A/N: This is mostly posted up here for my friend Liz, about our school's National Honors Society. Probably nobody will understand this unless you happen to go to school in central NY. If you do like it, though, awesome! :) This all I have so far of the story but I'm writing it every day so I'll post more.


They've all got their specialties – their specific talents, their designated jobs. Kyle, he doesn't speak, just shoots. Eva will make you want to forget your own name. Tim is some special brand of a pyromaniac, setting ablaze buildings and houses.

They are an untouched organization, thanks to their crimson-red wristbands, flashed whenever convenient. Late to school? Flash of the wristband, cheeky grin and a thinly-veiled threat, "You know, I'm in NHS…" Boom. Tardy wiped from your record.

Forgot to do your homework? Slowly roll up the sleeve of your shirt and flash a coy smile. That paper is now an A-plus.

National Honors Society members are the elite squad at G. Ray Bodley High School. No one knows exactly why they were gifted with the wristbands – perhaps to feel like they were part of something, wrists identical with those rubber bands, the words National Honors Society, inscribed. Somehow, a simple accessory created an air of camaraderie that had bracelet-wearing members of the NHS feeling a little big, a little tall. Suddenly, arriving late to AP Bio was no big deal. Just hold up an arm, display the red lettering. Home free.

They're sneaky, the NHS. Conniving. They have all the privileges – their records are untarnished, their smiles megawatt. Jealous voices lament NHS members "get away with murder".

Oh, naïve, jealous students.

Murder, yes….

And so much more.


(characters)

Alan has seen a lot of shit in his day.

No, really. You'd be surprised what he has to clean up sometimes.

Alan held a brief interest in medicine when he was in junior high and witnessed the season four finale of Grey's Anatomy and because of it, was subsequently elected the NHS "doctor" when he was inducted into the society. He'd long since changed his career prospects but the NHS underlings were very…persuasive. Don't ask him about that chemise in his locker, he'll never tell.

Anyway, with some Wikipedia searches and medicinal products pilfered from the nurse's office, (they had a lot more Vicodin than he was expecting – shame on you, Nurse Julie) Alan could probably pass for a hospital orderly. If, you know, he wore anything other than his American Eagle jeans and his favorite hoodie.

He even has his own makeshift office that he had conned the now-retired gym teacher out of, with various sports equipment hanging in mesh bags from the ceiling…which makes for a lots of jokes about balls, but whatever. None of the other NHS members have their own office.

He arrives at the high school at ten AM 'cause he's a boss and stayed up late playing Skyrim.

Per usual, he flashes his wristband at the dowdy secretary before sashaying off to his domain.

Because his schedule is plagued with AP classes, Alan can't lounge in his office the entire day so he spends about an hour reclined in the collapsible chair playing Angry Birds and eating Fritos. After that he's got to go to class – it's not like he can't just get someone to do his work for him but he wants to go to Stony Brook; he needs to prepare himself somehow.

Anyways, so it's Monday morning and Alan is throwing birds against bridges when Liz saunters in, dropping into the chair opposite the card table he calls a desk.

Alan sees the shape of her but doesn't bother to focus. "What?" he asks simply.

Liz sighs dramatically, tossing her hair with a flick of her wrist. "Alan…"

Alan switches to Fruit Ninja. He's better at it anyway. "What?" he repeats.

"Do you…feel…a large amount of love…towards me?" Liz asks, slowly crossing one leg over the other. There's a spot of blood on her knee which is a tad unsettling but not abnormal. Her mornings are pretty clear, too, so she usually interrogates people with Steve. Sometimes they've not even people who have done a thing. Liz just gets bored.

Alan slices about twenty apples and pears with one move. Booyah. "What do you want?" he asks finally.

Liz runs her hand over the surface of the table, a tactic she uses in most interrogations. Seductive, maybe, but it doesn't do shit for him. Liz is too goddamn familiar. "Nothing…"

Alan finally turns away from the game. "Liz."

"Steve and I…maaaay have made a mess in the computer lab."

Alan reaches down for one of the plastic tubs beneath the table. "Bloody messy or serious problem messy?"

Liz makes a 'mhm' noise. "I'd say bloody bordering on concussion-inducing."

Alan grabs a Powerade, two ibuprofen pills and some random bandages and creams. In the case of assessing serious issues, Liz tends to underestimate so it could be anything from a kid with a black eye or a full-on Saw-esque mess, complete with dead bodies.

Alan hates when it's dead bodies.

He trails Liz back to the computer lab and with trepidation, opens the door.

Thankfully, the only thing in the room are rows of computers and a kid that looks like a freshman cradling his head in his hands and moaning.

"Where's Steve?" Alan asks because he's also a babysitter.

Liz shrugs. "Probably washing off in the bathroom."

Alan looks at the flecks of blood on Liz's forearm. "Yeah…maybe you should, too."

Liz nods and leaves the room with a swing of her hips.

Alan breathes a sigh of relief once the door closes. He doesn't have anything against…Liz's appearance…but it can be a tad unsettling.

He deposits the supplies on a nearby table and turns to the younger kid. It's always the younger ones.

"Hi," he says carefully. Being nice to the hurt ones helps them not to blab to anyone. Not like they would be able to.

The kid looks up, flashing honey-brown eyes. One of them is shrouded in a ghastly mixture of reddish, purple-ish blue colors. A few drops of blood are drying underneath his nostrils.

"Who…who are you?" the kid flinches when he asks.

Alan allows himself a small smile. "I'm the, uh, med guy."

"Med guy like…doctor?" the kid scrutinizes him through his good eye. "You don't look thatold."

Alan reaches for some antiseptic. "I'm not," he says. He cleans under the kid's nose, around his eye, his chin. He gives him the medicine and the Powerade and some Neosporin to put on the cuts on his arms. He sends him off on his way and departs back to his office.

He's got about six Fruit Ninja levels to beat before AP Economics marches its way through.


(characters)

Mitch used to love hanging out with Kyle. They ran together in cross country and track, played video games, even studied together. High school was good times…until the National Honors Society recruited them. Somehow, the whole enigma of it was that the society was less about honor and more about violence. Everyone was given a job that pertained to their skill set (or they made one up). He'd like to blame the bracelets for it getting so out of control but they were probably only a fraction of the mess everyone was in.

Once the NHS came into their lives, Kyle was slotted into the role of 'sniper'. Simple, easy. Fucking terrifying. It really messed him up, Mitch knew. It wasn't like a kid could just bounce back from murdering someone. They hadn't intended on killing or setting houses on fire or stealing…anything…but one stupid mistake lead to the discovery that if you were in the NHS, you virtually had a 'get out of jail free' card.

Eva had requested Mitch tell Kyle because he was their prime reporter for Ashley (who was intel) and he needed to see what happened 'in the field'.

Yeah, okay.

Ever since the day Kyle killed that first person, he clammed right up. He was so terrified by it all that he stayed home for two weeks and came back the best sniper the country had ever seen. It was almost as if the panic attack he'd endured had turned him to believe that he should be the best killer, who was never swayed by any event. And in that, he lost his voice.

Well, Mitch amends to himself, maybe not so much as lost but…abandoned it. The sight of the body hitting the ground had horrified him so much it stunned him into silence. At first, Mitch had accepted the behavior because he'd just fucking killed someone but after one month and then four, Kyle was still reluctant to speak. Eventually, Mitch got tired of trying and just avoided him altogether. It was just too difficult to be surrounded by silence.

And now Eva wanted him to follow Kyle around for an entire day.

Great.

He had to leave at midnight; once he was sure his parents were asleep and dove into the forest-green Jeep he'd flashed at a car dealer in Detroit a year ago, when It all started.

He's got a five-hour drive ahead of him to New York City. Kyle's assignment was to "take out" someone that had sniffed around the NHS's bidness. Apparently Eva and Liz had done their job well (the kid fled to fucking New York City, okay, that's jumping a few school districts) but Eva wanted to be 'doubly safe'.

Fucking Eva and her fucking safety precautions.

Mitch drives silently for about an hour and then idly switches on the radio. Kyle texted him saying he would find a way to get to NYC but himself, which probably meant he was flying out, the bastard.

The only station that works is something country-oriented and Mitch sighs but lets Tim McGraw's Southern drawl wash over him and his car's interior as he drives out of the county.

It's not that Mitch doesn't like his job of publicity – covering people's asses is a lot better than killing them – but a lot of it entails sleepless nights, shitty vending machine food and sneaking around. He likes the Mission: Impossible of it all as much as the next guy (if Mission: Impossible was some fucked up Tim Burton take on high school students and what they do in their free time) but he likes to think that he's the only one in the NHS that has something resembling a conscience.

His stomach still curdles whenever he thinks of the rigid way the man's body tilted towards the Earth and the passive expression on Kyle's face, the only thing moving (ever so slightly) were his fingers, still dancing along the trigger.

He arrives in New York City by the beginnings of dawn, empty Red Bull cans littering the floor of the car. He pulls into a parking garage, pays toll and then wipes a hand over his face, hoping to smooth out the lines of exhaustion.

Finally, he hops out, carrying his canvas bag with him, which holds all the materials he needs to impersonate a journalist and the stuff he really needs.

After hailing a taxi, walking an additional three blocks and gulping down a suspiciously-watery black coffee, he meets Kyle at the designated reconnaissance location – a bus station out in Manhattan. A small hub is refuge for the three teenagers and elderly couple hoping to dodge the wind. Kyle sits between them, newspaper folded on his lap. Mitch would reprimand him for a poor – and clichéd – cover, if he knew it would really do anything.

Kyle's amber eyes flit up from the paper, noticing Mitch. He doesn't seem to make any effort to get up and finally, he gingerly folds the newspaper, tucks it under his jacket and follows Mitch on down the street.

Mitch also doesn't bother to tell Kyle that the black leather jacket he's wearing is neither subtle nor stylish.

Kyle wordlessly hands Mitch a map of where they're supposed to be – information they never disclose until the day of.

Mitch studies the contours, the rates. Shakes his head. They're supposed to be on the roof of the Macy's. Christ.

Kyle lifts his eyebrows at him, the most emotion that's crossed him since That Day. His gesture seems to say, can you believe the shit they make us do?

No, Mitch wants to reply, I really can't.


(characters)

If anyone asked Ashley when she was initiated into the NHS what job she would like to hold, she probably wouldn't have picked 'intel'. She'd always wanted to run her own restaurant, vibrant, bustling with people, aroma of her own creations filling up the spaces. However, there was no room for dreams in the NHS and Ashley was slotted in for intelligence. At first, she loathed the research, the paperwork, long hours spent looking at a computer screen. She hated doing the grunt work and missing her favorite classes but…after seeing everyone cataloguing and analyzing what she had collected, what she had written…it made her feel…powerful. They were following her directive. She had control. There is an element of that when you're a chef, certainly, but you're doling out spices and sautéing mushrooms and manning woks. You don't have civilization in your palm.

It's Wednesday and Ashley is knee-deep in the typical load of research. Mitch just reported back to her about Kyle's successful mission – do they go any other way when concerning Kyle? No – and she is typing into her NHS-gifted laptop.

System of a Down blasts in the background – perfect the-NHS-just-committed-a-murder music. There is nothing better than putting soundtracks to moments and having them match perfectly. In fact, that wouldn't be too bad to do but that's Ashley Cumming's job.

Twenty minutes into typing, Steve walks in, loosening his tie and throwing aside his backpack. Ever since the NHS recruited him, he started to dress more…poised.

Ashley most certainly does not object to it.

"Hey." Steve says, breathless as if he's just gone running.

"Are you…okay?" Ashley takes a good look at him. He's kind of sweaty.

Steve opens his mouth. Closes it. "Would you…mind?" he mimes taking off his button-up shirt. "I just, uh…I had business to do."

Ashley tries her best to look nonchalant. "Not at all," she says quickly, turning back to her work.

This is officially the best job she's ever had.

Steve slowly unbuttons his collared shirt and lays it carefully across one of the chairs. He rolls back his shoulders and winces as he stretches, his defined arm muscles jumping. He was always athletic but he'd definitely filled out even more since the NHS. Mostly he pairs up with Liz to do interrogations or sometimes he'll train with Kyle but once in a while he gets the 'ol 'DL' from Ashley.

It's probably Ashley's favorite part of all things, ever.

"Alright-" Steve stops, noticing Ashley still typing. "What are you working on?"

Ashley's hands grasp for her loose red tendrils, quickly twisting them into a messy bun. Her hand fidgets against the space bar as she says, "Just writing up Mitch's mission report."

"Oh, yeah?" Steve swings around and sits in the chair opposite Ashley's. "How'd that go?"

Ashley tries not to stare. "Uh – good, I guess. Target defeated and all that." She laughs, though there's nothing funny.

"Sucks for Mitch," Steve says, flicking on his own computer. He never does his own paperwork so the only things programmed on it are Solitaire and Starcraft.

"Yeah," Ashley agrees. She's only seen Kyle a few times at meetings but he always looks…pained.

It's quiet for a while until Steve suddenly says, "So…"

Ashley immediately looks up.

"I was thinking…and I mean, well, Eva was thinking…we should work together on something."

"Work…together?" Ashley echoes, confused. She'd been told explicitly at the start that her abilities were to be confined to research. No physical activity, no interrogations, just her computer and her. And honestly, anything outside of that realm freaked her out.

"Yeah, you know, research," Steve waves his hands, like he doesn't quite know what that entails.

"Oh," Ashley brightens. "Yeah, I could help you out with that stuff."

Steve smiles. "Good."

Someone save her.

Or, you know.

Not.


(characters)

Pat is pretty much the epitome of an NHS member. He's an elected officer, which means he both does absolutely nothing and absolutely everything at the same time. He organizes the meetings and tells the underlings to buy food and runs every morning for forty-five minutes. He helps organize "activities" and, once in a while, he flips over tables.

No, seriously.

There is a room in G. Ray Bodley High School specifically used for Pat.

And he flips tables in it.

There are about seventeen tables lined up in the room – oak, collapsible, plastic, whatever. They're on all fours, gleaming under the lights, ready.

So when Katelyn asks, "Where's Pat?"

Kal responds, "He's flipping his shit."

Katelyn walks up to the door of the room, knocks gently and walks inside.

Avenged Sevenfold is blasting – thank you, Ashley Cummings – and Pat is aggressively knocking over a row of blue plastic picnic tables. He roars and kicks another, wrenching his leg back again and again to exert his energy. Even though he's batshit insane and does this twice a day so it should be…"normal" by now, it still freaks Katelyn out.

"Uh, Pat?" she yells over the music, clipboard in hand. She needs to know what type of cookies he wants for next Tuesday's meeting. She votes white-chocolate macadamia nut.

"What?" Pat turns around, forehead streaked with sweat. He wipes it away with the hem of his shirt and jogs over to the stereo, clicking off the music and then smiles. "Sorry. I was venting out some energy. Got only a ninety-eight on my bio test."

Katelyn shoves the clipboard at him.


(characters)

When they handed him that candle at the induction ceremony, Tim wondered if the administration was fucking with him or if they actually expected the blind kid to be able to hold something burning in his hands.

Being blind sucked but what sucked also was the ignorance, sometimes. People expected you to be an invalid because you couldn't see. It didn't mean you couldn't wash your own hair or go to the bathroom. And it also sucked when people expected you to be the person you were previously, before you were blinded. Just hand you a lit candlestick. Here you go, Tim. Welcome to the NHS.

But then, he realized…he sort of liked the danger. He liked holding the flame in his hands and not having any idea what was happening, feeling the warmth in his palm. He liked being in control and hadn't realized the desire was…burning…so bright until he finally got hold of it.

The NHS of course, had sniffed that out right away.

Tim could never exactly pinpoint what the NHS actually stood for. Literally, it was the National Honors Society. As a whole, it was about the intelligent students who worked hard to get to the place they were. It was difficult, however, to understand why they were the exact opposite of that.

The kids never would have been inducted if they were stupid but they also didn't do the things that 'normal' NHS kids (maybe in Idaho or something) did, like organize community service projects or have bake sales or whatever. They had gun specialists and martial arts trainers and people like Ashley who sat in a room all day typing and printing. They had Liz and Eva, both insanely good at what they did (which was unsettling, because what they did was get information out of people by beating the ever living shit out of them) and Pat, who seemingly did nothing and everything at the same time.

Tim didn't exactly understand the point, honestly. He didn't understand why. But then they told him, "You'll be good with pyrotechnics." And boom. Problems solved. Or not. Who cared? He got all the explosives he wanted. People started handing him his homework (or, well, he assumed it was his homework since they said, "Here's your homework, Tim,") and suddenly lunch was some kind of gourmet buffet.

He knew the NHS members got the red bracelets (Mary told him what they looked like) and his hand grasped for it in his classes, running the coarse pads of his fingertips across it. He even used it, once, when a substitute teacher laid her hand on his arm, all sympathetic and sweet-like, do you need anything darlin', like he couldn't get up and get it himself. He'd felt liquid irritation course through his veins as he pulled up the sleeve of his jacket to display the bracelet.

The teacher didn't bother him anymore after that.

It was disturbing to Tim that the bracelets were universally known but there were others like Mitch and Amanda that used them to their advantages, game systems and cars and free pizza lunches appearing, glorified prizes for being selected. It's not like it didn't grab him at first – the presents, the attention. But eventually it all felt too cloying, too…there.

The pyrotechnics helped with that.

Say what you will about people that love fire, but blowing up a building, hearing the sound of bricks raining down on the earth, of the ground vibrating beneath your sneakers…it's something Tim will always appreciate doing.

Today he's with Steve, who is pretty much a floater in the NHS. He does interrogations alongside Liz most days but sometimes Pat or Eva will squeeze him in with Ashley or, today, Tim. Tim doesn't exactly mind because while being there, surrounded by the sounds of his work, is pretty damn fantastic, sometimes it's more exhilarating with someone there with him.

His nimble fingers glide over the proper equipment, attaching it to the inside of the warehouse's walls, ears tuning in to the drip, drip, drip of the previous night's rainfall still meeting the cold tile.

Most of the time, Tim blows up buildings, sets them ablaze, because the NHS needs to do a clean-up (they never ask him to kill) but sometimes they locate old, rundown places no longer in use because, let's face it, it's fucking awesome to blow shit up.

"So how's it going with Ashley?" Tim asks conversationally, because he's doing ultra-creepy work in silence right now and normally it rolls like it does but it's quiet, like Steve is thinking.

"What do you mean?" Steve asks like he knows that Tim knows.

(Except that he doesn't).

"Just, you know," Tim shrugs, feeling the bulk of his Kevlar-lined jacket rising and then sitting back onto his shoulders. "How's it going?"

There's hesitation, thick and cloying.

Steve swallows, loudly. "Um…it's...good."

Tim knows this tone. "Define 'good'." He brushes his gloved hands across the sanctioned explosives one last time.

"Well…we've been working on her intel stuff together and…" Steve stops, presumably looking at Tim's work. "You ready?"

"Yep." Tim hits the timer and feels Steve's hand on his arm as they quickly vacate the building. It's a five minute countdown, plenty of time.

It's not until they're the appropriate distance away – Steve sitting beside him in the NHS utility van, popping the top off another energy drink – that the conversation picks back up.

"I think she likes me." Steve throws this out like it's unbidden, a stolen declaration. Maybe it is. Tim has known Steve years before the NHS and its trappings and relationships weren't in the cards for him. It's not that he had anything particularly horrifying about him, he just never looked for opportunities the way Tim would have, had he been in possession of Steve's flowing honey-golden mane and alluring cerulean-blue eyes.

"Do you like her?" Tim tilts his head, listening to the countdown his watch was emitting.

Another pause. "I…think so."

Ladies and Gentlemen, Tim – pyrotechnics specialist slash love guru for the hopeless high school student and you!

"Then…?"

A sigh, a shift, like he can't speak in such a rigid position. "I don't think she…likes what I do."

Tim feels himself laugh, an uninhabited sound. Replicating a foreign action. "Who would?" he wants to add that interrogating people by pulling out their fingernails is a little fucked up for the average teenager but he supposes Steve already knows this.

"I don't think she would date me," Steve sounds resigned. "She likes…low-key stuff."

Tim tilts back in his seat. "Then don't share torture techniques with her. Take her to simple stuff- movies, coffee shops."

"But…she knows what I do. What if she thinks…that I'm really…like that?"

Ah. Tim tries to think on this one. "You know…she might. But I think that's the risk you have to take, when you do the type of stuff we do."

Steve's response is measured. "Yeah."

Tim feels the car shake and the ground reverberating with energy. The corner of his mouth quirks up, morphing into a smirk.

"Boom."


(characters)

Mary suspects there's a gun for every personality.

She sits in the middle of the sanctioned 'gun room', 'guns and ammo' magazine perched haphazardly across her lap, chilled chocolate milk by her side. She likes to think she has the hardest job of the entire NHS – she sits and waits. Sometimes for hours at a time, sometimes she'll go days without speaking to anyone. Once, the only time she had contact was when she went home for dinner and the routine NHS meeting.

Mary does work – she works her goddamn ass off, okay – but mostly in the confines of the former AP Econ/WW2 classroom, lounging in the director's chair that Liz had lifted for her as a joke. She has her own mini-fridge, a poster of the periodic table and the textbooks she needs for work. She has her director's chair, a pillow from a motel Mitch had grabbed in Buffalo and an orange plastic yo-yo. Mary has Barrel 50cals and Smith & Wessons. She is surrounded by metal and gunpowder.

And she loves it.

She wants to be an engineer, but the NHS doesn't really give two shits about what you want. They scrutinize you, your talents, your weaknesses, and then shove you where they deem 'necessary'. It certainly never felt necessary for Mary to have to spend hours at a time studying weaponry and then reporting it back to Ashley, who would load into some bullshit archive that no one would ever see again.

However dull it is, though, Mary does enjoy being the only one with this job. No one ever interrupts her – unless they have an assignment and the manners to knock before they enter – and certainly members don't apprentice her, like the others do. There's really not that much to teach, honestly.

Kyle walks in Tuesday morning wanting another sniper rifle.

(Of course he does).

Kyle's been rendered mute for about a year and a half and even in that time, he's still managed to look both intimidating and worthy enough to gain attention and respect from an entire room. But every time he approaches Mary, those facades seem to drop right off of him.

He walks into the room slowly, hands shyly fiddling with the straps of his backpack. It's been a while since his last haircut and his chestnut-colored locks twist together in a way that is not…unattractive, to say the least.

"Hey, Kyle," Mary says easily, lifting her glass to her lips. She knows he is used to formalities and it's better to address him this way. It makes him loosen up a bit.

Kyle nods.

"You need something?" he wouldn't have come in if he hadn't.

He nods again.

"Another mission?" Mary asks, walking over to the framed portrait of Stalin and turning it over to click the triangle-shaped button beneath.

Third nod.

From three separate enclosures in the walls rolled out long, metal trays…with guns, obviously. Brought to you by the always-loyal underlings of the NHS that have done back-alley dealing with shady people since 2008.

There's an assortment of Marlin 3030s, 357 snubnose pistols and a sundry mess of sniper rifles that is always being rearranged to look like there is new stuff being shipped in (Eva's kind of backed up with orders right now).

"So is this going to be long range or…?" Mary asks, hands hovering above the weapons. Usually Kyle shoots sniper rifles but every so often he'll ask for something weird, like a Luger and not return it for a few days. He has a system. Mary is familiar with it.

Kyle nods again, eyes scuttling over the collection. He runs his hand over one particular gun, eyes flitting up, seeking Mary's approval.

Mary nods, watching as he lifts the scope to his eye and aims for the photo of Stalin. There's something calculated and methodical about Kyle's movements…something that would be frightening to any other member of the NHS…but Mary finds something assuring about it.

"You going to the meeting tonight?" Mary asks, picking up a rather small Smith & Wesson. Kyle sometimes misses meetings, with no explanation. No one ever asks why. He never tells.

He shrugs, backpack rising and falling with his shoulders.

"Meeting someone?" she hedges, and instantly feels foolish for asking.

However, Kyle shakes his head.

"Mission is tonight?"

Another shake. Kyle pulls something from his back pocket – a notebook and a mini Sharpie – and scribbles something onto the lined pages. He holds it out in front of the teenage gun specialist.

Sometimes I just need there to be silence.

Mary feels something shift and whirls around, pulling a sniper rifle with her. She shoves it into Kyle's hands, easing the other from his grasp.

"Here," she says. "Try this one."


(characters)

Liz would be hard-pressed to say which part, exactly; she loved about being in the NHS.

Was it the all-access bracelets, the complimentary breakfasts? The kickass training sessions with their combat instructors, Mikaela and Kaleb?

No, no.

It was definitely shopping for interrogation outfits.

See, there's a certain craft, a certain character that you need when you interrogate someone. You need to be formidable. Daring. You need to be able to extract answers.

And you need to look sexy doing it.

Liz stands in the middle of the vacated band room, where she's set up two racks of dresses – all black, rarely lace, never satin. She loathes satin.

She holds one dress in place of her blue-sweater-black-jeans combo and then swaps it for another. She needs to look perfect tonight. There's a meeting, which, hello, isn't exactly the Oscars or anything but there's definitely something written in their handbook about 'proper presentation' and if anyone knows what that entails, Liz does.

Her hair in wild, golden curls, Liz walks over to the vanity mirror to decide.

The hip-hugging Oscar de la Renta is out – Liz prefers tight but not suffocating. She opts for the open-backed Versace. It's a good design, she realizes, when she walks down the hallway to Mrs. Ryan's room and a couple sophomore students stop and gawk.

She flounces her hair and continues on proudly.

The meeting commences with its usual disarray – Pat wants donuts, they only have raspberry Danishes, some kid apprenticing Alan, Mike, his name is, rushes out to appease him. Ashley anxiously shifts in her seat and Eva pushes back her cuticles with a Swiss army knife. Mary loudly protests against the shipment of crossbows ("does everyone need to emulate Katniss Everdeen? Jesus Christ, people!"). Kyle is nowhere to be seen. Katelyn and Tiffany administer next week's plans and then all is silent as they read.

Liz barely glances over the itinerary. They always ask her to do the same damn thing – interrogate, interrogate, interrogate. She loves it, she really does, but everyone else gets to test the waters in other fields. Why can't she join Kyle on a mission or two? He's bit of an odd one, sure, but at least he'd be different.

"Excuse me," she says to the two hundred or so NHS members around her.

Only Steve looks up.

"Excuse me," Liz says, firmly.

Papers are put down as all eyes turn to Liz.

"I like pulling fingernails out with garden shears just as much as the next girl but…" Liz makes sure her eyes trail up and down the itinerary in a long, slow, bored fashion. "Don't you think it's time for some…change?" she makes sure to look at Pat, who is the boss, even if he isn't.

He stops shoving his face with chocolate donuts – he'd starved himself all week for them, okay?! – and nods fervently. Liz knew he would. Pat is kind of her bitch.

"Uh, yeah," he says once he's swallowed his mouthful of pastry. "Have Liz penciled in for something with Kal and…Vanessa."

Liz stares a few seconds more at him to make sure he understood her, drops her gaze and smiles down at her paper.

She's not cheesy enough to say let the games begin.

But she definitely thinks it.


(characters)

Vanessa kind of actually hates her job in the NHS.

She's not an extremely "pure" person, doesn't get straight A's or dole out helpings of soup at a homeless shelter or anything like that. But she never, ever considered herself to be a kind of person that sidles up to you, all warm and smiling, hey, do you need anything, I brought some pretzels, how 'bout a Cola – and then effectively tears your life apart.

It's not a physical thing, not punches and kicks and fancy tools that break things, but mental, methodical. Pulls at your subconscious, extracting memories with fanciful fingers. It's a job you don't want, it's a job that shoves your face into reason, has you realize what you really can – and often don't want to – become.

Monday morning, Liz is on her side in the computer lab – and how weird is it that they do this surrounded by technology, just blank screens reflecting back at them – and there's a new one to interrogate, some community college student fidgeting, fidgeting, fidgeting in his seat. Probably a tweeker. Coming off of a high. The NHS usually lets them slide, lets the witnessed situations be chalked up to drug-induced hallucinations but they want to be secure. Always the procedures with these guys.

"Okay, now what Steve and I usually do," Vanessa says in the little alcove that leads to the room, "is I go in first and then he follows once I give him stuff to go on. So just…wait here." She leaves Liz to observe in the one-way window and then goes inside.

This part is both difficult and easy. Usually the kid she talks to is young, younger than her, but not usually by much. It seems sometimes that they're easier when they're that way – fragile – but she's learned that the older ones are actually the most honest. They fear the inevitable a lot more.

This kid, he's eighteen, twenty one at the most – hair past his ears, eyes downcast, knee jiggling up and down. Blue plaid shirt past his waist. He's been here three days – something about weeding him out – and it shows.

Vanessa has a bottle of apple juice, water and Powerade in her arms, along with assorted bags of chips and the like. Food makes them talk. Interrogation 101. Class, please welcome Vanessa.

"Hi," she says breezily, sitting down at the table across from him. He glances up briefly, then looks back down. Glances up again.

"I brought some snacks," she tries, keeping her voice leveled. "I figured you'd be hungry." The NHS wasn't completely insane – they offered food but only just enough.

The kid doesn't move at first but after Vanessa pops a Combo into her mouth like it ain't no thang, he reaches for a few himself, trembling fingers grasping pretzel-covered cheese and then they're just lounging there, eating and drinking, not saying a word.

"You go to school?" she asks, to get it going.

The kid's russet-colored eyes land on anything except Vanessa. "OCC," he says, as if he had to think hard on it to remember.

"Yeah? What do you study?" she keeps her voice airy, conversational. This is her job, it boils down to this, yet it feels worse than what Liz will do after.

There's a beat of hesitation and then, quietly, after the snap of a pretzel meeting teeth, "Criminal Justice."

Oh, of course. Vanessa nods thoughtfully, and then a lie rolls past her tongue. "My cousin takes that. He always talks about being a DEA officer."

The kid idly taps a few fingers against the tabletop but doesn't respond. He doesn't need to, not when Vanessa already has what she needs. From this point, it's fairly simple.

After a few moments, hesitation suffocating the kid until he finally bursts, he blurts, "I've been here three days."

Vanessa knows this but doesn't say a word.

"I know it's lame but, uh…I'm…missing classes." He fidgets, hand dancing along the hemline of his shirt. "Do you know why I'm here?" his eyes flit up to Vanessa's.

Vanessa doesn't answer, just reaches for another Combo like she didn't hear him.

"My brother's probably worried," the kid continues.

Too easy. "Your brother?"

The kid's head snaps up, like he hadn't even realized he'd said a word.

"What's your brother's name?" Vanessa asks, even though she'd already glanced at the file before she came in, knew everything from the kid's favorite cereal to his class schedule.

The kid suddenly stops, clams right up. His eyes darken and he takes in Vanessa, the food and the florescent lights above him. His mouth sets into a firm line. Whatever he was about to say, he's not going to anymore.

Vanessa sighs and slowly gets out of her chair. This is the part she hates. She walks out of the room and wordlessly acknowledges Liz. She will know what to do. She saw the vulnerability stretched across the kid's face.

She turns away from the window once she glimpses Liz's elegant strides to the table.


(characters)

Kyle doesn't really give a shit what you think.

He has running. He has school (and in itself, homework). He has the NHS – and furthermore, sniping – and he has Mary.

He doesn't need any more.

(He doesn't need any less).

Edging along the brick exterior to the high school building, Kyle lets out a low noise, mimicking the light chirp of a blue jay.

He gets a response – it sounds like it's coming from down by the lake – and starts running towards it.

Kyle isn't exactly sure what he and Mary are doing – dancing around each other with bird calls and gun meetings, talking over polishing oil and pineapple until the janitors start running their mops through.

Mary does all the talking – which isn't that much – while she spins around the room, fingers dancing along the old history classroom, leaving their invisible marks. Sometimes, they pass notes. Once, Mary tried signing to him but he vehemently shook his head, scrawling something small and deliberate in his notebook, I'm not deaf.

Mary doesn't try again.

Kyle can feel bitter wind against his protected legs – it's not yet December, but it feels like it is – but he doesn't mind. Sometimes it's good, knowing you can feel.

Mary is down by the water's edge, running shoes tied tight, hair blowing around her face. She'd jogged down, with the intent of doing…whatever this is…and Kyle can't help but feel himself smiling.

"Hey," Mary waves a gloved hand.

Kyle feels the unfamiliar sensation of a smile tearing its way across his face. Mary tends to do that to him.

"What do you want to do today?" Mary's not at indoor track practice and he doesn't ask why. He's selfish like that.

He shrugs. He has a mission tonight and he's not really sure he wants to go. He'd like to just stay here, if that's possible.

Mary smiles at him and pulls his hand, the coarse material of her glove scratching his palm.

Kyle figures, at least he has her. He knows it's not healthy – it was something the NHS seniors told him, before they graduated, off to Brown and RIT and the FBI. Don't get attached to anyone, ever.

Yeah, sure. Simple, if you're not a teenage assassin. He'd like to talk about his weekend in AP calculus like anyone else. If he talked.

But then Mary was there and she didn't care, didn't gape at him like everyone else, prattling off a million questions about his muteness and his gun capabilities and why oh why, was he so dreadfully skinny?

Sometimes, his mind drifts and he wonders what he would have done if he hadn't met Mary.

(He doesn't particularly like to dwell on that).

They walk for a little while, stopping at scattered notes on the forest floor, tree trunks covered in moss, shards of odds and ends that they keep in a pocket in Mary's backpack. Finally, they come to a stop on a twisted old oak that's been there since they were freshman. Mary scoots over to give Kyle room.

They sit like that for a few moments, Kyle tilting his head at the last rays of the sun and then turns when he hears Mary's delicate voice singing quietly to herself, "There was a time I used to look into my father's eyes, in a happy home, I was a king, I had a golden throne."

Kyle stares.

"Those days are gone, now the memories are on the wall. I hear the songs from the places where I was born."

The thing is, Kyle is known for planning. He is known for his meticulousness, his preciseness, his ability to sort between logic and insanity and find a happy medium. He pulls the trigger, does the hard work. He prefers maps to reckless road trips. He keeps fifty dollars on him at all times in case of an emergency. He is not spontaneous, in any sort of way.

Except that he totally, completely and inexplicably leans over and kisses Mary.

(He thinks he maybe can find room for this new definition of him).


(characters)

"Tiffany, would you mind getting us some snacks from the cafeteria?" Pat asks, pen cap in his mouth, sneakers hanging in the face of Ashley Cummins at the adjacent table.

Tiffany, face shrouded by stacks of computer paper and NHS files yet to be catalogued, pops back into view.

"What?" she asks, confused. She is pretty sure that Pat just asked her to be the food underling, which, yeah – that's not going to happen. She's not a junior anymore.

"Food?" Pat says, as if that was what she needed clarification on.

A few other NHS members look up from their various activities, hearing the exchange. Questioning Pat just isn't allowed. Even someone as high-ranking as Tiffany knows this.

Tiffany tries to smile but it comes off more like a grimace. "Right – of course." She quickly gets up and slides her chair in behind her.

Once she is free from the meeting room, she curses under her breath and rolls her eyes so far that the world may as well have rolled with them.

This is ridiculous, she thinks to herself. Since when is this my job? When she had been recruited, she'd been promised a gig as interference, which was a hell of a lot better than some of the other shit jobs her friends got. Snack fetcher was for the ones who were beginners or wannabes, not seniors. She is going to study photography at Cornell, okay?! She doesn't need this shit.

As soon as she gets home, she plans to get down to plotting.

(It entails her spooning cookie dough ice cream into her mouth while sobbing at the hookup-breakup-hookup-breakup of Troy and Gabriella in High School Musical 2).

Then, she logs onto eBay and suddenly she is launched into a bidding war with sirknitsalot69 over an ancient sewing machine that she doesn't even need because she has no idea how to sew but it is suddenly imperative that she has it.

She misses Troy and Gabriella's hookup back together but she is now six hundred and twenty dollars poorer and one lime-green sewing machine richer, so yeah.

The sewing machine arrives in the mail and sits unpacked on her desk for days, serving as a paperweight and makeshift stand for her Essie nail polish bottles until she has nothing to do after procrastinating physics homework and she opens it with a sharp nail file and muttered curse words at the impossibly strong masking tape.

It's rickety, barely used, but time has obviously spread itself across the machinery. The green is faded and some parts are nearly white. An instruction manual slides onto the carpet and it's mostly in Korean.

Great.

Tiffany eats a can of soup, watches the parts she missed of High School Musical 2 (this time with no tears) and then sits down at her desk.

She wrestles with the instruction manual for a good ten minutes until the words are all swimming into dizzy patterns on the pages in front of her and she mutters, "Fuck it,"and then attempts a go at it, sans proper instruction.

She cuts her thumb open three times trying to sew together a mini-hat for her cat, Butterscotch.

Another week and another movie later (this time Kickass – Zac Efron can only be cute in measured amounts, she supposes) she starts doing this…thing.

Amazingly, she drives by Hobby Lobby and buys…fabric. Like, she strolls up aisles with a cute little orange plastic cart, grabbing nylon and cotton and crisscrosses of horrible Christmas plaid and pumpkin-pie orange challis and corduroy the color of shamrocks. She almost contemplates a make-your-own-ceramic-bracelets kit but then comes to her senses and bolts out of there before the cute little photo frames can get her in their intoxicating blend of polyester and daisy decals.

For the record – just because she buys fabric doesn't mean she has the faintest idea on how to actually weave it into something. It kind of just collects until one day it spills onto her carpet and she has no choice but to start doing…whatever it is she's doing.

Actually, no. She blames Kickass. She blames Kickass and cookie dough and stupid Pat and his condescending lilt and his completely unfair balance of power. She blames being put as interference when that is just asking for shenanigans. She blames the NHS. She blames sirknitsalot69.

Somehow, over a period of two and a half weeks and a flurry of strange patterns – leather, crepe-back satin and faille, twisting together into…um…

Tiffany holds up the finished material Tuesday night at nine-thirty, empty can of cherry Pepsi beside her, The Fray softly serenading her into success.

Which, apparently…had her made a Catwoman-esque costume?

It's all long sleeves and black leather, smooth and sexy, practically painted onto her small form, and somehow there are cat ears and why. She supposes she can blame Butterscotch, a little, for that one. He was totally interfering with her sewing euphoria.

She parades around her empty house for a while playing AC/DC and then gets bored and decides to kick it up a notch.

There's still an NHS thing she has to finish because she was too busy stealing back issues of Seventeen from the library to do it but now she feels invigorated as she speeds on by the high school, cup of espresso in her free hand.

She scares the shit out of the Mexico NHS, who was attempting to weasel their way into Fulton's good graces with a few poorly-misplaced lines and an Edible Arrangements basket.

She sidles up to one of the boys, sultry lines and all, twisting her body around the way she imagines caramel does from the bottle on top of an ice cream sundae. Slow, intentional and delicious.

"I don't think you want to know what will happen if you investigate any further," (leg hitched high, voice low, eyes batting a good eight coats of Rimmel London Lash Accelerator mascara) "and something tells me you really won't like it." (firm stomp of a black leather Forever 21 boot – thank you, chunky heels) "Have a good night, boys." (screech of her tires, blasting away from the scene, clouds of dust her sendoff).

At the next NHS meeting, Tiffany pretends to be too busy reading a manual on physical fitness for those members not assigned in combat (i.e. a copy of Cosmopolitan hidden beneath the drab guidelines, an article on cherry-flavored lip gloss capturing her interest instead) to get Pat his requested apple cider.

Vanessa asks her how her meeting with the Mexico school went, probably wanting to report it to Ashley to catalogue.

Tiffany pretends to be absentmindedly paying attention to a slim braid in her hair she'd tied together with some left-over chiffon material she'd sliced together to make a t-shirt.

"Oh, you know," she says airily. "They were very cooperative."


(characters)

"Get in," Alexis hollers at Julia and Amanda, who are both hovering on the outskirts of the warehouse behind them. Off in the back are Tim and Steve, ready to blow it to smithereens once they're safely out of distance.

They run towards her Lamborghini Reventon, hop in and Alexis floors it before either of them can say a word.

Behind them, the ground reverberates with energy and somewhere Alexis is betting Tim is high-fiving (or, really, cheering) over the usage of his new TNT that Pat had passed off to them that they'd been gifted with from some military camp or other.

She grins, too, because there is nothing better than switching gears in a car that costs more both of her parents' yearly incomes combined. Even though it's the middle of the night, she's wearing a pair of Luis Vuitton sunglasses (another perk of being one of the highest-paid NHS members this side of the east coast) and has the hood of her jacket pulled up, lest any cameras capture the image of three teenagers escaping a special ops mission meant for people twice their twice and probably a hell of a lot more rehearsed with these types of things.

Alexis supposes that they're as good as any. They get the jobs that need to be done, done. And if they happen to mess up along the way, well, that's what the NHS bracelets are for, right?

She's been deemed "getaway driver" for six months now (they'd tried giving her 'combat specialist' but there is just no way that's happening; if she is going to fighting something, it's going to be the speed limit) and she can't imagine graduating off to the Albany College of Pharmacy while she has…this. The control, the power…the start of the engine…it leaves her in such a state that when she finally retires home and cracks open One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to start her homework, she can't even read the words, can't even comprehend them; she's still too busy feeling the effects of exhilaration.

She goes to every class she has, every day but she's stopped paying attention the second day of school. She doodles in the margins of her notebooks of car brand names she wants to investigate, motor transmissions and rough sketches of vehicles she's Googled and fallen in love with. Because Pat and Eva basically dote on her, she gets her pick of anything first, even above Mary and her guns.

It's pretty awesome.

Sometimes, though, not so much – not when she has to pick up a drunken Pat from some seedy bar out in Cortland at two in the morning and he throws up vodka and nachos all over her new car interior. Especially not when he actually tries to use his own NHS bracelet on her to get out of cleaning it up. On her. An NHS student.

She'd just shoved the cleaner and a rag at him and demanded he restore it to "pristine condition".

And then there are other times…

Those are the ones that have her question her role, as she opens the passenger side door and Eva stumbles in, bloody and hair askew, holding onto a new prisoner trembling in his street clothes, looking at Alexis like she's come to rescue him from it all.

And then Eva knocks him out.

(Alexis is glad she wears the sunglasses).

She'd like to tell you that she knows what goes on in the interrogations, but she only gets whispered musings, random gossip in between snack at the meetings and actual waiting in the car, talking on the installed CB radio she'd had put in for her amusement, connected to Ashley and Alan, both of whom had plenty to say, it seemed, at three-thirty AM.

"Wait – so you're saying that you saw what now?" Alexis asks, propping her cowboy boots up on the dashboard. She's waiting for Steve and Kal to come back from some sort of weapons heist and she can't idle by the building so she's in the parking lot of a nearby McDonald's.

Alan's voice comes in on static. "I literally treated a kid today that thought he was some kind of Kentucky Derby horse. He was bucking around and knocking stuff over. I had to sedate him. I've never done that before." His voice lingers on both amusement and a sort of apprehension, probably from being freaked out by a kid high on LSD.

There's a clicking and then Pink Floyd seeps through the CB. "Yeah, thanks for having me write it all down, Alan." Ashley sounds like she's drinking something and then says, "Anyway, you think some kid going apeshit on you is bad, I was subjected to Steve practically stripping in front of me!" she sounds almost angry.

"Wait – you're mad about that?" Alexis – and pretty much everyone else in the NHS – is aware of Steve's physical attractiveness. And it is nothing to be furious over to have a free striptease from him.

"Of course not!" Ashley pops the top off what Alexis presumes is an energy drink. "But you weren't there. It was so…" she sighs. "Actually, I'm pretty sure the cameras caught it. We can watch it together sometime. But in Alan's office; no one goes in there."

Alan's sigh rattles through Alexis's Porsche. "You'd think that."

"That Mike kid still following you around?" Alexis asks knowingly, helping herself to a handful of dark chocolate Dove chocolates – her one and only vice. She takes the radio out of her hand for a moment to shove two in her mouth at once.

"Following is not what I would call it," Alan responds. "It's Eva's doing, anyway. She wants him to know what he's getting into next year."

Ashley crackles back in. "Do you think he can handle it?" sometimes the kids they put into the pre-NHS initiation aren't cut out for it – and usually if they aren't, they're shipped off to Canada. Which, hey, that's not a bad place. Canadians are friendly.

Alexis taps her boots together waiting for Alan's response.

"I think so. He's a good kid but I think he has to trust his instincts a little more, though." Alan sounds like he's starting up Fruit Ninja. There's a pause where no one says anything and he cuts back in, this time, the game sounds muted. "It feels weird, though, having an apprentice. We're leaving next year, for good." Another pause stretches out. "Don't you ever wonder what's going to happen?"

Ashley cuts in before Alexis can think of a response. "Only every minute of every day," she admits.

Alexis presses the button on the side of her walkie. "I think we'll be fine. We're the sane ones." She looks down at the watch on her wrist that is glowing bright red. "Oh, that's my cue. Catch you guys later." She switches off and peels out of the parking lot, catching a strange shape in the rearview mirror. It looks like a person dressed like a…cat?

"What the hell?" she mutters, before flooring the gas and going off to get away.


yeah...it's a little weird