Continued from yesterday:
"So like I said, if he’s a she, I’d be getting quite a bit more attention than Tolensky,“ Pietro concluded for about the fifth time that night. Lance was already irritated and *trying* to work on a new song. Pietro’s rant about Essel was just throwing off his groove.
First of all, he didn’t want to think about Essel. Second, he definitely didn’t want to think about Todd and Essel together. And thirdly, Pietro complaining that Essel should go after him instead of Todd was just plain WRONG and it was bringing the previous two subjects up again.
"Why don’t you go whine to someone who cares?” Lance asked, idly strumming a chord. “Todd’s business isn’t yours."
"Maybe not, but don’t you at least agree? There is no frikkin’ way Essel can be a girl! I would have noticed!"
"Just wondering. You remember that guy at the Gut Bomb walking past you? He bumped into you and said ‘Pardon me, ma'am?’ You nearly had a heart attack."
Pietro glared. "WHAT does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything. Just because a girl is a girl doesn’t mean she’s gotta wear short skirts and wonder bras. If you could pass as a flat-chested broad at Gut Bomb, Essel could pass as a boy in a public high school. And maybe he has tried to correct everyone, maybe he or she just doesn’t give a damn. Makes sense to me."
Pietro was sputtering. "Are you saying you believe Toad?! Look at Essel… there is no way with THAT hair and THAT…” Pietro almost said 'flat chest’ and decided for argument’s sake, to skip over it. “Utter lack of feminine accessories, clothes, or whatever, that Essel could be a girl!"
"So now you’re saying females are only identifyable by hair, knockers and accessories? I wonder how many drag queens *you’ve* gone out with lately."
"Shut up!!!” Pietro ranted, face turning pink. “Essel’s not a girl, end of discussion."
"Good. That means you’ll leave me alone now?"
"Rrrrrrr! Fine!” Lance felt a sudden breeze and the door slammed upstairs. Fred could be heard shouting for Pietro to keep it down. Lance sighed and set down his guitar.
“Fred?” he asked upon reaching the top of the stairs. “Aren’t you going to sleep?"
"Someone’s gotta make sure nobody bothers her. Toad didn’t look so well."
Lance grimaced. "That time of month?"
"Think so. I told him to go to bed."
"Good. What about you? We’ve got school tomorrow. Can’t stay up all night."
"I can least stay up 'til everyone else’s asleep,” argued Freddy. “Pietro sleeps like the dead."
And Tabby, once snoring, wouldn’t be woken before six if the Bayville marching band paraded through her room. Toad usually was up before then, especially when shedding. Lance couldn’t count the number of times he’d woken to the sound of retching in the bathroom before five.
He glanced at his watch. It was half past ten. "At least try for midnight."
Lance walked downstairs to find his guitar in Tabby’s lap. She broke into caterwaul as soon as Lance stepped back in the living room.
"Am I not pretty enoooough? Is my heart too broookeeeen? Do I cry too muuuuuch? Am I too outspooookeeen - HEY!” Tabby cried as Lance yanked away the instrument.
“There’s plenty of feral cats in heat around the boarding house if I want to listen to *their* yowling,” Lance snapped.
“Fuck you!” Tabby threw a bomb which bounced off Lance’s guitar into the wastebasket. Acting on pure instinct, Lance kicked the basket and it rolled toward Tabby’s retreating legs.
“AAAGHCHRISTFUCKITTOHELL!” Tabby screamed, jumping three feet in the air from pain and surprise. “Twice in one fuckin’ night!"
She flipped Lance off over her shoulder and stalked into the downstairs bathroom to inspect her wounds.
Todd moaned and curled around Kermie, holding the stuffed frog against his stomach as if it could relieve his pain. It felt like his stomach was chewing on his nerve endings. He hoped it didn’t try to send back the meal he’d last eaten. Cautiously, he touched a sweaty palm to his upper arm. Everything was dry and flaky with sharp pieces that hurt if he brushed against them the wrong way. The itch wasn’t unbearable yet, but it was building up for a doozy. What he needed in his room was a freakin’ tree to rub against.
And how the hell did a person manage to be hot and cold at the same time? Soon as he kicked off the covers making him sweaty, his feet would start freezing and the cold feeling would move up to his legs and shoulders. He’d burrow back under, convinced being too warm was better than being too cold. He was never gonna get any sleep this way.
Todd closed his eyes and tried to distract himself. While it was hard to sleep now, it would be impossible later. He had to take what he could get. Besides, if he passed out from exhaustion, who’d protect Sara? Freddy wouldn’t be around tomorrow, and Pietro could cut school for ten minute breaks of harassment whenever he felt like it.
Todd forced himself to close his eyes and not move. Beads of sweat tickled unmercifully down his face and back, irritating the parting skin. He groaned softly, but didn’t move. At last he felt the curtain of heavy sleep come across him, separating him from his tormented senses. He dove into it gratefully, imagined himself sinking into a deep pond of cool soothing water.
His body wasn’t very happy being left behind with no-one to make suffer, so it set about preparing the mother of all cramps with which to wake up him in the morning.
But until then, Todd could dream about Sara all he wanted.
Sara moaned, rolled over, and awoke, just as dawn was beginning to colour the sky. One thing to say about no-brand, non-drowsy antihistamines - they certainly did *not* live up to their labelling.
Her dreams had been vague and slightly musical. A piece from Avril Levine had sneaked into her head somehow, and she hummed it under her breath as she sought a place for her sunbathing.
The backyard, fenced in and secluded by neighbouring shrubbery, would do.
Sara skinned out of her ill-fitting shirt and slipped out of her undies. Her loose skin flapped around her like strange, beige pennants, and pulled uncomfortably at her skin.
The sun was a perfect balm.
Someone was singing. It wasn’t too bad. Clear voice. Held a tune.
The choice of song could have been better, though.
The only thing wrong was that the singing was happening at bumblefuck in the morning.
Pietro, despite boasts to the contrary, was a slow mover when woken up from his usual near-coma. ”…nnrrrrrrggh…“ he muttered, stumbling to his feet. "I’m'a fin'na bast'rd whose singin’ an’ rip out their fuckin’ windpipe…"
He could distinguish words, now. He was getting close.
”…gloop glooby, nibby nabba nooby lalala low low… Sabba sibby saba…“
There was Essel’s Hello Kitty nightshirt. There was Essel’s underpants. Little pink daisy pattern.
_OmiGod… Essel wears girlie underpants._
And there was Essel. Naked as the day he was born, facing the sun and dancing to the music inside his head.
Shocked into full wakefulness, Pietro took a quick tour.
Nobody could tuck *and* stand like that without some kind of glue.
_Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit fuckketty shitty shit shit *DAMN*!_
He was next aware of watching Essel - no, Adrien. Sara Adrien was her name. Her name. *HER* name. And she had clothes on.
Adrien was taping a gigantic garbage bag to the kitchen window and furling it so that it hung outside. Next was the repetative movements of scraping various things out into the bag.
She was clearing out the sink.
Someone had paid the bills to such an extent that they had heat *and* water, so Sara filled the sink with hot, soapy water. Still humming under her breath.
Pietro’s brain supplied the words.
_Am I not pretty enough… Is my heart too broken… Do I cry too much… Am I too outspoken…_
Somewhere, he was certain, there was a mutant who just heard his cerebellum fuse.
The mother of all cramps made a wakeup call at precisely 5:34 am. Todd’s reaction was to grab his pillow and press it to his mouth while his body curled into a ball. He waited patiently for it to pass, too used to this routine to hope for a fast recovery. The cramp continued steadily for ten seconds and then broke off into pulses. Todd knew better than to move.
Once free from pain enough to move, Todd was allowed to focus on the nausea. He had mere seconds to make it to the bathroom. His feet hit the ground unevenly and he banged his shoulder against the doorframe on the way out. Todd made it with barely enough time to slam the bathroom door behind him.
"Aw, jeezus, puke quieter!” he heard someone complain down the hallway as he gulped for air. Todd flushed before the barf smell could make him sicker. He leaned against the sink and splashed his face with cool water. His hands felt scaly and rough, but they felt good going across his face.
What he needed now was a shower, but he was going to have to go back to his room for his clothes and then find a clean towel somewhere. His body didn’t want to move that much, but it did want to be soothed, so it let Todd stand up and walk back to his room.
He didn’t expect to see Pietro standing in the hallway, listening at Sara’s door.
“What the FUCK are you doin’?"
Pietro jumped. "Oh."
"I don’t care. Just get the fuck away and leave her alone."
Quickie didn’t move. Now he was staring at Todd. "Did… did you…? How could you tell? Lucky guess?"
"Huh?” Todd was in no mood for babble. “I don’t CARE what yo’ doin’, I said get the fuck away from her door, foo."
Oblivious to anyone else’s discomfort save his own, Pietro got directly into Todd’s face. "Hey, YOU’RE the one who brought this freak to this house, and I for one would like some fuckin’ answers. What kind of freak IS she?"
"Oh, so she’s a 'she’ now?"
"I SAW her. I saw EVERYTHING."
It took a moment for it all to sink in.
"Yo *spied* on her while she was *naked*?!” Todd growled dangerously quiet, all previous illness forgotten in favor of red-hot rage.
“Ain’t my fault she’s a fuckin’ exhibitionist –"
"Yo punk ass is goin’ DOWN!” Todd pounced before Pietro had any warning. Both went crashing to the floor and Pietro threw his hands up under a flurry of blows. He managed to grab Todd’s wrists and tried to roll over and pin him, but the smaller boy wasn’t having any of it. Todd and Pietro wrestled across the floor cursing loud enough to wake the dead. Lance’s door burst open just in time to watch the quarreling mutants disappear over the top step. From there it was a long series of bumps and screams to the first floor.
And even then it didn’t stop. Pietro managed to get up, but only half way; Todd grabbed onto his legs and caused him to crash back down again. Lance cursed and jumped down the stairs two at a time to stop them. Pietro was alternately clawing Todd’s face and hands, which were locked around his throat by the time Lance reached bottom. Lance grabbed Todd around the waist and lifted, shaking him until he let Pietro go - which was no easy feat.
Lance dumped Todd onto the ground and planted his feet on either side of Todd’s waist. This effectively pinned the boy in place and left Lance’s hands free to keep Pietro away until this was settled. Pietro was currently curled up into a ball, massaging his throat and wheezing.
“What,” gasped Lance, “The hell did Pie do to make you freak out like that? Huh?"
Todd was also gasping from effort, and shuddering as his body filed complaints for the heavy abuse it had taken to do battle. "He… he spied… pervert. On Sara.” Todd was ready to add plenty more, but he’d depleted his energy resources. “Guh…” Todd’s eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out on the floor.
Sara had adjourned from washing up to find the threatened snow shovel, then recalled that bare feet weren’t the wisest thing to have when clearing out a mess of *this* magnitude. She had special collapsible boots for that kind of thing, somewhere in the depths of her bag. And some gloves.
The rest would bide for a while, and it wasn’t as if anyone actually *cared* what she looked like, right now.
“Yo punk ass is goin’ DOWN!” Todd shouted to someone outside. There were screams, thumps, crashes, and the unmistakable sound of live bodies tumbling down the stairs.
The boots, for all their pliability, had amazing traction. She was out of the door in a second or less, snow shovel and work gloves still in her hand.
There, at the bottom of the stairs, was Todd. Unconscious, bruised and battered. Leaning over him was none other than Lance Alvers, known thug.
It was common knowledge that he beat up a large number of Remedial Ed. kids in order to gain their lunch money.
Sara saw red.
Some part of her that was still calm and rational watched the following events as if watching a movie through a fog.
The shovel became a handy weapon.
A hideous, shrieking ululation issued forth.
The vision of Alvers’ horrified face became larger as charging footsteps thundered in her ears with her heartbeat.
Vibrating metal transferred into the wooden handle and thence into her hands. Her vision included Maximoff, huddled on the floor. Close to Todd.
Entirely. Too. Close.
The shriek turned into a snarl.
In retrospect, Pietro was extremely lucky that he had the wits to scrabble away. He was also lucky that Freddy arrived, sized up the situation, and neatly trapped Sara in a surprisingly gentle hug.
As soon as Sara came back to herself, she stopped resisting outwardly, and fought that mighty rage down into a box inside her mind. It was still prone to fight, so she piled it over with some of the heavier boxes already sealed tight and fortified against outbreaks.
When she opened her eyes, she was standing on her own two feet, Freddy hovering nearby. She still had a death-grip on the shovel.
Todd was still out of it.
She couldn’t make herself let *go* of the shovel, darnit.
Sara picked Todd up with her free hand, cradling him on her legs and the crook of her shovel-weilding arm.
She was shaking.
_Hand, be still,_ she commanded, forcing her hand into stability as it felt for Todd’s pulse.
Strong. Even. A little fast, perhaps, but strong and even were good signs.
His breathing was even and clear. Pupils unresponsive.
Mutant abilities, from what she was told, required an increase in energy intake. She had been craving far more protiens, herself, of late.
And the fight… sudden energy expenditure in a time of metabolic need…
"Freddy? Do you have any honey?"
"Nope,” he said with absolute certainty. “We don’t got a lot of nuthin’."
"You don’t have much of anything, dear,” she corrected. “That will not *do*. Freddy, I’ll need my cellular. You know where I keep it.” A remembered remark about feminine products made her glare at Pietro. “And I’m certain someone *ELSE* does, too."
Pietro whimpered and attempted to cram himself further into the wainscotting.
Tabby woke up grumpy. First, someone was awake at fuckit-past-sparrow-fart in the morning and *SINGING*, for fuck’s sake. Second, someone had had a minor fit up and down the hallways. *THEN* Todd fucking Tolenski had had to have his morning puke session until she’d had to yell at him to shut the hell up.
And to top it all off, someone had evidently decided to declare a freakin’ *WAR*.
Tabby managed to stumble into her clothes and ricochetted off Freddy on her way down. There was no other word to describe the scene below but - scene.
Essel was cradling Tolenski and hanging onto a snow shovel - of all things - and sending glares of death off at Alvers and Maximoff.
Alvers was recovering his senses and sprouting a lovely goose-egg of a bruised lump on one temple.
Essel’s shovel had a Lance-sized dent in it.
"This,” Tabby announced, “Has *got* to be one *fuck* of a story.”