Gar's Hero Supply and Bodega has a habit of winding down with the sun; there's an after-work rush of customers just after five, the three workers bustling about to keep up- but once that is all said and done the herd of heroes coming in for supplies thins substantially. Likewise, when the store runs down, so do its workers, who swap between lackadaisically stocking shelves and sleeping. Enid and Rad preferred the latter, while K.O., always one to keep himself busy, did the former. Dendy did neither, sitting cross-legged on the floor, typing into her hologram keyboard. The little noises the keys made filled the silence quite nicely.
The Bodega is never completely quiet. With at least one child in it at a time, it's practically illogical to assume otherwise. K.O. hummed a little ditty as he worked, off and on, sometimes more in-pitch than others, and there was the little matter of his bare feet smacking on linoleum floors. Dendy was a bit quieter, but K.O. would inevitably roll out some question for her to look up- usually about what he was storing away- from how do you can a unicorn's soul? to why would someone want to drink the essence of a lima bean? Overall, they did their best to keep silent and let the teenagers sleep.
It's in one of those quiet, product-stocking moments that the front door slammed open in a loud fashion. The entire Bodega seemed to hit the deck, as if some sort of explosive had gone off and they needed to find safer ground, save for Enid, who was caught mid-teleportation by a hand to the upper arm.
"Relax, kiddos," Carol said, with chuckle at their expense. "It's just me."
Rad cleared his throat and stood up, leaning his hand on the counter he had just rolled off of. "Oh. Hey, Carol. What up?"
K.O., his face in a box of various canned goods, picked himself up and pouted. "Mom! You scared us!"
"Aw, did I?" She lifted him up off the ground and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I'm sorry, Peanut." Carol turned to Enid, who was still in shock, the log she typically replaced herself with when she vanished clutched to her chest. "Ya'll mind getting me some lightning nachos for the road?"
Rad gave a little thumbs up and shambled off, while Enid set her log down on the stool, sat on it, and propped her leg up on her knee. Dendy edged away a little bit, the suddenness of it all unnerving, then got right back to typing. "I don't think I've ever seen you cut out this early. You goin' somewhere special tonight, Carol?"
"Ha! Maybe." Carol set her son down and proudly put her hands on her hips. "I'm a chaperone at that lil' dance the kids are havin' up at the school."
"Oh," K.O. said. "That's tonight?"
"Eeyup. Gonna show that jerk, Meredith." She grit the name out, as if it had personally stolen her puppy and refused to give it back. "She keeps makin' snide remarks about me bein' a 'working mom'."
"And she said my tooth gap is dumb."
Enid blew a raspberry. "Seriously? Taking a punch to the face is hardcore."
"I've taken a few to the face myself," Rad boasted, draping the blue lightning flavor onto some freshly grabbed chips. "Only cried once."
"Once each time," Enid rebuffed.
K.O. pumped his fist in the air, looking quite inflamed by the comments. "You go get her, mommy!"
"Thanks, sweetie." Carol ruffled his hair with a grin. "I'mma chaperone the heck outta yer classmates."
Rad returned to the main checkout with the lightning nachos in hand, passing them over to Enid to scan. He leaned one forearm on the counter and looked at K.O. "Aw, dude. Why didn't you tell us you were goin' to a prom? We coulda given you some dancing tips."
K.O. shrugged, looking very mildly baffled. "I'm not going."
Enid glanced at him. "You're not?"
"Naw." He shook his head. "I mean, it'll be over by the time the store closes, anyway."
Carol planted a kiss to his forehead. "I'll see you later, Peanut. You don't mind watching him, do you? I might be a little late to pick him up."
They both shook their heads.
"Thanks, kiddos." She grabbed the nachos, passing Enid payment without being told how much they cost. "Ya'll have a good day, you hear?"
"You teach that Meredith what for, Carol."
She saluted. "Aye, aye."
After the bell chimed to signal her leaving, K.O. went to go back to his box of canned goods, but found himself stopped by Rad's thin legs. The alien had his arms crossed. "Why aren'tcha going to the dance?"
"Why would I?" he asked. "I like working here."
"I mean, that's true, but you like dancing too."
"I like both things equally. Coming to work was just the easier of two fun things- if I went to the dance, I'd have to call in sick or something. And I'm not sick! So that would be lying."
Enid, chin leaned on her fist, tilted her head towards Dendy. "Hey, aren't you in the same class? Why aren't you going?"
Dendy didn't spare her a glance. "The teachers tend to get antsy when kappas go to dances. I think they believe all the lights will dry my skin out; which is incorrect, as kappas create a membrane to sustain themselves with."
"Whoa!" K.O. exclaimed, flopping down next to her. "You have a membrane?"
She nodded, holding out one of her hands. "You'll note my hands always feel sweaty."
"Oh, yeah, you do!" The boy marveled, touching the top with the tip of his finger. He grew a bit sheepish. "I always just figured- y'know, with the jumpsuit and all- that you just sweated a lot."
"You wouldn't be incorrect on that assumption," Dendy said simply, going back to her typing. "It's always a hassle to convince them that I won't just dry out under all the lights- not to mention that fog machine." She paused. "There's an old legend about kappas- about the head-ponds we carry. They say that if you bowed to a kappa, they would bow back, and when the water spilled out they'd go running back to their bridges. As I am lacking a head-pond, they probably assume I'm much more easily in danger of 'losing my water', so to speak."
"Is there any truth in that?" K.O. asked.
"I don't know," she admitted with a shrug. "I've never asked. I've never seen a kappa without water in their head-ponds; but, if such were the case, why would kappas allow frogs and other amphibians to live in them? One wrong hop and water goes everywhere."
"Since we're on the topic," Rad broke in. "If it's, like, okay to ask? You're a kappa, but your skin and the hair-"
"Oh. That." Dendy clapped her hologram screen shut. "That's a puberty thing. Most kappalings are indistinguishable from human children, barring a few obvious features. As I grow, my head will dip down, and my skin will turn a darker shade of green." She glanced at her hands enviously. "Honestly, I can't wait. Right now, people look at me and think I'm gonna be sick on their shoes."
"I hope you become the best shade of green a kappa can be, Dendy."
"Thank you, K.O. That means a lot."
"Well, it's not too late to go, you know." Rad let out a little 'hup!' as he used his arms to bounce back up onto the counter. "Surprise attack and all that jazz."
"I'm currently researching statistical data on what the next big POW card is going to be. It's far more fun than a silly little dance."
K.O. tapped his fists together. "I don't think the other kids like me all that much. They always avoid me. It's no fun."
Dendy adjusted her glasses. "You do have a reputation for being remarkably pain-resistant, K.O. Even before we properly met, I'd heard all about the time you were bitten by that snake and asked the teacher to keep it as a class pet. It's a bit... intimidating."
"I guess that makes sense," he edged out, but pouted anyway. "Pain is a natural part of a hero's life. Besides, it was just a lil' snake."
Rad and Enid shared a look. It was easy to forget about life outside the Bodega during work hours. Some days, it felt like all there was to life was shelving shelves, dealing with customers, and hanging out in the break room. And it certainly wasn't as if they prodded into their personal lives often. Rad had known Enid since middle school, and yet it was only recently he'd gotten the chance to see her actual house. Likewise, it had been a stray comment- insignificant, it had seemed at the time- that brought the knowledge of K.O.'s father to their metaphorical doorstep. So while these bits weren't exactly surprising, they weren't things they'd actively known, either.
"Well," Enid said, coming to a decision. "We could always have one of our own."
K.O. stared up at her, eyes wide. "We can do that?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"We can set up some chairs in the parking lot," Rad added. "Cook some hotdogs, maybe make some s'mores. DJ Fireball over here could dig out one of her mixtapes from the back of my van. That type of thing."
"That's a cookout," Dendy informed them, but looked pleased with the idea.
"I'll take it!" K.O. exclaimed, bouncing to his feet. He held a hand out to help the kappa to her feet. "Let's go grab the chairs!"
Setting up a cookout-prom is relatively easy. Lakewood Plaza is kind to the eyes as the sun sinks, draping its typically bright colors in a darker hue. The Bodega's starkly blue uniform becomes deeper, like the ocean. K.O.'s head and arm bands began to look almost brown. As it was they were busy totting out foldable metal chairs from the break room, setting them in a circle in the direct center of the empty parking lot. Rad started a fire for the funsies, then pulled some branches out of the decorative bushes to be de-leafed and have marshmallows speared on them.
"May I invite my parents?" Dendy asked while they worked, hands behind her back. "Their anniversary is in four weeks. My pride is growing by the day."
"Heck yeah, dude," Rad replied, carrying a bag of potato chips.
The entire scenario was set up by the time Pavel and Pepelina arrived in their semi-aquatic car. The reason why Rad had a basket of Enid's old mixtapes in the trunk of his van wasn't explored, nor why she transcribed any to mixtapes in the first place despite having a perfectly viable Ipod, but K.O. chalked it up to an aesthetic thing she'd grown out of as she slid a CD mix into the stereo they'd pulled out of the van as well and settled into her chair, looking like a smug cat.
"You've got some nice digs here, fellas," Pavel sighed as he lounged back in his chair, reaching out to ruffle Dendy's hair. "Ain't that right, Den?"
She batted his hand away, looking very pleased. "I like how the florescent lights look on my keyboards."
The peace didn't last, however, as the sudden but familiar thud! of a box landing on the street made them all jump. Enid let out a grumbling sound as she flopped back in her chair, propping her leg on her knee. Rad and K.O., poking sticks into marshmallows, didn't bother looking their way.
"Oh!" Pepelina exclaimed. "Is that those robot evildoer friends of your's?"
"I don't think 'friend' applies to the situation," Rad told her. "But otherwise yeah."
Leading the trio was Raymond, the self-appointed master of parties, with his signature party-crashing tux on and cannon out. Shannon had her blades out and wirring, trusting in her own stylishness to carry her without any need for a fancy outfit. Darrell bore his lovely sailor suit and a growl.
Enid leaned her chair back. "Seriously?"
The snarl left Raymond's face as he took in the s'mores burning in the flames. He put his cannon away and cleared his mechanical throat. "Oh. I, uh... I thought this was a full-on prom."
"It is a prom," K.O. insisted. "A cookout prom."
Shannon slapped Raymond's arm. "This isn't a party, you lugnut!"
"I saw them setting up chairs!" he defended. "I just assumed-"
"You don't assume. That's, like, planning one-oh-one. Why didn't you wait a little longer?"
"I had to get together my ensemble..." Raymond trailed off, recognizing the excuse as flimsy. Not even the most fashionable outfit mattered in the long run if he couldn't slay his enemies with it.
"Now what?" Darrell interjected, frustrated. "Lord Boxdad'll melt us down if he finds out he wasted one of his boxes on a cookout!"
None of the Bodega kids answered, awkwardly glancing at each other. It's Pavel who breaks the silence, patting the arm of his chair. "It's not a real hero-villain relationship until you've shared a meal together. Bring it in, 'bots!"
It was the Boxmore kids' turn to stare at each other, trying to decide what the make of the offer. No one took it back, but they certainly didn't have their arms outstretched in trust and chocolate.
"I think we've got an old toolbox in the back somewhere; for, like, basic repairs and stuff," K.O. said finally, eyes darting between the three. His shoulders were forward, prepared to take a blow. "You could munch on that."
"You got any oil?" Shannon asked, looking torn.
Raymond let out a long-winded sigh, waving a claw-like hand. "Fine, fine. If you insist."
"We didn't insist on anything."
The robots became decidedly docile after each being served a plate of nuts, screws, and the occasional screwdriver, with an old oil can to split between the three of them. But that was half the point of the rivalry between them, really; most of it was to fight and win, but the other portion of it was to have a weird level of closeness with what would otherwise pass as total strangers. Boxmore and Gar's Bodega would never truly mix, but that didn't mean they didn't send any of the decently working robot parts back, or pass along bandages to the ones who bleed, or follow each other on social media. That was just part of the whole experience.
There wasn't a whole lot being said as the evening moved into early night. They all lounged back in their seats, content and full of various treats, from s'mores to metal pieces to a box of half-melted fish sticks. Enid's mix had run dry, but no one bothered getting up to replay it, no matter how good it had been. Rad and Raymond had engaged in a story-battle, upping each other on ways they had been injured fighting for the cause. Raymond quickly won- it was hard to be more injured than that one Raymond that had fallen into one of the lava streams around Lakewood Plaza Turbo. At least, it was when you were made of flesh. Despite this, they seemed in decent spirits, only shooting each other competitive glances as they chugged whatever drink they had in their hands.
Pavel proved himself to be quite knowledgeable in underwater dungeons, which he shared with enthusiasm, the little frog in his head-pond croaking merrily along with him. Pepelina had a preference for mazes, which was how they met, or so they said. Dendy didn't say much as they told the tale, eyes slitted.
The peace was broken by a sharp whistle, which made all of them jump and turn. Carol had a hand on her hip, bags under her eyes, and a nice purple sundress on as she strutted over, smiling wide. "Ya'll having a cookout?"
"It's a cookout prom!" K.O. threw his hands up excitedly. "It's like the school's, only better!"
Carol let out a sigh and flopped onto the asphalt, picking K.O. up off his chair and placing her into her lap. She buried her nose in his hair to plant a kiss on the back of his head. "Oh, my lil' dumbbell. I'm so glad yer not like some of the other younglings you know."
K.O. tilted his head back. "Didja show Meredith what for?"
She grimaced. "She called in sick!" Carol shook her head. "Can ya' believe it, K.O.? Heard I was a'comin' and decided to stay home."
"Maybe she thought you were gonna give her a tooth gap of her own," Enid supplied.
"Ah, I'd never do that. There's no point in startin' a fight if they can't fight back."
"We know that, but does she?"
Carol blew a raspberry. "Gimme a stick and a hotdog, would ya'?"
They passed it around the circle, from Pepelina to Pavel to Dendy to Darrell and finally to Carol and K.O. Carol gave Darrell a friendly smack on the back, jiggling the delicate brains in the jar on his head. "Thanks, you bag 'o bolts. And double thanks fer being such good first-time-foes fer my boy, here."
"Uh... you're welcome?"
K.O. had the time to stick the hotdog into the flames, still perched on her lap, before a voice boomed over the horizon. "RAD? ENID? K.O.? WHY HAS THE BODEGA CLOSED EARLY?"
Those called by name shrunk down into their shoulders, petrified. "He's gonna murder us," Rad whispered. And, indeed, Mr. Gar looked quite ready to get his murder on as he burst into the parking lot, glasses forming an enraged V over his eyes.
He caught sight of them. "AND WHAT ARE THOSE ROBOTS DOING ON OUR PROPERTY?"
"Eating?" Shannon answered sheepishly, lifting a single finger off her lap.
Carol shifted slightly so her head came around K.O.'s shoulder. She looked unimpressed, eyebrows drawn in an almost flat line. "Eugene."
Mr. Gar made a sound like an arrow had pierced his knee. He immediately started rubbing his neck. "Oh. C-C-C-Carol. I, uh. Ididn'tknowyouwerehere." The sentence was made of individual words, but it didn't sound as such as it left his lips.
"We're hanging out, cookin' food, that sort of thing," Carol said blandly. "And, seeing how I technically count as a customer, I'm allowed."
"Would you care to join us?"
"Yes. Please." He almost coughed on each word, stomping over. Mr. Gar is a large man, and therefore makes large sounds as he crouches down next to Carol, accepting a s'more with a nod and a whimper.
K.O. twisted around so he could whisper into her ear. "I think it's almost my bedtime." He didn't look particularly happy about it. "Do I gotta go home already?"
Carol shrugged. "You can't have a bedtime if there's no clocks to tell the time."
"That's the best logic I've ever heard!" K.O. cheered, handing her the stick, complete with a cooked hotdog. Carol accepted it and took a bite.