A/N: So, I kind of feel like this is a rough draft for something bigger. This is only part one, and of course, this is what happens when you work in a comic book store. I used a lot of different labels and heroes to get my ideas, and none of my characters are meant to represent an actual character in any comic. After this long, original powers are a dime-a-dozen. So, please read and enjoy this. If you enjoy it enough, drop me a review and let me know the good and the bad. I could use a beta, so if anyone wants to in the future, let me know. I can't catch everything (and we are our own worst editors). Even if you don't want to leave a review, please enjoy. And yes, there will be slash abounds.

Title: The Strays

The first time it happens, his muscles itch for hours. He rubs the skin around his knees raw trying to get to it, and even cool air on raw, bleeding skin isn't a relief. There are three different kinds of creams on his bedside table (the third an extremely embarrassing last resort taken from his sister's bathroom), but none of them have worked so far.

Worse than the itching is the undeniable fact that Gene, who is a comfortable five-foot-seven, woke six inches taller, and before he could freak out, his legs had shortened before his eyes.

This kind of thing does not happen to ordinary people, and Gene is, admittedly, an ordinary person. The entire situation has to be some sort of freak occurrence.

Gene has no doubt that his recurring dream of being someone taller, different, is responsible for the gross anomaly.

Every comic book and movie he has ever seen lends him a small hope that maybe he has the power to make his dreams reality; however, every time he's had one of those dreams, he's woken with his virginity, so maybe he's on the wrong track.

Legs still itching, Gene carefully climbs out of bed and shuffles out into the hall and into the bathroom. For the third time since waking, he splashes cold water onto his face, letting it run down under his chin and collect on the collar of his t-shirt.

The only light comes from the nightlight his mother plugged in next to the sink, which--though he would never admit to her--actually comes in handy when he isn't ready to deal with bright lights.

This is one of those times.

Even in the dim lighting, his eyes are the same plain green, his hair the same dull black, cut close to his scalp in messy, straight-edged patches. His face is the same narrow shape; every single freckle is in place around his straight, thin nose.

Nothing is out of place.

For a split second, his wishes something were different; blue eyes, maybe, or thinner lips. Something other than what he wakes to every single morning.

He leans in close enough to kiss the mirror, and after he blinks slowly, he opens his eyes to look at himself one more time.

Only this time, bright blue eyes stare back.

Startled, Gene pushes himself back, and when he blinks again, his eyes are the same green they always are. Only now his eyes ache in a vague way, and he has to push the palm of his hands against his closed eyelids to make the pain stop. It feels like those times when he was curious enough to stare at the sun when he was younger.

Gene opens his eyes cautiously when the pain fades to discomfort . Once again, he's grateful for the soft light. He narrows his eyes at the mirror, and tries not to think in color. Instead, he imagines someone with a wider face; someone with gravity-defying blond hair and hazel eyes and an ever-present smile.

He pictures Harlan Grace, captain of the Lowweth High soccer team.

And just like that, his reflection stretches, shifts, and settles into the face of one of the most popular boys in school.

Harlan Grace is wearing my face, he thinks dazedly, or maybe he thinks it the other way around. While it's more amazing than any experiment he has ever conducted in the advanced science lab at school, it gets creepy quick.

It just takes one thought to fix it: me.

Just like that, his features resettle into normalcy, and--thank god--in his own voice, Gene whispers, "Holy crap."

He imagines his father's face, all laugh lines and smiles, and his body buzzes. It doesn't hurt, and it happens quickly this time. The elastic of his boxers stretches until taut around his hips (his father isn't the fittest man) and when he examines his arms, they're twice as hairy as they were before. Gene has a fleeting hope this isn't a glimpse into his future.

Looking at his dad in the bathroom mirror gets just as weird just as quickly, and once more, Gene simply imagines himself until he's just that.

Waking up was one thing, but purposely changing his body turns out to be another. It feels like millions of bees are trapped under his skin, flying and buzzing and stinging. He desperately wants to climb into the shower, and twist the cold tab as far as it will go, but everyone will be asleep, and he doesn't want to wake them up just because he can suddenly turn into whomever he wants.

--

Like every other morning, Harlan wakes at six sharp, fifteen minutes before his alarm is set to go off. He reaches blindly to hit the button that will turn off the alarm.

Unlike every other morning, there is no beep when Harlan's fingers connect with the clock.

With a small frown, he cracks one eye open. The digital red numbers are flashing, which means the clock was unplugged at some point. It isn't a big deal. He doesn't remember waking to thunder at any point in the night, like he usually would if there was a storm.

But it's not a big deal, so Harlan doesn't dwell on it.

He manages to stay thought-free for at least thirty seconds, until he goes to step out of bed and finds thin, white shards of glass where his clean carpet should be.

It hurts like a bitch.

When he lifts his head to shout, the curses die in his throat.

There's a wide, black scorch mark where the lights used to be. Like there was a fire in the one spot, or like there was some small bomb inside his light.

The blurred edges of it send a shiver down his spine and into his toes, and only then does he realize his foot is still bleeding.

"Fuck," he hisses, pulling his leg up to inspect the damage. He can't see much in the dark, but the blood is a much darker shade of gray than his skin.

It's too dark even to see where else the glass has fallen, so he gathers up his comforter and tosses it over the side of his bed. It's not so thick it will protect him from large shards, like the one he can feel in the soft of his foot. He hops as quickly as he can on his left foot in the direction of the bathroom.

The door is open, though to him it's just another dark spot in the room. Like with the clock, Harlan has to feel around blindly for the switch.

The funny thing is, his fingers haven't even found it when the lights flicker on.

The funnier thing is, he wishes it was brighter, and suddenly it is.

The floors at least are clean, and the light bulbs are intact. He's close enough to the sink, which extends across the width of the bathroom, to flip his body around and hop up so that he's seated on it.

"Fuck," he says again, louder this time. "Shit-god-damn-it." Logically he knows cussing won't help anything, but like coach says after a bad game, it can be kind of therapeutic.

So as he pulls out the first shard, he hisses another quiet shit and flinches. It hurts. His nerves scream, tingle, and tighten as blood flows out just a little faster. Not like he thought it wouldn't, because that would make him a grade A idiot.

It does hurt though, and by the time he's gotten the bigger pieces out and washed the smaller ones away, he's dreading the part where he pours peroxide all over it.

He has to fish through the cabinets to find a bottle, and when he comes back up with one, he glances at his pained face in the mirror. He doesn't have to look to know he looks scared when he twists the cap off and holds it over his foot. When it hit's the skin, it doesn't hurt, or even burn.

It just stings.

This time the shout doesn't get stuck.

As the liquid bubbles in each cut, he is somewhat conscious of the lights bursting above him.

By the time his parents find their way into his bathroom, Harlan has passed out.

--

Some night, Wendy doesn't sleep. Between cheerleading and the debate team, there is hardly any time for studying, and good grades--the honest kind--don't grow on trees. After going thirty-three hours without sleep, she sort of wishes they did.

Through the wall , she can hear Gene whispering to himself, in his quiet, censored way. So far she's heard him say 'heck' twice, and the occasional 'crap'. He sounds scared. An hour ago, she could hear him messing around in her side of their connected bathrooms. She's curious, but right now she cares more about her grade in Trigonometry than her twin's sanity.

There are only twenty questions for the homework due in four hours. Wendy is on number seventeen, and has almost finished when the alarm on her cell phone lets her know it's time for another pill.

They're small and gray, a freebie from one of the girls on the debate team. Wendy knows drugs are bad; she's seen the after-school specials and read the pamphlets. She knows exactly what the small gray pills do to her, and it's less intimidating than an F.

More than anything, Wendy wants to achieve. She needs the grades if she is ever going to get to medical school, and she needs the extracurricular activities for the same reason. Not everyone is a natural genius like Gene, who can do whatever he wants with his life.

With this in mind, she pulls the pill from a small pocket in her purse and downs it with what's left of her lukewarm coffee.

After that, the last three questions practically finish themselves. This morning-or last nights--homework took longer than expected, putting her nearly twenty minutes behind schedule. If she rushes, there will still be time for a shower.

She toes off her shoes--comfort makes her tired--before grabbing a towel and the pre-planned outfit off of the bed. It's going to have to be a quick shower.

The bathrooms are across the hall from the twins' rooms, which are likewise next to one another. It's been that way since they were four, when they first moved to Lowweth.

At sixteen, it's kind of a pain.

The doorknob rattles under her grip, and the door swings open a little faster than she expects. She manages not to glance over at her brother's room, and once in the bathroom, closes the door a little harder than she means to.

The oversized shirt she's had on since two in the morning comes off easily, and she steps into the shower before yanking on the 'hot' handle. She doesn't even have time to wonder if Gene was in her bathroom loosening things as some stupid prank before scalding water is pelting her face, and the knob is lying on the floor of the tub.

It surprises her into gasping, and when she closes a quick fist in the shower curtains, they rip off of the metal pole as though they weren't connected to begin with. She stumbles out, wet feet sliding on the linoleum floor, and she has to grab the edges of the counter to steady herself.

Water is gathering on the floor, and unlike her brother, Wendy uses the real words. Shit, she says, and holy hell.

Once she manages to turn the water off, she thinks about going to tell Gene what just happened, but a bigger part of her whispers to keep it a secret, as if she's done something wrong. She thinks about saying something like, "It's probably just a side effect of the pill."

Whether or not it's the pill she's been on for over twelve hours, Wendy is spooked. With shaking hands, she reaches for her towel, but when she wraps it around herself, it rips almost straight down the middle.

She looks down at the two halves of the towel, and then up at her naked reflection, as if it knows something she doesn't.

Green eyes--the same ones Gene considers dull--watch back coolly from inside the mirror.

The tremble in her hands turns into something of a convulsion in her fingers. She doesn't know why, but she bends down, still naked, and takes hold of the pipes that wind into the wall beneath the sink. It takes one small tug, and the pipes practically fall from the wall, a spray of water close behind.

Without much else to do, Wendy bursts into tears, and calls for her mom.

--

The waiting lounge of the emergency room is just as sparse as Gene expected, and he's glad he came when he did, before the sun had a chance to rise. Before most people in Lowweth woke up and realized they had nothing better to do than sit around in a hospital waiting to hear about what wasn't wrong with them.

The city is just big enough that Gene doesn't recognize the nurse that hands him a clipboard and asks if his chest pain has lessened at all.

It hasn't but he isn't going to tell her that, not if he has to explain that he wondered what it was like to be a cat and the change in heart size made him feel like someone had pulled it clear out of his chest.

The knapsack he brought with him has the useless ointments from his bedside table, along with some high-dosage pills left over from his tonsillectomy a few months ago. He thinks they would help, but at the same time, it just doesn't seem to smart to take narcotics before going into the ER.

"Sir?"

He looks up again, and realizes that he hasn't taken the clipboard or answered the nurse's question. "It's a little better," he whispers. The look she flashes him is so genuinely sympathetic that Gene actually feels guilty for turning into a cat.

The skin just under his fingernails is tingling where the claws were, and he can't stop running his mouth over his full-sized, flat-edged teeth.

In a moment, the reality of the situation is going to kick in.

For now, Gene writes his age, birthday, full name (Jacob Gene Landry), address, and is as vague as possible about the symptoms. All he wants to know is whether or not the terrible feeling in his chest is a heart attack.

I turned into a cat, he thinks. I could turn into one of these lounge chairs. I can turn into anything.

It's kind of liberating, but doesn't help with the chest pain.

His voice echoes in the small room, and he looks up at the nurse .

"That's me," he says, feeling like an idiot.

The nurse just jerks her head toward a set of double doors. "We're going to go ahead and get you a room before we get all of the preliminaries out of the way."

He guesses that she means things like listening to his heart and checking his temperature and blood pressure. He can't believe Wendy wants to do this for a living.

The nurse leads him through a maze of halls. Everything smells clean, but it isn't pleasant. It makes Gene feel a little sick to his stomach, but he doesn't tell the nurse that. She's already walking too quickly for him, and he doesn't want her to feel like she needs to rush any more than she is.

They stop halfway down one of the hallways. Gene takes in the number--seventeen--before he follows the woman in and sits on the bed like she tells him to.

She does the blood pressure first, and her small frown tells him something is off. The Velcro band is barely off of his arm when she slaps the cold end of the stethoscope just under his collar. It makes him shiver.

There is a TV in one corner, up near the ceiling. While the nurse is running the stethoscope down the ridges of his spine, she asks, "Want to watch anything?"

He doesn't watch a lot of TV, and he tells her so. For some reason it makes her laugh, and Gene can't help but wonder if she has already forgotten that his heart is trying to beat its way out of his chest.

"It's rare meeting a kid your age that's not interested in TV," she told him.

"I guess," he says noncommittally.

She doesn't say anything for a moment, then asks, "Have you done anything in the last twenty-four hours that would put a strain on your chest?"

Gene thought back to the day before, mentally retracing his steps. Thing was, once he got to the afternoon, he couldn't remember what he did. Not even a hint of a memory.

This is something else he doesn't want to tell the nurse.

"Do you experiment with drugs or alcohol?"

At least he didn't have to lie about that. "No."

"Okay." She pulls the stethoscope from around her neck. "The doctor should be with you shortly."

"Okay."

The bed sheets are cold like the room. He wonders if they're clean, but lies back anyway. His chest feels less like exploding in the new position.

By now, the thoughts are racing faster than his heart. He thinks about the superheroes he likes to read about. They, of course, do cooler things than turning into a kitten, but Gene knows that his ability to become a cat means something.

And he will think about what that something is as soon as he's back from the bathroom, because he suddenly has to pee.

He has no idea that lying in the room next to his, bandages spread out over his body, was the very boy whose face he had stolen not two hours ago.

--

Harlan comes to slowly.

The lights are out, and a wave of panic hits his chest hard, until his eyes focus and he realizes the lights above his head are perfectly all right. They're just off, is all.

The door is cracked, and just outside, he can hear a quiet conversation with words like drugs, and hurt himself and talk to somebody.

He knows it's his parents talking to the doctor, and rage pools in his stomach. Only the lights begin to flicker , so he counts to ten like coach tells him and it goes away.

Outside, the conversation between the doctor and his parents quiets. Somehow, he doesn't think there is a medical term for bad luck around light bulbs.

The door opens.

The doctor is old, but bright eyed, and doesn't look like he was just suggesting that Harlan see a shrink. "Good morning, Mr. Grace! It seems you've had a bit of an accident, huh?"

Everything about him is non-threatening, so Harlan fakes a confused smile.

"Unfortunately, you needed two stitches in your foot. Good think soccer season is over, huh?" The old man flips through the charts in his hands. "We got most of the scratches cleaned up, but," he throws a quick look at Harlan's parents, "do you have any idea how these happened?"

"I woke up, and there was glass all over the floor," Harlan says. He doesn't mention the alarm clock, but tells them about throwing down the blanket and getting to the bathroom, where he passed out. Then he asks his parents, "Was there a storm last night?"

His mom's face crumples into something just past concern.

His dad says, "No, son. You know it was clear last night. Hell, you didn't come in until eleven."

This is news to Harlan. He thinks back, tries to remember where he was, and what he was doing. He doesn't remember much after school ended and he'd run down to the basement to talk to coach about the upcoming season.

The confusion must show on his face, because his mom makes a noise like she's crying, but no tears are coming out.

The doctor reaches out as thought to touch her, but lets his hand linger inches from her shoulder. "Now, now." He focuses on Harlan. "We did take some blood for a screen, but can you tell me if you've taken any drugs in the past forty-eight hours?"

"No." Harlan shakes his head, making a bandage on his neck pull taut. "No, I don't get into things like that. Sometimes I'll have a couple of beers at a party, but no drugs. Coach would kill me."

Mentioning coach gets the doctor's attention. "Well. Did you see your coach in the past forty-eight hours?"

Harlan is beginning to feel drowsy again. "Yeah. During lunch he gave a few of the players a training schedule. I didn't see him after that." A sharp pain in his side reminds him he never actually made it to the toilet. "I have to pee," he says abruptly. The doctor's understanding nod is a relief.

"If you go out of the door, and to the left, the men's room is at the end of the hall." The way his eyes dart to Harlan's foot is less than subtle. "We have a pair of crutches for you, since your parents felt you might, ah, object to a wheelchair."

Damn right, he almost says. It hurts to sit up. For the first time he notices the bandages littering his arms and chest, and can feel the sting of small cuts on his back. He's still wearing the sweatpants he'd put on before bed, which is a relief, because boxers would have been embarrassing.

The crutches are leaning against the head of bed, just behind him. They feel foreign under his arms, but the pang in gut tells him to deal with it.

He sidesteps his parents and the doctor, and once he's out the door, he hears their quiet conversation resume. His mom's whispers sound hysterical.

The floor is cold under his good foot; the other is bandaged, and stings every time he presses his toes to the ground.

There is a strip of light under the bathroom door. Normally he wouldn't be so rude, but these are special circumstances, so he lets his fist fly against the door.

The person inside doesn't answer, but the lock clicks while his fist is mid-swing, and the door opens to reveal a pale, shaking Gene Landry.

As far as surprises go, this is a big one.

Gene casts a critical eye on his raised hand, and Harlan brings it down quickly.

"Gene?" Harlan easily has six inches on Gene, and his hand is huge on Gene's shoulder. "What are you--are you okay?"

"Just a little chest pain," Gene says.

Harlan doesn't mention what a coincidence it is. His bladder might burst any second. "Look, man, I have to pee. What room are you in?"

"Seventeen."

Which is--weird. "Oh. Well, that's right next to mine. Pretty weird, huh?" He laughs with a humor he doesn't feel. "Look, let me hit the john, and then I'll stop by your room."

Gene doesn't nod or grunt or anything. He just puts one hand to his chest and walks away. It's the creepiest brush-off Harlan has ever had.

When he's finally gotten his problem out of the way, he resituates himself on the crutches and fumbles his way out of the bathroom. He's just glad to leave with an empty bladder and all of the lights in one piece.

And now, he can focus on Gene. Gene Landry, the smartest boy in school. Not exactly antisocial, but he seemed uncomfortable around people. Especially just now, though Harlan would probably call their exchange--or lack thereof--awkward. Strained.

He has always returned any spontaneous hello Harlan has offered in passing.

All in all, he's a pretty normal guy, for a genius.

Still, being in the same hospital with him, especially with his personal circumstances, is just plain weird.

When he reaches the edge of the door, he peers inside. Gene is, oddly enough, eating a hamburger with tenacity. He clears his throat , and when Gene looks up, he could swear for a second those green eyes were a light shade of blue.

It's probably a trick of the light.

--

It's nine a.m. when Wendy lets her mom pull a too-big cotton shirt down over her raised arms, like she's five again.

Mr. Landry sits in the living room and waits for a plumber.

--

When Harlan Grace appears in the doorway of room seventeen, Gene wonders if maybe his new ability has already fried his brain.

When Harlan had knocked at the door of the bathroom, Gene had been hunched over the toilet dry heaving. At the first sound of a fist on wood, he'd been startled into swallowing whatever bile was working its way up.

The nurse was waiting with a hamburger when he'd returned, throat burning and chest still aching. It had surprised him how hungry he was.

Now Harlan Grace himself is watching him scarf the meal down. Each bite makes him feel a little better, and when he's done with the burger, he's going to start on the chocolate pudding.

People have always led him to believe hospital food is disgusting.

He waits for Harlan to start the conversation. It doesn't take long.

"So I stepped on some glass. What are you in for? Starvation?"

It's a weak joke, but a fair one, because Gene is pretty thin. "I was having chest pains." He licks his finger and pushes the wet tip around on the plate to pick up crumbs. "I guess I was just hungry. It's a good thing I took my dad's credit card."

Harlan shrugs his wide shoulders. "Sometimes a good burger is worth it." He looks at the ground suddenly, blond hair falling over his eyes. "Listen, this is a weird question, but do you remember seeing me last night?"

Gene shifts on the bed, hands straying to the pudding cup. "No, not really. Did--are you in trouble or something?"

Harlan's gleaming trademark smile appears. He laughs a little before he says, "No, nothing like that. I just blacked out last night, and I've been trying to remember what I was doing when it happened."

The similarity in their situation makes Gene a little too uncomfortable, so he asks, "Do you remember stepping on the glass?"

This time the smile is a little rueful. "All too well, man. When I woke up, my bedroom light was shattered all over the floor. I didn't notice until I got out of bed, you know?"

Gene doesn't know, but he nods anyway.

"So then I made it to the bathroom, got the glass out, and the weirdest thing--all of the light bulbs busted all over me, like some sort of sever power blow." Harlan is now leaning against the wall just inside the door, the crutches resting at his sides. "It was fucking bizarre, man." His smile grows mischievous. "Hey, do you think they'd give me a hamburger?"

Gene forces a laugh and tells him, "I think maybe a donut is the best you'll get."

"Oh, well, I guess I can always pull the sympathy cards with my parents, huh?"

"Yeah," Gene says, laughing for real. "I won't be able to do the same once my dad finds out about this bill."

"Ha, yeah."

From somewhere down the hall, someone calls Harlan's name. He starts, his carefree smile dropping into something guilty and unpleasant. Bright blue eyes meet Gene's. "Well, I guess I'll see you in school some time. Take it easy, and remember to eat."

Gene almost doesn't notice, because he can finally dig into the pudding, but when Harlan steps into the hallway, the lights flicker a little. And just like that, his appetite is gone again.

There isn't concrete evidence to support his hypothesis, but Gene knows, knows without a doubt that Harlan has some kind of ability too. Only his has something to do with lights. It has to be why the lights shattered on him, and why they flickered in the hallway.

Chocolate pudding forgotten, Gene pushes himself onto his knees and reaches over to push the call button on the wall. The nurse should come any second.

He hopes to god his notebook is at home, because he has a lot of notes to take.

And then he is going to find out what happened last night.

--

His mother vacuums for three hours after his dad moves everything important from his room into the guest bedroom.

They say something about trauma, and he doesn't answer that he only has two stitches and a few shallow cuts. That's just asking for a wave of hysteria, and to be honest, he really doesn't need the excitement.

At school, everyone will be at lunch, enjoying the last few moments before classes resume. A couple of crutches and some band-aids shouldn't stop him, but once again, Harlan will do anything to avoid a major freak out from his parents.

The guest room is smaller than his, but closer to the kitchen, so it has it's perks. No one has made a move to turn on any of the lights.

Instead, Mrs. Grace has opened every curtain in the house so that the midday sun overrides any electrical light.

Speaking of electrical.

Harlan finds out that lights aren't the only thing that act up around him. The computer sounds as though he is playing an MP3 composed entirely of someone rubbing plastic along a microphone. It's creepy, so he gives up on the internet and takes up staring at the door that leads to the cramped guest bathroom.

He hasn't made a conscious effort to find out if he can still blow up light bulbs with his mind, but he's thinking about it.

After this morning, messing around with the bathroom seems like a big step. Instead, he considers the small, decorative lamp on the nightstand. It's got a faux-bronze finish and a tacky black shade with little beads dangling around the edges.

He reaches two fingers to touch the base, and the light sizzles on. His gasp is quiet enough that it won't alert his parents, but when he starts getting freaked out, a thin line of smoke rises through the opening of the kitsch lampshade.

Wanting the light to turn off is like pulling all of the energy back into his fingertips and up into his brain. He feels like a battery being recharged.

It's amazing.

And also possibly the most useless freak ability to have.

Still.

It's amazing.

The bathroom isn't half as intimidating now, and curiosity overrides Harlan's fear. It takes a couple of moments to fit the crutches back under his now sore armpits. It will probably take a few days for the awkwardness of them to wear off, he thinks, especially since the doctor had hinted at it.

The door is half open, and swings into the bathroom instead of out. It's the only door like it in the house, and it has always creeped him out for some reason.

Like his own bathroom, five small lights line up along the golden panel above the mirror, with another light in the shower. He tries not to force anything, just lets himself think about anything but darkness. Almost like he's superstitious, he closes his eyes.

When he opens them, the lights are on, and weirder still, there is a soft golden glow around his fingertips. It stretches all the way up his arms and down to where his good foot is visible beneath his pants. The glow only brightens when he sucks the energy back in, and it's like taking a deep breath.

Definitely the coolest useless ability ever.

--

There is a plumber's van in the driveway.

Wendy is crying in the living room, and Gene has a lightning-quick thought that one of his parents died in a toilet-related accident. He realizes how ridiculous that is a second later when his parents walk in from the kitchen. They don't look at all surprised to see him.

In fact, his mom actually smiles a little. "Well, I see that you really can sleep through anything." Wendy and Gene get their looks from her. "What were you doing outside? I didn't even hear you come downstairs. Not that you can hear much with that man up there in your sister's bathroom."

Gene shoots a curious glance at Wendy, but she looks away so that their eyes just miss meeting. She's sitting quietly while tears run down her face.

He tells his mom, "Well, I tried to go out in the hall, but freaked out when I saw that guy in there." He fakes embarrassment. "I kind of climbed down the lattice outside of my window."

His dad snorts, and his moms says something predictable like, "My son the genius."

In an obviously careful way, no way explains what is going on.

"Wen? Are you okay?"

Sometimes people ask if Gene and Wendy have some sort of connection because they're twins. Like something out a movie, where they just know the other is hurt, or happy, or anything, really. Wendy tells people Gene is just an open book, but he tells people that's bull.

After all, if they had some sort of psychic twin connection, he would know she was upset. And likewise, she would have known about his chest. At least, that's his theory.

He knows she is upset because he's watching her cry, and she is not the type to do so lightly.

Wendy shrugs away from his touch, and looks away. Gene wonders if she thinks he hasn't noticed she's crying yet. Like maybe is the slowest person on the uptake ever.

"What's wrong?"

His mom clucks at him. "Just a frustrating morning, sweetheart. Is that blood on your shirt?"

The spot in question is ketchup. "No, I wore this shirt the other day and had a burger." He and Wendy do their own laundry, so he thinks his mom will buy it.

She does.

Wendy looks at him from the corner of her watery eyes, and everything about it says she knows Gene is full of it.

"So," he says, to anyone listening, "I think I'm going to go change into something clean." His parents haven't mentioned the fact that he slept through more than half of the school day, and he wants to make a getaway before they realize. His mom and dad nod absently, and his mom cracks a half smile when he jokes, "I guess I'll take the stairs this time."

He takes the steps two at a time and manages not to do a double-take at the plumber's all too stereotypical low-riding pants, but only just barely.

He keeps the Box under his bed. It has ever scientific note and mathematic formula he has worked on since he was seven. Most of the notes are in composition books, though some are in more updated notebooks. The newest book is actually a comp book, half-full of everything he's been doing in the advanced labs this year.

The last dated entry is last night, and the sight of his makes his blood run cold. Instead of his usual neat, miniscule handwriting is pure scribble--almost as if he had been recording sound waves instead of hypotheses.

Every other entry is normal, with neatly listed facts and numbers and findings.

Usually his notes only fill up one page, but the scribble takes up nearly ten. Dread lingers in the back of his neck, pulling goose bumps to the surface of his skin. He closes the book quickly and throws it into the pile of other books. There are three empty notebooks on top of all of the others; he picks one at random (a thick gray one, which he was planning on saving for senior year) and flips it open to the third page.

He's not superstitious, but he has his habits.

Instead of his desk, where he usually works, Gene settles onto his bed. He looks down at his hand and thinks of them as they'd be if he were someone Harlan Grace's size. It's easier to stay calm now that he knows what's going to happen.

While the bones in his left hand reconstruct himself, he uses his right to jot down the date.

Three hours later, he thinks maybe he has something like an answer.

-End Chapter One-