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3:49 AM, March 26th

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MARCH 24, 1984
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The big question they all had, leaving that detention, was what would happen on Monday. Brian wasn’t sure where Bender came down on the issue, but he knew he and Allison thought they’d all still be friends and Claire and Andy thought they wouldn’t. Or, maybe, it would just have to be a secret friendship kind of deal - Brian hadn’t thought to raise that as a possibility until he was in the car with his dad.

As it turned out, though, still being friends on Monday was the last thing they ended up having to worry about, because the world ended at 3:49 AM on March twenty-sixth.

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The first Brian knew of the disaster was when he was thrown out of his bed at stupid o’clock in the morning and hit the dresser, busting his lip and probably giving himself a concussion. It took him a minute to shake it off, and then another minute to realize that the other half of his bedroom was gone.

He staggered out into what was left of the house. He couldn’t tell if it was an earthquake or a nuclear strike or what, but everything was rubble. Nobody answered when he called.

He stumbled out into the street and nearly got run over by John Bender driving a battered woody station wagon.

“What happened?” Brian asked dazedly.

Bender didn’t answer, exactly - he grabbed Brian by the arm and practically threw him into the car and then pitched a phone book at his head.

“Start looking up the others!”

Brian didn’t ask who ‘the others’ were. So soon after Saturday detention there wasn’t a need.

He kept his eyes on the phone book as Bender drove. He didn’t really want to see what was outside, and anyway Bender drove so erratically that Brian kept dropping the book and losing his place. Bender swearing at him didn’t help, either.

Before long Allison, Andy, and Claire were in the car too. Someone was crying and someone else kept swearing, but Brian’s head hurt and he didn’t try to figure out who was who.

“Where are we going?” It occurred to him, slowly, that he should probably be more freaked out than he was. Maybe it was the head wound. Or shock. He’s read about shock.

“Fallout shelter under the school,” Bender said, swerving wildly.

“Did you steal this car?” Andy asked.

“Oh, yeah, that’s the really important thing right now!” Bender snarled, and slammed on the brakes. He flung out one arm to keep Brian from faceplanting into the dashboard, but from the sound of it nobody in the back seat was so lucky.

“Did you just mom arm me?” Brian asked woozily over the sound of everyone else yelling. He really didn’t feel very good.

“Shut the fuck up,” Bender snarled, hauling him out of the car. “The rest of you, out of the car! Down to the basement!”

They stumbled through the school, which seemed miraculously intact after the ruin of Brian’s house... and, he was guessing, everybody else’s houses as well. Maybe whatever had hit the town had missed here.

Maybe it just hadn’t hit yet.

“How do you know about this?” Claire asked as Bender led them around a boiler to a door set in the wall. It had an impressive lock on it, but Bender reached behind a junction box and came up with a key.

“I smoke up down here sometimes,” he said, struggling with the lock.

“Liar,” Allison said automatically.

“All right, fine, there was a procedures manual or some fucking thing in that stupid closet Dick locked me in. I was bored, so fucking sue me, now get in the shelter.”

Andy balked at the door. “This is ridiculous. We should have stopped to help people. We need to go back out there and see if everyone’s okay.”

“Have fun,” Bender said shortly, grabbing the shoulder of Allison’s nightshirt and dragging her through the door. Brian had kept tripping on the way down, so his arm was already around Bender’s shoulders and he didn’t have much of a choice. When Bender went into the shelter, Brian went along for the ride.

“Maybe Andy’s right,” Claire said uncertainly, and then something outside went bang and suddenly the shelter seemed like a great place to be.

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By the time the horrible noises stopped outside, they’d been in the shelter for what seemed like forever.

In reality it was probably only a couple of days, but even if they’d really bonded during detention and their friendships were pretty much based around being forcibly confined together, a few days all in one room was a lot.

By the end of the probably-first-day, they’d exhausted all speculation about what was happening outside (most widely accepted theory: the Soviets, although Bender kept insisting it was meteorites. Brian’s pretty sure he just did it to be contrary.) By the probably-second, even Andy was bored of him doing pushups and situps. By the probably-third, everyone finally agreed with Claire that the toilet facilities were really inadequate.

By the probably-fourth, they’d all lapsed into exhausted, depressed silence. Brian had stopped trying to come up with all the ways his family had probably totally survived just fine, and was just thinking about Bender’s shoulder against his. Somehow - he wasn’t sure how - they’d ended up sitting next to each other. Brian couldn’t decide if he was more surprised that Bender allowed the contact or that he allowed the contact from him, but there was something soothing about it. He spent a while matching his breathing with Bender’s, and then he spent a while trying to inhale every time Bender exhaled.

“It’s been a while since I heard an explosion,” Allison said. She had claimed the center of the room to herself and was lying down spread-eagled, wiggling her fingers to some rhythm no one else could hear.

Brian twitched in surprise at the sound of her voice. “Half a day at least, I think,” Claire agreed from behind her pulled up knees. Even after probably-four days locked in with them, she was still trying to keep her nightgown wrapped demurely around her legs, and Brian kind of loved her for it.

“At what point do we go see what’s left?” Andy asked. From the tone of his voice, he’d kind of rather stay down in the bunker and never find out.

“Now,” Allison said, sitting up abruptly. “I want to know now.”

“Wait,” Andy said, stopping her halfway to the door. “It’s probably dangerous. It shouldn’t be you or Claire, it should be one of us.” He gestured at the other boys.

Allison gave him a really unimpressed look and shoved at the door.

The door didn’t want to budge at first, but eventually with all of them pushing it creaked open. It had been held shut by a bunch of debris, and they only managed to open it a few inches.

“Would you like to try squeezing through there?” Claire asked Andy, sugar-sweet. “Here, Allison, take my sneakers.”

She untied them and handed them over. Brian had been surprised that Claire even owned sneakers, although they were probably designer ones and it was very Claire to remember to stop and put her shoes on while fleeing the apocalypse.

Allison sucked in her breath and forced her way through the door, whimpering a little as she nearly got stuck and then giggling with relief when she made it through.

“Clear away some of the debris so we can come out too,” Andy called through the gap.

“No,” Bender cut in. “Can you climb to the top and look around? We need to know what’s out there first.”

While Andy and Bender were arguing, Allison sighed and started to climb. Brian and Claire huddled around the door and watched for as long as they could.

“Maybe it was aliens,” Brian said. “An alien invasion. It could have been aliens.”

“I bet they’re pissed about the flag on the moon,” Claire said, and they were both so worried about Allison they started giggling.

“Should we let them know she’s already gone?” Brian asked when he got his breath back.

“Nah, they need to let off a little steam. We’ll let them know if it looks like they’re going to do that stupid macho ‘two hits’ thing again.”

It was a very long time before Allison got back. When she dropped to the ground by the door, she squeezed back inside and hugged the closest person (Andy, as it turned out) without saying anything.

“What did you see?” Bender asked finally.

“A lot,” Allison said. “There’s just… a lot. It doesn’t seem to be dangerous out there any more, I didn’t see any aliens or mushroom clouds or anything. It’s just… broken.”

“Did you see any people?” Brian asked.

Allison shook her head and pulled away from Andy. “No. Nobody. Not even soldiers.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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Hilariously, after they’d scouted around the remains of the school and ventured a little ways into the deserted town, it turned out that the best place to set up camp was the library. The bunker was more secure, but it was small and there was only so much rubble they could clear away, so in the end they did their best to make an easy path down in case they needed to hide again and then turned their attention to the library.

“We’re gonna need food and water first,” Bender said, so they split up into teams and spent the next couple of days scavenging through the school: Andy forcing his way through to the cafeteria, Allison and Claire digging through lockers, and Brian and Bender trying to use their combined knowledge of physics and shop class to build some kind of water catchment system since none of the taps were working.

They didn’t talk much about anything long-term. No one wanted to be the first one to raise the question is anyone coming for us (or even worse, is there anyone else left), so the only thing they could do was survival.

It wasn’t all bad, those first few days - they learned a surprising amount about their classmates by going through their lockers, and there had been a whole bunch of cookies ready for Monday lunch in the cafeteria so they made themselves sick on those for two days straight. Bender smashed the fronts of the vending machines in the teachers’ lounge, and they built a nice stockpile of soda and junk food and cigarettes, too, even if no one cared about those except Bender.

If they were each spending a lot of energy not thinking too much about anything outside the school walls, well, as long as nobody brought it up then nobody was going to have to face it. It was possible to pretend, even if it was probably only for a little while, that they were on some kind of extended suburban camping trip, and one day they would all just go home again and the school would magically be restored to the way it used to be the moment their backs were turned.

Because of that, even their focus on survival took on a sort of desperately fun edge. Allison climbed up into the library rafters and built herself a nest, complete with hammock. Claire commandeered one of the study rooms and used pennants and flags from the gym to drape it like some Lawrence of Arabia nomad tent. Bender built himself a barricade in the microfiche room and booby-trapped the shit out of it.

Brian, for his part, mostly sort of wandered around and collected things. He didn’t have much of a purpose for it, and he didn’t have Claire’s design sense or Bender’s tactical drive, so he just kind of piled everything up. He built his own little research section and filled it with first aid supplies and M&Ms and everything from Robinson Crusoe to Popular Mechanics.

Andy shifted rubble. He didn’t seem to care too much about making himself a corner, like the others, he just… worked. A lot. Like he wanted to run away, but didn’t at the same time, and the compromise was trying to clear a path to anywhere that might be useful so that they could run away if they needed to.

He was about four days into that mission when Brian, digging through the janitor’s closet by the science labs (Carl had a lot of weird girlie magazines, which was something Brian hadn’t actually ever wanted to know about him) heard him scream in pain.

He dropped the supplies he’d been collecting, yelled for the others, and went to find Andy.

Andy was sitting next to one of his rubble piles, clutching his leg. “It’s my knee,” he said.”It’s my goddamn fucking knee,” and then he burst into tears.

Brian flailed helplessly for a moment, and then sat down next to him. “Um. It’s okay. Everything will be okay.”

“I wanted my knee to blow out so I could stop competing!” Andy sobbed. “And now I actually don’t have to compete, and it does what I want!”

He started laughing and crying at the same time. Brian patted him awkwardly on the shoulder and looked desperately for the others.

Help me,” he mouthed at Claire as she rounded the corner.

She immediately took a step back, and nearly caused a pileup with the others. “Allison, he’s your - whatever, he needs your help,” she said.

“What? Me?” Allison hissed. “No, I’m the crazy one, I don’t know how to help anyone else! Besides, Brian has it under control.”

Brian shook his head frantically. “No, I don’t! I don’t know what to do!”

“You have a shrink, you’ve got to know something,” Bender said to Allison, backing away with Claire.

“I was lying!”

“Do your best!” Claire said, giving her a shove.

Allison shot her a dirty look and edged closer. “Um. Hey Andy.”

Brian started scooting subtly away, disentangling himself from Andy. “Help me,” he mouthed again at Bender.

Bender rolled his eyes and then pushed Claire hard in the back. She squawked in outrage, tripping and landing on her knees next to Andy and Allison, and Brian took the opportunity to flee.

The library had more or less become home base, so he didn’t feel right hiding there. Eventually he climbed up past Allison’s nest and out through the broken spot in the roof, perching there and looking out over the ruined town. It was a view they tried to avoid, for the most part, but every one of them had come up here at some point.

Allison had been right when she said there was just a lot of really broken. They still hadn’t been able to decide what happened exactly - there were giant fissures here and there, which made it look environmental, but it wasn’t like Shermer was a hotbed of seismic activity and there were things that looked like impact craters, too.

Bender was the only one so far who had tried going into the town much. He said that it looked like there had been people left alive who packed up and fled at some point, but they could tell from his face that there had been people who hadn’t been, too.

All in all, it seemed safer to stay at the school. Even if supplies were kind of limited, it was better than that.

Bender climbed up next to him a few minutes later. They had an unspoken agreement not to bother each other when someone came up here, so Brian raised an eyebrow at him.

Bender made a face. “I pissed off Allison and Claire and now they’re crying, too.”

Brian wasn’t surprised. The apocalypse had made Bender quieter but not much nicer, and Brian really didn’t blame the girls for crying. He kind of wanted to cry for a while himself.

“What do you miss about before?” He asked to take his mind off of it.

Bender shrugged and stretched out his legs, digging through his pockets for a cigarette. “Not much.”

“I miss knowing what to do,” Brian confessed, wrapping his arms around his knees. “I don’t miss the pressure, and I don’t miss my family as much as I thought I would, but I miss having a path to follow. I knew that I had to get good grades, and then I had to go to a good college and get good grades there too, and I knew how to do that. I don’t know what’s expected of me now.”

“What were you gonna do after college?” Bender asked, blowing a stream of smoke into the air. It caught the breeze and ended up in Brian’s face, making him cough.

“I don’t know. My parents hadn’t told me yet.”

Bender laughed. “That’s so fucking pathetic.”

Brian flinched, stung. “Why did you come for us instead of your friends? Don’t you worry they’re dead?”

Bender shot him an angry look. “My friends know how to take care of themselves. You’re all fucking hopeless.”

Brian tucked his chin behind his knees, pressing his mouth against his jeans. He didn’t know who the jeans had belonged to Before, but Allison found them in somebody’s locker and they fit okay. Better to wear than dirty plaid pajama pants, anyway.

They sat in silence for a moment, and then Bender flicked away his cigarette butt. “Come on. I’m going to show you how to dismantle the booby traps I made.”

Brian blinked at him. “Why?”

“Because somebody else should know how, probably,” Bender said in a mocking sing-song.

Brian didn’t move, and Bender stopped halfway through the roof to glare at him. “Look, I’m trying to be nice, okay? I generally only deal with angry people who don’t say sorry, so I’m doing this instead. Does it meet with your fucking approval?”

Brian stared. “Oh. Okay. Yeah, that’s - that’s okay. We can do that. I’d like to do that.”

“Stop talking,” Bender said in a long-suffering tone, and dropped to the rafter below.

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‘Enjoyed’ was probably too strong a word to use for how Brian felt about his booby-trap lesson from Bender, but it had been… not bad? Kind of nice-ish? He didn’t want to jinx it, but it made him feel like he was getting a tiny bit of a feel for how Bender operated. And he did like Bender. He liked being able to translate Bender-to-normal-people, even if it was only a little bit. Bender was rude and aggressive and a total jerk, but in his own backwards way he did also try to look out for them. It was just hard to spot, until you knew what to look for.

Unfortunately, while Brian felt better about him and Bender, the other three were a pretty big mess. Brian had heard that crying was supposed to be cathartic, and they’d all seemed to feel better after having that heart-to-heart during detention, but whatever kind of crying the girls had done with Andy hadn’t helped much.

Granted, Andy had other problems to deal with. They’d put him in Brian’s research corner because it was the easiest to get to, and done what they could for his knee without ice, but he was pretty depressed. Allison and Claire didn’t look much better, but Brian wasn’t sure why exactly.

He did, though, know a few things that had made them feel better in the past, so he figured those were at least worth a try. With no electricity the sound system was out and so was a dance party, and if Bender did have any weed left he didn’t seem to want to share, so that left one thing. It wasn’t something Brian was super comfortable with, but watching everyone else mope was starting to make him nuts, so. Desperate times and all that.

He had to dig through a couple of lockers before he found what he needed, and then he tracked down Allison and Claire. He would have preferred that they weren’t in the library with Bender and Andy nearby too, but oh well. If he didn’t do it now, he was pretty sure he’d lose his nerve.

“Hey.” He held up his supplies. “Wanna give me a makeover?”

The girls stared at him. Bender and Andy stared at him. Brian spent a few endless seconds really, really regretting his life choices and pretty sure he was about to get the shit kicked out of him.

Allison grinned. “You are so gonna regret that offer, Brian,” she said, grabbing one of the makeup bags and spilling the contents out on the library carpet.

“You do one side, I’ll do the other,” Claire decided, and started sorting through the supplies, lining them up neatly according to some system Brian honestly couldn’t fathom.

Brian sat down to give them better access, and tried really hard not to look at Bender or Andy. For the girls, for the girls, he reminded himself. If a little bit of him also kind of wondered what he’d look like after they were done, well, that was only natural. He was kind of betting that Claire would take it seriously and Allison was just going to use his face like a coloring book.

“Black shit!” Allison crowed, holding up some kind of pencil thing. “Now we’re talking!”

By the time the girls were done, Bender had disappeared but Andy was actually looking a little interested.

“We could do you next,” Allison offered, waggling a soft brushy thing at him.

“Thanks, I’ll pass,” Andy said, but he smiled a little while he said it.

Claire held up a tiny round mirror for Brian to look at himself. “What do you think?”

Well, he’d been right on the money. “One side of me looks all glowy and even,” he said. On the left, at least, his skin looked amazing. “The other side kind of makes me look like Gene Simmons.” Actually, he kind of liked that one, too. Maybe not both at the same time, though. The effect was… interesting.

“Rats, I was going for Boy George,” Allison said sadly.

“I think he definitely looks like Boy George,” Claire said, and made Brian wipe off the left side of his face so she could ‘even his look out’. “See? Totally Boy George.”

“I wonder if we could find him a hat in the costume closet,” Allison said speculatively. “Does the costume closet still exist?”

Brian took the opportunity to sidle quietly away. He wasn’t sure he was entirely ready for dress-up yet, and anyway, the girls already seemed much more upbeat. Even Andy had smiled!

He was debating the merits of keeping the makeup on, which would probably cheer up the girls, or taking it off, which would probably make him less nervous about touching his own face and ruining it by accident when he rounded a corner in the hallway and nearly ran into Bender. Bender was sitting at the top of the stairs that had formerly led to the Activities Classroom and now led nowhere, smoking a cigarette. He took one look at Brian and choked on his cigarette smoke.

“Jesus Christ, you look like Gene Simmons,” he coughed.

Brian winced and sat down next to him. “Don’t say that to Allison, she was going for Boy George.”

“You need a hat for Boy George,” Bender said, stubbing out the offending cigarette on the sole of his boot.

“Don’t say that, either,” Brian said drily. He pulled his sleeves over his hands and scrubbed at his face a little, but from the way Bender glanced at him and started laughing he guessed it hadn’t helped much.

Brian would be the first to admit that his braininess was more about academics than real-world applications, but he’d figured out one thing about the apocalypse, and it was this: all the rules were gone. Nature abhorred a vacuum, so some rule system was going to have to come into shape at some point, but until it did there was a gap where everything could be… tested. Maybe changed.

God, he really hoped so. And he really hoped he’d read Bender right.

“So, I was thinking,” he said, staring resolutely down the remains of the stairwell.

“Well, we’re fucked,” Bender said lightly.

“I was thinking, you know how you said you really only know how to deal with angry people? And how I said I missed knowing what I was supposed to do? Well, I was thinking, you could tell me what to do. And then you’d know what I was going to do, so you might feel better. And I’d know what I was supposed to do, so I’d feel better too. I was thinking we could try that.”

He risked a sideways glance at Bender. Bender had a slight smile on his face, a little bit mocking and a lot condescending. “Oh yeah? You want me to tell you what to do, and you’ll just do it? Whatever I say?”

“Well, within reason,” Brian said, heart thumping. “I wouldn’t let you - let you abuse it. I thought, I just thought maybe we’d both feel better.”

“So I could say, ‘Hey Brian, jump off that ledge,’ and you’d be like, ‘Sure Bender, I feel better.’ Or maybe I could say ‘You know what, Brian, suck my dick, and you’d -”

“I don’t know how to do that,” Brian said, face burning. He should have known better. Bender didn’t do nice emotions. Not comfortably. He felt better when people were angry, because then he knew what they would do. He’d thought, he’d thought that Bender would understand what he was suggesting, but of course Bender saw it as an attack. Of course he felt threatened.

He didn’t have to be so mean about it, though.

“Well, fine then, I don’t want a bad blow job anyway. I could say -”

Brian leaned forward and kissed him. It probably wasn’t a very good kiss. Brian hadn’t ever done that before, either.

Bender’s head snapped back so hard it hit the stair railing, but he didn’t seem to notice. He stared at Brian, mouth a little open, eyes wide with shock, and then he scrambled to his feet and bolted.

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Bender and Brian avoided each other for the rest of the day. Since Bender tended to be moody anyway, nobody really noticed anything was different.

Brian spent the night on the roof. Andy was in his little research area anyway, and at least on the roof Brian could be definitely sure that Bender wasn’t anywhere nearby. He was a little worried that Bender might say something to the others, out him or whatever, but he’d seemed too spooked for that.

Brian really hadn’t meant to spook him. He hadn’t even meant the ‘telling him to do things’ suggestion to be sexual. But then Bender had been so dismissive, and Brian had lost his temper.

He didn’t regret the kiss, objectively speaking. He was a teenager - it would be easier to list the things that didn’t turn him on than the things that did, so yeah, Bender kind of turned him on.

Okay, definitely turned him on.


He does regret that it unsettled Bender so badly, though.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning, he gave up on the roof and made his way down through the library to where Andy had been clearing rubble before he got injured. Brian wasn’t exactly athletic, but he knew how to lift and carry, and doing something was better than thinking obsessively about his terrible people skills.

Sometime about midmorning, Bender showed up.

Brian froze and watched him nervously, but Bender barely looked at him. He just pushed past and started heaving rubble around.

“So, what?” Bender said without turning around after Brian had been staring at him for several minutes. “I’m the designated representative for getting rid of virginity to you people?”

Well, that answered the question of what Claire had gotten up to while Brian was finishing that essay. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just… I’m sorry. I should have asked first.”

Bender glanced back at him. “Stop apologizing.”

Brian fidgeted nervously. “S- um, okay.”

Bender kept looking at him, like it was significant and Brian should really know why. Finally he tilted his head towards the pile and said “Pick up that rebar and put it by the wall,” very slowly, like he wasn’t sure Brian would understand.

Understanding dawned. Brian hid a relieved smile. “Okay.”

When he turned back, Bender almost looked… nervous. “Kiss me again.”

Brian goggled at him. There really wasn’t a more flattering word for it. “Really? I mean, you’re sure?”

“I said it, didn’t I?” Bender said, setting his jaw.

“Okay,” Brian said, and kissed him carefully.

“All right, well, good,” Bender said, looking a little embarrassed. “So. You missed breakfast. Go upstairs and get something to eat.”

Breakfast ended up having to wait, though. They were met at the library door by Allison, jittering with nervous energy. “Where’s Claire?”

Bender frowned. “What do you mean, ‘where’s Claire’?”

“How many ways can she mean ‘where’s Claire’?” Andy snapped, hobbling over. “Claire’s gone. Have you seen her?”

“Not since last night,” Brian said, dread fluttering in his stomach. “I was on the roof for a while and I didn’t see anything then. Did she leave a note?”

“No, she didn’t leave a note- “

“Wait, shut up!” Allison said. “Do you hear that?”

They stopped and listened. “A… car horn?” Andy said, eyebrows raising.

They hurried outside, which between the state of the building and the state of Andy’s knee was a much more arduous process than it used to be.

Claire was in the last remaining intact part of the parking lot, wearing sunglasses and leaning up against the station wagon Bender had stolen all that time ago. She looked very smug.

“What did you do?” Allison asked warily.

Claire slid the sunglasses down her nose and looked at them over the rims. “I thought to myself, this crowd could really use a pick-me-up. So I did what I always do when I’m feeling down, and I went shopping.”

Brian pushed past Allison and pressed his nose up against the window of the car. “Oh my God!”

It was full of stuff. Full. Cans and boxes of food, bags of clothing, crates of things he couldn’t even pick out.

“That’s a lot of supplies,” Andy said, awed.

“Well, I do know the best places to shop,” Claire said modestly. “And, okay, these days it means I know the best places to steal from, but whatever. Also…” she tips her head to one side with air of someone delivering the coup de grace. “I think I saw other people. You know where the road goes up over the bend just past the mall, and you can see for like ever? Pretty sure I saw some kind of camp. A big one, too - I think it might have been one of those Red Cross stations you see on the news.”

Allison raised her head from where she was investigating one of the crates. “We’re not the only ones?”

Claire shrugged. “The land still looked pretty busted up and I don’t know what kind of people they were, or if it’s civilisation or whatever, but yeah. It’s not just us. We could go find them.”

“I want to stay here,” Andy said, not looking up from the car. “I mean, you guys can go if you want, but I want to stay here.”

“Me, too,” Allison said, holding a shirt up to herself to check the size.

“Fuck do I care about civilisation,” Bender grunted.

“I’d like to know if my family made it,” Brian said slowly. “But I don’t want to leave here either. Maybe we could sneak over some time to investigate? But then stay here.”

Claire grinned and pushed her sunglasses back into place. “Good, me too. If we’re going to make ourselves a place here, though, I think we need an official name.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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“Guess what I found,” Allison sing-songed, doing a few dance steps into the library. She had a piece of paper in her hand and it flapped erratically as she danced. “I found the essay Brian wrote.”

Andy laughed and shook his head. “Oh my God. I can’t believe that out of everything, that survived.”

Brian looked up from the issue of Popular Mechanics he’d been studying. He’d decided to teach himself enough mechanical engineering to get a generator or something running, but it had been hard going. Not as bad as the stupid ceramic elephant, thank God, but it definitely wasn’t something he had a natural aptitude for.

Bender grabbed it from Allison’s hand, grinning. “You know, I never actually read it the first time.”

“Ugh,” Brian said, putting his head down on the table. Claire laughed and patted his shoulder sympathetically. She, of course, was proving to be great at mechanical engineering, although it didn’t seem to hold much interest for her. She was at least willing to help him study.

Bender straightened out the paper dramatically. “‘Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.’” He lowered the paper. “So that’s why you keep insisting on that name.”

“You weren’t wrong, though,” Allison said. “Look at us now. We don’t exactly fit into categories any more.”

“Not really,” Andy said, giving his leg a dark look. It was better than it had been, but it was still a little wonky.

“Well, we didn’t then, either. That’s the point,” Claire said.

It wasn’t the whole point, or at least not the whole point as Brian understood it now, but he didn’t really feel like explaining it. The point now was that none of those things were entirely good or entirely bad, as long as it was paired with something else. Being a brain was good, but if you couldn’t apply what you knew it was useless. Being an athlete was super convenient in survival situations, but if it was all you saw yourself as then it could destroy you to lose it. They were all basket-cases, but as long as they understood each other’s quirks and tried to fit them together, it was okay. And being a princess was bad if it just meant you were spoiled and demanding, but it could also mean you knew how to take charge and get what you needed done.

Criminal, okay, in normal society that was still bad. But with things they way they were now? Super helpful.

“I want a new category,” Allison said. “I want to be a princess.”

“Criminal,” Claire said, raising her hand.

“Aw, hell, I’ll take basket-case,” Bender said, rolling his eyes. His hand twitched towards Brian’s under the table, but he stopped short of contact.

Andy raised his eyebrows at Brian. “Wanna trade?”

Brian pushed the mechanical engineering stuff over to him. “Seriously, be my guest.”

It wasn’t all perfect, of course. They were teenagers - they got moody and picked on each other and every so often just did dumb shit for no reason, but it was mostly working. They were working it out. Rules were falling into place, just like Brian had thought they would, and even though they talked every so often about going to check on the Other People, nobody had made a move yet. They had plenty of supplies, Allison built an indoor treehouse, Andy might fix the generator problem, and yesterday Bender rigged up something to approximate showers, so hey.

It could be a lot worse. And hey, at least in the library they were in charge.