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Old Habits...

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

A Whateley Academy Tale

Old Habits...

by Domoviye

 

Just Me 2

 

Tunnels
November 24th, 2007

Ferret tapped away at his computer working on a project for The Good Old Boys. Fantastico was hoping to get a copy of the upcoming Spider Man 3 movie, that was supposed to be going through test screening soon. According to rumours they still had a ways to go, adding in special effects, shooting some less important scenes, music, and other things, but it was far enough along to show to test audiences. If he could get a copy and release it online, it would really hurt Phase and Marvel, who had pushed the production of the movie at breakneck speeds. No one had thought it could be done so fast, but the script had already been written, and most of the actors had already read it after Sony botched the series and gotten it cancelled.

His phone rang, the ring tone told him it was someone important.

Leaning back in his chair to answer it, he skipped his fake East Texas Drawl. “Hey Arnold, how are you and the new job getting along?” he asked his former Whateley mentor. Back in his freshman year, the senior had taken him under his wing, and they still talked regularly, helping each other out with projects and passing on useful info.

“Really good. My new job is going great, I'm getting 500K a year, plus a share of the profits, and I've got a company Ferrari,” Arnold said.

“Damn, that must be sweet.” Ferret knew his friend had gotten a job with some large criminal organization, so the profit share probably equalled the legal salary if not doubled it. He could check it out to be certain, but he didn't want to risk pissing off Arnold.

“But enough about me, I heard that Counterpoint is back on his feet and being an asshole.”

That was weird question. Since when had Arnold cared about Counterpoint? Curious, but unwilling to ask what was up, Ferret answered the question. “Yep. He's just as bad as before, except he's a bit more careful now. Fantastico says he can't heal as fast as he used to, or he starts growing tentacles. Everything else though, it's typical Counterpoint.”

“Damn, glad I never had to deal with the ass hat.”

They talked about some of the other students, mutual acquaintances and the movers and shakers of Whateley. Then the conversation took an interesting turn.

“So tell me,” Arnold said, “I heard that a freshman gadgeteer got the shit kicked out of him by some thugs in Berlin.”

“I heard about it, rumours say it was something to do with his father. Whateley dealt with it,” Ferret replied, wondering where this was going.

“He had a girlfriend who got hurt to, didn't he? Someone called Just Me, I think.”

“I think so. Why?”

“Just curious. Whateley doesn't usually have to intervene in North America, no one wants to fuck with them. Wanted to know if you'd heard anything about it.”

“Sorry, can't help you, everything seems to be OK now. But I can look into it if you want.”

“Naw, it's all good,” Arnold said, sounding very sincere. “Now it's time to talk business. Do you have anything lined up for after graduation?”

Being a junior, Ferret really hadn't thought about graduation just yet. He was building up his contacts, and making as much money as he could so he'd have options, but actually planning that could wait a bit. “No, why?”

“I've been telling people about you, some of them are interested. If you do something impressive, they'd be willing to make you a good offer when you graduate. Almost as good as what I got.”

“Really? Thanks!” he said, grinning like an idiot. His family wasn't exactly rich, which was one of the reasons he was willing to do anything The Good Old Boys wanted. They were a way to make money so he could have a bright future ahead of himself. With the promise of a high paying job right of school, he'd be able to rest a bit more easily.

“Don't thank me yet. You need to prove yourself.”

“What do they need?” Ferret was a little afraid it would be something very illegal. So far he'd managed to keep his crimes limited mostly to stealing corporate info, and he did that so cleanly no one knew he'd done it. Most of his victims didn't even know anything had happened.

“Nothing too much. Just do something interesting, that hasn't been done before,” Arnold said.

“OK... Any idea what that might be, or do I have to come up with something on my own?”

“Well they know how strict Whateley security is. Getting some important files on potential recruits would work.”

Ferret's stomach dropped. That was crossing several lines he really didn't want to cross.

“Or something public, maybe hacking into the combat finals and doing something fun there. Mixing up some fights to fuck with Vegas. Changing the feeds to show really nasty porn. Making the kids look like Tom and Jerry. Something funny.”

“I'll think about it, and get back to you later,” Ferret said.

“Great! Just remember, if you impress them, you've got a job waiting for you. So don't fuck around too much.”

They talked a bit longer before Arnold hung up. Ferret looked up at the ceiling thinking about the conversation. Arnold had something up his sleeve, he just had to figure out what it was.

Counterpoint had come up first, even though Arnold had never cared about the sophomore 'Lympi enforcer. The pair hadn't even met, with Arnold graduating in 2006. So he was part of the challenge.

The next clue was asking about the girl, Just Me at the end. Where had that come from? And why was she in Arnold's sights? Or more likely, someone Arnold worked with.

That didn't matter, if his friend was legitimate, he had to do something with the two of them. The mention of the combat finals was too deliberate to be casual. And fucking with Vegas, another thing Arnold never cared about.

“Shit,” he said. He had to hack into the system and set up Counterpoint and Just Me as opponents in the combat finals.

If something went wrong, it would all fall on Ferret. Anyone who listened to the call wouldn't find anything incriminating, Arnold hadn't come out and told him to make the pair fight. If Whateley got involved, Arnold would probably get a very stern chat with some unfriendly individuals, but he'd keep his head. He'd throw Ferret to the dogs to save himself.

Was it worth the risk?

Ferret knew he was good. He had gotten into Whateley's system before, and used it to get heads up on some important things, as well as helping Fantastico get away with a few less than legal projects. But hacking into the combat finals would not be easy. Setting everything up so that Gunny would actually let the helpless Just Me get in the arena with Counterpoint would be even harder. As soon as the psycho got going, they'd get the girl out of there for her own safety.

He suspected just having the pair enter and leave after thirty seconds wouldn't count as impressive.

If he did it and got caught, he could claim it was supposed to be a joke. Or better yet a randomized prank on Counterpoint. He could set up a program that would make it look like it chose the pair at random, out of a few other weak and harmless students. Then if Counterpoint went nuts, well that was the psycho's fault. Ferret had only wanted a laugh, the 'Lympi tough guy facing off against a helpless nerd.

If he succeeded, his future was secure. If it failed, he'd be kicked out of Whateley at worst, and more likely just given a very long detention.

It was worth the risk.

Returning to his computer, he got rid of his Spider Man research and started typing. If he was going to do this, he had to work fast.

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Whateley Library
After Class
December 3rd, 2007

“So, combat finals are next week. I wasn't expecting that,” Shaun said.

Jane didn't say anything. She knew there were combat finals, Mille had learned about them when he'd paid for Magali to go to Whateley back in 1989. She'd hoped the school had stopped them by now, but they hadn't. Of course she would have to fight.

“I can't wait to see who I'm going up against,” Smile said, practically bouncing in her seat.

Cooper didn't look quite so confident. “I'm not sure if I'm ready for that. BMA is one thing, but a combat simulation, wow, that's not something you expect in high school.”

“You don't have to fight. In Survival we were told that running away, sneaking to victory, or just avoiding getting hurt by a tough opponent will get us a good mark,” Shaun said.

“Maybe for you survival wimps. BMA students are held to a higher standard,” Cooper replied, grinning to take the sting out.

A sigh made all eyes turn to Aella, who was sitting with her chin in her hands looking glum.

“What's wrong?” Smile asked.

“Everyone is going to laugh at the fat girl,” Aella said, looking down at her large, hot air filled stomach.

Shaun reached into his bag, pulling out something that was black and looked like silk. “Aella, I was going to wrap this up and give it to you for Christmas, but I think this will help.”

“What is it?” the large girl asked, reaching out to take it.

“I remember you saying how you can let out air, but you'll end up with lots of saggy skin. I made you a bodysuit that can go under your clothes. It's really stretchy, and can fit your regular size. But if you let out air, and play with the straps, it will shape your body however you want, and hide the skin folds. You won't want to go down all the way, but you can at least make yourself a bit... um... shapelier,” Shaun explained.

Aella sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “It'll really work?”

“I've tested it every way I can. It'll work. And the fabric is really light and breathable, so it won't be too hot, I also made sure it wicks away sweat, so even exercising or a really warm day it'll be comfortable. I have two more that are almost done. I'll give them to you when they're finished.”

Putting the miracle clothes down, Aella got up and gave Shaun a big hug. Jane knew how much the girl hated her body and the GSD that made her look morbidly obese. So she realized just how important the gift was to her friend. Pride at how Shaun had turned out, rose in her chest. His mother had done an excellent job raising him by herself.

That thought erased the pride. Leaving her feeling like a dagger had plunged into her chest. Once again she cursed Mille for his choices that had taken him from his family.

“Jane, are you OK?” Cooper asked.

“What?” she asked.

“You look like someone just killed your puppy.”

Shaking her head, she tried to focus. Mille was dead. She had to forget about him. “I'm- I'm just nervous.”

“You shouldn't be, I've seen you in Survival,” Shaun said. “All you need to do is shift and no one will recognize you. Then you can sneak around and beat whoever you're up against without even being seen. And later this week I'll have some things that should help you, a double sided coat and special underwear so you can shift more comfortably between sizes."

"Thanks," she said, forcing herself to smile.

Her friends joined in trying to cheer her up, talking about her shifting skills, and offering pats on the back along with some hugs. They didn't help, but she pretended it did.

Finally she said, “You're right. Thanks. I just need to be smart about things.”

While the others talked about what they might have to do in the finals, Jane stayed quiet. She wasn't nearly as confident about what would happen. She didn't know what she would do if she had to fight. Looking at her hands she could see the blood coating them. Would she be able to keep control of herself?

Excusing herself, she went to the bathroom. Making sure it was empty, she looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I'm Jane Fisher. I'm a student at Whateley, I'm a mutant. I'm going to go to college and lead a boring life. I'm only a murderer when I have no other choice.”

In her mind she saw a bloody, blue eyed man staring back at her, his laughing face superimposed over her own. 

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Lillian Dennon's Residence,
December 5
th, 2007

Psychic combat teacher Harry Junzo, looked around the table at his fellow combat teachers and range instructors. Like him they they all wanted to be somewhere else doing their regular work, which was already behind schedule thanks to the end of term insanity. Lillian Dennon leaned forward in her chair, bringing silence to the table.

“As usual we have once again waited too long to set up the crash and combat finals. We all know the details, so let's not waste time, who do we throw into the meat grinder?” she asked.

“It's been almost two years since the Capes have had a Crash. I believe it's time to see if the superheroes are still capable of meeting our standards,” Ito said, before anyone else could speak. “We also have a few interesting students this year, we should provide them with a suitable challenge.”

“It has been a while since we challenged the FSA, it'll be good for them,” Bardue said with a grin that promised only pain.

“Why not the Grunts? They've gone almost as long without a Crash,” Wilson said.

“The FSA has had the biggest change in people thanks to graduation and burnout. We need to see if they're still at their usual standards. And they've got a few new members who could use the extra training,” Dennon said.

Sergeant-Major Sean Burlington-Smythe smirked. “We should throw the Vindicators or Goobers into the Crash. That'd be a good laugh.”

“We want a Crash, not a funeral,” Bardue said.

“So what lucky bastards will join the Capes in the Crash?” Bardue asked.

“Tink,” Ito said. “She is a challenging student to place in a normal scenario. With her size, speed and strength, she can hide, outrun or hit her way through many problems.”

“I don't really know her, except through her antics,” Harry said. “What's her biggest weakness?”

“Endurance. She exhausts herself within several minutes if she's pressed.”

“So we have her fight multiple opponents. Make it something she can't run away from, classic protect the castle situation,” Bardue said.

Ito nodded. “It's the easiest way to challenge her.”

“Who else has pissed us off enough to earn our wrath?” Wilson asked.

“Aegis? He's always looking for a fight, let's give him one,” Dennon offered.

“He's improving,” Ito said. “Let's give him a challenge, but not a Crash.”

“All right. We can do that,” Dennon said.

Harry leaned forward. “I want to have Wakanda in a Crash.”

“Why?”

“She's been pushing herself and her precog ability, wanting me to challenge her. I think it's time to see what she can really do,” he explained.

No one objected, so Dennon added it to her notes. “I've got an idea that should be challenging for her. Anyone else?”

No one said anything. While the freshmen weren't any better behaved then usual, none of them had done quite enough to earn the ire of the staff, or were so powerful they needed a special challenge.

“Now that the Crash is done, we have to deal with our problem students. We've got a few new ones this year,” Dennon said, tapping on her computer. “First one is High Beams, feel free to laugh, she seems to have a sense of humour. She's a warper who can turn 2D, and cut through things like a laser”

“And why is she a problem?” Wilson asked. “Too eager to slice and dice?”

“She is suffering from Chimerical Trait Acquisition. She has a devise in her chest keeping her human, but is forbidden from martial arts. She's in Survival and is very good at hiding.”

“Is it safe for her to do the Combat finals at all?” Harry asked.

“The devise is fairly sturdy, it's been decided that as long as she is given an easy opponent, she should be fine. But we'll program the ANTS to merely hold her rather than hit her, just to be safe,” Dennon explained.

“Put her with Grit, the kid who plays with sand. They're both runners, not fighters,” Bardue said.

Everyone nodded at the pairing, and there was the scratching of pens on paper and the tapping of keys.

“The next student is an odd one,” Dennon said, clicking her mouse. “This comes straight from Delarose, with big red letters. Just Me is to be given an easy combat final. He actually says to make it boring. No reason given.”

That was a new one. Usually security tried to make trouble makers have a tougher time as a lesson. “I've never heard of her, who is she?” Harry asked.

“A shifter 5, very good at disguising herself, but nothing remarkable. Good grades in Survival. No detentions, no warnings, no write ups. Suffers from minor seizures which are under control. She was caught up in that nasty incident in November, where a gadgeteer was beaten by a crime boss over his supposed father.”

He'd heard of that incident, and the brutal response to it. He still had to wonder why the Chief wanted to keep the girl out of the lime light.

Wilson said, “Let's have her compete against Glass. No one will be interested in that fight. And after we threw Glass to the dogs twice last year, she could probably use a break.”

That seemed the best option and Harry nodded along with the others. Putting the odd situation aside, they went onto the next problem.

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Tunnels
December 8th, 2007

Ferret took another sip of his devisor coffee. He'd drank far too much of it over the last week, and it was just barely keeping him awake at this point. His empty stomach roiled as the hot, bitter liquid hit it. This had better be worth it, he thought.

His codes looked perfect. His one problem was that he hadn't had time to make it look like Just Me had been randomly chosen from a group of losers to fight Counterpoint. His schedule had gone to hell trying to get through the security system without being noticed, that had taken twice as long as he'd planned. Luckily for him, everything else had gone smoothly.

And there had been some more luck on his side. His search for the Spider Man 3 movie had given him a useful bit of info. Phase had set up a test screening in Dunwich for Thursday afternoon. It was top secret, and the theatre was going to be completely deserted except for Marvel employees, Phase, and her friends.

He wasn't sure why Phase had picked that day, the combat finals would still be going on. Maybe it had been the only time they could do it. Or more likely the freak knew none of her friends would be doing the combat finals then, and they'd be left alone.

Whatever the reason, it was good for him. It would take someone like Tennyo or Fey to break down the doors to the arena or take down the forcefield. By making Just Me's combat final for Thursday afternoon, there'd be plenty of time for her and Counterpoint to mess around before anyone could get in.

Making some changes to his work, he began the laborious work of checking over everything with a fine tooth comb. There couldn't be any mistakes, or his ass was grass.

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Combat Finals
Arena 99
December 13th, 2007

It was the end of the day, and the second last day of the Combat Finals, most people were getting ready to head off for supper, having gotten their fill of action after almost a week of fights. The last few fights might be interesting, but for hungry exemplars and energizers, it would have to be a Crash to make them stick around.

Since none of them were exemplars or energizers, Jane and most of her friends were sitting in the stands, taking the opportunity to relax in some of the better seats. Aella wasn't sitting with them, she'd gone to lay down earlier, complaining about the concussion she'd gotten in her combat final that morning.

Jane sat at the edge of the group, trying to seem excited like everyone else. She was the last of her friends who had to do her combat final. She'd pray it was an easy one, and she could just hide or sneak around. But she knew that no one up there would listen to her. Looking up at the massive screen over the arena, she wondered who would be up next.

“Will Just Me and Counterpoint come to the gate,” the computer said, as two MID's appeared on screen.

Everyone stared at the board wondering what had gone wrong. Even those who didn't know Jane, could see that she wasn't supposed to fight a psycho like Counterpoint as soon as they saw her MID.

Codename: Just Me
Medical Warning: Seizures (Stress Induced)
Rating: Shifter 5
Techniques: Disguise
Weak vs.: Normal human weaknesses
Back up/Team Affiliation: Team Unexpected

A few laughed when they saw her picture. She was wearing an old band t-shirt for 'The Guess Who', with an innocent smile. But most focused on the warning, and then looked at Counterpoint. He'd recently recovered from the genetic butchering Jobe had done to him last Spring. The psycho was still weak compared to what he had been, but he'd gotten meaner, and was doing everything he could to regain his strength.

Jane felt her blood go cold. This was a set up. She didn't know who had done it, but there was no way she would have been put up against him normally. Her hand went to her Mobius belt. She'd been planning on throwing it and everything in it away, but never got around to it. And she always seemed to find herself wearing it without meaning to.

“No,” she whispered to herself. She wasn't going to use it unless there was no other choice. She was Jane Fisher, a mutant, a freshman, a boring student who didn't fight, and she was only a murderer when she had no choice.

“What the hell?” Shaun asked. “There has to be a mistake. You can't take him.”

Standing up, she started walking to the gate. She was a normal student, it was time to do her combat final, so she'd do it. Skipping out would draw attention she didn't want. All she had to do was hide, that was expected of her, it was what Jane would do.

She heard her friends talking, trying to make her stop, telling her to talk to a teacher. It was distant, and unimportant.

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While the two students made their way to the arena, wondering who was insane enough to think they should compete against each other, a strange voice came over the speakers.

Hello everyone!” Tink shouted. “Now that the boring announcers have relinquished their spot-

Once again you snuck in while they went to the bathroom, and dragged me along with you, Tink,” Broken said.

If they didn't want to lose their spot, they should have brought a cup to pee in.

EEW!

Anyways, our two competitors are Just Me, and Counterpoint! What can you tell us about them, B?

I don't know. I've heard that Counterpoint used to be a really nasty bully, but he was sick or something for a while. I've never heard of Just Me. Why do you keep dragging me in here with you? I thought you were done playing announcer?

The announcers were too boring. And you were supposed to be the knowledgeable but boring person who fills in the technical stuff, while I'm the funny, entertaining announcer. You're not doing a very good job. I think I'll need to find a new helper for the spring combat finals.

Where's my flyswatter.

OK, I guess I'll have to do both jobs,” Tink said, sighing dramatically. “Counterpoint was sick, but he's all better and apparently even nastier than before. He's an ultraviolent, exemplar, power mimic, and a really good fighter. He's ranked 50 out of all the sophomores and freshmen, and he used to be in the top five.”

Damn, and they're putting him up against a shifter who has seizures?

I know. I wish I had faced him, that would have been a real fight. I've seen Just Me a few times. Very shy girl, hangs out with a gadgeteer called Incognito a lot. She's ranked 299, and she's kind of spacy.

You're calling someone spacy?! Whoa.

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Arena Control Room

Gunny looked over the monitors, amazingly it looked like they might get out of the combat finals without any disasters, having to rebuild the arena, and only a few minore cases of PTSD. He wasn't about to say anything like that out loud, Murphy was a bastard who would take that as a challenge. But in the safety of his mind it should be fine.

“After Just Me and Glass, who's the last pairing for the day?” he asked, just to make sure everything was still going as planned.

“Tempest and Ash,” one of the techs said. “We still have time to switch it to Tempest and Peeper.”

Smiling, he shook his head. “We want to watch them fight, not commit murder. No matter how much Peeper might deserve it.”

“Time to tell them what their mission is,” he said heading for the door. He came to a stop when the electronic lock didn't release. “What the hell? What's wrong with this?”

The tech looked over at him. “ don't know. It worked five minutes ago.”

“Well it's not now,” he growled, twisting the handle hard enough to make the metal door shake.

The tech typed something on his terminal. “I just called out for a repair crew, and told the guys at the gates you might be late.”

Growling under his breath, Gunny went back to his seat. He didn't need to tell the kids what they were supposed to do. The security guards had all the information in case something happened and he or Ito couldn't do the briefing themselves. But it was a bad sign when little things didn't work.

Unknown to everyone in the control room, a phone call from the arena entrance was rerouted to a very articulate computer program that sounded exactly like Gunny.

A secondary program activated, setting the ANTs into their programmed roles, and locking the control room out. This had an unexpected consequence that Ferret hadn't counted on. The computer controlling the ANT's knew it was dealing with Counterpoint, so it adjusted the safety settings to an appropriate level. Every ANT in the arena was placed at the hardest challenge level.

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Tunnels

Thud raced down the stairs to the betting area. It was practically deserted, no one thought it was worth betting on the match. Counterpoint was going to win easily, the odds made betting on him nearly worthless, and betting on Just Me was throwing your money away. At least that was what most people thought.

He forced himself not to shudder as he remembered his last meeting with Jane. He still had nightmares of her placing a knife against his eye, threatening to lobotomize him. Counterpoint had no idea who he was facing, neither did anyone else.

Boxcars looked up as he went over to her. “Placing a bet?” she asked.

“A hundred on Just Me,” he said.

“All right.” The bookie confirmed his bet on her tablet. Only then did she shake her head. “You do know the odds against her right? Ninety to one. About the only way she's going to win is if Counterpoint is too busy killing zombies to bother with winning.”

He grinned. “Yeah, I know the odds. When she wins, I'm going to get a lot of money.”

She looked at him as if trying to read his mind. “Is there something I should know?”

“Nope. Just a feeling,” Thud said.

Walking back to his seat, Thud saw Jane heading for the gate. He stumbled over his feet and sweat beaded up on his forehead. Then she was gone. Stopping to catch his breath, he whispered to himself, “I'm not afraid of her.”

Wiping away the sweat, he continued on his way.

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Arena Gate

The security officer got off the phone, shaking his head. “Sorry, kid. They're saying everything is normal and you have to go up against Counterpoint. You want my advice, hide. If he finds you, don't put up a fight, look as helpless as possible. He may hit you a few times, and he'll definitely try to scare you, be scared. As long as you don't fight back, he should eventually go away to kill some zombies when he gets bored.”

“Thanks,” Just Me said.

She slipped on her mask. It was so small it was barely legal, but her wearing a mask at all was idiotic. She shifted, turning her skin black, giving herself a shaved head, becoming taller and skinnier, making her features look African. Her specially made underwear, stretched to fit her new body. She'd have to thank Shaun for it when she was done. Then she put a baseball hat on, pulling it low to hide her face and the mask. In her black pants and white sweater she looked like an ordinary girl. If she needed to, she could take the sweater off revealing a pale yellow t-shirt. Slipping on her double sided coat with the muted red side out, Jane decided she was ready to go. Nothing about her stuck out, which was exactly what she wanted.

A buzzer went off and the gate opened up onto a busy city street. Just Me sighed, that meant there would be a lot of zombies to deal with. It also meant she would be harder to find. So she wasn't going to complain.

She couldn't wait around, she needed a hiding spot and anywhere near the entrance was a bad idea. It would be the first place he'd look. Stepping into the crowd, she studied the ANTs, copying their movements and expressions. Whoever had programmed them had done a good job, but it was possible to spot flaws, movements that were a bit too stiff, expressions that took a split second too long to match what was happening, and other things.

Less than a minute into her walk, a spear flew through the air landing in front of her. It hit the floor with enough force that the head dug into the steel, leaving it upright and shaking from the impact less than a foot in front of her.

A very real scream came from her as she jumped back. Then she was running along with all the ANTs who had seen the spear land. She shifted, becoming smaller, turning pale, growing long blonde hair, and flipping her coat around to reveal the navy blue side. Sparing a glance over her shoulder she saw Counterpoint in his modern replica of Greek bronze armour, he'd already retrieved his spear, and he was running far faster than she could.

This was not a fight she wanted.

Her running became more erratic, like she was terrified and in a panic. She moved to the left slamming into an ANT. Falling to the ground with a scream of shock, Just Me made it look a lot more painful than it really was. Clutching her ankle, she let the tears flow, shifting to make her skin deathly pale.

Counterpoint came to a stop, looming over her. His lips were twisted in a sneer, and his red eyes looked murderous. “This is the best challenge you can give me?” he sneered.

“I'm sorry. Please don't hurt me,” she whimpered.

He spit on her. “This school is supposed to be for the powerful. But you, a cringing, mewling worm, were put in the arena with me. Did they think I was still sick?”

Covering her face, she watched him through her fingers. He was insane, and he wanted blood. She knew the signs, Mille had been just like that at his worst. If she did anything wrong, he would kill her. If she didn't do anything, he might kill her anyways.

He hollered at the teachers. Cursing them, demanding a real challenge. A cop came up, his gun drawn. Just Me couldn't hear what the ANT was saying over Counterpoints shouting. Without a second of hesitation, the psycho speared the cop through the gut.

Scrambling to her feet, Just started to run, making sure to limp on her 'injured' leg. She made it all of five feet when the shaft of the spear clubbed her in the ribs. She went down clutching her side, at least two ribs were broken.

Silently she shifted, fixing the injury, while also spreading out the bruise. Using her body to block his view, she palmed two self defense canisters from her belt, one of pepper spray and another that would block his breathing without making him choke to death. She'd had more, but most of them had been used up or lost when she'd attacked the crime boss Fusco over Thanksgiving. From how scared Alchemical acted whenever he saw her, Just was sure she wouldn't be getting anymore of the potent chemicals.

“Gunny!” Counterpoint shouted. “If you don't give me a real opponent, I'm going to take my time gutting and skinning this bitch!”

As he ranted, she saw a growing disturbance coming their way. That would be the zombies, she thought. Depending on how tough they were, it could be good or bad as a distraction. But if she had to hope for something, it would be that whoever was in charge would send help. She couldn't act much more helpless than this.

“Get ready to hear her scream!” Counterpoint shouted at sky.

Grabbing her shoulder, he flipped her over. His grin would make a hardened killer shudder. Just Me didn't hesitate, she sprayed him full in the face with the two self defence sprays. He was so startled he didn't even try to dodge. Then she brought her knees to her chin and shoved her feet up into his stomach. It didn't hurt him, but it knocked him off balance. Caught by surprise, he screamed in pain. The cry quickly became strangled as he gasped for breath through constricted airways while his eyes burned.

Then Just Me was up and running for her life.

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Woohoo! Get 'em Just Me!” Tink cheered. “In a stunning reversal it looks like Just Me was playing possum and sprayed Counterpoint with something that seems really painful.”

I think it was pepper spray. And she's taking off. Oh that's clever, she made her legs longer so she can run faster. Somehow Counterpoint looks even angrier, I really hope he doesn't catch her.

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The ANTs who had been walking around peacefully were fleeing the growing horde of zombies that surged along the street, biting and tearing apart anything they could reach. Jane ran into the crowd to avoid Counterpoint, ditching her coat, and giving herself short brown hair. Then she turned around to join the ANTs, screaming and acting just as panicked as they were.

Counterpoint was up and massacring anyone who came close to him. She couldn't hear what he was shouting over the noise, but seeing the bodies go flying, made her very certain she wanted to stay away from him. As she came to an alleyway, she grabbed two people nearest to her, and shoved them towards the opening.

“This way, I know a way out!” she shouted.

They followed her like sheep, when they realized the alley was practically empty they sped up. As they ran, she scooped up a dirty brick from a puddle.

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In an odd turn of events, Just Me has decided to help two ANTS escape the zombie horde. I wonder what she wants to do with them,” Tink said.

Meat shields?” Broken guessed.

Oh! That makes sense. And now... She just bashed their heads in with a brick? B, why did she kill them?”

There was several seconds of silence. “I-I think she's stealing their clothes. Yeah, that's it. The woman's sweater and now the mans jacket. And she's shifting to look more like a guy. Do they teach that in Survival Class?

I don't know, but I think that I need to be a lot more careful around those kids.

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Leaving the alleyway at a jog, Just looked for a phone. There were supposed to be several along every street in case of emergencies. Spotting one, she grabbed it and hit zero.

“Get me the fuck out of here,” she demanded, the second it was picked up. “I forfeit.”

“We can't,” a gruff voice said.

“Why the hell not. This guy is going to kill me.”

“We can't open the doors. You're sealed in and we're locked out of everything. Someone hacked the system, you're facing ANTs at the hardest difficulty, and Counterpoint.”

She started to laugh. She knew it, this was all a setup. Mille was once more coming back to haunt her. Her brown eyes shifted to blue. “OK. So the zombies will kill me if they get a hold of me.

“Yes, they're set for regenerators and bricks. We're working on the system now, and we have a response team standing by.”

“Thank you,” she said very calmly, hanging up the phone.

The zombies were coming, and she needed a weapon. She reached for her belt, then stopped. The plasma knife would reveal everything about her. The situation was bad, but not quite that bad. She could still get out of this without entirely losing her cover.

And if she used the plasma knife, someone was going to die.

Pulling off the stupid mask and hat, she threw them away. A disguise wasn't needed. One face was as good as another. Then she was off and running, the more space between her and Counterpoint the better.

As if the thought was enough to summon him, the psycho jumped down from a building in front of her. “Gotcha!”

She turned and ran towards the zombies. He was going to catch her, there wasn't anything she could do about that, but if she was closer to the horde, it could distract him. The spear sliced her arm, then her leg. They hurt but didn't slow her down. Counterpoint could have killed her a dozen times, instead he wanted to play. He was going to torture her, thinking that would make Whateley send him a real challenge.

If he wanted to be an idiot, she'd use it to her advantage.

Stumbling, she grabbed her cut arm even as she healed the injury, this had to look real. The zombies had noticed them and charged, howling for blood. Counterpoint would have to maim her now, if he didn't want to risk losing her to the monsters. Just purposefully fell and rolled, crying out in pain. The butt of the spear grazed her cheek as she went down, if she hadn't dodged, it would have hit her spine.

She came out of the roll on her feet and still running, barely slowed. And then the fastest zombies were on top of her. She slid past the first one, and scrambled on all fours to get around another group. Her long hair disappeared into her skull, there was no reason to give the zombies an easy hand hold. All too quickly dozens of zombies were surrounding her.

If she panicked, slowed down or tried to fight, the zombies would kill her. They grabbed her stolen coat, digging their fingers into her flesh. Ignoring the pain, she let the coat slip off her shoulders and kept going, using the crush of bodies to her advantage. They were stupid and got in each others way while she shrank down as far as she dared, slipping between legs, under arms, and into any opening she could find.

A zombie managed to grab her, biting deep into her forearm.

Shrieking, she wrenched herself free, leaving a chunk of flesh behind. Then she was off again and through the small horde. Healing the gaping wound, Just turned and saw that Counterpoint was fighting all the zombies, his howls of joy matched their own hunger cries.

Making her legs longer she ran to find an apartment. Just running wasn't going to work.

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I didn't think she'd get away from Counterpoint or the zombies just then, but that girl has some slick moves, isn't that right B?” Tink asked.

Uh huh,” Broken said, sounding a little sick. “It looked like she was a goner, especially with all that blood, but it seems like the cuts weren't that bad. Still what was the school thinking making them face each other, and having the zombies that violent. They mostly just grabbed me when I did my final.

I don't know. Maybe she made a teacher mad at her. But that question will have to wait. The horde of zombies is nearly gone thanks to Counterpoint, and Just Me is slowing down. Is she smiling?

She is. And I think I know why. She's running into an apartment building, I hope she finds some place to hide.

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Running up the stairs, Just Me stopped on the fourth floor and started trying the doors. The third one opened into a large apartment. Closing and locking the door, she headed for the kitchen. Zombie would be coming soon and they'd lead Counterpoint right to her.

A feral grin appeared on her face. Turning on the gas for the stove, she took stock of the kitchen. Then she cursed, there wasn't the hiss of gas she was expecting. Grabbing the back of the stove, she yanked it way from the wall with a yell. Taking a knife from the block, she slashed the gas hose, nothing came out. The thing was just for show.

“What are you doing in my kitchen!” a woman shouted, holding a bat in front of her.

Old training kicked in, overpowering the part of her that wanted to hide. Sprinting across the kitchen, Just neatly ducked under the bat and drove the knife into the ANT. She didn't see it as a person, it was a threat that had to be stopped. The steel slid deep into the woman's stomach with an underhand swing that drove the blade up towards the heart. Pulling it back out, she shoved the dying body to the ground.

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Smile screamed at the sight of the dying woman. She knew it was just an ANT, but they looked so real. And the look on Jane's face was terrifying, reminding her of her parents when they killed their torture victim in front of her.

“That's not Jane. It can't be Jane,” Shaun whispered, beside her.

Cooper wrapped his arm around her, kissing the top of her head. “Do you want to go?” he asked, his voice tight.

“No,” she whimpered. Through her tears she forced herself to watch her roommate and best friend, trying to understand what was going on.

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Um... right. I'm glad they're just dealing with ANT's,” Tink said, her high pitched voice sounding queasy.

Yeah. What did you say earlier about her ranking? 299?” Broken asked.

Uh huh. I think they got it wrong. What is she doing now B?

She's grabbing a water bottle from the fridge, and cutting it open. If she wants a drink why not just take the cap off?

Oh she's... putting it into a measuring cup, and throwing it in the microwave. I'm completely lost here.

Maybe she really wants some ramen,” the co-host answered, forcing herself to chuckle.

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The microwave hummed behind her as Just dug through the cupboards pulling out all the cleaners. She put some of them onto the counter, then got saucepans and cups. Once she had enough she opened up the bleach, pouring it into several of the containers. Other chemicals soon joined the harsh smelling liquid, making her nose burn.

Taking them two at a time, she placed them around the apartment.

Going back to the kitchen, she looked in the fridge. There wasn't much, not that she expected there to be, it was mostly there for show. A six pack of water that she'd already used, and a few protein bars. Slamming the door, she tried to think. Where would they put the useful things?

The door shuddered and moans filled the apartment. The zombies had found her.

Reaching into her belt, she pulled out her PFG, placing it around her neck and turning it on. She opened the windows, knocking out the screens. Counterpoint was coming down the street following the zombies.

Sighing, Just went back to the kitchen, stepping over the lifeless ANT, she needed to get the knives.

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Control Room

The second techs got the door working, Delarose stormed into the control centre. “What the hell are you doing Gunny?!” he growled. “I told you I wanted Just Me to have an easy combat final, not fight the school psychopath.”

Bardue, who was watching his techs trying to regain control of the system, turned to face the Chief. “Someone hacked the system, putting her up against Counterpoint without us knowing about it. We can't get in, or get her out.”

“You can't break down the door?”

“No. Kodiak and Loophole are in Berlin on a date. I called Horton, Tennyo and Fey along with the rest of the Kimba's are in Dunwich watching some pre-release Marvel movie with their phones off. Hartford and Everheart are on their way now. Everyone we have right now couldn't take the door down by themselves, and the forcefield is too strong for anyone except Carson, Tennyo, and maybe Fey. I've got a team and healer ready to rush in as soon as we get the door open. The girl just needs to keep hidden for a bit longer.”

Delarose grinned, but there was no humour in it. “It's not her I'm worried about.”

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Arena

The sound of fighting was rather brief. As expected Counterpoint had cut through the zombies like a scythe. Taking the boiling water out of the microwave she put it off to the side where it wouldn't be obvious. Then she took off her sweater and shirt. Uncaring of the watching audience, she removed her bra and put her t-shirt back on. She shifted, making her breasts bigger, filling her shirt until it was stretched taut. The wet blood on her hand got onto her clothes, but there wasn't much she could do about that, so she ignored it.

The door shattered and the psycho walked into the apartment. Blood dripped from his hands and spear, he was grinning and didn't seem to have a single scratch on him. He looked briefly at the dead ANT and smiled.

“You should have run away when you had the chance,” he said.

She smiled. “Where would be the fun in that?”

He faltered for a half second, thrown off by her bravado. “So you're done pretending to be helpless?”

“It wasn't working, I decided to try something else.” Acting completely at ease, she reached down with one hand, gripped the hem of her shirt and pulled it up, revealing her bare breasts. “What do you think of these? Maybe if I'm nice to you, you'll be nice to me?”

Counterpoint was a savage and a sadist, he was also a straight male and a teenager. His eyes focused on her breasts.

With far more grace and speed than she'd ever revealed at Whateley, Just grabbed the boiling water and threw it into his face. The cup broke on his helmet, the water went into his eyes and dripped down his face.

Counterpoint could handle pain, if he was prepared for it. Given a few seconds of preparation and he could laugh as acid melted the flesh off his face. But when it was unexpected, he felt it just as badly as anyone else. Blind and burned, he screamed.

Just didn't hesitate, taking the pan of bleach and cleaner she hit him in the face again. His hands protected him a little, but the chemical concoction still got into his eyes. Spinning, she hit him as hard as she could on the back of the head.

The slippery floor caused him to fall to his hands and knees. She went to hit him again, wishing she had something heavier that wouldn't just kill him.

Somehow he reached out, grabbing her leg and yanked her foot out from under her. The PFG protected her skull as it cracked against the floor, but the air was knocked out of her. Before she could recover, he was on top of her, blindly glaring at her with his bloody red eyes.

Punching her in the face, the PFG saved her once more. He didn't seem to notice. Punching her again, she twisted her neck, trying to avoid the blow. He just missed her, shattering the tile floor.

Snarling, he blindly reached for her, getting his hands around her neck and started squeezing. It was hard enough to activate her PFG, causing it to beep, letting her know it was using a lot of power to keep her alive.

As he tried to strangle her, Just pulled one of the kitchen knives out of her Mobius belt. Counterpoint's helmet protected most of his face, leaving slits for the eyes, nose and an opening around his mouth. She could just shove it through his mouth and into his brain, a part of her wanted to. She fought back the urge. She wasn't going to murder anyone unless she had too.

The way he was leaning over top of her, his neck was exposed. Bringing the knife up, she sliced down the side of it, cutting skin, tendons, and muscle, without getting near the arteries or windpipe.

Screaming, Counterpoint jumped away. Blind and in pain, he was not willing to risk having his throat slit.

Getting to her feet, Just fled the room.

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Counterpoint gritted his teeth, his mind filled with rage.

The bitch had hurt him. She shouldn't have been able to do that. She was a pathetic mutant. Mutants relied too much on their powers to save them. But she had blinded him with a dirty trick.

Violently shaking his head, he pushed through the pain. The girl's tricks didn't matter, she was still weak. She'd had the chance to kill him and had chickened out. She was a coward with a little talent. Once he got his hands on her again, he wouldn't hesitate anymore, he'd break her bones. Let her try one of her tricks then.

Blinking hard, he tried to see. His regeneration was slow ever since Jobe had poisoned him, making it work too fast would bring back the diseased flesh. His BIT could only handle a slower regeneration. He should have been able to see in a second or two. Now, it was like looking through dark water, just seeing basic shapes that were nearby.

Snarling he grabbed his spear and went after the bitch.

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Get out of there, Just!” Tink yelled. “Oh god! He's going to kill her.

Where can she run? She's trapped in the apartment, and she's four stories up. Why hasn't someone stopped this yet?” Broken demanded. “They're trying to kill each other.

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The Stands

It was impossible for Smile to look away as Counterpoint and Jane destroyed the apartment. The pots of cleaner her friend had set up, kept getting thrown, sometimes hitting the boy and blinding him again, sometimes missing. But it wasn't enough.

She winced as Jane was backhanded hard enough to throw her over a couch.

“Where did she get a PFG?” Shaun asked.

Jane somehow got back on her feet and raced to the bedroom, her opponent in close pursuit.

“I have no idea. But you remember when I said we'd protect her?” Cooper asked. “I think we should ask her to protect us.”

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Arena

Just swore as she jumped over the bed and headed for the window. How the hell was he still able to fight? He should be screaming in pain as his eyes burned. He was hurting, yet he was sticking to her like a rabid dog.

Jumping onto the window sill, she grabbed the sides to balance herself for a second. Then spinning around, she lunged upwards catching the small ledge that marked the next floor. Climbing upwards, she shifted, stretching out her arms and fingers as far as possible. It was enough to reach the fifth story window.

And then an impossibly strong hand grabbed her ankle.

She was yanked down, her nails tearing off as she uselessly tried to hang onto the bricks. Hanging upside down, she started kicking Counterpoint, trying to make him let her go.

“You know the fun thing about PFG's?” he asked, completely ignoring her blows. “They don't stop your joints from moving. Even if they go in the wrong direction.”

Just shrieked in pain as he grabbed her thigh and began pulling her ankle forward. His grip was like a vice, and she couldn't break free. Her knee started to bend forward, hyperextending. Her kneecap popped, then it cracked.

“Try to run now, bitch,” he said. Then he dropped her.

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Arena Gate

Where are the teachers?! He's killed her!” Tink yelled.

Smile wasn't listening to the fairy. She was running to the arena entrance, Cooper and Shaun right behind her. They had to help Jane. The teachers couldn't let her die like that.

They weren't expecting the sight that greeted them when they arrived.

The Wild Pack was there along with a security squad in full armour and several healers. The lock to the gate was open, being worked on by two techs. Looking around everyone was tense.

“What's going on?” Smile demanded. “Why aren't you helping her?”

A security guard came over. “We're trying. The door won't open.”

“But Jane needs help,” she sobbed.

The guard put his hand on her shoulder and was about to speak when a shriek came over the speakers.

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Arena

Jane managed to twist enough that she didn't land on her head. The PFG helped a little to limit the damage. She still popped some ribs, and she was pretty sure her shoulder and upper arm had snapped. Lying there, she didn't move. Her body needed a chance to recover from the shock, and her vision was blurry. She started shifting, moving around the bruises on her back, snapping ribs back into place, jamming the broken bones together as she fixed her arm and shoulder.

She left her knee. Hopefully she was now too busted up with her foot pointed the wrong way around, to be worth torturing.

Zombies were coming for them. From the sound of it, they numbered in the hundreds. Maybe Counterpoint would go after them instead of wasting time on her.

She heard a loud thud beside her. Two figures in Greek armour loomed over her. She whimpered in pain, sounding pathetic and harmless.

“I bet that hurts,” Counterpoint said, sounding like a sick little boy pulling the wings off a fly. He kicked her leg, making her scream.

If he wanted her to cry, she was more than willing to go along with it. Sobbing, she began to plead for him to leave her alone.

Reaching out, he took her hand in his. If it wasn't for the look on his face, it would have almost been comforting. “Except for healing my eyes, I haven't used my powers yet,” he said. “I only use them for people I think are worthy of it.”

He twisted her fingers, bones cracked like dry twigs. She screamed in pain, trying and failing to free her hand.

“You've hurt me more than almost anyone at this school.” Electric blue lines danced across his red eyes. “You should feel honoured at what I'm about to do.”

Electricity surged through Just. She forgot about her broken knee and her maimed hand as her heart felt like it was about to burst. Every nerve in her body flared to agonizing life.

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Counterpoint revelled in the shrieks. He was being careful to keep the shifter alive, he didn't want her pain to end too quickly. But the zombies were coming, he'd have to deal with them soon. Picking Just Me up by her neck, he stopped hurting her for a moment. Giving her time to recover would ensure she felt everything he'd do to her.

“Maybe I should crucify you,” he said. “The school doesn't give a shit about you. So they must want me to make an example of you. Let's make it a real show.”

The shifter reached out, clawing at his arm, trying to reach his face. He laughed at her feeble attempts, but there was a tiny hint of respect. At least she wasn't meekly accepting her fate. If she'd been properly trained, she might have actually been worth something. Unfortunately the old ways had been forgotten, now there were only weak, pathetic shells instead of proper warriors.

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Listening to Counterpoint laughing, Just knew it was time to act.

Shifting as fast as she could, her knee and fingers snapped back into place. The pain made her vision go red, she didn't let it slow her down. Her arms and fingers extended, and so did her nails. Razor sharp talons plunged into his eyes, popping them like grapes.

Instinctively he threw her as hard as he could before she could do anymore damage. She hit a brick wall and bounced, landing in a heap on the sidewalk. Once again she was seeing double and her ears rang.

Gutting the pain, she tried to stand. Then her blood turned ice cold.

“No, no, no, no!” she whimpered as her body shook.

The seizure lasted longer than most. Falling back to the ground, she couldn't control her muscles. She felt her body shifting and changing in a jerky, unnatural way.

Then she was done, lying on the sidewalk, shivering and sweating. Counterpoint was nearby, clutching his eyes cursing in something that sounded like Greek. The zombies were almost on top of them.

Staggering, she stood up and began to run. She needed time to recover.

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There was silence in the stadium. Combat finals could get violent, but it wasn't often that two students actually tried to commit murder or torture. No one in the audience had any doubt that the pair were trying to maim and kill the other.

B... do you know how Just Me fixed her knee?” Tink asked very quietly.

I think she shifted it back into place. I thought you had to be like Jimmy T to do that. Did she really pop his eyeballs?” Broken asked.

Yeah. I-I think that the teachers really should do something about this. This is going too far.

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Tigers Dojo

In the comfort of the Tiger's Dojo with most of the other Tigers, N'Dizi cheered as Counterpoint screamed, clutching his bleeding eyes. “Get that fucking asshole!” he shouted.

“Cheering on a White girl? I never thought I'd see that happen,” Stunner said. She had a bowl of popcorn sitting forgotten on her lap, the bloody fight had destroyed her appetite.

“If she's hurting Counterpoint, I'll make an exception,” he said. “But I wanna know why she's holding back. She could have slit his throat in the kitchen.”

Watching the girl run away, Stunner said, “I think she's mostly trying to make him leave her alone. She's only killed ANTs so far, and just injured him.”

“That's gonna get her killed. She's just pissing him off.”

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Arena

The zombies were moving faster, and they were swarming half the city. The ANT's that weren't hiding were forming groups, trying to defend themselves. Just Me ran by herself, the last kitchen knife in her hand. Speed and movement were her only real defence.

Turning down an alley to avoid a large horde, she cursed as several undead reached for her. The knife flashed, slicing across the eyes of the first one to reach for her. Dodging around the now blind opponent, she flipped the knife around, and jabbed it in the back of the neck. Her hand jolted as the blade hit the spine.

Pulling it out, she jumped at the next zombie, ramming the knife through the top of the skull. Before she could get it back, a third zombie grabbed her arm and bit down on her hand. The PFG saved her fingers.

Shifting, she increased the muscles in her free arm and shoulder, taking as much mass as she dared from the rest of her body. Pain lanced through her, punishment for pushing her power to it's limit. Ignoring it, Just pummelled the zombie's head until she heard the skull crack and it let her go.

Moans rose behind her. There wasn't time to get the knife. Shifting back to a more normal body, she ran away towards the sounds of gunshots.

Half a block away, a group of ANT's were running for their lives. A cop was firing at some distant zombies, not doing much besides drawing their attention. Just ran towards him, looking like a panicked survivor.

“GO! I'll hold them off!” the officer shouted as she ran up to him.

She nodded and went past. Then she turned and punched him under the arm where his vest wasn't protecting him. He grunted in pain, turning to face her. Just punched him again in the temple, grabbing his gun as he staggered.

There was a brief struggle, but he was dazed and she'd turned most of her fat into muscle. Taking the gun, Just brought it up to his chin pulling the trigger. She didn't even flinch at the blood that sprayed her. He hit the ground and she searched his body for more magazines, changing the used one in the gun, and storing two more in her belt.

Properly armed, she ran off.

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Capes Club Room

“Does anyone know who the hell this girl is?” Iron Star demanded, as Just Me killed the cop with all the emotion of a machine. Skilled fighters were a dime a dozen at Whateley. Student who had taken lives by accident or in self defense were far more common than at most other schools. Cold blooded killers were much less common. And everything he'd seen made him certain he was watching a sociopath.

No one said anything at first. The F.S.A. Clubhouse looked a little deserted after their less than spectacular group Crash, but there were enough members that at least someone should have known about Just Me.

Seeing that no one else was going to say anything, Gambler spoke up. “I've met her. I work with her roommate in the stables, so I've seen Jane a few times.”

“Was she ever this violent?” Boudacia asked.

“No. She was always shy, I'd almost say she was scared.”

“Well this scared little girl let herself get tortured until she could gouge out Counterpoint's eyes. And she knows how to knife fight, use guns, and won't hesitate to kill someone. I want to know who she is, and what else she's capable of,” Iron Star said.

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Arena Gate

Smile stared dumbstruck at the screen. She'd seen Jane looking angry and it terrified her, but it was nothing compared to the blood stained stranger she was looking at now. This wasn't her friend, it was someone different, cruel, hard, without a trace of mercy.

She remembered the times that Jane would look lost and alone. The sadness in her eyes. The tears that welled up in her eyes, but refused to fall. Whenever she asked about it, Jane claimed to not remember, or that it was nothing. She'd believed her, she'd wanted to believe her.

Now, Smile wondered if Jane had just been desperately hiding from her memories.

The Wild Pack came over, looking intimidating in their armour. Their leader, wearing armour with a stylized wolf helmet looked them over before speaking. “You're her friends?” he demanded.

“Yeah,” Shaun said, dragging his eyes away from the monitor.

“Where did she learn to fight like that?”

“I-I don't know. She never- in survival class she never acted anything like this.”

Cooper got a tiny, nervous smile. “When we formed our team, we promised we'd protect her. She didn't want to join, but we talked her into it, told her she could be a scout and spy, no fighting needed.”

Smile forced herself to speak up. “She's shy, she doesn't like standing out or getting into fights. She never even hurt a fly. She doesn't do this!”

“Well she's fighting like a trained killer, and I'd like to know why that is,” the leader of the Wild Pack said.

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Arena

A bullet ended the unlife of the zombie cook. Just stepped over his body and began replenishing her supply of knives. The blades slide into the deep pouches on her belt, Mille would have loved the belt when he was alive. Biting her lip, she stopped reminiscing. Staying in one place too long would be suicide. The kitchen was too narrow for her. Zombies would overwhelm her, and Counterpoint could just charge her. If she wanted to survive she needed room to run.

Going out the back, she took a moment to put on a black coat hanging on the wall. The ANT wouldn't need it, and it would help her hide. Peeking out the door, the way was mostly clear. Zombies were running around chasing fleeing ANTs, and a few were coming towards her location, but they weren't there yet.

If she got the McGuffin and brought it to the drop off, would that get past the hack? Or was it just a waste of time?

Shaking her head, trying to reduce the headache that made every beat of her heart feel like an explosion, Just Me headed for an alley across the street. If she could find another furnished apartment or office, she could try to hide, after setting some traps.

Maybe she heard a noise, or felt the air shift, or saw something out of the corner of her eye, but a sixth sense honed by decades of fighting and running made her look up. Counterpoint was jumping from a rooftop, his spear pointed right for her chest. He could have thrown the spear and killed her, but that didn't fit his personality, he wanted to be up close and personal.

Leaping to the side, Just Me brought her pistol up and fired while they were both in the air. Most of the bullets hit his armoured chest, bouncing off harmlessly. Two hit his helmet, and a third struck his hand. None of them drew blood, but he was knocked off balance and landed badly.

Somehow he threw the spear one handed as he landed in a sprawl. The blade hit the pistol, knocking it from her hand, breaking her trigger finger in the process, while slicing her knuckles to the bone.

Swearing, Just reached into her belt and pulled out something that looked like an epi-pen. Leaping on the stunned boy, she jabbed the injector into his exposed neck and pressed the button. The needle pierced his skin, injecting poison straight into him.

Roaring, he rolled over, tossing her off like a child. Grabbing her arm, he used his strength and mass to toss her over himself and slam her into the ground.

Even with the PFG she felt the impact. Her brain rattled in her skull, her shoulder dislocated and her body was painfully jolted by the sudden stop. Blood gushed from her nose and she couldn't breathe.

Counterpoint didn't let go. Taking her arm with both hands he flipped her again, even harder and faster. Tendons and ligaments in her shoulder and all along her arm tore. She tried to shriek in pain, but only a gasp came out, then she hit the ground face first. She heard a crunch, and her vision turned dark for several seconds.

She expected him to throw her again, instead he dropped her.

Turning her head, she could see blood streaming from under his helmet. It looked like a waterfall. His skin was scarlet and veins bulged as the poison made his blood pressure sky rocket. Clutching his chest, he collapsed. She'd killed him. She hadn't had a choice.

His death wasn't special. She'd killed so many, one more psycho shouldn't matter. But she'd done it as Jane Fisher, in the open, with no way to cover it up. He'd been going to kill her, still Jane wasn't supposed to be a murderer. She was supposed to be boring, quiet, harmless.

She'd destroyed herself.

The zombies were coming closer. She could move. Pain was her companion, proof that she was still alive, it wouldn't slow her down much.

She didn't want to move. Better to die and get it over with than keep going. Mille had been too cowardly to die. She could succeed where he'd failed.

Counterpoint groaned. Then he coughed and gagged. Blood flew from his mouth. Somehow he was alive and trying to rise.

Just Me shifted, fusing her bones, closing the cuts, braiding torn and stretched tendons back together. The coward forced her to stand up. She couldn't die. She deserved to die, but she couldn't. The coward refused to go down without a fight, without causing more death and pain before she went.

She took a second injector from her belt and slammed it into her leg. The potent chemicals raced through her veins. The pain faded away, the exhaustion left her body, the fire in her chest raged back to life. The stimulant would help her keep moving for a little longer. It was her only one, once it wore off she'd collapse. Still, in the shape she was in, a second one would probably kill her.

Limping to the fallen spear, she drew her plasma knife. It slowly sliced through the staff. Three cuts and the thing was useless. Glaring at Counterpoint, she almost went over to drive it into his neck

“I can't do that,” she whispered to herself.

Putting the plasma knife back in her belt, she ran away from the zombies and the slowly recovering Counterpoint.

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Bad Seeds Table,
Crystal Hall

At the Bad Seed table in Crystal Hall, all eyes left their phones and tablets where the Counterpoint and Just Me combat final was playing, to look at Jobe who was actually laughing. It took her a moment to realize she was the centre of attention.

“What?” the drow asked. “Counterpoint is being humiliated by a no name freshman girl, this is hilarious.”

“Do you know where she got that poison?” Winter asked.

“I didn't give it to her. If I had Counterpoint wouldn't be getting up.”

Winter turned to Jadis. “Do you know anything about her?”

Jadis gave a small nod. “She's best friends with the gadgeteer who was beaten for supposedly being Mille's son.”

“Could she be related to him instead?”

“The Canadian government says she's an orphan suffering from amnesia,” Jadis replied, letting them come to the obvious conclusion.

The Bad Seeds went back to their screens with renewed interest.

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Control Room

On screen, which they still couldn't turn off, Just Me slashed and cut her way past a group of zombies, She was dancing around them with an expertise he'd only seen in exemplars and experienced killers. The fake clumsiness was long gone, so were the signs of someone who was out of practice. In the fifteen minutes of fighting, she'd become faster and deadlier despite her growing number of injuries.

Bardue looked over at Delarose. “Chief, just who the hell is that girl, and who trained her?”

Delarose didn't take his eyes off the monitor. “That is the million dollar question, Gunny. But I'm more concerned about who made her reveal this side of herself.”

“I've got control of the ANTs!” a tech shouted.

“Get them away from Just Me,” Bardue ordered. “How is Counterpoint doing?”

“He's mostly shaken off whatever poison she hit him with and is killing anything he sees.”

“Send him more toys to play with, and try to lead him away from Just. If they see each other again, we're going to need a body bag, maybe two of them.”

“Can you get her a car, Gunny?” the Chief asked.

“Why?” Bardue asked.

“She's flagging. In a car she'll have a bit more protection.”

Nodding in agreement, he gave the order.

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Arena 99

Just leaned against a news paper stand, sweat dripping from her face, her heart racing so fast it hurt. Her PFG had cut out in the last fight, and her body ached from poorly quick healed bites and bruises. She didn't know how much longer she could keep going.

A car came around the corner, the first one she'd seen since the fighting had started. The driver pulled up beside her. “Need a lift?” he asked.

She opened the driver's door, grabbed his shirt and threw him out onto the street. Ignoring his shouts, she climbed in and started driving. Her thoughts were fuzzy, everything was distant, not quite real.

Driving along the road, she made sure to stay away from the zombies when possible. Circling the arena, she wondered how long she'd been fighting for. Or had she died and this was her hell?

Rubbing her head, she tried to focus.

At some point she saw Counterpoint. He was running away from the zombies. He didn't look panicked. Judging by how he was looking at the buildings and doorways he was searching for someone, definitely her. He'd keep trying to kill her. If he couldn't get her specifically, he'd go after her friends. He wouldn't be able to help himself. He was just like Mille's enemies, never resting until he got what he wanted.

“I shouldn't disappoint him,” she said to herself.

Stepping on the gas, the car roared down the street. Counterpoint saw her coming, she could picture his grin at the sight of her. He was tough and crazy, if she tried to hit him, he'd jump through the windshield. His armour and power would let him survive, and he'd heal the damage. Drive past, he'd break a side window and climb in. He was fast enough it might work.

Doing up her seatbelt, Just Me drove faster, aiming right for him.

He got ready to jump.

She yanked on the parking break while spinning the wheel. The wheels screeched and her stomach lurched as the car flipped.

Everything went black, metal shrieked and banged around her. Her head rang as the airbag exploded in her face. Poorly healed bones snapped once more. She screamed. Then it was all over. Hanging upside down by her seatbelt, she healed her bones and moved the bruises around. Taking out a knife, she freed herself, whimpering as she fell on her head. She was alive, that was all that mattered.

Crawling out of the car, she looked for Counterpoint. The sound of the Zombie ANTs was getting close, she should run away before they got close enough to attack, she didn't have the strength to fight off a horde of them. But there was something she needed to do first.

Counterpoint had lost his helmet, the blood covering his face was thick enough to hide his identity. He was feebly pushing at the car, which had bent around his body instead of crushing him, thanks to his powers. He was trapped under it, and in the shape he was in it would take at least a few minutes before he healed enough to crawl out. From the look in his eyes he had a concussion from the impact. Hopefully he'd be able to understand and remember what she had to say.

Shifting muscle and flesh, her arm and shoulders became thicker, giving her an unbalanced looked. Using the increased strength she drove the knife into his hand and the body of the car. Counterpoint whimpered a little. The pain seemed to help him focus on her.

“You bitch.” he slurred.

She rapidly shifted her face, making herself look like Majestic, then Cytheria, Judicator, Feral, and finally ended on his own face. Only her eyes stayed the same icy blue, without any trace of mercy in them. “If you come after me or my friends, I will kill you. Anyone you meet could be me, you'll never know when you'll get a knife in the back, a bullet in the head, poison in your food, or a bomb slipped into your book bag. Don't push me again.”

With the zombies closing in, she ran off. Hopefully they'd be able to end the scenario soon, before anything else went wrong.

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The arena door finally opened and the Wild Pack rushed in alongside the security squad. Flying over the buildings, they quickly found Just Me limping down a trashed and bloody street, the ANTs long gone. She was holding a gun in her right hand and a knife in her left, her clothes and exposed skin caked in blood.

Mindbird couldn't stop feeling the rush of emotions coming from the girl. Anger was the most obvious at first, it was almost as strong as what she usually felt from Bloodwolf or Counterpoint when they were about to go on a tear. As they got closer, she felt despair beneath the anger, muted by the rage, but coating everything like oil. It wasn't the sharp despair of someone about to break down in tears or commit suicide, it was older, deep and omnipresent. And then she felt the pain, it was faint, seemingly an afterthought for the girl.

Landing down the street from Just Me, they held their hands up letting her know they weren't armed. The girl didn't notice them until they were almost on the ground. When she did the gun rose up pointing straight at Stormwolf's head. There was no hesitation, no shaking, and to Mindbird's surprise, no change in emotion.

“Just Me, security has control of the system again,” Stormwolf said. “We're here to help you get to the exit where a medical team is waiting for you.”

For several long seconds Just Me didn't lower the gun. Her blue eyes were glazed and it seemed like she hadn't understood them, then she lowered her arm. The girl didn't drop or put away her gun, it was still firmly in her grasp, but at least she didn't look ready to kill anyone.

Mindbird walked up to the girl, while the others stood back. Hopefully seeing another girl would help Just Me stay calm. “I'm going to fly you to the entrance, OK,” she said. “Your friends are there waiting for you.”

Just Me didn't say anything, she just put the knife into her belt, which had to be from Mobius, and stepped forward, raising her arm to wrap it around Mindbird's neck.

“Can you put the gun down?” Mind Bird asked.

In an exhausted, monotone voice, devoid of any emotion, the girl simply said, “No.”

The superhero in training didn't like how close the pistol would be to her body. Sure her suit would protect her, but getting shot at point blank range would not be fun, even if her armour stopped it completely. Still the girl hadn't threatened them once she knew they were on her side. And taking the gun might set her off. The girl looked ready to collapse, but after how she'd dealt with Counterpoint, keeping her calm seemed like the best and safest option. Who knew what else she had in her belt.

Sighing, she picked Just Me up and headed for the medics.

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The Tunnels

Ferret shut off the combat finals video feed.

He'd known there would be a fight, anything with Counterpoint meant there was going to be blood. He hadn't realized he'd try to torture and murder the girl. And he hadn't expected Just Me to almost kill him. Just what had he gotten involved in?

Looking around his private computer lab, he realized it was all compromised.

If Counterpoint had just beat her up, even if he'd put Just Me into Doyle, Ferret could have claimed it was a personal challenge that got out of control. But that girl had training, she wasn't an ordinary student. What was supposed to be a small beat down had turned into a death match. Security was not going to take it lightly.

“Fuck me,” he said, cupping his face as he realized what he'd have to do.

He sent a message and payment through an anonymous third party. In ten minutes all the cameras in the nearby tunnels would stop recording for anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes. More than enough time for him to get out. There were no working cameras in his immediate area that could pinpoint his lab or prove he'd been there, that had been one reason he'd paid so much to L33T, when the senior had graduated two years ago. His fingers raced over the keyboard, initiating cleaner programs that would wipe out every connection between his lab and the outside world, while shredding all the data on his computers. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would help muddy things up. With his regular security precautions, it should keep any big red arrows from pointing at him.

His timer beeped. The cameras were out, and it was time to go. Opening a safe, he took out three plasma bombs. Placing them around the room where the blasts would hit every part of his setup, he set the timers.

Leaving his lab, taking only his coat with him, Ferret closed the hidden door and as casually as possible made his way out of the tunnel. He never heard the bombs detonate, turning all his equipment, and any evidence he'd been there into ash.

Arnold had better come through on his end.

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Arena 99, Briefing Room

Sitting in the briefing room, healed of the immediate damage but with her body still aching from taking so much damage and the forced healing she'd done, Chief Delarose, Gunny Bardue, and Sensei Ito watched her. Jane ignored them and the blood that covered her face, hands and clothes, too focused on drinking a bottle of water, waiting for the shakes to go away.

"Where did you get trained?" Gunny asked.

"I don't remember," she replied, looking him dead in the eye, daring the old man to challenge her.

Seeing her stubborness, Gunny tried a different tact. “Just Me, why did you take the mask off? You could have revealed your identity to anyone watching.”

The stupidity of the question made her grin. fighting back nearly hysterical laughter, Jane hid her face behind her hand. When she moved it a second later, a completely different looking girl was grinning at them. “What does it matter? I can be anyone,” she said. Her features altered again as she waved her hand. “I can be any girl or woman you want.” She did it again, looking like Headmistress Carson, she even sounded like her. “Come on, tell me what you want, I've got a million of them.”

“Why were you holding back?” Chief Delarose asked, now that she seemed off balance.

Her eyes flared momentarily, then the nearly manic expression disappeared. A few seconds later she was wearing her usual face and brown eyes. Pulling a knife from her belt, she slammed it onto the table. Her voice was low, almost a hiss. “If you want your problem child dead, do it yourself.”

She got up heading for the door, leaving the knife. “I need to go to Doyle, I don't want to take another header down some stairs.”

No one said anything as she left.

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Kane Hall,
Evening

Chief Delarose sat behind his desk looking at The Imp. He'd been hoping to avoid this conversation, but whoever had hacked the finals for Just Me, had forced his hand.

“Imp, I need your help.”

She grinned. “If you want to make a deal with the devil, I'm your girl.”

He didn't smile back. “I need you to find out something about the assassin Mille. Use any connections you have, this is important. Did he have a child, his own or someone he was training?”

There were two reasonable answers for Just Me's skill and the reason she had killed Fusco, either she was closely connected to Mille, or she was Mille himself. If it was the first one, it would make his job a lot easier.

Frowning, Imp leaned back in her chair. “This is serious isn't it?”

“Extremely. Three students have almost died because of this.”

“I can't name any names. But in November I had a student call in a favour I owed her father. She didn't give me any names, she kept everything very close to her chest, but only Mille would know about that particular favour.”

“What did she want?”

“Blueprints, associates, and the schedule of an individual who is no longer with us.”

“Did she say if she had lived with Mille or trained under him?”

“Like I said she played things close to her chest. All she admitted to was getting a letter after manifesting. It was from Mille and listed me as someone who owed him a favour. I wasn't sure if I should believe her, now I really doubt her sincerity.”

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Dickinson Cottage
After Midnight
December 14th, 2007

Smile sat on her bed, staring across the room at Jane's empty bed. Her roommate was in Doyle, resting from a concussion and getting proper healing, not the makeshift healing she'd done to herself during the fight.

Despite the late hour, sleep refused to come. Almost every time she closed her eyes, the bloody combat final appeared. When she wasn't seeing Jane and Counterpoint killing ANT's, gouging out eyes, or torturing each other, she saw Jane's bloody and expressionless face after the fight. She'd expected to see something in her friend's eyes, pain, shock, horror, anything. But the blue eyes had been empty and soulless. They might as well have been carved from ice.

The blue eyes terrified her. After Shaun had been attacked in November, Jane had had the same icy blue eyes. Her roommate had been so angry then, even if it only showed a few times. Despite the anger and looking like she was ready to kill someone, Smile had believed that Jane was harmless. It made sense to be angry after getting attacked and seeing her best friend beaten almost to death. It didn't make her dangerous.

But the combat final proved Smile wrong.

No one normal would have fought like Jane had. She'd been acting helpless at first, just like she had all year. When Counterpoint forced her to fight, the blue eyed monster had come out, trying to kill the boy.

Being in BMA, Smile had hurt people, bruising them while sparring, and by making mistakes in practice. She was learning to fight so that when her murderous parents came back into her life, she'd be able to fight them and bring them to justice. Violence was something she was becoming used to.

And despite that, what Jane had done was out of her worst nightmares. Gouging out Counterpoint's eyes. Using poison that would have killed anyone without regeneration. Killing people who just threatened her or had something she needed. The people had been ANT's, but they still looked so human. When Smile had done her combat final, she'd done everything she could to not hurt the ANT's.

Where had Jane learned to do all of that? She claimed to have amnesia, but that was an easy thing to fake. Was everything she'd said and done a lie?

Since her friend was so good at fighting, why was she in Survival? Why had she been so reluctant to join their training team? Why did she just passively accept any insult or bullying?

She tried to think things through, looking at everything, including her own emotions, just like Aria had taught her in the spring. Usually Jane was quiet, shy, and tried to avoid fighting or even arguments. It was just after something bad happened that she became scary. When it had happened just before Thanksgiving, Smile hadn't been sure if her friend would recover. Then when Jane came back from Canada just after the holiday, she'd looked traumatized. Smile recognized that lost and hopeless look all too well, having seen it many times in the past year when she'd looked at herself in the mirror.

What had Jane gone through to be so... broken.

And after what she'd done that day, could she recover?

More importantly, was Smile up to helping her recover?

Despite her codename, and generally upbeat attitude, Smile knew she was still healing from her parents betrayal. If she had panic attacks just from being around Jane, it wouldn't be good for either of them. And if Jane didn't go back to her usual self, was it even safe being around her?

Did she even know what Jane's usual self was? Was it the quiet brown eyed girl, who hugged her when she was feeling sad, listened to her talk things out, helped her with makeup and homework? Or was the real Jane the blue eyed killer?

Had she killed someone? Or was she just trained to kill?

Jane had said her first memory was wandering into an emergency room, badly bruised and suffering hypothermia. Had she been told to kill someone and refused, then ran away? Or had she been hurt in some screwed up mission and really had amnesia.

The thoughts and questions ran through her mind, refusing to go away and let her rest.

What was she going to do when she saw Jane in the morning?

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Crystal Hall
Breakfast
December 14th, 2007

Jane walked to her usual table, trying to ignore the looks and whispers that followed her. Instead of being ignored like usual, it seemed that everyone was staring at her, talking about her. Her fight with Counterpoint yesterday evening had been the talk of the school apparently. The weak little girl who had seizures wasn't forgettable anymore.

Taking a seat, she didn't look directly at her friends, just ducked her head and started eating the large protein rich breakfast she needed to help recover from the damage she'd taken. A discreet glance, only using her eyes, showed her the worried, nervous looks the others were giving her. Smile was actually shaking a little.

“We didn't know you were getting out of Doyle this morning. So...” Shaun started, then stopped.

No one filled in the silence.

As she finished her sausage and spinach omelette, Jane thought about running away. Her identity was shattered. They'd seen what she could do. The test had been rigged, designed to reveal who she was. If they didn't know she had been Mille, they'd realize she was close to him. Everything Mille and she had done had been for nothing.

If she ran away, they'd just track her down like they'd tracked down Mille. Her hopes of a calm, peaceful, boring life were gone. Focusing on the knife, she pictured it cutting into her throat. That would end things once and for all. She could write it all down, admit everything she'd done. Mille's enemies would get their satisfaction, she'd have her peace, and no one would have any reason to go after Shaun.

Smile stood up with her still nearly full tray.

It was time to stop being a coward. She'd end it all that night, she decided. There was no reason to draw things out.

Jane almost jumped when Smile sat down beside her.

“I don't know what you've been through, or why you learned everything you did in the finals,” Smile said. “But I know that look you have. You've been through hell and it seems like you're still there. Don't stop walking. You're my friend, if you need help, you can ask me. I'll help you keep going, you just have to let me.”

The weight of everything she'd been carrying came crashing down. Her hands shook so hard, the silverware fell from her fingers. She'd thought she'd forgotten how to cry years ago, yet somehow tears were streaking her cheeks.

Her roommate and friend wrapped her in a hug. There was no hesitation or fear in the tiny girl. Jane found herself hugging her back, hiding her face in Smile's shoulder as a decade of tears were finally released.

 

The End

Read 2743 times Last modified on Wednesday, 27 December 2023 13:28
Dan Formerly Domoviye

Check out some of my original stories on Royal Road.

Comments

Oz1eye
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Oz1eye
2 months ago
Ten stars! The last paragraph had me weeping along with her.
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Dan Formerly Domoviye
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Dan Formerly Domoviye
2 months ago
Thank you!
The last paragraph had me a little teary eyed as well.
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