(characters – all)

The thing about everything is that sometimes when danger bitch slaps you, you rear back and assess your red cheek. You don't always immediately lunge forward and deliver a fistful of vengeance like Liam Neeson in Taken. You hunker down and plan, you formulate and then step forward.

Pat retreats into the recesses of the NHS with a bowed head and a determined mutter of, "We'll be ready when they come." Eva will be found hidden in the stacks at the library behind the romantic fodder of Sarah Dessen and Nicholas Sparks, psychology textbook balanced on her knees. The more she knows about mental stability in others (and the way to break it), the better. Liz watches a lot of Top Gear in the janitor's closet downstairs and pretends that she doesn't have about three AP tests to study for. Alan does the same shit he always does. Julia dances and Mary cleans her new cache of weapons. Ashley types briefs and makes out with Steve in the lounge. Kaleb makes Ramen and studies German by lamplight. Tim goes about blowing up warehouses and abandoned train stations along the border of New York, Alexis by his side. Tiffany, well, she's doing her thing.

Everyone is both extremely busy and not doing anything at all, which is why it is such a surprise when the following Wednesday, Liz slaps flyers around the brick-walled school about the NHS meeting: mandatory. There will be shortbread cookies, no donuts. Bring your own shoes.

Shanique sets up the food spread and Pat flips a couple tables and then the meeting commences and it is like nothing ever happened at all.

Mary has been doing back-door deals with the Russians again so she has enough weapons to supply everyone, even those not trained in combat. Steve has been training vigorously in the gym and can boast a new bench press. Ashley can definitely type with both hands now. Alan can tentatively tell you the symptoms of ingesting too much mercury.

They're ready.

Except, sometimes the thing about everything is that even when you pitch forward and lob your own hit, sometimes that one slap can leave you vulnerable.

(the end)

There is the typical planning involved on taking down rival organizations and training and Mary shooting and Kyle not speaking and Alan grumbling and Liz sexing it up and Ashley writing and maybe they're too confident in how efficient they can handle it all, really. Maybe sometimes you can underestimate the drop right before you fall.

Pat knew that there were many NHS' after them, ones not even in New York, but also Virginia and Georgia and Oregon, a random smattering of states and counties and people, floating in from their past encounters, waiting to strike at a vulnerable spot, press where it hurts.

They're kind of hurting really fucking badly right now.

Pat was kind of hoping (along with everyone else, while they continued rigorous training methods) that they could just distribute a few apologies and be on their merry way to graduation and parties and the Big Future but, no.

How well do you think apologies go after you shoot someone point blank in the head?

(Kyle will tell you – they don't).

Katelyn keeps track of who is stepping on GRB property, who's skulking around snapping photos and whatnot. Crowds are inching in and the NHS…well, they're hanging on.

It all starts on a Wednesday, right in the middle of track practice. Everyone in the NHS is there, though, some for their various clubs, others for sports, most of them just lingering in the halls, talking to friends and teachers.

It could be a flash-bang or a bomb or maybe just some carefully-crafted smoke machines but there's a whole lot of nothing and rubble clears and suddenly there is just…everything.

Tiffany squeaks out something about the Mexico NHS before she is kicked in the shins by a girl that looks like she's on roids and then Liz is ripping off her jacket and oh – so that's what she wears underneath. Alan books it down the hall and Kyle, who just fucking pops out of nowhere, clad in his running gear, launches a blow to some kid's face that is probably no older than him.

It's actually kind of amazing and horrible that no teachers are around right now. Vanessa, scrambling in her bag for her cell phone to try and call someone, thinks this ruefully.

Another crash sounds and suddenly there are ten times more people than before.

"Shit, I'm going to die today," Eva mutters under her breath as she ducks an admittedly impressive roundhouse kick.

(farewells)

Alan has made his home in the NHS.

Which is exactly why he has to destroy it.

All the memories have blurred together now, a messy watercolor painting of patching torn knuckles and running track meets and holding Liz's bag while she tries on dress after dress in Macy's, of watching Eva highlight mental stability in a textbook and murmur encouragingly to herself, watching his parents clap and cheer at an awards ceremony for excellence in AP Calculus, smirking when he catches Kyle and Mary slipping off into an empty room, all of it runs together and twists into something unidentifiable in Alan's stomach. It turns and he knows what he has to do.

He wrenches the suitcase out of the storage in his office and quickly flips the latches, leaning on the torn knees of his Levi's. His hands are shaking and he can feel sweat dampening his t-shirt but he can't stop now. He doesn't really want to think about what will happen if he does.

They (the higher-ups, the graduate NHS members, the ones long gone and moved on, engineers and doctors and who knows by now) had gifted him with the, ah, bomb, before he'd gotten officially initiated in the NHS and had given him the spiel they'd gotten, lines like, this is a very serious piece of equipment and don't use it unless you absolutely have to, you know, the typical things you tell a teenaged boy before you hand him an explosive device.

And Alan had listened, followed all the instructions, carried on his duties and ignored it because it was better that way.

But now he's got to use it and whatever, but it's his birthday today and someone had given him a cupcake during AP econ and now he's killing everyone, so, you know, happy birthday.

He hesitates before he clicks the proper buttons because this is drastic and horrible and everything about this is wrong but it's the only thing, the failsafe he's got to use and he closes his eyes when he flicks the last switch.

m & k

Kyle grabs Mary by the waist, slings her into an empty tech class because their world is chaos now and they're probably 1000 types of dead in two minutes or less.

He grips her hand tight and grimaces, like, hey, sorry we're about to die but at least we'll be together, right?

Mary has tears streaming down her face and she hugs him, a quick sob escaping her.

Kyle brings his hands slowly down her back, sliding them across her hips. He feels a vibration tingling behind his lips, something anxious and he wonders how this is happening as he says,

"I love you."

Mary has enough time to look surprised and elated and terrified before the world is bright, bright light and their hands grasp each other tight when the unbearable heat reaches them.

(yeah)

There is rubble everywhere. Small fires dot the edge of the grounds like so many newly-blossomed geraniums. An alarm sounds somewhere in the distance, judging by the sound, probably a Kia or something, triggered by the explosion.

There is no way any of the NHS managed through this, Mike observes, wiping his glasses on the edge of his shirt and peering around. The heat from it all is still pressing on his neck and Austin is loping around the side, tie askew - he's just coming from a party, something formal, and his mouth is agape in the way that Mike's had been five minutes ago, but it's old hat now. Mike feels nothing as he kicks aside a silver bracelet, a piece of jewelry he knew Liz had been wearing.

He remembers what Alan wrote, the lime-green post-it just sitting there on his Econ binder, like it was insignificant enough to coincide with his notes on Supply and Demand and random doodles of the teacher and his wide, unblinking eyes.

'help them - don't screw it up like we did' is all he has, the last memory of Alan. He'd known this would happen, didn't even seem too scared given the slanted, lazy scrawl on the paper. Like he'd written his last words one-handed playing Bejeweled and listening to Liz berate him again about proper medical treatment, like she had any room to judge.

Mike is angry (he's pissed) and he feels vengeful and deeply irritated. He feels no need to seek out revenge or wave his fist in the air shouting obscenities. He doesn't even want to talk, really. He is staring at the charred remains of his high school. He doesn't doubt that it will be back up and running within six months, but the NHS - that's a different story. That's his legacy now. He has a society to look after. He knows exactly what he'll do, too - no more of this niche talents bullshit. No more murder or interrogation. No more ceremonies with special lanyards or bracelets or whatever the fuck they had last. This time, he vows silently, looking on as Austin finally catches up to him, hands on the knees of his Dockers, breath coming out in gasps, will be different.

"Hey," Austin says, just, hey - like, the world hasn't just been upended, like Mike isn't scrambling to bring together enough semblance of sanity to form coherent words.

Mike looks around, wreckage smoldering, ashes in his lungs and pulls his jacket around himself tighter. Austin looks nervous - probably thinking he's got PTSD or something but finally he blurts,

"I'm not cleaning this shit up."

-end