The city of Townsville didn't seem like itself today.
The muted whisper of autumn wind slipped between the skyscrapers and rattled the doors of the shops. Mothers hurried down the streets, holding tightly to their children's hands and gripping their scarves tight around their necks. The fragrance of burning leaves drifted from the edge of town as the sun climbed behind its curtain of gray sky. Summer had fulfilled its fickle promise, slipping away before anybody had even taken the time to relish it, and fall was closing in, blanketing the world in its silent embrace.
Nobody even noticed when one of Townsville's greatest heroes trudged down the street – head low and her hands shoved in her pockets, the tomboy of the trio made her way along the edge of the city. She hesitated at crosswalks as if hoping the sign would change and lingered in places where there were no curious eyes.
She had somewhere to be, but was in no hurry to arrive.
When somebody knocked at the door, causing the usual stir of groans and curses and beer cans being tossed in garbage bins and kicked behind the beanbag chair (in case it was another truancy officer or a nosy cop with nothing better to do,) the five discolored teenagers were sufficiently dumbfounded at who they found on their doorstep.
Ace peered apprehensively through his slanted sunglasses, clearing his throat. He didn't know whether to tell the boys to leave or to try to sneak off while they distracted her.
Buttercup, meanwhile, glared up at him, ever-vibrant, ever-irritable, and ever frighteningly alive.
"Uh, c-can I help you, Miss?"
Okay, so that was pretty stupid. He stared at her nervously as she shifted from one foot to the other.
"Yeah," she replied, sounding almost embarrassed. "…I wanna talk to you."
"Yeah, you." Moron.
"Uhhh…" The teen glanced over his shoulder. The four were sitting around the table, failing miserably at not staring. "…alone?"
"Yeah, actually. Alone would be better."
Ace stared blankly at the kid standing at his door, her arms crossed behind her back and her expression expectant.
Buttercup leaned inside, peering around the lanky gang leader. "Could you guys take a walk for a second?"
The rest of the gang had vanished before Ace could blink.
The Powerpuff had clearly observed that she wasn't going to be invited in, shouldering past him and sauntering into the rundown cabin. She tugged her scarf loose as her eyes swept the messy room. "So. How's it goin'?"
"Great," Ace muttered feebly.
"I see you're playing cards." She leaned on the table, eyes flitting to each abandoned hand of cards sprawled across the warped wood. "Poker, right? Who's winning?"
"Billy was, but Snake was helping him. I told him somebody put a pizza on the roof an' he ran outside, so I gave 'em my twos and took his queens. Never figured it out."
"Yeah?" Buttercup chuckled, making the mood lighter and tenser at the same time. She opened her eyes again and a hint of a smile touched her face. "Still up to your old tricks, eh?"
"Of course," he answered easily, readjusting his glasses. She laughed again and his stomach flipped.
Buttercup suddenly seemed uncomfortable and she shifted her weight as she crossed her arms. There was a lump in Ace's throat and he swallowed at it.
"Sooo…" He drawled for a good two seconds before taking in a breath. "What can I do ya for, Buttacup?"
"Uh, not much, really. I just wanted to drop by and say … hello."
The Gangreen Gang leader gawked at the Powerpuff as if she had a third eyeball.
"To … touch base?" She smiled, not looking like she expected him to buy it.
A long moment passed in awkward silence. A can hit the ground somewhere outside and the wind creaked in the roof.
Finally Ace spoke. "Well, Buttacup, it's been fun, so how about you just beat my head in and go, 'cause the boys and I were bettin' high stakes and I gotta hurry up an' win before they realize I cheated them out of all their-"
"I came here to talk to you," Buttercup blurted out.
Startled, the green boy threw his arms in front of his face defensively. When her words registered he lowered them a little, surprised. "…Talk? About what?"
Looking frustrated, she kicked at a nonexistent speck of something with one boot. "About … y'know. Stuff."
"Like what kind of stuff?"
Buttercup looked up at him. The urgency in her expression scared the shit out of him.
"Like, y'know. About … everything."
Ace blinked at her expectantly. Seconds ticked by.
"Abouuuut all the stuff that's happened," the girl muttered when forced to elaborate. "Us and fighting crime and you guys and your crimey stuff and Blossom and Bubbles and you and my sisters and you and me and the thing and-"
"Us?" he offered.
"-yeah," she finished frantically, "us."
He eyed her over the battered rims of his glasses. "Sooo you wanted to talk about us."
Buttercup stared at the ground and Grubber went pthhhht somewhere off in the distance.
"About what … I did?" Ace hesitated. "I'm sorry, Buttacup, I really am. It was bad and your sisters didn't deserve it; please don't beat me up, that was like years ago an' I really am sorry-"
"No," she interrupted angrily. "About the … me … liking you. That stuff."
"Oh." Ace's eyes went wide. "Oh."
Her emerald eyes shone in the dim light as she looked up. "So I'm sorry about that."
He met her glare, a strange sinking feeling in his stomach. "Oh. So … ya don't think I'm a dreamboat anymore?"
Buttercup blinked at him, suddenly looking more angry than even before.
"That … I'm not … a hunk?" he squeaked lamely.
"I'm just sorry, okay?" She spit out the word as if it tasted acrid in her mouth.
The boy shifted, staring at the scuffed toes of his boots.
Why the heck should it matter whether some psycho fluffypuff super-kid do-gooder didn't find him attractive?
"So you uh, ain't gonna beat me up?"
She pursed her lips and fidgeted in place, and for the first time ever, Ace thought she looked more little girl than superhero.
"I haven't decided yet," she muttered sheepishly.
Ace blinked. "Oh."
She looked back up at him. "I just wondered … if there was anything to that. I mean, you're a douchebag and stuff-"
(He was mildly stung that she'd phrased it so bluntly.)
"-but I mean, I like you, and you're funny and you let me eat pizza and listen to your music and stuff, and you're all kind of weird. But, I like you. And I was wondering if you liked me, at all, or if it was just all you trying to kill my sisters."
Ace wasn't sure how to respond to that.
Sure, she was pretty, for a twelve year old, and she was awesome and tough and he always won when he was on her team when they'd played sports, but she was a hero. A Powerpuff Girl.
That's not something you can just brush off, as Snake had reminded him hundreds of times when he'd get quiet and broody and didn't wanna go give kids wedgies and steal stuff out of pop machines.
That's not somethin' you can get over.
And honestly, it kind of pissed him off that she had the nerve to come flying back here when clearly he'd screwed her over and, well, they had beaten him and the boys senseless more times than the gang could count on all of their toes and fingers. Wasn't all that enough?
Weren't they all, like, even?
He eyed her, masking his apprehension with a trademark scowl, gathering up his courage and preparing himself to get punched into oblivion.
"Huh. Well, that's all well and good and whatever, but I ain't fallin' for whatever it is you're trying to pull. So how about you go back home and play with your little puff pals and we'll call it a day, eh Buttacup?"
The force that drove him into the floor was like the breaks being put on a roller coaster mid-drop. He heard the boards snapping beneath his weight more than he felt it and then he couldn't see and he couldn't breathe.
Buttercup's fist was curled in the collar of his shirt, her other set of knuckles shaking as she tried to hold it back. Her eyes were bright and hurt and livid.
"I am not just a superhero," she spat, the pain horridly obvious in her furious stare.
And then her mouth was smashed so hard against his that he was positive he was dead or dreaming or really really high.
Recoiling, the male widened his eyes and clawed his dirty nails into the mutilated floor, but the second he did, she kissed harder, ramming her tongue between his teeth and screwing her eyes shut.
Ace's eyes widened impossibly as horror coiled in his stomach. She was twelve. Twelve. And she could break his jaw, if not knock it clean off his face, and after everything that happened it just didn't make sense and how the hell does one react when a Powerpuff Girl kisses them and she had to be screwing with him and-
He lasted a good three seconds before his eyes fell closed and his fingers slid limply against the floor. She yanked him higher off the ground, her knees still squeezing so tight on his ribs that they felt like they were going to snap.
Her waist was surprisingly fragile beneath his hands and strands of her hair tickling his face made her seem almost human. And though she was the youngest girl he'd ever locked mouths with, he had never felt so helpless in his life.
Did she even know she was hurting him?
Letting go, the black-haired girl gasped for breath. She was glaring down at him as he weakly blinked up at her. There were tears in her eyes.
Before she could knock his skull in he grabbed her and pulled her to his level, meeting her porcelain lips with his own. The shattered floor crackled as she pushed him down, snapping splinters off against his shoulder blades. There was something bizarrely illogically right about it and his brain shut down as he clutched her to him and felt her teeth raking his bottom lip.
The sudden rising clatter wasn't loud enough to catch their attention until it had reached them.
"Dah, are you okay?"
Whether from loyalty, stupidity, or a dubious mixture of both, the four lesser gangreens had knocked the door open and barreled back into the cabin.
"Ay caramba, what happened to our floor – Boss?"
The tangle of limbs had ripped apart, the Powerpuff glaring and seething, and the leader of the four gawking as his face acquired the hue of a semi-ripe tomato.
"Ah, w-we were just, talkin', about yous guys and the Powapuffs an' then, uh, Buttacup was sayin'…"
The leader of the gang trailed off, glancing at the black-haired girl above him, who looked far less vexed and far more ready to answer.
"We were just discussing us and you guys, and we decided that I'm gonna hang around again like when I was little."
There was a long moment of silence during which Ace got redder and Buttercup stared expectantly.
The cheers of delight that followed could be heard all the way into Townsville – a man carrying a briefcase jumped and a dog who had been muttering to himself lifted an ear in interest.
In only moments the pair smashed into the floor was knocked backward by the mass of whooping green adolescents, laughing and raspberrying and hissing with excitement. Ace smirked, relieved, and Buttercup laughed as she yelled at Billy to get his foot out of her face.
"Bah, Buttercup, we missed you!"
"Jussst don't beat usss up."
"Muy bien, Ace!"
"It was my idea," the leader of the four drawled, eyeing the girl from behind his glasses.
"Oh, please," said she, flicking him from where she was comfortably squished between Snake and Billy. Grubber went pthhhht in agreement.
The city of Townsville didn't seem like itself today –the wind whooshed between the skyscrapers and over the heads of citizens, howling its goodbye to the warmth of summer as a gentle cold settled over the streets and the gardens and the earth.
Yet somehow, the weight of autumn now seemed a little less heavy.
August 16, 2011 ;)