Thanks to everyone who reads. . .and enjoy!

Note: This story will get very dark, very soon, though. I will give warnings when the need arises, but, for now, the content is pretty mild. Except for language. I use quite a bit.

Song: Falling in Hate; Five Finger Death Punch.

#1. Resistance is Futile.

He keeps trying to walk her home. She keeps trying not to break his nose. Really, he is the most annoying kid that she has ever met. Mean, too. She knows his reputation, knows those other stupid boys that he causes trouble with. Some kid was put in the hospital yesterday with bruised ribs and a fractured wrist, and she knows what happened to him, what they did to him.

She slams her work locker closed. Then, she smacks her forehead into the cold, cold metal, knowing well enough that he will be waiting outside for her. With a long, suffering sigh, she makes her feet walk out the door, into the thick and unpleasant heat. She fumbles in her pockets for her music player and tries not to look around.

She really, really tries. But it doesn't work. It never works. She squints against the fading sunshine, headphones in her ears, and spies a familiar huddle near the opposite street corner, tossing rocks at passing cars. Surprise, surprise.

One, the tall, skinny kid with bad posture and tanned, scarred cheeks, notices her attempting to escape their radar. She curses under her breath when he nudges the kid beside him, smirking. Because, the other kid is even taller, surpassing well over six foot, with this monster frame outweighing two hundred pounds. He has a smoke hanging from his lips, and they curl into a leering grin when his light, hazel eyes find her.

"Shit." She mutters. "Shit, shit, shit." She turns, heart thrumming an anxious beat inside her veins. She tries to blend in with the thinning crowd along the sidewalk, her head bowed, dark lyrics swimming around her mind.

Then, something pulls her hair. As her headphones slip around her neck, she aims a glare over her shoulder. "May I help you?" She deadpans.

He flashes another grin, all shark and white, white teeth. Well. His gang is gone. That might count for something. . .should she even care. "No." He hums. "Well, maybe." He plucks the music player from her hands and she splutters her protest. "What kinda lame shit is on this thing?"

"Hey! What the hell?" She tries to smack him. . .

"That must have hurt." He snorts, thumbing through the bands.

She hisses through clenched teeth. "No. It didn't." She cradles her bruised wrist to her chest and sticks her chin out. "Your skull is just filled with rocks, Ryan. Now, I want my player. You have a habit of breaking things that don't belong to you."

"Calm down, Hayes. I'm not gonna break it." He bumps her arm. "Hey. . . You have Generation Dead? Huh. . ." His brows furrow with surprise. "Damn. Songs Without Swallows, too? I never woulda guessed. . ."

Carter makes a strange face. "Um. You like Songs Without Swallows?"

He smirks, practically smug. "Are you kidding? They're awesome! Their music is fast and angry and their lyrics are the most bitter, relatable things that I've ever read. They have to be my favorite band."

She could ignore him. But, he would probably keep talking, anyways. This might be the first honest conversation between them with no swearing, no arguing, and no threatening, too. It's actually. . .a little weird. Or, a lot weird. He almost seems tolerable.

Almost. Because, he is still a jerk.

"You. . .have good taste in music." She mutters, and her mouth betrays her with a sudden, amused twitch. "Who would have thought? Wait. . . You can read, Ryan? I had no idea."

He blinks. Her comments takes them both aback, as it might sound like she is insulting him, when. . .they both realize that she is joking with him. Carter scowls and turns bright, bright red, not missing the delight in his expression or his shark grin reappearance as she turns her head.

"Shit." She grumbles.

He laughs and, damn him, the sound is loud and triumphant. "I knew it! I knew I would find something that we could talk about without you trying to punch me again."

"I'm still thinking about it." She grunts. "Why, praytell, do you want to talk to me, Ryan?" She rolls her eyes when he gives the player back, having chosen another song that begins to rumble from her headphones. "Every day. . .the entire summer. . . What do even want?"

"Hmm." He pretends to consider this and rubs his chin. "Dunno. Nothing, really. I just like to bother you." He flicks her ear with a hand that, with mounting frustration, she slaps back. "It must be working."

"Shut it." She growls.

He does, with his smug smile, but keeps walking with her as they leave the town behind for the suburbs. Eventually, he opens his mouth again. Carter mourns this, knowing his silence was too good to be true. Because, she risks actually. . .almost, enjoying another conversation with him. She really, really doesn't want to do that. . .

He pokes at one button that she has fastened to her backpack. "Hey!" He brightens, his gaze fixed on it in amazement before he looks to her. "No way. . . You have an elemental symbol? From Gateway 2?"

She blinks, startled at his observation. "Um, yeah." She shrugs. "It's my favorite game right now."

"Really?" Ryan grins. "Have you tried that extra weapons design kit? You can make some kick ass mods with enough credits. That soundtrack, too! You listened to it in the dark with headphones in, yet? Shit. It kinda sticks into your brain and gives you nightmares. . ."

She blinks again. Because, what? Something pulls at her mouth, and she realizes too late that, this time, she is grinning a little back. "I didn't think anyone else did that kinda thing." She shakes her head. "You know. . . I own soundtracks for about two dozen games. Mostly horror ones."

He nudges her shoulder, and the delight is more than evident in his face as he claps his hands. "Ha! Really? I mean, that sorta makes you a dork. . ." He snorts. "Everyone knows that, anyways. But, ah, got any good ones?"

She elbows him, scowling. "Obviously. I only listen to the good ones. Like, Blood Awakening, Crisis: Beyond, Dead Skies 3: Battle Lust. . ." She lists a few on her fingers, and he watches her with this really weird. . .really warm expression crossing his face. His gaze is all bright and shining and he is giving her this ridiculous smile, too. It actually distracts her, and she blows out an annoyed breath when she forgets where she was going with her stupid list.

Finally, they reach their respective streets. His, with the gleaming vehicles in paved driveways, leading to green, manicured lawns and beautiful houses. Hers, with vehicles missing tires parked over yellowing weeds, drawing pitied gazes away from lopsided shutters and paint chipped from drooping shingles.

In the same moment, they both stop walking, and pause at the cusp between the two worlds. Carter is glaring at Ryan, and Ryan is grinning again. She is really beginning to hate this kid.

"Ryan. Really. What the hell is your issue?" She snaps.

"You should come over and play this new game with me." He suggests, ignoring her demand, her irritated tone, and her sudden, widening eyes. "I got it last week. Um, Behind the Veil. It's kinda like Blood Awakening. . . But, less about killing, more about that atmosphere. . .tension. . .whatever." He waves his hand with a careless shrug. "I dunno. It looked cool, but it would probably be cooler in co-op mode."

She gawks at him. He looks so earnest, so damn innocent, when she knows that he is anything but. This is so bizarre that it borders surreal, and Carter is wondering when she is going to wake from this outlandish dream to find out that she was probably hit by a car that he pushed her out into.

"You. . .ah. What?" She shakes her head, brows furrowed in something beyond bewilderment. "You. . .want me to come over and play video games with you?" Her voice is slow and uncomprehending.

He shrugs again, and seems to resist the urge to throw his hands into the air. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

She rubs her neck and averts her gaze from his. Heat crawls across her face, darkening her ears as she tries to swallow this. It could be a trick. His gang could be lurking around the corner for her as soon as she agrees. That would make sense, more sense than this kid actually wanting to do something with her. His fun ideas usually involve torture, humiliation, vandalism, sadism. . .

"I don't know." She mutters, squinting at him. "You're being. . .weird. I don't get it. I don't think I like it, either. You have friends. . .slaves, whatever. Invite them over instead and leave me alone."

So, she hunches her shoulders and turns around. Within two steps, she feels his hand closing around her upper arm.

"I invited you over, though." He insists. "Come on, Hayes."

Carter tugs back, but her struggles are useless. He is way too strong, and his fingers tighten, regardless, as she pulls. "Stop it." She grunts. "I don't like you. You don't like me." She rounds on him with gritted teeth. "Stop pretending that we can be friends, Ryan. I want. . . I want nothing to do with you."

He blinks. He looks like she slapped him. His face is pinched and his mouth is thinned and. . .despite his narrowed eyes. . . He does nothing to hide his expression, something both miserable and annoyed as he slackens his grip.

"I didn't. . ." He scowls. "Fuck. I'm trying, here, okay? I know that I've been. . ." He scrubs a frustrated hand through his hair. "I never said that I didn't like you, Carter."

"Well. You show your appreciation in a shit way, then." She argues. Her cheeks are hot as she moves back, irritated and. . .unsettled, with the sudden emotion flooding his gaze. It almost sounds like an apology, as mismatched as he is with words.

His scowl deepens. "Yeah. I get that. Maybe. . . Maybe, I want things to change." He grumbles. "Is that hard to believe?" His eyes spark and burn, near black in the shadows as the streetlamps flicker on over their heads.

He shoves his fists into his pockets. Upset. Desperate. His skin is flushed and he looks at the ground, at the clouds, over her shoulder. . .and then, into her face. She wants to believe him, she realizes with a startled breath. It probably isn't a good idea. . . But, she really has nothing to lose. Nothing that she would care to lose, anyways.

Besides, she really wants to try that new video game, too.

"Fine. Whatever." She turns around without glancing back, knowing this must be the stupidest thing that she has ever done. It has to be. "I'll be over later, okay?" She relents."I gotta drop my bag at home."

Carter is almost down the block when Ryan finally yells back. "Great! Okay!" He must be grinning again, she can hear the glowing thrill in his voice. "See ya later, Hayes!"

She allows the smallest smile to twist her mouth as she aims for home. With a wave farewell, she sneaks a glimpse over her shoulder. He has his hands folded behind his head as he walks down the road, and she recognizes him singing a known Songs Without Swallows track. She shakes her head, chuckling under her breath.

Then, he kicks at the closest mailbox post and it bends, crooked, until he knocks it into the street. Typical. Her laughter evaporates with a dramatic sigh.