Disclaimer: I own nothing!

Note: This is a 'What if...' fic if I ever saw one. XD Either way, I hope ya'll enjoy it.

Dedicated to: SPChip


Lucy POV

I stood there, on the path that lead back to Nullsville, back to sanity, back to my parents. I wanted to see them again. My fingers itched with the thought of giving them a hug. I clutched Dino to my chest in a failed attempt to stop its furious beating.

I looked over at my companion. Her head was bowed, examining the clockwork trinket she had in her hands. She reached up and swatted at a lock of black hair that was blocking her view. "Lucy," Carmen started, dark orbs rising to meet mine. "I can't go yet."

I nodded. "I understand. Francine is your friend and you can't let her stay in that box forever. The world outside won't have what you need to help her." My voice trailed away. I was saddened by the prospect of loosing one of my few friends here at Hollow Fields.

"Exactly," she sighed, lowering her head again. "You know, you can stay too."
I shook my head. "I was expected at a different school. When I didn't show up, the school would have alerted my parents and made them very worried.

Carmen embraced me awkwardly. "You're lucky, Snow." I wrapped my arms around her middle and hugged her tightly. As she pulled away she said, "Perhaps we'll see each other again?"

I beamed at her. "I certainly hope so.

+5 Years Later+

I secured my long, red ponytail on top of my head and leaned over my history homework. Abraham Lincoln's assassin? History was, by far, my toughest class, and I was kicking myself for doodling plans for a clockwork kitten instead of taking notes. Why do we have to learn about the Civil War anyway? Sure, it was barbaric in ways, but it turned out all right in the end. I wrote out the answer to the final question and pulled out my biology homework, still peeved that the teacher didn't accept my paper on the process of mammalian-avian cross transplantation for extra credit. I filled out the two cell diagrams and slipped the sheet back into my folder.

I sighed and opened the book on the basics of steam-powered constructs that Dr. Bleak had sent me last week. I didn't want some of the kids in my advanced classes getting a hold of it and using it as an excuse to cause me more grief, so I left it at home to read in my spare time, which was surprisingly sparse. I was surprised by the workload of my freshman year at high school, and the difficulty of my English class. Personally, I don't see why we had to analyze so many unreadable books...

Before long, the exhaustion overcame me and I crashed at my desk yet again. At least this time I wasn't working on a project that I'd asked Dr. Bleak to send me. Last time, I had a gear mark on my cheek for an hour.
"Lucy!" my mother called up the stairs. "Mail for you."
Groggily, I raised myself up off my paper pillow and lumbered down the steps. On the table, where my breakfast usually resides, was a small envelope with my name addressed in small, girly letters. I flipped it over and ripped at the top. The paper within held one sentence and Dr. Bleaks's name next to the image of a cube. I smiled.

Dear Lucy,
An exchange student from Hollow Fields is transferring to you new school, so be on the lookout and make him feel comfortable.

I folded the note and slid it back into the envelope. "You seem happy," my mother observed from the stove where she was scrambling an egg for breakfast.

"We're getting an exchange student today from Hollow Fields."

My mother tensed. She didn't like talking about Hollow Fields. During my brief time as a student there, she and my dad thought I'd been killed or kidnapped or worse. No matter how many times I tried to explain that I wasn't a ghost, she still got jittery if I left the house. We lived across the street from the school for crying out loud. "Oh," she managed.
"Yeah," I replied, trying to keep my voice peppy. "I wonder who it is? I hope it's someone I know. Course. Why would the doctor tell me if it wasn't." Mom turned at the mention of Dr. Bleak, so I flashed her a smile and scurried up the stairs to hide Dr. Bleak's book. She didn't like that I had kept contact with him, so I didn't mention the box-man often, and usually managed to get the mail before she did.

I dumped my school books in my bag and grabbed a wrinkled, black, Skillet t-shirt and a pair of rather worn jeans. Soon, I expected a hole or two to appear. One look at the clock told me that if I didn't get going, I'd be late for school. I slipped on my shoes and ran down the stairs in a panic. Mom held a piece of toast out the kitchen doorway. I grabbed it without missing a beat and dashed across the street without looking.

I barreled through the front doors and right into an arm heavily laden with books. The volumes crashed to the floor and I rubbed my head. "Sorry," I managed through my haze of pain. I spotted my toast on the floor and stared at it forlornly. I picked it up and threw it in the garbage.

"I'm used to it," the boy grunted.

I grabbed a few books off the floor without looking at the titles. I straightened and handed the books back to the boy. "I really am sorry though. I know I hate it when people knock my books down."

"Yeah," he replied, staring at me. For the first time, I was able to get a good look at the boy. His hair was black and fell over dark eyes. His unusually pale skin was dotted with blemishes, and his dark clothes were baggy on his slender frame. Realizing that I had been standing still while scrutinizing him, I hurriedly picked up the rest of the fallen belongings while introducing myself. Then I ran down the hall and entered the classroom a millisecond before the bell rang.

When I had caught by breath, I was surprised to see that the teacher wasn't in the room. A short lived relief because Mrs. Kroags came in, followed closely behind by the boy from the hallway. While she scanned for absentees and marking them on a piece of paper, the boy sought me out and flashed a knowing smirk. The action made my blood boil. Who did he was?
Mrs. Kroags cleared her throat. "All right, munchkins. This is Claude McGinty. He's exchanged places with Laurie Henderson for the remainder of the school year."

My mouth was hanging open in a rather comical fashion while Kroags assigned him a seat by the window. He was four rows to the right and three seats back. Well darn; I'd wanted to have a conversation with him. The first topic being about watching his words when it came to Mrs. Kroags' I'm always right right mentality.

While Mrs. Kroags talked about mitosis, I was sketching out plans for a small, water-powered generator designed to power a desk-light. It didn't take long before the paper was ripped away by Hiroshi Takahada, the resident bully and the official pain in my arse. I didn't even need to scan the room to know that Mrs. Kroags had left.

"Now what do we have here?" he asked, mock examining the plans.

"Last I checked, you really didn't care," I snapped. "So if you would please return it." I held out my hand.

He responded by raising it above his head. "Come and get it, shorty."

I stood, prepared to jump three times before kicking him, but I didn't get the chance. A hand appeared behind him and snatched the paper from his hand.

Claude jumped down from the desk, commenting about how I was always the outsider. "Can't you figure out how to not stand out?"

"Who wants to hide in the background?" I responded, reaching for my paper.

He examined it quickly before returning it. Behind him, I saw Hiroshi fuming. He wasn't the kind to calmly take defeat. He lifted his hand and I pointed, about to warn Claude about his new enemy.

Hiroshi swung at the younger boy's head, which Claude promptly ducked. He maneuvered until he was right underneath Hiroshi's chin and poked him in the stomach. "Had I wished you harm," he said emotionlessly, "you would be dead right now." He stepped back and Hiroshi fell on his butt.

I tried my absolute hardest not to smile, though it was about time someone had put the boy in his place. "Wow, Claude. That was unexpected," I managed, sounding unimpressed. A feat I am quite proud of. Just then, the bell rang and the class filed out. "Anyway," I said. "How are you able to be here? What happened to the stinger?"

He lifted up the hair over his right ear, revealing a small silver orb hanging from a three millimeter long chain. "Dr. Bleak helped me create a counter device. It emits a signal that confuses the Stinger and makes it believe that I'm still on school grounds. Took a full two years to complete because the parts are so small." The hair fell back into place. "It also means that I can't wear analog watches. Messes them up too." He chuckled.

"Well, I'm glad that you managed it. Anyway, what's your next class?"

Claude consulted his schedule. "History, with a J. Lambert," he responded. I contorted my face in disgust. "That bad?"

"No," I sighed. "I just dread the class or any mention of it." He had a nice laugh at my expense as we walked, me leading the way. "Need me to lead you to your next class after?"

"Nope. I can see my next class from here," he responded, pointing to the library across the hall.

"Kay. See you," I said, smiling. Fearing I would be late for class, I scurried down the hall, leaving Claude puzzled in the hallway.

+Four Years Later+

Claude enrolled the following year and remained till graduating. His scores were absolutely perfect and he managed to earn the coveted Valedictorian position. His speech was quite moving, what I could remember of it, anyway. I spent the majority of the ceremony thinking about how much he'd helped me not fail history, and all the chaos we'd caused with our experiments. Thanks to us, they had to build a new gymnasium, which lead to the ceremony being held outside in the bright sunshine.

The call went up and the caps went flying. My family wasted no time surrounding me and congratulating me on a job well done. I almost envied Claude and his a nd his absent family. Then I didn't. I knew that if Meg had never been sent to the Windmill, she'd be doting over him.

I pried myself away from my family and went over to him. "Congrats," I said, giving the goth-looking boy a hug. He'd grown into his clothes, all of which were black, whereas I still wore baggy pastel clothes that hardly matched.
"Congratulations to you as well," he responded when I broke away.

"Did you hear about the University Dr. Bleak is opening?" I asked, thinking about the letter I received that morning.

"Yep. I sent in my application all ready."

"Me too. Even got the acceptance letter," I revealed. His jaw could have easily hit the floor with the news. "Don't worry. If I can get in, you can get in. Unless you'd rather go somewhere else."

"Uh... No. if I get accepted, I'm going to Hollowed University."
"Then I'll see you there," I smirked.

I feel like I bottomed out toward the end... But I didn't know how else to end it...

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