened, stuffing his weapon underneath his arm to clap slowly, mockingly. "Bravo. You're probably the first kid EVER to realize that. Usually, we'd have to..." He lightly tapped the top of his weapon against the side of his head. "...beat it into them."
"I'm not joining you," Rachel answered, trembling slightly. "You're wasting your time."
But they both knew how far she was against the fence. His tell-tale smile proved that fact.
"No one has ever declined an offer from us, Rachel McKenzie," He raised the weapon back up, cocky from head to toe. "Refusal is not an option. You're almost thirteen. You can't afford to refuse." He raised his free hand along with his armed one, beckoning to her.
"Come to me."
It was almost like she was under hypnosis and her feet moved on it's own. Her inner voice screamed to bolt and run, but she couldn't relay that to her motor functions. Her armed hand fell limp and her free hand moved forward to meet his.
He promised freedom, rebellion and memories. Sweet, promising memories...
And then she stopped, a couple feet away from reaching Chad. She can't, won't be like him! She won't betray the things she loved the most!
She sprang backwards as if she caught herself on fire and ran, knocking passers out of the way.
Chad rolled his eyes and sighed, rubbing his face with his free hand. "Why do the good ones ALWAYS run?"
But this was fun. Very fun.
He smiled at the prospect of a chase and ran after her. His orders were clear. He will bring Numbuh Three Sixty-Two to his side whether she likes it or not.