Shattered Innocence

by Tragedy88

Disclaimers: These are my characters, all mine, even if they bear a striking resemblance to a certain warrior and bard. Sorry MCA/Universal you should know by now that I can't resist. But, so ya know, in no way do I make money from this. It's just my own sick, twisted fun.

Sex/Violence: Lots. More then the usual eps of Xena, and more then my usual stories. This is a tough city, a tough neighborhood where just about anything does and will happen. This story depicts love between two members of the same sex, so if this is illegal or offensive, read elsewhere. This story also depicts an act of rape, but no graphic sex scenes. Sorry folks, just not my style.

Anything else? Don't know about that yet. Guess this story has an R rating because of the violence and potty mouth language. Um, that'd be all now. Go ahead and read. Delve into my twisted mind, if you dare! :)

Feedback most welcome at

Chapter 21

"Where is she?" Tony was pacing back and forth on the wide concrete steps at the front of the school.

"Sit down, Tony," Cadence chided lightly. She patted the step beside her, and, after a moment, Tony sat down with a plop.

"She said she'd be here." Tony sighed.

"Then she'll be here," Ripper assured. She was sitting on the divider that separated the 'grass' from the steps. There really wasn't any grass, all but a few scraggly weeds having been trampled down by hundreds of students over the years.

Ten minutes and classes would start. So far there was no Casey. Tony absently noticed that while most of the gang were hanging about the front steps or nearby on the grass all was strangely quiet. As if there was something they were all avoiding.

A tension in the air that Tony did not have time to question as she saw short, spiky blond hair in the crowd of students.

"See," Ripper said, in a sing song 'I told you so' voice.

Briefly Tony stuck out her tongue at the athlete, then hopped up and ran down the stairs to meet Casey, hoping that the idea she had come up with while suffering insomnia after another bad dream, would go over well with the rebellious teen.

"Tell her," Tony whispered and nudged Casey closer to the front of the empty classroom. The spikey haired girl planted her feet inches from the back row of desks and refused to go any further.

"I won't rat," Casey said stubbornly, for the tenth time since Tony had told her the plan.

"It's not ratting," she tried to explain, but the frustration was showing through in her voice. She placed her hand on Casey's back and pushed her forward.

"No." She planted her feet again with a loud squeal, a sound only rubber on tile can make.

Anna Stewart looked up in surprise. "Tony?" She glanced at the other girl, vaguely recognizing her from another English class, and feeling a sharp tingle of fear travel up her spine as she also realized it was one of Shane's girls. "Casey. What can I do for you, girls?"

For a moment there was only tense silence.

"Tony wants ta tell ya somthing," Casey mumbled and swiftly turned, shoving Tony up towards the front of the room.

"I- " She grabbed Casey and pulled her forward too. "We need your help, Ms. Stewart."

"Ok, what can I do?" Wearily she eyed the spike hired girl that stood beside Tony. She was, maybe, only a few inches taller, not counting the spikes. And, surprisingly, at the moment her expressive eyes were wide with fear.

The principal, coach, and a few other faculty members fed up with the gangs running the school were all seated around the conference table. They argued back and forth about what to do before the principal stood and cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him.

He paused to adjust his tie, smoothed it down then began speaking in calm tones. "There are, as many of you know, a number of gangs in this school. One gang stands out from all those."

"The Panthers!" Coach reminded them, though no one needed reminding.

The principal nodded and smiled shallowly. "Yes, the Panthers. I've had the ... pleasure... of knowing their leader for a few years now." There were a few nervous chuckles. When they quieted down the principal began again. "Shane Delante is a ruthless, cold hearted bitch, that cares for nothing. She would just as soon slit your throat then look at you."

He now had the attention of the entire room. "Shane Delante prays on the weak and the innocent. She's made teachers quit, had them fired, set fire to their classrooms, vandalized, terrorized... I'm sorry to say that the list goes on and on." He glanced at each and every occupant of the room.

"She's stopped doing most of that." The science teacher quickly glanced down at his interlaced fingers.

"You're right, Sam. But, is it the calm before the storm?" the principal asked.

Coach nodded and stood angrily. "He's right. That gang is spoiling for something. I can feel it."

"What are they going to do?" one of the others asked.

"She needs to be stopped," Coach said.

The principal held a secret smile inside. Perfect. He didn't have to say it, didn't have to dirty or sully his excellent record. Now, all he had to do was carefully lead them in the right direction, without coming right out and saying it. "I've called the police on numerous occasions, ... . Somehow she avoids them every time."

"Maybe with all the drug running that gangs do she's paid them off," someone speculated.

The principal had to hide another pleased smile. "It doesn't matter, there is nothing we can do but try and tighten school security, again."

Grumbles went up around the room. Security was as much a hassle for the teachers as it was for the students.

"Isn't' there something we can do?" the librarian asked. She was small, thin boned and fragile. Her eyes were perpetually wide with alarm and behind her thick glasses she looked like an owl and every bit the stereotypical librarian. "Like a meeting? Convince the other students not to put up with the harassment?"

Coach humphed. "You don't actually THINK that will stop them, do you?" he asked incredulously. "Nothing short of violence will. Their kind doesn't understand anything but bloodshed." His face was turning red and a vein throbbed in his forehead.

"Calm down. We can not resort to violence in this matter, " he said diplomatically. "Alice is right. Maybe we should have a meet-"

"Don't be stupid! There's only one way to stop them!" Furiously coach slammed his chair back and stalked to the door. "And I will stop them, mark my words," he threw back over his shoulder as he tore open the door and went through. It slammed against the wall with a thud that made most of the teachers leap from their chairs and into automatic action.

Several sets of eyes equaled the coaches rage and it wasn't long before they left to find out what could be done. Others left meekly, determined to hide in the proverbial closet till this blew over, which they were sure it would. And one, spectacled science teacher eyed the principal quizzically before he left the conference room and returned to his lab in silence.

Trouble was a brewin'.

"Why aren't we with the rest of the gang?" the young blond asked, not really expecting an answer.

After a moments hesitation Shane replied, "I thought... I don't know... I thought we could just hang out." Nervously she twisted her hands together then slapped the outsides of her thighs before slipping down onto the old army cot.

When Shane had called her after school and asked her to met her at the tunnels coming here to hang out hadn't even occurred to Tony. Something was wrong, that much she could see in the dark pools of blue Shane sporadically turned her way.

Full of hesitation. Full of questions.

"We can hang out," Tony said as she rested on the edge of the cot. "Or we could talk."

"About what?"

"About whatever's bothering you," she replied, looking at the dark teen, her shuttered eyes and arms crossed over her chest. Mentally she sighed, then scooted back up against the old brick wall and rested her hands in her lap. "Are you worried about Jynx?"

"No." Shane's face remained expressionless.

"Worried about Casey 'ratting out' Coach to Ms. Stewart?"

One fine eyebrow lifted. "No."

"What then?"

She seemed to consider for a moment, her face relaxing back to it's usual stoic self. "Casey really did it then?"

Tony nodded absently. "We talked to her this morning. She's willing to go to the principal for us, so long as we can get some more people to tell what they saw."

Quietly Shane studied Tony as she talked, watching the emotions span across her face. "No one else will talk, will they?"

The young blond looked up and shook her head. "I hoped... I don't know. I hoped they'd be... what?" Tony shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "Less self centered?" She met Shane's eyes. "Don't they know it's for all of them? That if one, or two, of them step forward they won't have to put up with his intolerance and bigotry anymore?"

My naive little friend.... Shane shrugged. "It's not that."

"What is it then?" Tony asked bewildered. She couldn't even begin to understand the little nuances and rules of this school. It was ok to kill someone but not tell on them?

"It's... well it's just what's going to happen. Ya don't rat around here, Tony. Justice will be served." Tony's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and Shane continued hastily. "Ya know, what goes around comes around? Coach will pay his dues."

"Uh huh," Tony mumbled. She slouched further down against the wall and pulled her knees up to her chin. She circled her arms around her legs and rested her cheek on her knees, looking away from Shane.

After a moment Shane's hand came to rest on her shoulder. "Just let it be," she said softly.

"What if I don't want to? What if I don't think any of this is fair?" Slowly she turned to meet Shane's eyes, her own clouding over with tears. Angrily she swiped them away with the back of her hand. She refused to cry over something this stupid.

"I know you don't want to. I know it's not fair." Shane sighed, then held open her arms. Tony slid into them and settled against her chest. She felt Tony's body shake with the need to hold in her tears.

"Goddammit," Tony swore as silent tears traveled down her cheeks and soaked the front of Shane's white t shirt. When am I going to stop crying? When will I have control? Everything is all out of proportion.

"It's ok, Tony, let it out," Shane whispered.

The girl shook her head painfully and held tighter to Shane, as if by sheer force she could hold back the flood of pain and tears. "I don't want to cry," she murmured.

"Sometimes you have to."

Tilting her head back slightly, Tony looked up at Shane. Her eyes were open, but she seemed fixed on some distant spot on the wall, or in the past. They sparkled with tears of their own, but unlike her she knew Shane would not cry.

Shane's hand continued to rub Tony's back absently in circles and neither girl spoke for a long time. Tony was beginning to doze when Shane began to talk.

"Ya know Charley was only a couple years younger then me. He followed me everywhere. Like a puppy dog, ya know?" Shane shifted and pulled Tony more comfortably against her chest, resting between her legs and in the full enclosure of her arms. "I didn't want him to drive the getaway car, didn't want him near the gang. But Jynx, she... persuaded me... and in the end, because I gave in, my baby brother died."

Tony remained silent, listening to the harsh syllables of Shane's words fall down all around her ears like a cement wall crumbling under the onslaught of a wrecking ball.

"If- if he'd just stayed in the damn car. But no, he had to run inside when Jynx shot the gun. She said we weren't even gonna use the guns... I should have seen it coming."

"It's not your fault," Tony said. Shane stiffened beneath her.

"It was my fault," she replied harshly. "I should have refused."

"How were you suppose to know something would go wrong?" Tony asked reasonably.

"Doesn't matter. I should have forbidden him-"

Tony straightened up and looked Shane in the eye. "You mean to tell me that a hormone-raging, teenage boy would have actually listened? That just because you forbade him and told him to stay home that he would have?" When Shane looked away Tony gently took hold of her chin and brought their faces within inches of each other.

"I could have locked him in his room," Shane whispered.

"Then, who's to say that someone else wouldn't have died? Cadence? Or Ripper?" Tony challenged. For each question, each plea, she would come up with an answer. There was more then one way to see every situation, that she knew.

Mutely Shane shook her head and tried to tear away from Tony's grasp. But she wouldn't let her. "Look at me," Tony pleaded gently.

Soft, baby blues met Tony's gaze. "What do you want from me?" Shane barely whispered.

Tony's blond head tilted sideways and her eyes widened in shock. "I don't want anything from you Shane." She paused. "Except for you to stop blaming yourself for his death."

Shane's eyes flickered and darkened, her jaw clenched beneath Tony's hand, and this time she tore it away. "I shot him, goddammit. How can that not be my fault?"

"Did you mean it? Did you want to shoot him?"

"No," came the choked out reply.

"Then, tell me, how is it your fault?" When Shane gazed back at Tony there was no anger, no rage, just misty eyes and a trembling lip. "You once told me that the dead can hear our thoughts. Charley knows that you never meant to hurt him. That you loved your baby brother."

"Loved him very much," Shane agreed, eyes not leaving Tony's.

"All you need to do now is to forgive yourself."

"I- I don't know if I can," Shane stammered.

"I'll help you," Tony whispered.

For a breathless eternity their eyes met and held and it seemed as if they'd done all this before. Then Shane gave Tony a lopsided, crooked grin.

Beautiful... Tony leaned in and touched Shane's lips with her fingers. What now? Slowly she advanced, till her lips just barely touched Shane's. It was a sweet, reassuring kiss and the dark haired teen savored it, drank it deep into her memory... then reached for more.

A tongue sought entrance to Tony's mouth and for a moment she balked at the idea, but as Shane slowly teased her tongue along her lips she let her in. The kisses turned hungry and passionate and it was a long time before they breathlessly broke apart.

Chapter 22

What do you want from me? The question rang in Tony's head long after the kisses had turned wanting, and passionate, long after they'd exited the tunnels and Shane had taken her home.

What did she want? She wanted to be in control of her life again. Wanted to stopped crying. Wanted to Yeah, she wanted a lot of things. And she wanted to be a Panther.

Tony stopped pacing around her small, darkened room and thought about that one for a moment. Did she really want to be a Panther? To belong somewhere, to be someone? Maybe, maybe not. It was tempting. She understood now what drove her peers to gang life. It was all about the feeling of being someone and belonging. The belonging most of all.

The lost ones. The destitute. The lonely.

Am I one of those? Am I a lost one?

Yes, that little voice cried.

Tony crossed the floor and stood in front of her used stereo. After she plugged in the headphones and nestled them on her ears she turned it on and cranked up the volume. And, for a time, the screaming of some hip new rock singer drowned out all thoughts and feelings.

And that was just fine with Tony.

The kisses had been good. Very good. They had never been like that with what's his name? Shane looked up at the ceiling with a lazy smile gracing her lips. But what does it all mean? Nothing everything?

Shane let out a frustrated groan and threw her pillow over her head to drown out the noises of the city. But her mind would not be silenced. Thoughts whirled and churned like a dark tornado.

Tony, in her arms. Soft lips, warm kisses. Tony's body wrapped tightly around her own

"Shane!" Suddenly her door banged upon and smashed into the wall. She sat up, heart pounding in her chest.

"Jesus, pop, don't do that." She surged to her feet and went to her father who was standing in the doorway to her room. "What do you need?"

"I need my damn bottle. Where is it?" He wagged an accusing finger in her direction. Stale alcohol wafted from his mouth.

She wrinkled her nose. "It's where you left it, pop."

"Where I left it?" he mumbled.

"Yeah, in the bath tub." Shane grabbed his arm and steered him towards the bathroom.

"Stupid place to keep it." His shoulder hit the doorway and he stumbled out of Shane's grasp and to his knees beside the tub. He fumbled behind the curtain, grabbed his bottle and slumped to the floor.

Shane turned and left, hiding her disgust behind hooded eyes.

"I want you to meet someone, Tony. Will you come with me?" Shane sat, straddling her bike, a helmet tucked under her arm and one resting on the seat behind her.

Just a day had passed, but that time had seemed like months. The school parking lot was busy as always after the final bell. The rest of the Panthers had gone off on their own and Shane and Tony were left to their own devices. And the dark haired teen obviously had something on her mind.

"Sure, I guess. Where are we going?" Tony approached the bike and touched the helmet under Shane's arm. "Is it a long ride?"

"Not too long." Shane paused and reached behind her. "Will you come with me?"

Tony nodded and took the helmet. It was a little big, but the fit was good enough. She slid her leg over the bike and settled in as Shane put on her own helmet. "So, where are we going?"

"You'll see when we get there. Hang on."

Tony waited patiently, as patiently as she could, on the drive out of the city and along the twisting mountain roads. About an hour out of the city metal gates loomed off in the distance and it wasn't long before Tony realized that's where they were headed.

Paskill Peak Institution, the sign read. She held in a gasp. Is this the mystery place Shane disappears to? Tony had always assumed she'd gone to the tunnels. Apparently not.

They slowed at the booth that stood before the gate.

"Shane Delante to see Claire Delante," Shane announced after she'd flipped up the sunvisor on her helmet.

"Hey Shane, we didn't expect you back for a while," the guard said.

"I know, I didn't expect to be back so soon either."

"Hey mom. I know I said I wouldn't be coming back, but there's someone I want you to meet. Her name is Tony and she's she's my friend." Shane turned to Tony as she lingered, stunned, in the doorway. "Come on in," she said softly. "She's asleep but I wanted you to meet her."

"This is your mom?" Tony asked. "This is where you go when you disappear?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Tony looked incredulously at the dark teen as she stared helplessly at the ground.

"I- I've never told anyone before," Shane admitted.

For a moment Tony fought a sense of juvenile rebellion and stood in the doorway with her arms folded and a sour look on her face. Till, that is, she realized it was pure and simple jealousy. In the months that had passed the young girl had come to realize that she had more then just a friend in the tough- as-nails-wild teen. She'd learned more, come further then anyone before into the heart of this girl, and now Now she was upset because Shane had yet another secret in her past she wasn't privy to.

Is that it? Am I really just jealous? Slowly she unfolded her arms and strode across the small, sterile room to sit, perched on the edge of the bed. Shane sat on the other side and gently held her mother's hand.

"Antonio Scarletti, this is Claire Delante. Mom, this is Tony," Shane said.

"Nice to meet you, Claire." Tony looked up, and met shy, pale blue eyes. "She's really pretty. Like you." She grinned as Shane blushed. "You've got a really great daughter here. I bet she was a handful growing up."

Shane dropped Tony off at her apartment and roared down the side alley, onto the main street and back to her own home. If Tony was in a bad neighborhood, Shane was in the sewer. Crack dealers and the same aging prostitutes littered the corner, heaps of trash and indigents lay by the dumpsters.

And shadows, everywhere.

A bass beat thumped from the bar down the street, neon signs glowed painfully in the dark, and the sharp toenails of a rat skittered on the cement as the dark teen whistled her way up the stone steps to the crumbling front door.

Shadows shifted, a dog howled and Shane tensed suddenly. Someone was behind her. She whirled around, but no one was there. Shaken, she reached for the knob and inserted the key. only to turn back around as the short hairs on her neck and arms quivered, alerting her to danger.

A soft chuckle sounded from the walkway under the steps leading to the basement. "Long time no see," a throaty voice whispered.

Any pretense that she was safe left Shane the second she recognized that voice. Casually she leaned over the rusted railing and gazed into the shadows. "Hasn't been long enough... Jynx."

"Darn," Jynx said merrily, and her voice rose as she ascended the stairs and rounded the corner. She stood, and leaned lightly against the bottom post of the railing. "I was hoping you'd need a minute more to guess. But, anyway, no time for games."

"What do you want?" Shane cut in briskly. She could feel the presence of others, but was it her imagination or friends of her old enemy?

"What do I want?" Jynx raised her arm and tapped her pale chin with slender fingers. She seemed to consider for a moment before smiling widely. "Well, of course I want what's mine."

"And that would be?" Shane asked coldly. The shadows were not her imagination. She kept her face rigid and impassive as five women stepped out of their hiding places and took positions on either side of the former leader of the Panthers.

"You took them from me, Hammer, I want them back," she said.

Odd how the name Hammer, coming from those pouty lips, irritated Shane more then anything. She'd been inducted into the gang as Hammer, and completed her initiation with that tag. But, after that night, when everything had changed, noone inside of the circle called her that anymore. "Stow it Jynx. They came to me. You fucked up. My brother died." She paused and let a slow, feral smile grace her lips. "Now the Panthers are mine."

"Not for long." Jynx ruffled her blond hair and put her hands on her hips.

"They won't go back to you." Shane's posture was anything but casual now. She could feel the tension building in the air like a roiling fog coming in from the ocean.

"I suppose not, but does it really matter? I've got my own posse now." Her hands swung out to indicate the women at her sides. "The city's best and brightest criminals." She glanced around again with a wry raised eyebrow. "Well, mostly."

They were a motley crew, most roughly in their early twenties, the same age as Jynx. Tough, street smart, and uncaring.

"Then what do you want?"

"Touchy tonight, aren't we? It wouldn't have anything to do with that pretty little blond would it? She too much for you? Too demanding?" Jynx smiled cruelly.

Shit. How? "She's nothing to you. It's me you want," Shane said carefully. As she put one hand on her hip she laid the other out in front of her and crooked her finger at Jynx. "So, come and get me."

"As you wish." She waved her hand forward. "Get her." Then she stood back a moment to watch as Shane deftly cleared the side of the stairs, jumping over the railing and landing on the cement leading to the basement door. A second later she heard the door splintering as Shane kicked it inward. She cursed silently. "Go after her!"

"Where's Shane?" Casey asked. "Why are you asking me?" Tony, Casey and Cadence were waiting for the others, as well as Shane, on the front steps of the school. Shane had never come to pick her up in the morning and Tony was anything but calm. It showed in her voice. "How am I suppose to know?" she asked irritably.

Casey made a jabbing motion at Tony's head and was promptly smacked away. "Reeowww," she hissed.

"Leave her alone," Cadence smacked the spike haired girl on the back of the head and turned to Tony. "Nevermind her."

"Nevermind who?" Ripper asked as she joined them on the steps. She was decked out in black jeans, black boots, white T-shirt and leather vest today.

"Hot date, Rip?" Casey grinned and ducked out of the way as Ripper's hand came out at her head. "Hey, what is this? Beat up Casey day?" she asked indignitly.

"Sure is," Dorsey jogged over from the side and tackled Casey down to the bottom of the steps.

Everyone let out a laugh as Casey squealed out an undignified ėow', and some of the tension left the slowly gathering group.

"Well? Spill it Ripper!" Casey demanded from underneath Dorsey's lean body as she struggled to get up and brush off her clothes. After a moment the gang was sitting calmly on the steps and looking at Ripper intently.

"Not a date," the athletic girl finally mumbled, turning her head to hide a blush and shoving her hands into her vest pockets. "An interview."

"Interview with who?" Tony asked.

"Um." Ripper turned to face the young girl, and pretended the rest of them didn't exist. "A recruiter actually. He saw me at the game Friday and wants to talk about scholarships and stuff."

"Really? That's great!" Tony gave Ripper a quick hug, remembering at the last second that the girl was actually very shy when it came to physical contact.

"Yeah." The basketball star's face lit up with Tony's praise. "I could go to the local on a scholarship." Her faced clouded briefly then the smile returned. "That is, as long as I get the scholarship."

"You will. I know you will. You're awesome on the court." Tony smiled.

"Yeah, you're ok," Casey teased. She ducked away quickly, but was stunned when Ripper didn't even turn to look at her. She was still talking to Tony.

"I've got another game Tuesday. You could come and watch, Tony." She turned self-consciously. "Ya'll gonna come, right?"

"Wouldn't miss it." Cadence grinned.

"Hey, where's Shane?" Dorsey suddenly realized what was missing and looked expectantly around the group, her eyes coming to rest on Tony.

"What? Why does everyone think I know where she is?"

Dorsey shrugged. "Anybody know where she is?"

A chorus of "no's" sprang up around the group. A few heads turned to the filling parking lot, looking for Shane's Harley.

"Guess she disappeared again," Casey finally offered.

"No," Tony replied. She 'disappeared' last night, and didn't mention going back till the weekend. In fact she was going to pick me up this morning. "Actually she was going to give me a ride to school this morning," she said slowly and watched the reactions of the girls around her. Everyone here knew that Shane never broke her word.

Ripper's face was puzzled, Casey's was blank, Cadence looked thoughtful and before she could see what Dorsey was thinking Molly and Tish showed up.

"You two seen Shane?" Cadence asked. They shook their heads no and Cadence stood, sinking her chocolate brown hands into the soft pockets of her jeans. Her brown eyes turned to Tony. "How bout-"

"Antonia?" A tentative voice called.

Tony's head whirled around and found Ms. Stewart standing awkwardly near the school's front doors.

"May I have a word with you, please?"

"Sure," Tony called to the teacher and turned back to Cadence. "Hold that thought, I'll be right back."

"Are you busy?" Anna asked.

"Not really, I guess. What's up?"

"I talked to the principal." She paused and avoided meeting the young girl's eyes. "He already called a meeting to discuss harassment policies."

"And?" Tony asked, not liking the way the teacher avoided looking directly at her. "He's not going to do anything, is he?"

"On the contrary. I- well, I wasn't there. I wasn't informed of the meeting time beforehand, but I heard after, from the science teacher that, um-"

"What? What happened?" Tony asked impatiently. She did not like where this was going.

"The principal agrees that such harassment is no longer acceptable. That, um, something - like more security - should be added-"

"Wait! That has nothing to do with the coach. That was-"

"I know, Tony. Shh." Anna looked surreptitiously around her. "Let's talk in the classroom. This is not a conversation that anyone needs to overhear." As she turned to go into the school she mumbled something else.

'I don't even know why I'm telling you this,' she'd said. What the hell does that mean? Tony wondered. She glanced briefly at the Panthers and gave them a helpless shrug before following her English teacher into the school.

Darkness surrounded her, as did pain, both blurred and fuzzy. They'd caught her. Her first mistake had been taunting Jynx when she'd been outnumbered. The second mistake was not anticipating the solid chain and dead bolt on the exit door in the basement. But then how could she have anticipated that Jynx would know exactly where she'd run too? She'd forgotten how well the woman knew her.

Trapped and outnumbered, it was easy to determine the outcome, but at least she'd broken one woman's arm, crushed another's nose and sent one unconscious to the floor before they'd gotten her.

Now she lay on the cold, gritty basement floor. Blood caked her face and the front of her shirt. A feeble light came in one broken window, and she used it's guiding light to find the bottom of the stairwell.

Thank God nothing is broken, she thought as she made her way up to her apartment.

Chapter 23

"Shane! Shane! Are you home? Open up, dammit!" Casey pounded on the door. They'd all insisted on going after school to check on Shane when Tony had brought the subject up again.

All was, of course, Cadence, Casey, Ripper and Tony.

Suddenly the door flew open, banging loudly against the wall. Everyone jumped as Shane's father lurched to a standstill against the doorframe.

Casey stepped forward, a scowl on her face. "Where's Shane?" she demanded.

"Hey, who are you? Wait! You're Caddie, Shane's friend!" He lurched back from the door. "Come on in, Caddie." He nearly shut the door in Cadence's face as she followed behind Casey. Ripper and Tony came next.

Casey was already pounding on Shane's bedroom door.

"Go away, pop," Shane yelled through the door.

Apparently they had all been here before, but they'd failed to warn Tony about anything. She was working hard to keep her face neutral. Very hard.

Shane threw the door open. "I told you pop-"

Cadence gasped.

"What happened?" Casey asked.

Tony remained still, stunned into silence by the savage red welt on Shane's cheek, her black eye and split lip.

"What are you doing here?" the dark teen replied instead. "Tony?" She turned to the Casey with a scowl. "Who the hell said you could come here, and bring her with you?"

"I asked them to bring me here, Shane. You never picked me up this morning, and never even called. I was worried, dammit!" Tony yelled. "Why didn't you tell us you were hurt?"

"I'm fine." She glanced down the hall and saw her father standing in the archway to the livingroom, staring. "You might as well come in." Shane stood back and allowed the gang to file into her room. She shut the door behind them and laid wearily on the bed.

Tony reluctantly sat beside her, while the others silently held back. "Did your father do this to you?"

"Please, he's too drunk half the time to even find his own alcohol."

"Then who- Jynx?"

Shane's eyes widened imperceptibly. "She cornered me. There was nothing I could do."

"Oh Shane-"

"I'm fine. Leave it alone."

"No," Cadence interrupted. "We will not leave this alone. If you're in danger, the Panthers are endanger, and we stick together."

Slowly Shane turned pale eyes around the room, sighing heavily. She came to a stop at Tony's face and glanced longingly into her eyes. "You should leave, Tony. This is gang business that has nothing to do with you."

She scowled and crossed her arms. "It has everything to do with me now. I'm your friend, Shane. And Casey and Ripper's and Ca-"

"I get the picture." Shane narrowed her eyes. "But I don't want you involved with this. You'll only get hurt."

"I can take care of myself."


The blond's shoulders slumped and she uncrossed her arms and stood. "I'll be home, if you ever need me." She stormed to the door, some part of her wishing for Shane to call her back. When no one called she left the apartment, walked down the stairs and returned home with an ache in her heart that she could not even begin to fathom.

"Did you find out where she is?" Shane asked as soon as Casey rounded the corner and popped her head into the abandoned warehouse. Everyone had gathered, but Tony was conspiciously absent.

"I think so," the spike haired girl replied. She fiddled with her eyebrow piercing a moment before continuing on. "Word is a new gang took up in the old paint factory on Chartley."

"You think it's them?" Cadence asked.

Casey nodded.

"What do we do now?" Ripper asked.

"You've got a basketball game to play tonight, and we're all gonna go. Nobody stays alone. Jynx will come at you one on one. She'll either try to win you over or worse."

Ripper's interview was set half an hour after the game. In the locker room with the rest of her team she changed out of her street clothes, folding them neatly in her locker, to her uniform. It was white, with gold stripes on the sides and blue lettering. Her number was 28 and it had always been her lucky number.

A rampage of butterflies took up residence in her stomach. Pregame jitters. She was hyped up and ready to go. As soon as the rest of the team was dressed they made their way out onto the court to practice.

Ripper bumped into Tony on her way out. "Hey, what are you doing here?"

Tony shrugged. "Just came to wish you good luck before the game."

"You gonna stay?" the athlete asked quietly. Someone thundered past her and she wondered if Tony had heard her.

"Mm, for a little bit." Her eyes were distant and she seemed pale.

"You allright?" Ripper asked.

Tony nodded and started to walk away.

"Wait!" the athlete called and grabbed Tony's arm and turned her around. "You know what Shane said was to keep you safe, right?"


"She doesn't want you around the violence. She never did." Ripper paused. "In fact she once told me she prayed you never wanted to join us."

"What?" Tony's eyes widened.

Ripper's brow wrinkled in thought. "Yeah, said something about how gang life made you cold and bitter, and how she never wanted to see that happen to you."

"She said that?"

"Yeah, not word for word, but that's the gist." She let go of Tony's arm.

"My interview's after the game. Walk me to the office then?"

Tony smiled for the first time that day. "Sure."

"K, see ya then."

Tony watched Ripper jog away. Her smile faded as she spotted Shane in the crowd, and the Panthers seated all around her.

She suddenly felt more lonely then she ever had in her entire life. With a jolt from the elbow of one of the players she decided to find a bleacher and sit tight.

The game was over. They'd won. Twenty-eight to two. Ripper had scored half those points, and Doresy had caught another five. Tony searched the cheering crowd for Ripper and finally spotted her on the far side of the gym, going into the locker room. She crossed the gym and waited for her to come back out.

"Great game," Tony praised, when Ripper had emerged from the locker room. She'd showered and changed back into her black boots, pants and vest. She looked good.

"Thanks," she said. A smile lit up her glowing face.

"Ready to walk to the office?" Tony asked.


"Hey, awesome game!" Casey cried as she parted the crowd and slapped Ripper on the back.


The rest of the Panthers were with Casey.

"I'll meet you guys in thirty, out by the front steps. Ok?" Ripper accepted a few more thanks and pats on the back. "Come on, Tony, let's go."

Ripper disappeared down the hallway as Tony waited on a bench in the dimly lit lobby. A few moments later Ripper came storming down the hall, kicking at lockers on her way. Abrubtly she stopped in front of Tony.

"What happened?" Tony asked nervously.

The basketball player growled and headed to the lobby doors. She nearly ripped them off their hinges on the way out. Tony leapt up and raced out the doors as Ripper set off in the direction of the front of the school and tore off her vest, throwing it to the ground as she went. "That fucking bastard!" Ripper yelled. "He wasn't a fucking scout."

"Ripper!" Tony jogged to catch up and caught Ripper's arm, pulling her to a stop. "Tell me what happened."

The tall, athletic girl whirled on her. "He tried to get in my pants, that's what fucking happened," she seethed. "God, I am so stupid!" She threw up her hands in the air.

"He lied to you. It's not your fault."

"I should have known. Nothing that good ever happens here." Slowly she sank down to the curb and put her head to her knees. Her voice came out muffled as she said, "I'll never get a scholaship. I'll never get out of this hell hole. Never."

Tony sat next to Ripper and gently laid her arm across broad, muscular shoulders. "That's not true. You will get out of here. A real scout will find you."

Ripper looked up and directly into Tony's eyes. "There's no time left. This is my senior year."

"But there are more games, right?"

She barely nodded.

"Then there's a chance."

Ripper shook her head. "I'll never get out of here."

"Yes you will," Tony said forcibly.

"No, Tony, the only way out of here for any of us is a coffin." Ripper stood abruptly, leaving Tony still on the curb as she strode purposely to the front of the school.

"I don't believe that," Tony whispered. "There's always a way."

Chapter 24
Sticks and stones

How the hell am I suppose to go to school and pretend everything is normal when my life is falling apart all around me? Ms. Stewart says the coach may try some kind of revenge on the Panthers, Shane won't talk to me, Ripper is hurting and there's nothing I can do

She wandered through the noisy school hallways in a haze, skipping lunch to sit in the library, and not paying anyone a second glance.

Lost in thought Tony barely noticed the muscular football player till she rebounded off him and scattered her books and papers across the hall. The jock mumbled an apology but just kept right on walking.

"Figures," she mumbled and bent to retrieve her belongings. No one stopped to help and she finally had to chase one textbook halfway down the hall. As she stooped down to pick it up a barely familiar, high pitched voice caught her attention.

"So, she said, like, what had happened was unforgivable, and I totally agreed. Jynx-"

Tony froze.

"- said she wanted to get the gang back together. So, I'm like suppose to convince Shane to meet with her "

The conversation floated away on the ebb and flow of students. Tony looked up and followed with her eyes the voice that had spoken.

Tish. And Molly was with her.

What did it mean?

Tony hurried to her next class, English, making it into her seat a second before the bell rang. She sighed as the students settled down around her and Anna approached the chalkboard.

Write a poem or poems on how you feel right now.

"Like right this second?" someone asked.

"Yes, right this second. Get started now. When you're finished hand it in and we'll have a quiet period to other things." Anna sat at her desk and began correcting yesterday's test while a classroom full of students set pen to paper.

Tony looked down at her paper for the hundred time. The edges were filled with stick people and odd shaped squiggles that she couldn't remember what they were suppose to be. One kind of looked like a bird falling. Or maybe dead...

Battered soul and broken wings, she began to write.
your soul sings
to me
In the deep dark morning
in the still night air
you're unaware
of my heart beating in time
with yours
Feeling the ashes of disaster
I burn for you
break for you
fill me with love
I can't take the silence anymore

Her pencil poised over the paper's surface, then froze as she re-read the words she'd just written. The words and the blue lines faded and blurred. My God Tony blinked. I- I'm falling no. She tossed the pencil across the desktop, watching as it rolled and fell off the edge. She didn't bother to pick it up.

Anna Stewart looked up from grading papers and cast an inquisitive eye around her classroom. Everything was as it should be; students scribbling furiously.

Except one.

For a moment Anna watched Tony resting her head in the palm of her hands, fingertips tapping against her forehead.

Anna opened her mouth to ask a question, but nothing tumbled out as she watched Tony suddenly slap her hands against her forehead in a gesture of desperation. Tony stood and looked blindly around - her pain filled eyes resting on Anna for a split second - before she stumbled across the room and out the door.

Several students watched her departure with open mouths. Cadence leapt from her seat but Anna motioned her back down.

"Class, keep working. I'll be right back." So as not to panic her students Anna smiled reassuringly and walked out after Tony. Once in the hallway with the door closed to her students prying eyes she jogged down the hall after Tony.

"Tony?" She called as she opened the bathroom door. Incase Tony was sick or using the bathroom she hesitated at the doorway.

"Go away," Tony croaked.

Anna craned her head around the door. Tony wasn't sick, she was in the corner of the bathroom, knees drawn up to her chest.

With her heart pounding against her ribcage Anna walked slowly forward and knelt beside Tony. "What's wrong?" she asked softly, trying to peer under the curtain of hair and look into the girl's eyes.

"Everything is wrong," Tony whimpered.

"It can't be that bad." Anna had to remind herself this was a student and not a friend, that she couldn't console the troubled girl with a hug or a touch. She was a teacher, nothing more.

"What the hell do you know?" Tony cried and looked up, raking her teacher with dangerously dark, pain filled eyes.

Anna sucked in a startled breath. What's happened to you, girl? Tears ran down Tony's tanned cheeks, her lips and chin trembled and her eyes held a hard edge that the teacher had seen countless times before, but had hoped prayed that she would never see in Tony. "You're right," she began quietly, "I don't know. So, tell me."

Tony's chuckle was humorless. "You would never understand." She looked away, eyes resting on the cracked, dirty porcelain sink.

"Try me."

Green eyes swept back to the teacher's and studied her for a silent moment. Rumors, that until that time had meant nothing, raced through Tony's head. Would she understand?

"Ms. Stewart has never been married..."

Tony opened her mouth to speak, lips trembling too much to get the words out.

"She rides to school with her ėroommate'...once I saw them at The Steak House..."

Tony gulped.

"...holding hands..."

She shook her head, a painful lump forming in her throat.

"What is it?" Anna could resist no longer and tenderly wiped a tear from Tony's cheek. "It's all right. Whatever it is you can tell me."

"N-no. I don't think I- I can," Tony stammered as she pulled away from the touch.

Anna withdrew her hand and fixed her eyes on the cracked orange tiles above Tony's head.

"Is it your mom?"

She silently shook her head.

"Is it Shane?" Tony's startled breath was all the answer she needed. Quickly she looked back down. "Did she hurt you? Did she make you do something you didn't want to?"

Wide-eyed Tony shook her head. "That's part of the problem," she said and lowered her voice. "I wanted to. Needed to be "

"Wanted to what?" Anna asked, just as quiet.


The bathroom door creaked open, startling them both as a trio of high- pitched voices echoed off the tiled walls.

Tony jerked up to a standing position, swiping angrily at the tears on her face.

The sudden silence was deafening. Mortified, Tony brushed past the teacher and rushed out the door.

"Tony!" Anna called after her.

The girls busied themselves at the mirrors, rummaging through their bags to touch up their makeup and Anna Stewart stood there with a dumbfounded expression on her face.

What the hell is going on?

Chapter 25

Tony approached the abandoned hangout uneasily, her tears and embarrassment long since shed. She knew she shouldn't be here, but she felt Shane needed to know what she'd overheard Tish and Molly talking about. Actually she probably already knew, but for Tony this was a last ditch effort to try and repair the friendship she was loosing with the brilliant eyed, beautiful gang leader.

She carefully made her way down the hall and poked her head around the corner. "Shane?"

"In here." Shane's voice resounded from the back room.

As Tony made her way there she could feel her stomach doing a little dance. Not now, she told it. "Shane?"

"Tony! What are you doing here. I thought I told you-"

"I know what you said," Tony replied angrily. "I came because I wanted to help-"

"I don't need your help." Shane stood from the old army cot and made her way out into the main room

"Of course not, you never need anyone's help, do you?" Tony bit her lip as Shane turned to her with a hissing noise.

"Back the fuck off, Tony," Shane's eyes flashed dangerously.

"Back off? Back off?" Tony yelled, rounding on the dark teenager. She couldn't stop the anger that just tumbled to the surface. As if it had been there all along, eating away at her soul. Her hands clenched into fists and she yelled, "You've done nothing but back off since we met! What's happened between us doesn't matter to you, does it?"

"It doesn't mean anything." Shane looked away.

"Like hell." Tony visibly reeled in her anger and turned away from Shane.

"Whatever," Shane replied carelessly.

Tony whirled around and caught Shane's arm. "How dare you?"

"How dare I? How dare you?" The dark haired girl shook her arm free and stepped away from Tony's seething anger.

Tony's eyes widened. "Fuck you," she whispered dangerously.

Shane saw the slap coming even before she felt it. She didn't stop it. "Feel better now?" she asked sarcastically.

"Fuck you!" Tony screamed in rage. An all out howl that roared up from the depths of her soul and pierced Shane's heart.

Blinking back sudden tears Shane turned and left without another word.

"Who needs you " Tony turned away from Shane's retreating back. "You don't need me, I don't need you " She laid her palm flat on the cool surface of the wall. "Who needs you anyway!" Tony cried and slammed her fist into the crumbling plaster. Her arm bounced back off the wall, ringing with pain. "Damn you, Shane Delante!"

She slid to the dusty floor and clutched her hand to her aching chest. "Damn you."

A week went by with no contact from Shane. Tony avoided the rest of the gang, because it was all she could do to stay together.

Anna tried, unsuccessfully, to talk to her. She avoided the teacher as well. By the next Monday she was avoiding classes too.

She sat on the pier, with her legs dangling over the side. Bright sunlight warmed her neck and back as she leaned her head against the rail. A strong wind blew salt on her cheeks and the smell of dying fish She'd been there since the morning, and had no plans to move till the sun set.

"Hey," someone called. "Can I sit here?"

"It's a free pier," Tony replied. She looked over as the girl sat down. Blond hair framed a fine, oval face and dark lashes fanned wide, light brown eyes.

"My name's Sandy. What's yours?"

"Tony." She turned her head back to the ocean. What is she doing? Can't she see I'm not up for making new friends? Maybe if I ignore her she'll go away.

"We just moved here. My fiance got a job transfer. It's the first time I've been in a big city."

As Sandy rattled on amicably Tony got another look at her. Where at first she'd thought the girl was about her age she noticed fine lines and a strong jawline that made Tony think she'd missjudged her age. Early to mid twenties, maybe. Finally she paid attention to what the young woman was saying.

"So, I'm still looking for a job. But I've heard they're hiring wharehouse workers at the docks on Chartley."

"That's hard work," Tony said.

"I worked on a farm. How hard can it be?"

Tony shrugged. "Up to you, but I've heard they overwork and under pay you down there."

"Mmm," Sandy murmered. She studied Tony for a moment, smiling slightly. "It's a nice day, isn't it? Not like the last time I was here Well." Sandy stood abruptly. "I've got to be going. Nice meeting you, Antonia."

Tony's forehead was already leaning back against the rail, her eyes unfocused on the sea. It took her a long moment to replay the conversation in her mind.

"Holy shit!" She stood and faced the dock, but the blond haired woman was already gone, lost in a crowd of tourists. She shook her head. "No way. I'm just being paranoid. Right?"

She'd been waiting here long enough that she was wondering if she was even in the right warehouse. There were tons of them up and down Chartly Street, one road over from the docks.

This one she'd chosen because it was painted red, and Tony figured that Jynx would enjoy the irony. She certainly had a quirky sense of humor. She'd proved that much by apporaching her on the docks and giving her enough clues. What had been the point though? She was no longer in contact with Shane. In fact she wondered if they were even friends anymore.

Inside the warehouse, high in the rafters was a catwalk, and that's where Tony was perched. There were fourteen metal planks on this particular section.

She'd chosen this section because it had the best view down onto the floor. Between the 5th and 6th planks of the catwalk if you stepped in the middle it screamed like a banshee and, by the 2nd plank the railing hung on by two rusty threads. She couldn't complain, some parts of the catwalk weren't even walkable any longer.

As she looked down into the main floor of the warehouse her eyes skittered from the broken glass windows to the rays of feeble light shining through and filtering down in dust choked clouds.

Against the right wall large metal vats stood empty, save for some nesting rats. Large generators squatted at their bases, looking, for all the world, like futuristic robots, twisted and frozen from war.

Pulleys and chains hung from the rusting, cobweb filled rafters. The pulleys were newer, chains seemingly forgotten, some coiled and resting on the catwalk, ready to be thrown over the side.

Oil and gasoline hung heavy in the air, making her lightheaded. She teetered precariously on the edge of the catwalk as she glanced down, where splatters of red, like dried blood, green, blue, yellow and purple all littered the floor like 4th of July confetti.

The place use to be called CHIPS. Another irony of sorts, named after an old 80's TV, but standing for Chuck Hoss Industrial Piant Supplies. It use to be a paint factory, the chains and pulleys hauling buckets and whatnot to the vats for industrial sized mixing. Tony wondered absently what colors they had used and what buildings they had painted.

In the shadows rats moved freely, but there against the back wall large shadows began to move.

Jynx had gotten here first.

There was a long, hard, grating sound, like nails on a chalkboard, and sunlight exploded across the main floor. Shadows loomed forward like giant fingers, then suddenly snapped back to normal size as the Panthers proceeded cautiously into the warehouse, and came into Tony's line of sight.

The shadows all but disappeared as the door squealed shut behind them.

"Hello lovely," Jynx purred, her liquid voice stirring echoes in the vast room.

"Howdy," Shane replied drolly, and Tony could just imagine one dark eyebrow lifting in heavy sarcasm.

"We seem to have a problem, don't we?" Jynx's eyes glittered in the pale sunlight. Tony strained to see her better. Wavy blond hair cascaded around her thin, oval shaped face, trailing to her slim shoulders. From this distance it was hard to tell how tall she was, perhaps only a few inches shorter then Shane? Her arms were long and skinny and her fingers were splayed, palms up as she bunched her shoulders in a question.

"Really?" Shane stood with one hand on her hip, the epitome of boredom. "What would that be?"

"You." Jynx smiled cruelly.

"I'm a problem hey?" The dark haired teen paused a moment and shifted so that both hands were resting on her hips. She tilted her head to the side, as if considering her answer. "Then there are two ways to settle this."

Jynx gave a snort of laughter. "I see only one way. Your blood on my hands."

Shane went on as if Jynx hadn't spoken, ignoring the angry glare sent her way. "We fight. Or..."

"Or?" The blond eyed her rival curiously. She couldn't possibly want to talk her way out of this, could she?

"Or..." Shane drew out the word, a dark smile lighting her face. "We fight. Me and you, Jynx." Instantly she held out her hand to stop any protests. Tony saw Casey rush a step forward and stop instantly as that hand slashed through the air, though she couldn't see the scowl of unjust anger crossing her flushed face.

"They," Jynx tilted her head back to her gang, "want blood too. I don't think it's very fair to deny them that. Not after they worked so... hard."

"Since when do you play fair, Jynx?" Shane asked, deathly calm and casual, as if asking someone to 'please pass the salt'. "I know what you did to Tish and Molly. Sending me their little fingers didn't scare me. It just pissed me off."

Tony pushed her fist against her lips to hold back a startled gasp.

The blond woman's lips curled up in a savage snarl. "Get her!" Jynx screamed. She stepped back as half her girl's raced forward to engage Shane.

A wild free for all began.

Tony sucked in a ragged breath then bit down on her knuckles to keep from crying out as Shane hurtled one girl clear across the room, kicked out behind her and sent another flying in the opposite direction. Green eyes riveted Tony watched the dark teen fight, her eyes not leaving their dance of death until a bright gleam caught her eye.

Fear gripped her heart and she turned. One of Jynx's gang had drawn a blade, it's shimmering dulled now as it drew back from Dorsey's thigh, dripping in blood. Her leg crumpled and she fell to the floor in a howl of pain. The knife wielding teen loomed up over her.

A cry of warning lay frozen on Tony's lips as a dark blur rushed in and grabbed the blade, throwing it into the shadows. The girl backed off and rushed away. Dorsey nodded slightly at Shane then turned to fend off another girl coming at her from the side.

Tony's chest ached and she realized she hadn't taken a breath in a long time. In a great rush of air she let it out and rested her forehead against a metal pole on the catwalk fence. Her elbow brushed one of the hanging chains. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans before wrapping them in a white knuckled grip around the rail, and watching, mouth ajar, as the fight continued.

The Panthers out numbered Jynx's gang, the Daggers, but things began to turn ugly as it seemed each and every Dagger had blades or some kind of weapon. The Panthers resorted to blocks of wood and whatever they could get their hands on just to defend themselves.

She watched Dorsey fall to the floor with barely a whimper. Jo was next, a pipe through Jo's chest leaving no doubt in Tony's mind that the young girl was surely dead.

She should run, call the police, but she was frozen to the spot, either in horrid fascination or terror. Another glitter, a glimmer of sunlight on metal, caught Tony's eye. Slightly to the side Jynx stood, a feral smile on her slim lips. She held a gun.

The barrel seemed to loom larger in Tony's vision as she traveled the length of it to it's intended target. She knew who it was, even before she saw Shane fighting intensely against a large girl with a blade in each hand.

Mouth sagging open Tony leapt from her perch on the catwalk. She reached out a hand as if to grab the gun, then stood, frozen, as the snap came, a fiery red dot came bursting forth and finding it's target in Shane's shoulder. The impact pushed her back and onto one knee, and left her gasping for breath. But, she was still conscious.

Jynx laughed in the deafening silence that followed. Smoke curled lazily from the gun up to the rafters. Nobody moved, not even the rats, till Jynx suddenly broke down in a fury of shots, taking out Ripper, Cadence and one of her own before Shane was able to pull her weakened body from the floor and hurl herself straight at Jynx.

Tony's tears went unoticed, as her hand tightened painfully on the railing.

Jynx and Shane rolled along the floor till Jynx broke free and kicked Shane in the ribs and head, ensuring that she'd stay down. She waved the gun wildly.

"Stay back," she screamed. No one moved.

Time seemed to slow as possible solutions, scenarios and prayers of help raced through Tony's mind. Shane wasn't moving. Was she already dead, or just unconscious? The sound of the hammer pulling back startled Tony into action.

She bent down, grabbed the end of the chain, then climbed over the catwalk fence, and hesitated a spilt second.

I'm coming Shane!

Tony gripped tightly to the rusted metal and launched herself off the side of the catwalk. She hurtled down from the rafters, swinging straight for Jynx, screaming all the way. Startled, Jynx looked up. Wide eyed and opened mouth she saw the girl swinging down from the rafters. Automatically her weapon went up and she fired.

The shot bit through the flesh of Tony's right arm, but somehow she managed to hold on tight and the gun flew from suddenly nerveless fingers as Tony's feet connected solidly with Jynx's chest. Her momentum shoved Jynx back against the far wall, where she hit with a sickening thud of flesh and breaking bone. As the chain arched back Tony's hands slipped down and she crashed to the floor.

Gasping for breath she scrambled away from the bodies on the floor, and headed backwards toward Shane. Her hands trailed through sticky blood, shoving the gun backwards as she went. Suddenly she brushed against fingers, then an arm. Shane!

She turned, as if in slow motion, the pain in her arm burning through her body like fire. She looked at Shane's prone body, dark hair blending with dark blood, face pale.

"Shane?" she whispered, terrified. "Oh god." Shadows loomed up around her and she looked up fearfully. Those left conscious were gathering around them. The Daggers ran, not knowing what to do now that their leader had fallen.

"Mmmm," Shane mumbled.

Casey fell to her knees beside Tony and checked Shane's pulse.

"We've got to get her to a hospital," Tony whispered, turning fear filled eyes to Casey.

"No," Shane croaked.

"Yes," Tony yelled. "You are not going to die on me too!"

Shane's eyes widened and she tried to speak, but Tony felt it at the same time and instinctively her hand went to the gun that had skittered to a stop beside Shane's knee. She swiveled the barrel up and behind her and pulled the trigger.

Wide, startled, brown eyes flashed before Tony and then were gone as Jynx crumbled to the floor. Casey was already scrambling up, but it was too late.

Tony looked at the gleaming metal gun as it fell from her fingers. Oh God

"Tony!" Shane cried. Painfully she struggled up and pulled Tony into her arms. "Are you ok? Are you hurt?" When she didn't get a response from the young girl she fearfully starting checking her for wounds.

"She's not hurt, Shane. She killed Jynx before she could do anymore damage," Casey said softly, stunned.

Shane's head whipped around suddenly as she stared towards the doors. "Cops. Shit!" She grabbed Tony and hauled her to her feet, but she was too shocked to stand so Shane cradled her in her arms and painfully made her way to the door. "Case, see if anyone is left."

Gently Shane laid Tony on the old army cot, then made her way to the bathroom and the stash of banadages and anticeptic under the sink.


She grabbed the banadages and rushed back to the cot. "Tony? You alright?"

"Are you ok?" Tony's eyes were unfocused as she looked to her best friend. "Do you need help with those?"

"Nah, I'm fine. It went straight through. The bleeding's already stopped."

Tony nodded her head and turned to the door.

"Hey, can I come in?" Casey asked.

"Yeah," Shane said and stood back up, grabbing bandages on the way. "I was just going to clean up and come find you."

"Where's everyone else?" Tony asked.

In the silence that followed, Casey looked at Shane who nodded slightly. "The only one's that made it are Cadence and Dorsey."

"R-ripper?" Tony struggled to sit up, making her way to the doorway. Cadence was sprawled on the couch and Dorsey was staring mournfully out the window. "That can't be it."

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Tony screamed. "Ripper was right. I didn't want to believe it!" Oh God Suddenly there was Casey pulling her close and crying the same tears. Cadence got up from the couch and laid her arms around both of them.

"Forget today," Cadence said softly. "We have tomorrow, even if they don't. We'll remember them everyday, and remember how they enriched our lives. Never forget who they were."

Casey shook her head. "Never. They were my friends."

"They were good people that didn't deserve to die," Shane said as she approached the grieving group. "I don't know how to make this right. I don't know what to do anymore." She turned away from them all and stood at the other window, looking blankly through it's boards.

After a second Tony approached her and laid a hand on her arm. "Don't blame this all on yourself."

"I don't." She paused. "I blame everything. This city, poverty, the government I don't know, everyone played a part in this mess."

"And Jynx."

"And Jynx. But Jynx was my problem, it should never have come down to this." Shane sighed heavily and laid her head tiredly against the boards.



"Look at me, please." She paused. "Good, now look in my eyes. Do you see that?"

"I- I don't-"

"Don't think, just look." Tony stared unflinchingly into Shane's eyes. "I don't blame you. Can you see that in there?"

Shane nodded silently.

"What else do you see?" There was a long moment of quiet.

"I see my best friend in there."

Tony choked down tears before continuing. "R-ripper, before she a few days ago she told me there was no way out of this city but in a coffin. I didn't want to believe her." Now silent tears ran down her cheeks. Shane gently wiped them away with her thumbs. "I, I still don't. Do you know why?"


"Because we are going to find a way out of here."

"There's no-"

"Shh." Tony raised a finger to Shane's lips. "Listen to me. Do you remember the first time we met?"

"Yeah, you were in the cafeteria and I was beating the shit out of someone."


"You remember her name?" Shane asked increduously.

"Yes. That's not the point. Do you remember after that? When we talked?" Tony paused and waited for her friend to nod her head. "We talked about the school. You had a choice to make."

For a long moment there was silence and Tony was afraid that she didn't remember.

Shane nodded and leaned down close. "Thank you," she whispered. She kissed Tony lightly on the lips and staightened back up. She turned to face the others. "Stay here, I'll be back later."

Casey started to protest but stopped suddenly.

They all watched Shane leave.

And the walls come tumbling down. Shane's life had drastically changed, again. When she'd thought there was nothing left to do but pick up the pieces of her friends scattered lives all she'd had to do was look into Tony's eyes and see the choice she now faced. The choice they would all have to make for themselves.

And there was only one way to make things right.

"No!" Tony watched helplessly as three uniformed cops dragged Shane down the main hallway of the high school. She rushed up to the closest cop and grabbed his arm. "Wait, you can't do-"

"Back off kid," he warned.

"No, please. Let me at least say good-bye!"

Shane turned to the cop on her left side and talked to him quietly for a moment. He didn't release her arm, but he motioned the other cop to back off from the blond. Shane stepped close to Tony and leaned slightly forward.

"Why are you letting them take you?" Tony asked, with tears in her eyes.

The cop was grasping her handcuffed arms so Shane gently leaned her forehead against Tony's. Students had gathered all around them.

"I had a choice, remember?" The dark teen asked quietly.

"This wasn't the choice I meant!" Tony cried.

"Shh, baby, I'm sorry." Shane choked on her own tears and bit her lip a moment. "Listen to me carefully." She peered down into Tony's tearful eyes, wishing she could hold her just one last time.

Tony nodded. "I'm listening," she whispered.

"Things are going to be different now. If you need anything you talk to Anna, you hear me?" Shane's head rolled against Tony's and she caught the teacher's shimmering eyes.

Tony just nodded painfully, and met Shane's eyes again.

"I called in a favor. My mom's friend Andrea Simmons is taking over as the principal. They're bringing in security guards and more janitors-"

"But I want you to be here too," Tony murmured. "We should be doing this together."

"I know. I know." Shane bent closer and whispered in Tony's ear. "It's up to you now. I did everything I could."

"Come on, time to go." The cop tugged on Shane's arm and she stood back up.

Tony looked up, silent tears now running down her cheeks. "I love you," she choked out and wrapped Shane in a hug before the cop began to pull her away and walk down the hall. A stunned student body watched as the ėHammer', the solid, stone cold bitch walked out between three cops, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

She'd turned herself in. Turned the school upside down on the way out too. Unbelievable. They watched the shell shocked Tony turn into Anna's arms and cry, unembarrassed.

"Back to class," a woman called. They all looked up as a tall, black woman strode down the hall where Shane had just left from. She was in her late thirties, tall, with a strong, square jaw, and piercing eyes. She didn't have to tell anyone a second time, and as she joined Anna and Tony in the middle of the hall they all left out of silent respect.

"Will you come with me a moment, Tony?" Andrea asked.

Tony looked up and nodded, hurriedly wiping tears from her eyes. The young teen removed herself from Anna's heartfelt embrace and followed the new principal into her office at the other end of the hall.

"Have a seat, Tony."

"Yes, ma'am."

Without preamble she laid a note on her desk and pushed it towards the young girl as they both sat. "This is from Shane." There was a long silence as Tony took it and just held it tightly in her hands. "What Shane did it took a lot of courage. She came to me a few days ago and asked for help. This young girl I barely recognized but remembered as a tiny terror asking me for help. So, I pulled a few strings and here I am." She studied Tony for a moment. "And I'm going to need your help."

Tony looked up quickly. "My help?" "Yes." Andrea nodded, and looked intently at the young girl. "Shane told me you had a spirit she'd never seen before."

She blinked rapidly. "She said that?"

"Yes. I intend to find out if that's true."

Tony sat up straighter. "How?"

Ah, there's that fire, Andrea thought. "Things are going to change, now that I'm here."

Yes, Tony thought. Things are definitely going to change.

It Ain't Over Till The Fat Lady Sings.

In the stale night air, outside of a NYC inner school building, a teenager stood, crunching gravel beneath her sneakered feet. Moonlight, obscured by various clouds, illuminated her tanned, healthy skin, and a white envelope was clutched in her hand.

She wore faded and torn Jeans and crisp, spring air wisped from her mouth as she looked up at the sky. I can see a star tonight, she thought, and smiled. The bright city lights obliterated all but the strongest of the stars; the northern star. She ceased her musings as the reverberating growl of a motorcycle echoed up the empty street.

She turned to face the single bright light, blinking against it's glare.

"Ready?" Shane asked as the Harley came to a stop. "Ready." Tony's grin spilled from ear to ear as she slid across the seat and grabbed her friend's waist.

Shane opened the choke and the Harley purred to life. "It's gonna be one hell of a night!" she shouted over the roar of the engine as they tore down the street.

Tony let her excitement roll over her like a freight train, giving a joyous whoop, as the wind tore her hair around her face in a stream of fine silk. Oh yeah, it was gonna be one hell of a night. Two years have come and gone without you by my side Shane, but now we're together. You were right, that last day in the hall, when you said things were going to change. Tony glanced back at the school as it disappeared behind them. A large blue and silver banner announced tomorrow's game, and it was dedicated to Ripper. She felt another smile come as she held tighter to Shane's waist and buried her face in the clean, white T-shirt she wore.

The fingers of her right hand loosened and a white envelop fluttered from her fingers to land beside a filthy curb. A rat scurried past it and into the drain, as the city of perpetual night loudly said good-bye; a horn honked, a dog barked, a baby screamed .

They roared out of the city and along a mountainous a future full of promise.

The End

©Tragedy88 1999

Author's note: Everyone is wondering what the hell the note said, right? Maybe it said; 'I love you', or 'Wait for me.' Does it really matter? I'm not even sure what it said, only that it symbolized there was something more to come.

There should always be more to come, without writing it. Kind of like a promise for more- like a movie where the bad guy is left twitching a finger or something a.k.a. 'Scream'- well, this time I'll leave the ending up to you. But, the school did turn around, and Dorsey, Cadence and Casey are all ok. I feel bad about Ripper because she became a character I could have done more with, but this story began to write itself, took on a life all it's own and I no longer had a say in it. I'm just glad it's finished.

This hasn't been an easy year for me, or for many others. It became difficult for me to write, and I was afraid this story would become one of those that just sit on the web for all eternity.

Anyway, my author's note was not intended as a pity party. So, in the words of the bard Paul Seely, "It is finished."


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