miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-09-29 10:56 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 6/?)

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: 9500
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: This chapter got massive, oh lord. I wanted some character moments, to address some romances, and to handle some superhero logistics before they take off next chapter for a big action two-parter, and it just kept going. Also, I did laugh at some moments in Tuesday's episode, particularly regarding the last scene in this chapter.

"Hey, Mr. Hummel!" Mercedes said brightly as the door opened on a warm, cloudless Monday morning.

Burt smiled gamely back at her. "Hey, Mercedes. Nice to see you." He gestured her inside and she entered with a comfort level just below family. There was no bothering with looking around or complimenting their house. She was well past that. "How’re your folks?"

"Good. Busy." Mercedes shrugged. "Sounds like Dad’s gonna have me helping out at the office a couple days a week, but I don’t mind."

"Cleaning teeth?" Burt asked dubiously.

"Gross, no," she laughed. "Filing papers and stuff."

"Doesn’t sound too bad," Burt said. "I’m having Kurt show Finn the ropes around the garage. Not expecting him to master everything in one summer, but he can help out with oil changes, tires, that sort of thing. Besides, it’s good stuff for him to know." He pointed at her. "You know how to change your tires, right? If you’re waiting on AAA, you could be on your way a lot faster sometimes if you just do it yourself. Kurt can show you, too."

"Of course I know," Mercedes lied. She was not about to lug around a dirty tire with her bare hands. They seemed to abruptly cross that line between ‘polite small talk to catch up’ and ‘this is my son’s friend, not mine’ and she pointed at the stairs. "Is he…?"

"Yep, go on up. Your other friend is already here. Good to see you kids having fun. I’ll be out of your hair soon; can’t believe you guys came over so early."

Mercedes shot him one last smile and hurried upstairs. She liked Kurt’s dad. It had always been comfortable coming over, and Carole was just as nice. It was one of the most welcoming homes she’d ever stepped into. She knew from complaints over occasional arguments that Kurt’s dad wasn’t perfect, but he seemed close to it. Her own dad was pretty awesome, too. They’d lucked out.

"Knock knock," she said as she arrived in front of Kurt’s closed door.

It opened and Tina stuck her head out just enough to peer up and down the hallway. "Okay, come in, hurry!"

"Really subtle, guys," Mercedes said wryly as she slipped inside.

"Oh, here," Kurt said as he passed her something. "I made this last night. Put this on the doorknob, so we don’t forget. This summer we’re supposedly working on a tribute to Gaga, Katy, Rihanna, and Nicki." He grinned slightly. "My dad didn’t know who they were, so I showed him pictures. I made sure to go for the brightest hair possible. I think they terrified him enough so he wouldn’t dare step inside while we’re working on anything. We really just need to worry about Carole for now; her shift is later."

She studied the custom door hanger that said "Music video appreciation society in progress: do not disturb!" and shrugged, then did as ordered. Once the door was closed again, she hopped on the bed and said excitedly, "Okay, so I cannot believe we’re actually making superhero costumes."

Kurt groaned and started digging through a mess of mismatched bags. "You and me both." As he worked, he began pulling his purchases out of those bags and scattering them across every flat surface within reach. Kurt had basically fallen off the radar all weekend. Apparently, he’d been finding every piece of cheap black leather clothing within driving distance.

"It feels like I raided every thrift store and consignment shop within a day's drive," Kurt said as he carefully selected a piece and pulled out the stitching on a sleeve. The jacket itself was in sorry shape and hideously out of date. Once he'd finished separating the jacket into component parts, and then splitting those up into flat sheets of leather, he began working on the signs of wear with a tin of black shoe polish. It wasn't a perfect match for the shade, but it really wasn't bad. By that point Mercedes could see the potential for repurposing the material into a costume. (A first, rough draft costume, anyway.) "I have a few more pieces coming in from eBay, too. For backup material."

"Wow, this'll be great!" Tina said as she held up a long black duster. "This is a huge piece of leather."

"Yeah, I found a few of those," Kurt said. "They'll work perfectly. I guess some local nerds finally gave up on their dreams of being Neo."

Tina giggled. For a while they simply sorted through the pieces. A few finds seemed workable as they were, and they were set aside. Most of the pieces needed to be pulled apart for a fresh start, though, and they worked on that task in companionable silence, slowly and carefully.

Hours passed. Any time one of them tried to speed up, Kurt chided them and told them that it was better to have good material to start with and that it would save them time during construction. Someone knocked abruptly on the door and they hid the most damning of the evidence. "Come in," Kurt said when he was confident that they looked passable. Finn peered around the opened door and he relaxed. "Did you get it?"

"Yeah," Finn said as he held up a bag with a local costume shop’s logo on the side. "All the brands you wanted."

"Perfect," Kurt said happily and grabbed the bag from him. "Thanks, Finn." His head tilted when he saw a number of other bags in Finn’s arms. "What else did you buy? Are those posters?" He grabbed the three and began unrolling them even as Finn protested, and then shot Finn a flat look.

Mercedes snorted when the subjects of the three posters were revealed: Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and the Black Widow. The women had all been captured at moments that best revealed their well-toned thighs and ample chests. "Really, Finn?"

"They’re super-famous, like Rachel wants to be," Finn mumbled as he rolled them back up. "It’s, um, research."

"Research for your penis?" Tina asked sweetly. Finn paled, mumbled something else, and slammed the door shut. She giggled and flung herself back onto the bed. "Oh my god, did you guys look through those giant workbooks that Rachel made for us?"

"Yes," Mercedes laughed. "And: wow."

"I hate to say it, but some of the articles weren’t bad," Kurt admitted as he started work on pulling out stitching on the last of the unworkable jackets. "I ignored the worksheets, but reading about some of the teams… it’s an interesting case study for the media."

"That couple on the Young Avengers is so cute," Tina cooed. Though she didn’t disagree out loud, Mercedes didn’t know if she’d call those boys ‘cute.’ The magic user was a grade-A hottie, but Big Green Baby Hulk wasn’t exactly her cup of tea.

"I can’t argue with you there," Kurt said almost reluctantly. "It’s good to see representation." Now that, Mercedes did agree with. She loved that their leader was strong, black, and respected. It was the sort of thing that made her excited about what they were doing, even more than simply being famous. If they really could wind up on posters like the ones Finn had brought in… well, there were a lot of kids like her currently seeing a lot of heroes like Captain America and Ms. Marvel: blonde, pale underwear models.

"Some of the articles were really sad, though," Mercedes said as she asked Kurt whether a pair of pants was good enough to use whole, and then started polishing its worn spots when he nodded. "Did you read that one on Gwen Stacy?"

"Yeah," Tina said, flinching. "Yikes."

"I didn’t go through everything, but you two look ready to slit your wrists," Kurt said. "What happened?"

"I heard Puck keep talking to Rachel about the Green Goblin last night," Mercedes said. "That’s probably why she grabbed the story. Well, he kidnapped this girl—Gwen—and took her to a bridge. Spider-Man went to save her. He started fighting the Goblin and the Goblin threw her off, so Spidey webbed Gwen so she wouldn’t hit the water. Except when he pulled her back up… she was dead."

"Ouch," Kurt said. "So all that time, he’d been trying to save a dead girl?"

"That’s the thing," Tina said. "It was the Brooklyn Bridge, so there were a lot of people there. And when Gwen hit the bottom of that web strand and stopped… some people said they heard a snap."

"Oh my god," Kurt said when he realized the implications.

"And the worst thing is," Mercedes jumped in, "is that from the way he reacted and rumors about being seen with her, and all that… some people are pretty sure that whoever Spider-Man really is, he was in love with Gwen Stacy. And in the middle of trying to save her life, he killed her."

"Wow," Kurt said after staring blankly at a spot on the opposite wall. "Well, that’s incredibly depressing. Thanks for the light summer reading, Rachel."

"There were other articles," Tina pointed out. "Alien invasions and stuff." She dug through her bag, pulled out her copy of the booklet and showed it to Kurt.

"Right, Madripoor," he said dryly. "I remember watching all that CNN coverage of the alien invasion with Dad. It ended with the near-destruction of the world and some heroes impaled together. This is really upbeat stuff."

Mercedes and Tina shot each other long-suffering looks. Digging out her own book, Mercedes opened it and shoved an article into Kurt’s face. "And here’s when the Fantastic Four sent Doctor Doom running back to Latveria," she said. It was a nice, bright, simple story where the good guys won and the world as a whole wasn’t threatened. "And again, and again, and… wow, he must really hate those guys," Mercedes mused as she flipped to yet another story about how Reed Richards and company had emerged victorious.

"We should keep working," Kurt said. He didn’t sound convinced.

Although Kurt was being a little annoying, Mercedes got where he was coming from. The mortality rate for superheroes was sky-high. She definitely wanted to try things out, but even with her excitement she felt reluctant to totally commit like Rachel. Truth be told, Santana’s plans of testing the waters of Columbus seemed more appealing than Rachel’s clear goals of world domination. Sure, superheroes seemed to pop back up after a few years, but dying had to hurt in the meantime. (Plus, the whole thing played around in theological waters that left her a little uncomfortable. "Just not dying in the first place" definitely seemed to be the better option.)

Three ringtones interrupted their work and they all checked their phones. "Rachel has another assignment for us," Kurt recited dryly. "We’re supposed to pick our superhero names. And she’s sent reference sites to us for inspiration. How thoughtful. I love that girl, but the gulf in our opinion over this whole hero thing could form its own hurricane system."

"Ooh," Mercedes said. "This’ll be fun."

"Maybe for you guys," Tina groused. "You know what powers you have."

"Maybe for Mercedes," Kurt said. "Haven’t you been paying attention to my dramatic protests? I still don’t want to have anything to do with this."

"Yeah. We’ve so noticed, trust us. Then why are you making all these costumes?" Tina asked. "And coming with us to Columbus on top of that? It's not like you normally follow Santana's orders."

"Well, for the first question: you should have heard the horrible things you were going to be forced to wear. As my friends, you deserve better." Kurt looked more annoyed as he continued, "As for the second point, Rachel is committed to throwing herself into danger."

"So you want to protect her, since you’re a ‘badass ninja?’" Mercedes said with a grin.

Kurt rolled his eyes. "No, since I realize perfectly well that Rachel can take care of herself. Finn doesn’t, though, and is going along to be her big, strapping hero."

"Oh," Tina said knowingly. "So you’re tagging along to protect brain boy Finn."

"That’d be it." Kurt squinted at a jacket that wasn’t too hideous, so far as a bargain basement find went. "I think this might be the right size," he mumbled as he looked for his measuring tape and began checking its dimensions. "Yeah," he concluded when he double-checked his results against a computer printout. Mercedes recognized it; he’d set it up originally for their Gaga costumes, when most of the singers had pitched in to make them. It had some of the club’s measurements. "This should fit Santana as-is. Um, let’s do something interesting with the front and then try to make pants, I guess. She can be our prototype. Whatever we get working for her, we can just duplicate."

"Makes sense," Tina said. "It’ll save time to make everything identical, right?"

"Right," Kurt said. "And as the sole person with a sewing machine capable of handling leather, who knows very well that you two are only temporary help…."

"You want to save time so you’re not pulling a whole bunch of all-nighters," Mercedes finished with a grin. "We get you. What do you need me to do?" She nodded as he showed how to mark the cutting lines for the pants, and then tried her best to duplicate the technique. "So, what’re you going to call yourself?" she asked as she drew white dotted lines in what she hoped was the shape of Santana’s legs. These things were looking tight. She’d have to give herself more leeway. Not that the entire state didn’t deserve a hero as smoking hot as she’d be in a skintight pair of leather pants, but they were heading into summer. Being smoking hot would be great and all, but she didn’t want to chafe. Chafing was not heroic.

(Of course, that didn’t make her give Santana’s pants any more room.)

"I don’t know," Kurt groaned. "So many of them have completely ridiculous names. And the few good ones are already taken. I’d just skip the whole thing if I didn’t think Rachel would start calling for ‘Our Stubborn Teammate Who Refuses To Name Himself Properly.’ In full. Every time."

Tina looked over from trying to make a formal pattern for what they were doing. "According to this, we’re supposed to check our names against this superhero wiki to make sure there’s not an active hero using it. I guess that makes sense." She paged to the next note. "Um, fictional characters are okay, if we have to."

"Can I suggest ‘Poison Ivy’ for Santana?" Kurt asked brightly.

Tina giggled. "No."

Mercedes giggled, too. Santana would kill them if she heard that they wanted her to name herself after an annoying itch.

"You know," Tina said as she started paging through one of the sites Rachel recommended, "my dad says those companies just all started up so they wouldn’t have to deal with the real superheroes’ lawyers. If they tell stories and make movies about ‘Superman’ living in ‘Metropolis,’ no one can sue them if they make a superhero look bad."

"Or a supervillain won’t try to kill them if they make them look bad," Kurt countered.

"Good point," Tina said. "I guess I’d rather make the good guy look stupid and get sued. But who’d want to watch a bunch of movies where the villains always win?"

"Yeah," Mercedes said as she watched Tina page through the wiki. "That’s no fun. Good guys always gotta win in the end." Of course, they got kicked around first, but she chose not to mention that. "Um. Okay, I hate to say anything, Tina…."

"I know, I know," Tina said as she dropped her phone against the bed and stared at it sadly. "I can’t really pick a name until I know what I can do."

Kurt patted her on the arm, careful not to get the pins he was holding anywhere close to her skin. "I’d give you mine if I could."

"Ugh, don’t taunt me," Tina whined. "Do you know how awesome it’d be to have illusion powers? I could walk into school wearing patent leather and lace from head to toe, and actually be in my sweats."

That sounded fantastic, Mercedes thought wistfully. Force fields might have a real advantage in a fight, and… whatever it was that she did with her arms probably had some effect if she let it build up a little more, but both of those were pretty limited in their application. Kurt could make whatever he wanted look like whatever he wanted. He never had to do his hair. He could be wearing any piece of clothing on the planet. He could… she caught something in his expression and lunged across the bed.

"No!" Kurt almost shrieked, and laughed as he tried to bat her away from his intricate shirt and its multitude of buttons. He’d paired it with leather wristbands and jeans so tight that they wrinkled when he sat down. It wasn’t an outfit designed for comfort.

The pajamas that she actually felt when she touched him were awfully comfortable, though. "You cheater," Mercedes said. "Kurt Hummel cheated on his wardrobe. What is wrong with the world? I bet the sky is green right now."

"We’re not even going outside!" Kurt tried to argue as Tina felt his leg and gasped similarly. "I’m just saving my more delicate pieces that require dry cleaning, and… and I’m still not happy about having these powers. Just so you know."

"Uh huh," Mercedes drawled. "We got all dressed up to come over here and you are sitting in your jammies."

"I am putting off a trip to the dry cleaner’s," Kurt said haughtily, "and that’s just all there is to it. I spent money on gas and ugly leather clothing. I can’t afford the cleaner’s."

"Hey!" Carole said from downstairs. "Kurt, a package came for you!"

Kurt shot them a dark look when they both cleared their throats pointedly. "Stop it, this is also for the costumes. I still need to save on dry cleaning. And besides. I love these pajamas." And then he was gone, probably in a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers.

"Okay, now that the big fun-sucking void is out of the room," Tina said as she leaned over, "seriously, what does it feel like to be able to call on superpowers?"

Mercedes giggled. "So freaking cool. Something comes at me and just… zap!" She wiggled her fingers. "I’ve got this magic bubble around me. I want to be able to learn how to control it, though. I looked up more on the Invisible Woman after Artie kept talking about her and she’s so cool. She can have her fields up all the time if she wants, and have people inside them… it’s pretty great."

"Ugh," Tina mock-whined and flopped against the pillows. "I am so jealous. I want… I don’t know what I want. Stretchy arms! Precognition! Healing factor!" She sat abruptly up. "Hey, maybe that’s it! I never tried cutting myself, maybe I have a healing factor! Of course we’d never test for that, and it’s something that wouldn’t show up on its own!" Mercedes looked on with anticipation as Tina grabbed one of the pins out of Kurt’s kit, raised it high, and then brought it down into the pad of her thumb.

"Ow," she said after that as a droplet of blood beaded and stayed there. Tina stuck her thumb in her mouth and sucked at the wound that was clearly not healing.

As Mercedes grimaced in sympathy, Kurt returned with a small box in his hands. "Did I miss something?" he asked as he saw Tina.

"Tina, it turns out, does not have a healing factor," Mercedes told him.

"Oh my god," Kurt groaned. "Tina, stop! It’ll come when it comes, and if it doesn’t, well, then you don’t run the risk of being locked up and experimented upon like the rest of us. What a tragedy. And pass me those scissors." When they were placed in his hand, he carefully slit open the packing tape on whatever he’d ordered and revealed a tightly-packed shipment of masks.

"Cool!" Mercedes said and claimed one. They were all identical: small black domino masks that would fit neatly around their eyes without losing much of their peripheral vision. She pressed it against her face and frowned when it fell off upon being released.

"Are those really going to hide who we are?" Tina asked dubiously.

"One, Santana has us shipping ourselves over to Columbus. We’re not being stupid enough to think that these will shield us from the people we know," Kurt said as he read the provided instruction sheet. "And two, the only mask options around here were for cheap plastic Halloween things with elastic bands. I had to order from a superhero supply store in Brooklyn, and trust me, fast shipping was not cheap. Full-head masks were not in the budget."

"Fair enough," Mercedes said as she pushed it against her face again and watched it fall back to the bed. "…Okay, but maybe elastic bands would be a good idea after all, I’m just saying."

"For the first step," Kurt read off the instruction sheet, "we need to mold the mask to each ‘hero’s’ face." He frowned slightly as he hit the points that followed and then headed for his bathroom with a mask in hand.

"I just love that there’s actually a ‘superhero supply store,’" Tina said as Kurt rummaged around for something. She could hear water running, and then him shoving things around inside drawers.

"Here, Mercedes," Kurt said as he held out a damp mask to her. "Apparently you have to soak them first, and then you press them on."

She tried that and could feel it mold to her facial structure in a way the dry one hadn’t. Kurt then whipped out a hairdryer, plugged it in, and told her to close her eyes. Warm air beat down upon her face and was slightly uncomfortable, but then she could feel the mask pull in tight and secure like it had suctioned on. The dryer clicked off after a few seconds more and Mercedes felt at her face. "Is that how it’s supposed to go?"

Kurt leaned in close and peered at her. "I think so. Is it on? I had Finn pick up some spirit gum in case it needs help sticking."

Mercedes pried a little at the edge of her mask and shook her head when it didn’t budge. "No, feels pretty secure." She glanced at a mirror and grinned at the sight: a mask like hers was pretty much Instant Hero, Just Add Water. She tried prying at it again and frowned. "…It comes off, right?"

Tina scooped up the instructions. "Yeah, it says you just need to pull. Expect to feel some resistance."

Trying again, Mercedes finally felt it come loose with a rush of relieved pressure. It really did feel like an oversized, glossy black suction cup had been on her face. "Huh," she said, turning the mask around to study it. It held her shape once it had been set: she could see the hollow of her eyes and bridge of her nose. Her skin, tender immediately after it came loose, was already returning to normal. "These guys know what they’re doing."

"I want one, I want one!" Tina exclaimed and grabbed the mask Mercedes had first played with. She retreated into the bathroom, and soon hopped back on the bed with the damp mask on her face.

"Don’t lie, you think this is interesting," Mercedes said to Kurt over the rush of the hair dryer.

"I think they’re a necessary precaution and that’s it," he said back.

"Then why’d your attention wander?" Mercedes asked, pointing at him.

Kurt looked down at himself and groaned when he saw that his carefully-constructed illusory outfit had vanished. He was in his pajamas for all to see. While they were nice pajamas, he was clearly embarrassed to suddenly be in them. His cheeks were red; he was forgetting to illusion those, too. "Oh god," Kurt muttered. His outfit flashed through a dozen variations before he seemed happy with one, or perhaps it simply took that long to settle when he was flustered. "This never happened, okay?"

"At least you didn’t accidentally imagine yourself naked!" Tina added with a giggle.

A moment later, Kurt’s cheeks darkened even further. He stood mechanically up, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door.

"We didn’t look!" Mercedes yelled after him.

"I looked," Tina said.

"Well, so did I," Mercedes hissed, "but we’re not supposed to tell him that!"

"I am not coming out of this room until you two are gone!" he said loudly.

Tina rolled her eyes. "We swear we didn’t look!" she said, this time loud enough for him to hear. "Kurt, come back out. We have costumes to make!"

"I clearly can’t design costumes and make costumes and talk to you and be worried about everything and keep an outfit in place all at the same time!" He paused. "I should probably get dressed."

Another voice joined him. "Dude, get out, I need to use the bathroom."

"I cannot go back into my room, Finn! Not unless you go chase out Tina and Mercedes."

"Why?" Finn near-whined. "Come on, I have to pee."

"Because they’re playing mind games and trying to get me to look naked in front of them!"

After a short pause, Kurt yelped. Finn made a similarly startled noise and groaned, "Oh god. Fine! I’ll go use another bathroom! Just… stop it!" He was probably covering his eyes, Mercedes thought with amusement, and tried not to burst out laughing when Kurt opened the door just far enough to poke his head through.

"So there’s definitely a slight issue when I get flustered and distracted," Kurt said. His cheeks were still blazing pink. "I seem to be a little open to suggestion."

"Good thing you weren’t trying to do multiplication tables in your head in Rachel’s basement," Tina said. "Or you could have given everyone quite a show."

"He wouldn’t have to be naked, Tina," Mercedes pointed out. "He could just be in that outfit from Black Swan."

"Ooh!" Tina said. "Emma Frost’s strappy white thing."

"Prince Naveen," Mercedes said dreamily. "He was so hot."

"When I was little I had this totally weird crush on Jack Skellington," Tina confided to her.

"And then he could be naked again," Mercedes said with a big grin in Kurt’s direction.

Kurt narrowed his eyes at both of them. "I am not going to give you the satisfaction of knowing if any of those worked on me."

Mercedes studied him. "It was Emma’s."

"I hate you. Pick out some clothes for me and pass them through the door."

Once he reluctantly returned and Mercedes and Tina finished lying that they hadn’t looked at all, they worked for a while in silence that was clearly easier on their end than his. But eventually Kurt relaxed, and although Mercedes occasionally noticed a brooch or scarf appearing on his outfit, he stayed mostly static.

"I hope this doesn't blow up in our faces," Kurt finally said.

"What, the costumes?" Mercedes asked without looking up from the article printouts. (Kurt had grabbed some pictures of the X-Men's outfits—black leather for days—and they were a good guideline.)

"Everything. Especially Columbus. I don't want to go, Mike doesn't, Brittany's iffy, Quinn isn't...."

"Quinn's really not going?" Mercedes asked, frowning.

"Sounds like it," Tina said.

"And besides her... half of us are going because they want fame and fortune, and I think the others are just going because we're worried about the first half." Kurt shook his head as he glanced at Santana's jacket and tried to mimic the general design for a custom one. "It's a recipe for very bad things happening."

"I'm not doing it for fame and fortune," Mercedes said. She saw Kurt's skeptical look and said, "Okay, not totally, anyway. Superheroes actually help people, you know? That's cool. Why not have your face on a t-shirt for something that really matters, you know?"

"There are ways to help people that are a lot less bloody," Kurt countered. He seemed to sense her reaching the end of her rope and added, "Can we drop it? I'm going, okay? I'm going, I'll contribute, I want everyone to make it out of things safely. That's as much of your way as you're going to get. You can't talk at me until I change my mind."

"Fair enough," the girls said together. They went back to work.

"Hey, did that sticky stuff I bought worked?" Finn eventually asked, poking his head out from the bathroom.

"Oh, we didn’t use it," Kurt said with a gesture to the costume shop bags Finn had brought earlier. "These masks are impressive, I have to admit. They don’t need spirit gum at all."

"Great," Finn said. "I’m so glad I got up early and ran over there for you." Kurt smiled apologetically.

"Check out how cool we look, though!" Tina said with excitement as she pressed her mask against her face. After a moment of resistance it clung tightly to her skin, and she lifted her hands above her head.

"Wow," Finn said, genuinely impressed. "You put that one thing on and you do totally look like a superhero."

"That’s totally what I thought!" Mercedes said excitedly, and held up her hand for him to high-five it. When Finn recognized the building anticipation in the room, he allowed himself to smile and ran over to slap their hands together. "You should take some lessons from him, Hummel," Mercedes said pointedly.

Kurt let out a pained groan. "Stop, stop! I thought we dropped this! Haven’t you been listening? I just want to make it to my freshman year of college without being a tragic statistic. Or having any of my friends be tragic statistics. Or any of the people around me that I care about—"

"We get the idea," Mercedes said dryly. "Show Finn your mask."

When Kurt finally gave in and put his on, Finn’s eyes sparkled. Mercedes putting hers on nearly drove him to jump up and down like a little kid at Christmas. "I want one!" Finn said. "Where’s mine?"

"Go soak it in the sink," Kurt told him, handing it over.

They took their masks off after a little more revelry; Carole had finally left, but it wouldn't do any good for a parent to surprise them with an unexpected visit. Still, even though the feeling faded from her skin, Mercedes still felt suited up for action. They had tasks ahead of them: making costumes, planning alibis for their trip, picking names.

But she'd heard Kurt's words floating through the night air when he was arguing with Rachel, and knew she had another task ahead of her: changing hearts and minds.

* * *

In the meantime, though, there were a whole lot of other potential danger zones where they might slip up. When they packed up their costumes after a first day of work, that danger had to come before any pep talks.

The bleachers during football practice weren’t Mercedes’ typical hangout. Any bleachers weren’t her thing, really. But hard, dirty, metal ones out in the mid-afternoon sun? They had to be among the worst of some across-the-board bad options. If she didn’t have her friends with her, she might well have blown things off. It wasn’t like the boys on the field would not accidentally use their powers thanks to them being there. Still, at least for the first day, they agreed that having some outsider observers would be a good thing. With how hard their coach pushed them, Finn, Mike, and Puck might not even realize they were screwing up.

Kurt had brought a sun parasol and didn’t care one bit what the football team thought about him. Mercedes and Tina had positioned themselves to also take advantage of its angled shade. "So far," Kurt said with clear relief as he watched Finn direct the team on drills, "so good. I think he’s very believable as a non-telepath, don’t you?"

Tina’s eyes were focused exclusively on Mike. "Don’t start flying," she said quietly. "Don’t start flying, don’t start flying." Puck, fortunately, was sticking close to Mike when the drills allowed it. He was under strict orders to tug Mike back to the dirt if the boy ever started inching upward. The two of them occasionally ran too fast, though, and would have to pull themselves back with an awkward overcorrection that had teammates eying them.

Still, it had only been a few days of practicing with their powers. They’d probably settle into things. Kurt’s physical abilities seemed to come entirely naturally to him, but even beyond the outfit hilarity, he’d mentioned headaches if he tried to push his illusions very far. Mercedes still felt about a million miles behind what Sue Storm could manage. And poor Tina still had no idea what, if anything, she could do.

Sam ran past the bleachers, saw them, and waved. His smile practically sparkled in the sun. Mercedes felt her cheeks grow warm and waved back, only to realize that Tina and Kurt were cluelessly following suit. Letting his gaze linger on her for a few seconds longer, Sam then smiled again and ran to join his teammates when Finn called for a new drill.

"It is going to be so hard to hide this from people," Tina groaned.

"I know," Kurt said sadly. "My first reaction—when it seemed to be only Finn—was that we should tell our parents. And I still sort of want to. I know it just has the potential to absolutely blow up in our faces if we do. I mean, my dad might realize that we’d be headed for some lab if all of a sudden there are nearly a dozen sets of superpowers with no explanations, and keep his mouth shut. But am I right? Would he really? And would everyone else?"

Mercedes frowned thoughtfully. Yeah, they couldn’t count on all of those parents to do what their kids pleaded of them, rather than trying to make decisions in their best interest. "Quinn’s mom’d probably do what she thought was best for her," she admitted, thinking back to some of the conversations they’d had during Quinn’s pregnancy. Some of them had rocks to lean upon; others weren’t so lucky.

"And it just takes one person talking to the cops or the hospital," Tina said. "Then we’re not only dangerous, we’re dangerous and trying to hide it. Yeah, that’d look great."

"Well, you wouldn’t be in trouble," Mercedes said. "You don’t even know what your powers are." Tina tried to smack her across the side of the head and Mercedes giggled. She didn’t know why Tina was so worried; they’d show up when they showed up. There was no way that she was the only exception with absolutely no explanation, just no way.

After Tina had finished glaring at her, Mercedes turned to Kurt and reluctantly continued, "And you know… it’s not just our parents."

"I know," he said. He looked utterly despondent. "Believe me, I know perfectly well that I can’t tell Blaine. But I also feel like I should warn him in case I take off a hat one day and he’s surprised by a set of horns. It has to be so much easier dating someone inside the group, Tina."

Mercedes felt awkwardly at her forehead. She knew Kurt was at the very top of the list for being paranoid over changes in their physical appearances. It’d be nice if he would be a little less specific about what he was worried about, though; he was making everything far too real. But even as she felt her skull she knew perfectly well that she was distracting herself from the conversation between her two friends.

Tina patted Kurt on the shoulder. "Secret identities are pretty standard for superheroes, right?"

"Ugh," he mock-cried. "Don’t call me that. I am simply Finn’s babysitter in a domino mask."

"And a leather catsuit. That’s into pretty weird babysitter territory."

"Still," Kurt said. "Don’t use the S-word."

Tina smiled in amusement for a few beats more, then turned her attention back to the boys on the field. "There’s someone else that we have to worry about, you know."

"Believe me," Kurt said as they watched Puck jog. He’d had a ridiculous smile on his face like a lottery winner from the very first moment he’d stepped into practice. It was a wonder no one had found out his secret already. "I know that, too. I can keep my mouth shut around Blaine. But is Puck really going to be able to resist showing off for Lauren? He loves his powers."

Puck saw them and started grinning as he ran by. His smile lingered warmly over their group much like Sam's had, and Mercedes turned to see if Lauren had popped up out of nowhere. No, strange. Puck hadn't been looking right at her, at least; it would have been just her luck for his weirdass flirting to come back just when she finally had a boyfriend. She turned back to the field and he'd already moved on.

"Look at him," Kurt said wryly, shaking his head. "He can't even resist showing off for us."

Something seemed weird, but before Mercedes could say anything she heard Tina suck in a huge gasp. Mike had thrown himself into the air to catch a pass... and then he came back down to earth. They all relaxed and refocused on the exercises at midfield.

Kurt checked his phone with surprise when I'll Cover You started playing. "I didn't realize how late it had gotten," he said as he answered the call. "Hey," he said. Happiness mingled with nerves and Mercedes knew exactly who it had to be. He'd mentioned that Dalton's classes ran later than theirs. Blaine was in the midst of finals, which was a convenient distraction keeping him away from the craziness swirling around New Directions. "How'd English go? Oh, come on, all that tuition and you had to hand-write your essays? I happen to know for a fact they have good computer labs there."

Tina and Mercedes smiled at each other. It was so good to see Kurt finally happy like that. Of course, it would be nice if Mercedes could reveal she was in the same position. Sam jogged by again and she forced herself not to wave.

"At Finn's football practice," Kurt answered to the apparent question. "Oh, just... giving him some support."

Tina grabbed the phone. "And we're making sure Sue doesn't kill the football team and burn their bodies as a blood offering," she added with a glance to another part of the field, where the squadron was going through warm-ups. "Hi! It's Tina, by the way."

Kurt snatched back his phone and rolled his eyes tolerantly. "Blaine, I just put you on speaker."

"Hi, Blaine," Tina and Mercedes both cooed. "We love you."

"Hi, girls," he said wryly. "I'd hate to interrupt your blood offering patrol, but can I steal Kurt in an hour or so?"

"You have to study for history tomorrow," Kurt said so quickly he nearly tripped over the words. "You have to go home and study all evening. We can't see each other until your finals are over, remember?"

"Will you excuse us for a moment?" Mercedes asked sweetly and covered the phone with her hand. "Kurt Hummel, you listen to me. You are dating this boy and you are going to go spend time with him and like it. You were way too twitchy just then, you sounded like you were trying to cover up an affair or something!"

Kurt frowned and seemed to review his words. Then he shook his head and said intently, "But Mercedes, I keep changing my outfit. Remember? Even when I got dressed I still added things here and there. What would I tell him?"

Tina considered that and then took the phone from Mercedes. "Hey, Blaine?" she asked, glancing at Kurt. "What do you say about Mike and I taking the two of you out to celebrate the end of your finals, okay?"

That still left Kurt looking worried, and so Tina covered the phone again just long enough to whisper, "It's like what we're doing here, okay? We'll be lookouts for any problems. We can try to notice any changes before he does." When Kurt still hesitated, she asked, "What, are you just never going to see him again?"

"Of course not," Kurt said.

"Great!" Tina said and uncovered the phone. "Blaine, that's a yes on me and Mike taking out the two of you. But you have to pass all your finals first."

"Do we have any choice in the matter?" Blaine asked good-naturedly.

"No," Tina said. "Not really."

"I'd just go with it," Kurt agreed. Mercedes was relieved to see that, under some annoyance, his smile looked genuine. "I just really want you to do well on your finals and I know this semester was kind of hectic. I can give you up for a week if it means you'll be headed toward As." His words sounded convincing, but he must be in the midst of emotional turmoil. A half-dozen plaid patterns flashed across his pants as he spoke. He clicked off the phone's speaker, brought it back to his ear, and smiled. "Love you, too. Go study."

And then he clicked off the phone, leaned back, and clunked his head against a hard metal seat. "Ow." Tina rubbed his shoulder and he looked at her balefully. "You'd better be prepared to catch any slip-ups." Then, with a dramatic sigh, he sat up and checked his skin tone in a compact mirror.

"We'd let you know if you were turning green," Mercedes said. "Seriously. Stop worrying."

"I know," he said, but then pulled out his compact again and pulled his eye open wide. Apparently he trusted them to notice skin tone, but not if he started getting creepy Gambit eyes or something.

Mercedes shook her head and watched the boys on the field. They seemed to have everything under control. Glancing over to the cheerleaders, she saw Santana also in fine shape. And Brittany wasn't randomly forcing Sue to dance the rhumba or turning her into a potted plant, so that was probably a good sign. "I think we're going to be able to do this, guys," she said, allowing herself to hope.

"Make it through this week?" Tina asked. Mike ran by and grinned right at her; she waved cutely back.

"Make it through everything." Yeah. They'd do it. They'd have their real costumes with their real masks, and they were going to be real superheroes. Powers would come under control. Romances would work out. And no one would turn green.

All that was left was talking to one more person.

* * *

"Mercedes," Quinn said uncertainly as she opened the door. "I didn’t expect to see you."

"Guess you wouldn’t have," Mercedes said. After saying goodbye to Kurt and Tina she'd set off driving for the Fabrays, without telling them her plans. "Can I come in?"

Though she hesitated momentarily, Quinn then nodded and stepped back to let the door swing open. "Of course."

Mercedes had never been inside Quinn’s house. It was nice and orderly, which matched the image Quinn tried so hard to portray to the school: the perfect WASPy princess. Their friendship had stalled not too long after Quinn moved back home, and so she’d never verified that the stage set matched the acting. "Hi," she said when she saw Quinn’s mother emerge from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. "I’m Mercedes."

"Mercedes," Judy said with faint familiarity. Her eyebrows rose abruptly. "Oh. Are you the girl who let my Quinny stay with you?"

"That was me," Mercedes said a little uncomfortably. It wasn’t exactly the high point of Quinn’s life, being kicked out like that. If it were her, she wouldn’t want her mom to talk about it. A quick glance at Quinn told her that she was right; Quinn looked tightly withdrawn. Desperately wanting something to talk about, she said, "Um, your house is really nice."

Judy smiled. It was strained, genuine but tired. "Thank you so much. Why don't you go to Quinn's room? I can bring you girls something. It's so nice to see you with a friend over, Quinn. What would you like?"

"You don't have to, Mom," Quinn said.

"But I'd like to bring you some snacks. You never have friends over."

"Whatever we have, then," Quinn said. She sounded embarrassed. "Come on, Mercedes. My room's down this hall."

"Seriously, your house is nice," Mercedes said when they had settled inside Quinn's room. She was perched on the edge of some old rocking chair with a floral cushion. Even though it was spotlessly clean, it gave the impression of being filled with three generations' worth of dust.

"So's yours," Quinn retorted like Mercedes had said something wrong.

Okay, clearly she was in the middle of something. And trying to fumble her way without a map probably wouldn't work, so Mercedes figured she might as well just be honest. At least then, if she screwed up, she'd have done it her way. "I don't know why you stopped being my friend," Mercedes said simply and waited for the fireworks.

"Neither do I," Quinn said just as baldly.

Mercedes blinked. She really hadn't expected that.

"I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what I've been doing all year. And now we had all of this happen to us, and I don't even know what I am," Quinn said with a dramatic gesture to the mirror. "Did Santana send you here to talk to me?"

"No. I came on my own." Quinn Fabray wasn't exactly forthcoming. For her to just dump all those words out like that... she probably wanted someone to talk to. Mercedes considered everything she'd heard before asking, "So... Santana and Brittany don't come over?" Quinn shook her head and Mercedes frowned again. The three girls seemed close, but maybe it was an 'outside the house' sort of friendship.

Well, she might as well just keep plowing forward blindly. "Why aren't you coming with us?" Mercedes asked.

Quinn laughed bitterly. "To do what? Do you really think we're going to make a name for ourselves by wandering around a city, looking for trouble?"

"I guess we won't know until we try. And Rachel's the one who wants to make a name for herself," Mercedes said. The way Quinn flinched when she said the name 'Rachel' said there was still a lot of bad blood there. "Some of us just want to figure out what we even can do now."

"Yeah," Quinn said, turning to look out the window. "That would be nice."

The door swinging open interrupted Mercedes' response. A tray full of miniature rice cakes and carrot sticks were on the plate, along with two bottles of what promised to be zero-calorie iced tea. Gross. She didn't need pizza or cookies, and carrots were actually pretty tasty, but who bought rice cakes on purpose? Flavored styrofoam was not a snack. She'd probably rather have the real stuff; at least then it wouldn't go into a landfill.

"Thanks, Mom," Quinn said as Judy placed the tray on her dresser.

"Welcome, dear," she said with a smile. Before she left, she tucked an out-of-place lock of hair behind Quinn's ear.

"So how'd your mom take it when you came home with short hair?" Mercedes finally asked to get the conversation moving again.

"She didn't like it," Quinn shrugged. "She said a lot of things about how she supposed it worked with 'my bone structure,' but she thinks girls in high school should have long hair. I look thirty, apparently."

"Then a lot of thirty year olds would want your moisturizer secrets, girl," Mercedes said and Quinn managed to smile. "Look. Ever since this broke I've been dealing with Kurt, and he's... you know, he surprised me. I expected him to be all over this. I expected him to be like Rachel. But I guess it makes sense. We got those workbooks and some of the superheroes in those stories use their real names. But Kurt wouldn't. He's already had someone die and another parent come close to it. And he doesn't want to be famous for being someone else, behind a mask. He has his dreams for the future."

She waited for Quinn to speak up and continued when she didn't. "Rachel—yes, I mentioned her name, stop making that face—probably thinks she can have everything work magically out. We've been working on the costumes and we've got masks. But I bet she doesn't even think she needs one."

"And Santana just wants to be in charge because Finn and Rachel were," Quinn said knowingly, shaking her head. "You all are going to be lucky if you don't wind up dead."

"Yeah. That's something else Kurt said. He doesn't want to do this, but he's still going to look out for people." Mercedes leaned forward. Their snacks went ignored, carrots and styrofoam alike. "I know you don't have a good answer for why you threw me aside this year, but I was one person. You really gonna throw aside everyone in that club? You're worried about people 'winding up dead' and are still just gonna wave as we drive off?"

Quinn looked down, but she seemed conflicted. And sad, and stubborn, and lord almighty this girl could be like a brick wall.

Maybe it shouldn't be about other people. Maybe this argument should be about her. "It's like service projects," Mercedes said. "Look, I know it doesn't compare to what you went through, but when I was in elementary school my dad almost had to declare bankruptcy. It wasn't even his fault. He had a partner in his practice who stole some money and left town. And the lawyers and the police got it all straightened out, but that took a while, you know? In the meantime he had a lot of expensive equipment to pay for, and rent checks to write, and no money to do it with. Things got really, really tight around our house for a while."

Quinn watched warily, but seemed willing to hear wherever Mercedes was going with her story.

"I was only in the fifth grade. All I knew was that everyone else got new clothes for school and I got squat." Mercedes laughed a little. "I bet I was a total brat. I've got no idea how they handled me. And then I heard that we were still going to give up one Saturday a month to work at our church's soup kitchen."

"And you weren't happy about that," Quinn surmised with a slight smile.

"I was pissed off," Mercedes giggled. "If they'd thought I was complaining before... yeah. But then my mom sat me down and had a talk with me. She said that we don't help people because it's easy or fun, but because it's the right thing to do. And it makes us better people to give something of ourselves to other people, whether we've got five dollars to spare or five thousand."

"Did it work?" Quinn asked.

"No, I still pouted every charity Saturday for that whole year," Mercedes said wryly. "I mean, I was ten years old, you know? But looking back, I'm really glad I did it. Because I helped people. And I was just lucky enough to be in a place where I could still give help, instead of really needing it."

"Sometimes I feel like I need help," Quinn admitted after a long pause. "And I don't know where I'd even ask for it. I just... I don't know what I'm doing."

"Well," Mercedes said gently, "it's kinda a cliche, but sometimes helping others really helps you too, you know?"

"I've been terrible to you this year," Quinn finally said. "You helped me and then I... I was trying to figure out who I was. You didn't fit in."

Yeah, that kind of stung. And kind of made Mercedes want to pull out a few choice words for Quinn. But this was like the fifth grade, she reminded herself; some people needed it more. And whatever had made Quinn so brittle behind her perfect, icy mask... Mercedes was better off. The awkward romances, leaving the Cheerios, the posters all over school, the failed campaign for prom queen: Quinn had kept setting her sights high and stumbling. Now she didn't even want to leave her room.

"We'd all fit in if you'd let us," Mercedes said. "You've got friends. You just have to let us in. Again. And this time, not kick everyone out."

Quinn just looked so damned lost. Those ice powers sure were a good match; she was in her own private wasteland.

"We're working on costumes," Mercedes eventually continued. "Me, Kurt, and Tina. At Kurt's. It's been fun, but we don't know if we'll be able to finish in time. Maybe you could come over and—"

She was already shaking her head. "I can deal with being around Finn in a big group. At his house is a little much." Quinn managed a weak smile. "And his mom barely tolerated me when she saw me again. Without the excuse of dating...."

"So maybe I bring some stuff over here," Mercedes suggested. "Kurt and Tina can piece together the big stuff. We can make it look awesome."

Quinn looked up and met her gaze. Her soft hazel eyes were watery and sad, until the moment when she managed a tremulous smile. "Kurt would not let us pick the final design for the costumes."

"Well," Mercedes said, "we'd have to follow his plans. Or he'd probably stab us in our sleep, you're right. But we can do the finishing work. Or tackle... gloves and stuff. Little things."

"I could do that," Quinn finally said in a soft, tremulous voice. "During the day, when my mom's gone. So she won't come in and ask what we're doing. She doesn't really knock."

"Okay," Mercedes said, leaning forward to pat her hand. Eventually she'd have to deal with talking about Sam, about how to keep Quinn from being so weird and withdrawn when 'we all might die' was off the table, and a bunch of other things. But this was a first step. First steps were good. "I'll be by tomorrow. I'll bring you your mask. And you can tell me your code name, okay? You can work on that tonight."

Quinn didn't look confused by the reference, which meant that she'd read Rachel's texts. "Okay. Um. Do you want...?"

"If you try to force one of those rice cakes on me I swear I'll bubbleshield it right back at you," Mercedes said instantly, and a real, broad smile broke apart Quinn's controlled expression.

As she left, all she could think about was the contrast between Kurt’s house and Quinn’s. Kurt didn’t always get along with his father, but there was never any doubt that they were there for each other or that they loved each other. Quinn’s mother fumbled and tried her best, but she’d failed her daughter when she needed her the most. And she was nothing compared to the absolute trainwreck that her father had been. Mercedes had ranted to her own dad about what sort of horrible person would do that to his own child, even before she’d become friendly with Quinn. They both agreed that it wasn’t right.

But what could she do? She’d helped when she could, and now Quinn and her mom were clearly figuring things out as best as they could. Family was family, you only got the one, and it was the luck of the draw as to how things worked out.

Mercedes got in her car, pulled her seatbelt across her chest, and started the engine. She'd be sure to pick a name that evening before she went to sleep. Then, tomorrow, she and Quinn could talk about who they were going to be.

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