A/N: Yay! And I'm back (slightly) a day early! By like...ten minutes. Finals are over! Yay! A thanks to all you well wishers. I have no more classes and relatively few distractions on this story now, so I'm focused on the finish line...though it still seems quite a distance away (probably because it is).

Okay, well, funny thing about this chapter and an apology. It kind of got ridiculously long. I swear, I didn't mean for it to happen. I wrote it, and then I went to check how many pages it was (by pasting it from the full story to its own doc) and I'm sitting there thinking "Eh, it's only like fourteen pages..." Heh..heh..he...yeah...more like, *twenty* four pages. And this stunning example of my math skills is probably why I mot likely failed my Chem exam.

Anyhoo, I'm very nervous abut this chapter,...so read it gently, please.

On a final note: WOOHOOO, I BROKE 200 REVIEWS! Thanks for bearing with me guys, now grab onto your seat and enjoy the ride!


Chapter 16:

The sun was just beginning to rise when Cree reached that pale yellow house. It had been a two hour drive, not the best thing for her 1968 black Pontiac Firebird, and she was cranky from having to wake so early in the morning. But this was business, after all. So she checked her make-up in the mirror, fluffed her hair, and exited the convertible.

After the second knock, the white painted door swung open and crystalline blue eyes met intense gold-flecked amber.

"Oh shi – "

Before the door could swing shut once more, Cree's booted foot kicked forward flinging it back with a loud crack. She rushed in as the blond young man bolted up the stairs. Rolling her eyes, she activated her Battle Ready Armor, the samurai style black and crimson metal suit wrapping about her and in three leaps was at the top of the stairs glaring down at him.

Switching gears, the boy propelled himself forward, toppling the young woman. They tumbled across the floor. He attempted to pin her but she twisted herself so that her feet connected to his abdomen and with one great thrust he slammed into the back wall. He stumbled for a moment, recovering in time to block a roundhouse, a forward jab, dodging an upper cut, and flipping over a floor sweep.

He sent his own fists flying, all of which she sidestepped with ease, her own cross-punch grazing his jaw. As he was distracted by another jab, her knee sank into his stomach, followed by an elbow to his back. He doubled over in pain.

Balanced on the ground, he knew he was done for, as her steel toe slammed into his chest, tossing him on his back, her booted foot crushing against his neck.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Cree clucked breathlessly, "Did you really think you could run from me, Dickson?"

Chad winced with pain, gasping for air and futilely struggling under the fierce young woman's weight.

"How did you find me, Cree?" he wheezed. A smirk tugged at his captor's lips.

"You don't have quite as many friends as you think," she sneered, "Where is it?"

Chad spat, "Go to hell."

"Wrong answer."

The steel toe connected with Chad's side and he writhed in pain for a moment before the boot was back under his chin.

"Now. Where is it?"

He coughed, sputtered, "Where you'll never find it."

Again, the steel bit into his already raw flesh.

"How long do you think you can keep this up?" Cree tersely demanded.

"How long do you plan on being Father's lapdog?" Chad barked retort then as she reeled back for another swift kick, he desperately added, "Think about it, Cree, when he's done with them who do you suppose is next?"

She raised a brow at that and though she let her foot drop harmlessly to the ground, she still trained the blond with a dangerous look.

"What makes you think I don't already have a plan for that?"

Chad took a few deep breaths, grimacing. He could already feel the bruises forming, plum blossoms across his ivory skin, "Plan? What could you possibly have planned? You've seen what he's capable of-"

"I can handle it. Now stop worrying about me and start worrying about yourself, Dickson. Where. Is. It."

"I'll never tell," Chad coughed out, "And there's nothing you can do – nothing – to make me."

Cree smirked. A challenge, huh? She loved a good challenge.

"Nothing, Dickson? We'll see about that."

Cree closed the white door gently behind her as she exited the pale yellow house, her B.R.A. once again nothing more than an unassuming undergarment. She slipped back behind the wheel of her firebird and checked her make-up, smoothing a few out-of-place strands back down. She reapplied her lipstick. She felt oddly calm for someone whose best officer had stolen an important item from and gone rogue; threatening plans over three years in the making.

"I don't have it anymore," he had finally admitted, bloody and battered, "It's in neutral hands…stashed away in a location that I don't even know."

There were seven days until Delivery. Plenty of time. She just had to find this Moosk person.

Scowling, Cree began her drive back to school. Chad's last words, choked out at her retreating back, echoed throughout her mind.

You play with fire, Cree, you're only gonna get burned.

-1-2-3-4-5-

Rachel was mildly surprised when Patton arrived that morning to pick her up for school. The day before, she'd opted for a ride home from Bartie and his maybe-girlfriend Virginia. They kindly left her alone about not riding with Patton, correctly assuming that the two were arguing about a touchy subject.

Rachel wanted to take Patton showing up as a sign he had forgiven her, but the awkward silence as they drove towards school proved otherwise. She searched for a way to break the ice.

"You watch the game last night?" she asked, though she knew the answer.

Patton briefly gripped his steering wheel tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Rachel cleared her throat and leaned back in the seat. Yup, that ice was frozen solid.

"Listen, I get that you're still mad about yesterday-"

"I'm not mad," Patton cut in, tersely. Rachel glanced at him, biting back a 'yeah right'. She could see the line of his jaw, clenched tight the way it always was when he was trying to fight the urge to verbally attack.

"You should be mad," Rachel told him earnestly. She sighed and flipped her hair from her face, "You were right. I didn't know what I was talking about. You went the whole day without even giving Fanny a second look," she caught the way Patton flinched at the name, but continued unabated, "And there were plenty of opportunities for you to put her and Ricky in their place but you totally ignored it. I got to say, I'm impressed. I really thought that...but it doesn't matter. You were right, I was wrong. I'm sorry."

He said nothing.

"Augh!" Rachel cried, gripping Patton's shoulder and giving it a friendly shake, "Come on, talk to me! This is torture. You know I miss your sultry baritone. I said I was sorry, what more do you want?"

Still nothing.

Rachel perched her chin on his shoulder and pouted up at him.

"Please forgive me," she whimpered. Patton rolled his eyes but relaxed a bit.

"I'm not mad," he repeated, and it sounded a little more convincing this time, "Just...would you forget about it...alright?"

Relief and excitement spilled over Rachel. She straightened and gave a mock salute, face humorously serious.

"Sir, yes, sir. Consider it over and forgotten, sir," she grinned. He shook his head at her, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"You are so weird."

Rachel settled back into her seat, putting a foot up on the dashboard and smiling elated out the window, wind roughly tousling her hair.

"I missed you," she exclaimed, "It's just not the same without my General. Admit it, Drilovsky, you missed me too."

"No way," Patton teased, "It was great going a whole day without you nag, nag, nagging in my ear. Not to mention, the bossiness..."

Rachel pulled a face, flicking his ear, and demanded, "What was that?"

"Ow, hey! I'm driving here!"

"Oh crap, Patton, watch the road!"

The jeep swerved chaotically, nearly missing an icecream truck coming the opposite direction – horns blasting – before Patton eased it back under control. He shot a glare Rachel's direction.

"Dammit Cadet, are you trying to get us killed? Passenger rule number one: No attacking the driver!"

To her credit, Rachel looked sheepish. She half-joked, "I think this is a sign that we shouldn't fight."

"Shut up," Patton growled, reaching over to gently smack her head. She punched his arm in return, chuckling, then settled into her seat again.

It was nice to be back on good terms with Patton. Rachel really did hate when they fought. It made her nervous, as though they really were superior and officer and their argument was screwing up the cohesion of their unit, which, of course, could potentially compromise their overall mission. She smirked inwardly. Being a military brat really gave her odd ideas for metaphors.

They pulled into the school parking lot, already bustling with student life. Rachel sighed.

"Another day, another dollar," she commented wistfully.

"They don't pay us," Patton retorted. Rachel pulled a confused face.

"Really? Then why am I here?"

They clambered out of the jeep and headed towards the school entrance.

"I've got practice after school," Patton said, "You gonna be okay finding a ride?"

"Yeah, sure. I'm an independent woman, I can take care of myself," Rachel answered cheekily. A boy cut across her path and she stumbled back in surprise. Recovering quickly, she grabbed hold of the guy's sleeve, readying a lecture, and shouted, "Hey, watch where you're going, asshole!"

The boy turned a menacing glare on her, through shaggy blond she caught a glint of green.

"Who you calling an asshole, asshole?"

"Wally," Rachel stammered. She released the sleeve, flushing.

Wally turned slightly towards Rachel, regarding her a moment. He shoved his hands in his pockets and let hair fall into his face to perfectly mask his features.

"It's been awhile," Rachel admitted.

Her heart was a pounding a little too fast. Her head was spinning. She convinced herself it was from the way he'd rushed past her moments before and that she was still angry, and it would all almost seem true if not for the pesky fact that her heart always pounded and her head always spun whenever Wally Beatles was around.

Patton paused at the door, glancing curiously back at his friend's interaction.

"Yup," Wally replied, tense.

Well, jeez, he never changes, Rachel noted glumly, and the prize for most impenetrable emotional walls goes to...

"I heard a rumor you were back. Guess I didn't really believe it," Rachel confessed, crossing her arms.

Briefly, she wondered about her hair. It flashed into her mind for an instant. She'd been riding in the jeep, it was probably a disaster. Subconsciously, she ran her hand through the blonde tresses. Then she cursed, God, it really sucked being a girl, guys probably never worried about such trivial things.

Wally shrugged, "Don't blame ya'."

"I'll see you inside, Rach," Patton called impatiently from the door. Rachel tilted her head in a nod but didn't look to him, eyes fixed on the blond in front of her. She realized at some point she'd held onto her breath and let it out slowly.

"You look good," she noted.

It really wasn't true. Wally looked the same as ever. Well-built, but a bit gaunt with dark bags under his eyes. She swore the boy didn't believe in sleep, he ran on pure spite.

"Really? 'Cause I'm still not."

Rachel felt a jolt electric shoot up her spine and scowled. Same old Wally, ruggedly handsome and irreverently dense. Oh, how she wished she could just give him one good right hook. She doubted she would be punished for it, the school would probably end up suspending him. Unfortunately, he was so stonewalled, she expected her hand would shatter against his face.

"You're really gonna bring that up? It was a long time ago and I know I never should have said it, I said I was sorry, but you never let anything go, do you? Christ, it was stupid then and its stupid now," she snapped, then caught herself. Was he really smirking at her like that? She rolled her eyes, "You're such a jerk."

"First it's asshole, now its jerk...you really know how to make a guy feel welcomed back."

"Shut up," Rachel muttered peevishly, "I was actually worried about you, you know, when they dragged you out of here in handcuffs. I really thought you were going to jail."

"Rachel..." he groaned.

"Don't call me that."

"It's your name," he pointed out, tone slightly agitated.

"Well, I don't want you saying my name," Rachel hissed.

She knew she was being irrationally stubborn but she couldn't help it. Instantly, she was transported back to that day, that moment, however many months ago it was. Standing underneath the bleachers, sunlight cutting across the scene. She in her cheerleading uniform glaring down at him as he chugged his beer and looked defiantly up at her. Their shouted words still clanged painfully in her ears.

Heartless loser.

Stuck up bitch.

"Right. Well this has been a load of fun," Wally spoke up, clearing his throat and glaring into the distance. Ever the stoic, "But I got other places to be, other people who'll want to get their jabs in before first bell."

Wally started to leave and the world fogged. Again, Rachel flashed back to that day, him walking away. He was always walking away. In her mind, her clearest image of him was of his back. It didn't seem right. Wasn't he the one always screwing up?

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, debating internally, until – probably against her better judgment – she relented, "Wally, wait."

He paused, halfway inside, but didn't turn back around. Fellow students maneuvered around the two, some grumbled about their being in the way, but no one made a comment to them. It was one of the benefits of being a nuisance with one of the most feared hoodlums in school.

"Can we just...try this again?" Rachel pleaded. She chewed her bottom lip and confessed sheepishly, "I'm glad to see you."

Wally remained unmoved. His shoulders were rigid. His hands were fists in his pockets. She supposed he was having his own internal debate.

"I am," she insisted, "It really blew when you got kicked out of school. You were kind of the only interesting thing here." She shuffled her weight from one leg to the other and, in an attempt at easing the tension between them, joked, "And, you know, the number of hot guys with accents is limited enough in this place as it is."

Wally slumped slightly, head lowered and wagging side to side. Rachel couldn't tell if the motion was laughter or annoyance. He'd always been so hard to read.

"Man, how pathetic are we?" she grumbled, mock serious, "Getting angry with each other and no chance of making up with a make-out session later."

That got a rise.

Wally turned to her, saying with a shrug, "I wouldn't mind making-out."

"No," Rachel hastily replied, "Nice try, buddy, but no."

He smirked and she smiled in return.

"Why? It wasn't that bad before," he quietly commented.

Rachel felt her cheeks flood with warmth. Memories suddenly rushed back to her of skin against skin, slick with sweat, of carelessly discarded clothing and body bruising encounters, of lust like addiction and desire overload. Bad was a word that fit Wally in a lot of ways, but when it came to close personal relations of the intimate kind, it was several sizes too small.

"No. It really wasn't."

Rachel walked a few paces into the school, somewhat surprised, and slightly happy when Wally fell in step beside her.

"Was it horrible? Where they sent you?" she questioned. She knew he wouldn't answer honestly, and he definitely wouldn't give her any details. He never did. But she still felt like she had to try, as if there were some prize in getting infamous Wally Beatles to open up.

"Not really."

"So...are you maybe planning on staying out of trouble for a little while, keep your head down?"

It was kind of a painful thing to ask. It hurt always hoping for an answer Rachel knew Wally would never give, even despite the fact that, after the way they last parted and those many months of separation, the questions and answers shouldn't matter to her anymore.

Wally snorted softly, humorously. "Not really."

Rachel mentally ran down the list of things she could say; to chastise, reprimand, beg. She let them all slide in and out of her mind until there was nothing left.

"Don't worry about it," Wally muttered, "I hate your worrying. It's annoying."

Rachel startled slightly at his words. She flushed with anger and confusion. She didn't understand why it always had to be this way. Why he was so determined to be the big badass who didn't need anyone else.

"I'm not worried," she snapped, "Don't act like such a know-it-all punk kid." She stopped then, spun round, and jabbed him in the chest with her finger, "And if you don't want people to worry about you, stop being such an idiot."

Wally scowled at her, rubbing the spot where she'd struck him. As if it really hurt. As if anything Rachel ever did could really hurt him.

"You know, I really don't miss this," he informed her, steadily. The bastard never ran out of nerve.

"I'm just saying-"

"I know exactly what you're just saying. Same thing you always say. I'm an idiot, a loser, a psychopath. Well, it doesn't matter, because I'm going to do whatever I want to do, sheila, and there's noth-"

"Don't call me 'sheila'! You know I hate when you call me 'sheila'."

Wally rolled his eyes. "I can't call you by your name, I can't call you sheila. What the bloody hell do you want me to call you? Babe?"

Rachel fumed. She folded her arms over her chest, tapped her foot. He was so frustrating. He never said the right thing. He was always off doing something stupid, causing some sort of ruckus, picking fights, breaking rules. He was rough around the edges, violent, never told her anything. What was it that she had seen in him again?

Besides the nice body, hot Australian accent, and devil-may-care attitude that drove her crazy with wanting him to care, if just for a second, if only a little teensy-weensy bit, about her.

Rachel faltered. She wasn't really that shallow, was she?

"Just forget it, alright," she muttered. She groaned inwardly and rubbed her face, trying to erase the frustration, "I know that things got crazy before. We said a lot of things we shouldn't have, a lot of things we didn't mean...but that's the past, ancient history. I still care about you, you know. God, I don't know why, but I do. I want us to be friends. We can manage that, can't we?"

Wally shrugged. He lowered his head, hair in his face, expression hidden. Rachel clenched her jaw. Him and his fucking walls.

"We used to have a lot of fun together. Remember?" Rachel persisted.

Wally had a great sense of humor. When he relaxed enough, he could tell jokes that had Rachel laughing for hours. He had an insatiable appetite for adventure. When he wanted to go out, to do something, it was never boring.

"I guess," Wally relented, "When you weren't driving me bonkers with all your romantic, girly crud-"

He was also the biggest idiot on the face of the planet.

"More like, when your mouth wasn't moving!"

"Really, 'cause I don't recall you having such a problem with my mouth moving when-"

"Time!" Rachel cried. She formed a "T" with her hands and shoved them at Wally.

He folded his hands behind his neck and kicked at the ground. Sometimes he looked like such a child. Innocent and unassuming. Maybe that was his real draw. His sweet appearance fooled nice unsuspecting girls like Rachel into believing they could tame the beast within.

Rachel buried her face in a palm, "You are such an asshole."

"You used that one already."

"I give up," she muttered. She looked up at him, took in his image for a moment, and shook her head, "I would like if we could be friends, but we really can't, can we? Maybe if you were a little more mature-"

"And you were a little less hot-headed?" he quietly suggested.

"But we can't," she growled. For a moment, she let a bit of sadness creep into her expression, "It's too bad," she cleared her throat and the sadness was replaced with determination, "I guess it is what it is. So...I'm glad you're back...um...try not to blow the school up when I'm in it. And, uh, take care of yourself." She looked up into his face, his expression unreadable as ever, and said hollowly, "Good bye, Wally."

With steely resolve and the cracking of her heart in her ear, Rachel spun on heel and started her dramatic departure down the hall.

"Hey, Rachel," Wally called after her. She paused, wiped at tears that weren't there but threatened to be.

"What?" she bit out, unable to face him. It really just figured that he would go and ruin her stoic exit after all the times she let him have his. Was there no end to his asshole-ish-ness?

"I'm having a party at my house this Saturday. You should come...bring whoever," he told her, casual and non-committal. Just like everything else about him.

Rachel let anger and disbelief wash over her in droves. It was so all-consuming she trembled from its urge to burst out.

"What the hell is that supposed to be? Some kind of peace offering?" she roared, turning to begin Rachel versus Wally, Round...She-Lost-Count, but he was already gone.

-5-4-3-2-1-

Bloody sheila.

Wally stalked down the hall. His eyes strayed along the ground. His hands were balled into fists and shoved into his pockets lest they do something violent.

Before, he could never figure what Rachel's problem was and it seemed he still couldn't. Maybe it was just her nature. After all, she was that special kind of good girl that could never let him forget how bad a guy he really was; asshole, jerk, whatever.

Still, it didn't make sense.

If that was the kind of person she saw him as – useless, good for nothing, waste of time and space – why did she have to turn around and spout off crud about 'still caring for him', and being 'glad he was back', and wanting to 'be friends'.

Wally growled inwardly. Damn confusing was what is was. If she didn't want to fool around with him than why bother? He reached his locker and promptly punched it.

Metal cracked and rattled from the impact of Wally's fist, it also left a little dent. What few students were in the area hurried in search of somewhere else to be.

Wally leaned his forehead against the cool blue metal. His brow furrowed and thoughts wandered. This day was already turning out to be a doozy. Sarcastically he wondered, what could possibly happen next.

Wally wasn't sure why he'd told Rachel to come to the party. She was walking away from him and out of his life, which was exactly where she ought to be but something made him call out to her. Maybe it was his own insufferable rage. He couldn't let her walk away with the last word. Or maybe, it was guilt, his way of making amends for...well...everything.

After all, it was Wally's fault that anything had ever happened between them in the first place. If he had just stuck to his policy: 'No cheerleaders', everything would have been fine.

Of course, his luck probably didn't help the situation either. He'd been drunk, lonely, in the mood – though that one doesn't really count, he is male after all and always prone to being 'in the mood', a problem usually exacerbated by intoxication – and, lo and behold, Rachel was the only attractive girl at the party.

Wally worked the combination of his locker. He flung the door open and smirked unhappily at its sparse contents. People unaware of Wally's mood were returning to the hall, shuffling around him, chatting, laughing, digging in their lockers and giving him an all around headache.

Speaking of headaches. If Wally remembered correctly, Rachel had been a 'Whiskey Mistake'. Whiskey Mistakes were always the prettiest. Brandy Mistakes were usually emotional the next morning. Rum Mistakes were typically crazy – emphasis on ca-razy. And Tequila Mistakes were best forgotten.

Ah, Tequila. Wally missed Tequila.

Of course, Wally could be wrong. Rachel may have been a Whiskey Mistake with a shot of Brandy and a splash of Rum. He supposed the differences between them didn't really mean anything. No matter how unique the Mistake, they always had the same thing in common: her left hurt in the morning because of him.

Wally smirked sardonic. He would always be the bad guy.

The locker door clattered with weight and Wally startled from his musings on past regrets to fix a glare on the form that had slipped next to him. He really had to go ask a humorless cosmos 'what could possibly happen next'?

"Fulbrite," Wally seethed, "Go away."

"Oh, Wallabee, ever the charmer," Fanny returned cheerily, patting his cheek not-at-all kindly. Wally wondered, if he broke her arm could he claim self-defense? Nah, it wouldn't get rid of her anyway, she'd just start whining.

"Fine. I'll go," Wally spat. He went to close his locker, but Fanny was firmly planted across the door. "Move." She folded her arms over her chest and glared impudently up at him.

"I heard your parents are leaving town for the weekend. Lucky you."

Wally growled low in the back of his throat. It was more to let out some of his building frustration than an attempt at frightening Fanny, of course. His intimidation tactics had never worked on her. She was another 'bloody sheila' he couldn't figure out but in an entirely different way. The spitfire redhead had balls, that was for damn sure, and Wally could respect that if not for the fact she was so goddamned irritating.

"Yeah. What of it?"

"And you're having a party to celebrate the occasion. Very classy of you," Fanny went on. Wally felt a groan coming. "Put my name on the guest list with a plus two, please."

And there it was.

"What the bloody hell would ever make you think that I would put your name down for my party, Fulbrite? I wouldn't put you on the list even if you promised to dress like a gorilla and dance a jig while juggling bananas, you half-wit shiela."

Fanny nodded at each ranted word. Her lips were pulled in a knowing smirk. Wally knew that smirk. Years of dinner with the Fulbrites, his foolhardy father's attempts at sucking up to the boss-man, had taught him to hate that smirk.

"I had a feeling you might be difficult and I didn't want to have to resort to this but put me on the list," Fanny's eyes lit with a wild fire, "Or else."

Wally rolled his eyes. Learning to hate a smirk was about as far as he got from the lessons of his past mistakes.

"Or else what? You tell my folks? Got news for you, Fanny, I've been grounded since I crawled out of the womb. My folks don't scare me."

Fanny burst out with an exaggerated laugh, placing a hand at her breast and playfully swatting Wally's shoulder.

"Oh, Wallabee, Wallabee. What do you take me for? An amateur. Call your parents and tattle," Fanny continued to laugh. She shook her head at him as if to say: you stupid boy.

"Right." Wally folded his arms and glared down his nose at her skeptically. "So then what do you plan to do?"

"Have you forgotten whose daughter I am?"

Wally furrowed his brow. He frowned in confusion.

"I know I ain't the sharpest bulb in the crayon box, Fanny, but ain't so stupid as to forget who your bloody parents are. You planning on coming to a point with this anytime soon?"

Fanny lowered her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she turned her face upward with the most pathetic, heartwrenchingly, realistic puppy dog pout Wally had ever seen.

"Daddy," Fanny simpered dramatically, stamping her foot for emphasis. Her tone was dead-on, a killer combination of distressed and petulant, the war cry of a spoiled brat. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill at any moment, "A boy at school, I think he's the son of one of your employees...Wally Beatles, he had a party this weekend and I...I...was not invited."

Fanny shook her head and, instantly, her pout disappeared. She took another deep breath and fanned her face with her hands to dry away the crocodile tears. She beamed up at a stunned Wally.

When he found his voice again, he asked, "And that will do...what?"

Fanny shrugged innocently.

"You know, I'm not too sure. But you could always ask Kenny Anders, he didn't invite me to his party either. Oh gosh darn it all!" Fanny snapped her fingers suddenly, "You can't do that. My daddy transferred Mr. Anders to...Russia or Alaska...you know, I can never remember where. It was someplace cold. You like the cold, don't you, Wally?"

The answer was: no. Wally most certainly did not like the cold, as Fanny was well aware.

Wally glared into his locker. Bloody -cruddy- bloody sheilas.

Then a thought occurred to Wally. He cleared his throat. Focused on a spot in the far corner of his locker.

"Er...your plus two..." Wally shifted uncomfortably. "One of them wouldn't happen to be..." He dropped his voice low, "Kuki Sanban?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Kuki Sanban and Patty Juni. Do you have a probl-"

"Alright. Fine. I'll put you on the list."

Fanny blinked.

"Oh. That was easier than I thought it would be.." Fanny straightened and started away, patting Wally's shoulder in passing, "Losing a bit of our edge, are we, Wallabee? I'll see you Saturday then."

Fanny strutted away.

Wally closed his locker and leaned against it. He cursed himself. He shouldn't have done that. He really was the biggest idiot in the world. It was stupid, foolish, ignorant. He really should not have done that.

A girl like Kuki Sanban had no place anywhere near his party.

For a moment, Wally flashed on Rachel. He wondered what kind of mistake Kuki Sanban would be. His stomach flopped. He closed his eyes and balled his hands into fists. He felt sick.

Kuki Sanban would be the worst kind of mistake. She would be the kind that would hurt him in the morning.

And somehow, Wally would still be the bad guy.

-1-2-3-4-5-

Joey lay on his belly in the bushes across from Willem High School. A twig poked the soft flesh of his underside but he ignored the pain. They were in enemy territory, this was no time to be a crybaby. He watched the front of the school and, the many students coming and going, through a Kids Next Door B.O.N.G.O.S.K.O.P.E.

Kalani sat next to Joey chewing a piece of licorice and sorting through her weaponry: twin G.U.M.Z.O.O.K.A.s, a pack of taffy traps, and her own personally designed J.A.W.-B.R.E.A.K.U.H., the "Jarringly Awesome Weapon Breaks Really Everything Around Kandy Ultimately Hurts" Jaw-Breaker cannon gun.

"I told you back at Lulu's that we won't need any of that," Joey steadily informed Kalani, "Our op specs from Moonbase are clear: gather info, do not initiate."

"It's better safe than sorry, Numbuh 25," Kalani replied tersely. She slung a fully stocked gumball belt across her chest and holstered her G.U.M.Z.O.O.K.A.S. "We have no idea what waits for us in there; how many teenagers, how many Teen Ninjas. We could be walking right into a trap and if we did things your way, we'd be unarmed."

"Not completely unarmed..."

"Powerful a weapon as they may be, my fists don't count."

Joey rolled his eyes and repositioned himself to get a better view of the school. The two-way radio on his belt went off and, through a great deal of static, a chipper voice could be heard.

"Numbuh 68 to Numbuh 25. Numbuh 68 to Numbuh 25."

Joey retrieved his radio and held it to his mouth.

"This is Numbuh 25, go ahead Numbuh 68."

"Target is on the move with same male teenager of unknown allegiance from the other day. Repeat, target is on the move."

"What's her E.T.A.?" Joey questioned.

"Um...uh...it's uh...her what?"

Kalani pulled a face and shook her head in annoyance. She began meticulously loading her J.A.W.-B.R.E.A.K.U.H., something about candy and weapons always seemed to soothe her.

"When will she reach the closet?" Joey rephrased impatiently.

"Oh! Okay...her E.A.T. is..."

"E.A.T.?" Kalani mouthed at Joey. Joey muffled a snicker.

"...is...uh...T-minus...er...very soon."

"Thanks Numbuh 68. We move on my mark."

"Sure thing, Numbuh 25," T.S. proudly replied.

Joey lifted himself slightly and hopped his feet underneath him so that he was squatting in the bushes. He tucked his B.O.N.G.O.S.K.O.P.E. into his bag, which was plopped on the ground beside him. Kalani propped her J.A.W.-B.R.E.A.K.U.H. on her shoulder and looked expectantly to her leader.

The radio went off again in another burst of static.

"Uh...Numbuh 25?"

Joey slumped his shoulders. He lifted the radio to his mouth.

"What is it Numbuh 68?"

"Um...I was wondering..."

"Yes, Numbuh 68?"

"After the mission is over..."

"Uh-huh?"

"Can we get ice-cream?"

"Give me that," Kalani growled, snatching the radio violently away from Joey and hissing, "Listen up, Numbuh 68, stay focused on the mission and, if you're very lucky and you don't screw up, when its over I won't freeze you in a vat of ice cream."

"Numbuh 1959!" Joey gasped, wrestling his radio out of Kalani's grasp. He gave her a look of warning and, in a ginger voice, said into the radio, "Numbuh 68, I think right now you should concern yourself more with this mission and less with what will happen afterward, okay?"

"..."

Joey sighed. He could just picture the other boy in a fit of tears, hugging his stuffed rabbit and chewing on its ear.

"And...yes, we can go get ice cream after the mission," Joey relented. Kalani scowled over at him.

"Yay!" came the cheery response through crackling static.

Joey met Kalani's glare with a sheepish expression.

"Don't act like you don't want ice cream, too," he muttered. He lifted the radio up again and into it asked, "Numbuh 3.14159, are you ready with the modified F.I.N.D.I.T.?"

Louisa was on the roof of the highschool. She would be the team's eyes when they entered the building.

After a few seconds, the response came, "Yes, Numbuh 25. I've reprogrammed the F.I.N.D.I.T. to detect the unique teenage B.O. signature. I should know in a moment when our path is clear of threat."

"Good work, Lulu."

Kalani gave Joey a pointed look, her brow cocked, the corner of her lip curled into a smirk. Joey glanced confused at her.

"What?"

"Good work, Lulu," Kalani repeated mockingly. Joey's cheeks turned bright red. He lowered his face so that his blond bangs obscured his features.

"Well, it was good work," he grumbled, "We have to move quickly when we get in there, Numbuh 1959. Do you think you can keep up with all that crud you plan on hauling?"

Kalani hitched her J.A.W.-B.R.E.A.K.U.H. higher up on her shoulder easily, relaxing it in the crook of her arm, and glared down at Joey rather imposingly.

"You're the one who should worry about keeping up with me, what with those stubby little legs of yours."

"I'm just saying. If we get caught, and Sims figures out we're tailing her, it'll blow the whole mission. Then we'll be in cactus, Kalani."

Kalani perked a brow at that, "A cactus?"

The radio went off again and Louisa's voice came in through the static.

"Alright, Numbuh 25, you're clear to move. I'll alert you to any changes in teenager flow."

"Got it. Ready, Numbuh 68?"

"Ready, Numbuh 25."

Joey glanced at Kalani. Kalani gave him a short nod.

"Alright, in five...four...three...two...one! Move! Move! Move!"

Kalani and Joey sprinted across the parking lot, dodging between cars to keep out of sight of the teenagers heading into the high school. At every pause, Kalani would ready her J.A.W.-B.R.E.A.K.U.H. in preparation of an unexpected attack.

"Numbuh 25, when you get inside, take your first right: 200 halls. Numbuh 68, move straight down the 400s."

"I'm in," Numbuh 68 chirped. His entry point was a window into a storage closet. His route was the easiest and because he'd already spent time at the school, he had a good feel of the layout. Joey and Kalani, on the other hand, were taking the front entrance and would rely heavily on Louisa's directions.

Joey and Kalani, back-to-back, maneuvered swiftly up the stairs and burst through the high school's doors into a crowded hallway. Joey paled. He swallowed hard. There were teenagers everywhere. Mostly they were chatting amongst themselves, walking towards unknown destinations. Two were – Joey felt slightly nauseous – kissing and holding hands.

"Move, Numbuh 25, we don't have time to panic," Kalani whispered harshly to her leader. Joey didn't need to be told twice. They had to keep their pace slow but swift now or risk calling attention to themselves.

For the most part, the teenagers ignored them. Kids Next Door scientists called the strange phenomenon, where teenagers in large groups lacked interest in anything not having to do with celebrities, music, fashion, or the opposite gender, the "Hot or Not Effect". Joey hadn't believed it really happened before, and when Louisa suggested using it to their advantage when infiltrating the possible Teen Ninja entrance at the Janitor's Closet he'd all but laughed in her face, but now he was stunned. He made a mental note to apologize to Louisa later, preferably, when Kalani was far, far, far away.

"Change of plans, Numbuh 25," Louisa's frantic cry came through the radio, "Hang a sharp left. There's no mistaking the B.O. drifting your way. You've got incoming football players, with a high probability of Teen Ninja affiliation."

Kalani and Joey ducked down the left hall. They both froze, a chill running up their spines. They found themselves in a part of the high school that seemed void of all life. Balled up bits of paper tumbled by. Their footsteps echoed eerily off the locker lined walls.

"Uh...where are we, Numbuh 3.14159?" Joey whispered into his radio.

"500s hall; according to my map...mathematics. Keep walking, there shouldn't be a huge teen presence there. Mostly nerds and geeks, easily evaded if you stay in their blind spots."

Their blind spots were the fields of their vision blocked by their thick glasses frames. It was useful information to keep in mind because teens of the Nerd and Geek classification rarely exhibited the 'Hot or Not Effect'.

"Got it Thanks."

Joey and Kalani pushed forward, senses on high alert.

"Watch yourselves, guys. Mathletes, twelve o'clock!"

Joey and Kalani pressed their backs against the wall of lockers. A pack of gawky teenagers passed them without a second glance, too engrossed in a conversation about something called a Pythagorean Theorem. Joey mentally noted the term as a possible new Teen Ninja weapon or armament.

The two operatives waited until the nerds disappeared into a classroom before moving again.

"How long until The Closet?" Joey complained.

"About forty paces. The target entered roughly two minutes ago. First bell rings in three. We have a quickly closing window. Left."

Joey and Kalani turned into another hall and caught sight of T.S. coming from the other end. Though the area was empty, the small boy dodged and tumbled from side to side, deliberately making his way towards his teammates.

"Fourth door on the right, Numbuh 25. Good luck and...be careful."

"Thanks, Lulu, we will."

Joey turned the radio volume low and attached it to his belt. He and Kalani walked casually to their destination. T.S. joined them and grinned. Kalani glared at him.

"Did you take the scenic route, Numbuh 68? You should have been here already doing preliminary surveillance," she grumbled. T.S. shrugged, giving the rabbit at his belt a subconscious squeeze.

"I got pinned down by teenagers, couldn't make a move," he explained softly.

Joey cleared his throat loudly to gain their attention. He removed a listening device from his belt. It was shaped like a large ear and fit neatly over his own ear, he pressed it against the door. T.S. and Kalani watched interestedly.

"I hear something...it sounds like...like eating."

"I bet they have ice cream," T.S. complained.

"Shut up about the ice cream already, Numbuh 68."

"Will you two be quiet," Joey hissed, "This is a highly sensitive operation."

T.S. and Kalani looked bashfully at the floor. Joey furrowed his brow and removed the listening device from his ear.

"I guess we have no choice. I can't hear anything clear enough. We're gonna have to go in. Keep your heads low and stay alert."

Grim faced, the three operatives readied themselves. Joey put his hand on the door. He looked to his teammates, they looked at him, exchanged nods. Joey opened the door and...

"Ew! Gross!"

"Ugh! Oh no, God!"

"What are they doing? Yuck!"

"Who's there? Get out!"

"You brats, I'm gonna kill you!"

"Virginia, wait..."

"Run," Joey shouted command, "Everyone, scatter!"

Joey, T.S., and Kalani took off in separate directions.

Joey bolted down the 300s as he tried desperately to erase the image from his mind of hated enemy, Virginia Sims, sucking and slurping the unknown male's face. He had heard stories at the Arctic Academy of the Teen Ninja's terrible torture techniques but it was far worse than anything he'd ever imagined. He darted a look over his shoulder and his heart caught. She was chasing after him.

"Get back here you punk!"

Joey picked up the pace, running through bleary halls, dodging confused teenagers that shouted angrily after him. He turned a corner and THUMP!

Joey fell back and shot a look up, startled. His stomach dropped.

"Oh crud!"

"What the...Joey?"

Too slow, Joey attempted to run. Wally easily snagged the collar of his shirt, holding the younger boy firmly in place. Joey shot a panicked look over his shoulder. Virginia rounded the corner, fire and brimstone burst from her very core. She fixed Joey with an evil glare.

"You little..." she gritted, advancing on the Beatles brothers. Wally perked a brow at her in surprise. Joey took the opportunity to wriggle free and raced to hide behind Wally.

Wally fixed Virginia with an even glare.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked in a tone that suggested he didn't plan on being very helpful at all.

"I don't have a beef with you, Beatles, my business is with the brat," Virginia spat response.

Joey swallowed hard, silently pleading with his older brother: please help.

"Brat? What brat? You mean this brat?" Wally questioned mockingly, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the boy attempting to be very small and unassuming behind him. Wally's face hardened, his voice became a low growl. "Because this brat is my brat and I happen to have business with him."

Joey winced. On second thought, he'd take his chances with Virginia.

The two teenagers stood in deadlock. Joey watched in awe, knowing he could make an attempt to run but too mesmerized by the silent battle being waged before him to pull away. Both teenagers wore effective glares, their expressions burned with intensity, and it was difficult for the young operative to determine which was the more intimidating teen.

Finally, Virginia lowered her eyes.

"Whatever," she muttered, "Just tell the little perv to watch who peeps at next time."

And as if she had been the victor and not the clear loser of her standoff with Wally, Virginia spun on heel and marched away.

Joey started to tip-toe slowly from the scene.

"Joey. Freeze."

He paused, took a deep breath and turned a winning grin on his brother.

"Thanks for the help, Wally. No time to explain though, I really got to go..."

"What are you doing here, Joe?" Wally demanded.

The radio at Joey's hip chose that moment to go off, a tiny bell ringing, alarming of an incoming transmission, and then little crackles of static started to pop over a nearly inaudible murmur. Joey grabbed it, turning up the volume a bit.

"Numbuh 3.14159 to Numbuh 25. Numbuh 25, come in, Numbuh 25. Are you okay, Joey? Were you caught?"

Joey lifted the radio to answer only for it to be snatched from his hands.

"Hey!"

He struggled in futility against Wally for a moment in attempt to retrieve it.

"Oh, I see. You and your little friends are playing a game," Wally sneered.

"We aren't playing. I'm on a highly sensitive mission. Top secret! Very classified, very important!"

Wally did not look convinced. He lifted up the radio to speak into it, "Yeah, he's been caught and if you don't scram, I'll come for you next." Then he flicked it off and told Joey, "This is mine now."

Joey slumped his shoulders. He glared at the ground and wondered briefly if Numbuh 1 ever had to deal with this kind of embarrassment on a mission.

Wally led Joey out of the school with a strong hand gripping the back of his neck, all the while ranting heatedly.

"Sometimes I can't even begin to wonder about the things that run through that cruddy little head of yours. I don't even want to know what that crazy sheila meant about you peeping on her."

"But Wally-"

"Shut it. You start ditching school, Joe, and you know who's gonna get blamed, right? Because everything that gets screwed up in the entire world is my fault."

"But I have it all worked out..." Joey weakly attempted explanation. He'd put in a special request for counterfeit 'sick notes' doctored by well-trained Kids Next Door forgery agents especially for such urgent covert operations as the weekday infiltration of a Teen Ninja headquarters.

They stopped at Wally's motorbike. Wally ran a hand across his face, trying to rub away his frustrations.

"Dammit, Joey," he grumbled, "Now I'm gonna have to cut class to take you back to school and, you want to know the first thing they'll do when I don't show up for homeroom? Call mom."

"Or you could just...not take me back?" Joey silently suggested.

"I'll still get in trouble, Joe. Don't you get it? If you aren't in school it'll be my fault. Get it through your thick head. Anytime you foul up, its my fault. Every time you stay out past curfew, whenever you cuss, or you get in fights at school, it's all because of me. You don't even realize how pissed mom and dad are going to be over this, and why should you, it ain't you'll have to deal with them. You go out of your way to be a pain in my arse and, sometimes I swear, its like you don't even think, do you?" Wally roared.

Joey lowered his face, hair spilling into his tear brimmed eyes. It wasn't as though he purposely wanted to get Wally into trouble. He sniffled loudly, trembling a bit from the force of his older brother's accusations. In a way, it was true. He never thought that his battling adult tyranny would or even could affect his brother but, if he could go back in time to the day of his recruitment with this moment, he knew he never would have joined the Kids Next Door in the first place.

"I'm sorry, Wally, I really...I really am," he stammered. He felt like such an annoying little gnat buzzing around his brother's head. He wasn't stupid or blind. He knew, for whatever reason he couldn't fathom, that their parents were always more lenient on him. Everything, everything, he did that was bad or wrong fell on Wally. It was no wonder Wally hated him so much.

Wally shoved his hands in his pockets and glared at something in the distance. After a moment, he shook his head as if deciding something and sighed, relaxing slightly.

"And, what the crud, Joey?" he muttered, his tone was lighter, almost teasing, "Have I taught you nothing? You don't cut school to go to another school. Sheesh, and they call me crazy." He picked up his bike helmet and plopped it on Joey's head and commanded gently, "Quit crying. Crud. If I take you now, you won't be too late...maybe just an hour or so."

Joey wiped at his face. He swallowed back his sobs.

"Maybe you don't need to take me to school," he mumbled suggestion, "Maybe...maybe..." his eyes lit a bit and he looked up hopefully at Wally, "Maybe, since we're both already going to miss class, we could just not go at all. And maybe...maybe...we could go do something else...instead...just you and me. And-and-and we could tell mom that I got sick and you had to come pick me up and-and, because I was so sick, you had to stay home and take care of me. You know mom would believe me, if I said so."

Wally was silent, his face masked.

"Please, Wally. We don't even have to go do something. We could just go somewhere and do nothing."

The first bell rang, echoing in the morning air. Students shuffled towards the building, laughing and chattering with one another.

"Wally...?"

"No, Joe. You need to go to school," Wally finally said. His voice was soft and sounded faraway. Joey felt his heart sink slowly to the ground. "Don't want you turning out like me."

With the finality of those words ringing in the brothers' ears, Wally clipped the bike helmet securely into place under Joey's chin. He then straddled his bike and helped the younger boy on behind him. The bike roared to life and burst out of the school parking lot.

Joey's arms wrapped around Wally's waist, wind ripped noisily past them. In that moment, Joey was thankful for the motorbike. Because of it his older brother couldn't see the tears silently, freely, streaming down his cheeks.

Joey knew all the reasons, he'd heard all the words, all the horrible, nasty things, his mother, his father, other adults, other kids – younger and older – had to say about Wally. He hugged Wally tighter, buried his face against the firm, warm wall of the older boy's back.

He knew, but part of Joey wondered, deep in his trembling heart, would it really be such a bad thing? To be like Wally?

-5-4-3-2-1-

Cree stalked up the university steps towards her first class of the day; Calculus. Her fellow students buzzed around her. She slipped her cellphone into her purse, having just finished an annoyingly unhelpful conversation with one of her subordinates.

Moosk was proving much harder to find than she anticipated. An impromptu trip to 'Tie-land', according to stolen Kids Next Door documents, seemed to be in her near future.

Halfway up the stairs, Cree stopped dead in her tracks. Her heart thrummed a steady beat against her chest. She met the penetrating gaze of a boy calmly staring her down at the top of the steps. His eyes were a cool blue, carrying the chill of an icy tundra. His red hair fell wild around his face. There was something disturbing, something haunting about his demeanor, about his expression. He bore the look of one who'd seen things – done things – terrible things. It was a look Cree sometimes saw staring back at her in the mirror.

After a few seconds ticked by, he slunk down the stairs and as he passed Cree he murmured, "Time's almost up."

Cree spun around to demand who the hell he thought he was and what he meant by that, but he was gone, faded into the crowd of eager college students rushing to classes.


Okay, so, my favorite RPG of all time is Baulder's Gate, and if you have never played it, then you have not had the wonderful privilege of meeting the non-player character Minsc, of whom the KND character Moosk is based off (also, Moosk is voiced by the same actor that voiced Minsc. I had a serious fan-girl moment watching Operation KNOT, you have no idea and you probably don't want to). And this little bit of trivia is how I knew that Mr. Warburton (somehow I think I've got his name wrong...too tired to double check...) and I were kindrid spirits. GAH! I love Moosk.

MOVING ON: For anyone who is surprised, appalled, disturbed, confused, or even, apathetic about the reveal of Rachel and Wally, I had planned from the beginning that the two of them had a history together. Originally, it wasn't going to be mentioned until the party during a conversation Rachel has with someone else, however, I decided since the party is such a long ways off, such a reveal that would play a heavy role on how the two characters interact with each other and how other characters would react to both of them, would be a little out of left field at that juncture. Also, originally, the relationship wasn't a big deal. I didn't anticipate Rachel still being so emotional over it. i'm not sure how its going to affect the overall story, yet. Characters, they're so goddamned unpredictable sometimes. Why won't they just do what I want?

On a side note, I love writing Joey/Wally fluff. Bar-none, theirs is my favorite relationship.

Also, would you believe that I originally wrote that opening scene for an earlier chapter? It was replaced with the scene where Cree meets with Professor XXXL. And yes, Cree kicks ass.

Lastly, points for whoever can figure out which KND operative Kenny Anders is meant as a shout out to and how I derived the name. I'll give you guys the answer next update! :)