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SpicyWaffle

Smells Like Teen Drama (IC)

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Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Deckland Projects, Southside, Freedom City

11:43 PM EST (GMT -5)

In the distance, the familiar bass of music wafted through the stagnant night air, a great gathering of teenagers and young adults having congregated at its source. Bordering near the Fens and encroaching itself firmly in what was unmistakably the Southside C's territory, the large duplex was positively filled to the brim with party-goers, both inside and out; the shades drawn so as to illuminate the night sky with the warm fluorescent glow of artificial lighting. Young couples mingled out on the small, dead lawn, alcohol and cigarettes as prevalent as their disregard for volume control; a few nearby neighbors having taken a shine to the spectacle across the way, as if this were a regular occurrence.

Baxter Bowles, out of costume and still looking out of place with the backpack straddling his shoulders, stood out on the outskirts of the bumping duplex. For the last few minutes he'd been watching from afar, monitoring the shindig with mild annoyance. These little parties had been cropping up all over Southside in the last few weeks, and if the news was to be believed, the goings-on inside were rife with drug abuse and who knows what else. Each time one of them was shutdown by a hero or law enforcement, someone always ended up hospitalized; reports of which were sketchy at best from the local news groups.

But that wasn't why Baxter was here. He'd been content the last few days to simply relax after his last outing as the Bee-Keeper, enjoying his summer vacation while he recovered from his minor injuries. But this was a more personal ordeal; especially after he'd found out his friend Amanda had been invited. It was funny how quickly that changed his perception of the situation; the prospect that someone he knew personally was potentially in-danger. He'd tried to talk her out of it the first time, to no avail; she'd always been stubborn. But this time? This time, he hoped he could convince her to leave... because if what he'd heard was true, then this party was about to come to an abrupt end.

With a deep breath, the incognito superhero began his approach across the darkened asphalt, practically feeling invisible until his foot felt the familiar crunch of the wilted grass of the front yard beneath his sneakers. It was quite the ordeal, traversing his way there as intimidating glances were thrown his way, delicately navigating his allotted path over passed-out kids he didn't recognize. Still sore from his rescue at the apartments, it certainly didn't help that a throbbing diadem of pain a constant reminder of his shenanigans a few days prior.

"No sign of Amanda," Baxter silently noted, a vivid frown taking root on his face as he surveyed the lawn again. The scent of smoke, liquor and illicit substance bombarded his senses, causing a sharp sigh to briefly escape him. This place had trouble written all over it like an after-school chalkboard. "Means she's inside if she's here. Man, lemme be wrong about this..."

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As Baxter approached the bass-filled duplex, a pair of surly looking young men barred his path towards the open doorway. From beyond their heavily tattooed physiques, the young hero could see a glimpse of the decadence going on inside; the youth of Freedom City dancing and drinking wantonly, rebellious and uproarious and their disregard for any sort of wholesomeness.

The building was as close to a serviceable wreck as you could get. Bearing layers of Soutside C graffiti along its cracked architecture, the windows bore hallmarks of recent replacement; the glass still cracked and chipped in some places, while in others the plaster simply didn't fit it quite right. Similarly, the shingled roof was missing a few bricks short of its former glory. Instead of proper, tender care, it was almost as though the duplex had been forgotten; its storied life of gang warfare and changing hands no doubt rife with decades of bloody history, likely all but forgotten save by those whom lived the tale itself - presuming they themselves still lived at all.

"Yo, dawg, dis' a priv'te party. Invite only," the more burly of the two said as he thrust his hand in Baxter's face, the twenty-something bouncer portraying a distinct top-row of gold in his mouth. His comrade - a much more stream-lined doppelganger sporting a large bottle of what could only be booze - just glowered at the smaller, darker skinned young man trying for admittance, one hand strategically placed to hold his pants above his groin. The distinct scent of cheap alcohol and drugs perforated the night air like a layer of smog; Baxter didn't need the goon in front of him to confirm what was going on inside. "You wanna party, brah, y'either pay'r tell us w'invited ya."

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Sniffing awkwardly as he was stopped by the daunting duo of grammatically improper bouncers, Baxter winced slightly as the repugnant mixing of odors again assaulted his senses. It was indescribable; as if desperation had taken on a pungent scent all its own. From beyond the crew of street thugs, the young backpack-sporting hero could see the inner sanctum of the duplex, the voices of its denizens all but drowned out by the at once pleasant yet obnoxiously loud Crossbones blaring through the house. Still, if it weren't for the ambiance of thuggery and the overwhelming knot of fear in his stomach, Baxter might have almost admired this act of teenage revelry. But as it was, he was here on business; a type of business he was afraid might go badly if he wasn't careful. He just needed to get inside... he needed to be sure Amanda wasn't making the biggest mistake of her stubborn life. Afterwards, all bets were off!

"C'mon, man. I was just in there," Baxter replied flatly, mustering what little courage he could outside of the impressive armaments he'd become accustomed to sporting in these situations as he pushed the much more muscular fellow's arm out of his face. By comparison, the gangbanger in his early twenties was a good four inches over Baxter, and had to be close to thirty pounds heavier; all of it taut sinew and honed muscle, his tattoos rippling gently even as he tensed from Baxter's forced dismissal. His friend was closer to incognito avenger's weight class, but something told Baxter he wasn't in the same league. More wiry and reeking of beer, the last thing he wanted to do was get into a tussle with these two goons.

His faux confidence was just that: a cheap imitation, and even as Baxter feigned a coy but confident smile, he moved his hands to the pockets of his khaki shorts. Without any funds to grease the wheels, he was going to have to hope these guys were as stupid as they looked; their stupidity roughly proportionate with how much of an beating he'd get in return if this botched.

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For a moment, the pair of goons mill the boy's words over, giving each other a skeptical glance between sneers. The larger of the two, despite his arrogant appearance and disgruntled demeanor after Baxter's little stunt, relents. His demeanor doesn't soften any, and even as he and his compatriot stepped out of the way, a nasty look crossed the muscular thug's face. It was an evident look, one of seething disdain. For whatever it was worth, the smaller gang member of the Southside C's didn't seem to express the same amount of hostility, content to chug down another bout of the alcoholic swill grasped between his bony fingers.

"A'ight," is all the mammoth bodyguard muttered as Baxter squeezed past his broad shouldered frame, forced to brush up against him as he made the transition inside. Before the young teenager can meander beyond and into the fray of the party, however, a meaty hand takes a solid grip of his shoulder. "Don't disrespect me 'gain, or w're gonna have problems. A'ight? A'ight." The gigantic goon let go of Baxter after he'd said his piece, leaving the young man to saunter into the vile den of debauchery that was the criminal-ridden duplex.

The innards of the ramshackle Southside building were just as deplorable as the outside, save for the copious addition of salvaged furniture. Couches that had seen better days were strewn strategically throughout the home, the walls separating the conjoined home long since forcibly removed, leaving it to look more like a massive studio. The carpets were stained with goodness knows what, and the walls bore an odd amalgam of tasteful portraits, graffiti, and pornographic pinups. This, of course, is all without accounting for the dozens of young men and women poised within the confined building, dancing, drinking, and otherwise having what they would consider a good time. The only portion of the large structure obfuscated was the kitchen; made obvious by the pair of swinging doors and the constant flow of Southside C's and patrons coming out with more drinks. An empty keg laid on its side against a nearby wall, and both the outlandishly expensive-looking television and sound system were both drowning out the intoxicated voices of the party-goers; the duplex itself vibrating as though it had been caught in the middle of a violent earthquake. The familiar scent of marijuana, cigarettes, and liquor were all the more prevalent now, the entire house reeking of depressants and inebriated kids. All the while, the gangbangers surveyed their domain, as though this were just another day in the life thereof.

It was, without repute, a den of illegal activity and misguided youth locked in its appealing lifestyle.

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Furling his lip as the muscle-bound oaf made his implicit threat known, Baxter said nothing. How could he without getting his head knocked off in the process? Besides, there were more important things for him to worry about than some shmuck with a chip on his shoulder; he was out of his element, and Amanda was in over her head. Doubly so if the news was accurate about those mysterious deaths, and the violence that often followed in the wake of these little parties on the Southside. Frankly, he couldn't believe she'd even agreed to attend! Sure, Amanda might not have had the best head on her shoulders, but Baxter hadn't ever thought her capable of such a poor decision.

Inside, things were much worse than he'd thought. Doubt was beginning to creep into his mind as passers-by bearing the local gang's colors offered him various things as he went along, all the while stirring an uncomfortable sort of desire amidst the teen's ego. Here he was at the first party in... well, he couldn't remember the last one he'd attended, but he remembered the feeling of peer pressure; and here? Here, it was overwhelming. But, as all heroes had to do, Baxter pushed those odd feelings of inequality down; having to deal with an already fear-ridden gut was bad enough, and he didn't need the extra stress. If it hadn't been for his own personal reasons for being her, Baxter would have just as soon let the police handle it; or some other superhero, like the ones he'd met a few days earlier. He was tired and sore, still getting back together after his death-defying experience in the Fens. Yet, here he was, meandering through a throng of drunken teenagers partying their woes away, looking for someone who should have stayed home... or, at the very least, answered her phone.

Without walls to bar his path, it wasn't long before Baxter found what he was looking for. There, talking to some hooligan without a shirt and who managed to make the bouncer look insignificant, was the familiar silhouette of Amanda; her own toned but lanky frame a stark contrast against the gigantic man she was laughing it up with. Pushing his way through the crowded duplex with the occasional cough as he narcotic-filled air bombarded his lungs, Baxter made all due haste towards where his friend was deep amidst the criminal element.

"Hey! Amanda, hey!" he cried out, shoving some girl aside as gently as he could without breaking stride across the sticky-looking carpet.

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As Baxter approached, the more cosmopolitan Amanda whirled around to meet him, a look of shock and surprise enamored on her face. She looked like she belonged here, save for all the gang-related savoir-faire; her low-cut blouse and capris extenuating her athletic physique into an obvious attempt at seeming more attractive. She was tall for a girl; nearly six feet in height, and a star runner for the FDR High track team, a title she'd earned through a combination of natural talent and years of practice running from her older brothers. But whatever camaraderie and friendship was shared between Amanda and Baxter was aptly suppressed on her part, her own look of surprise quickly shifting gears into one of bitter annoyance.

"Oh, look who's here," she chided, arms folded as she kept a hold on her red plastic cup. Her breath smelled of cheap beer, and her tongue was laced with arsenic; finely accented as she yelled over the roar of music dominating the duplex. "You ditch us all summer, and now you want to hang out?"

"You know this clown?" the mammoth-sized, shirtless man at Amanda's side inquired, thumbing towards Baxter with a steak-sized fist. He was direct in his words, his voice low and slow; as if savoring each syllable of masculine charisma he put forth. It had a smooth, swarthy sort of charm to it despite the gritty demeanor ensconced on the man's physique. Tattoos were the least of his identifying markers, though the ones the dark-skinned man bore were clear denotations of his affiliation with the Southside C's. Scars littered his body, and while Baxter was no forensic investigator, he'd seen enough television specials to figure out at least one of them was a gunshot wound.

"Yeah, I know him, Max," Amanda rebutted, grimacing as she turned to face the gangster before returning her sour gaze Baxter's way. "Used to hang out with us, until he started cutting class. Never answered our calls, and then ditched us half the time when he showed up. Too busy gettin' high or whatever," To say the girl was bitter was an understatement, her brow furled angrily as she took another swig of the foul-smelling drink clasped in her hand before crushing it vividly.

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As his friend laid in on him with her spiel of shirked responsibility, Baxter's face slowly contorted its way into a deep frown; remorseful, yet unshakable. Even now within the bombastic atmosphere of the drug-peddling street gang's house party, he felt more afraid of Amanda's scorn than the various thugs and goons that polluted the extravaganza of drugs, sex, and rebellion. Her voice - even drowned out in the revelry - was as boisterous and stern as Baxter had ever heard, each word punctuated with a distinct air of drunken angst. What made it worse was that her words were at least partially true; Baxter having relegated his time with his friends in favor of his duties as a superhero, torn apart and unable to yet strike a balance between his personal and semi-professional life.

"You know it's not like that," retorted the young man, fashionably ill-dressed for the occasion in which he found himself and earning more than a few looks from the assembled party-goers. Even as he pleaded, he could feel the eyes of the crowd boring a hole in the back of his head; an uncomfortably cold sweat beginning to form across his brow despite the blaring air-conditioner. "Look, it's... this isn't about me, okay? Can we just talk for a minute?"

Just the mention of talk seemed to strike a nerve not just with Amanda, but her new 'friend,' Max, his steely gaze narrowing in on the minuscule Freedonian and quickly identifying himself as the ringleader of this particular party. Baxter took note, shuffling awkwardly in place as he cleared his throat even as a duo of Max's posse moved in beside him, menacing glares and vicious disdain poised themselves in their body language. Amanda had a right to be upset; he'd taken things for granted. Now he was in a bind that he didn't even know he'd caused.

"Maybe, uh... maybe in private? Just real quick?" Baxter pleaded again, caution in his voice. Things were quickly going from bad to worse...

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In a moment of sobriety, Amanda almost seems to agree to this notion. After all, Baxter was still her friend, even if he'd been distant as of late. A look of reflection dawned upon her, but just as she opened her mouth to speak, Max - the burly leader of this set of the Southside C's - maneuvered between her and Baxter, his imposing frame drawing the eyes of the entire party to the spat unfolding. Suddenly, the room goes quiet as the music stops, the metaphorical spotlight cast on the amalgam of youth centered beside the dingy looking couch as the monstrously proportioned twenty-something gangster leveled his gaze downwards as he towered over Baxter.

"Whatever you gotta say, scrub, you can say 'fronta me," Max snipped, his low rolling voice melodically malicious in its execution as his boys continued to sneer menacingly . Resting a hand on Amanda's shoulder, the girl redoubled her previous expression, simultaneously furling her brow while simultaneously arching an eyebrow, clearly eager to hear Baxter's formerly private investment, her drunken irritation bolstered by the presence of her new 'friends' on the block.

The tension could be cut with a knife. The smoky conditions of the domicile were stifling, and in the sudden quiet of the den of cutthroats, teenage and college students, the situation only became magnified between the hushed whispers and inebriated laughter of the attendees.

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The telltale 'oooh!'s and melodramatic whispers of the crowd filling the room only made the situation that much harder for Baxter. Amidst his peers, he was turning a warm shade of red as the spectacle devolved further and further into the spectrum of audaciousness. All eyes were on him and the steadily growing crew of Southside C's surrounding him; Baxter himself feeling more than a little hot under the color. But it was do or die: he either had to walk the walk and talk the talk, or leave his friend to her fate. Convincing her would be no small feat given Amanda's stubbornness, but Baxter had to at least try, praying that whatever happened wouldn't shift from contemporary persuasion to violence in the blink of an eye.

"This isn't you, Amanda. C'mon," the boy began, resting a hand on the girl's shoulder even as he surveyed the surroundings of the duplex. Most of the goons present looked like more than a match for him physically, and if push came to shove, it didn't look like he'd get far if he chose to run away. "Just look at where you are. Who you're with. Are these, y'know, the people you really wanna be hanging out with?"

This might have been a mistake coming here. Perhaps, in retrospect, Baxter should have just showed up as the Bee-Keeper and dealt with the entire situation beforehand, risk of Amanda coming to harm not withstanding. It certainly would have been the pragmatic solution; but the risk alone and the guilt that he'd inadvertently brought this on himself through his alienation of his friends hounded him.

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The room grew quiet for all but a second, Baxter and Amanda locked in a peculiar battle of wills. For that fraction of a moment, it might have seemed the young, stubborn woman had subsided to Baxter's request, her face softening only just. But just as soon as that moment came, it was gone, Amanda jerking her shoulder to liberate her friend's hand from her personage before once more taking on a more stern, somewhat drunken demeanor.

"You're not my dad!" Amanda shouted back, voice tinged with palpable anger as she pulled away. "You're acting like... like a hypocrite! What, you're supposed to be the knight who just, I don't know, comes in and saves me or something? Who do you think you are, telling me who to be around when you're the one too busy sneaking out of class or ditching us to do... whatever! It's my life and I'll live it the way I want! If you're not gonna respect that, then maybe... maybe you should just go."

Amanda's tone wasn't harsh; at least not at the tail end of her rebellious spiel. It was... well, it was her. It was Baxter. It was any confused teenager who'd ever felt scorned made manifest, and it was this confusion that Max and his goons took advantage of.

"You heard her, man," Max chided, his face subsiding from the fluster he'd received at the sly sleight on Baxter's part as he waved a dismissive hand towards the smaller boy. "Get em' outta here. And get that music goin' again!" It wasn't a request on Max's behalf; it was an order, his voice a raw and commanding presence amidst the gangbangers, his own muscle-bound physique no doubt as much a deciding factor on who to follow as much as his charisma. Like clockwork, the bombastic bass once more filled the gang-affiliated duplex, shaking it to its very foundation even as Amanda returned to her conversation with the leader of the crew, much to Baxter's chagrin.

Before he could get another word in or try and dissuade his compatriot of her ill course of action, two African-American gentlemen with biceps as thick as Baxter's wrists silently took him by the arms, and lead him down what was once a hallway and back out onto front lawn. This should have been where things came to an end... until it became apparent the men weren't letting go of Baxter, continuing to lead him along the side of the obnoxiously loud building, their vice-like grips unrelenting as they crept further and further into the darkly-lit backyard.

"You shouldn'ta made a scene, bro," one of them said, his voice as gravel-ridden and serious as the look on his gat-toothed face. He was a mean looking fella, a nasty scar above his lip denoting his time on the streets, a few teeth replaced by ones of either solid gold or an amicable enough imitation. "You don't come 'tween Max and his girl. So now you gotta learn to respect us."

Just as the duo and their captive Baxter rounded the corner of the duplex, the one doing all the talking let loose of his arm, but his compatriot was quick to pick up the slack. Before Baxter even had a chance to defend himself, the more vocal of the two mooks let loose a staunch blow against the boy, socking him square in the gut with all the force he could muster.

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With a terrible wrenching in his stomach, Baxter wheezed as the blow met his abdomen, his attempts at balling up defensively made all for naught as the member of the Southside C's continued to hold his arms in place. It was an uncomfortable feeling, like he was on the verge of vomiting; his backpack digging into his shoulders even as he coughed and sputtered to regain his composure. The attack had come from nowhere, and it was only after that momentary lapse outside of the duplex that it had dawned on Baxter that something wasn't quite right.

Now he was certain. These men meant to do him harm; and all he'd done was try and get Amanda out of a situation he knew would end badly. They all had, these little parties on the Southside; each report on the news providing a slowly rising injury count. It was only a matter of time before someone died from whatever-it-was that was really going on inside, and Baxter? Baxter wasn't about to see his friend hurt over some stupid, drug-fueled party, shmoozing with criminals and would-be street thugs. She was in genuine danger, as was every other party goer at the scene!

"L-Let me go!" Baxter wheezed out, wriggling viciously against his oppressors' iron grip. He had to get free, then he could... well, he didn't know. Run? Fight? He had to do something to get away and into the Bee-Keeper armor; preferably before things took a turn for the worst. It was his duty as a superhero to put an end to this chicanery before anyone else got hurt!

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