miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-09-22 11:20 am

Fic: "Special" (Chapter 5/?)

Title: Special
Character(s): Ensemble. Seriously. It covers pretty much everyone, plus some Marvel Universe characters.
Rating: R across everything, to be safe.
Word Count: 7600
Spoilers: Through S2
Full-Series Warnings: Violence, potential character death, and other elements common to comics
Summary: Being a part of something special makes you special. (Also, having superpowers.)
Notes: Time to introduce more powers across the group, and to set up a little tension and their first big goal. Next week is very character-oriented as prep work, significant others, and families come into play, and then the chapter after that is heavy on the action.

Rachel Berry was looking forward to discovering her destiny as a superhero. She was not looking forward to returning to her house with only Santana Lopez for company. "Mercedes?" she asked hopefully as their small group drove toward the appointed meeting location. "Do you want to stay over tonight?"

"Sorry," Mercedes said, sounding quite sincere. "The only way I was able to stay out late tonight was by promising my dad that I'd help in the yard tomorrow morning. I'll need to head home as soon as I figure out what exactly I can do."

"Tina?" Rachel said. "Do you want to stay over? Please?"

"Sorry, Rachel," Tina said. She sounded far less sincere. Even in the darkness, Rachel could picture her smirking. "They want me home before one, and same for Mike. I'll get a ride home from him."

Rachel made a pained noise and called out to their driver, "Artie? Do you want to sleep over?"

"As fun as refereeing your and Santana's inevitable Pillowfight Deathmatch would be," Artie began, but cut off when Rachel crept her way up the rumbling van and smacked the back of his head. "Ow."

"I'm really looking forward to this, too," Santana drawled as Rachel slumped back into her seat next to the girl. "It'll be super awesome. We'll paint each other's nails and talk about Justin Bieber, like oh my god.”

"Oh, just turn on that Cake Boss marathon again," Rachel grumbled and folded her arms across her chest.

While Artie made trips home for any group members who had to check in with their parents, Rachel had talked excitedly with Tina and Mercedes about what their futures might hold. Artie joined their enthusiastic discussion upon his return. That entire time, Santana had watched Cake Boss. And whenever they dared to make more noise than she wanted, she turned up the volume. It was, Rachel thought, a far better option for all of them than trying to hold a conversation with Santana. But once they'd had this time as a group she might be faced with actually talking with the girl. Alone. Lord help her. Cake Boss sounded like a better idea every time she thought about it. They rode the rest of the way in silence, and neither girl complained.

"Someone mind scouting out the path?" Artie asked as he pulled off the road, down a driveway, and into an empty field. The only man-made light came from the distant specks of a farmhouse's windows and their headlights. When Artie turned those off, the night looked pitch black to Rachel's eyes until they adjusted. The moon was fortunately full.

"You're good to come out, at least," Tina reported shortly. "But stay near the van, there are potholes.”

They disgorged themselves onto a rough, hard piece of rocky ground. Rachel suddenly recognized the place: at the end of the growing season it would be a massive corn maze. They were in the dirt parking lot that had been driven upon by thousands of cars. It was completely empty, with nothing to accidentally destroy, and at that time of year the fields around them only had tiny green shoots. "Good thinking, Finn," Rachel said proudly. He'd found the perfect spot.

The rest of their group arrived in turn until they were all waiting for the arrival of the person who'd sent them there in the first place. "I'm sure Finn and Kurt will be here soon," Rachel said to their milling, impatient party.

"I'm bored," Santana announced loudly. "You're boring. Let's do something."

"I made the list you wanted, Rachel," Mike said as he handed over his iPad. She squinted at it until he turned down the brightness. "There are a bunch of sites where people track known powers, but I don't know how likely some of them are for us."

"Thanks," she said as she looked thoughtfully through it. Mike was right; it was unlikely that any of them would be whatever a 'Herald of Galactus' was.

"Try running," Puck suggested to Mike. When Mike looked confused he explained, "You took off way ahead of everyone during practice. Maybe you've got serious super speed."

"You kept up with me," Mike said uncertainly.

"Yeah, well, I've probably got serious super speed, too." Puck smiled and looked entirely too pleased with himself.

"Okay," Mike said, shrugging, and looked around for the best place to test himself. He quickly oriented himself along the long driveway, took a deep breath, and vanished into the darkness like a bird diving through the air. Everyone gasped at the speed; it had to be over a hundred miles an hour.

"...He knows to come back, right?" Mercedes eventually asked.

They heard the sound of delighted crowing in the distance. The cadence of Mike's footsteps against the packed dirt began to return, but mid-step he tripped on a pothole hidden by the darkness. Driven by his incredible speed, he flew into the air and was about to land hard. Everyone gasped... and then he stopped. When Mike hung above the ground in complete violation of gravity, they gasped again. "Am I flying?" Mike finally asked. He hadn't moved and so was still parallel to the dirt.

"You threw yourself at the ground," Mercedes giggled, "and you missed!" She saw people turning to her. "It's from Hitchhiker's Guide. One of the sequels."

"Is that a nerd book? That's a nerd book, right?" Puck asked dubiously. "Why are you reading that?"

"Sam recommended it," she said and promptly shut up.

"Wow," Rachel said as she walked slowly toward Mike. He was still motionless, but she supposed that could be a good thing; if nothing else, it meant that he hadn't hit the ground. Afraid that it would break the spell, she very carefully reached out and touched his shoulder. He bobbed like a balloon but stayed aloft. "Do you suppose anyone else can fly?" Her eyes sparkled and she spun on her heel. "Everyone, test to see if you can fly."

"How?" Quinn asked.

"Just... hop up and try not to fall," Rachel theorized. "Go on, do it!"

At first they seemed reluctant to follow orders, but the sight of Mike hanging in the air proved too tempting. As he slowly tilted himself to a vertical position, the rest of the people there began jumping up and down where they stood. They were still testing themselves when a pair of headlights approached them on the driveway, and Finn and Kurt climbed out.

"Hey," Finn said. "Sorry, sneaking out was kind of complicated."

Kurt eyed everyone as they closed the doors. "Clearly, we've missed something." He noticed a figure near him in the darkness and turned to face Mike, whose feet were still well above the dirt. "Like that."

"I can fly!" Mike said.

"I'm a ninja," Kurt replied. "Or something to that effect, anyway."

"Cool." Mike hesitated. "I don't actually know how to get down." He took Kurt's hand gladly when the boy offered it, and was able to stay on the ground when Kurt pulled him there.

Rachel asked Finn, “Um, he’s ‘a ninja?’”

"Yeah," Finn said glumly. "Apparently he can do flips and be quiet and stuff. Looks like the illusions are to help him with the sneaky side of things. I’m still just a brain guy.” Her hand ran reassuringly down his arm and he managed to smile. “So, what are we doing?”

“Brittany’s flying,” Quinn answered loudly. Everyone turned to see the lithe girl twirling in the air and giggling like a fiend. They all made noises of wonder and gathered in close, only for the power to cut off abruptly.

Rubbing at her sore rump as she picked herself off the dirt, Brittany complained, “It’s harder than it looks. And I bet it looks pretty hard.”

That made Rachel frown, roll over Finn’s words in her mind, and turn to a safely flat section of the hard ground. Kurt and Mike were testing out their less fantastic abilities. With no illusions or flight currently in the mix, they both seemed entirely sure of what they were doing. Mike pulled off a string of handsprings to rival any Olympian, and then, even more implausibly, so did Kurt. She considered that carefully and then studied Puck. Even if Puck didn’t yet have total control over his strength and speed, he was able to easily access that potential.

Perhaps it was a matter of physical powers—their bodies, only better—being simpler to draw upon. Considering that she herself had yet to figure out what her powers might be, it encouraged her. The people still waiting to discover their abilities might have something really amazing there. “All right, everyone!” she said, clapping her hands. They ignored her. Rachel scowled and asked, “Hello?”

Brittany rebounded pebbles off Mercedes’ force field. Tina threw one at Quinn, who glared at her when the rock glanced off her shoulder. Puck crushed similar rocks to dust between his fingers. “Hello?” Rachel tried again. Absolutely no one was listening.

“Hello!” Rachel said just short of outright shouting, and the sky lit up with a dozen points of light. They exploded like fireworks and everyone dropped to the ground to cover their heads. She stared at the night sky as her display faded into afterimages, then nothing. “Was... was that me?”

“Rachel’s voice is her superpower?” Santana asked in disbelief. “Oh god, now she’ll never shut up.”

Glaring fiercely at her, Rachel was about to retort when Finn interrupted. “That was really cool,” he said, grinning. “What did you do?”

“I just... well,” Rachel began, laughing. “No one was listening, and so I tried to project my voice. I suppose I succeeded beyond my wildest intentions.” Mercedes and Artie called for her to do it again—facing away from them—and so she took a deep breath and prepared herself. She was not simply singing, she reminded herself. She was projecting. That had to be the key. This time, rather than simple words, she sent bars of a favorite song through the air. Each note pierced the darkness like some magical spell, leaving a trail of energy in beautiful, varied colors before it exploded to nothing.

It was the most stunning thing she had ever seen in her life. For a moment, Rachel had to fight down the very real urge to run over to Artie and kiss him on the lips for awakening it. “Oh,” she said in a tiny, amazed voice. “Yes, I suppose that’s my power.”

“It’s really pretty,” Brittany said, but then tilted her head and asked, “Does that mean you can’t ever sing unless you’re trying to kill a bad guy?” At that, nearly the entire choir turned to her. Some faces looked far more interested in the question than others.

Refusing to truly acknowledge that possibility, Rachel cleared her throat. “I was purposefully projecting my voice, Brittany. It was a very specific type of approach.” She rattled off a few bars of another favorite piece before she let herself succumb to any worry. Even so, her notes floating safely out as music nearly weakened her knees. She covered that relief quickly, like she’d never doubted otherwise, and replied, “See? If we have these powers, we should know how to control them. I clearly am further along on the scale of having that control. But I’m sure all of you will catch up.”

“Uh. I can’t get down again,” Mike said from somewhere above Finn’s shoulder.

Right, then. They had a lot of work to do.

* * *

It was a fortunate thing that Mike had given her his iPad, Rachel thought with delight as she clicked wildly through web pages. She was vaguely aware of people testing powers around her, but her focus was consumed by the media reports. The fanpages. The merchandise.

Stores sold children’s decor that covered their rooms with logos of the biggest names in New York. Little girls posed in Halloween costumes with Ms. Marvel’s lightning bolt across their chest, or with the Wasp’s wings on their back. (The Fantastic Four’s long underwear-friendly costume was recommended for cold-weather locations.) Numerous blogs told of close encounters with superheroes, anything ranging from “that X-Man with the wings got them caught when he was getting out of his limo, lmao” to “the big green Young Avenger shoved a car away from me when it was about to hit! He saved my life!!! I should really learn his name. :)”

The superheroes were icons. Absolutely everyone wanted to be them, be around them, be saved by them.

Rachel landed on a story about another hero and felt a rush of warmth that passed any romantic crush. Some genres of music tended to pass under her radar. That must be why she’d been unaware of the superhero-slash-musician Dazzler, who turned her spectacular visual effects into support for a thriving performance career. And those beautiful lights didn’t actually come from her singing, just the ambient noise! Rachel’s performances could be infinitely more impressive.

If she hadn’t been worried about twisting her ankle on the uneven ground, Rachel would have danced a short jig. This was amazing, this was her big break, this was the best thing that had ever happened to her. Children would wear her uniform for Halloween! They would want to be her! They would use her code name—she had to think of a code name!—during recess, and adults would talk breathlessly of seeing her on the streets. People would then pay incredible amounts of money to see this hero, this icon, turn her formidable skills toward music.

They had to start being superheroes. They had to start being superheroes right now.

She looked up with a grin big enough to catch the moonlight. Surely she couldn’t be the only one who was this excited over the gift they’d been given. Tina was still sulking over her apparent power failure, but was still gamely trying to find them. Quinn was... oh! How exciting, Rachel thought. Quinn was creating a shard of ice in her hand and then letting it fall to the ground to shatter. Quinn had control over ice, just like Santana had control over fire! She would have to point out the similarity to them, if they hadn’t already noticed. They’d probably find it quite interesting.

"We need to organize," Rachel said. "Everyone! Everyone, please stop playing with your powers for a minute and listen to me!" She cleared her throat. "Everyone?"

Finn chuckled and rubbed her shoulder. "I think that can wait a couple of days, Rach. They're having a little too much fun right now."

She sighed. But they would be having more fun if they considered ways in which to build upon each other's powers. Right now they were simply noise; they should come together like a symphony. "I suppose," she said. “And there are some other things we could plan in the meantime."

There was more to be done than simply practicing their powers, she could see that already. Becoming the next huge superheroic force on the block would be rather complicated, and she had so many ideas of what to do next. Reading all those web pages had made their goals clear. It was a fortunate thing that all of this had happened during summer, when they had free time to prepare themselves.

Finn was content to shoot random song lyrics into people's minds for target practice, and so she let him be. After a minute of searching she found where Kurt was practicing a single-arm handstand at the far side of the parking lot. He’d originally shown up in a new sweater, which Rachel thought nothing of. After all, she remembered one day with five outfit changes from Kurt. On that day he’d had access to other clothes in his locker, though. Here, the change from that memorable sweater to a similar one with all the colors shuffled around had to be due to his powers. She wondered if he knew he’d done it.

After refocusing on her goal, Rachel said brightly, ”Kurt! Well, look at you. That's terribly impressive."

He bent a few inches further and then sprang to a standing position in one smooth motion. "I am never going to have to put up with... with anything again," Kurt said with a slow, confident manner. "Someone tries to push me around? I'll be able to twist out of the way and watch them break their fist on the wall. This is so much better than I feared.”

"It's so exciting to hear that you're totally on board this whole superhero plan!" Rachel enthused. "Because you will be a key component of—"

"No no," he said, holding up his index finger. It shook at her once. "No no. I am no longer terminally depressed, but I am not 'on board.' Just because I can handle myself if someone does come at me doesn't mean I want to go seeking out a fight. Superheroics involve flames and acid and way too many trips to the emergency room. With my history I am not up for seeing another person in a hospital bed. Including me."

She stomped her foot against the dirt. "Kurt, don't you want to make a difference in the world?"

"Yes," he said lightly. "Of course I do. I want to change hearts and minds. I want to become fabulously wealthy and write checks to politicians who dislike all the people I dislike. I don't want to 'make a difference' by stabbing people in the throat and then dying at nineteen." He arched an eyebrow at her. "Besides, have you seen what they all wear? Awful, all of it."

"That's actually kind of what I came to talk to you about," Rachel said delicately. "Because, well, if we're going to be a team beloved by millions, we'll need costumes."

Kurt stared at her flatly.

"And I thought you could come up with them."

Kurt stared at her for a long stretch, blinked, and kept staring.

"So," Rachel finally finished, "maybe you could just sort of forget about all of those dreams you had for your future, focus on being a superhero for a while, and make us all look good! Okay?"

Instead of answering immediately, he reached up and patted her cheek. "I'm starting to find your delusions strangely endearing," Kurt said before he vanished.

Rachel gasped, and then started probing the air in front of her. "Kurt! Kurt, you un...invisible yourself right now! We're not done talking! Ooh," she said and stormed her way to the nearest likely ear. "Kurt's not going to design our costumes," Rachel grumbled to Puck. "He has this idea that going into superheroics would be dangerous and unpleasant."

"Which is fair," Puck pointed out. She looked betrayed, and he continued, "Look, Rachel. Kurt's not on board with batting away explosives from the Green Goblin or whatever."

"So we just need to convince him!"

"...And Quinn's pretty iffy on everything, too. Have you looked at her? She is not happy about that ice. Brittany’s clueless. Mike just wants to fly around and is worried about his parents finding out; how are you going to get him to actually attack anything? Hell, Finn might have fun doing a stupid trick here and there, but earlier he was scared shitless about everything. Who knows what he’ll commit to? Tina’s still annoyed that she hasn't found her powers, and Artie keeps talking about making sex robots." With a gesture in the boy's direction, Puck continued, "Which, yeah, is the best idea I've heard from anyone, but it doesn't really sound like he's doing it to be a superhero."

"I would certainly hope not," Rachel said with an annoyed look at Artie. If he was determined to make money off his powers, he should at least focus on some of the other options he’d suggested. "I just can't believe that people aren't more excited about this!" She saw Finn talking to Tina, presumably trying to encourage her about finding her abilities, and sighed deeply.

Puck's eyebrow popped up. "And why are you so into it? I don't remember you making a big production out of how your dream in life was to kick some ass." He tilted his head a bit and gestured to his arms. "Now, me...."

"As owners of these powers, we're obligated to help people with them! It's just the right thing to do!” He didn’t seem to be buying it, and so Rachel continued, “We have every possibility of being heroes on the level of the biggest names—"

"Oh," Puck said and started laughing. "Got it. Being a superhero equals being famous. Everything makes total sense now, never mind.”

"I. Well." Rachel harrumphed. "I also want to help people." And she did. It would be a very pleasant side effect.

“And are you up for batting away explosives from the Green Goblin?” Puck asked. He cut her off when she began to immediately say yes. “Yeah, okay, so everyone and their dog knows who Spider-Man is, good for him. But when those things come flying at him, if he messes up one time?” Puck’s fist smacked loudly into his open palm. “Flyswatter. Done. Over with. You cool with being a smear on some rooftop?”

“I thought you said you were excited about this,” Rachel said quietly. That imagery was horrific.

“I am. Because I’d be up for facing those odds. I mean, once I push myself a little and figure out what I’m doing, you know?” Puck gestured broadly at everyone else there. “But seriously. Think about what a total mess we were in New York, trying to get anything done. You want to take that team up against the big names?”

“We could be great, though,” Rachel said plaintively.

“We could, if people actually get on board and want to do it. On the same token, we don’t wanna throw ourselves into the meat grinder before we’re ready. Just, you know... chill a little, Rachel.” Puck grinned. “Want to see if I can pick up Kurt’s car?”

“He’d kill you,” Rachel said, and managed a small laugh. “I suppose you’re right. We do need to make sure we have a strong foundation in place. It’s one thing to fail at a singing competition; it’s another thing entirely to fail to dodge an explosive.”

Puck, though, seemed to ignore most of what she’d said. “He would kill me,” Puck said with tremendous humor. “That’d be hilarious. His car’s a total trigger for him. I’m gonna do it.”

“Don’t you dare, we’re trying to work together,” Rachel said. Some part of her, though, was a little pleased: they had reached a point where even Noah Puckerman understood Kurt Hummel’s motivations. That had to be a good sign for all of them being able to work together as a team.

Kurt’s motivations.

Kurt’s reactions.

A smile spread across Rachel’s face like the Grinch. “Noah,” she said before filling him in on her plan, “come with me.”

A minute later she approached the now-visible Kurt again, Puck in tow. “I was wrong to try to force you into doing so much work for the team when you don't actually want to be on the team," Rachel said sweetly. "I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted," Kurt said warily.

"So I'll just do it," Rachel continued with a smile.

"What?" Kurt asked with the same tone he would use for Rachel announcing that she intended to give him a lapdance.

"I have a crystal clear vision in mind for how we should look," Rachel said. She gestured ahead of her like she could picture their full team standing there. "The Golden Stars. We'll be covered in an array of them, overlapping like scales. Very shiny, very dashing." Kurt looked utterly horrified, and so she decided to add, "With a single glowing one on our chests. So it'll stand out as the logo."

Kurt gawked at her for a second longer, then turned to Puck. "You cannot seriously be willing to wear something with that description. It's like her vision of superheroes is pulled straight from the 1940s, and then it had dirty, wrong sex with Jem."

Puck shrugged. "If it sucks too bad, I'll just wear jeans and a ski mask."

"Oh my god,” Kurt muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine. Fine! I will handle costumes if you promise not to be involved at all, Rachel."

"Well," she said, forcing her lip out into a pout, "I really think we should have at least one arm apiece that's covered in stars—"

"No!" he said. "Mine. All mine. No touching!"

"If you insist," Rachel sighed, and let him storm away with a litany of complaints about how he had no idea how he'd gotten pulled into doing all of this. Once Kurt was safely away from them, she held out her hand at her side. Puck slapped her palm with his.

“He’s gonna kill you if he figures out what you did,” Puck said when Kurt was safely out of earshot.

“I’ll just have you lift his car to distract him if he tries,” Rachel countered.

“It’s a deal.”

* * *

The rest of their night passed in flashes. It was all too easy to lapse into daydreaming about their big, spectacular future. (Clearly, it would happen; only the minor details were unclear.) Rachel barely noticed events here and there as she pictured being handled the Congressional Medal of Honor on the same day as signing a record contract.

Santana and Quinn did notice the other’s complementary powers and both looked annoyed because of it.

Mercedes’ hands glowed like they had in her basement, but the energy died without anything more happening.

Puck lifted Brittany and Tina above his head and watched Brittany stay aloft when he lowered his hands. She giggled and made a swooping arc over the young corn, and then abruptly fell into the soft dirt. The green shoots around her exploded into feathers. Rachel shook her head and wondered what on earth would cause that combination of powers; at least Kurt or Mike’s pairings made sense.

Speaking of Kurt, he looked continuously annoyed at how far he kept being drawn into the events around him. But the people there were quicksand and he just kept sinking further in. Soon Finn was bombarding him with song lyrics, Mercedes insisted that he try to sneak past her bubble shield, and Artie asked to borrow his cell phone for some new technological experiment. (Kurt said no.) Things couldn’t have gone better if she’d planned it.

“Hey,” Finn finally said, some time later. “Look, Kurt and I need to head off before our folks wake up again. We’ll meet soon, right?”

“I’m sure we’ll have another opportunity to practice,” Rachel said. “Um. But with the security system, how are you going to get back inside?”

“Kurt says he has a plan,” Finn said. “I called it ‘a mission,’ like a superhero’s. And then he told me to shut up.” Finn made a pained expression. “I hope he eventually focuses on what he likes about what’s happening, or it’s going to be a real pain in the ass to be down the hall from him.”

Rachel squeezed his hand reassuringly and waved as they headed to the car. That prompted a steady stream of people saying they needed to get home. Quinn and Brittany piled into Mike’s car when he set off with Tina. Mercedes, upon finding out that she wasn’t too far from Puck, grabbed a ride with him so Artie wouldn’t have to make a second stop.

Taken from one perspective, it was encouraging. Two years ago, who would have foreseen these pairings? The cheerleaders and the football player would never talk with the quiet goth girl. Puck would have no use for Mercedes, let alone offering to drive her somewhere. They would be a team. They would be a strong team. They would be a spectacular team.

They would be the number one team, from world-saving performances to merchandise sales.

“Well,” Santana sighed, “let’s get this over with.”

And there was the last travel grouping that Rachel had been trying not to acknowledge. “Thank you very much for driving us, Artie,” Rachel said as she took shotgun and left Santana sprawling on the bench seat at the very back of the van. “I could have taken my car, but it’s good to conserve gas.”

He saw right through her, of course. “I totally don’t mind being the third wheel so you and Santana don’t have to talk to each other,” Artie said with a slight smirk as he turned on the engine, circled around the parking lot, and set off down the driveway. “Besides, why would I turn down having two hot chicas in my ride on a Friday night?”

Santana called from the back, “Yeah, we’re not even close to being friendly enough to let you say that.”

“Noted,” Artie said as he turned onto the main road. The conversation died down and Rachel again resisted the urge to whine over the surely-painful night ahead. “Talk to you later,” he eventually said when he dropped them off at Rachel’s. “I’ll let you know if I come up with anything cool!”

The two girls watched his taillights vanish down the road until he turned a corner, and then faced each other unhappily. “On the upside,” Rachel began, “I think most people have pinned down a considerable portion of their powers. We can really start team-building in earnest. Don’t you think?”

“Are we really going to try to do this?” Santana asked her. “Look, I’ll just crash here, head home when I get a call from my parents, and we never actually have to talk to each other in the meantime. Thanks for a place to sleep, but seriously. This is stupid enough already.”

It was tempting. It was very tempting. They’d had their occasional moments of civility; Rachel had felt genuine friendship toward all of the auditioners before Nationals. (At least, after their competition ended.) But their default setting was still very much turned to hostility and it would be so much easier if she didn’t tempt fate. They had to work as a team, though. If this was going to work, everyone had to learn to work together. Lives might depend upon it. “I wouldn’t feel right inviting you in and then ignoring you, Santana,” Rachel said in what she thought was a terribly polite voice. “I really think we should talk. About our hopes, our dreams... our thoughts on exactly how skilled someone needs to be to take on the Green Goblin....”

Santana’s nose wrinkled. “Ugh, really? We can so skip all of that.”

“But it’s so important that everyone in the club become friendly. Close. We should nurture each other. Love each other!” Santana looked horrified and Rachel retreated to, “Try not to kill each other. ...Can we at least go inside?” Rachel asked as she slapped a mosquito on her neck.

Santana agreed to that much, at least, and they headed for Rachel’s living room. “Seriously,” Santana said as she flopped on the couch. “I am one hundred percent fine with making sweet, sweet love to your television remote.” When Rachel hesitated, Santana made an annoyed expression and said, “That’s a joke.”

“Of course it is,” Rachel said like she’d never thought otherwise. She perched next to Santana, legs folded neatly under her, and tried her very best to maintain whatever connection she could. “How did your fire summoning go? It was very busy with everyone there. I didn’t really get a chance to track everyone’s progress.”

“Oh god, we’re actually talking,” Santana groaned, and then rolled her head to face Rachel. “Fine. I have no idea what I’m doing with these powers. I only managed to call fire, like, twice more. And one of those times I nearly wound up burning off Quinn’s shoes.”

Rachel sat up straighter, startled. “Was she all right?”

“Yeah,” Santana grumbled. “She put it out kind of on instinct. I guess she has ice powers.”

So that was how they’d discovered each other’s talents. “It is very challenging to control more, well... amazing powers like ours, isn’t it?” Rachel asked enthusiastically. “I’m sure you saw Kurt and Mike testing out their agility, or Puck crushing those rocks. Clearly, that’s all very easy to master. But Kurt’s outfit kept changing. Did you notice?”

“No,” Santana said. She looked slightly pained that Rachel was still talking to her.

“It was just details here and there,” Rachel said, waving it off. Of course she’d picked up on it; she had an wonderful eye for detail. “And Mike, well, someone had to pull him back to earth at least twice more. Maybe he should stay inside until he’s got a better handle on things. I suspect that ceilings will be his friends.”

Santana didn’t look completely hostile, so Rachel risked continuing with what she’d noticed about people’s powers. “Quinn seems to be able to summon ice reliably, but only as this little piece she drops from her hand. I suppose your threat to her drove her toward more, but beyond that....”

“Yeah,” Santana said thoughtfully. “I guess it did.”

Rachel waited for her to continue, saw that she didn’t, and took up the reins again herself. “Finn tried to put lyrics into people’s heads, and he... usually succeeded,” she said delicately. “But if he became distracted, well, he wound up sharing whatever he was thinking.” Boys had strange thoughts in the middle of fields. She supposed she should be glad he hadn’t been picturing her in her underwear. Instead, half the club had suddenly heard mission instructions about how the corn field around them would be filled with (presumably digital) zombies and they needed to choose their weapons. “Mercedes can only call her force field when something is coming at her, and she’s still not sure what her arms are doing when they glow. Brittany... who knows. Artie never knows what he’ll wind up making.”

“So you’re saying we suck?” Santana asked flatly.

“No! What I’m saying is that I see so much potential in all of us. The only powers that people seem completely comfortable with are like... faster running. Lifting things that weigh more than you’re used to.” Rachel’s smile was just a tad patronizing; she couldn’t help it. “Don’t you think it’s far more interesting to be able to call down a rain of fire? Or explode deadly foes with your voice?”

“Huh,” Santana said, and did really seem to consider that. “Yeah, okay. I like saying that I’m better than Puck. Or Mike or Kurt, but especially Puck. He’s being so annoying and weird.”

They were bonding. This was fantastic! If Rachel could bond with Santana, then certainly nothing was beyond the team’s reach. They would put their powers together, direct them as a single unit, and—

“Okay, are your parents still asleep?” Santana asked. It took Rachel a second to realize she wasn’t talking to her. While she’d been daydreaming, Santana had pulled out her phone and had it next to her ear. “Good, change into your pajamas. No, not the frog ones, you know I hate those.” She saw Rachel staring at her with confusion and covered the speaker. “You mind? I’m on the phone.”

Oh, that was just perfect, Rachel thought as she wrinkled her nose and left Santana alone with a few quick words about guest supplies in the bathroom. God only knew who might be on the other end of that line, with an apparent taste for frog pajamas, but she doubted they would have any clothing on for much longer. She didn’t think she could stop what was about to happen if she tried. It would be much safer to simply retreat to her room.

Once she was safely ensconced within it, Rachel pulled out her own phone and texted Finn. Did you make it inside without your parents realizing what you’d done?

The answer came thankfully quickly, as she was worried about them being discovered. yeh

Oh, good! Finn and Kurt wouldn’t be grounded, then. How?

i dont want 2 talk about it

Well, an interesting story was certainly hidden there. Rachel wished him a good night, set aside her phone, and then settled down in front of her laptop. Although it was late, she wasn’t tired at all.

* * *

The next morning dawned full of promise. Rachel cheerfully made breakfast and called Santana in until she finally gave up and came to the dining room. “I have to say, Santana, I am so excited about what might happen next.”

“With breakfast?” Santana asked groggily. She picked up a piece of toast and seemed confused as to what she should do with it; she must have just rolled out of bed. Setting it down, she then picked up a jar and squinted at the label. “Marmalade is an actual thing? Do you just have butter?” A tub of margarine was placed in front of her and she looked increasingly disappointed.

“Do you want some coffee?” Rachel theorized, and was quietly amused when Santana nearly bellowed a ‘yes.’ “Coming right up.” As she worked, she said over her shoulder, “I was busy last night.”

“So was I,” Santana said. She rubbed at her eyes a little more and seemed to wake up.

Ew. Rachel tried not to let herself think on that answer. “I mean, preparing for what our next steps should be. Let me go grab what I made while the coffee starts, all right?” Santana didn’t seem opposed to the idea. Before she could change her mind Rachel hurried up the stairs and retrieved a stack of papers, and then returned downstairs to dig through a cabinet.

"I'm putting together workbooks for everyone," Rachel said as she pulled out her bookbinder. (She’d bought it in anticipation of presenting more sheet music to Mr. Schuester. She was positive that handing him a list of perfect Rachel Berry solos would look all the more impressive when they were in a booklet with a thematically-appropriate cover and a glittery gold coil spine.) "I really want everyone to be prepared for this."

She picked up the test sheets she'd printed out and reread them one last time for errors. The first part of each book held a historical overview of superheroes. She'd pulled selections from Wikipedia on the early years of the biggest teams, as well as some of the most notable events for specific heroes. Her friends would know everything from Genosha to Gwen Stacy. Next she included an edited version of the powers list Mike had found; there was still a chance that more abilities lurked, and she felt it important that people keep an open mind toward new discoveries. She also included a few recent, minor stories on young teams similar to them. It would be instructive to spend some time studying how the media reacted.

The last half, naturally, was filled with worksheets.

She thought they were all terribly helpful. She'd come up with various exercises such as teaming up and attacking pebbles lobbed by the other partner, or writing short answer essays on what they would all do in certain heroic situations. Each question had point values assigned to it in the hopes of bettering themselves through competition. She would have to find a suitable prize, though, Rachel thought as she carefully threaded the coil binder into place. "There," she said proudly and presented her sample book to Santana. "These will be very helpful, I'm sure."

Santana stared at the cover, then looked up to Rachel and scowled. "We are not calling ourselves 'The Golden Stars.'"

Rachel's fists planted themselves on her hips. The costumes along that theme weren't a real proposition, but she had been serious about the name. "And do you have a better idea for what our team could be called?"

"Yes: not that." Santana's expression further soured as she got to the last half of the booklet. "I am not doing homework on this. You cannot be serious."

"I am entirely serious, Santana," Rachel said. "We're sailing into very unfamiliar waters with these powers, and I think everyone would really benefit from some structured learning. As your captain—"

"Yeah, here's the thing," Santana said. "As our captains, you and Finn ruined our shot at the big leagues in New York. As our captains, Finn was late last night and you couldn't figure out what to do to really test people. So maybe you should shut up and stop trying to control everyone when you're clearly shit at getting good results."

The next time she saw Kurt, she was going to step on his foot for recommending that Santana stay with her. "Then who exactly would you suggest for a team captain, Santana?" Rachel said tightly. "You?"

"Let's see," Santana said, tapping her finger against her chin. "Me or Quinn in charge: the Cheerios go to Nationals and win, humiliate our enemies, dance on their graves, all that good stuff. You and Finn in charge: you sing shitty solos and lose competitions for us both times you go up on stage. You know what? Yeah. Let's go with me." She saw that a cup’s worth of coffee had brewed and stood to get it, smiling brightly all the while. “Got any milk?”

Rachel's jaw worked. "You're very welcome for being hosted after you almost burned down your house, by the way." But, like she wanted to take her rudeness to the next level, Santana didn't even acknowledge Rachel’s words. She simply typed something on her phone, pressed 'send,' and smirked. A few seconds later, Rachel's phone began to play 'The Bitch is Back.'

"Aw," Santana cooed. "You set a custom ringtone for me. I didn't know you cared."

With an annoyed sigh, Rachel checked her texts. A moment later she shoved her phone back into her pocket and said, "We are not hunting down criminals in Columbus."

"Why not?" Santana asked lightly. "We're not going to go anywhere with these powers unless we really put them to the test. And not supervillains, just stuff we can handle. It's not like Doctor Doom is going to be lurking around Ohio State. Rhino, maybe. He's totally minor league."

“I... wait,” Rachel said with frustration. “I spent all last night planning this. I know exactly what we’re doing next.”

“Yeah, so does everyone else: going to Columbus,” Santana said before crunching down on a mouthful of toast.

This was unbelievable. She had mapped out their entire path, down to the details of when they would need to hire a publicist! And Santana thought she could storm in with big, dramatic plans that did not play into that schematic?

“You said it yourself,” Santana said with a shrug. “Being at risk made powers come out for people. Trial by fire, throw ‘em into the deep end. Otherwise we’re just wasting time like we did last night.”

But they didn’t even have costumes yet! Rachel checked her phone and groaned to see someone already questioning the orders. This would be a nightmare to sort out. is santana in charge??? Artie asked with clear concern. b/c pretty sure she’d set me on fire

We’ll work something out, Rachel promised him. Another text arrived from Artie. It was completely nonsensical and Rachel tilted her head ever-further as she tried to make sense of it.

totally forgot w/ all the craziness but remind me to tell u about matt

“Matt?” Rachel repeated blankly. But just as Artie had apparently been distracted from something about their old choirmate, so soon was Rachel. A flood of other texts began to stream into her inbox, and sadly, some of them sounded thrilled about the idea of taking their group to Columbus. Tina promised to help come up with a good cover story. Finn wanted to know why she and Santana had been talking without him. Quinn said to count her out. Puck wanted to know if he could throw a car as a weapon.

This was so not in the plan.

And there was Santana, just smiling away at her as she kept eating her toast.

“I would love to sing you a song right now,” Rachel gritted out.

“I could always cook you something,” Santana said, unconcerned. “Look. Whoever the team wants to lead them, well, that’s who they’ll pick. Just step up and don’t suck.”

“I never ‘suck’ at anything,” Rachel snapped.

“Wow,” Santana said. The last bite of toast disappeared. “Poor Finn.” And then, thankfully, her phone rang with a call from her father. With a quick note about how she was close enough to walk, she headed out the door.

More texts kept flying at Rachel. She rested her head in her hands and stared morosely at her perfect workbook full of perfect exercises. She’d still make all of the books for everyone on what would be her team. And then people would have to appreciate how much better prepared she was for the leadership role than Santana. They’d have to. It would all work out in the end.

When she stopped by Kurt and Finn’s to give them their workbooks, though, she still stepped on Kurt’s foot.

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