Chapter 5: Interlude
Disclaimer: If you recognize it from the movie, I don't own it.
Warnings: OC character (kind of) - I've given Freeze Girl a name and a character
Pairing: Warren/OC, Will/Layla, Zach/Majenta
Summary: Call a halt to the madness
Author's Note: First posted at FF.net
Chapter 1 - MELINDA
Chapter 2 - THE STRONGHOLDS
Chapter 3 - MONDAY
Chapter 4 - DETENTE
The next couple of weeks flew by. Classes went on like always, but now they had self-imposed homework to do as well. While Jetstream and the Commander poured over the Tenney family history, Ethan paired the group off and assigned each pair a list of different villains who had "disappeared" over the years. They were supposed to look for any clues to their possible fate, as well as the psychology of each villain. Were they the right "type" to take care of a baby or two? Melinda winced at the length of the list she was helping on.
I knew super-villains were a problem, but this is ridiculous!
Ethan was working by himself on some of the more esoteric names – this was his area of expertise. The rest of them had never been quite so enthralled with the topic. In an attempt to balance out the pairs, he had matched up Layla and Zach; Maj and Will; and Melinda and Warren. She grinned, remembering his logic.
Ethan pushed his glasses back and handed out three lists to his friends after pairing them off.
"It's not that I don't think you'll work on this, but, well, after watching how you do homework, I think these pairs will work out better. I mean, Will, you and Layla distract each other too much and you and Zach can't stay serious long enough. Zach, you'd pay too much attention to Maj."
He stopped and Melinda raised an eyebrow.
"And Warren and I?"
Glancing around, his eyes skittered a bit before settling on her. She bit back a grin – he looked just the tiniest bit nervous.
"Well, I figured you two would work well together, or at least not . . . ah . . . set each other off. You've also got more experience at this kind of research, so I gave you the longest list. I'd considered other matches, but I didn't think they'd work as well. I mean, Zach couldn't be put with either of you for one."
Melinda and Warren glanced at Zach's outraged face and shook their heads in unison. His constant motion would have driven one of them right past their limits. It would not have been a good idea – barbequed or frozen.
"Good move, Popsicle."
Ethan started, surprised at the comment. A sharp smile crossed Maj's face as Layla giggled and Will stifled a smile. Zach looked around, frowning.
"I don't see why it wouldn't have worked. I can do serious."
At that, even Warren grinned, fleeting though it was, and Will gave up any attempt at hiding his humor. Zach huffed and turned back to his homework. Silence reigned for maybe three minutes before Zach's short attention span snapped.
"Hey, did any of you see Boomer's new ride? It's, like, the same color as Medulla's mimicking potion – the glowing lime green one, you know?"
The group broke up laughing. No one bothered arguing any further with Ethan's pairs.
They had been driving themselves ragged trying to search through old records and news articles. Some of the list could be written off pretty quickly, but most of it required a lot of work. Heaven help them if some of these people were really involved: Hellstorm – this guy made Baron Battle look like a neighborhood bully; Sandman – he could put even the strongest telepath to sleep; Rampage – her battle rage gave the Commander pause. All of this really had to be done though. Who knew what collection of villains had been brought together by Royal Pain? Now that their first plan had been trashed, what might they be planning next?
Melinda looked across the table at her "study partner." One definite good had come out of the past two weeks – their friendship with Will's group had solidified. Melinda found herself playing "big sister" to the entire group of freshmen. As an only child, and a bit of a loner, she enjoyed her new role, even though she was only one year older. Warren was slower to accept the group, but he would often be the mediator when a dispute broke out. Granted, he tended to be a sarcastic, even caustic mediator, sometimes leaving the impression he thought they were all mental, but at least he was trying.
Right now though his usual scowl was deeper than ever. The long hours were taking their toll, and he had to work a real job as well. Pressing her fingertips to her temples, she made a decision. Reaching over, she closed his book at the same time she pushed hers aside.
"That's it. I'm making an executive decision and calling a temporary halt to this insanity."
He leaned back in his chair, tilting it to stretch out even further. Looking at her through partially closed eyes, he smirked.
"What's the matter, Snowflake? A meltdown imminent?"
Giving only a half-hearted glare, she leaned forward.
"Every single one of us is exhausted – you more than the rest of us since you have a real job. However, all of us are over-stressed. If we don't get a breather, something…someone…is going to break, or get sloppy. Either way, we'll lose time, not to mention what it'll do to our schoolwork. We are taking some time off. Period; end of subject; I'm done; good-bye."
"So, what would you suggest?"
"Halloween is coming up, so that'll be a good excuse. The school is doing a party to make up for Homecoming being such a disaster. We've got a week to get ready."
"Uh, no, I'm not doing the tux again."
She rolled her eyes.
"Halloween, Hothead – you'd only wear a tux if you were going as James Bond. You need a costume."
Before he could say anything else, she grabbed her things and stood up. He stared up at her for a full minute before she sighed. This one time she would resort to pleading.
"Come on Warren! Even you've got to admit we need a rest. Zach is dragging around; Layla snapped at Mr. Boy just yesterday; and Ethan received an 89 in Medulla's class. It's just a simple Halloween party – tell you what, you don't even have to wear a costume. Just help me get the others to chill for a while?"
Rubbing his hands over his face, he started muttering under his breath.
"Just a simple party she says. Right, like the last one?"
He shook his head.
"Never mind. All right, Snowflake, let's go."
He stood up gesturing her ahead of him. From the look on his face, he would have felt better facing a death threat. She could deal with that later. Right now, the important thing was getting away from the research for a little while and be somewhat normal.
A couple of phone calls later and everyone congregated at the Stronghold residence. Melinda could not quite figure out how Will's house had become their unofficial headquarters, but it had. All of their big discussions, not to mention study sessions, took place under this roof. Sometimes Will's parents joined in, but mostly they respected the group's autonomy. Today, Mrs. Stronghold just smiled as everyone came dragging in. As soon as they had all gathered in the den, Will turned to Melinda.
"What's up? Did you and Warren find something?"
She shook her head as Warren snorted.
"Nope. Snowflake decided to stage a one-woman revolt. I'm along for the moral support."
Drawing herself up, she stared him down with her most impressive glare. After holding the pose for ten seconds or so, she stuck her tongue out at him and turned to the others.
"I chose to make a life-saving decision and call for a break."
Maj lifted an eyebrow.
"Yes, on account that one of us was ready to snap and go postal - probably on the next idiot at school that looked at us wrong."
Most of the group started nodding. Even Ethan gave a small smile. Zach, who had dropped full out on the ground when they had first come in, looked up at her.
"What'd you come up with?"
She gave them all a full smile.
"The Halloween dance is in a week. We are going to take the time to find costumes, and we are going to the party."
As everyone thought about it, she could almost see their minds trying to percolate. Nobody was firing on all cylinders – more proof that a rest was in order. Still, she could see some disagreement, even a little guilt creeping into their expressions. After all, could they really afford to take the time?
Warren cleared his throat.
"I hate to agree with the whole party idea, but Snowflake's right. We've got to take a break. Right now, we wouldn't be able to see a villain's plan if they emailed us the blueprints and the rough draft of the evil monologue. We're starting to get sloppy, and it'll show up at school in another couple of days. Either we take a short breather now, or we get a longer one when we lose it to nervous exhaustion. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I vote for the dance."
The others nodded. Their expressions ranged from reluctant agreement to desperate relief. Layla spoke up.
"So, we take a week to relax, go to the party and start fresh that next Monday?"
Everyone agreed to that, so they started planning for the dance. While the guys were going to find their own costumes, the girls agreed to get together the following morning for a girls' day.