miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-10-06 11:13 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 7/?)

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: 9200
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: Another giant chapter! Between the first appearance of romance and some full-on action, this was designed to be a sweeps episode, basically. Next week: more action and more romances shaping up! (Or should I say: a triangle.)







"Here," Brittany said. She pulled her hand from behind her back and revealed a perfect pink rose. "This is for you."

Santana froze and then felt warmth pepper her cheeks. She struggled to contain her reaction, but fighting back that blush was futile.

She'd never gotten flowers before.

Trying to at least not smile like a complete idiot, Santana said, "Um, thanks. What's this for?" She looked for a place to put it and then went still as Brittany carefully stripped the thorns and tucked it behind her ear.

"I was brushing Lord Tubbington," Brittany said as she sat on the end of her bed. Even in the midst of dealing with the insurance adjusters at Santana's house and the total 'no fucking way' that was their life with superpowers, being at Brittany's was soothing. It felt like home even more than her own house, sometimes. "That used to be his pink plastic brush."

"Oh," Santana said, reaching up to touch the rose in her hair. It felt real.

"I still have no idea what I'm doing with my powers," Brittany admitted as she began to french braid her hair. "Weird stuff just happens when it happens. I guess I'm kind of like Artie. He doesn't know what he'll make, either."

Santana's good mood vanished. She was able to be around Artie, but that didn't mean she wanted to hear Brittany randomly bring him up as a topic of discussion. Shouldn't she have moved on? "Yeah, it's weird," she agreed as she sat on the couch and watched Brittany's fingers nimbly tuck her golden hair into a neat braid. "I still can't always figure out when I'm going to call fire." Although, when Sue had compared her to a holstein during practice, it had been really tempting to see if she could manage to make her megaphone explode. "I know I've mentioned it before, but I still love that Finn reads minds," she added with a smirk.

"I think it makes sense," Brittany said.

"Seriously?"

"Well, when you don't know what something means, then you read books. And now Finn's reading minds."

Santana snorted. There was one take on it, she guessed.

An unknown voice piped suddenly up. Santana started looking wildly around for the intruder and Brittany's fingers froze on her braid. "Birds. Fast birds. Hate clear wall! Clear wall bad, want birds!"

Santana slowly turned to the window and the source she suddenly knew would be there. "Oh my god, your cat is talking."

Lord Tubbington was crouching on the windowsill. His tail twitched. His rump was high in the air. "Birds."

Brittany looked at him for a long while, then back to Santana and sighed. "Yeah, I really don't know how to control my powers."

When the cat hopped off its perch and trotted out of the room, Santana scooted back so he wouldn't come anywhere near her. This was just too strange. At least he only meowed as he left, having apparently lost his ability to speak with the same speed as it arrived. "Okay, so your whole power is that... you can make anything happen?" she asked with disbelief.

"I guess," Brittany said with a shrug and returned to braiding her hair.

"Wow." Hopefully she didn't turn Santana into a tomato or something. Note to self, Santana thought grimly: don't mention tomatoes.

"Why are you being the captain, anyway?" Brittany wondered as she tied a ribbon around the end of her completed braid. "Do you really want to be a superhero?"

"Wouldn't suck," Santana said. "I don't know. I just hated the idea of Rachel doing it after she screwed us over so hard at Nationals. Like, why does she automatically get everything? I'm good at things, too."

"I don't know if Rachel gets everything," Brittany said after a moment of thought. "I mean, everyone tells her she sucks a lot. We looked way better in her sweaters. And the two of us are way more popular."

"Yeah," Santana said darkly. "For now."

"Why wouldn't I be popular?" Brittany asked with obvious confusion.

"Not you." Brittany's beautiful pale eyes crinkled in sympathy at Santana's answer, but she looked ready to give another pep talk about accepting herself and being strong and seriously, Santana couldn't take that. She just wanted something to be easy. To work. For everyone to point at her and go, "Yes! Just like that!"

People did that for superheroes, right? They fucking loved superheroes.

"I don't have Finn's powers, you know," Brittany said.

"Huh?" Santana asked.

"You look like you're thinking something. But I can't read your mind, so unless you use your words...." She shrugged.

"Let's make out," Santana said. It was an obvious distraction and Brittany clearly knew it. She looked unimpressed, and it was a rare day that Brittany looked that unenthused about the idea of anything physical. But she accepted it when Santana stood, sat next to her on the bed, and began slowly unraveling the braid that Brittany had just tied into place. Fingers stole through pale hair, lips met wetly, and pliant bodies pressed against the mattress.

Outside the room, they weren't anything. Girlfriends needed a label. Labels were... Santana wasn't ready for it. Not just yet.

She wasn't ready for labels.

Unless it was something that everyone loved. Santana saw a magazine cover on Brittany's floor as they rearranged themselves and broke off for air: Captain America, leader and most adored of all the Avengers.

Everyone loved a good captain.

* * *


It was Thursday, the day before their grand voyage to Columbus, and Santana's fingers were practically twitching in anticipation. While her seizing control of the group had been an impulsive decision, she was becoming more excited the closer the moment came. For that night they'd simply told their parents that they were seeing friends. The big mission was being covered by an alibi of a group trip to see a concert in the city. Everyone had told their parents about the need to really focus if they were going to win Nationals next year, and they'd all gotten permission to go.

"So, what exactly are we going to be doing in Columbus?" Quinn asked as she flipped through a newspaper in Rachel's basement and then tossed it to Santana.

Santana didn't have an immediate answer to Quinn's question. It wasn’t like the paper screamed out any signs for them to follow. The lead story was all about the resignation of the Buckeyes’ coach. Other featured headlines talked about unemployment rates, election overhauls, and a charity golf tournament. There wasn't anything announcing, "Come here, would-be heroes! Test yourselves against this handy stockpile of easily-bruised starter villains!"

Of course, the newspaper wasn't the right place to look. Maybe in a city the size of New York they'd have enough kingpins to cause a steady string of crimes, but Columbus, Ohio didn't exactly measure up there. They wanted the stupid little guys who stole purses just because they could or tried to grab a girl coming out of a bar.

They wanted petty criminals and a high crime rate. That meant that they just had to hit SpotCrime and check where the latest sightings were. "There," Santana said as she pointed to a cluster of symbols covering everything from assault to theft. "That's where we're going. East of the university. Look at that concentration; we'll be able to stop something."

Artie wheeled over and looked at the map on Rachel's laptop. Turning back to everyone, he admitted, "Our terrifying commandant makes a good point."

Rachel made a sharp noise of protest. "I am your terrifying comm... I mean, I'm the captain!" Finn cleared his throat. "Finn and I are the captains!"

"Still up for debate," Santana said cheerfully. "Remember? So, what are we naming this team of ours? I mean. Of mine."

"I still propose calling ourselves the Golden Stars," Rachel said. Kurt made a sympathetic noise at her, but scrunched up his face as he shook a firm 'no.'

"We are not naming ourselves after Rachel's trademark," Mercedes said firmly. "Nuh uh."

"Well, do you have any better ideas?" Rachel asked.

"Yes," Santana said when she realized the question was directed at her, although she totally didn't.

"Which is?" Rachel asked. Her eyebrow crawled up her forehead. She must have taken lessons from Kurt on that move.

"We could be... uh... New Directions," Santana said, although she grimaced as she said it.

"Yeah, there's a good way to keep our secret identities hidden," Tina said.

"Look, I got caught off guard, okay?" Santana snapped. "I'll think of something."

"We just need a name that makes us sound awesome," Finn said thoughtfully. He folded his arms across his chest and said, "Like... like the Awesomes."

Everyone was quiet for a minute. "Everyone in favor of not settling on a name until we think of a good one?" Quinn asked. A vast majority of hands shot into the air.

"In any case," Kurt said, and pulled out the bags he'd toted there, "I have costumes for everyone. Again, they're just first drafts. We needed something to provide a sense of unity and to offer some protection, and more importantly: something that could be finished in one week's time and budget. Santana, yours happens to be the most polished, so if you could try it on?"

Ooh, exciting. She hurried over there to see what he'd done, and saw with minor disappointment that he was pulling pieces of black leather out of a whole pile of identical material. What good was he if he'd made uniforms for them instead of real costumes? It wasn't going to be any fun to be standardized so much, she thought as she accepted the pieces and then headed to the bathroom to change. She could just wear a Cheerios uniform if she wanted to look identical to everyone else. Behind her, she could hear Kurt giving instructions on what they should do with the masks he'd brought. "And bring out the hair dryer, Santana!" he called after her.

After a vague acknowledgement she closed the door and undressed. The pants were nice, tight and flattering, but the jacket was nothing special. She made a few faces in the mirror and grabbed the dryer as requested, then headed out. Although people seemed generally pleased at the idea of a costume, Santana's individual disappointment soon became impossible to hide. Kurt saw her displeasure and, with a short, annoyed sigh, asked her what was wrong. She trailed her fingers toward her jaw line as she said, "This goes up to my neck."

"Right?" he said as he checked something on her shoulders and then scribbled a few notes. "It's leather. Sort of thin, it won't offer a lot of protection, but it'll still stop random shrapnel." Upon reviewing his words, he sighed again. "I'm actually designing something for other people and it blocks shrapnel. What is my life, really?"

Santana grumbled as she thought about how superheroines were supposed to look: hot. They were tough, strong, and totally distracted their opponents with their awesome racks barely contained by skintight spandex. That was how it worked. Kurt was so clueless. She decided to make the best of a bad situation and fumbled for the zipper, then tugged it down and let the pull rest neatly between her breasts.

She was busy adjusting her cleavage when she realized Kurt was staring at her. Kissing the air made him grimace.

"Pull that zipper back up," Kurt said. He sounded pained.

"No. I look awesome and you were trying to hide me." She needed to find the right push-up bra to wear under her costume. If she only had a narrow window of cleavage, she really had to take advantage of it.

"I was trying to protect everyone from being hit by flying rocks!" Kurt stared pointedly at her, but like that would work; Santana always won staring contests. Eventually he threw his hands into the air. "Fine. Come over here, draw on this sketch and tell me how you want to look."

"Wait," Mercedes asked. "Santana gets to pick her outfit? We were making everyone look the same. Why does Santana get to look different?"

"I want my own outfit, then," Tina agreed. "I've got tons of ideas."

"Can I trade these pants for jeans?" Finn asked when everyone started crowding around Kurt and demanding customizations. He looked ready to weep.

Santana smirked and returned to adjusting her cleavage.

For a while they were consumed with telling Kurt what they wanted for costumes, chatting about what they would manage to do in Columbus, and soothing nerves. Mike seemed to be the worst, as he was absolutely convinced that his parents would find out what he was doing and ground him from glee club. And football. And dancing, and television, and breathing. Wow, Santana thought as she looked at pictures of the city and tried to get a feeling for what they'd be facing. And she'd thought disinterested parents were bad.

After that time of chaos and wasted time, Artie was the one to gather them all together. He retrieved something from his bag and presented them to the gathered crowd. "Oh, so I don't forget before tomorrow. Here, I made these little communicators out of the cell phones I, um, borrowed."

Mike looked concerned. "Wait, am I not getting my phone back?"

Artie hesitated. "Probably not. So, I'll take one communicator and keep a lookout from my van," he said without acknowledging Mike's distraught expression. "I made four others so far. Who wants one?"

"Mine!" Santana and Rachel both said, grabbing for them. They looked askance at the other girl as they arrived at Artie's hand at the same time.

"Finn should take another one," Rachel said. Oh, of course she did. Of course the communicators had to go to their little automatic leader duo. After a moment of thought she added, "And Puck."

"No," Santana said. "They should go to Brittany and Quinn."

The group looked between the two girls. The fight was on.

"And what's your logic behind that?" Rachel asked, folding her arms across her chest.

"What's your logic?" Santana asked right back. Because it was pretty clear and pretty selfish: Rachel wanted her boyfriend and kosher buddy to get these new little toys. Smirking, she added, "And let's say Artie made another. Who would you give it to?" The favoritism was about to become totally obvious, because she'd pick—

"Kurt," Rachel said.

"There's a shocker," Santana snorted.

Rachel smiled. "Finn is the obvious choice because of his telepathy. Artie can relay messages to him, and then he can relay them silently to anyone else."

Wait, shit. That made sense.

"Puck is the only person with purely physical abilities, and so he seems to have total control. If Artie sees a problem, Puck is the most reliable person we have right now to be able to deal with it." Oh, that bitch was so smug as she pierced Santana's attempts to show her up. Rachel knew exactly what Santana had been doing. "And Kurt can move quietly and invisibly. He's the best choice to go off on his own if needed, and so it would be good to have a way to stay in contact with him." Rachel's voice was sickly sweet and innocent as she replied, "But what was your logic behind picking Brittany and Quinn? I'm completely willing to be convinced."

Santana raised her chin. "Quinn's got way more successful leadership experience than you. Like I do."

"And Brittany?"

There was no possible answer there. Brittany had no control over her powers. Even if she did, they weren't the go-to solution for solving anything like Puck's were. Mike would be a better option because he could scout like Kurt. Tina would be a better option because, until she found her powers, she could blend completely into a crowd. She still thought Quinn was a good answer, but in terms of team management there was no defending Santana naming her best friend.

And everyone knew it. "Whatever, Finn and Puck are fine," Santana said shortly. "Like Finn'll be able to concentrate enough to hear Artie and think at us at the same time, though."

"What's the girl equivalent of a dick measuring contest?" she heard Tina giggle to Mercedes. Santana glared at her and wondered if she could set someone's eyeballs on fire.

"We gotta head out again, guys," Finn said, glancing at his watch.

"Yeah, I don't want to push my luck," Mike agreed.

That set off a grand exodus, with everyone promising to see each other tomorrow. Kurt said he would make what costume changes he could, but most would have to wait. Rachel talked about practice plans. Artie apologized over the broken cell phones.

Santana tried to clear her mind, and think of nothing but her face on bedroom walls. She'd do it. Just wait.

* * *


Friday evening arrived. Miraculously, everyone showed up.

After reviewing their numbers, the group decided to only take two cars. It was fewer vehicles to worry about and less gas to buy. Anything that might potentially raise parents' suspicions was bad. Fortunately, the few seats in Artie's modified van could hold the spillover that didn't quite fit into Kurt's stupidly huge SUV.

Santana had ridden in both cars. She knew which she was aiming for. Smoking hot superhero captains deserved leather seating and a DVD player.

Expectedly, Mercedes, Finn, and Rachel all headed straight for Kurt's car. After some friendly scuffles over who deserved shotgun, Finn won by pointing out that he was big and no one would want to share a bench seat with him. Fair point. Santana called Brittany over, and when she turned was surprised to see a big hunk of muscle and bad haircut also standing there.

"I wanna ride with Kurt," Puck said, shrugging. "What?"

"Wasn't Artie, like, your 'bro' this year?" Santana asked him, making air quotes with her fingers.

"I don't know, I just want to be here. You got a problem with that?"

"Ugh, I guess not," Santana said. She didn't know why him getting along so well with Kurt was weirding her out, but it totally was.

Tina, Mike, and Quinn waved before hopping inside Artie's van. Quinn's blonde head soon appeared at shotgun, leaving the back seat to the others. Oh, how adorable. Mike and Tina were left alone. That meant the happy couple could make out all the way to Columbus. And wouldn't that just be hilariously awkward for one Mr. Abrams to deal with.

Excellent, she smirked as she climbed in next to Brittany.

"Can we watch a movie?" Brittany asked when she saw the screen.

"I borrowed these to ramp us up," Mercedes said with a giggle as she showed them a DVD box. "Kind of on the nose, but...."

Oh, great, Santana thought as they all buckled in, checked with Artie over their communicators, and then pulled away from the curb. 'On the nose' was a total understatement. Lima flashed past their windows and everyone started discussing when they should take off the clothes covering their costumes. Then, when they were well underway, the Teen Titans theme started blaring from Kurt's speakers.

After three episodes Puck and Santana demanded a break from animated superheroic antics. It was pure, instinctive self-interest. That bouncy earworm that they called a theme song? No. She couldn't take it. Not again. But after a wave of relief, she realized the inevitable fallout of this decision: now she was crammed in a car with all of those people and there was nothing to do but talk.

Rachel was the first one to start a conversation. She leaned up to Kurt and Finn in the front seats and asked, "You know, I've been so busy doing research on everything that I completely forgot. How did you get back into the house?"

Sunset still lingered enough for Santana to make out Kurt smirking in the rearview mirror. "That night we walked up to the front steps and Finn took off all his clothes."

Everyone, save their driver, turned toward Finn. Finn glared at Kurt and looked ready to kill him.

"Well," Kurt amended, "except for his boxers. And socks. He struck quite the imposing figure, if I might say. I wadded up all his other clothes, climbed back into the house, and unlocked the front door. Then I hurried back up to bed." Like he was counting down, Kurt finished a few seconds later, "Annnnd then Finn opened the front door and set off the alarm."

A couple of disbelieving laughs erupted. Santana snorted behind her hand at the image of half-naked Finn standing on his front steps while the alarm alerted everyone to his presence.

"Long story short," Kurt continued giddily, "it turns out that Finn sleepwalks! Who knew, right? And maybe it’s not a good idea to arm that alarm that neither of us knew we had, lest he set it off on accident."

"Apparently I’m really good at playing ‘sleepy and confused,’" Finn said dryly.

"A true master of your field," Kurt said and changed lanes. He nearly giggled as he finished, "It sounded like the two of them were really debating whether Finn would really make it out to the front porch in his underwear, and settled on: yep, that's Finn."

"It didn't help that Figgins called Mom about me doing that for Rocky Horror, apparently," Finn grumbled.

After a round of giggling comfortably against Brittany's ear, Santana was distracted again by Rachel Freaking Berry. "Since we're about to hit the streets as a real, active superhero team," she began, "we should all share our code names. That way we can practice with them and be sure we don't slip up." The last light was fading from the sky, and so Santana only saw the silhouette of Rachel tossing her hair over one shoulder. "After verifying that it wasn't in active use in the past couple of years, I've gone with Anthem. No one will remember that other hero. I'll make it my own."

"Hey, like the songs we had to sing!" Finn realized, and Rachel nodded proudly at him. "That makes sense. Um, Kurt showed me a thesaurus online—" Breaking off, Finn acknowledged the confused noise that Puck was making next to Santana. "It's for words that mean the same thing as other words. Not a dinosaur."

Puck looked instantly bored.

"We hunted for words about what people are thinking or feeling," Kurt continued. "And decided on 'Intent.'"

Everyone in the car considered it. "I guess that works," Mercedes said, and Finn seemed a little disheartened at the muted reaction. "I looked for stuff with my shields and found...." She swept her hands dramatically in front of her. "Safeguard."

"You sound like a deodorant," Brittany said.

Mercedes turned around and glared at her. "And what's your name?"

"Haywire."

"That's...." Mercedes trailed off. "You know, I've actually got no complaints there."

Santana ran her hand down Brittany's shoulder and arm, then returned the smile that she got. They'd picked that out together. It seemed perfect for chaos powers. Then they'd checked that admittedly useful superhero wiki site Rachel had sent them to, so that she could verify the name that she really wanted was—against all odds—unused. "I'm Wildfire."

Rachel turned around. She looked genuinely distraught at Santana getting such a kickass code name. "That has to be taken."

Santana studied her fingernails. "Fictional character only. Not a single real life hero is using it. It's all mine." She rolled her head in the other direction. "Puck, go."

With a broad, proud smile, Puck crossed his arms across his chest and said, "Champion."

"Ooh, that's good," Mercedes said.

"I refuse to believe that's open," Kurt said.

"...Okay, technically? It's not," Puck said. Raising his voice, he spoke over Rachel as she began protesting about copyright infringement and superhero branding. (God, Santana would not be surprised if Rachel had secretly gotten some MBA just to learn how to be more obnoxious in selling herself.) "But the guy who's using it right now is an alien or something. And so he's kind of busy, you know, being somewhere else in the universe."

"I suppose that's all right," Rachel finally said. "So long as you are the one to deal with him if he ever shows up and is grumpy about it. Kurt, what's yours?"

He didn't glance away from the freeway in front of them. "Shade."

"Shade?" Santana repeated. "As in throwing?"

Kurt corrected tightly, "As in shadows or a ghost. It’s perfect for someone with control over illusions who can go anywhere. I may not be excited about Rachel’s plans, but I still picked the perfect name for myself."

"The gay guy is throwing shade," Santana chortled. "Awesome."

"Just… shut up!" he snapped. Mercedes leaned forward and tried to reassure him.

A quick burst of static caught Santana's attention. Rachel had just tapped her communicator and was asking if Artie could hear her. "Oh, good!" she said. Santana fumbled with hers until she could also hear what Artie was saying. "Artie, we're telling each other our code names so we'll be ready to use them in action. What did you settle on?"

"Envision," Artie said.

Rachel shook her head. "You can't use that, Artie. The Vision is already an active hero."

"Not the Vision, Envision. There's an 'en.' The 'en' makes it different."

"Oh." She seemed to consider that. "I guess that's all right."

"Glad it meets your approval," Artie said dryly.

Quinn's soft voice echoed through the SUV cab a moment later. "I picked Snowfall. Mike is telling me he chose Swift."

"And Tina's?" Santana asked without thinking about it.

"She can't yet, remember?" Quinn replied, and Santana shrugged. Right, right, Tina was dead weight. She wasn't sure why they were bringing her, then.

"Then that's everyone!" Rachel enthused. She rattled off everyone's codenames for the other group to hear. "Artie, did you get that address I sent you? You'll find an alley nearby. You can park there and keep an eye on everything with your computer and police scanner."

"I... don't have a police scanner. Was I supposed to have a police scanner?"

"Yes, that was in your worksheets." Rachel barely hesitated before allowing, "Well, in any case you can keep an eye on everything with your computer. Kurt, I'll tell you where to park. It's further away, so people won't associate the two cars with each other if they see them."

Santana looked at her sidelong, but Rachel missed it in the darkness. She was willing to accept Rachel having a better handle on their powers and how to work with them; clearly, she'd put aside things like 'having a life' in favor of reading up on superheroes. But Santana was the one who'd discovered where to find crime in Columbus and she was the one who knew how to manage a bunch of people putting themselves into physical danger. The risk of vocal cord strain didn't exactly compare to missing a landing on a hard wooden floor, and so leading cheerleaders trumped leading a bunch of singers. Simple as that.

And then there was Finn. Poor, moronic Finn. Sure, some quarterbacks might be good in a crisis, but Finn had been a common factor between Tanaka's awful season and Beiste's great one. With that in mind? Santana wanted to give all the credit to the big lady with the schoolmarm hair. Rachel was obnoxious, but at least she had a brain and drive. Finn was clearly just leeching off her hard work.

It was all so obvious how things were, and how they would work out.

Yep. This would be a snap. And everything was going according to plan.

* * *


They spilled into the night in matching black leather gear and masks. They were a unit, a team. They were the next big heroes to step onto a worldwide stage.

They were so bored, Santana thought fifteen minutes later.

"It was an argument over which movie to go to," Kurt reported as he returned from the alley's entrance. They'd heard a couple shouting and had sent him to scout whether their input could do any good. He became visible between a few steps, like he was pulling away an invisibility cloak.

"Was he going to hit her if she didn't see what he wanted?" Santana asked, perhaps with a bit too much excitement.

Kurt boggled at her before saying, "No. They were laughing and trying to figure out what Super 8 is about. Sorry to ruin your hopes of domestic violence, Wildfire."

Everyone seemed appropriately put off, and so Santana mumbled, "Whatever, I didn't mean it like that. Just that we should be ready if something did happen. It's called being on guard, Shade." Most people didn't seem to buy it, but they let it pass.

"Maybe it's a good thing that nothing's going wrong," Finn said. "It means that no one's in trouble, right?"

"It's good for them, maybe," Rachel sighed. "But how are we supposed to make a name for ourselves if there're no opportunities for us to shine?"

"I'm kind of wishing we hadn't done full-body leather outfits," Tina said, shifting uncomfortably. She leaned up and smacked Puck's shoulder; he eyed her until he realized she was activating his communicator. "Um... Envision, any chance you could make us little air conditioners for our outfits?"

He laughed. "Sure. There's a chance. Or I might accidentally make a Mr. Freeze suit, if I manage anything at all." After a pause, he continued, "That would be so great. I've gotta try it."

"Uh. What's her name... Snowfall," Finn realized. "Hey, can you make it colder around us?"

Everyone turned to Quinn. She seemed put off at the sudden attention, but then got that tiny little tilt to her eyes that Santana recognized. Even if it was for something as stupid as air conditioning, Quinn Fabray was the most important person in the room. (Or the alley, anyway.) For someone who hadn't felt 'most important' for a while, even that was something.

"Everyone be quiet," she said as she closed her eyes. "I need to concentrate." They all fell into a hush as Quinn breathed steadily in and out. Cool breezes suddenly wrapped Santana, and with a delighted laugh they all looked up at the snow falling from an empty sky. "I did it," Quinn said with clear amazement.

"That's so cool," Tina said, and then seemed to realize what she'd said. Giggling, she added, "In, you know, both the pun and non-pun sense." Sticking out her tongue to catch snowflakes inspired other people to do the same, and soon a band of would-be teenage superheroes were acting like idiots in a Columbus back alley. That distraction allowed for their next mistake.

"Okay," came Mike's voice from well above their heads. "Help?"

Tina looked to her side, paled, and then squinted back up through the clouds. "Oh god, Mike? Mike! Stop flying!"

"I'd really love to!"

As Brittany tried to fly after him to no avail, Rachel turned and scanned their group quickly. "Fastball Special."

"...What?" Puck asked when he realized she was staring at him.

"You all really need to study the superheroic lingo I included in Appendix C, it would make for much more effective communication. Puck, pick up Kurt and throw him up to that fire escape. Kurt, climb up and retrieve Mike before he flies into the stratosphere." They hesitated, and she said shrilly, "Go!"

"Uh," Puck said as he awkwardly picked up Kurt. "Sorry if I throw your head into a ladder." Mike's cries refocused them both, and with a quick nod between them Puck lobbed Kurt into the air. The Olympics had come to mind when Santana saw his practices in the corn field, as they probably had for everyone. That night, the Summer Games were in full force again. Kurt grabbed onto the railing of the escape like it was a high bar and flipped himself over onto its flat base, then considered the zig-zagging ladder for a quick second. He shook his head, hopped back to the outside, and scrambled up it in a series of lunges and jumps. That speed put him on the rooftop just in time to snag Mike, and with a relieved sigh they floated back down to the ground with Kurt weighing him safely as ballast.

"That was awesome," Finn said. He looked more than a little awed.

"Colossus performs a similar move with Wolverine," Rachel said. She looked incredibly pleased with herself. And unfortunately, so did most people. Hell, they looked happier with her than with the guy who'd done some sort of crazy Jackie Chan shit and actually pulled Mike back down to earth!

"Good job, Kurt," Santana said loudly, to refocus the credit on where it should go. That seemed to snap through everyone's Rachel Rachel Rachel lens and they all clapped Kurt on the shoulder, and then slapped Puck heartily on the back.

"Guys, you forgot to use your codenames just then," Artie said across their communicators. Everyone groaned.

"This is hard," Mercedes said. "He's not Shade, he's Kurt Hummel!"

"Wow. Really helping with keeping a secret identity, there," Artie replied dryly. "If the cops lock you up I'm driving off. You'd sell me up the river, lady."

And then that was it: they commented more on Quinn's impromptu snowstorm, commented a little more on Kurt's agility and Puck's strength, and then quickly got bored again. But Santana could feel the shift in everyone's allegiance as Tina undid her belt and used it to join her wrist to Mike's as a towline.

"Baby, say something when that happens again," she chided him.

"I thought I could turn it off this time," he said sheepishly, but then they were pulled back into the opinion coalescing in the group. That opinion, boiled down, said nothing more than: yay Rachel, yay Finn.

Finn had realized Quinn could cool them down and trusted her to do it. Rachel had come up with the move to save Mike from floating off into infinity. They'd led. In tiny, stupid ways, they'd led. If they did become amazing, famous superheroes, there was a very good chance that, right now, everyone would point to them as their captains.

Screw that. "Come on, everyone," Santana said. "Champion, throw Shade back on the fire escape. Shade, put the ladder down." Yeah, she'd described it with their code names. That was professional. Super-professional.

"Excuse me?" Kurt asked.

"Standing around here isn't doing any good. Let's get up on the rooftops and look for trouble." People hesitated, and so Santana raised her eyebrows pointedly. She could feel her mask tug at her skin and wondered how much of her irritation actually came through in her expression. "Do you want to be heroes, or do you want to be a bunch of bored liars wasting an evening in an alley? Because if so? Then let's just actually find a concert to go to. It'd be more fun."

"Do it," Kurt sighed at Puck. "She has a point." After another quick throw via Puckerman, he shoved the ladder until it rolled down to the ground, and then did a repeat of his mad scramble to the rooftop. Show-off. Everyone else followed far more carefully, particularly the bound Mike-and-Tina unit.

The visual boost was less impressive than she'd expected. Santana knew perfectly well that they'd been standing in the midst of relatively short buildings, but somehow her brain had decided that superheroes climbed on big, dramatic skyscrapers and felt their hair blow freely in the wind above. It was disappointing to watch her subconscious expectations fail. They were not suddenly on a skyscraper. A flag was not whipping photogenically behind them. They were still on the top of a small office building that, from the looks of the front sign, hosted a lot of divorce lawyers.

Yeah, they were totally living the dream.

Why had she thought this would actually get her any attention? That this would be something real? That it would be something that wouldn't get ripped away when Mr. Schue and Sue had another stupid argument, when her parents promised her something and forgot yet again, or when the entire student body proved to be people she could never, ever trust with anything but a facade?

She knew being a superhero would be behind a mask, but at least then people expected it.

"By this point I do kind of want to go to a concert," Tina eventually sighed after gazing up at the night sky and down again.

"Or you two could go to a club," Brittany suggested with a glance at the leather band binding their wrists together. Mike's eyebrows rose. "I'm just saying, you're in leather catsuits and you have Mike on a leash. They might not even charge a cover."

"Everyone, be quiet," Rachel said with a frown.

Santana unzipped her jacket again, even as Kurt grumbled. Brittany followed suit and his expression sank further. Puck and Finn leaned over the side of the building and pointed to people on the street, and Finn said that he could try to find their favorite colors in their minds.

"Everyone!" Rachel said, but people kept ignoring her. "Be quiet!" She glowered at them, to no avail. An incredibly weird moment followed. If she had cybernetic eyes or something, Santana would have thought she was doing a readout of some perceived threat in the area. It seriously looked like she was getting information no one else could hear through freaky robot senses. But she was pretty sure she didn't, and so it was like Rachel was staring just to stare. "Someone needs help!"

That finally got some attention. "Huh?" Finn said, turning a full circle. "I don't hear anything. In my brain, I mean."

"They're saying they don't want any trouble," Rachel said. Her gaze was locked with laser clarity at a far corner of the small city block they were on.

"Do you have crazy good hearing, now?" Santana asked. Wouldn't that just be great? Rachel tilts her head back and out pops another superpower, like pez? Of course.

"No," Rachel said after a moment of consideration. "They're loud enough for any of you to hear. I'm just able to concentrate and ignore any distractions."

Well, if she did have another power, it was apparently the power of single-mindedness. That was appropriate, Santana thought as she trailed behind her. Everyone else followed suit, quietly and cautiously. By the time they hit the next roof, having to climb down a floor on another fire escape, Santana could hear the problem.

"I do not like how this sounds," Mercedes murmured, and Santana was forced to agree. A woman was pleading with a man to leave her alone. She didn't want any trouble. She didn't think it had been a big deal that she'd come to the bar. Another voice—another woman's—added that they'd just gotten off work, were tired, and wanted to go home. If they just let them by, they'd go straight home. They promised. They both did.

The group all clearly heard, and with a determined nod they crept toward the edge of the roof. "We're going into stealth mode," Santana thought to say with a quick tap on her shoulder communicator. "Don't say anything."

"Gotcha," Artie said.

"I just told... never mind, shut up." Wary that the people below them might have guns, Santana inched her way to the lip lining the roof and peered over it. It was dark and they'd have no reason to be looking up there unless they gave them one.

One woman was under the building's overhang, but the main speaker was in the center of a cluster of men with various unpleasant weapons. She had dark skin, a heavy build, and was wearing what looked like a nurse's scrubs; it must have been a long shift at the hospital. Her short, bleached-brown hair twists moved as she looked between the men.

No, Santana realized, and felt that awareness ripple through the group. Those weren't twists of hair on her head.

Like some modern mutant Medusa, her head was covered in living, waving fingers.

Something about the writhing mass struck her as so deeply wrong that she pushed back from the lip. Mutants were freaks. No one liked them. Mutants were unmonitored threats to the entire world, who demanded more and more every day from normal people. Those were the words she heard every morning on Fox & Friends when she walked past the television. In her mind she recoiled from siding with the people on that show, who too often had choice words for people with her skin tone or who loved how she loved.

But in her heart, worn in by years of hearing parents agree about 'that mutant threat,' she couldn't do anything but rear backward as her noise crinkled in distaste.

She'd never actually seen one before.

"We have to help her," Rachel said, and Santana realized she was leaning so far forward that she might fall to the ground. She turned and looked harshly at everyone when some were too slow to respond to her orders. "There are people who need our help, this is exactly what we came here for!"

"Are they really people who need our help?" Quinn asked dubiously. Santana was willing to bet that she'd heard many of the same mutant debates in her house.

"They're two ladies surrounded by a bunch of angry dudes, Quinn," Mercedes countered.

Put that way, they had no choice but to make a quick but quiet dash for yet another fire escape. Tina untied her wrist that time, saying that she could at least grab at Mike's leash if necessary. As the streets were thankfully bare—too far from campus, probably—they weren't noticed as they rounded the corner and planted themselves as a ten-men group behind the arc of looming men.

"Halt, evildoers!" said Rachel. Her hands were planted on her hips.

"Halt, evildoers?" Santana repeated.

The group slowly turned. Swallowing, Santana realized that even from a quick glance she could make out a switchblade, pipe, and... and that was a gun. That was definitely a gun. "Who the hell are you?" asked a large, grizzled man who smelled like he'd been drinking.

"We're the... uh...." Rachel floundered as she remembered that they'd never settled on a name. "That's not important. We're here to tell you to stop victimizing innocents in this fair city!" And then she smiled. Total show face.

"Are you kidding me with this?" Santana asked her.

"Keep things backstage, Wildfire," Rachel said through a teeth-gritted smile. "This is showtime."

"Ra, uh, Anthem," Finn whispered. "That guy's got a gun. Maybe you should tone it down a little."

"Maybe this is one of those conventions," one of the men snorted. "Like when I saw five chicks in the Princess Leia bikini."

"Move on, kids," one of them said with mock sweetness. "Just keep walking and you don't ever have to say you were here." Over their shoulders, Santana could just see the terrified eyes of the woman with the nauseating finger hair. Cowering against the wall was her friend, who Santana now saw was a deep, vibrant orange with scales across her forehead and cheeks. She didn't look a day over twenty-two.

"That's not going to happen," Tina said and sounded almost brave despite her complete lack of powers. "Let them go. They didn't do anything wrong."

"They showed up here and shoved their freak bodies in our faces," sneered another man who reeked of cheap beer.

"Well, what can we say?" Finn said levelly. "We sort of like freaks."

"Please help us," mouthed the orange woman.

"I heard about kids like this," confided one man to another. "Bunch of high schoolers get bored during the summer and try to pretend they're superheroes. News had a story about three in Cincinnati who all broke their arms trying to fly."

"We're not pretending," Santana said shortly. She was going to own this stupid superhero glory if it was the last thing she did.

"Move along," repeated a man more intently. "And we can all just say that none of this ever happened."

"Crimes against mutants get thrown in the back of the file cabinet," Tina said in a strong voice. "I've read articles."

"Yeah," they replied like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Of course: they were targeting mutants because they could get away with it. It was McKinley writ large; when the people in charge sat on their asses, the biggest assholes thought they could get away with anything. Well. Santana Lopez knew how to take care of that: pull out a little firepower.

"Just walk the fuck on," Santana said. "Trust me, you want to do this or you'll regret it. I'll even count you down. Three."

"Wildfire," Rachel said, looking a little worried.

"Two."

The men laughed.

"One."

The men laughed again, but didn't move.

"Zero," Santana said, and flicked her hand toward them. "Zero... zero." Come on, powers, she told herself desperately. Fire. Fire. Fire was good, fire was very good, if she could summon fire that would be just awesome

It appeared, but where she'd been trying to throw it rather than in her palm. A neon bar sign on the building wall exploded in a flash of sparks and everyone ducked for cover. Screams rang out and Santana desperately hoped they weren't hers.

The next moments were chaos. She could see Puck flinging aside someone who tried to barrel into their group. Finn trying to shout directions. Rachel attempting to use her song as a weapon, and only managing to knock the sign completely down and leave a dangling wire in its place. And then a man, trying to grab at anything he could, getting ahold of Tina and swinging her hard against the wall... and into that live, sparking wire.

Mike screamed, but Tina didn't. Her eyes flashed bright with electricity, and then she stepped forward with an amazed grin on her face. "Oh," she said in one short moment of wonder before some instinctive memory of what to do next seemed to enter her mind. In a strange, echoing voice, Tina ordered, "Leave... them... alone!"

A wave of energy rushed out from Tina, returning whatever energy she'd absorbed back to the air around her. When it hit Santana she was hit with a sense of pure, overwhelming terror. She ran. There was nothing else to do but run. She couldn't hide, she couldn't stop, she had to get away from... from what, she wondered as she abruptly crossed the boundaries of whatever attack Tina had let out, and all her terror faded. A few others were within view—Puck, Brittany, Mike—and they all seemed to realize they'd run off and left Tina alone. If any of those men were returning... Santana didn't like to think about what would happen next, and she picked up her pace.

Puck and Mike sped ahead. She could hear the sounds of scuffling as she rounded a corner. It sounded like the men had indeed come back for revenge on whoever was convenient. Rather than Tina, that happened to be the two mutant women who had crouched against their blows and had thus missed Tina's... whatever the fuck it was.

"There's too many of them!" one of the men shouted as they all returned to the front of the bar. Thankfully, its patrons knew a fight when they heard one and had stayed safely inside. "Run!" When they fled, the mutant women darted for safety in the other direction. They didn't even offer a thank-you.

That was just rude.

"Hey!" Santana shouted after one of the men. "You, taking, custody! Now!" That was what they needed, to bring one of these guys in to custody! That would put them on the right track.

Rachel seemed to have the same idea. "Stop him, Qui—Snowfall!"

Quinn shot Rachel an annoyed look before raising her hands high. Then she just… stood there. "Oh, come on!" she said desperately after a moment's hesitation. "Ice the sidewalk!" she pleaded with her hands. That clearly failed, and so she scowled, focused, and summoned the block of ice that she'd reliably managed before. Like a champion ballplayer, she hurled the chunk at the criminal's head.

"Shit!" he said when it impacted his skull and sent him stumbling forward against the sidewalk. He pushed himself up and rounded on them as his companions vanished around the corner. Violence gleamed in his eyes as he hefted a crowbar. Now, fear seemed to be taking a back seat to pride. This big, strong man who'd been so ready to dominate a couple of women whom society cared nothing for had been left frustrated that night. A group of teenagers in homemade costumes might do the trick as a substitution. "You serious with that, little punks?"

"Yes, we most definitely are," Rachel said with only a slight quaver to her voice. "You assaulted innocent people and you should march yourself to a police station right now."

"Technically," Puck pointed out, "Qui... damn, this is hard. Snowfall just assaulted him, too."

"Thanks, Champion," Quinn said sarcastically. "Between the two of you I'm so glad I picked this code name."

"It's ten against one," Finn told the man. "Do you really think you can win? You were doing really bad stuff. Come on, just go turn yourself in and no one has to get hurt. Okay?"

"Held up fine against those mutie freaks flinging powers around," he sneered. "Not gonna worry over a bunch of brats in Halloween costumes, neither."

Santana was startled, and realized many of the others around her were making the same soft noises. Against all logic, the crook thought the light show going on was coming from the visible mutants he'd been assaulting. In the fury of flying fists, he hadn't noticed just how well Mike and Puck could fight. He had no idea just what it was that Quinn had thrown at him. In his eyes, they were still ridiculous teenage wannabes.

Score. The element of surprise was on their side, and they meant they could totally take him down. Let's see, who could reliably scare the shit out of someone? Tina wasn't brushing him away like a gnat, so she probably had to recharge with her weird energy-sucking powers. That left.... "Shade!" she said, and Kurt risked a quick glance at her. "Go demony or something," she hissed. He looked confused, and so she said more pointedly, "Scare him!"

"Just say that next time," he said, and the image of a roaring lion appeared between them and the would-be mutant-killer. The limits of Kurt's illusions were immediately apparent. The lion opened its mouth but no sound came out. Kurt clearly wasn't an expert on African wildlife, and so the lion sort of... well, to be honest, it sort of looked like a real-life Simba, animated proportions and all. But it was suddenly there, very close, and very, very large.

When the man let out a high-pitched shriek and dropped his weapon, Santana smirked.

That smirk fell away when he reached into his pocket and aimed desperately at the illusory lion with the Saturday night special inside. The animal vanished when Kurt sucked in a deep breath, but it was too late. A shot fired. It rebounded off Mercedes' instinctive shield and plunged deeper into the group. Santana heard someone scream.

She heard Brittany scream.

The world went very bright and very, very hot in her eyes. Santana shrieked in rage and raised her arms. Flames wreathed her hands, then her shoulders, and then her entire body. She was a creature of living flame as she strode forward, howling like some unearthly demon, and the criminals set off running again. No. He wouldn't get away, not after he'd hurt Brittany. Her arm hand stabbed the night air and fire tore through it after the running man. She tried again, and again, intent on nothing more than making him hurt like Brittany had hurt.

"Wildfire!" Quinn screamed, and Santana finally realized she'd been saying it repeatedly. It took her that long to also feel how her flames were dying out; Quinn was gritting her teeth and sending out as much snow and ice as she could manage.

"I'm okay," Brittany said, poking up behind Quinn. "I'm okay, look." She held up an old boot. "This hit me in the face instead of a bullet. I guess I changed it."

Santana stared blankly at Brittany, and then at the smudges on her face that did look like the tread on a dirty boot. "Oh."

"Um," Finn said. A good part of the group mimicked him.

"What?" Santana asked. She felt cold, but that was probably normal; after all, she'd just seriously turned down the heat. Everyone kept staring and finally she looked down. "Oh," she said again. Except for the specially-ordered superhero mask still on her face, she'd burned off every last scrap of her costume.

"I worked so hard to make those pants," Kurt whimpered.

"Can I have someone's jacket or something?" Santana muttered as she awkwardly tried to cover herself. She might be confident, but "standing buck-ass naked on a strange city's sidewalk" was a little past "confident." Finn handed her his, trying to cover his eyes like Kurt as he did, and Santana quickly wormed into it. It was thankfully long enough to act like a minidress; god bless that lumbering giant.

That was when she heard sirens.

Santana looked in horror at the mess they'd made: the broken sign, the electrical burns against the wall, the... the whatever it was down the street that was now on fire, and by her hand. Was it something small? Like a bike or a moped? Please be something small, she thought. Oh god, please be something small.

Please don't spread to the buildings on the other side of the sidewalk.

"What do we do now?" Mercedes asked nervously as they heard the cars arrive from two different directions, pinning them in.

Rachel and Finn didn't have an answer for her.

It would have been a great time for Santana to step up. She could have been the leader who fixed everything. It could have been her time.

If only she weren't at a loss for words, too.

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