Author's note: This chapter begins the set-up. I also try to lay a little more character work down. Eric's trying to be the level-headed one, Taylor's a loser, Ashleigh's a girl, Jacob is whipped, Raven's a bitch, and Lisa's weird and excitable. Now for some self-whoring. If you aren't already one of the readers of The Champions, feel free to check it out, along with Aegis, another spin-off from The Champions. Both are available in the Action section, or from my profile. Also available through my profile is my Champions-verse forum, for discussion of stories set in the universe my stories are set in. Also also, my Wordpress blog, XMenXPert, where I review X-Men comics. And please remember to review. All feedback is appreciated. Please, please, please review. We writers are an insecure lot, and need constant feedback to know that people enjoy what we do, and how to make our work even more enjoyable. So tell me what you like, what you don't, and how you think I can improve. Please. hotwing: It'll pick up a bit soon, yes.

January 11, 2013

It was six exhausted teenagers who got off the train in Miami. They quickly found their way to a motel to sleep; the boys took one motel room, the girls took the other. When they awoke the next morning, they felt much better.

"So what now?" Eric asked when they all assembled.

"Now?" Raven said. "Now, we enjoy Miami. We can go shopping, relax on the beach, whatever we feel like doing."

"OK, that works for today," Eric said. "But we need a long-term plan. How much money do you even have left?"

"I've got, like three thousand bucks. We're fine."

"Christ, how much money did the Champions have?" Jacob asked.

"I don't know. A lot, I guess."

"Well, even so," Eric continued, "that money won't last forever, even with the five hundred a month they send you. Maybe if we picked somewhere cheaper to live. We need to figure out what we're going to do going forward."

"Yeah, yeah," Raven said. "We will. Just not today."

Eric sighed in defeat. "All right, fine. We'll put it off for today. But only because I want to look at hunky dudes on the beach."

"Thank god for stereotypes, huh?" Taylor said to Raven.

"I think I'll hit the beach, too," Ashleigh said. "You coming, Taylor?"

"Nah, I'll pass. What's everyone else doing?"

"I want to see the beach," Lisa said. "It's something else I've never seen in real life."

"I'm going to get a little shopping done," Raven said.

"I guess I'll go with you, then," Taylor said.

"Same here," Jacob said.

"So the men are shopping while the girls hit the beach," Taylor joked.

"But Eric's coming with us," Lisa said, not catching the joke. "And Raven's going with you."

"Eric's more of a girl than Raven is," Taylor explained.

"Says the guy who watches My Little Pony," Eric shot back.

"Hey, it's an awesome show!"

"Sure it is. And it takes a real man to wear pink, too."

"It does. I'd never be able to pull it off."

"Will you girls shut up?" Raven said. "I'm ready to go. We'll all meet back here at four."

They left the motel, and the two groups went in different directions, with three of them heading for the beach, and the other three looking for a mall. "So what are we shopping for, anyway?" Jacob asked.

"Food, for one thing," Raven replied. "We'll pick up some prepaid cell phones, too, so everyone can keep in touch. Couldn't hurt to have a laptop, either."

"Oh, and we need a Sherlock hat," Taylor remembered. "And a pipe."

"No we don't."

"Sure we do. Lisa and I said we wanted Sherlock hats. Are you going to refuse her?"

"You can buy it yourself. I'm not giving you the money for it."

"That's fine, I've got some money."

"I could probably use a swimsuit," Jacob said. "I didn't bring one with me. I might want to hit the beach at some point."

"I'm sure Lisa will make you," Taylor agreed. "And you're totally whipped, so you'll do it."

"I'm not whipped."

"Yeah, you are. You're completely whipped."

"Taylor's right, you're whipped," Raven said. "If Lisa told you to punch yourself in the face, you'd probably do it. As soon as she made those puppy-dog eyes at you." She thought about it. "Something I should probably tell her to keep in mind, if she ever gets annoyed with you."

"God, no one can resist that look," Jacob grumbled. "She could end a war just by looking sad."

"It has no effect on me."

"That's because you're kind of a bitch."

"'Kind of'? Hm. I must be losing my touch."

Their first stop, when they got to the mall, was to get new cell phones. They got five cheap phones and some prepaid cards; Raven still had her phone from the Champions, since she'd never told her dad about it, and there was no way to trace it. After that, they bought a laptop. It was a mid-range laptop, but it still took a bite out of their finances. Then they went to the food court. Raven got shawarma, Taylor got fries, and Jacob got a chicken sandwich.

Jacob swatted at a fly, trying to shoo it away. "Dammit. Raven, I don't suppose your power works on bugs, does it?"

Raven looked up. "Mm? Oh, yes, it does."

"Then you wanna tell this stupid fly to leave us alone?"

"Whatever." The fly flew off somewhere else.

"Thanks."

"So, I was thinking," Taylor said. "Once we get tired of Miami, why don't we head out to LA?"

"LA?" Raven made a face. "That's pretty cliche, isn't it? Everyone always goes to LA or New York, and they usually don't end up doing anything. Seattle might be cool, though."

"Rains a lot. Like, constantly."

"I don't mind the rain."

"Actually," Jacob said, "I was thinking we could try to track down Lisa's family. She doesn't talk about it much, but I can tell she feels bad about not having a family."

"I don't know," Raven said uncertainly. "That could end up going really badly for her. What if we find out that her parents are dead?"

"Then at least she'd know. And assuming they were buried, she'd have graves to visit. It'd be closure. It might not be happy, but it'd be better than she has now."

"Have you talked to her about looking for her parents?"

"No. I haven't. But I know her. I know she'd never ask us to do it, but it would make her happy."

"It's . . . something to consider, I guess."

"It does sound like a good idea" Taylor said. "Actually, I'm kinda curious about her family, too. It's not like she's told us much about her past before Jake found her in the park. I mean, where'd she get magic? I'd sorta like to know about that stuff."

"I will admit to some curiosity. But I don't even know where we'd begin. And we should probably talk to Lisa about it first, to make sure she actually wants to look for them"

"Yeah," Jacob nodded. "I'll bring it up with her tonight. But I'm sure she wants to find them."

Raven frowned. "Some guy's staring at us."

"Where?" Taylor looked where Raven was looking.

"He's right . . . huh. He's gone now." She looked around for him.

"Maybe you just imagined it," Jacob shrugged.

"No, he was definitely there. I saw him. He was staring right at us. He was some weird albino guy. Even his clothes were pale. And he had really creepy eyes. Damn it."

"Well, no big deal," Taylor said. "Probably just some pervert who wanted to have sex with you. Nothing to worry about."

"Ew. That's disgusting."

"What? A lot of guys want to sleep with you."

"Will you shut up? I'm trying to eat."

. . .

"I think I like Miami," Eric said. "It's got some good views." He watched a guy in tight shorts rollerblade past.

"You pervert," Ashleigh said.

"I see you looking, too. And unlike me, you've already got a boyfriend."

She giggled. "And I'd get mad at him for checking out other girls, too."

"I'm glad I'm gay. Dealing with the BS girls pull would drive me nuts."

"I wish I'd brought a bathing suit," Lisa said. "I want to go swimming, but I don't want to get my clothes wet. Do you think anyone would mind if I just swam nude?"

"Would anyone mind seeing a cute girl running around topless?" Ashleigh giggled again. "Probably not. But you still shouldn't do it."

"It'd probably be against the beach's rules," Eric added.

"What about a nude beach?" Lisa asked.

"Ew, God, no," Eric looked disgusted. "It's all gross old people who go to nude beaches. I really don't need to see that."

"I don't see what's so bad about that."

"That's because you're weird," Ashleigh told her. "I'm going to have to agree with Eric. So tomorrow, we'll go to the mall and get you a nice bathing suit."

"OK. Thank you."

"Whew. It's hot out. Let's go get something to drink."

"Yeah, good idea," Eric said. "I'm dying here." He looked at Lisa. "And you're not even sweating. Aren't you hot?"

"I don't really feel the weather," she said.

"Lucky you."

They found a small drink hut and ordered soda. "I think I might've actually had my fill of the beach for today," Eric said. "Why don't we find somewhere with air conditioning?"

"I wouldn't mind that," Ashleigh nodded. "Lisa, let's go get you a bathing suit."

"Ooh, yay!" Lisa said. "Shopping is fun."

"That it is. We've got to get you something that shows off your body. A two-piece would be best. I'm thinking something in red, to contrast with your blue hair. And maybe a blue wrap."

"You going to pick up something for yourself, as well?" Eric asked.

"I actually brought a bathing suit already, so I'm good. But maybe I'll see something I like."

Lisa felt an odd sensation. She'd felt it before, but never so strongly. She felt like she was being watched. She could sense an odd presence nearby. It was behind her. She turned, and saw a strange albino-looking man with pale clothes and intense eyes, staring right at them.

"Hey, what're you looking at?" Eric asked her.

The man started to move away. No one else seemed to be able to see him, but Lisa still sensed him, somehow. There was something very strange about him, and she was going to find out who he was.

Without saying anything to her friends, she broke into a run down the sidewalk. She kept her eyes focused on the albino, but he seemed to be getting farther and farther away, even though he didn't seem to be moving quickly. She lost sight of him, and soon she could no longer feel his presence, either. She came to a stop, panting from the exertion.

It took a couple minutes for Eric to catch up to her. "Lisa!" Eric asked. "Are you OK? What happened? Why'd you run off?"

"I'm sorry," she replied. "I saw someone, and felt a really weird presence about him. I had to find out who he was, and why he was watching us. But I lost him."

"Maybe it was just your imagination."

"No, it wasn't. He was definitely watching us, and there was something really odd about him. He was an albino, but even beyond that, there was something extra strange. Something my ESP picked up on."

"Well, no big deal. He's gone now."

"I guess. For now. If I see him again, I won't lose him."

"I doubt we'll see him again."

"See who again?" Ashleigh asked, finally catching up.

"Some weird albino dude she saw."

"Florida is a terrible state to be an albino. Now come on, let's go to the store."

They all got back to the motel shortly before 4:00. The two couples greeted each other with kisses, while Raven greeted Eric with a cold stare to keep him from making a joke about it. "So how was the beach?" Jacob asked.

"The beach was nice," Lisa said. "We also went to a store to buy me a bathing suit. Would you like to see it?"

". . . Yes. Yes I would."

"You can see it tomorrow," Ashleigh told him. "When we all go to the beach. Yes, Taylor, that includes you."

"I don't look good in a swim suit," Taylor said in a whining tone. "I'm too skinny."

"Better than being too fat. There were way too many people who were wearing way less than they should have. Anyway, how was your shopping trip?"

"Here are your new phones," Raven pulled them out of the bags and handed one to each of them. "They're not very good, but they're prepaid, so they're cheap and disposable."

"Does it have Bejeweled?" Lisa asked.

"I have no idea. I didn't ask. We also got this laptop. We'll all be sharing it, so I'd really appreciate you not looking up porn on it." She looked at Taylor. Then she looked at Ashleigh. "Including gay porn."

"Spoilsport," Ashleigh muttered.

"Lisa," Jacob said. "I was thinking. Now that we're on the run, this might be a good time to see if we can track down your parents."

"My parents?" she repeated.

"Yeah. I mean if you want to."

"We don't have to. I wouldn't even know where to begin looking. And I don't want my friends chasing birds on my behalf."

"Chasing birds?" Eric asked.

"I think I got the expression wrong."

"I'm actually pretty curious about your family, too," Taylor said.

"It's not like we have anything better to do," Eric said.

"But . . ." Lisa started to say, unsure of herself.

"Look," Raven said. "As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that matters is this: Do you want to find your family?"

"Well . . . sort of, yes. I mean, it would be nice to know who they were, you know?"

"Then we'll go. We'll hang around here for a little longer, and then we'll go looking for any family you might have."

"I told you, you don't need to do that."

"Sure we do," Ashleigh said. "You're our friend, dummy. If it's a family you want, then it's a family you'll get!"

"Yeah," Eric agreed. "You'd do the same for any of us. What kind of friends would we be if we didn't help you with this?"

"Exactly," Taylor said. "If you can't inconvenience your friends, what's the point of having them? Besides, friends don't mind being inconvenienced anyway, especially for a good cause, like this one."

"They're right," Raven said. "We care about you, and we want to help you."

"I . . . I don't know what to say," Lisa said as tears welled in her eyes. "Thank you! I love you all so much!" She started giving them all hugs. Even Raven tolerated it.

"So we'll hang around here for a few weeks," Raven said. "Then we'll go looking. You'll need to remember whatever you can. Then we'll go wherever your memory takes us. So we'll need to know where you were before you met us."

"I'll do my best!" Lisa said with conviction.

"And in the meantime," Ashleigh said, "maybe we can hit Disney World."

"Yay!" Lisa cheered. "The is the best day! And you guys are the best friends ever!"

Next: Observed.