A/N: Hello my wonderful readers! First and foremost, thank you so much for your patience with me and these stories. My sister had her surgery last week, and I'm pleased to report everything went smoothly. She has a post op check up coming up in a week or two and hopefully we will be able to put this terrifying experience behind us for good.

Second, there is a trigger warning in this chapter for reference to the Columbine shooting massacre of 99.

Last, but not least, thank you again so much for your continued love and support of me and these stories of mine. I know they're a larger commitment than either of us ever intended to make, but we have stuck it out together and I'm so grateful for that!

Riley stole another glance at her friends while the waitress rattled off their order with forced enthusiasm. Occasionally one of them would look up to smile or wave in her direction- usually when they noticed she was watching. But mostly they sat hunched over their usual table, whispering intently. When they'd asked her to pick up the drinks, she'd accepted with a smile and feigned naivety, but she knew the true reason behind the request. The "Riley committee" was holding session.

"It's a no brainer guys," Maya declared, in attempt to wrap up their conversation before their subject could return. "You two have your sports," she gestured toward the Texan duo, "and you two have your smarts," she pointed toward the genius couple.

The blonde shrugged. The solution was obvious.

"She'll go with me."

Farkle and Zay were quick to relinquish any claim as caretakers. Lucas, however, wasn't nearly as willing. Given the choice, he'd prefer the sweet, idealistic brunette at his side.

"Riles likes sports," he argued defensively.

The blue-eyed beauty snorted in response.

"She likes the Knicks. That's not really the same thing," she countered.

As much as he wanted to disagree with her, she had a point. This was the same girl he'd had to teach how to use a baseball glove, after all.

Isadora Smackle had been silently observing the strange friendship ritual before her, her scientific wheels spinning.

"I don't understand, why can't Riley accompany me to the astronomy club," she asked curiously. "A sister scientist would be quite beneficial in such a new environment."

Farkle wrapped an arm around his girlfriend with an amused grin. Logically, Isadora' s argument was a sound one, but the memory of Riley's shock and horror when she'd learned the fate of Pluto was burned into his mind. Mr. Mathews was her father and had been prepared for such an outburst. But this was a new place with new teachers, who might not understand the beauty of their friend's optimistic and at times overdramatic nature.

"I'll explain later," he promised, as Riley collected her change and headed back toward them.

Maya sat quietly tapping her palm with a spoon. Her gaze flitted up to Lucas Friar's sparkling emerald orbs which were, as usual, fixed on her best friend approaching. A thin smile formed on her lips. Riley and Lucas made one another happy. As their friend, that's what she wanted. Unfortunately, there remained a traitorous fraction of her that wanted something else from him.

"So, it's settled then," she asked, taking her mango smoothie from the tray, though she now lacked the appetite for it.

"What's settled," the brunette said, looking into the faces of her friends, seeking an answer she knew she wouldn't receive. It was all part of the routine.

Everyone else turned toward the blonde. She had been the one to slip up in front of Riley, and the original founder of the committee. It was her responsibility to determine a proper reply.

Maya jabbed her straw into the thick orange liquid, avoiding her sister's probing gaze.

"I was just telling Huckleberry and Twinkle Toes here, that trying out for football is suicide and they shouldn't do it."

A knot formed in both girls' stomachs at the thought of the boys going up against some of the other students they'd witnessed walking the halls. They were bigger, stronger, and more experienced. None of which boded well for Zay or Lucas.

"Actually, Maya," Smackle interjected, "Lucas is very well built for the sport with those broad shoulders and bulging muscles," she said, running her hand along his arm in a way that made him highly self-conscious. There was only one girl he wanted touching him that way.

Farkle too, looked uncomfortable, as though he might be sick.

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence Hart," Zay muttered.

He had no disillusions of making the team, nor did he have any desire to join. But he wasn't about to let Lucas go out there by himself.

Riley finished handing out the smoothies and took her seat next to Maya.

"I didn't realize you'd decided to do that," she mumbled, her fingers tapping anxiously against her glass. She'd known he and Zay had been discussing the possibility, but a final commitment hadn't been made.

Lucas studied her expression carefully. He had known the others weren't likely to support the endeavor, but not Riley. It wasn't like her to be so passive when it came to his pursuits. She was typically the first one in his corner.

"I was thinking about it," he leaned forward, closing as much distance as the table between them would allow. "You don't think I should?"

He was looking to her for approval, for support. It wasn't that she lacked faith in him. She knew he'd accomplish anything he set his mind to. If being on the football team was something he sincerely wanted, nothing would keep him from it. Except perhaps her. One word from her and he'd abandon the idea completely.

"I think you'll be amazing," she confessed in earnest.

Lucas relaxed in his seat with a wide grin. He'd needed to hear those words from her, to know she still believed in him.

Maya shook her head, biting her tongue. All week she had been discouraging Lucas and Zay from this ridiculous ploy for attention, while Riley had remained silent on the issue. She'd hoped that her best friend might have learned something seeing Lucas fly off the back of that bull, but apparently not. Surely, she knew it was dangerous, and yet, there she was again shaking her pom-poms and cheering him on just like she had back in Texas.

She glanced up at the clock, suddenly thankful their time together that evening was up.

"Do what you want Huckleberry," she muttered snarkily as she rose and slung her bag across her shoulder. "You're going to anyway."

Instinctively, his hand reached for the back of his neck. It was Tombstone all over again.

She'd made her objections perfectly clear, as well at the stakes. He had no way of knowing whether she would honor her threat- he hoped not, but even if she had, he couldn't sit back in fear. He'd done his best to help her understand, but there was no talking to her. In her mind, being friends meant agreeing even when they were wrong, and while he valued their friendship, he had chosen to be true to himself. He wouldn't apologize for that.

Riley bolted from the table, after the angry blonde.

"Maya, wait!" She pleaded, but her sister only hastened down the sidewalk.

It would do neither of them, nor their friendship, any good for her to say what she was thinking.

The brunette lowered her face into her hands, a strangled cry burning her throat. The others would simply assume Maya was acting out, but she knew it was more than that. She was worried for Lucas. They both were. The difference was Riley had the right to feel like a concerned girlfriend. Her best friend didn't…but that didn't stop her from feeling it. She knew from experience how painful that could be.

She glanced up as she felt a warm, gentle hand on her back. Sure enough, her gaze landed on the concerned expression of her unofficial boyfriend.

"Everything okay," he asked.

Riley shook her head.

"Not really, no. That was just…" she lamented without completing her thought.

Lucas pulled her closer with a defeated sigh.

"a little too familiar," he guessed.

The last time Maya had stormed off and Riley chased after her, he'd been demoted to brother status. His stomach lurched at the memory. He knew now what had caused him to take Maya by the face that night and that there had never been anything more than friendship between them. The triangle was over, yet he felt uneasy knowing Riley was still torn between them.

He flashed a quick reassuring smile, "That's not gonna happen again Riles," he said with more certainty than he felt. She nodded in silent agreement, wrapping her arms around his waist. As badly as she wanted to believe nothing could derail them again, her twisted mind had already been taking stock of potential obstacles, and there were more than he knew.

Lucas peered down just as she glanced up, emerald eyes diving into dark chocolate. He adored everything about those eyes; the shape, the color, the way her emotions flashed through them. A chill slithered through him as he realized there was no light reflecting in them. Was there something going on behind those eyes she didn't want him seeing?

Alone on a park bench sat Riley Mathews, nose deep in her book. Though she appeared engrossed in the text, her gaze kept wandering from the page to study surrounding passersby. People watching had become a recent pastime. While friends and family zoomed around her at warp speed, she'd remained as silent and still as possible, observing their new environment. That was the one benefit to being invisible. People didn't consider her significant enough to hide from.

Her focus had fallen onto two small children weaving through the playground while their parents oversaw their activities from a safe distance. The boy and girl laughed wildly, running this way and that, chasing after each other- carefree, much like she and her friends had once been. Until somewhere along the way the playful gleam in their eyes had been replaced with vigilance. Together they kept a watchful eye on her, just as those parents, shielding her from the troubles of reality.

To them she was a child.

She leapt in her seat as a strong manly hand gripped her shoulder from behind. Her head jerked back with a sigh of relief.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you." Shawn apologized, navigating his way around the bench.

He plopped down next to her, wriggling to make himself comfortable. Truthfully, the wooden bench wasn't the cause for his squirming.

"Must be some read," he gestured to the book, "May I?"

Wordlessly the item passed hands for his inspection.

"Rachel's Tears," he read aloud, examining the photograph on the cover.

There was fresh faced teenage girl in a grey t-shirt, her head was tilted to the side, brown hair falling just past her shoulders. She couldn't have been much older than the young woman sitting next to him.

Riley nodded, tucking her own hair back behind the ears.

"It's about Rachel Scott," she explained, swallowing the lump in her throat. "She and her brother were victims of Columbine."

That was a name Shawn hadn't heard or thought of in years. Columbine had been a senseless tragedy that occurred when he and Cory were young. They had just graduated from John Adams High the year before when two teenage boys hatched a devious plot for mass destruction. Thankfully, the bombs didn't detonate at full capacity, however that was little consolation to the loved ones of victims who were injured and lost that day. As a student, the thought had been scary. As the loved one of a student, it was even more so.

He tried to shake the thought away, returning the book to her hands.

"I know it's not exactly normal reading," she placed the book on her lap, neatly folding her hands over it. "But I like the idea that one person's life can make a difference. Rachel was a big believer in that. She was all about helping people and small acts of kindness..." she trailed off, gathering her thoughts. "She seemed like the kind of person that would have befriended those poor boys."

History would see them as murderers, maybe even monsters, but not Cory and Topanga's daughter. She'd inherited her parents' ability for compassion and objectivity.

"I'm sorry she never got the chance," Shawn let out a heavy breath. None of those kids had gotten the chance.

For the first time since his arrival, Riley brightened.

"She did though." Her gaze shifted to meet his. "She didn't get a long life, but she made a difference. Everything she believed in lives on through her story and her parents' work with their nonprofit organization."

Shawn nodded, "the world could always use more helpers."

There it was again, that awkward moment where he felt small and insignificant in her presence. Each time he encountered his best friend's progeny, he found himself taking stock of his life, and coming up wanting. At fourteen years old, she'd put more thought into making the world a better place than he had in his thirties. He'd contributed beautiful photographs and decent articles on faraway places to society, but was that the sum of his legacy?

He slumped further down into his seat, tapping his fingertips.

"So," he turned toward her, "I was a little surprised you called me today."

Honestly, she'd surprised herself with that one. The two were hardly what she'd consider close, but that was what made him the perfect confidant. He wouldn't shelter her from the truth or filter the facts. He trusted her ability to cope with inconvenience and disappointment in a way the others in her life didn't.

She briefly glanced up to meet his gaze, before refocusing on her hands. During her analysis of options, she'd forgotten to consider how humiliating reaching out to a practical stranger might feel.

"I was hoping you could help me with something."

Hearing her own voice nearly made her cringe. She sounded so small…weak…childish.

Shawn watched the brunette with a sympathetic smile. Sometimes she was so much like her father that he could see the childhood version of his best friend in her place. Cory hadn't been nearly as perceptive or intimidating, but he had been insecure.

"I'll do what I can," he promised, rubbing his hands together, "What's the trouble little Cory?"

She stared at him quizzically a moment, before reaching into her bag and pulling out the pamphlet of school clubs.

"This is," she held up the booklet for his review.

He picked it up and began flipping through its pages while she sat patiently waiting, hoping he would somehow know her better than she did herself. She'd combed through the possibilities for days, but nothing jumped out at her.

Shawn shrugged, pulling out a pen. This could easily be narrowed down with a little information.

"Alright kid, what do you like, what are you good at?"

Riley leapt to her feet with a sigh. Her eyes darted over to the playground she had been watching earlier. The family was gone now, but the realization they'd inspired remained. She had never truly met the world. She'd merely been given more slack on her leash and confused it for freedom. Her mom and dad had trusted her with the journey of growing up. Her friend hadn't. They still didn't. They'd sat over there, discussing her like she wasn't even there, arguing over where she should be placed and who would handle her for the year. They wanted to protect her. She understood and loved them for that, but how could she ever make the world her own with them standing in between?

She wrapped her arms around her stomach, turning back toward the man sitting on the bench.

"There isn't anything," she confessed sadly. "I paint purple cats. I have no coordination of any kind. I wouldn't understand anything they said in robotics club and I can't really see myself being part of any group that openly bullies defenseless little planets.

The words were gushing out of her, faster than she could process.

"I'm not really a fan of yearbooks either, and no one would take me seriously in any kind of leadership role.

Her grip tightened as though she were hugging herself for comfort.

Shawn went through the pamphlet marking out the clubs her rant had eliminated. A sparkle in his eye as one caught his attention.

"What about drama," he suggested, rotating his pen around his fingers. "You've sure got Cory's flare for that.

Her head tilted in thought.

"I'm not as good as you'd think I'd be." A momentary smile graced her lips as she thought back to Lucas's first year in New York. "The last play I was in was seventh grade and it didn't go so well."

Drama too was crossed off the list.

She slumped back onto the bench. For a split second, she wished she had gone to her mother or father instead. Shawn was doing his best to be helpful, but right now she could use a hug and she wasn't about to ask him for one.

"Why can't I just like something and be good at it? Her hands flew into the air as she suddenly erupted. "The only thing I'm any good at is being a friend, and it's not like there's a club for that."

Her fingers landed on the book she'd left sitting on the bench between them. She clutched it tightly, bringing it back into her lap, back to the position she was most comfortable.

Shawn nodded, closing the pamphlet with a hmm sound. He leaned forward, perching his arms on his knees. He may not know much about teenage girls, and certainly not much about this particular one, but she radiated an urgency to the task that he hadn't been able to grasp until her last outburst.

"Riley…why is this so important to you?"

The brunette reached up to tuck her hair behind her ears again. It was silly, she knew, to make such a big deal over such a tiny matter. At least that's how everyone else saw it. She knew better. That was the downside of being observant. She noticed details others missed.

Maya was a magnet. Each time the blonde entered a room heads automatically turned in her direction. She was beautiful, which got people's attention. And she was bold; her words, her ideas, the way she carried herself, was every bit as captivating as her appearance. Her verbal dual with Cassandra Moore had already become legend in the halls of Abigail Adams, earning her even more favor and fame.

Lucas was superman and Clark Kent all rolled into one; the every man and the superhero. What he considered his greatest flaw also made him wildly successful in the art of fitting in. His perfectly chiseled jaw and athletic build drew the socially elite to him like flypaper, while his goodness allowed him to befriend anyone of his choosing…even the invisibles.

Zay was more of an acquired taste for some. But he was funny, good at sports, and always made his presence known. People still didn't listen to him much, but they were content to laugh and would gladly cheer him on if he made the team with Lucas.

Farkle and Smackle weren't as big a hit with the popular crowd, but they had their own society of like-minded individuals. The tribe of intelligence had been more than happy to welcome the two geniuses to the fold.

"Because…" Her thumb tapped against the glossy book cover. "I don't fit anywhere. I'm awkward and clumsy and only funny when I'm not trying to be."

They assumed she was too childlike to notice, but she knew. And worse, she knew that they did too.

The older man dropped his head, blowing out slowly. He should have known. Not only had she inherited her father's disproportionate response system, it seemed she'd also received his desperate desire to be something he wasn't.

He slung his arm on the back of the bench, shifting in his seat until he was facing her directly.

"I'm gonna let you in on a little secret, something most people don't learn until after high school. No one, and I mean no one, fits anywhere. Even the people that look like they do, don't, because none of us are just one thing. You might be all the things you said, but that's not all you are, Riley. And if you feel like there isn't a place for you, then make your own. You're a good friend, a helper."

He gestured toward the paperback in her hands.

"The world needs more of you. Not less."

Shawn hadn't needed a second version of himself. He'd needed an uncool, overreactive, great friend to have his back. He needed Cory Mathews, and was a better person because he'd had one.

He was likening her to Rachel Scott? That seemed a bit of a stretch. Rachel had been a martyr. She wouldn't have cared whether or not the kids in her school liked her, not as long as she was true to her beliefs. She'd believed in them so much she'd been willing to die for them. She'd felt she was going to die young and was at peace with that because she felt her death would inspire others after she was gone. And she was right. It had.

Riley wasn't sure she possessed that kind of faith or bravery, but she did share some of Rachel's beliefs. She did want to help make the world a better place, to help connect people though acceptance and goodwill.

She peered up at him, her brown eyes lit with unspeakable hopefulness.

"You really think I could make a difference," she asked.

It was a great plan in theory, but she was inferior, even in her own circle of friends. Would the school listen to her, and even if they did, would others join? Were there really others like her, looking for somewhere to feel relevant?

He smiled back at the young girl who had altered the course of his life.

"I know you can." He chuckled.

Isadora watched curiously as her boyfriend began to shift nervously in his seat. He was working up the nerve to say something to Maya Hart. From her understanding of his explanation, the blonde fancied herself the head of the committee and an expert in all things Riley Mathews. It was also her understanding that Maya did not appreciate any form of challenge in this particular field of interest. Which was exactly how she would interpret Farkle's proposal, should he ever summon the courage to speak.

Her gaze shifted across the table to his opposition. What was it about Maya Hart that threatened him so? She was just a little above five feet, no more than one hundred pounds soaking wet, and a female. As science dictated, Farkle was taller, stronger, and infinitely quicker when it came to intelligent thought. He was her superior in every way, and yet he treated her as though she were an equal while she behaved as though he were beneath her.

Why he would subject himself to that treatment, she didn't understand. She supposed it was because they were friends. They did gather in the same social circle, were part of the same committee. She supposed that meant she and the hostile blonde were friends as well. Though she didn't understand the girl, she liked her well enough, and could use the few allies she had in such a confounding and unwelcoming place.

"I move to revisit the matter of Riley and school clubs," he said at last.

Smackle wasn't surprised by this motion. In fact, she was partially the cause for it. Farkle had taken her aside and offered up his best explanation for the purpose and function of The Riley Committee, but in the end his reasoning had left her with more questions than answers. She understood the nobility of their intent to protect their friend. However, from a scientific standpoint it seemed an exercise in futility, and psychologically, a disservice to the brunette.

Maya didn't even look up to acknowledge the request as she examined the contents of her tray with her fork.

"But we already decided she'd go with me." Her tone was a strong indication that the matter was closed, but Farkle pressed further.

"No, you decided. I think that Riley should be able to choose her own club."

The genius swallowed thickly as Maya finally met his gaze. Blue flames raged in her azure orbs. She did not appreciate the challenge.

Maya's glance slid from Farkle to her, shifting the blame from one to the other. She might be small and of average intelligence, but she wasn't stupid. She knew Farkle was only raising the concerns Smackle herself had brought to his attention.

Her lids fluttered down with a sigh. Isadora assumed she was attempting to reign in her emotions. Zay and Lucas sat dumbfounded, watching in silence.

A tight-lipped smile formed on her lips as her eyes opened. Though she was straining to hold the pleasant expression.

"You know why we can't do that, Farkle. Riley would just think and think about it until she was too scared to make a move. You know that I'm right."

The way he slumped back in his chair lead Isadora to believe she spoke truthfully to their friend in common's nature.

Maya twirled her fork in the mashed potatoes she had no intention of eating.

"Besides, she'd just end up following me anyway." For the first time, she looked around the room, noting what or rather who was missing. Her eyes went round as she surveyed the room. Panic bubbled up inside the blonde as she realized Riley wasn't there. Perhaps if they'd spent less time arguing about her allowances, they'd have recognized her absence sooner.

She was beginning to see why Maya considered herself the dominant party of the committee. Because there was truth to it. The others had yet to make the connection. They didn't have to. They sensed her concern, they noted her eyes darting about the room, and then they mimicked her behavior.

"What are we looking for," Zay mumbled, scanning the lunch line for...whatever their fearless leader was seeking.

Lucas shrugged as he continued to search.

"I'm looking for Riley. I don't know what you're looking for."

Isadora's lips quirked into the wisp of a smile. It seemed she underestimated Lucas once again, and for a reason she didn't understand it made her happy that he hadn't lived up to her expectation of him.

The blonde huffed, throwing down her plastic cutlery.

"That's exactly what I'm looking for. She should have been here by now. Where is she," she snapped impatiently.

From what the female genius could gather, Maya often allowed her emotions to override her reason. Had she taken the time to step back and think objectively, she would have realized there were several perfectly logical scenarios explaining their friend's disappearance and very few were cause for this level of emotional upheaval.

"Perhaps she is running behind," Smackle offered, awkwardly reaching across the table to pat the other girl's hand.

She must have been doing it wrong because Maya was not only not consoled. She was downright hostile- another symptom of her illogical tendencies, no doubt.

"Where else would she go," the blonde growled, throwing her hands in the air. "

This was the only time they all got to spend together during school hours.

Lucas was no longer scanning the area. His shiny green orbs were now fixed on the brunette in question, his smile widening as she neared. He didn't know where she had been or why, nor did he seem to care, now that she was present. Everything about the Texan seemed more at ease when she was close by. The same could be said for the girl walking toward them. She knew there had been some debate in regards to their relationship, and though she was familiar with the practice of arguing both sides of a given issue, she couldn't wrap her mind around the objections to their romantic involvement. The two complimented one another well and appeared to be much happier with their current arrangement than they had been apart. Even an ordinary dumb-dumb should be able to see that.

"Why don't ya just ask her," Zay suggested, pointing back behind the blonde.

Riley clutched her notebook tighter to her chest, forcing a smile. She did that often, though not as much as she had the year before.

"Ask me what?"

Her features wrinkled in a mask of confusion as she pulled out the chair next to her with one hand and lowered herself into it. The other arm was still grasping the notebook.

Maya's gaze sharpened as she studied their tardy friend. Her expression was puzzling to Isadora. She just sat there, staring, her head cocked slightly to the side. Again, the others followed the lead the blonde had set, a hush falling over the table. After what felt like several minutes of uncomfortable silence, someone finally spoke.

"Well if they won't say it, I will. Where the heck were you? You about gave these two a panic attack." Zay gestured to Lucas and Maya.

Riley blanched at the reprimand, laying her notebook gently on the table top. It reminded Smackle of a knight lowering his shield and she wondered if that was how her friend might feel- like an open target. Did she know they had been sitting there discussing her, making decisions on her behalf? They believed her ignorant of the committee's conduct, but Smackle wasn't convinced. How could she stand two feet away as they whispered conspiratorially and not wonder what secrets they exchanged?

"I'm sorry," she said, locking a strand of hair behind her ear. She did that a lot too. "I was having a meeting with the principal. I didn't mean to scare anyone."

Maya's blue eyes grew in diameter as her mouth fell agape.

"Riley Mathews got sent to the principal's office!"

She often felt the blonde overreacted to typical situations. However, in this case, the information did sound a bit unbelievable.

The brunette shook her head, an amused giggle bubbling from her lips.

"I asked for the meeting, peaches."

When she laid her hand over Maya's, she didn't pull away or roll her eyes and bark. Riley had a lot of experience comforting others. Her delicate touch had even managed to work its magic on the raven-haired beauty on occasion.

"I couldn't find a club that felt like the right place for me, so I asked Principal Childress about forming my own."

This was exactly why she questioned Riley's awareness of the group's protective forces. She was intelligent, inquisitive. Since she had met the brunette, her friend had been dedicated to the practice of problem solving.

Dark brows creased over deep blue eyes.

"Can you even do that," she asked.

She didn't seem to appreciate Riley changing the rules any more than she had Farkle questioning her judgement.

Riley nodded, beaming with...pride? Excitement? Maybe both? She looked pleased, whatever the cause.

"Turns out you can." She plucked a book from her bag, placing it down on top of the notebook. "It's called the Friends of Rachel club. It's all about helping people and making the world a better place."

It sounded like the perfect place for Riley.

This time it was Lucas who reached out to touch her hand. Her news had only enhanced his easy demeanor since her approach.

"That's great, Riles," he exclaimed, his gaze falling on the hand he was holding. Why that appendage captured his attention so fully she couldn't say, but she was happy for her friend who clearly enjoyed his focus on any part of her. She imagined Farkle gazing longingly at her hand in such a way and it filled her belly with sweet flutterings that made it difficult to hold back a smile. She didn't know what it meant but she knew it was pleasant.

The blonde's gaze had fallen on the two hands clasped across the table. Her thoughts were much less clear to the female genius, her feelings even more so as she had no frame of reference. But as her mouth curled into that thin, tight smile, those butterflies were replaced with something cold and slithery. It was a smile of warning.

Follow-up: Yes, Friends of Rachel is a real thing and I'm very proud to say my former high school is one of those branches. It's a great non-profit, non-religious organization and it seemed like a cause that would speak to our girl Riley.

For those saying the triangle is losing its thrill, I agree. Good thing this was never about the triangle. There are much grander schemes at play. ;)