Disclaimer: I don't own The Hills Have Eyes.

Thanks so much to Berry's Ambitions, Little Pink Neko, and GingerBites for their awesome reviews! Woo woo woo! Next chapter! It took a while to write this one. It's rather long, but I wanted to get all this filler in one chapter. Though, I'm not sure what is filler and what isn't, since some important facts are revealed. But still. I hope it's not dull. I really had a fun time writing it - and this whole fic in general. I hope that everyone enjoys this new chapter! Reviews are always welcome!

The Avenger
Chapter Three: Surprises

Waking up a few days later with a cake on my bed wasn't the day I had originally envisioned.

"Happy birthday, hotstuff!" Daniel crowed from my bedside.

Opening my eyes, I was assaulted with the image of a cake sitting innocently on the mattress beside me. It was a cute thing, white icing with the words "Happy Birthday Amber!" iced in orange. Orange polka dots adorned the rest of the cake. I gave a weak-feeling smile. At least they remembered my favorite color.

"Daniel!" I heard Mrs. Martinez call from downstairs. Her voice was scolding. "I told you not to wake her up yet! ...and did you bring my cake up there?"

I stared around the room, my head feeling heavy. I was lucky that my head was empty of dreams. The blankness of my mind throughout the night was a pleasant gift, especially since the only dreams I had been capable of having were nightmares. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and then realized that Daniel was the only one in my room. "Ew, get out."

"Good morning to you too, birthday girl." He grinned, unapologetic.

I threw a pillow at his head.

Daniel said a few curses in Spanish, but they lacked any intensity. He clutched his head and looked at me and said, "Mom's got lunch started."

"Okay," I told him, wary. I watched him pick up the cake and leave the room. That was probably the most random moment of my life.

I rose out of my bed, feeling tired despite my dreamless sleep. It seemed, these days, that I never got enough sleep. Even when I slept through the night - those times were rare - I was always tired. I always woke up with the same dark circles underneath my eyes, and I knew that just by seeing those it made the Martinez family feel nervous. I couldn't help it though. I tried my best to cover up, using make up and various other products, but none of it really had the effect desired. It was almost as if my skin was mad at me for trying to disguise the problems I was having.

I looked at the clock. Eleven in the morning. I felt embarrassed for sleeping so late, but it was something that I was known for around the house. I never used to be like this, but ever since my parents...well, I've been sleeping more and more and yet getting no rest whatsoever.

I brushed my hair, brushed my teeth. Got dressed as quickly as I could. Nothing elaborate. Just a blue t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Converse. I pulled a long necklace made of fragments of black plastic, strung together by a silver chain, just to make it look like I was trying, and then walked to the door. I couldn't let them think that anything was wrong with me.

Even though this is your first birthday without your parents.

I stalled in front of the door, my hand paused above the knob, just as that thought ripped through me. I had tried to put that to the back of my mind every single day of this month, and then there that traitorous thought was. I felt a pressure on my eyes and my throat started to hurt. No, I told myself. Do not cry. You will not cry. I hadn't cried since the day of the funeral, choosing to be more numb than anything. And I would not start now. I would not allow the Martinezes to pity me, though I knew that they probably already did.

I just didn't want to give them more reason to.

I opened the door and stepped out of my room, trying to make as little noise as possible. It was stupid-sounding, but I had been practicing this skill ever since I had decided what I was going to do. I knew that stealth was a valuable skill to have. Being able to sneak up on your enemy before they got the jump on you.

Sighing, I made my way down the stairs. The door closed heavily behind me.

"Shh! Everyone!" a voice hushed from downstairs.

So much for practicing my stealth.

I didn't really think of why anyone would be hushing people. Honestly, I only expected the Martinez family to be the ones at my birthday. Maybe that wasn't even directed at me. Maybe Clyde was asleep and Missy was being all motherly, as usual. Wouldn't be the first time. Though, that voice didn't sound like hers. It sounded kind of like Mr. Martinez, which was slightly weird since he was one of the most laid-back people in the history of forever.

I made it to the first floor, pausing for a bit before I turned to go to the kitchen.

No one was there.

I cocked my head to the side, curious. I had just heard voices, and then there was no one here. I turned to go into the living room, feeling like I was being pranked. All of my muscles tensed. I called out, like some stupid horror movie chick, "Missy? Mrs. Martinez?"

A small hand grasped my own. I jumped at the contact, but then looked down and saw Clyde. His large eyes were excited. "'mber...this way."

Blinking, I figured I had no choice but to follow him.

He tugged me along. This felt familiar. His innocence was almost enough to distract me from the thoughts from before.


Clyde led me to the sliding glass door that led out into the backyard. Before I could look out the glass, he told me, "Oh yeah! You're supposed to close your eyes, 'mber."

I shoved my hands over my eyes, just to go along with him. He then grabbed the hem of my shirt and tugged me in the direction of the door. I really hoped he didn't ram me into the glass - wouldn't be the first time I'd met face-first with that infamous sliding glass door.

I heard the door being slid open, and then the sound of feet rustling in the grass, some on the wooden deck that the glass door led out on to.

"Open 'em!" Clyde said, poking me in the belly. I barked out a laugh - I'd always been ticklish - and then opened my eyes.

"Happy birthday, Amber!" came the chimed greeting.

I stopped in my tracks, my arms falling uselessly at my sides.

I had expected just a quiet day with the Martinezes, but...nothing like this.

Orange streamers decorated the fenced-in backyard, twining around the wooden planks like ivy. Balloons of the same color were tied to almost every available surface - on the backs of chairs, on the sides of the rather large above-ground pool that was off to the side of the deck, to the railing around the deck. Everywhere. I felt that awful tightening of my throat and forced the oncoming tears back. I forced myself to smile, to become numb from the pain of my lost parents. I had to. It was the only option, or I would become an unfunctioning mess.

I hadn't realized I'd been muttering anything, but...apparently I had. "Oh...my gosh," was repeated over and over.

Missy, her mother and father, and Daniel were grouped around the table. Presents were piled high in the chairs around it, while the cake was dead center, and around it was chips and homemade dip, tortillas and a bowl of shredded chicken along with smaller bowls of sour cream, salsa, guacamole, black beans. Everything you could think of. Paper plates and napkins were set just offset from the cake. A bowl of punch was out to the side.

The food was not the only surprise.

"Hey, li'l Johnson," came a voice. Before I knew it, an arm had gone across my neck and a mouth was pressed against the top of my head.

I elbowed the offender lightly in the ribs. "Stump. You jerk."

Stump smiled at me, showing teeth. He adjusted his ever-present bandana and then laughed. I hated to admit it, but another familiar face was pleasant. I looked around the backyard, seeing other close friends of my parents - Delmar, Spitter, Napoleon. They all looked happy to see me, and I felt that way for them as well. Though they reminded me awfully of my parents, it was nice to see a few of the faces that I knew almost as well as Missy's family.

I was missing someone, though. Someone that I thought would have been here, if every one of his other friends was there as well. It took me a while, but I finally found Crank, standing in the far corner beside one of Mrs. Martinez's potted plants. He smiled over at me, but I felt that it was forced.

"One more year and then I'm taking you to a bar," Stump teased, shoving my shoulder.

I might be dead before then...

Mrs. Martinez came forward, pressing her lips to the corner of my head and then shooing Stump out of the way. "These soldiers...I hope they will not corrrupt you."

I gave a laugh. "They try, but they're not successful."

I hadn't realized how much I had missed these guys until they were right here with me. It was almost enough to get me emotional, but I tried to stamp it down. I found myself smiling more, which was a welcome thing. Both because I didn't have to fake anything and because it kind of helped my cover of "coping."

"Let's let the birthday girl eat first," Mrs. Martinez pressed her hands to my shoulders and moved me to the front of the line. I heard Daniel complain. I stuck my tongue out at him - all the better to keep up my front.

I piled my plate with food. I stuffed the tortilla with everything provided, and it was decided that we would save the cake for last, after the presents were opened. Really, I hadn't even expected to get anything for this year's birthday. It was all too much...

Everyone greeted me with a wish that I have a happy birthday. I got a hug from Delmar, a kiss on the cheek from Napoleon - which, under other circumstances, would have made me blush - and a strong embrace from Spitter, who had always been sensitive, despite everything else.

It was...nice. Oddly so.

I went to go sit down at one of the chairs provided. I balanced the plate of food in my lap as I did so, and tried to watch my surroundings. I could hear Stump's loud mouth all the way over here.

"Missy," he said, sidling up to her. "How's that tattoo treating you?"

Missy rubbed her forearm self-consciously. "Fine. Why? You didn't lace the ink with arsenic, did you?"

He ignored her. "You know I give a discount to pretty girls," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "In case you ever want to - "

Mr. Martinez showed up at that point. "Please...do not doodle on my daughter again," he said, almost as if the words pained him.

Missy rolled her eyes and playfully shoved her father's shoulder. "C'mon, it's not that bad. Stump did a good job on it!" She brandished the tattoo as if it were a were a cross and he was a vampire. He hissed and backed away accordingly.

"Mr. M, I have a license to tat anyway," he drawled, throwing an arm around Missy's shoulders. "It's not like I'm one of those hacks that use random equipment riddled with tetanus."

"I'd sure hope not," Missy said bluntly.

I laughed at that around a mouthful of tortilla. I was never any good at folding them. All the condiments were slopping all over the plate, falling out from the open end of the foodstuff, missing my lap by mere inches. It was good, though. If only I was as good at cooking as Mrs. Martinez was...

"Pathetic, chica," a familiar voice chided. A finger smeared itself across the pile of sour cream that had fallen out of the tortilla. I looked up just as Crank was sticking his finger in his mouth.

I wrinkled my nose at him. "Gross, bro."

He scoffed a laugh. It was rough sounding, but genuine, if not filled with a bit of tension. I could see it, really. In the set of his shoulders, the furrow between his brows. It was almost as if we were already in Sector 16 and not at Missy's house.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I have to speak with you," he said, his eyes darting around the place. If I didn't know any better, I'd joke that he looked like he was going to make a drug deal with me. "About...stuff."

"Geez, you sound shady," I said, not able to help myself. It was strange, how this atmosphere was helping my mood.

Crank lifted his head and nodded at someone. I looked up and saw Delmar walking towards us with a grave sense of purpose in his normally warm eyes. He passed Daniel, who gave him a look before talking to Stump - most likely about tattoos for the rest of the Martinez family, since the artist himself seemed so sweet on his sister. Mr. Martinez quickly grabbed his elbow and steered him towards the food table. I felt a reluctant smile creep on my face.

Delmar arrived next to Crank just a few seconds later. I felt weird being the only one sitting down so I stood up, placing my plate of food in the seat of my chair. We all stood around it, as if we were homeless people standing around a trash can.

"I'll let you start, 'mar," Crank said, clapping Delmar on the shoulder. One would never guess it, but Crank and Delmar were best friends. They had always been close, which was kind of odd to me. Delmar was quiet and respectful, while Crank was loud and crass most of the time. Opposites attract, I guess, even in the case of friendships.

Delmar sighed, rolling his thin shoulders, and then looked at me. It was remarkable that he was so young, and yet probably the most respected individual of the soldiers here. "Crank told me what's happening."

It didn't take me long to realize what he meant. A spike of anger shot through me. I glared at Crank. "Why?"

Crank exhaled through his nose, reminding me of a bull. Not inappropriate, considering his personality.

Delmar lowered his voice even more. "I think it's stupid, what you're doing, but Crank says you're adamant about going and that no amount of talking could get you to stop. And he's going with you." He gave a disapproving look towards his friend. "It's not my job to stop you, but to notify people if things get out of hand."

"Notify...?" I asked skeptically.

"My job is to tell people if you don't come back within a reasonable amount of time."

"Which is..."

"Two weeks, at the most," Delmar reported clinically.

"What? I - "

"I also thought two people is a little under-manned, so..." Crank trailed off.

"Say hello to your new travel buddy!" Stump clapped me on the shoulder.

"Oh, what the hell?" I whispered loudly, not wanting the party to be disrupted by my declaration of anger. "I had reluctantly agreed to let Crank come with, but now we're the Swiss Family Robinson, going on an adventure?"

When had my solo revenge mission become a group effort?

"I'd go for more Moby Dick," Stump said. "As in we're about to kick some major ass."

"You've never read a book in your life, dude," Crank bit out.

"I've seen the movie!"

"That was Jaws!"

I buried my face in my hands. Everything was spiraling out of control. I was so...pissed off. Mad at Crank, for discovering my mission, for telling everyone. Mad at Stump, for deciding to come along. Mad at Delmar, for being so damned rational.

I was supposed to be the only one putting myself in danger!

A dreadful thought came over me. "Does everyone else know?"

Quiet answered me, but then Delmar broke it. "Just us. Including Napoleon and Spit."

"Not the Martinezes?"

"No," Delmar continued. "Not unless you don't come back in two weeks."

"Fine," I snapped, folding my arms and feeling childish. Anyone else would have found their concern sweet, but I was just angry at all the interference. "This is ridiculous."

"Not as ridiculous as you wanting to go in the first place," Crank snapped right back, unafraid of hurting my feelings. I didn't care. I welcomed the verbal barbs. Wasn't nearly as painful as anything else I'd have to go through.

"You're not going to change my mind," I told him.

He gave an exasperated sigh. "I know. Why else do you think I went to all this?"

"To piss me off?"

"No," he said, his voice deadly serious. "You had the closure of at least knowing your parents were dead. The Martinez family treats you like one of their own. If we don't come back, would you want to burden them with not knowing what happened? Don't you think they deserve to know, at least, where you went?"

Guilt settled over me. I hadn't thought about them. Hadn't thought about the fact that I was leaving them for good, most likely.

"Everyone! Let's sing happy birthday to the birthday girl!" Daniel called out. His loud mouth was finally good for something.

I was shoved to the table, forced to sit down behind the cake. Missy, playfully, put a cone-shaped birthday hat on my head. I swatted her hand away jokingly. The chorus of the familiar birthday song soon permeated the air, and I cringed as Daniel tried to outsing everyone.

The song ended. Mrs. Martinez pressed a motherly hand to my shoulder, and I felt a strange wave of homesickness wash over me. "Happy birthday, Amber."

"Now blow out the candles!" Spitter chimed from his place in the back.

I scoffed to myself before leaning over the cake. Two candles shaped in the form of a two and a zero were placed on the cake, already lit. They turned out to be "joke candles" and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't blow them out. Everyone laughed at my expense.

Except Crank.

I kind of wanted to punch him. Couldn't he at least be a bit more collected about this whole thing? At the rate he was going, he was going to notify everyone that something was wrong, based solely on the expression on his face. Poker must not be his game of choice.

I tried to ignore him. The cake was cut, and everyone started eating as they watched me open my presents. It was ridiculous, the amount they got me. Especially since...

I ignored that thought and tore into the presents. One after one. Big packages, small packages. Clothes from Mr. and Mrs. Martinez. A gorgeous, hardcover copy of Jane Eyre from Missy - only she knew how much I truly loved to read. Daniel gave me nail polish - "I thought it was girly! You're a girl!" - even though I've never painted my nails in my life. A very nice pair of earrings and a jewelry box from Spitter. A collection of horror movies from Stump - at least five, most likely gotten out of the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. A hardcover copy of Frankenstein from Napoleon - he must have had no clue what to get me and had asked Missy for advice.

I was doing fine with my composure until I opened Delmar's gift. He had gotten me a gorgeous silver charm bracelet, already with three charms attached. It looked expensive. Awed, I turned it over in my hands, the charms ringing out to me: a bird, a book, and a pair of tiny army boots.

I almost lost it there, with Delmar's thoughtful, insightful gift.

My favorite animal, my favorite activity, and army boots for the army brat.

I looked at all the presents then: the books, the horror movies, the earrings and turquoise-studded jewelry box, the clothes that were exactly my style. Barring the nail polish, all these things were me.

These people knew and cared for me more than I realized. I don't know why I ever thought otherwise. I guess, somewhere, I thought that because my parents...weren't here...that my birthday would be lackluster. That everyone would get everything wrong, but...they had all hit the nail on the head with the items I liked. I should have figured. They've known me almost my entire life.

But your parents still aren't here.

I tried to stamp down the emotion I was feeling. It was so strong that I thought it would bowl me over and sweep me away, like seaweed on a strong tide. I gave Delmar my thanks, my voice was rougher than I wanted it to be, so much so that Missy sat down beside me and pressed her palm to my shoulder.

"One more," Mrs. Martinez said, obviously realizing that I was close to losing it for the first time since the funeral. She pressed a small, crudely wrapped, present into my hands. "From Crank."

I swallowed, my throat hurting at the action. The familiar stinging pressed the backs of my eyes. No, no, no. Do not cry.

I forced my hands to not shake as I unwrapped the paper - it didn't take much, since Crank was obviously not that skilled of a wrapper. The box was small, and I took the lid off, revealing a stunning silver necklace resting on a piece of jewelry padding. It was so tiny and delicate that I was afraid to pick it up, but I did, gently, so I could look it over.

The necklace was of a woman, her hands folded in prayer in front of her with a sword, angled sideways, resting between her arms and body. She was dressed in armor, her hair falling down her back in a braid. Simple and beautiful and elegant. The chain was so thin I was afraid it would snap at the slightest twitch of my fingers.

Everyone looked at Crank, then, myself the last. I met his eyes, knowing that mine were obviously full of the emotion that I had tried to keep at bay.

"Damn, Crank," Stump elbowed him. "Who knew you were a sensitive guy?"

Stump's efforts to change the mood failed, and Crank's eyes never left mine.

"Saint Joan of Arc," he explained. "For protection."

"It's..." I trailed off, unsure of what to say, touched by his unexpected gesture. "Thank you."

Crank shrugged, as if it were no big deal.

I moved my gaze back to the woman molded from silver, running my fingers along the delicate chain, not concerned about her protecting me at all.

The only thing I hoped was that she would protect everyone else from the fallout of my decisions.

End Chapter Three.