miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-10-20 11:26 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 9/?)

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: 8900
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: Oh my GOD was this chapter ever tough to put together. I wanted a musical montage equivalent, effectively, where time is covered and they settled into their new powers and lives, but that is a whole hell of a lot more challenging when you only have text at your disposal. And you'd think if any series was set up for a musical montage... :P Here. Just randomly picture this or this at times.

Anyway! You know what happens after the musical strength-building montage: big things start pouring in at top speed. Which is why I had to get through this damn chapter.






It was time to get serious. Three days after Columbus they reconvened in Rachel's basement. It was quickly becoming their base of operations, as her fathers were away yet again on a quick business trip. Although she'd gathered the team on her own volition, her decision to focus had rippled through everyone once they were together.

"There was property damage in the city," Rachel said. "Not as bad as it could have been, but...."

Everyone looked at Santana and she awkwardly shifted her weight. "I lost my temper, yeah, I know. But I thought Brittany got shot." Brittany threaded her fingers through Santana's and squeezed. Though she looked a bit embarrassed, Santana didn't pull away.

"I think what Rachel is saying," Finn said, "is that we have to make up for what we did there."

"We have to make sure that if someone wants to threaten people like that again," Mercedes added, "they'll think twice before they do." Several people nodded at her.

Rachel stood unchallenged at the center of the group. Santana, cowed by her accidental destruction, was willing to let her lead for the moment. "Who's been using their powers a lot? Or has really tested themselves to see what they can do?"

Kurt's hand shot up first. No one would be able to trump that showcase he'd put on with the bloody nose, not for a long time. The only person who'd come so close to a power limit was Santana moving into full fire form, and her hand was next. Puck raised his; Rachel knew that he'd been constantly lifting things. Finn had been practicing mindreading and Artie had been building gadgets, and theirs were the last and final hands to raise.

That made sense. Not everyone had powers suited for everyday living. Telepathy was much easier to use around the house than glowing forcefields, pure chaos, or flight. Or explosive singing, she added sadly.

"So, this will be good for everyone," Rachel decided after looking around the room. "My suggestion of running small, manageable missions... yes, this will be perfect. The people who've used their powers a lot can further refine them. The people who haven't been integrating their powers into their daily lives, well... we can practice on these trips. Everyone, start looking up new places we might want to visit. We'll need to take a few days off anyway, or our parents might start to suspect something. And, um, Kurt needs to do some costume repairs?" she added hopefully.

"Fine, fine," Kurt said. "And Santana, I checked. That Brooklyn store does have flame-proof material." She smiled. "I'll tell you how much to ship to me on your credit card," Kurt finished smoothly, and her good mood vanished. But she did nod. Perfect: one more thing taken care of.

"Okay!" Rachel said cheerfully. "Then I think we're really in great shape." Everyone was looking attentively at her and her heart swelled at the sight of her team. Quinn's distant moodiness had withered at the plight of those two mutant women; she'd apparently found some purpose in preventing similar situations. Mike and Tina bumped fists and promised they'd be the best crimefighting duo ever. Kurt... well, he'd told her that he couldn't risk leaving town for at least a couple of weeks, not with his worried parents, but he did have all those repairs and customizations to do.

They really were all on the perfect path.

"All right, everyone!" Rachel said with a fresh wave of excitement. "I expect to see at least two worksheets from everyone by tomorrow."

* * *


When they met the next day Rachel asked everyone for their completed worksheets, but they apparently thought she wasn't serious about that assignment.

That would soon be corrected.

"I just can't believe you were so boring with our costumes," Santana said as she flopped on the couch next to Kurt, who was sketching over a loose outline of their standard outfit template. "I mean, you're you. It's June and you just asked Rachel to turn up the AC so you could keep on that stupid red velvet blazer."

"One, it's a key part of the ensemble, and I'm avoiding illusions until my brain's all healed up." He erased something on his sketch and frowned at it. "And two, if I were going to fight fires, I'd carry an axe." Rachel didn't follow where he was going with that argument, but stayed quiet.

Santana snorted. "You would carry an axe to school if someone slapped a Prada logo on it."

"No, I wouldn't," Kurt said with a smile. "They expel you for weapons." She made a face at him and he continued, "Look, I wear boots in the snow and I put on a coverall when I work at the garage, and so I would bring the proper tools to fight a fire. When I fight crime? I want head to toe coverage."

"Good for you," Santana said. "Meanwhile I will be perfectly fine with not being covered, since I turn into lava or something. Give me more cleavage."

With an annoyed glance, he erased his new line and redrew it further down the page.

Rachel tried not to feel bad about having given Kurt suggestions on her own costume, and quickly moved further around the room. "I think I'm safe for her not finding out," Puck said to Mercedes as Rachel came within hearing range of their conversation. "I mean, now I can win when I arm wrestle Lauren, but don't worry. I figured out how to make it feel believable."

She rolled her eyes. "You still gotta let her win now and then, Puck, or she'll suspect something."

"But I like winning," he grumbled. Rachel tried not to smirk and moved on. Brittany and Quinn were deep in a conversation about looking out for other women in trouble. A technology brainstorming session between Mike and Artie already had two full pages of possible inventions. Most of it was quite encouraging, Rachel thought as she finished a circuit around the room and sat next to Finn on the couch. He was ignoring the ongoing conversation about costumes, which now included Tina and her sketch. His silence wasn't a surprise; put bluntly, Finn looked awful.

"This sucks," Finn said as he rubbed his eyes. Rachel looked at him sympathetically, as the circles there were so dark that he looked as if he'd been punched. "I need to practice my thinking stuff so I can block thoughts from coming in."

"Oh," Rachel said as she looked with concern around their large group. All of those thoughts together could certainly be overwhelming. And considering the last time someone had been overwhelmed by his psychic abilities.... "Are we loud? Do you have a headache?"

"It's okay when I'm awake," Finn said. He flashed a dark look at Kurt. "Stuff floats in during my dreams, though." After a few pointed throat clearings, when Rachel realized Finn was tired instead of pained, Kurt turned scarlet and Finn finished, "Yep."

"Oh god. Um. Was it...?"

Finn smiled thinly. "No, the Kirk guy from the new Star Trek."

Kurt hesitated. His eyebrows rose abruptly and he said with a little less embarrassment and a great deal more humor, "Oh, right."

"I can never watch that movie again," Finn grumbled.

Tina grinned enormously at Kurt. "Nice."

"Um, not to dig up bad memories," Kurt began delicately, "but was it in New York?"

Finn looked irritated at the continuing discussion, but then considered it and shook his head. "No. It was on the Enterprise. The dream was full of lens flares."

"I'm actually a little relieved," Kurt said. "Every night since Columbus, it's been all New York, all the time. I was beginning to wonder if I'd fried a synapse or something." He caught Finn's new frown. "What?"

"I guess that explains it," Finn said thoughtfully. "I've had a couple of New York dreams, too. They were probably bleeding over from you."

"Wait," Santana said as she looked up from her costume sketch. "This is one hell of a coincidence."

Kurt gawked. "You too? Well, I realized that I went to sleep looking at that photo album. Maybe we're all remembering when we thought we were headed for bigger and brighter things at Nationals?"

"But I was in Brooklyn," Santana said after a second of considering that. "We only ever went to Manhattan. Why would it feel like I was having a dream about living in Brooklyn?"

"Maybe your subconscious is on a budget," Kurt said.

After pondering it a bit more, Santana shrugged and seemed to let things go. Three people all dreaming about New York was odd, but Finn's could be explained by telepathic spillover. And Santana and Kurt, well... it was a city that many of them had fallen for. If they'd both been having dreams about turning into rabbits or living in Slovenia, that would certainly be worthy of a double-take. But dreaming about New York wasn't especially notable.

"Everyone," Rachel said when she forced herself to refocus her attention and collected her laptop from the table. "I think it's time to make some serious plans as to where we're going next. Only two of you emailed me with suggestions, and I took all of those into account when I plotted out possible patrol routes." She smiled sweetly at those two people. "Thank you, Artie and Mike." Then she glared at some others who'd stumbled on their assignment.

"I was busy recovering from performing a Carrie reenactment with my nose," Kurt told her flatly.

"I was busy, um, dealing with that," Finn said.

"I forgot," Puck said, shrugging.

"I didn't want to," Santana said and frowned at a hangnail.

Perhaps she'd given Santana a bit too much credit for cooperating in these past few days, Rachel thought as she settled in and showed everyone the map she'd put together. They had a bevy of locations to choose from, all of which seemed considerably safer than the mess they'd made of Columbus. Most people looked impressed at the work she'd done. One, though, only glanced at the map before pulling back. "Nuh uh," Santana said, shaking her head.

Tension gripped Rachel's skull. Really? Really? They had a clear goal to work toward, now. Shouldn't they be able to cooperate by this point? "Problem?" she asked tightly.

"Yeah," Santana said and stabbed her finger at where Lima rested on the Google Maps page. "Okay, so we're not going to do any superheroics in town." She brushed Rachel's hand away from the touchpad and zoomed out a few times until they were looking at northern Ohio. "So instead you're saying that we're going to work here, here, here...." Her finger pointed to more places around their hometown. "Great. So if anyone pays attention, what are they all still centered on?"

"Lima," Rachel realized. "You're right."

"Our big explosive entrance was in Columbus," Santana said. "We should make it look like we're based there. People are paying attention to the city. If we give that impression right now, they might actually pick up on it."

"That's going to be a lot of driving," Artie said unhappily, although he didn't argue with her conclusion. "Guys, I dunno if I can get away with buying that much gas."

"Same here," Kurt said, staring at the map. "Or getting away that much even after I'm allowed out of town again, particularly if we're sometimes committing to going east of Columbus, or to Toledo or Dayton, or...."

"We won't need big cars," Finn said thoughtfully. "Because we should split up."

Mercedes began to say something, but Tina stopped her. "Wait, hear him out. We're not in a horror movie. I hope."

With a grin, Finn continued, "It was really hard to figure out to manage eleven people all together, right? Or even transport them. This way we can use smaller groups to tackle smaller things, we won't have to come up with big group alibis...."

"That makes sense," Rachel said. He looked proud at the praise, and she gave him a moment to revel before turning back to Santana. "And after all, we do have multiple potential leaders."

They did.

Rachel was the captain.

Finn could be her lieutenant, of course. With a notably gracious move, she decided Santana could be one as well.

Everything was settling in so nicely, Rachel thought happily as she looked around the room. Now Puck had settled next to Kurt on the couch to talk about his costume, and they were both laughing over whatever he suggested. Kurt's nose even scrunched up, and Rachel flashed back to picturing Puck carefully carrying him to Artie's van. Who would have ever expected them to get along so well?

If those two could bump shoulders and lean in close as they talked, surely anything was possible for their ragtag group. They were on track. They could balance leadership, powers, and team dynamics. But, Rachel remembered as she checked her calendar and saw something marked down for that evening, they also needed to balance their normal lives.

Otherwise, people might start to suspect. And as Santana had reminded them, you didn't want to raise any suspicions.

* * *


"No, really," Mike laughed. The setting for their triple date was very popular; the crowd threatened to drown out their voices and they had to lean in to be heard. Rachel supposed that spoke well of the food. "I'm the one who suggested this place, why would I mind coming here?"

"I was sort of hoping for burgers," Tina said as they watched the dim sum carts make their way toward them. "Big, juicy, 'the cow is still crying' burgers."

Rachel made a horrified face at Tina as Finn rested his chin in his hands and seemed to dream of hamburgers. When she'd heard that a double date involved Blaine, a civilian, a sudden fear seized Rachel that Kurt, Tina, and Mike would blow their cover. She'd invited herself and Finn along, banking on them being too polite to turn them down. They were, but she hadn't realized that it would entail going along with the plans they'd already made.

"We just didn't want to make you feel like we, ah...." Blaine seemed to consider his words but couldn't find where to go next.

Kurt finished with a smirk, "Like we assumed Mr. Chang and Ms. Cohen-Chang would take us out for Chinese food."

"That would be it," Blaine confirmed.

"Don't worry, I love this place," Mike said as he sat up straight in his seat. A cart was almost there. "It's just that when I go with my parents, it's all 'oh, the food isn't hot enough, 'they steamed it too long,' 'this needed more time.'" Then he pointed at something and waited for it to be deposited on their table.

Tina, Kurt, and Blaine all followed suit. Finn watched the proceedings with confusion, and then looked back to the spread of food on the cart. "Wait, we just point at food and you give it to us?" he asked.

"Yes," the server said patiently. "What do you want?" Soon she was carefully placing six different items in front of Finn, who looked overwhelmed at the bounty.

"It's like a buffet that delivers," Finn said with wonder as he began moving individual pieces onto his plate.

"Excuse me," Rachel said, clearing her throat. "Which dishes are vegan?"

The server considered the question. "This one is vegetarian."

"No, not vegetarian, vegan." A blank stare was her only answer, and Rachel waved her on. She really should have asked them where they were going on their date. Sipping her tea, Rachel wondered how many cups it would take to fill her up, and whether she would slosh audibly when she walked to the car.

"Oh my god," Finn mumbled through a mouth half full of food. A bitten dumpling was in his hand. It looked like it was bursting with barbecued pork drenched in some heavy sauce. "This is better than sex." Rachel cleared her throat pointedly, and it took Finn a few more chews to realize what her problem was. He swallowed and said, "I didn't mean with you."

Everyone else there politely hid their smirks behind their hands, but Tina and Kurt couldn't quite keep themselves from laughing.

Finn apparently decided that talking was only going to make things worse and so dove back into his food. Tina stole a piece off Mike's plate. Blaine carefully held out a small spring roll with his chopsticks and Kurt let it be placed in his mouth; he looked pleased when he started chewing. And Finn... Finn continued to look like he'd discovered a church based entirely around sex. On Christmas.

Rachel started work on her second cup of tea.

Finn finally finished his pork buns and leaned over to whisper, "I mean, with... how sex might be with you. I just... sorry, these are really good."

She managed a short laugh. "Then keep eating, Finn. Enjoy." Beaming at her, he did. She'd have to suggest that he take some friendly outings to this restaurant. Clearly he would want to come back, and just as clearly she would never return.

Taking the opportunity to study Finn, Rachel felt herself smiling. When his powers first appeared he'd heard stray thoughts, but now they were in a crowded restaurant with the distraction of food and he seemed fine. They were all keeping an eye on Kurt for any illusory outfit changes, but he'd stayed static. Mike hadn't started floating off his chair. Given some time with their powers, people really seemed to be settling into them.

"We should have asked Puck and Lauren," Finn said, and then licked sauce off his thumb. He saw the poor reaction from one member of their party and asked, "What?"

"Blaine doesn't like Puck," Kurt smirked. Blaine looked a little distressed at the blunt description.

"Ignore the hair," Tina said. "He's cool now, except when he's obnoxious."

"He and Kurt were so thoughtful when they worked together this spring," Rachel said, recalling the massive effort the two of them had put into making her feel more confident with herself. Her words didn't seem to put Blaine at ease, though.

"And he's like my best friend," Finn said, pointing at him with a piece of... something. "So he'll be around the house, and you need to get used to him. If Burt lets him come by this summer, anyway."

"Kurt, I think you overstated that a little," Blaine said, clearly wishing Kurt had never said anything. "He's just... not the type of person I typically spend time with. Or that I'd expect you to spend time with. What exactly did you do with him this spring?" There was an odd little ripple of tension to the words.

Tina interrupted before Kurt could say anything. "You know who else we should have invited? Santana and Brittany. Just to say, like... hello, we know."

Blaine looked thoroughly confused as he tried to follow the gossip of McKinley, and the Puck discussion was left behind. "Wait, are they officially a couple? I didn't know that."

"They're not. Maybe. I don't know." Tina shook her head. "There's drama there, but we've known they're totally doing it for... what, a year? Year and a half? Brittany told us."

Blaine looked even more startled. "I didn't even know they were out."

"They're not," Kurt said. "Yes, I know Brittany said that, but... ugh, it's complicated. And so we're not going to jump them and hang up a big, glitter-covered banner to force it, all right?" Some people still looked uncertain, and he cleared his throat until they nodded. "Good. My dad knew, but he still let me come to him. It's the right thing to do."

Everyone was quiet for a minute as they went back to eating. (Or, in Rachel's case, drinking.) Finn spoke up after swallowing some new kind of roll. "So do we pair off Mercedes with Artie or Sam?" At their blank reaction he continued, "It's only them and Quinn left, so... oh, right. Can't really stick Quinn back with Sam after, uh." After she cheated on Sam with you, right, Rachel finished grimly. "So then... Mercedes and Sam, and Quinn and Artie!"

"In other words," Mike said, "you think we should just take over the restaurant with the biggest group date ever."

"Could be fun," Finn said with a grin, and popped something new into his mouth. He chewed a few times and froze.

"He has no idea what he just ate," Tina giggled as she studied him.

Rachel gasped as Finn yanked the napkin off her lap and spit something into it. "I think I just ate grass," Finn gagged, and then reached for another safe, reliable meat bun to clear away the taste. He managed to shove the entire thing in on one push.

Chuckling, Blaine shook his head and ate his congee without comment. When Kurt returned the favor of holding out a piece of something with his chopsticks, he swallowed it gladly. Mike and Tina shamelessly picked off each other's plates. And then, like the gates of heaven opening, a cart rolled by with simple plates of steamed vegetables. At least she wouldn't go home starving, Rachel thought as she started shoveling them into her mouth.

"To being free of classes," Kurt said once they were all waiting at the same time. He lifted his teacup for a toast, and Rachel was reminded of how this was all supposed to be a congratulatory dinner for Blaine making it through his finals. After they'd clinked the cups together, he kissed his boyfriend lightly, not bothering to look around at the nearby tables, and then added, "To a very memorable summer."

"To pushing ourselves," Rachel added. It didn't really fit with what Kurt had said, but no one thought twice about those words coming from her.

"And to finding ourselves," Tina added.

"To flying high," Mike said impishly, and they both giggled at each other.

"To, ah...." Finn looked around the table and smiled broadly when he saw a plate holding another of his favorite dumplings. "To coming here again."

"To staying safe?" Blaine asked Kurt, who nodded, abashed. "Good. And thank you, everyone, for a great dinner. I don't think I've ever had such a nice ending to a school year."

"Yeah," Tina said, grabbing one of the last bits left for herself. "It's been fun."

Soon they'd paid and were heading out the door into the warm June evening. Sorry I screwed up a few times in there, Rachel heard in her head. She shot Finn a smile and squeezed his hand as he continued, I'm trying.

I know you are. Did you do what we talked about?

The other couples ignored them as they held their silent conversation. Finn grinned at Rachel and nodded. I dug deep into Blaine's brain a few times and he doesn't suspect anything. Seems like he totally bought the riot excuse that Kurt gave him.

Glad to hear it.

Finn frowned and tilted his head at her. Do you think it's right for me to just scan him like that, though? I mean, I did that at home, but that's because I thought we might be in trouble....

It could definitely be seen as an abuse of power, but what was to be done? They had to know. This could cause trouble for everyone if it goes wrong, Finn. Just look at it that way. We could be in danger. So could he. We're just keeping all of us safe.

Though Finn still seemed a bit uncertain, he nodded. The ethics of superheroics: Rachel supposed she should have added another section to their workbooks. Oh well. So long as everything stayed at their current equilibrium, nothing too bad could happen. Right?

Oh geez, Rachel, don't think things like that.

"We'll be fine," she promised him and patted his hand. Blaine glanced back from the shotgun seat in confusion, clearly thinking he'd missed something else.

Right. Don't tempt fate, don't slip up.

Clearly, they needed more practice.

* * *


As she prepared the next day for launching their full offensive, Rachel mentally checked off points in her head. The date had gone well, and Blaine was placated with no lingering suspicions. She could only hope that their upcoming missions would unfold just as smoothly.

"We decided that you need to date Sam," Finn told Mercedes. (It was proving a little difficult to keep him focused on those missions.)

"What?" Mercedes asked. Her eyes were wide and she swallowed audibly. "Um. Why do I need to date Sam?"

"He was just trying to pair off everyone," Kurt said airily, "and putting Quinn back with Sam wasn't an option for about a dozen different reasons." He saw Quinn's dark look from a far corner and said, "Oh, like you've never talked about people when they're not in the room."

"It did come up for discussion," Rachel confirmed as she pulled on her new jacket and beamed at the sight in the mirror. It was still practical, but Kurt had given her a more personal style. She'd gotten the first of the overhauls, possibly because of their friendship, or because she was the most insistent. Perhaps both. "You were cute together at prom, Mercedes. Really, you should consider it."

"And he'd like that place we went to last night," Kurt said. "I have this suspicion that it's going to be the go-to date spot whenever people aren't up for a carb overload at Breadstix."

"No such thing!" Santana called from across the room. She must have some sort of mental alert for the restaurant's name.

"At practice he told me he thinks you're hot," Finn said, shrugging. "On that day when we saw you guys in the stands, remember? And then I read his mind just to see if I could, and, uh...." He started laughing. "He really liked the shirt you were wearing that day, if you know what I mean."

Rachel giggled merrily at Mercedes. This was perfect! Their prom arrangement had been so fortunate. But why did she look so upset, then?

"I... um...." Mercedes' eyes darted around the room. Finn's brow furrowed, and Rachel realized that he was probably probing her brain for whatever was wrong. After a few seconds his eyes widened. Mercedes gasped and lunged forward to press her hand against his mouth. "You stay quiet, Finn Hudson."

"Too hawd," Finn mumbled as she pinned his lips securely against his teeth. "Ow."

"Mercedes?" Kurt asked. "What in the world is going on?"

"I... guys, I... it's just that...."

"Ow," Finn said again, and broke away. "I was just trying to help by reading your mind," he said. "Sorry."

"Sam and I have been dating since prom," Mercedes said in a squeaky rush. Her eyes slammed shut by the end and it took her a few breaths to risk opening one.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Kurt finally asked. He sounded hurt.

"I don't know! Because... because of Monica and Chandler!" Mercedes flopped hopelessly against the couch cushions. "They kept their dating a secret because they didn't want their friends all up in their business. And you just showed me that you guys love to get up in people's business."

"But we could have invited you to dim sum," Kurt said in a tiny voice. "You didn't have to lie."

"Lie?" she repeated. "Excuse me, am I talking to the boy who explained away all his bumps and bruises with either a roofie or a riot?" At how distressed that left Kurt, she added apologetically, "Look, I'm sorry. But we all know how crazy romance gets, right? And it just... it was working for us to not say anything. We didn't want to risk changing a good thing."

"Has he reacted at all to what's going on?" Rachel wondered, sitting next to Mercedes.

Mercedes snorted. "No. What would he react to? I've pretty much got jack squat for powers compared to a lot of you guys."

"That's not true," Rachel instantly said. As that left her unconvinced, she considered and added, "You did stop a bullet."

"So for half a second, I was awesome." Mercedes shrugged. "But I didn't really stop it. I just sent it toward Brittany. So... yeah. Don't worry about me. There's nothing to tip him off. No big dramatic Hail Marys to save the whole group on my part," she added and looked at Kurt again.

"We should at least go to the movies or something," Kurt suggested, prodding her arm gently. "Of course... that would involve telling him that you know that we know they know we know." She looked confused as he finished ticking off words on his fingers, and he flashed a smile at her. "You're the one who brought up Monica and Chandler."

"That could be fun," Mercedes finally said. "I... yeah. Me and Sam, we can go on a date with some of you guys. 'Cause we're dating. Yeah. I can break the news to him. Just give me a little bit to do it, okay?" They all nodded, and she let out an audible sigh of relief.

"Cool," Finn said, and leaned way over to study the others at the far side of the room. "So, you think we can hook up Quinn and Artie?"

Rachel patted his arm. "Let's not push our luck."

* * *


They launched their grand, well-planned offensive with dreams of spectacular glory and breathtaking rescues. After a week, Rachel was still dreaming. She rubbed the bridge of her nose as the latest report came in. "Noah, I think I misheard you."

"Nope," Puck said. He nodded at Tina. "It was just like what she said."

Looking at Tina made the girl return a broad, amused smile, and Rachel just managed not to rub her nose again. "So you went on the patrol we discussed," she said to Puck.

"Yep."

"You found criminals engaged in... criminal activities."

"Well, that might be pushing things," Tina said, but Rachel chose to ignore her.

"And by the end of it, those criminals were gone and you—"

"Punched a cow," Puck said with no concern at all.

"I actually think it was a bull," Tina said.

Rachel's stricken expression made Puck want to defend himself, it seemed. "We were helping," he said pointedly. "Some idiot kids thought that you could actually tip over cows! And instead they just pissed them off. They were going to get gored or something." He jerked his thumb at Tina. "Well, Tina figured out that she can drain life energy, not just electricity, so she calmed down one of the cows that way."

"I hope I didn't kill it," Tina said unhappily.

"Her weird psychic freakout powers don't seem to work on cow brains," Puck continued, "but at least they got the kids to run."

"I don't think they're really psychic powers," Artie piped up. "It's like she uses energy to stimulate the really instinctive parts of the brain, like she's touching them with a wire. All physical, no weird ESP stuff. You know, I bet you could make someone feel good, too. That's all mixed up in the same brain chemistry." Someone had been reading science magazines, it seemed.

"Feel good? That could get messy," Tina said with a smirk.

"And, long story short," Puck finished, "the cows were mad, we were there, and so I punched one."

"I still think it was a bull," Tina said.

Well. That conversation had left Rachel entirely exhausted. "I... guess that's a success?" she said helplessly, and pulled out her map to make a green X over a little town named Ashley. The map was up to a dozen marks, now. Some were green, where they'd successfully chased off a mugger or had frightened away someone getting a little too handsy. A couple were red, when they'd had to flee before doing any good.

Still, they weren't exactly making a name for themselves. Not if 'bull-punching' was Puck's current claim to fame.

"You really can't tip cows over?" Artie asked Puck, who shook his head.

"Nah. Way too heavy. The team tried freshman year." His eyebrows rose. "Hey, but I could, now. I really made that cow roll."

"Bull," Tina corrected.

Things would start looking up, Rachel told herself. Things would start looking up.

* * *


"Say it again," Rachel said to Mike.

"I missed a catch, Dad," Mike said and adjusted his bag of frozen peas. "Some guys and I decided to run extra passes and the football got through my hands." Then he lowered the bag and Rachel winced at the sight of the dramatically dark bruising around his eye. "Does it really look that bad?"

"It looks pretty bad," she said. She was nowhere near a good enough liar to pretend otherwise. Morose, he returned the bag over it and winced at the contact.

After patting him gently on the hand, Rachel stole away to ask, "What happened?"

Quinn shook her head in irritation. Amazingly, it seemed to be directed at the circumstances rather than Rachel, or at how Finn had been the captain of that mission. "Well, we were about ninety percent sure that we actually stumbled on a drug deal."

"A drug deal," Rachel repeated in disbelief. "Columbus has drug deals?" Realizing how stupid her words sounded, she said, "Sorry, of course it has drug deals, it's a big city. But you actually found one?"

"It certainly looked that way," Quinn said. The captains had decided to pull names from a hat, figuring that it would be good practice to be able to use whatever combination of powers they had on hand. But when Santana had refused to walk into the cow field full of manure while Puck and Tina tackled that issue, Rachel was worried that other groups would be similarly dysfunctional. Finn drawing Quinn's name was a nightmare in the making, they were all sure of it.

But then, somehow, they'd put aside their differences and worked together. Honestly, she didn't know how they'd done it. "Was he armed?" Rachel asked with concern.

"A gun," Quinn said, nodding. But then she smirked, brushed her hair away from her face, and said, "Finn read that he didn't see us coming, and I was able to focus enough to make that gun so cold that it burned his hand."

"Well done!" Rachel enthused, and after a bit of wariness Quinn seemed to accept the compliment from her. "But then how did Mike...?"

"The guy bolted for his car when he saw a bunch of people in masks," Quinn grumbled. "We told Mike to let him go, but he was determined to fly after a car rocketing down the streets."

"Mike got a black eye from flying?" Rachel asked, confused.

"No. Mike got a black eye from missing a turn and smacking into a building." Quinn shook her head. "Someone needs to learn how to brake."

"Hey!" Brittany said with excitement, and both girls turned to look at her. "I'm flying!"

"We all do really seem to be settling comfortably into our powers, at least," Rachel said weakly. "Even if—"

Rachel and Quinn cringed at the heavy thump. Brittany slid down the wall, then shook her head to clear it.

"Braking does seem to be a problem," Quinn said dryly.

* * *


It wasn't just missions that were causing trouble, either. She'd juggled crime prediction, dates with civilians, and field missions, and was just barely able to hold everything together when they assembled in her basement once more. But they were all still them, just superpowered, and so had all of those clashing personalities.

Puck sneezed so loudly that it echoed off the far corners of Rachel's basement. She and Kurt looked at the wall, did a double-take, and then wrinkled their noses in identical disgust. "Puck!" Kurt said. "Cover yourself when you sneeze!"

"What?" he asked, but turned to follow where they were looking. When he saw the tiny dent he'd left in the wall, like his nostril had fired a very small bullet, he started laughing.

"That's disgusting, Noah," Rachel snapped and hurried to the bathroom. She grabbed a wad of toilet paper and the Lysol, then thrust it at him. "Clean up after yourself."

"It's just snot," he said as he swiped at the wall. "Do you know how much people smear on the desks at school?"

"I am so glad we're in the middle of summer vacation," Kurt muttered, but then frowned and seemed to be working through something. He went abruptly white and lunged forward to grab Puck's shirt. As Puck looked with amusement at where Kurt was holding him, Kurt demanded, "I cannot believe I'm asking this, but: since your powers appeared, have you had sex?"

"No," Puck grumbled. "Wanted to make sure I had good muscle control before I started, you know." He thrust his hips forward and impacted Kurt's, who yelped and skittered backward. Like he hadn't done anything, Puck blithely continued, "But I think I'm pretty much set."

"With your conscious muscle control, yes," Kurt said delicately. "But, um, when you sneezed, you just...."

Puck frowned, considered the dent in the wall, touched his nose, and then looked down the length of his body. Though it took him a few seconds, he suddenly went nearly as pale as Kurt. It was quite an impressive transformation. Rachel wouldn't have thought he could manage it. "Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me."

Was Kurt seriously worried that when Puck... oh, no. Rachel didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Of all people, Noah Puckerman might be condemned to celibacy if he didn't want to hurt his partner?

"I take it you've...." Kurt's hand jerked a couple of times.

Puck looked flatly at him. "Duh, twice a day."

"Well, that was more detail than I needed," Kurt said. "Did you, um...." He ran a hand across his face, seemed to steel himself, and then asked in one breath, "Did you catch it or did it have the chance to fly free?"

"Always used Kleenex or a sock," Puck said. His frown deepened and he rounded on Rachel. "I need to use your bathroom."

"No!" Rachel squeaked, but he was already walking in and slamming the door shut behind him. She spun to face Kurt and slapped him on the shoulder. "Why! Why did you bring that up? Why did you have to think about him doing that?"

"Well, I'm sorry my mind wandered and may have saved Lauren from an ER trip in the process," Kurt said. "In exchange I think you can deal with the knowledge that Puck is unzipping on the other side of that door."

But she didn't want to deal. Glad that no one else had noticed their argument, Rachel hurried to the sound system and put on whatever album was already inside. Though some of the others looked annoyed at the sudden round of showtunes interrupting their conversations, they seemed to chalk it up to Rachel being Rachel and went back to what they'd been doing.

"I think I liked it better when the two of you didn't get along," Rachel sighed as she leaned against the sideboard next to Kurt and they both waited for the results. At least the music was masking anything floating through the door.

"No, you didn't."

"At this one moment, yes I do," she said. "Your mind shouldn't 'wander' like this! You have a boyfriend."

He eyed her. "Oh, come on. This isn't about romance, this is biology. If you thought that...." His face twisted with mild distaste as he gestured off at nothing. "A girl could hurt someone with period... stuff, you'd bring it up."

"And how would a girl hurt someone with 'period stuff?'" Rachel asked him.

"How should I know?" Kurt said. "I'm not required to know anything about it. At all. Ever. Thankfully."

"Oh, please. That sort of dismissive tone is the worst sort of behavior from a gay man, Kurt. My dads had to give me the talk when I hit puberty, you know. They bought me pads and tampons when I didn't know which I wanted to use. They still shop for them without complaining."

"And they are your dads, who are required to do that," Kurt fired back.

"We talked about getting a place together! Roommates are required, too!"

"Only if I get a discount on the rent," he sniffed.

"You can be insufferable, you realize."

Kurt rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot I was talking to the girl who thought I should throw away what I did on Pip Pip Hooray and write The Rachel Berry Story."

"I am far more interesting than someone named Pippa," Rachel said.

Kurt's gasp didn't seem entirely for show. "Blasphemy."

"You can't use that word, you're an atheist."

"Which is why I...." Trailing off, Kurt realized that Puck had opened the door and walked back out to face them. "Um. How did it...?"

"I can't believe it," Puck said blankly. "This is crap."

Oh dear.

"Maybe they sell... super-powered condoms at that supply store?" Kurt suggested hopefully. "Or, well, there are other ways. And, um. Okay, you look ready to cry. Please stop."

"I cleaned up your wall," Puck said morosely as he walked off. Apparently, he'd reached his limits for the day and couldn't handle any more time spent around discussions of superpowers. Though Kurt and Rachel tried to soothe his damaged ego and keep him there, he shrugged them off and slunk miserably to the stairs.

Rachel sighed, shook her head, and then looked in the bathroom. Her mouth thinned. "He dented the wall again, Kurt."

"Would you have rather he dented Lauren?" Kurt asked.

"He could have dented a wall in your house."

"Oh, like my dad would ever let Puck whip it out," Kurt snorted. "We are talking serious dislike coupled with serious overprotective issues with the whole 'boys are around' concept."

"You just had to say 'coupled,'" Rachel said, and Kurt made another face at her.

"I'm sure he'll figure out some way to handle it," Kurt eventually said. "He's actually acting like a decent guy, now. He's not going to hurt her for his own gratification."

Or he would promise her that 'he'd pull out, baby,' Rachel thought darkly. And that had gone so well with Quinn. It felt odd to have less faith in Puck than Kurt did, considering their mutual histories, but she supposed it was only natural for her to side more with the girl. "I just hope he realizes how serious a risk he could be taking if he pushes things."

"He won't," Kurt said. When she glanced at him, Rachel saw that his gaze was as far-off as his voice. "Really. He won't."

"It's good to see everyone trusting each other so much," Rachel said after some hesitation.

After all, she'd just drawn Quinn for her next trip, and they had to have each other's back.

* * *


"You froze my hair, Quinn," Rachel said as she slammed the car door and pointed at the driveway until Quinn stepped out of the other side.

"It was smoldering."

"It was doing no such thing!"

"I saved you from going bald," Quinn said airily.

"The bottom inch of my hair snapped off!" Rachel shot back.

"Oops," Quinn said, and dug for her keys. She glanced at Rachel again when she'd found them, and said in that silk-smooth way of hers, "I know you might not believe me, but you were too close to that fire." They'd been debating whether to try to help or to wait for the firefighters to arrive. "You really were smoldering."

Rachel frowned. She and Quinn had veered back and forth with how they behaved around each other, and she'd thought they were on the mend. Then Quinn had been outright cruel to her during the flight to Nationals, and had remained pointedly nasty for the first few days of the trip. Though she'd pulled back by the end, Rachel had no idea where they were with each other, and it was all too easy to think the worse.

"I suppose you can trust me or not," Quinn finally said.

"All right. I trust you," Rachel said, remembering Kurt's words about Puck.

"Good." Quinn just fought back a smile, and it only tugged at the edge of her lips. "And you've had a big soot smudge across your nose the entire drive back." But then she let her smile free, and it seemed genuine. Rachel managed to smile back.

* * *


Weeks passed. They added more green Xs to the map than red, even as people juggled practices or work or family dinners. Uniforms began to reflect their individual tastes. Powers came when they were called upon. Every combination of members might not love each other, but they got along. And when significant others were invited to movies or restaurants, they seemed safely in the dark. Everything, Rachel thought as she watched Artie fiddle with a screwdriver, was completely under control.

"Oh, I just remembered something," Rachel abruptly said. "Ages ago, you said you wanted to tell me something about Matt?"

"Right!" Artie said, sitting up straighter. "Okay. It's really weird, and I've been thinking about it a bunch. But the thing is: I saw him. But he was older."

She waited for the rest of the story and frowned when it didn't come. "All right?"

Clearly frustrated, Artie gestured back and forth a few times as he struggled for words. "No, it looked exactly like him, if he were just a few years older! Or... or about ten years older. Somewhere in the middle."

"Did you ask his name?" Rachel asked.

"No. Brittany and I just saw him standing outside the school, like he was looking at it." Seeing what she was about to ask him, Artie sighed and said, "It was the parking lot, so he could have been waiting for someone. And yeah, the only other person who saw him was Brittany."

"Brittany?" Rachel asked, because Artie was clearly very intent on this matter and wanted it solved. "I could ask her...?"

"No," Artie grumbled. "I know she's not exactly the best witness." Well, Rachel had been going to dance around the issue a little more, but he was right. After considering that, he shook his head and said, "Gah. Sorry. This is just bugging me so much, and I don't even have a good reason for it. I've been working on something to... never mind. I just want to get this all solved."

"All right," Rachel said and decided to leave him alone. Whatever his reason for being so unsettled, Artie really didn't need to worry. Everything was all coming together. Why, then, did she get the distinct feeling that Artie worried that all of their carefully-arranged blocks might come falling down? From the sound of things, he probably wouldn't be able to explain himself if asked.

But that didn't mean that his subconscious hadn't noticed something, she reminded herself. They'd focused on not giving their parents anything to pick up on, or their love interests. A person could notice a bunch of things that didn't seem to make sense, and then have it all come abruptly together.

Rachel considered that as she watched Kurt comment on Puck's new outfit. "I told you," Puck said as he tugged at the short sleeves to his new jacket. "I wanted sleeveless."

"I tried that," Kurt said good-naturedly. "This still shows your arms. Oh, stop it. What you asked for gave you a vest, basically, and wearing it alone made you look like a big strapping leather daddy."

"Maybe I want that," Puck said with a frown, obviously trying to pass off his ignorance. Kurt didn't do a very good job of fighting back giggles, but Puck didn't seem to take offense.

Well, no wonder Artie was confused, Rachel thought as she moved on. There were a lot of unexplained little things here and there.

* * *


After a month of patrolling suburban parking lots and punching cows, Rachel felt they deserved a bigger challenge. "Artie?" she asked hopefully. "Did you find anything yet?" She'd asked him to hunt down a real threat. Any hint of a bank heist in the making, a shipment of laboratory materials that would be stolen, possibly a supervillain coming to visit distant relatives in Ohio... but no. He'd kept getting distracted from his mission, saying that he wanted to figure this out.

Figure what out, she didn't know, but asking him about Matt had apparently set him to it with a purpose. There was some question and Artie desperately wanted it answered. Rachel didn't know why he was bothering, not when they had so much to look at ahead of them, but they did need their techie to be focused. If this was what it took to get that focus, she would let him wallow for a little longer.

Meeting in her basement had become a standard thing. It was a very rare occasion that they had to meet somewhere else, and they'd settled in comfortably there, with little fear of discovery. Plucking something from his broad array of half-built gadgets, Artie ran something new over Mike. Mike was clearly wary as he asked, "What are you doing? Are you going to zap my neck again?"

Frowning, Artie fiddled with something on the pieced-together device in his hand. "I'm not sure."

Finn looked up with concern. "If he says it's for bees, don't touch it."

That made Artie stifle a laugh behind his hand. "Pretty sure this isn't for bees. It either scans us for being mutants or scans us for... um...." He studied the device again. "It might be scanning us for excessive styling products. 'Cause, you know, they've got weird chemicals in them."

"Check it on Kurt," Mike and Finn instantly said.

They all called Kurt over, who walked there with clear unease about whatever Artie was pointing at him. "What's going on?"

"Stay still," Artie said as he fiddled with knobs. Rachel looked over his shoulder and noticed most of the group was joining their little experiment to see the results. "Stay still," he repeated as Kurt tried to move to see what he was holding. After a light flashed red, he turned it off and said, "No."

"No what?" Kurt asked. By that point he looked more than a little irritated.

"The first option is that no, you didn't use too much crap in your hair today," Finn said wryly, and poked a finger at the helmet-like pompadour he was sporting. It sprang back into position when Kurt batted him away.

"So it's gotta be saying no to the other option," Mercedes said, and Tina and Mike nodded solemnly at her.

"Hey," Kurt said. He looked more offended by the second. "I use exactly as much as is necessary for this style."

"So if he uses enough goop to set off option number one if you'd accidentally made that instead," Santana asked, ignoring Kurt, "what else could it have been scanning for?"

"I'm about ninety-nine percent positive I made it right, so: Kurt's not a mutant." Artie said proudly. "I knew I wanted to make a mutant scanner, and I that's what I did!" His voice quieted a bit as he added, "And it only took me two weeks."

"Oh," Kurt said. Then he brightened. "Oh!" He clapped his hands. "Hooray! Not that we don't recognize the injustice and are trying to fight it and blah blah blah whatever, I just really didn't want to grow a tail." Then he pointed at Tina. "Stop with the judging look, you didn't want one, either."

"I don't know," Mike said quietly as Artie began running the device over everyone and heard a steady stream of 'no.' "She had ideas for a tail. Fun ideas."

It took hearing the 'no' beep on her before Rachel realized the problem Artie had been trying to solve.

She knew Puck posed an unwitting threat, but not how he would fool Lauren on a long-term basis. Blaine didn't suspect anything about what Kurt was doing in secret, but he kept asking about Puck during mutual dates and Rachel hadn't the slightest clue why. They needed to tackle something bigger, but she didn't know where to find it.

Despite her attempt to keep everything under control, questions kept piling up. Artie had just asked one of the biggest ones.

"So if we're not mutants," Mercedes began, "and we don't think Mr. Schue did this, or Coach Beiste, or any barrels of radioactive waste...."

Santana finished her question. "Then what are we?"

No one had an answer.

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