"Kiss my ass, Puff!"
Bubbles hovers over to watch Buttercup film. "How're you keeping the light levels adjusted with all the lava in the background?"
"Talent," Buttercup answers. Both sisters ooooh as Blossom levers back and Brick surfaces, coughing up lava.
"Say Captain Marvel is better than Iron Man!"
"She isn't cool enough to pull off being an asshole! She's not even that strong!"
Blossom snarls and dunks him again.
"What's that, buttface?" Buttercup heckles. "We can't hear you over the sound of you getting swirlyed in a volcano!"
Bubbles glances at Boomer, who's playing a game on his phone. She hovers closer to look at his screen. "Is that the new Marvel puzzle game?"
"Yeah. Tryna beat this level while I wait for you guys to be done."
"Butch won rock-paper-scissors again?" she asks sympathetically.
Boomer throws up his hands as his phone makes a game-over beep-boop sound. "How does he keep beating me? Like every single time!"
"It's okay, I always lose to my sisters. Some people just aren't good at rock-paper-scissors."
"You don't like her because she defies categorization in your narrow-minded library of female tropes and eschews two-dimensional markers of femininity by also embodying strength and victory in ways traditionally coded as male!"
"You should start your level over," Bubbles suggests. "She's using SAT words now. We'll be here a while."
"I desire for you to cease and desist fighting in the volcanic caldera immediately inferior to our home," Mojo grumbles as he uses welding gloves to wring lava out of Brick's clothes. "There is a delicate ecosystem down there and also it is a major source of power for my laboratory, workshop, and various mechanical machines of doom constructed therein. Fighting in the volcanic caldera endangers both the planet and my impressive collection of doom machines, which have been constructed by me with my own two paws for the violent subjugation of Townsville, to be destroyed in honorable combat with the Powerpuff Girls, and not by your dishonorable horseplay with the Powerpuff Girls!"
"She hit me first," Brick grumbles.
"And second, and third, and fourth..." Boomer sings.
Brick tries to tackle him but gets pulled back down onto the coffee table. Him exhales in aggravation as he snips out another bit of igneous rock from Brick's hair. "Stop squirming! Brick, honey, why on earth didn't you rinse out the lava before it solidified?"
"Blossom hit him with her ice breath as soon as she was done giving him a swirly."
"I'll show you a lava swirly, traitor!" Brick snarls. "You just sat there and watched!"
Him raises an eyebrow at Boomer.
"I don't have a problem with Captain Marvel. She can punch through spaceships and she has great hair. Why would I get involved in your stupid fight when there's nothing in it for me?"
"I'm glad one of my sons listens when I talk," Him says primly, snipping out another rock. "Where were you for this pointless juvenalia, Butch?"
Butch is lounging on the other end of the couch, throwing popcorn and catching it in his mouth. "I asked Buttercup if she wanted to fight and she said she was busy filming blackmail. So I came home and put my dirty socks in the laundry room like you've been telling me to in my nightmares all week."
"Take these garments there to join the other garments that require the judicious application of soap, water, and various industrial-grade chemical cleaning agents to rid them of the toxic runoff of your adolescent bodies," Mojo orders, holding out the clothes he’s finished wringing.
Butch rolls his eyes but zips off, stopping by the kitchen for a popcorn refill on the way back.
"There," Him says, viciously yanking on a hank of Brick's hair that's rock almost all the way to his scalp. "Butch is the responsible son this week. Boomer is thinking more strategically than you. I hope that tells you how uncivilized you're acting. We've got to find a better way to manage your rage issues."
"Bubbles sees someone for that," Boomer puts in. "Maybe she could recommend him."
"No darling, we don't want the rage issues gone, we want them channeled more productively. Rage is no excuse for sloppiness."
"I'll channel my rage, alright," Brick mutters. "I'll channel it right into a giant tornado of fire and send the fire tornado through Blossom's stupid face."
Him sighs, giving up and cutting the whole problematic section off. If only he had a dime for every time Brick tried to solve his problems with fire tornadoes. He wouldn't be sitting here cutting his kid's damn hair himself, that's for sure. Him surveys the damage and admits the inevitable; there's no way even his supernatural fashion sense can salvage this. Bracing himself, he raises a claw and... snips off the rest of Brick's hair.
Brick's spine stiffens at the sudden change in weight. Butch freezes mid-air, eyes wide and hand halfway between the popcorn bowl and his open mouth. A shutter clicks from Boomer's direction.
"Well goodnight then!" Mojo cries, vanishing through a trap door and leaving Him to parent through the tantrum alone. Typical.
"Did you just cut off all my hair?!"
"Sweetie, there wasn't anything I could do. Too many of your follicles calcified. You'll have to grow it back--oooh!"
"Back off, no more touching!" Brick snaps. He's twisted around on the coffee table to swat away Him's claws. It needs evening out, but the cut is quite flattering. Him catches a glimpse of what a handsome devil his first-resurrected could grow up to be, with proper grooming.
Then Boomer very obviously sends something to Snapchat (it's obvious because of the little chime, followed by how he looks at Brick and starts laughing uncontrollably) and Brick flies across the room, screaming variants of the words "dumbass" and "buttface" and making a sincere effort to kick in his brother's teeth.
Him deflates. What does it matter how handsome the boy looks if he's just going to ruin it by opening his mouth?
"Rude!" Boomer laughs.
"What, like you've got manners?" Butch mocks, pelting both brothers with popcorn until the fight turns on him.
Him perks up. Oh, he's having a delightfully evil idea. He can tell it's a good one because hellfire is beginning to engulf the edges of the room, and that always happens when one of his ideas is full of devious, torturous, life-ruining potential.
"That's it!" he celebrates, levitating off the couch as fire licks at his boots.
His boys pause their efforts at maiming each other and, without looking, float up above the flames. They've gotten used to this sort of thing.
"What's what?" Brick asks suspiciously. Despite his many shortcomings, he's always been able to smell the brimstone hammer before it falls. Think how dangerous he'll be after they beat some emotional intelligence into him and even out that haircut!
"Manners," Him purrs. "It's high time you boys learned some."
Blossom forgets all about violently defending the honor of one of her limited choices for super-heroine role models until the first day of ninth grade. She reaches for the handle to her history classroom and someone rips the door off its hinges so fast only years of monster-fighting reflexes keep her from getting smacked in the face.
She brushes hair out of her eyes, then narrows them. "Brick."
"Has the door done something to offend you?"
"Then what are you doing?"
Obviously he's holding it. If he wasn't holding it, it would have fallen over and squashed their cowering classmates, who Blossom now realizes are waiting for a safe moment to enter their classroom. "It's second period and you're already terrorizing our peers. If you're not going to do something evil and violent with the door, can you please just go inside."
"Why do you want me to go first? Did Boomer put a bucket of monster guts on the door aga--oh, well, no I see the problem with that." She turns on her x-ray vision and checks, but there's no evidence of impending prank revenge for the lava incident. Which makes her doubly suspicious. "Why? What unholy thing is going to happen when I walk through the door?"
"Nothing. I'm literally just holding it."
A horrible, horrible possibility dawns on Blossom. "Are you holding it for me?"
Brick sets his jaw.
She physically recoils. "Ewww! What is wrong with you?"
"Miss Utonium! Mister Jojo!" their teacher barks. "If you two are done with the opening ceremonies, perhaps you could take your seats so your fellow students can actually get through? Mister Jojo, you laser those hinges back together first. I don't want to have to give you detention your first day."
Blossom watches in horror as Brick nods and says, with perfect deference, "Of course, ma'am."
Their teacher turns to her. "Your seat, Miss Utonium?"
Blossom blinks. She looks at Brick. She looks at her teacher. She looks back at Brick, carefully angling his laser vision to weld together the top hinge.
To herself, with feeling, Blossom whispers "Something is very wrong."
Robin slumps dramatically against the table and fans herself. “Whooo, puberty has been good to that boy!”
“It has?” Blossom glances across the cafeteria at Brick. He looks the same as always. The only difference is his shorter hair.
She looks at Buttercup, who shrugs. "I can't believe I haven't seen him in detention yet. We're a whole week in."
"He's acting so weird." Blossom tears her sandwich into tiny pieces with her hands instead of eating it. "Did I tell you what he's been doing?"
"Raising his hand in class, that shady bastard," Buttercup deadpans.
"Saying ma'am and sir," Robin adds.
"Picking up crap for you when you drop it."
"Holding the door."
"Heard he's even opening them like a normal person now instead of ripping them out of the freaking wall."
Blossom waves them off. "No, no, this is a different thing. He's been staring--"
"He always stares at you," Buttercup interrupts. "That's his 'I wonder if I can melt Blossom's head off her shoulders without laser vision if I hate her hard enough' face."
"Would you let me finish? Okay, yes, he's definitely still making the melting-my-head face. That's normal. But now he's looking at the rest of me, too! And today--" she breaks off, shudders, then gathers her courage and spits it out, "--today he came up to me before the first bell and said 'The pink bow complements your eyes better than the white one.'"
Buttercup and Robin exchange looks.
"Do you understand?!" Blossom cries, slapping one hand down on the table. "He remembered I've worn this same tie-neck blouse with a white ribbon before, noticed I wore it differently today, then came over to share a non-derisive opinion about it! And then he walked away!"
The table contemplates this in silence.
"That's fucked up," Buttercup finally says.
"Can you beat answers out of him?" Robin suggests. "That's worked for you before."
"I have to have a reason for violence," Blossom admits. Buttercup, who can empathize with the unfairness of this, pats her back. Actually, Buttercup's been supportive all week. Suspiciously so. "Are you sure Butch hasn't been acting weird?"
"I dunno what to tell you. He's jumping me for his morning ass-kicking right on schedule. Comes out swingin' around seven-thirty, I kick the shit out of him a while, we re-hydrate and drop our stuff off in the locker rooms and then go to class. Hasn't done anything weird like try to talk to me."
Blossom makes an unhappy noise.
"If you wanna come to school early with me tomorrow I can throw Butch at you, get a little free-for-all action going," Buttercup generously offers. "Brick always jumps in on that. Then you'd have an excuse to hit him until he coughs up whatever his problem is."
Blossom has a sudden vision of their new high school collapsing into rubble. "That seems like an expensive solution."
"Annoy it out of him?" Robin tries again, because she's a good soul who's trying to be constructive here. "Do that thing where you argue or insult him until he starts screaming at you without a filter?"
"Maaaybe." The truth is, Blossom's so weirded out that she's started dreading their interactions. Just walking into a shared class has become stressful. Ideally she wouldn't have to talk to him at all.
Hey, there's an idea.
"Maybe it's temporary. Maybe the best thing is to ignore him. Brick might not even be acting of his own free will, after all. He lives with a demon and a supergenius megalomaniac. He could have picked up a weird brain sickness in Mojo's lab, or be possessed, or be an alternate version of Brick that somehow magically isn't a terrible garbage person." Blossom's money is on possession. "I'll give it a while and see if it fixes itself."
This approach, in hindsight, works about as well as you'd expect.
A month passes. The problem does not fix itself. Brick continues holding doors, behaving himself around authority figures, complimenting Blossom on topics ranging from her appearance to her professional accomplishments, and generally acting like he's having a brain aneurysm. His eyes are still expressively full of seething hatred and resentment whenever he looks at her, but that's the only normal part of his behavior.
Blossom becomes accomplished at ignoring both him and her own growing feelings of dread. She's deliberately stopped trying to identify a motive. None of her first theories panned out and the only possible explanations left are all deeply unnerving.
One day Bubbles suggests Brick might genuinely have conflicting feelings towards her. Blossom throws her sister out a window. She's not proud of it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Of denial.
She gets so good at letting the bizarre cordiality roll off her that it takes a full thirty seconds to recognize the bouquet and first edition of Giacomo Casanova's The Duel in Brick's hands for what they are. The delay costs her dearly. By the time Blossom figures out this isn't some fresh hallucinatory nightmare, Bubbles has swooped in (even though her class is halfway across campus and she should not realistically have any idea what's going on) to exclaim "She'd love to go to Homecoming with you, Brick!"
Reflexes born of years contesting anything even remotely positive said about her counterpart kick in. "I most certainly would not!"
Brick's eyes glitter, but he addresses Bubbles. "Does she refuse?"
"Of course!" Blossom cries, at the same moment Bubbles says "Of course not!"
"Bubbles, what are you doing?!"
Brick looks at her. "We can end this now if you apologize."
"Apologize? Apologize for what? You're the one who's been acting like an alien took over your body all year!"
Brick looks satisfied. "Then I'll see you at seven o'clock on Friday." He pulls his arm back, flings the bouquet in her face with enough force she staggers backward, then leaves as the lunch bell rings.
Blossom peels the flowers off and looks at Bubbles. She's holding the book and smiling brightly at Blossom's pain. "Why have you betrayed me?"
"Betrayed you? I locked in your date for Homecoming! It's even somebody you know! Ohmygosh, we have to go dress shopping today or all the good ones will be sold already! Eee! This is going to be so much fun!"
Him flinches at the thunderous roar and accidentally snaps a claw shut on his DIY macramé wall hanging. He sighs as the material slides to the floor. "How was school today?"
Brick zips into the kitchen, eyes alight with fanatic triumph. "She refused the first apology! We're gonna fight!"
Him claps his claws together. "I didn't know you were demanding satisfaction today! I would've conjured some demons to iron your jeans! What did you use to insult her?"
"Rare first edition of a novella about dueling."
Subtler would be better--really, the only thing less subtle would have been giving her an actual sword--but at least he took into account how much the girl likes books. "Is that all?"
Brick looks shifty. "What does that matter?"
"Brick! We talked about this! Choosing appropriate Homecoming invitation flowers is a key part of the ritual. Show me what you used."
Brick grumbles but pulls up a photo on his phone. Him sighs in relief. Begonias, bluebells, orange lilies. No gladiolus. Gladiolus would have ruined everything. "You got lucky this time, but you're forbidden from picking her corsage yourself."
"What?" he yells from the living room.
"You're going with me to the florist!"
“Oh, I get it. My A+ in Flower Languages of Doom is ‘shameful’ and ‘emasculating’ until you need to wish bloody death on a girl via corsage.”
"Do I have to take him?" Brick complains. "He's going to bitch the whole time."
"If you want to get sloppy and ruin months worth of ceremonial preparation when the finish line's in sight, be my guest." Brick mutters something blasphemous under his breath but doesn't otherwise put up a fight. "Now, have you both chosen seconds?"
"Bubbles is hers."
"Bubbles is her second?" Boomer zips into the kitchen. "Can I be your second, Brick?"
"No way! You two freaks would try to settle it. Butch'll second me. He'd rather cut off him own arm than miss a bloodbath. Stick with your flowers, weirdo."
Boomer glares at Brick's back when he turns away. Him isn't going to do anything about that. He senses an important life lesson about respect brewing, and that's been the theme of this endeavor all along.
Blossom fiddles with her bangs for the millionth time and Bubbles swats her hand away. "Stop it! It took half an hour to get them right with the hairspray and you're messing them up!"
"When can I change back into my comfy clothes?"
"You can't! He'll be here any minute!"
"There's no way he's actually going to show up, Bubbles."
"We'll see about that."
Blossom looks across the living room to their third sister, lounging on the couch in her street clothes and messing with her phone. "You don't have to free up data, Buttercup. I promise he isn't coming."
"Keep telling yourself that."
"It seems like cheating to blackmail me into doing something you can film and use as even more blackmail material later."
Buttercup ignores this, which, as the more powerful sister, is her right.
Blossom tries to slouch over the coffee table with her face in her hands but is denied even this simple luxury of self-expression when Bubbles grabs both wrists and wrenches her arms apart. Right. Makeup. But her soul is slumped over in an eloquent picture of how completely she's given up on the world, and that's what counts.
Then their doorbell rings, and Blossom discovers she has some fight left in her after all.
"Buttercup, the Professor!"
"Let me go, there's still time!" Blossom cries, struggling against the unbreakable grapple Bubbles has somehow achieved without mussing either of their dresses or hair.
"I can't do that, Blossom. This is Homecoming. There are rules. You're going to have fun and you're going to like it!"
Blossom hasn't heard that tone since Bubbles started anger management. Not a good sign. "...Fine. Then let's get this over with so I can start constructing an alternate version of reality where it never happens and will myself into believing it."
"That's the spirit!"
Brick withdraws from the perfectly civil, mediated-by-Buttercup handshake he's giving the Professor as they float to the door. He raises an eyebrow but doesn't comment as Bubbles muscles up one of Blossom's limp arms for the corsage.
Boomer sticks his head over Brick's shoulder. "You guys look great! Doesn't Blossom look great, Brick?" he asks, like the monster he is.
Brick looks at her. Blossom tries not to vomit. "Nice dress. Very put together."
"Don't patronize me."
"Hi Boomer! Great suit! Where's Butch?"
"He went ahead to check out the food situation. Good job on the curls! You ready?"
"Let's go!" Bubbles finally releases her and floats out the door. Probably counting on Blossom's pride to keep her from bolting. Curse Bubbles and her unnatural powers of insight.
The Professor follows them to the car with a wordless noise of agitation.
Blossom glances at Buttercup's aloft phone, then at Brick. "To get this on the record before you come to your senses: this is a terrible idea and I am only cooperating under extreme protest."
Brick jams his hands in his pockets and scowls. "If you don't wanna do it, then what's even the point?"
"I. You. What's the." This is a jarring reaction after weeks of bland courtesy. Blossom struggles for words as an insidious Bubbles voice whispers in her head 'Maybe he has conflicting feelings towards you, too.'
"Amazing," Buttercup whispers.
"Just--just shut up and get in the car!" Blossom zips over and claims the passenger seat, definitely not blushing and/or panicking.
Brick shuts the door for her and climbs in the back with Bubbles and Boomer. The Professor tilts the rear view mirror down to face the backseat and doesn't break eye contact once the whole drive. They only avoid crashing because Buttercup drifts alongside the rear bumper and does all the steering. Blossom can feel Brick making the head-melting face at her through the seat, except now she isn't sure whether it's an 'upset with her for existing' kind of face, or an 'upset with her for her attitude about the dance' face. Eventually she gives up on the hopeless boy puzzle to focus on survival.
It's an uncomfortable and mostly accurate preview for how the rest of the evening unfolds.
"It's so pretty in here! Look at the fairy lights!"
"It's the gym plus a bunch of folding tables and cheap Party City garbage. They didn't even put the bleachers away."
"Shut up, Buttercup! You've never had the soul of an artist! You don't know anything and you're dead inside!"
"Wow, is the punch coming out of an ice dolphin?" Boomer cuts in. "Let's go check that out before anyone gets horribly maimed and maybe breaks it."
"You want punch?" Brick demands. Some kind of switch flipped as soon as they set foot inside the gym. He's twitching like Butch. Is it nerves?
Blossom sighs, exhausted already. "I guess."
He darts off. Blossom looks at Buttercup. "I'll do your chores for a month if you tell me what's going on."
Across the room, they hear Brick yell "What's with this crappy music? Where's the DJ? Hey, loser college dude stuck DJing a Homecoming dance, don't you have anything made with actual instruments?"
Buttercup shrugs. "Sorry sis, can't help you." The lack of counteroffer proves more fully than any denial that Buttercup isn't in the know.
Pop music stops and something classical starts. Brick zips back with Butch in tow. He thrusts punch at Blossom and watches avidly as she drinks. The second she lowers the cup he snaps "Let's dance."
Brick breathes, visibly pulling himself together. "I mean, would you like to dance? Do you know how to waltz?"
"Do you know how to waltz?" she stalls.
"Why would I ask if I didn't?!"
Bubbles appears behind Blossom and gives her a mighty shove forward. "She'd love to waltz, wouldn't you Blossom."
"I--" Blossom looks from Bubbles' untroubled face, which gives nothing away, to Brick, who might actually be vibrating with suppressed energy. "--um. I guess that's. Fine."
Carefully, like he's handling a priceless art piece, Brick takes her hand. Blossom's stomach flops over and tries to eat itself. Buttercup calculates the value appreciation of her footage under her breath as they cross the dance floor née basketball court.
Brick floats them to center court and stares deeply into her eyes. "Bet you're wishing you chickened out when you had the chance."
"Objectively, I've done scarier things. I think I'll survive."
"You wouldn't have dared dunk me in a volcano if you knew it would lead to this."
"It's a bit of a non-sequitur," she admits. "Like the turn this conversation's taking."
"The only thing that can settle this now is blood."
"...Really this time: are you okay? Because you don't seem okay. Even by your usual standards."
"I'm great, Puff. And I'm about to be better than ever." He drops her hand and cries, with sudden viciousness, "Prepare yourself!"
Him appears in a billow of pink smoke, flanked by two fire demons. "The agents of hell recognize this ritual application for blood rivalry status and present our fabulous selves as witnesses for ratification! Challenge has been given and the first apology refused. The dispute will now be decided via duel!"
Blossom takes in the contingent of hellspawn in her school gymnasium. Then she turns to Brick. "Is this why you've been flirting with me?"
He recoils. "Flirting?!"
"The compliments, the helpfulness, the Homecoming date, the blanket cessation of assassination attempts."
"No, dear," Him explains, because Brick is still frozen in horror. "That's just how you court a girl to be your blood rival. Then you fight her to the death at Homecoming. It's all covered at Hell Cotillion."
"Is that where you guys have been all summer?" Bubbles asks Boomer. "We wondered why you missed the state fair."
'Yeah. Mom said our "savagery" was "unrefined." I think Him and Mojo were really just sick of us breaking everything in the house.'
Bubbles nods thoughtfully. “Has your family considered therapy? I can recommend someone good.”
“But bloodletting our issues in rooms full of traumatized high schoolers is free.”
"Sorry, what are blood rivals?" Blossom asks, helpless as always against the impulse to search for logic where there clearly is none. "We’ve always been mortal enemies. Is that different?”
Him waves a claw. “Blood rival is an official designation in the hell registry. Anybody can say they're mortal enemies, but that doesn't mean anything. We provide legitimacy. Also, you're not blood rivals until one of you dies in a sword duel at Homecoming."
“You guys DTR’d!” Boomer yells from the sidelines. Money rapidly changes hands among the student body. Most of it seems to be filtering through Buttercup.
"And the dress code for blood rival duels is the same dress code as Homecoming?" Blossom bravely forges ahead.
"Seconds set dress code," Him corrects. "Which reminds me! Bubbles! Butch! You need to inspect the weapons, darlings! Chop chop, we only have the gym until ten and then the janitor will be by to clean up confetti and viscera."
Bubbles flies up and coos over the filigree work on the sword handle presented to her. Butch stabs his demon with the other one, giggling. The demon sighs. Approval given, the swords are returned to the bearers and then presented to Blossom and Brick.
Blossom takes hers absentmindedly and raises the wrist with her corsage. "What does this do?"
Brick answers this time, pointing his sword at her. “It represents my rage and determination to eviscerate you unflinchingly!”
“I thought red mums meant love and passion,” Bubbles ponders.
Boomer laughs. It's dead quiet in the gym and everyone hears him.
Brick swivels the sword at him. "You little shithead! You're next!" Then he turns on Blossom again. He sure is enjoying pointing that sword dramatically at people. "You know what, I do have passion! Passion for putting this hell sword through a vital organ and then laughing over your corpse!"
"Well said!" Him cries. "The parties will now duel with the agreed-upon weapons until one is humiliated--"
"Wait, humiliated? You said to the death! You said the word death multiple times!"
“Not literally to the death. Duel culture is all about hyperbole. The real point is public humiliation, not massacre. You only go à outrance if you fight to a draw first.”
Brick gapes. “You mean I don’t get a chance to skewer her? What good even is this duel shit then!”
Blossom exhales hugely.
“Whaddaya look relieved for?”
“It’s nice to know this was another misguided plan to brutally murder me in front of friends and loved ones.” For a truly insane moment, she’d started to worry he might...like her.
"Less talking, more demanding satisfaction!" Him’s lip wibbles as he gazes at Brick. “I am so proud of you.”
“Mooooom,” Brick complains.
"At will, then!" Him teleports by the dessert table.
Brick looks at Blossom. Blossom looks at Brick. There's no preemptive circling. They just launch themselves at each other, screaming, like they have a thousand times before.
"Ten to one on Brick, place your bets here, get 'em in while you can!" Buttercup cries.
Blossom blocks a vicious swipe at her neck and gives ground, frantically trying to remember what she learned in a short week at fencing camp last summer. One week isn’t a lot of knowledge to draw on. Why’d she quit so fast, anyway? Brick lunges under her guard and Blossom repels him with a kick to the stomach that sends him sailing back through bleachers.
She pauses, balancing awkwardly on one foot. Oh. Right. Why would she need to know swords when all her body parts are weapons of mass destruction?
In an unforeseeable turn of events, Buttercup objects. “Ah, come on! If they can use powers it’s the same ol' slugfest as every other school dance!”
“Yeah!” Butch agrees. “We want some variety in our bloodbaths!”
“This is a compelling point!” Him trills, waving one claw. "Besides, this ice dolphin punch fountain is delightful, and doesn't deserve to become a casualty of senseless but entertaining brutality!"
Brick, who’s zoomed back out of the wreckage with murder in his eyes, stops halfway through summoning a fireball and yelling “Eat this you prissy little—ahhh!” to fall six feet to the floor. The fireball evaporates in a pathetic cough of smoke.
Blossom is still standing on one foot and yelps as she loses balance and topples backwards. Then she just lays on her back for a second, stunned. Since when does she lose her balance?!
They scramble to their feet at the same time, make eye contact, and charge. Well, one of them charges. Blossom is rudely reminded how hard it is to run in a full-length skirt and pauses to deal with that.
"He's doing better than I thought he would," Boomer admits to Butch.
"You wanna bet on him? We could split it."
They dig around in their pockets and come up with a few dollars between them. Then they glance up in time to see Blossom cut away the bottom half of her skirt and throw the fabric in Brick's charging face. She kicks him again while he tries to claw it off.
"Ow, you witch! Watch it with the heels!"
Boomer and Butch look at each other. "...Nah."
Bubbles taps Boomer on the shoulder. "Boomer? Would you like to dance?"
"Okay. Hey DJ, play some of that stuff I brought you!"
"Aww kid, don't make me do that. This gig is weird enough already."
Boomer, whose dance invitation is an actual dance invitation instead of an archaic demonic ritual in disguise (although anyone who's been to a high school dance as a freshman might disagree about that distinction), eyebeams the wall next to his head.
"Two hours of electroswing coming right up!"
"I love swing!" Bubbles chirps. "And this is a great dress for it! Good job, past Bubbles, on your excellent choices which have had no unintended consequences for anyone you love."
Butch watches them go off to dance. He glances at Brick, who, right on cue, seizes Blossom's sword arm and flips her into the punch table. Then he looks at Buttercup, who is--
--nowhere to be seen.
Blossom hits the punch table with a crash. Ice chips and watery Kool-Aid fly everywhere as the dolphin explodes.
Him backs away and bumps into someone. "Farewell, Sir Cadigan, we hardly knew ye--oh, hello Buttercup."
She puts her hands on her hips and stares up at him. "There's no such thing as Hell Cotillion." Telling, not asking. Interesting.
Him raises an eyebrow at her. "What makes you say that?"
"Teaching waltz steps to pissy fourteen-year-old boys with attitude problems? The hell demons aren't supposed to be the ones getting tortured. Defeats the point."
The other eyebrow rises. "How unexpectedly astute of you."
"What's your angle here?"
Despite being evil incarnate, Him's a good sport when caught. "Prolonged emotional and psychological torture. Inciting senseless violence. Adding a new blood rivalry to the hell registry. And no child of mine is growing up without learning how to navigate a formal place setting! The only downside was the exorbitant registration fee."
Buttercup looks interested. "They charged you registration fees for a fake summer program that was your idea in the first place?"
"Demons have quite the hustle culture when it comes to exploiting others for personal gain."
Buttercup nods thoughtfully. "Well, thanks for admitting it like a total chump."
She pulls her hand out from behind her back. Her phone's recording audio. "Now lets talk about what you're going to do for me so I don't send this to your sons."
Him stares, and stares, and stares some more. "Are you... blackmailing me?"
"Ooh, that's cute." He waves his claw and replaces her phone iOS with the screaming gibberish of the tortured innocent and two thousand gifs of Great British Baking Show. "Nice try."
Buttercup smirks wider. "You think I don't back up all my data to a remote server in realtime?"
"Can phones do that?"
"Dude, it's seriously not that hard to learn tech. Old people are just lazy."
Him snarls and rears back in a surge of hellfire. "I'm single-handedly governing a multi-tiered dimension of eternal suffering, while raising three brats with basically no support from that insufferable monkey! I don't have time to--"
"I'm hearing a no on the negotiation front." Buttercup's hand is hovering over her phone. The device is useless now, but the threat is clear.
Him thinks for a moment. Then he teleports next to the Professor.
"Come on, sweetie! Hit him in the kidney! Ahh!"
"Utonium. I'm giving you my children, and I don't want them back until they've learned to be like your daughters."
The Professor blinks, then rallies. "I don't want your children."
"Neither do I, but we don't always get what we want." He subsides. "Whatever you're doing is extremely effective. Send them back once they've become unflinchingly selfish, manipulative, and insane with self-confidence."
"My girls are not--"
"I'm better than you! I've always been better than you, and I always will be!" They both look over as Blossom abandons her sword in favor of wrestling Brick to the floor and smashing cake in his face. They look at Buttercup, counting up her winnings as the tide of the fight turns inevitable. They look at Bubbles, who's watching the chaos unfold with a perfectly angelic expression on her face and not doing a single thing to stop it.
Finally, they look at each other.
"I'll magic some money into your account to cover living expenses."