First things first: consider this entire story disclaimed. The only thing I own is my twisted and overactive imagination.

May 30, 1998

"You okay?" The youth's voice was soft, gentle. He laid a webbed hand onto his companion's side.

"No," the other teen grunted. His entire body was hidden under a pile of thin blankets. "It's a horrible idea."

"Maybe things will be different now," the first suggested. "Maybe we'll make friends. Maybe we'll even get girlfriends!"

"He's going to be there," the second moaned. The first grew quiet. "I read about it in the paper. We don't stand a chance if he's going to be there."

"Maybe he's changed." But he didn't sound convinced.

"Can a leopard change its spots?" the other hissed.

"Well, if you manipulate its DNA enough, probably." His friend's voice was light, trying to make a joke. They both needed one.

It didn't work, of course. The matter was too serious to joke about. "Why is he making us do this?" the second whined, finally peeking out of his fabric cocoon.

"I don't know," the elder sighed. "I wish I knew, but I don't."

They both knew what would happen. They would be miserable, ostracized, despised. Their peers would bully them, and their superiors would turn a blind eye- or worse, join in the torment. His best and only friend was wiser now, wise enough not to make things worse (at least not in the way he had before; things would get worse no matter what they did), but that didn't make anything better. It might even make their situation less tolerable, as everyone would up the ante to make one or the other snap.

And even worse… what if they found out? He was bad enough; they were a thousand times worse. He and his brother had only escaped them before through the element of surprise and the fey power of their bond; this time they wouldn't underestimate their quarries. If anything, they would overestimate the tiny family of two.

He didn't want to think of what would happen then.

On the other hand, he understood the reasoning behind the decision. He and the younger teen needed the skills this experience would provide, but he wished they were more cautious. At the very least give them bodyguards!

Oh, wait. They couldn't afford bodyguards. If they wanted to stay safe, they either needed to come up with a cheap, viable idea for their guardian to implement or take matters into their own hands.

"We'll think of something," he said hollowly.

"Like what?" the other growled. "Witnesses for our last will and testament?"

"Uh, no. Ways to actually do this without dying."

"Or maybe ways to talk him out of this."

The elder snorted. "That's not likely, and you know it. He's even more stubborn than you are. That's saying something."

The younger sat up, pushing aside many of the blankets. His brow furrowed in thought. "We do have a few months," he admitted. "Maybe I can come up with something."

"Or I could," the other volunteered.

"No!" his brother exclaimed. "Remember what happened last time you had a 'big idea'? You could have died!"

He blushed. "Not really. I took all kinds of precautions. And it worked, don't forget that." He flexed his fingers meaningfully.

The other grimaced. "I still don't approve of that," he grumbled. "I appreciate it, I really do, but… it was foolish. It was beyond foolish! It was so far beyond foolish that the English language lacks words to describe its stupidity!" He flung out his arms for dramatic effect. Then, lowering his arms, he added, "But since you've brought it up… we need something like that. Something no one will expect, something we can hide from everyone until it's too late. Something crazy, something impossible. Do you have any ideas?"


The younger boy sighed heavily, rubbed his temples. "Neither do I," he confessed. "But don't worry. We'll think of something."

"But what?" asked the elder. "I honestly don't see any way out of this. He's so stubborn… maybe we should just beg on our hands and knees for more security. Or maybe we could get a concealed weapons permit. Wait, scratch that. I'd be too tempted to use it on anyone who bullies you."

"You are such a Mr. Mom," his brother teased.

He shrugged. "Someone needs to be. But me being a Mr. Mom isn't going to help us. It's not like we can just hide our… peculiarities." He looked down at his hands again. Save for the thumb, they were all webbed to the second knuckle. The skin beneath his nails was tinted yellowish-brown. He had no cuticles. Callouses lined his palm from all sorts of work- managing tools and knitting and drawing and clutching dumbbells.

They were strange hands, inhuman almost. And they were the least of his peculiarities.

When he returned his gaze to the younger boy, his brother had donned a pensive expression. Hope lifted his heart. He knew that look. It was the making-look, the fixing-look, the solving-look.

A sly smile crossed the younger boy's face. "Can't, my friend, is a challenge. A challenge I accept."

Can any of you figure out what's going on? Internet cookies to those who guess it right.