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by Matt Rossi and Peter Milan

February 14. The date that makes brave men weep and cops turn in their badges. A quiet hush of equal parts expectation and desperation settled over Georgetown as the young and hormonal sought out dates.

Connor and Mike sat in the cafeteria and watched as sweet- hearts exchanged SweeTarts. It was the height of the lunch hour, and the special was cake with pink frosting, which seemed very appropriate to the two of them.

"Look at this," Connor said disgustedly, motioning at the red and pink crepe paper that hung from the walls. "It's no' got anything ta do wi' love. No' to do with romance. It's just bloody chocolates an' greetin' cards."

"Uh-huh," Mike said.

"I mean, the idea of settin' aside one day for matters o' the heart. If ye really love someone ye're supposed ta show it every day, no' just when Hallmark tells ye to."


"I saw these poor clueless bastards in the bookstore this mornin'. Ever' one of them lookin' around wi' cow eyes, wonderin' what the hell's goin' on. The whole thing makes me sick."

"So Melanie turned you down, huh?"

"Larry got there first. Bastard."

"Aw, relax," Mike said. "He'll just spend two hours talking about how, you know, how he archived the waiter's movements and that's how they got such a good table."

"Archived what?" Angela pulled up a chair and sat at their table.

"Ah, nothin'," Connor said. "I'm just wallowin' in misery."

"You do that a lot."

"He's got those down-and-dirty wanna-get-flirty-but-the-girl's- goin'-out-with-another-guy blues," Mike said. "Hey, speaking of which, when do we meet Mr. Faboo?"

"Bill's getting to Union Station around noon. We're going to do a little sightseeing, and then..." A wicked grin crosses her face.

"Bow-chicka-BOW-bow-bow!" Mike and Connor sang in unison.

"Oh yeah," Angela replied. "It's been way too long."

"Tell me about it," Connor said. "No, really, tell me about it. Vividly. Use visual aids."

"What about Jake?"

"Let him get his own visual aids!"

"Ahem," Angela ahemmed. "Jake is going to be in the lab all night. He claims he's trying to reproduce some extinct animal from stored DNA. I don't know what that's supposed to mean, but it should keep him out of my hair."

"Jaysis," Connor said, shaking his head. "Him and Martin, what a pair of tightasses..."

"Martin? Sort of a nervous-looking guy with big eyes?"

"That's him."

"He does look like he needs loosening up."

There was a loud pop of an audio system being connected that caused all three of them to jump. Then, drippy romantic music began to play.

"Oh, man, the Titanic song," Mike said, standing up. "Goombye. I've got my limits. Besides, I gotta do my show anyway..."

"I'll join ye," Connor said. "Angela, use protection. I suggest a pointy stick."

"You're a pig, Connor."

"Yeah, but the ladies love me."

"Jake?" Scott ducked under an ever-widening network of test- tubes and approached Jake's workstation in the science lab. Actually, this particular lab had pretty much been given over to the teenager, who had already published two papers during his brief stay at the university.

His chair was vacant. Scott leaned forward and peered at the contents of the petri dish on the table. As he did, however, a loud shrill shriek in his right ear caused him to jump back.

He turned and saw an angry-looking monkey in a cage screaming at him. It was thrust against the bars, reaching out as if to tear out his eyes. There was a hand-lettered sign posted on the wall above the cage: DON'T FUCK WITH CHET.

"Hey," Jake said, toting a fresh can of Surge. "What's up?"

"What's this?" Scott said, pointing at the monkey.

"What? Oh. That's Chet. Don't fuck with him."

"Uh...okay. I won't. What's he doing here?"

"They were doing some kind of skin cancer research on him over in the west labs. When they ran out of funding, I offered to give him a home." He laid a finger alongside one of Chet's hands. "They gave me the sign, too."

"So he serves no real purpose, then."

"Well, gee, Scott, I like to think that all life serves a purpose, no matter how small."

"Ah. So that's why you ordered..." Scott showed Jake the small sheaf of invoices in his hands. "...a ring-tailed lemur, a Macau parrot, an aye-aye, and a turtle, is it?"

"Well, no. The lemur and the parrot are for the experiment I'm working on. The aye-aye, I just wanted to see if they could find one. The turtle...I always wanted a turtle."

Scott sighed and gave the kid a skeptical look.

"What are you working on?"

"It's a surprise," Jake said, and took his seat. "Really. I mean, I could tell you, but trust me, it'll be better as a surprise."

"Can you give me a hint?"

"I'm attempting to construct an animal from base DNA."

"It's not a long-tailed hamster, is it?"


"Jake, how am I supposed to explain this to the acquisitions department?"

"Tell them it's for science. Scott, trust me. What I'm doing here is going to be so cool." Jake grinned, and Scott was doomed. It was the first time he'd seen the kid genuinely excited about a project since coming to the school. He sighed, defeated.

"You're not getting the turtle."

"All right, all right...but if they find the aye-aye, it's mine."

Martin realized it was earning him a lot of stares... concerned stares, at that...but he couldn't really help himself: he'd always found it the most effective way of analyzing his thoughts.

"So, I mean, it is understandable that I'd be conflicted, right?" The February air was cold and sunlight flashed into his eyes, intermittently blocked by low-hanging trees, so that he was continuously squinting. "I mean, they seem really cool... Connor's a great, if slightly pushy, guy, and Mike's cool, and Jake's OK for a fifteen year old genius...and then there's Angela...and they all seem like nice people."

He rounded the corner and began heading for the library. It was his turn to open the place, and the keys jangled in his cold hands...should have dug out his gloves...but he felt that the subject hadn't been covered yet. He passed a couple of young sorority girls he remembered seeing with Connor at the Rathskellar, both of whom gave him the hairiest of eyeballs as they walked by.

"But still, they're...well, Omegas. You know? And that means...well, does it mean anything?"

Martin knew what his father would say: Hell yes it means something. It means they're Hellspawn. After Martin's mother died, dad had been sliding deeper and deeper into the Alpha movement. Martin himself had been required to memorize the Alpha Manifesto. And, Martin still had to admit to himself, part of him had to admit that his father's views had some logic on their side. Omegas do have powers ordinary humans can only think about. They can twist around the rules of life that normal humans like Martin have to live by.

But it was easier to look at a photo in Time Magazine and hate that than it was to tell a smirking Scotsman who invited you to his room because he thought you and he were in the same boat that he was a demon from hell, an express agent of Armageddon, Satan's messenger on Earth.

"If he is. If." Martin was so caught up in what he was thinking that he didn't notice a very, very tall man standing in front of the library. Until he walked into the man's back. He looked up and prepared to apologize.

There was a nine foot tall man with long red horns and a black actual black goatee...staring down at Martin. His eyes were like smouldering coals, his skin the color of sunset.

It was the Devil.

The Devil was standing in front of the library, waiting for Martin.

"Uhn." Martin tried to shout something, anything. "Can... can I help you?" No! You were supposed to scream 'Avant, Demon from the pit!' Now it's going to consume your soul!

"Yeah. My name's Carlos Hasseen...I'm looking for the SOTC project? I'm supposed to be teaching a class in proper use of pyrokinetic powers. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes, sir." NO! TELL IT TO QUIT THY MORTAL SIGHT, FOR THIS WORLD IS DENIED IT! "That'd be over there, near the dorms." Martin pointed, and the Devil looked and nodded.

"Oh, okay. Thanks a lot. Sorry about that."

"No problem at all, sir." As the Devil walked towards the SOTC project, Martin calmly walked to the Library door and began to unlock it. "Because I've decided that you weren't real, that that didn't just happen, and that I need a nap. Maybe two naps."

"...and you're listening to WJMC, the voice of Georgetown. Coming up, we've got the Goth show, and...uh, looks like they're gonna be doing a special Valentine's show! Embrace the pain, kids..."

Mike listened off-handedly to Bruce, the Friday morning DJ. WJMC tried to stay as close to being a real radio station as a college station could, which meant staying open on the weekends...which meant Mike was doing not just his regular Friday night show, but a Sunday afternoon fill in.

"Whatcha doing Sunday afternoon?" Mike said, going through the contents of his office box. He pulled out a blue flier, claiming that "Calliope" would be playing at the campus coffeehouse this Sunday.

"Nothin'," Connor replied.

"Cool. We're doin' radio."

"Brilliant!" They stepped out into the hallway and walked towards the student union. " gonna ask Val out for tonight?"

"Nah. Got my show to do."


"Good? Why good?"

"Ah, nae, nae, no' good like that. If I can get Val to go along with what I have planned, it's gonna seriously fook with Larry's program."


"Aye, I know, I'm why didn't ye ask Val out?"

"Didn't feel like it."

"Ye like her, right?"

Mike sighed, looking around for something to derail this conversation.

"Yeah," he finally admitted. "Yeah, I like her. But it's not like she's shown any interest in me. Shit, you saw her at that party last week, she was all over that Rho Alpha Pi guy..."

"Ah, come on. That's just flirtin' with some frat boy. Besides, she tossed a drink in the bastard's face a sec later, eh? Ye should try it."

"You want me to flirt with frat guys?"

"Ye know what I mean," Connor said, smacking him in the shoulder.

"She is cute..."

"I wouldnae think her yer type. She's a wee bit on the heavy side..."

"Yeah, but the distribution...besides, skinny girls are boring. It's like the difference between driving along a country road and driving down the highway."

Connor gave him a skeptical look.

"Fookin' farm boys..."

William Lee stepped into the Amtrak area and was immediately tackled. He never saw it coming; just a red-and-black blur to his right, and then he was on the ground. He found himself alternately gasping and laughing as Angela covered him with kisses.

"I missed you too," he managed to get out.

"I kiss missed kiss you kiss so kiss much! kiss kiss How was kiss your kiss ride?"

"Long and tiring." He looked up at her, smiling. "Hey, you."

"Hey." She got off him and helped him to his feet. "Just the one bag?"

"Yep. I figure I wouldn't need to pack much..."

"Uh-huh. What's in the bag then?"

"Nothing, nothing..." He leaned forward and kissed her deeply. "Oh, man, it's a million years to Christmas. Or from Christmas."

"Think you can restrain yourself until tonight?"

"Well, I'm not, uh, did get your roomamte out of the way, right?"

"Oh, yeah." She slung her arm around his waist as they walked. "Jake'll be in the lab all night."

"Great," he said, kissing the top of her head. It's to his credit that it took them all the way to the elevators for that to sink in.


"Okay," Melanie said, turning around. "What do you think?"

"You look great," Val said. "Just like how you looked in the last three outfits." She was seated on Melanie's bed in the dorm, watching Mel try on a series of eveningwear.

"I just want to look right."

"Mel, it's Larry. He's not gonna notice anyway."

"Mmmm-hmmm." She looked herself over in the mirror. Nice dress. Nice hair. Great shoes. Maybe it needs a necklace...she went rummaging through a desk drawer.

"So explain this whole thing to me again," Val said. "He comes up to you and gives you a rabbit's foot and you kiss him?"

"It's a little more complicated than that," Mel replied.

"Like how?"

"Like....I don't know. It was snowing and it was Christmas, and he was...he was sweet. He was just Larry. You know, not LARRY. Did you ever think this whole overbearing thing is just an act?"

"Think it? No. Hope it..."

Melanie sniffed and picked out a thin gold chain with a charm on the end of it; a four-leaf clover. The rabbit's foot had gotten her on a lucky charm kick and she'd picked up this trinket in an Old Town shop upon returning to school.

"So what are you doing tonight?"

"Whole lotta nothin'."

"Why don't you go see what Mike's doing?"

"I know what he's doing. He's doing his show." Val sighed and stood up. "Look, you've seen me, right? I've been sending out the signals, right?"

"Oh, sure," Mel replied. "Obviously. Almost brazenly."

"So what am I doing wrong?"

"...Maybe he's one of those guys who only responds to the direct approach. You ought to just go up to him and say, 'I think you're cute. Go out with me.'"

"...oh, I don't think so."


The pillow missed her head by an inch or two.

"Watch the hair, willya?"

Larry looked at himself in the mirror.

"I say God DAMN! I look great. Look at this. Look at the way that suit looks on you..."

Yeah, great, he thought. I look like a bank manager.

He brushed back his hair until it had achieved just the right level of poofiness.

"You magnificent pagan god," he murmured to himself. "You hedonistic idol, you."

You just keep telling yourself that, stud.

"She'll be putty in your hands. Look at you, you handsome devil. Look at that jaw."

There's a zit on the end of it.

"Okay. Be funny. Be charming. Be yourself."

Just don't talk about yourself all night...

Feeling terribly schizophrenic, Larry started removing the suit so he could take a nap. He felt like he could use one.

Mike dug through the contents of his closet. He was sure he'd left that Matthew Sweet CD in here somewhere. He lifted up a set of tapes, revealing a white envelope. It was addressed with his father's name.

He sighed and sat on the floor of the closet. He'd written the letter when he returned to school, but hadn't had the courage to send it. Yet. It was an explanation to his father, telling him that he was dropping his engineering major and looking around for something new.

Maybe that was the whole problem; he hadn't picked out something new yet.

He was brooding on that when the door to the room opened, which slammed into the closet door, forcing it closed. Mike tried the knob to no avail, and was about to cry out when he heard Connor's voice.

" ye're up for it?"

"Yeah," a female voice--Val, it was Val--said. "But I can't be too long. Got something to do."

"Aye? What's that, then?"

"Keep a secret?"

"Anything for you."

"I'm gonna visit Mike at the station," she said.

"Re-hee-heeeeeeeally!" Connor said. Mike could feel the smirk appear on his roommate's face. Connor...Connor, you bastard, don't you do it...

"Lemme ask you," she continued. "Do you think he...y'know... likes me?"

Oh, God. A dead man.

"Well...yeah, I suppose so. No' that he'd ever admit it. But aye, I think he really likes ye."

Mike squinted in the darkness of the closet, looking for a blunt instrument.

"Really? Then I gotta make it to the station tonight."

"Ah, don't worry, lass. I won't keep ye out too long. Just long enough to mess with Larry's head."

They both laughed conspiratorially, then said their goodbyes. Connor closed the door and lay on his bed, feeling his back muscles unknot.

"You mangy Scots GIT!" Mike roared from inside the closet.

Connor sat up slowly, looking around the room.

"Mike?" he called out quietly.

The closet door slammed open, revealing a pissed-off Mike.

"What is the matter with you?!"

"What are ye doin' in the closet?"

"Listening to you just spill the beans to Valerie, that's what I've been doing! Are you out of your friggin' mind?!"

"Ye heard that whole thing?"


"Well, I...I mean...I just thought...oh, fook, I'm sorry, man!"

Mike sat down on his bed and stared angrily at the closet.

"I just don't believe you did that."

Connor looked down at the floor as remorsefully as possible.

"Er...I suppose this'd be a bad time te ask ye if I could borrow one of yuir suits..."

Mike lay back on his bed and groaned.

Will and Angela shivered as they stood atop the Old Post Office, in the observation deck of the bell tower. They looked out onto the Mall, studded on its left and right with museums.

"So when they were designing this city," Will said, "Why did they decide to make vertigo such a big factor?"

"Big baby," Angela replied, holding onto his arm and snuggling up to him.

"Big baby nothin'," he replied. "I mean, look at the Dupont Circle stop. That's the first ninety-degree escalator I've ever seen. It looked like it belonged to a James Bond villain."

She looked up at him and smiled warmly...or as warmly as she could up here.

"I really missed you, you know," she said.

"Well, I missed you too." He kissed her. "I've been looking into ways to try and make the commute a little easier so I could come visit more often."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I' around for a psychiatrist. One who specializes in Omegas."

"Will, come on. If you're ever going to get your speed back, you should do it for the right reasons. I mean, Jason always says that speed isn't your destination, it's a way of getting somewhere."

He picked up on this a little quicker.


"Jason Ortiz. He's in the Seekers. He's been training me in speed use."


They looked out at the Mall a moment longer.

"Wait, hold it. What was that 'ah'?"


"THat sounded like a significant 'ah.'"

"It wasn't. Which one of the Seekers is he, anyway?"


"Oh. The fast one."

"Yyyyyyeah. That's why they have him training me." She looked up at him suspiciously. "What?"

"Nothing! He looks really fast. I've seen him on TV. I mean, I'm sure he trains you really well."

"Are you jealous?"

"Of what? Because he's still got his speed? Hey, I can have my speed back anytime I want. I just don't want to inject myself with Rapidfire to do it."

"Good. Because there's nothing to be jealous about."

"I'm sure there isn't."



Angela sighed and shivered.

"Let's go inside. It's a little too cold out here."

They walked towards the stairs, arm in arm, both of them trying to regain the mood.

Dusk came over the city as Larry and Mel pulled up in front of the Old Psychiatrist's Club. From inside, they could hear the sounds of a killer horn section getting hot.

Mel was already keeping the evening's score. Larry had lost points for not really saying anything during the ride, and for talking about his car when he did. On the other hand, he had complimented her on her dress, and now he was getting out and opening her door for her.

"Is this a jazz club?" she asked as Larry gave his keys to the valet.

"Better," he replied. "It's a swing club."

The doors opened and the song burst through and escaped into the night. As they walked in, they checked their coats (from a young woman dressed as...well...a coat-check girl, but a '30's coat-check girl) and approached the maitre d's station. He was wearing a red smoking jacket over a sharp suit, he had a naked lady painted on his tie, and he had a pencil-thin moustache.

"Reservation?" he asked.

"Maxwell," Larry said. "This place is kind of into the whole atmosphere."

"I can see that." The place was laid out like the human race's memory of a nightclub from an old movie. It was decorated in an art deco motif, lots of silver on the walls. The waiters and waitresses all wore vintage clothing. There were cigarette girls. Everything was concentrated around a stage, where a band called The Boogie Bumpers were halfway through "You & Me & The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight". And in front of that...

"Dancing!" Mel said, delighted. "Oh, wow! Do you know how to dance?"

"Oh, yeah," Larry said, pulling out her chair for her and then sitting down himself. "A couple of years ago, I went to this ballroom dancing competition. I stayed the whole day, archiving everybody, just so I could have that on file if I ever--" Screech. He desperately pulled the brakes on his train of thought. "Yes. Yes, I can dance."

"Good," Mel said. "Maybe later I'll take you up on that."

Angela and Will were well into a kiss when they stumbled through the door to her room. In the dark, she guided them toward her bed, and felt the pleasant weight of him on top of her. She started unbuttoning his shirt while he ran his fingers through her hair.

"Wait," he gasped after a moment. "Wait. Hold on. Forgot something."


"Turn on the light." Will groped in the darkness for his bag and squinted when the light finally came on. He grabbed the bag, unzipped it, and pulled out a small, well-wrapped gift.

"Happy Valentine's Day," he said.

She unwrapped it. Inside was a small jewelry box and a pair of candles. She opened the box; it was two small, silver rings.

"Wow," she said. "Uh...I think it's a little small for me..."

"Oh, it doesn't go on your finger," he said. He hopped off the bed and got down on the floor. On one knee.

They looked at each other for a moment.

"It's not that kind of ring," he finally said.

"I didn't think so."

Will untied her right sneaker and pulled off the sock beneath.

"See, this is a...I forget what she called's like a therapy ring. See, you put it on your middle toe..." He did this now. "...and when you run, it's supposed to send, like, positive vibrations to the rest of your foot." Pause. "I got it in Greenwich Village."

"That's so sweet!" Angela said, smiling. And it was, it was sweet. She didn't believe it for a second, but it was sweet. "What are the candles for?"

"Atmosphere." He grabbed the candles, withdrew two candlesticks from the bag, and inserted the one into the other. He placed them in the cleanest place he could--the top of the TV--and lit them. "Do you like them?"

She looked down and admired her feet.

"They're great," she said. "I can feel, you know, really positive vibrations going through me."

He ignored the subtle sarcasm and took off his shirt.

"You know, if I were a lesser man, I'd be making a 'positive vibrations' crack right now." He eased himself on top of her and kissed her. "But I like to think I'm above all that."

"Yep. You're a man of principle." She hiked her shirt over her head. They sat up and kissed while Will scrabbled desperately with the bra strap on her back.

"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"Someone's trying to get in--"

The door opened.

Jake walked in.

The room temperature dropped ten degrees.

"Hey," Jake said to Angela and hopped on his bed. "Do you believe this? The janitor kicked me out. Just because Chet took a swipe at him. I told him, what do you expect? You see the sign, right? Don't... Fuck...With...Chet. Which part of that didn't you grasp?"


"So then we get in this big argument, and--oh, hi," Jake said, getting up and walking over to them. He took one of Will's hands that had been engaged in breast emancipation and shook it. "Hi. I'm Jake."

"Hi, Jake. Go away."

"You must be Will," Jake said, Will's remark not registering. "Angela's told me a lot about you."

"Did she mention how much she wanted to have sex with me tonight?"

"Jake," Angela interrupted, "You're just checking in, right? You're just here to pick something up before you go out again, right?"

Jake looked at them quizzically. He knew what sex was, of course, but he'd never been introduced to it in such close quarters.

"Uh, actually, I was just going to go to sleep--"

"I said, you're going out again, right?!"

The sight of the shirtless Will engaged in what had been a passionate clinch with Angela finally seemed to sink in.

"Right," Jake said. "Right. I was just leaving."

He almost ran for the door, almost got all the way out, and turned around.

"Where am I going?"

"The movies."

"Which theater?"


"I'm serious, I don't know."

"Try the bargain one."

"Okay." He stopped again. "Do you have a few bucks?"

Angela snarled, sending Jake fleeing.

"So," Will said. "That was Jake."

"That was Jake."

A beat.

"He's a weird little kid."

"Yes, he is."

Will tried the bra strap again.

" then, I told him, hey, I don't see your name on this seat..."

Mel wanted to hit him. She really did. Larry was five minutes deep into a story involving some movie seat dispute and he had no idea he was boring her to death.

But he was trying. That was the problem. If this had been any other guy, she could have just ditched him, chalked it up to experience, but Larry was really making an effort. She could see him, every once in a while, catch himself and ask her something about herself.

"...and he pushes me! You believe that? The guy just tries to knock me down and..."

However, one of those moments didn't seem to be coming anytime soon. She tried to listen to the music again and found she couldn't. She was considering feigning death when a solution occured to her.

She Cursed him. Just a little one. Any second now, the waiter would come over and spill a drink on him, or he'd have a coughing fit, or...

Or...or Connor would walk in with Val on his arm, her head nestled against his shoulder. And they would see Mel and Larry sitting at this table. And they would walk up to say hello.

"Hi!" Val called out, rushing up to Larry and giving him a peck on the cheek.

"Hi," Larry said, staring at them. "Uh...what are you guys doing?"

"Oh, ye know," Connor said. "Neither of us had anything te do tonight, so we decided te go oot and have a little fun, dance a little...oh, hi, Mel." He looked at her, as though he hadn't noticed her sitting there.

"Hello." She wasn't sure who she was angrier at; Connor and Val for doing this, or herself for cursing Larry and somehow bringing them here.

A mambo beat went up from the band.

"Hey!" Val said, taking Connor's arm again. "Let's boogie!"

The two of them headed for the dance floor. Larry watched them for a moment, then turned to Mel, his eyes wide with surprise.

"Well," she said.

"Well," he replied. "Uh...well." An idea seemed to occur to him. "Would you like to--"

"Larry? OH MY GOD!" A petit blur with long, curly blond hair rushed up to Larry and gave him a big hug. "It has been so long!"

Larry pushed her away and got a look at who it was. It was a pretty young woman with a long neck, wearing a black, floral-print dress with sandals. Melanie thought she recognized her...

"Calliope?!" Marry blurted. "Wow! Where...I mean..."

"Where'd I come from? Well, actually, I was on my way to the Metro, and I had the strangest urge to come in here...I guess it was just, like, the hands of fate or something pushing me in to say hi! How've you been?"

"Uh...fine." He looked at her for a moment, then remembered where he was. "Melanie! Melanie. Melanie, this is...uh...this is Calliope Morris. She and I were...that is to say..."

"We were lovers," Calliope finished for him. Melanie tried desperately to suppress a hooch of laughter. "But we broke up, you know how it is, but we managed to stay friends. Wow! That's a really great dress!"

"...Thanks," Melaine said after a moment.

"Oh, my God," Larry said, looking out at the dance floor. "They're doing the lambada! They can't lambada to this song!"

"Are you in the Scions program too?" Calliope asked. "They wanted me to join, too, but I didn't want to be a Seeker. Besides, my power wouldn't be any good in a combat situation." She grabbed a chair from a vacant table and sat down. "I get the feeling you're... wait, don't tell me...telekinetic?"

"Luck powers," Melanie replied. "Uh...what do you do?"

"Oh, I'm a musical telepath. I can read people's minds, but I can only express myself through song. That's how I knew it was time to break up with Larry. One day I started uncontrollably singing 'Gotta Get Away' by the Offspring. I hate that song," she said, wrinkling her nose. She stood up. "And actually, Larry's sending out waves that make me want to sing the 'Feelin' Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag', so I should go. Hey! Come to the coffeehouse Sunday night! It's on campus!"

"I'll be there," Melanie said, fascinated.

Calliope gave Larry a kiss on the cheek and another little hug.

"Call me," she said. "It's been ages."

"It's been ages," Larry said, looking shell-shocked. They watched as Calliope made her way through the crowd.

"There's Connor and Val," Melanie said. "They're leaving.

Connor and Val were waving happily to them from across the club. Numb with shock, Mel and Larry waved back. Then, slowly, they turned back to face each other.

"Let me try that again," Larry said. "Would you like to da--"

"Hey hey HEY!!" came a booming voice from the door. "WHERE'S ALL THE BEAUTIFUL BABIES!!"

They turned back and saw, through the glare of flashbulbs, that Scott Dunleavy was making all the noise. Behind him, the Paint Crew, local heroes who had defended Baltimore from the Harrakin, were filing in.

Larry closed his eyes and yelled to make himself heard.


"Oh, man! Oh, sir, I'm so sorry! Don't worry, mushroom soup comes right out..."

"Okay, you're on the air with Mike and WJMC. What's your problem, Caller?"

"Valentine's Day really makes me want to vomit." The voice on the phone had been altered somehow. So what was this supposed to be? "I mean, this morning started out like crap..."

"You know, I gotta say, I loved you in Scream."

"Hey, so I don't want people to know who I am. I'm about to debase myself on the radio and I'm smart enough to change my voice, so could you just let me?"

"Sorry. Didn't mean to tweak you, man. Please don't kill me with a hunting knife until after I've slept with Neve Campbell."

" started out with a guy who looked like Satan waiting around outside my office...then I saw this girl I've been meaning to ask out for the past two weeks running around campus with some new guy, so that was shot to hell."

"So why didn't you just ask her out earlier?" Mike asked. Then he heard the question. Then he winced.

"I don't know...we come from different worlds, and I know that's a cliche so don't call me on parents would freak."

"So, a little racism in the family, then?"

"...I guess. And until today, I didn't even realize that's what it was. My mom died seven years ago this month, and I sorta used to my dad and his wife and the new kids, but now that I'm away from home...I kinda feel like I don't matter to any of them. Like I could...I could blow myself up and they'd be happy. They wouldn't even think about me...and I'm in love with this girl, or at least I could be, and I know they wouldn't approve of her, or of me, or of anything I've done lately."

"Does it matter if they do?"

"It used to. It used to be the whole world to me whether or not they did. I don't know anymore."

"Well, you don't really need me to tell you what I think, but you called up, so here it is anyway." Mike sat back in the chair and thought about this afternoon and his mistake with Valerie, and the letter in his closet. "If your parents really, really care about you...they they'll understand that you're doing what you have to do and it isn't anything to do with them. If they don't, you don't need them, because you can't live your life for anyone but you."

"Yeah...that makes sense..."

"Damn straight." Mike almost forgot he was on the radio. "And as far as that girl is concerned...if you like her, for the love of Bela Lugosi, Tell her! Before someone else makes a move and its over for you. If she's with somebody else, you gotta respect that, but if an opportunty shows up, you tell Valerie that yes, you do like her! And that you do want to go out with her!"

"Valerie? Who's..."

"Never mind that! What's important is that you do what you need to do to make you happy! If you want to take film classes instead of engineering, you do that! If you think you might want to take some art electives instead of all that hard science, you tell your dad man to man instead of writing him a letter and hiding it in your closet!"

"Letter? What are you..."

"Because it's your life! And you need to be happy with it! Do you understand?"

"Not really...I think..."

"Do you understand!?"


"Good! Next caller!" Mike pushed the disconnect button and looked up, his face flushed and sweating slightly.

And he found himself looking directly at a grinning Valerie. Mainly because Connor was rolling on the couch, laughing himself out of his suit.

A very puzzled Martin looked at his phone.

"Uhm...well, some of that made sense." He took the voice alteration mike off of his throat. "I guess." The guy on the radio had been a lunatic, but he'd had some valid points. He threw on his coat and walked out into the night.

As he walked across campus, he psyched himself up. Hi, Angela. I'm Martin. Would you like to... What were you supposed to do on a date, anyway? It'd been so long since his life was even within throwing distance of normal, he had no idea. Do something sometime? That was good. Nice and non-specific. If he could just get through this without wetting himself, it'd be a triumph...

He walked into Angela's building, found Connor's room, and did some quick arithmetic. Last week, Connor had been forcing him to watch something called Phantom of the Paradise (a movie about selling your soul--yeah, thanks, Connor, that's just what he needed) and they'd seen Angela walk by. Martin had inquired and been told that she lived three doors down.


He took three deep breaths and knocked. Inside, something fell over. There were yelped curses for a moment; then the door opened.

A naked Chinese man who had obviously been interrupted in the middle of something pleasant was standing there, squinting in the light. Behind him, he could see an also-naked Angela putting out a candle fire with a pillow.

"WHAT?!" the naked man shouted.

"Wrong room," Martin said, and ran for his life.

It was an older, more haggard Larry Maxwell who opened Melanie's car door for her.

"Here you go," he said, still looking shell-shocked. "Have a good night."

"You, uh, wanna walk me to my door?" Mel asked.

"Sure." She took his hand and gently led him towards their building. Larry started as a crazed-looking boy slammed the door opened and ran by for dear life.

"I'm so sorry," he said, finally. "I mean, this whole evening..."

"It's not your fault," Mel said, gripping his hand tighter. "It's just bad luck is all."

"Look, I know....I know sometimes, I come across as a little hard to take, and this date sure bore that out, but I'd really like to take you out again."

"I'd like that." She kissed him. "Drive home safely."

She walked in, leaving Larry to release a breath of tension that had been building since this afternoon.

"See?" he said as he walked away. "Told you everything would be fine."

Uh-huh. So what do you think the dry-cleaning bill will be like?

Val sat opposite Mike in the booth, trying not to notice him trying not to notice her. Mike was looking through his CDs.

"What kind of music do you like?" he asked finally.

"Oh, anything," Val replied.

"Anything specific?"

" about the Replacements?"

" we go!" Mike pulled out a Paul Westerburg CD. "Here's a Valentine's day song..."

The public service announcement ended and the mike switched on.

"Hey there. It's Mike, WJMC, Georgetown, bringing you all the music to fill you with despair on a Valentine's Night. Here's one going out to..." He looked at Val for a moment. "To a very good friend of mine. For now. I think. Long story."

He hit the button and Paul Westerburg's guitar began to play. They sat and listened for a moment.

They were gonna meet/On a Rocky Mountain street/Two bashful hearts beat/In advance...

"Nice," she said.

"Yeah." Beat. "So. Uh. You're probably wondering what the hell the problem with me is."

"Actually, I was wondering what my problem was. I mean, I don't know if you noticed, but I've been...well, flirting with you for quite a while."

"Yeah, but you do that with everybody." The words escaped before he could stop them. "And what I mean to say by that is that you have this sort of sunny, effervescent personality that makes everybody attracted to you, much like a sun goddess or a beautiful strain of flower's a lovely dress you're wearing."

Val couldn't help but laugh.

"Okay, now I'm wondering what the hell your problem is," she said.

"Sorry. See, this is why I don't talk too much."

They laughed for a moment and looked at one another.



"Here's the thing," Mike said, taking her hand. "I, uh...before I came to school, I went through a breakup. A bad one. One of those dwelling-in-despair-for-months-broken-heart periods. She wrecked me pretty bad."

"I've been there," Val replied.

"So...just, you know, forgive me if I'm a little gun-shy."

"That's okay," Val said. "I know what it's like to feel like that. Just do what feels...comfortable."

While holding her right hand in his right, he began to caress it with his left.

"That's not bad," Val said, smiling.

"You're got really nice skin," Mike said.

They looked into one another's eyes for a long moment.

"Are you gonna kiss me?" she asked.

"Well, I can't now," he replied. "A first kiss should be more spontaneous than that."

She thought about that for a moment.

"You think?"

"Absolutely. Think about the first kisses you've had. You're out doing something, say...picking out pumpkins for Halloween." Mike closed his eyes, the memory coming easily despite the months of trying to surpress it.

"Okay." Val closed her eyes as well.

"And you're just walking along, and all of a sudden, one of you looks at the other..."

"And he draws you a little closer," Val said, getting into the moment.

"And she brings up her hands and laces them around the back of your neck..."

"And he leans down..."

"And you never see it coming."

They opened their eyes.

"Dead air," Mike said.


"Dead air! Dead air!" He released Val's hands and grabbed at the CDs. "Turn on the mike! Say something!"

Val hit the mike and pulled it close. What followed was almost enough to make Mike forget what he was doing.

"Hey there, big boys," she said in a throaty, sensuous voice. "This is Mistress Rita. Mike can't come to the mike right now, because he's in the middle of some heavy discipline. So I'm going to be picking out your next tune. Hope you like it."

Mike stabbed at the Play button and winced as a Marilyn Manson song began.

The two of them looked at one another for a moment.

Then the broke out laughing.

"Well," Val said after a few moments, "that was random."

"Mistress Rita?!" Mike gasped out.

"Well, that was...uh..." Val blushed. "It sounded good at the time."

"It certainly did."

"So," Val said. "You're not going to kiss me, huh?"

Mike smiled and took her hand again. He lowered his head to it and brushed his lips against it as delicately as possible.

"That should do for now," Mike said. "It's been a long day."

"Oooooh, Mike," Val cooed in Mistress Rita's voice. "I'll never wash this hand again."

They continued to laugh and talk, while the music washed over them and spilled out into the night.

"Hey," Connor said as Melanie walked by his door. "How'd the rest of the date go?"

Melanie stepped back and glared at him.

"You're an immature, insecure, cocksure imbecile."

"So not well, then."

"Where do you get off pulling that anyway?" Melanie said, walking in. "Larry got there first, Connor. He didn't deserve what you did to him tonight."

Connor averted his eyes.

"Aye," he said. "Aye, I suppose I know that. 'S just that, I..."

"You what?"

"Never mind. So. Ye goin' oot with him again?"

"Yes," Melanie said. "Yes, as a matter of fact, we're going out again next week. Or maybe tomorrow night. Or maybe I'll just go to his room right now and give him a hand job!"

"I'm sorry."

"You should be."

"So what happened at that place later? I was watchin' the news, and it looks like the cops showed up."

"Oh. That. Well, after you and Val and Calliope left--"


"His ex-girlfriend."


"Anyway, after you all left, the Paint Crew showed up to get dinner. And it so happens that this guy called the Creep also showed up and started a fight, and...well, we just left after that."

Connor looked at her in shock.

"We did get out of paying for dinner!"

"Ye cursed him!" Connor crowed.

"I did not!"

"Ah, bollocks. Ye're goin' te tell me that no' only does someone show up datin' his sister, no' only does his ex-girlfriend showup, but then a full-scale Omega brawl breaks oot in the exact same place?!"

Melanie held his gaze a long moment.

"'S a sin te tell a lie, Mel."

"All right, all right, I cursed him. A little one."

"Not little enough, apparently."

"And he didn't deserve it and I'm very sorry for it!"


"I don't need to explain myself to you," she said. "Good night, Connor."

"Mel!" he called as she walked away.


"Nice shoes."

Melanie looked at him, and Connor looked back.

"Good night," she said again, and walked away.

Angela and Will lay together in sweet, sweaty exhaustion. Will blew Angela's hair out of his face and looked up at the smoke marks on the ceiling.

"I gotta say," he said. "That's the hardest-earned sex of my life."

"It's been way too long," Angela murmured, luxuriating against him. "But at least the rest of the night will--"

The door opened. Again. Sparks shot off Battery's suit as he wedged his way through the door. They watched with fascination as he crossed to his own side of the room and released his hold on the suit; the metal clanked away to various parts of the room.

"What happened?" Angela asked.

"Oh. Uh...well, the Paint Crew chased the Creep all the way across the river. I was leaving the theater when they passed by, so I joined know that video place Connor's always raving about? It's gonna need a paint job."

"Maybe they can ask the Paint Crew," Will replied.

"Sorry if I'm interrupting, but I gotta get some sleep. G'night." With that, he fell on his bed and began lightly snoring seconds later.

Angela settled herself on top of Will, her head on his chest.

"So this is college life," Will said.

"Pretty much."

"I missed a lot."

More romantic tension!
More existential angst!
A big blue bug!
A special guest star!
It's Road Trip, coming soon.

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