miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-10-27 11:16 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 10/?)

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: 10,500
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: Boy, this chapter got long. Except for the use of Nick Fury elsewhere, this has the single biggest Marvel cameo in the story. Remember how Santana wanted to find easily-bruised starter villains? Well, there's actually a team for that! Knowledge of them isn't at all necessary for reading this; that link is provided only as a point of interest.

And I should say: don't expect some moments that were going smoothly by the end of this to necessarily continue that way next chapter. :)

"I can't tell you exactly where the information is coming from," Artie announced, "but there's going to be a major assault on Ohio State tonight."

Santana rushed to his computer and scanned the information there, and then rounded on him. "What do you mean you can't tell us? You're not Woodward and Bernstein. Stop protecting a source."

"I'm not protecting a source," Artie said with irritation as he turned his laptop back to face him. "I honestly don't know how I got into this board. I hacked a password or something without trying, and then it automatically booted me out after ten minutes."

"Oh," Santana said without apologizing, and leaned in again to read the report again. Artie snorted at her.

There were more than a few posts, but they were short and mostly written at a fifth-grade level. Whoever the posters on that board were, they were indeed planning to attack the campus that evening. Their messages were full of boasting about how they would strike fear into the heart of 'flyover country'—condescending jerks—and leave the entire state trembling in fear of what they might do next.

"At least it's during summer," Artie said, "so it won't be a full campus of students. That'd get pretty gruesome."

"Even so," Mercedes said. "There'll still be people around. It could be gruesomeish."

"And we should probably go and stand up to those invaders," Rachel said with a confident pop of her eyebrows, "so they never have a chance to hurt people. Shouldn't we?"

"Just to be clear," Kurt said and cleared his throat, "we're not just practicing to be safe with our powers, and we're not just talking about protecting the underclasses that no one else looks out for. We're discussing going out in total public to protect a major landmark from an open assault, when the police would completely swarm it if we just left well enough alone."

"Yeah, and would the police come before or after these guys slaughter a bunch of summer students on their way to whatever they're aiming for?" Santana asked. Thanks to weeks of a Lima-only curfew, Kurt had missed many training missions in favor of costume alterations and had only joined them again for the last week and a half. On one hand, he obviously needed to practice less than most. On the other, it was sort of weirdly... gratifying to help people. Sure, sometimes those people were idiots and Santana laughed when they tripped as they fled to safety, but it was still better to see them get away than get hurt. Kurt hadn't felt much of that. Which meant that he might go back into little whiny bitch mode when they delved deeper into superheroics. And that meant that Santana Lopez might have to kick some ass.

"I didn't say no," Kurt said with a bare hint of a smile, which Santana felt herself returning. "I just wanted to clarify."

Although the majority seemed ready to rumble, Finn looked near death again. As the group worked, he stayed slumped at the far end of a couch and gave the impression that anyone who came near would risk having their brain put through a psychic blender. Kurt risked it anyway after he'd finished participating in the collective pep talk; he probably felt guilty over having another imaginary Captain Kirk tryst inside Finn's head. "Whatever you read from me last night, I'm sorry."

Mournful brown eyes stared at him.

"I only remember one dream," Kurt began. After a pause during which a few specifics likely floated back to mind, he slowly continued, "And... apparently a picnic in Central Park with a unicorn and Hillary Clinton traumatized you deeply." Kurt frowned. "What on earth did I eat that night? Even for dream logic, that doesn't make sense. A unicorn would never have pastrami on rye."

"It wasn't a dream from your room," Finn mumbled. "And it wasn't a... dream."

"Oh," Kurt said, blinking. Shock ran suddenly through him and in a mournful voice he repeated, "Oh."

Finn let out a tiny, pained cry and held a throw pillow over his face until Kurt pried it away.

Santana considered the other people in that house and burst out laughing. They both glared at her, but she was unrepentant. "Was there ass-slapping?" she giggled. "Is your mom an ass-slapper, Finn?"

As Kurt gagged, Finn reared up and ordered her, "Shut your mouth, Lopez." His eyes flared purple, just for a second, and Santana skittered backwards before he managed to do whatever creepy psychic thing he'd been planning. Well, it was good to know that insulting his family might awaken something besides that totally vanilla psychic telephone operator service.

"Well, I suppose that's another night of New York dreams, then," Kurt muttered to change the subject. "Again. Like I've been having for nearly a month straight."

She hadn't said much after the initial talk on the topic, but New York had been showing up more frequently for her as well. Now that Artie had raised the question of just what they might be, Santana was concerned that someone in New York had done something to them when they were there. It would explain their powers showing up right after Nationals, and could explain the dreams about the city that she'd heard mentioned across the entire choir. Some had just had a few. Others, like her and Kurt, were practically living there.

But—deli-shopping unicorns aside—the dreams were usually so boring. They weren't about being superheroes in Times Square or getting the key to the city. Hers were about waiting at intersections in some neighborhood that she somehow knew was called Sunset Park, or shopping at corner stores.

(Bodegas, she corrected herself.)

"Where's the 96th Street Station?" Finn asked and rubbed the heel of his hands against his eyes. He must have pulled back before things got too bad in that bedroom, Santana decided, or he'd be catatonic. "I've gone there like ten times to go... to go somewhere."

"On 96th Street?" Santana drawled, and got a flat look in return. She didn't mention that her Brooklyn dreams kept focusing around the 45th Street Station. Her boring, mundane dreams about taking that subway station for a morning commute when she was tired and didn't want to go to school.

"Upper West Side," Kurt told Finn, frowning. "Wait, but that's where—"

"Hello!" Rachel said, upstairs but so loudly that it carried down to the basement. "Okay, hi, so you're surprising us and want to see everyone! I'll just go let them know that you're here!" She ran down the stairs and just had time to hiss, "Lauren is about to walk in, look normal!"

"Well well," said Lauren when she had followed Rachel down the stairs and done a long, slow survey of the eleven people in her basement. "Guess you've been forgetting some people, huh?"

Puck froze for a second, but then slipped into his charisma like pulling on a mask. "Baby, I can explain."

"So can I," she said with a smirk. "See, Puck and I were making out on his bed yesterday," Lauren said. "We were ready to get down to business, but he left me there when he had a craving for a chili dog."

"7-Eleven was having a special," Puck said when everyone eyed him oddly. (Except for Kurt and Rachel, who seemed sympathetic; weird.)

"Anyway, I started digging through his closet because I wanted to throw out a shirt," Lauren continued. Puck looked offended. "What? I told you that I hate the one with the deer antlers. I am not down for rolling around with dead Bambi."

"But I love that shirt," Puck said. Although he didn't look wary, Santana had a terrible idea of where Lauren's story was going. Of fucking course this girl—this girl—was going to cause trouble and ruin all their plans.

"See, Sam texted me a few days ago to ask if I knew what was up with you guys hardly being around. At all. Ever." Lauren folded her arms across her chest and looked unimpressed as she continued, "Then he brought in some scrawny guy who laminated his head."

"Blaine is not scrawny," Kurt snapped. Santana barely fought back her laughter, as Kurt apparently didn't realize he'd decided that the description must apply to Dapper Do-Right.

Lauren ignored him. "We were trying to figure out if you guys were hiding something or what. And then? I did not find Puck's antler shirt." Lauren smiled and Santana's stomach dropped another foot or two toward the ground. "But I did find his superhero costume and mask."

Everyone turned back to Puck. He shrank under their attention. "How was I supposed to know she'd look in there?"

Lauren could not look more smug if she tried, and Santana knew about how smug it was possible to look. "Guys? Come on in, I did my big intro." A big pair of lips and an awful head of hair came to flank her on either side. "Mind filling us in on everything we've missed?"

Quinn stormed up to Puck and smacked him across the shoulders a few times. "Ow!" he said and held her off. "Quit it!"

"Is she right?" Sam asked. He was nearly vibrating with excitement. "Are you guys superheroes? What can you do?"

Blaine was far more reserved. His brow was furrowed and his shoulders tense as he slowly approached Kurt and asked, "Is this really true? I mean... there has to be some other explanation for what she found, and why you've been gone so much. Because you would have told me, right? You would have told me something this big?" But of course Kurt could only fumble for an answer that wasn't there, and he looked sad and hurt at the confirmation that he'd been lied to.

"So you are superheroes," Lauren deduced. "This kind of kicks ass." She pointed at Puck, who'd managed to disengage himself from Quinn without simply throwing her free, and said, "But you should have told us. Jerk. Here I was getting sick of being blown off, and... okay, you still don't ever get to blow me off, but I would have understood if you were saving people."

Having managed to move past his parental trauma, Finn stepped into the center of the discussion and put his telepathic skills to better use. "I know you guys are upset," he said, as it was apparently past the point where they could lie about what was going on. "Well, Sam wants to train to be an unpowered superhero like Batman, but still, there's some tension."

"How did you know that?" Sam asked, but the answer clearly came to him. "You really do have superpowers, because Finn's a telepath and he just read my mind. I am so in. Can I get a costume?" he asked. A sudden grin lit up his face. "Oh, oh. I know! I could have a leather duster like Neo."

The room was torn between those looking worried that they'd be reported to the authorities, that trio of trouble-making newcomers, and the people trying to appease them. Puck picked up Lauren, who looked more than a little intrigued at his powers, and Sam actually cackled as he slapped his hands against Mercedes' shield and watched it flare up each time. Blaine, though... he tugged Kurt off to the side for what would clearly be a serious discussion. That one looked the most interesting by far, and so it was what Santana eavesdropped on.

"I didn't believe it when Sam messaged me on Facebook," Blaine said quietly. "Or maybe... maybe Puck had a reason to have those clothes, but you wouldn't be the same way. You would have told me. We'd just said 'I love you,' this was just starting... you wouldn't lie to me."

Kurt flinched, and that was all he seemed to need for an answer.

"And then I remembered how hurt you'd gotten in Columbus," Blaine continued. Though he had to keep stopping to swallow or take a deep breath, his voice was steady when he did speak. "How you just happened to have found the violence going on and you just happened to wind up in the middle of it. How you just happened to have stumbled across some mutants who needed help, and seemed to think that it was really, really wrong that they were getting targeted. Like it was something that should be fixed."

"I didn't want you to be Gwen Stacy," Kurt said desperately. "Okay?" He apparently seemed to expect Blaine to understand that reference, and when he only got a blank expression, Kurt continued, "When the bad guys figure out who knows the person behind a mask... those people can get hurt. If you didn't know, no one could ever target you."

"How long?"

"I'm sorry I've been lying to you, okay?" Kurt pleaded.

"I'm not asking about the lying," Blaine said. "How long have you been putting yourself at risk by playing with these powers? Where have you been going? What have you gone up against? It's not fair to leave someone who cares about you in the dark like this, Kurt. It's not about... it's not just about the lying. It's that I didn't even know you were putting yourself in real danger. That's never all right."

"Lauren and Sam seem to be taking it better," Kurt muttered, nodding toward the two.

"Yes, well," Blaine said with an almost eerie calm, "they haven't gone through thinking that the person they care most about in the world just barely escaped dying, have they? It's a little more real to me." The two stayed quiet for a while. It felt like Blaine was collecting himself after revealing more than he'd meant to, and Kurt was feeling his guilt seep down through every pore. Only after they'd wallowed did Blaine smile and ask, "So... what can you do?"

Tension poured off Kurt, and he nearly giggled as he clasped Blaine's hands and said, "Okay, focus on how you can feel me. Got it?" When Blaine nodded, Kurt vanished from sight. Blaine jerked back in surprise and then started feeling around for his invisible boyfriend.

"You were supposed to hold on," Kurt said chidingly as he came back into view. Now he was doing the splits as totally as Brittany could manage. With an impish smile, he caught the leg behind him and brought that foot up to touch the back of his head. "I'm a ninja," he said casually as he sat like he wasn't contorted far past what should be comfortable for anyone.

There was something very interested in Blaine's expression as he swallowed a few times and said, "Oh." The word had to be at least half an octave lower than normal.

"Show-off," Mercedes laughed, and the two boys turned to see some of the room watching. Finn winced at how Kurt was sitting, Mike and Brittany seemed impressed, and Puck... as Lauren groped his arms, Puck simply stared.

Kurt gave them all a perfect royal wave, and then eeped in surprise as Blaine looked away from the others with a glower, reared forward, and kissed him thoroughly. He slid into a more convenient position with feline grace that was almost too quick to follow, and for a moment he seemed to forget where he was and that they had an audience. Soon Kurt blushed and extracted himself from the kiss. "Shut up," he said good-naturedly to the people catcalling their display.

God. These were some of the people who'd made his life hell, and they didn't care at all about what they'd just watched.

She'd been eavesdropping to entertain herself, Santana thought sadly as she met Brittany's eyes. She hadn't wanted another helping of guilt, of judgment, of the feeling that she just had to... screw this. Santana pulled herself together with almost physical effort and said to the two XY-chromosome attention whores, "So anyway, Richie Rich—" They looked confused and she clarified, "His hair is vacuum-sealed, figure it out." Now that she had Blaine's attention, she continued, "I just thought you should know that we're going to drive to Columbus to kick some ass."

"You're going back there?" Blaine asked, his good mood instantly gone.

"It sounds like people could be in a lot of danger," Kurt pleaded. "And who else is going to handle it? I'm so much better than I used to be with all of this, I promise. I know what I did wrong last time. I won't do it again." He saw Blaine about to protest and said, "Please? I promise I'll stay safe. No more nosebleeds for Kurt Hummel tonight. We might be able to save people from dying to some awful people who think they should be allowed to hurt anyone they want, Blaine," he added for a trump card, and Blaine's shoulders slumped.

"We're going with you," Blaine finally said. He raised his voice and reiterated, "We can't stop you from going, but the three of us are going with you."

"Unacceptable," Rachel instantly said, and Sam and Lauren's faces fell. "They're civilians! They're a security risk!"

"They could stay in my van," Artie offered. Rachel only looked more annoyed. He saw that and said to her, "Do you really think, between the three of them, that they wouldn't tell someone?"

"We'd totally tell someone if you didn't take us," Sam said breathlessly, although he didn't really seem to mean it. Someone was clearly just high on the idea of being around superheroes. "Yeah, totally. You should bring us with you."

Everyone shared a wary look. "Okay," Rachel finally relented. "The three of you can come with us. But you have to follow orders."

* * *

Rachel knew she was pushing her luck. After all, she thought as the team slid through the night to converge around Artie's van, it was hard enough to get everyone to behave. Bringing in civilians—civilians!—was just going to complicate matters. Plus, Blaine had been fascinated by how very tight Kurt's leather outfit was and how many straps had been included as weapon holders. His mind wandering meant Kurt's mind had wandered, and she was almost positive that he hadn't listened to her during the drive there.

"I think we should split up," Rachel said when she considered the chatty people around her. They'd had more success with smaller teams, after all. "We know they're coming to campus, but not where. Envision, you can bring us together once we've identified our target."

Artie nodded and began to say something, but Sam cut him off to enthuse, "You just called him by his code name. That is so cool."

After a pointed throat clearing, Rachel inclined her head toward the van. "Sam, Blaine, Lauren, you will be staying here. Inside the van. The entire time. That was the deal." Although they were clearly filled with varied mixtures of fear and excitement, they nodded. Perhaps she should have coddled them a little more; after all, they had just had this bomb dropped on them and had scrambled to get an alibi for a trip to Columbus. But they didn't know who was threatening the university, where they'd be, or when they'd get there. It was important to hurry.

"Wildfire," Rachel said. "Will you lead a team?"

Santana smiled broadly. Now that they each had their own little realm, she was far easier to get along with. "I suppose."

Rachel gave momentary thought to trying to balance powers, but the teams were naturally splitting apart into groups of who most liked spending time together. If Santana wanted Brittany and Quinn with her, why force things? She was more than happy with Finn, Kurt, and Mercedes.

"I'll go with them," Puck said as he began to move toward Rachel's group. That wasn't surprising, either; Finn and Rachel were there, after all.

"Nah, come with us," Santana said after a quick glance around the group. "Tina should be sentry for the van, since she can send anyone running away from the normals. And that's going to mean that—"

"Then I should stay with her and help!" Mike said.

"What's your codename, anyway?" Santana asked Tina.

"Dread," Tina said. She seemed to revel in the word, rolling it around her mouth like a fine wine.

"Like the judge," Puck said. "Nice. But I really want to go—"

Blaine spoke abruptly up. "You should go with Wildfire's team, Champion."

"Who asked you?" Puck snorted.

He put his hand on Kurt's shoulder, trailed down his arm, and interlaced their fingers together. "It'll balance the numbers," Blaine said smoothly. "And your captain gave you an order." Kurt looked down at their hands, where Blaine was squeezing tightly, and seemed both pleased and confused.

"Fine," Puck said after a short pause, and kissed Lauren. "For good luck," he said with a wink. "Not that I'll need it. Come on, Wildfire. Lead us, uh, wherever."

Santana waved to everyone, and then her group set off running. Rachel checked the campus map she'd printed out and pointed in the other direction. "Everyone, let's go. Envision, Swift, and Dread, keep them all safe, and don't let yourselves be identified. Talk to you guys later, bye!" They waved, and then set off at a brisk jog in search of whoever might be planning an attack on the city. Surely it wouldn't be too dangerous, she thought as they slipped between shadows and avoided late-night students. Who would have any interest in Ohio?

* * *

After nearly an hour, Artie's warning proved true. Santana had started to doubt him, really. "Finally!" she said as she watched two spandex-clad, refrigerator-sized men round a corner and look startled at the presence of costumed heroes. "We were wondering when you guys would show up." Her communicator crackled and Santana turned to it. "Yep, we've got a sighting. Two very large, probably dumb guys."

"Hey," one said, clearly offended.

Artie spoke up. "Good. The other team just encountered two more. Sounds like they split up to go looking."

"Thunderball," asked the paler man, "did you know there were do-gooders here?"

"No," Thunderball sighed. "I expected this to be a simple job."

Santana raised an eyebrow at how he was holding a large metal sphere on a chain. With his current stance, it rested neatly between his legs. "You're seriously 'Thunderball?' On purpose? Did we wander into a low-budget porno?"

Thunderball glared at her. "Shut it, girl."

"Thunderball," Puck repeated with amazement.

"I was going to complain about our outfits being boring," Brittany said as she looked over his green and gold spandex suit, "but I guess I'm just glad that we don't look like a 7-Up bottle."

"Wrecker," Thunderball said grimly, "let's take these children out of the way." Santana got the distinct impression that he did not appreciate being compared to delicious lemon-lime soda.

His companion nodded and lifted a large crowbar above his head. "Sounds good to me." Both pieces of metal started whipping in circles. Perhaps they should find that intimidating, but Santana couldn't get over how those big scary weapons were a crowbar and a ball on a chain, and how their group were super-strong elemental wielders of chaos.

"Thunderball," Quinn repeated. It sounded like her giggles had been building for a while, and although she tried to tamp them down, she couldn't keep her shoulders from shaking.

"Seriously," Brittany said. "That's so much worse than sounding like a deodorant."

That was when Wrecker launched his crowbar. If Quinn hadn't shrieked and thrown up an instinctive shield of ice to deflect it into a wall, the flying metal bar would have sliced her neatly in half.

"You're not stopping us from taking home that prize," Thunderball said grimly.

* * *

"What 'prize?'" Finn repeated blankly. Rachel narrowed her eyes at their two foes and tried to think of what Columbus could possibly hold for the semi-famous villain team known as the Wrecking Crew. They weren't anything like top-league players, as their typical cycle was breaking out, getting slapped down, and returning to jail, but they'd gone up against some of the best. If they were all the way out in Ohio, it was because they thought there was something to help them match up to that top tier.

"Thunderball promised us a prize!" said a man in a ridiculous yellow suit studded with rivets. From her research, Rachel knew he was called Bulldozer.

"Yes, you just said that," Kurt said with a dramatic roll of his eyes. "We're asking what the prize is." Behind him, Mercedes quietly repeated "Thunderball?"

"We don't know!" said Piledriver, who looked like someone had tried to make a Captain America costume entirely out of cut-up t-shirts to wear to a comic book convention. "But something is going on in Columbus, and we're going to get it!"

"Anthem," Mercedes said dryly as they studied their two opponents, "you get the feeling that we're not facing the brightest stars in the sky, here?"

"I am getting that impression," Rachel said. She was getting that impression very, very strongly.

* * *

"We should be calling the police," Blaine said grimly as he listened to the feed over Artie's communication system.

"Why?" Sam asked. His expression was far more engaged with each word over the speakers. Blaine seemed to have decided that the night would be nothing but terrible. Sam, though, had told them that the Wrecking Crew invariably lost and sounded excited to see how it would happen this time. "When they see the special effects, they'll come!"

Blaine stared at him for a beat before he managed to say in a strangled voice, "These are not 'special effects.' This is very real fighting happening with the people we care about, who are in danger!"

"Why don't you have a video feed on these things?" Lauren asked Artie impatiently.

"I'm sorry my amazing technological creations aren't up to your standards," Artie replied.

"I hate sarcasm," Lauren said.

Artie eyed her sidelong. "You're sarcastic all the time."

"I mean that I hate bad sarcasm."

Artie snorted and then proceeded to ignore her. Movement outside his windshield reminded him to check on Mike and Tina. They still seemed bored and on the verge of turning their attention to each other, which was probably a good sign.

Yeah, he decided as he tried to listen to what was going on and make sense of it all. Version two of these things would definitely have a video feed.

* * *

"Shit!" Wrecker said as he went skidding across the street and picked himself up at the end of his run. "That hurt!"

Santana flashed a grin at Puck, who cracked his knuckles and looked more than a bit proud of himself. Even if his blows weren't putting these guys down for good, they still smarted, and he clearly enjoyed being able to cut loose on people who could take his blows full-force.

Thunderball was still busy with Quinn, who'd figured out how to handle him on her own. Considering they'd only been doing this for a month, they were awesome. There had indeed been students on campus for summer night classes, as well as locals strolling across the school grounds. They could have easily been nothing more than bloody smears. Instead, their team corralled the duo until the crowds had screamed their way off into the distance, and only then laid down the real pain.

They were going to kick so much ass when they turned pro at this.

"You look hot right now," Brittany told Santana as she glanced away from the attacks she was lobbing.

Santana instinctively looked around to see if anyone had heard. It wasn't unusual for Brittany to say that to her, but doing it so openly was a risk. People could make assumptions, and making assumptions could drive them to look deeper, to raise questions that she didn't want to answer...

But, Santana realized a second later, who would they ask? This wasn't Brittany Pierce, this was Haywire. She wasn't saying it to Santana Lopez, but to Wildfire.

After a quick survey to make sure that neither Puck nor Quinn was paying attention, Santana said warmly back, "So do you. So freaking much." Her nerves still flared, but that brilliant, thankful smile Brittany gave her made them all go away. She barely had to think about lobbing a fireball at Wrecker, and his screams were like distant music to a sudden romantic soundtrack.

Wrecker threw Puck across the road to give himself some breathing room, patted down the flames, and fired off several creative swears that even Santana didn't know. Neat, she thought as she mentally recorded them. Future ammo. "Where the fuck is this lab?" he asked desperately, looking more than a little battered and singed. "We just need that lab, and then we'll kick all your brats' asses!"

"Lab?" Santana and Brittany asked in perfect stereo. What sort of lab would they have at Ohio State that would earn so much attention? It wasn't like they were making their own Hulks or super soldiers just down the street from where the Buckeyes trained... most likely.

"We looked it up!" Wrecker said as he and Puck started wrestling in the street to gain an advantage. Both tried to plant their feet to become the immovable object, and asphalt folded. "And we found it: they put people on a table and zap them with electricity!"

* * *

Artie had never facepalmed quite so thoroughly in his life. He sighed, turned up the volume on his shoulder, and said, "I've been in that lab."

"Wait, who was that?" Artie heard a voice—he thought it was Wrecker—asking the question through Santana's communicator.

"I'm... uh, Envision," Artie said, catching himself just in time. "What do you think is happening in there?"

"We knew it!" Wrecker said proudly. "He's a member of this new superhero team, and he went through those experiments with electricity. I'm sure he's a new Thor in the making, or—"

"Guy, shut up," Artie repeated until their foe calmed down and let him talk. "These powers came from somewhere totally different. That lab is a treatment for spinal injuries and paralysis. It's the same thing that a university already did in Kentucky."

"Look, we got intel saying that there was something cool in Ohio and it's gotta be this!"

"No it's not," Artie insisted. "They use electrodes to apply low-voltage impulses to the spinal column. It's pretty boring."

"Nuh uh," said Wrecker.

"Yuh huh," Artie fired back. "I was there! I saw an aquarium and boring medical journals in their waiting room and everything!" He was vaguely aware of the others having clustered around him to listen in on the conversation; even Mike and Tina had popped back into the van.

"You've got to be kidding me," Wrecker said. "It's seriously got nothing to do with superpowers? Thunderball promised us more powers. Now what do we do?"

"Head to jail," Santana said. "Duh."

"Don't provoke him!" Blaine said desperately, grabbing at Artie's shoulder. "You'd almost just talked him down and—" When the sound of heavy impacts echoed, he winced and pulled away. "Well. So much for avoiding tearing up the city any more."

"You don't want to talk a bad guy down!" Sam said excitedly. "You want to throw him into the road and make a big crater! And then hit him with lasers or something!"

Lauren nodded. "Yeah, that sounds more fun."

After a weird, annoyed noise at the roof of the van, Blaine frowned. "Wait. Is the other team being quiet, or did you lose that feed?"

That was an excellent question, Artie thought as he pulled his communicator off his shoulder and studied it. "Well, I thought we were listening to everyone, but... oh. Oops, yeah, I set this wrong," he said. Sticking his tongue out, he fiddled with a wire and proudly slapped his invention back on his shoulder. "There. Now we can hear what's going on with Rachel's team."

They did.

Rachel's scream was piercing.

* * *

They had not planned this well, Rachel thought as she flung herself out of the way of a flying streetlight. She turned to face Piledriver as he stomped with a motorcycle held above his head, then took a deep breath. If she wanted to live, she had to pick a song with soaring notes and a tremendous climax. One came to mind from one of the biggest divas in the world and Rachel grabbed for it. She sang each word perfectly, and light and sound poured from her.

Of course, when her notes exploded against their enemy, they did so with physical force. It hadn't taken long to discover that the duo was very nearly immune to physical attacks.

So much for that, then.

As Rachel dove back to safety, Kurt stared at her from where he was cowering under a thrown car. "You seriously just sang 'I Surrender' in the middle of a fight?!"

"I've tested musicians!" Rachel yelled back as she dodged a few stray bricks that finally fell from the listing wall above her. "Celine is one of the most effective!"

"So sing 'The Power of Love!' 'I Drive All Night!'" His glare sharpened. "Don't sing about surrendering!"

Oh, whatever. Like he was any more use in this fight.

Finn! Rachel thought, hoping he could hear her. She didn't know where he and Mercedes had vanished to and hoped he was safe inside her shields. Please say you can do mental bolts! Many telepaths could directly attack their enemies' minds. It seemed at least possible that Finn might be able to do the same, and right now he was their only hope for launching a non-physical attack against their enemies.

It had been all too tempting and easy to stick Santana, Quinn, and Brittany together. If only they'd mixed things up a little more, Rachel thought as she cringed further into the shadows upon seeing Bulldozer walk around the corner.

"Couldn't find 'em," he told Piledriver. "Where're your two?"

Rachel nearly squeaked when a hand grabbed her arm, and then realized Kurt had turned invisible and scurried across the space between them. The blur of her nose vanished from her vision as he illusioned her, too. "Stay still," he whispered. "I'm pretty tired, but I can keep this up so long as we're touching and we don't move."

It was no wonder that he was tired. When they'd realized how much they'd bitten off by facing these two, Kurt was the one who felt most comfortable with his powers and so who assumed the mantle of leading the first strike. He'd pulled out a sword he'd found at a pawn shop and rushed them, only to spend the next minutes trying desperately to get away. A single hit from them would leave him broken, if not dead, and it was all the three of them could do to help get him to safety. Now he was exhausted, drained, and unable to move without giving away their cover.

And unfortunately for them, they were sitting under a brick wall that was about to topple.

Finn, Rachel tried again. Without her powers of absolute focus, she wouldn't have been able to manage sending those thoughts through her fear. Please, please be okay.

I'm here, she heard faintly. It was difficult to hold back tears.

"I just heard Finn," she whispered and felt Kurt squeeze her in relief.

Stay there. They knocked over a building and Mercedes kept us safe with her shield, but it's taken her a while to figure out how to flex it in and out. She just slid the concrete off. We're on our way.

"They're coming," Rachel whispered. If they could hold on until they were inside Mercedes' shields... if they could hold on until the others joined them....

Another brick toppled from the leaning wall. It exploded into shards when it landed and pelted them. After they'd finished cringing, Kurt laughed weakly, "Well, I did design these costumes to hold back shrapnel." They stayed quiet as their two enemies continued stomping around, calling for them, but eventually Kurt spoke back up. "That wall's about to come down."

"I know," Rachel said. She'd been staring at it. They wouldn't live through those thousands of bricks landing on them.

"Come out and play, kids!" Bulldozer shouted and hefted a moped plastered in Buckeyes stickers. "It's been fun seeing what the minor leagues send out for a warmup!" He snorted when they stayed still, and then tossed it over his shoulder like a child bored with a doll.

It smacked right into the wall. A few more bricks fell, and then the entire side of the building began to slide free.

"Run!" Kurt hissed at her, and they bolted from their 'cover' of a newspaper dispenser. His illusion fell away at the first steps and both men pointed at them and laughed. "Run!" he said more loudly as he grabbed her hand. That didn't help her, Rachel soon realized, but it did mean that he was forcing himself not to leave her—and her shorter legs—behind.

"Hey, Piledriver!" shouted Bulldozer, and Rachel heard the groaning of another car being lifted. "Fifty points if you get them in one hit!"

Tiny, desperate gasps tore out of Rachel as they ran for their lives. She was going to die. Kurt was going to die. They were both going to die in homemade superhero costumes and their parents would be so mad that they'd been lying all this time. She heard the wrenching metal-on-metal sound of the windup, and then... the pitch.

She could see the shadow move toward them in the long fingers of the streetlights. In a second, she was able to process that they wouldn't be able to dodge. Kurt used that time to wrap himself around her. That meant they weren't running, but that hardly mattered by that point. Nor did his attempt to shield her. They were both dead.

When she heard metal creaking again, Rachel opened her eyes and fully expected to see the afterlife. Instead, she saw the underside of something very large hanging not two feet above her head. In the darkness she could make out a faint purple glow around it. "What?" she finally managed to ask. Kurt was staring at the car with similar confusion. In unison, they both looked for whoever might have saved them. Maybe Artie invented something, or maybe Mercedes had just become far more adept at manipulating shields....

Finn was standing thirty feet down the road, panting. A similar purple glow ebbed and swelled around his forehead.

Not mental bolts, Rachel realized with a sudden wave of relief. Telekinesis. He did have some other power lurking back there, and the sight of them about to die had forced it to the surface.

"Oh god," Kurt said after staring at Finn, and then looking up again at the underside of the car. "We're under a Suburban, move," he shouted, and then actually threw her to the side. She rolled across the pavement, bruising herself on rubble, and was almost too pained to see Kurt leaping after her and suffering the same fate. As soon as they were clear, the massive vehicle crashed to the ground. Glass exploded from the windows as they shattered. A few stray pieces tinkled to the asphalt around them.

"Run!" Kurt shouted again. His voice was so strained that he had to be fueled by pure, unfiltered adrenaline. He grabbed at her again, and Rachel forced herself up as she saw their enemies approach. Though they made it safely to Finn, he collapsed against Kurt as soon as they were near. Blood had started to stream from Finn's nose.

"It was too heavy," Kurt muttered as he awkwardly shuffled Finn down the street. "It was too heavy for him, he is going to be out—hurry!" he yelled as she rounded the corner and they saw Mercedes coming. Finn must have run at full speed toward them, which had saved their lives but left her behind. She was still running as fast as she could, though, and her shields flared as soon as she joined them and propped up Finn's other side.

Another car rebounded off them a second later. Rachel, Kurt, and Mercedes all shrieked and crouched. Finn slumped to the pavement after they let him go, and they hurriedly gathered him back into her shields.

"How long can you keep these up?" Rachel asked as Piledriver picked up a brick, threw it, and chuckled as it shattered against the wall of energy.

"Long enough, I hope," Mercedes said. Her hands were glowing again. They still had no idea what that glow did, but she'd apparently decided to let it build to its conclusion. After all, Rachel thought grimly as the two men picked up two benches and started walking toward them, it wasn't like things could get much worse.

* * *

"Stop it!" Wrecker shouted pitifully. "It hurts!" Brittany sat on him and plucked another chaos-made feather from his head. Santana smirked.

Once they'd figured out what to do, these boys were almost too easy. They were both big, tough, and strong, but brought very little else to the table. Considering they had their own thick-headed tank on staff, it was a simple matter to send in Puck for a distraction and then stand back and set off fireworks.

After Puck had softened that big goon up, Brittany managed to call chaos spheres on command for the first time ever. They didn't arrive every time, but more often than not she'd flung her hand forward and a ball of pure improbability had flown from it. That big hunk of muscle had actually squeaked in surprise when his crowbar dissolved into rust in his hand. Another bubble later, he fell flat on his face when his boot ties were suddenly and implausibly knotted together.

Puck looked up, bored, from where he was pinning Wrecker's arms behind his back. Once he'd gotten the advantage he'd held onto it securely. He looked nearly ready to yawn as he asked, "Should you be helping her?"

Glancing at Quinn showed a girl in total command of her fight, so no, Santana didn't need to help. First she'd made the road below Thunderball slick with ice, and attempting to swing his weapon had left him flat on his ass. Then she laid down another layer of ice directly on top of him, and another when he punched through it. Though her attacks and his escapes had been an even match for a long time, eventually he succumbed to the cold.

A crowd had gathered at the far end of the street: far enough away to be safe, but close enough to stare in wonder at the new superheroes who'd just made a spectacular debut on the streets of Columbus. "Hello!" Santana called merrily toward them. Oh hell, she thought, why not ham it up a little now that they finally had the chance? Her hip cocked to one side and her hand fluttered a greeting. "Wildfire, at your service! My friends and I just thought we'd pay you a visit and stop—"

"—talking and come with me," Mike finished as he bolted from nowhere and grabbed her wrists.

"Excuse me, I was handling our PR," Santana said as she yanked her hands free.

"And the other team is about to start dying," he said harshly. "Move."

"What?" Santana said. That didn't sound right. "But these guys were pushovers."

"Who can throw off physical attacks!" Mike said insistently, and the repercussions of that hit Santana instantly. They'd divided themselves in the worst way possible.

Puck looked up from where he was holding Wrecker. His eyes widened, and then he punched Wrecker hard enough in the back of the head that any physical resistance did him little good; the man's eyes rolled back and he collapsed flat against the sidewalk. Then Puck bolted up and took off running before Santana could stop him.

"Shit," she said. Unlike Puck, she recognized that they didn't know where to go. "Swift, do you know where they are?" Sirens drove up behind them, but it wasn't like she could run away like their last trip to the city. Not with villains in the street, a whole crowd for an audience, and a need to go save their friends. "Uh," Santana said as she turned to face the police. "Hello, brave officers." Fuck! She was talking like Rachel. Was that how superheroes were supposed to sound? "We've prepared these villains for you, and now we just need to, um. Go kick their friends' asses."

The policemen stared at her, probably because they'd never thought that their force would have to deal with this. That call across their radio had probably really taken them by surprise.

Quinn cleared her throat and asked, "Can you handle these men and free us to protect the city from their companions?" She poured more of her powers on top of Thunderball until he was inside a solid lump of ice. Faced with them and the police, he didn't do anything but shiver.

That phrasing seemed to get through. Apparently superheroes really were supposed to talk like that. (Or at least, a bunch of clueless Columbus Police Department officers thought they were.) The young officer in front of Santana stammered, "Uh, um, yeah, sure. We've got these guys. You go stop them, um...?"

"Wildfire!" she called as Mike scooped her up and hopped into the air. He took off like a shot and Santana shrieked despite herself. It felt like they were completely out of control; for all she knew, he'd forget how to brake again. She could just see Brittany following them, although she couldn't keep up with Mike's speed, and Quinn was running down the streets well behind.

And Puck was... somewhere.

* * *

"I can't let you out of this van," Tina said apologetically, but with undercurrents of pure steel. Artie looked at where she was blocking the door and then refocused on his communicators. He knew that the four in danger had clustered safely inside Mercedes' shields, but then static had taken over. For a couple of awful minutes they'd had no idea what was going on with their friends.

"Move," Blaine said to her in what was easily the harshest tone Artie had ever heard from him. "I am not kidding, Tina."

"Neither am I," she said. "I sucked up some energy from a streetlamp. I'm all charged up and ready to go."

He took a step forward and said, "Kurt's in trouble and you are blocking my exit. You're not super strong."

Her voice didn't waver. "Neither are you. You're not super-anything. And it's my job to not let you guys die because a bunch of unpowered targets ran in. If you take another step, I'll have to zap you and you'll be in pain or... or you'll really, really like it, but you won't be able to move forward." There was a short pause; Artie didn't bother looking again. Having Sam and Lauren try to figure out what he was doing was enough distraction. "I'll do it. Kurt would kill me if I let you run into danger."

"Dammit!" Blaine finally said, and hit the side of the van hard. He practically threw himself against the floor. Artie glanced back. He was curled into a ball, every line tight with tension, and tears threatened to spill from his eyes. "Please be okay," he started whispering, and Artie turned back to his work.

"Turn up the power," Lauren suggested. "Maybe you need to punch through whatever's causing the static."

"Try changing the frequency!" Sam said, trying to lean in and touch the wires himself.

"Stop it!" Artie barked at them and they pulled back.

Sam looked annoyed for a second, as he clearly wanted to help, but then he stood and sat next to Blaine. "They'll be okay," he said. "These guys always lose. I promise, they'll be fine."

"This is real life. People die in real life." A shuddering breath fell from Blaine and he continued, "I just want to hear that he's okay."

"They're all going to be okay," Sam said with unshakable certainty. "Mercedes has those shields for a reason. She's going to keep everyone safe and then they'll pull off some huge attack and win. You'll see."

* * *

"Come on," Rachel begged Mercedes as she supported the other girl. "Please. Please keep going."

Her shields flickered around them. Sweat trickled down Mercedes' face as she forced herself to keep that armor up, and the glow around her hands built toward... whatever it would eventually do. She was at the limits of her powers as surely as Kurt had been in that alley, or Finn was when he used his mind to keep several tons of automobile from crashing down on their heads. Clearly, she was paying the price.

"It's hard," Mercedes whispered as Piledriver pitched another piece of wall at them. A few pebble-sized pieces of concrete got through momentary holes in the bubble. Rachel didn't want to think about what would happen when larger holes began to open. "I'm sorry. It's hard."

Glancing elsewhere in their tight knot of bodies, Rachel met Kurt's eyes. They were as grim as hers as he put all his remaining energy into keeping Finn upright. Finn had woken up, at least, but he still wavered from side to side. If he fell out of those shields, they both knew very well that a brick would instantly be sent flying at his skull. But his support would lose the adrenaline driving him, and if Kurt faltered and both of them collapsed....

"Please keep going," Rachel whispered to Mercedes once more. "Please."

"I'm trying," Mercedes said. She looked ready to falter, and a drop of sweat fell from her chin, but she was still going. "I'm...."

At first Rachel was struck with fear that she'd reached her limit, but then she realized what had Mercedes' attention: in the distance, Mike was speeding toward them with Santana in his arms. "Finn," she said intently. She knew Artie had thrown together a new communicator for Santana to replace the one she'd burned up, and didn't trust that it worked right. "Can you pass something on to Mike and Santana?"

He looked ready to pass out again, but pushed through the pain and nodded. Closing his eyes, Finn concentrated, wiped at the fresh trickle of blood from his nose, and nodded again. "Done."

Rachel turned back to the night sky as Mike sped toward them. She'd just barely been able to pick them out against the darkness, but if her plan held....

Mike overshot them and dropped Santana as he passed. In the seconds between being released and splattering the pavement, she turned into elemental fire and landed directly on Bulldozer's head. He shrieked in pain and managed to throw her off, but at the expense of his blistered hands. His costume had fallen away in many places and a metal helmet had just barely saved his head from a similar fate.

"What the hell?" Piledriver asked, spinning around with a car still held overhead. "Oh, fuck, there's no way they took out the other guys!"

"Guess again," Santana said and threw a fireball. It wasn't anywhere near as large as Rachel knew she could manage; she must be near her limits, too. But she still looked impressive, and at least for that instant the fight had tilted their way. "You okay?" she called over her shoulder. Her fire form was like a sodium light glaring across the entire block.

"Swift!" Rachel yelled at Mike when she saw him pass overhead. "Get the others here!" He nodded and flew off, and Rachel answered Santana. "Just keep them busy until the others arrive."

"Got it," Santana said confidently, and Rachel tried not to think about how the street looked a bit dimmer each second.

Piledriver growled and prepared to lob his car at Santana, only to fall into the pavement up to his knees. It stayed quicksand a second longer and then re-solidified around his legs. He sputtered in protest. "What the... what's going on? Who are these people?"

"Don't hurt her," Brittany ordered as she approached and landed. This was not the inconsequential picture that Rachel often had of the girl. She would no sooner let this man throw a car at Santana than Santana had let that street criminal shoot at Brittany. When she stalked forward through Santana's fading light, she was like a mountain lion approaching at sunset.

Sinking into the pavement had locked him in place, but Piledriver still had use of his arms and the car they held. He glanced toward Rachel and smirked. She didn't know why.

A second later, Bulldozer slammed his blistered arms against Mercedes' shield and it finally popped. He screamed in pain and fell backward, but the damage was done. "Mercedes," Rachel said nervously as she watched Piledriver's car pull back for a sure throw right at their heads. She was the only one of the four who wasn't half-dead on her feet; they wouldn't be able to run. There was no way they could run. "Mercedes. Mercedes!"

"I'm trying," Mercedes said as the bubble flickered in and out. "I'm trying." Santana tried to burn Piledriver like she had Bulldozer, but he moved the car like a flyswatter and she had to back up. "Oh no," Mercedes said frantically as she saw the car leave his hands. "No no no...."

For the second time that night, Rachel's death stopped right in front of her. The car screeched as it impacted something, and then fell to the ground in a mangled heap. Santana's fire form had faded and Rachel was nearly blind until her eyes adjusted, so she heard their savior before she saw him.

"I will fucking kill you," Puck said as he flung the car aside. He sounded as little like him as Brittany had when she was protecting Santana. Though he initially stalked toward Piledriver, he saw Bulldozer making another lunge toward the exposed group and snapped back with inhuman speed. His fist impacted the battered man hard enough to send him flying.

That was when the other two members of the Wrecking Crew came limping up after Quinn, who was blasting them with ice at each step to try to slow them down. "The police were supposed to handle you!" she snarled.

"These guys don't know what they're doing," panted one of them. (Thunderball, Rachel thought.) "It was easy to get away from—"

Mike dropped out of the sky, landed on his head like Mario bouncing on a foe, and vanished back into the darkness.

Thunderball wobbled, but stayed standing. He and Wrecker leaned against each other and looked ready to collapse, as did Bulldozer when he pushed himself up, and Piledriver when he finally extracted himself from the asphalt. They were at their limits as they reconvened at the far end of the block. If they pushed them one more time, they probably wouldn't get back up.

Santana hadn't managed to call her fire form again, though. Brittany kept snapping her hand forward but no more chaos spheres came. Finn had pushed himself too far in his one rescue, Puck was weaving where he stood, and Kurt was standing only on willpower. Quinn was drained. Considering the speed Mike had pulled out, he probably couldn't do much more of that head-bouncing. Maybe they could call Tina in, Rachel thought, and make the Crew run in fear a few times. That would tire them out. Maybe—

With a roar, the energy that had been building up around Mercedes' forearms leapt away from her in a solid beam of energy. It powered down the street, hit the Crew full-on, and they vanished inside its blinding blue-white light. The afterimage seared Rachel's vision and she was blind when it faded.

By the time her sight returned, the Crew was completely unconscious on the campus street.

That time, they didn't get up.

Mercedes, Finn, and Kurt all collapsed to the street, panting, and Finn wiped his nose. When she felt her knees wobble, Rachel joined them. Brittany lunged for Santana, and Puck sort of... flopped on top of Rachel's group and smiled tiredly.

They'd won.

They'd just destroyed about a dozen buildings and twice as many cars.

But they'd won.

* * *

"They won!" Artie crowed and slammed his hand against the dashboard. "Holy crap that was scary and great."

"Come on!" Tina said as she listened to the communicators. "I hear reporters! I saw some lights during the fight, I think they're that way—" She pointed and the other three took off running. "Hey!" she called after them. "Hey, you're not supposed to... oh well. Do you want me to push you?"

Artie smiled sadly. He'd read comic books. Barbara Gordon didn't get the glory when she organized the Birds of Prey from her wheelchair. "Nah," he said. "You'd better run if you want to get on camera."

"Artie," Tina said. "But...."

"I'll have a big moment. Just... this isn't gonna be it," he said, shrugging, and tried not to let the hurt come through his voice. "Go on."

She smiled apologetically and then took off after the rest of the group. As her boots faded against the concrete, Artie sighed. Maybe he should go back to working on sex robots. Everyone would pay attention to the guy who made a good sex robot.

* * *



Action, Rachel thought as reporters swarmed. Her smile was huge despite her exhaustion. A quick glance around the team showed that nearly everyone looked as cheerful as she did. Even Finn looked awake, if not exactly healthy, and was standing with only minor assistance from Kurt. "Hello, fair citizens of Columbus!" she said.

They hadn't been arrested yet, so they were almost certainly covered under the collective decision that supervillains were responsible for any and all property damage, and superheroes were off the hook so long as they brought them in. "I'm Anthem," Rachel said, and her smile faltered as she saw Sam, Blaine, and Lauren run into the crowd. Tina soon followed and merged with them, and Rachel continued, "These men had planned to tear everyone on this campus apart, but rest assured that they've been taken care of!"

"You're welcome," Mercedes said, sounding more than a little smug. Sam's eyes sparkled.

"Who are you?" asked one of the reporters. "Another Avengers shoot-off?"

"Uh, no," Santana said. "We're our own team, thank you very much. I'm Wildfire." She started pointing around the group and everyone said their codename in turn.

"And what's your team's name?" asked another reporter.

Everyone froze.

"We're the... um...." Santana stammered.

"Don't you even think it," Mercedes said when Rachel opened her mouth to say 'the Golden Stars.'

"The Awesomes," Finn said. Everyone turned to look at him very, very slowly. "Hey, you should have thought of a name."

"And the... the Awesomes are committed to looking out for the most vulnerable people of Ohio," Rachel continued in horror. She and Finn would need to talk later. But for now, he could serve a far more important purpose: public relations. Her review of teen superhero teams said that the public loved romances. She smiled dreamily and pulled Finn in for a deep, loving kiss that only barely tasted of blood.

Flashes exploded. For a moment Rachel thought of Nationals, and how their entire world had boiled down to the moment with her and Finn onstage.

Someone else seemed to be thinking much the same as Santana stared at them, muttered, "Not this time," and took a deep breath. "We will always be looking out for the people who need it!" she said in a voice just as booming and dramatic as Rachel's. She adjusted her mask like she was checking that it was there and then urged Brittany up to hover just above the ground.

Then Santana caught Brittany's cheeks in her hands, pulled her close with a fierce determination, and kissed her. Her neck arched with the distance needed to reach the taller girl as she flew. Though it was undeniably more impressive than what Finn and Rachel had done—neither of them had flown—Rachel knew that her friends weren't staring because of that.

"It's about time," Tina whispered.

"I didn't do that," Santana said softly when they broke apart for air, "to beat them."

"You sort of did," Brittany said back. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled.

"Not only to beat them," she amended, and that seemed to be enough. They were behind codenames and masks, but Santana had just given Brittany what they all knew she wanted after their awkward moments in front of the choir: something public. The world didn't know, but those disguises didn't hide them from their friends.

"So, that's the...." Rachel tried not to sigh. "The Awesomes! I'm sure you'll be seeing us around more. Tell your friends! Let us know if you'd like to license us for merchandise!" She was about to say more, but Finn cut her off with another kiss. Mike and Tina followed suit. Like it was finally too much to resist, the waiting boyfriends and girlfriend in the crowd broke through the line of reporters and claimed Kurt, Puck, and Mercedes for their own.

"We're dating," Sam told everyone after he and Mercedes finished their first, deep kiss.

"We figured," Quinn said dryly.

In a rush of triumph, the group waved to who they hoped would be their adoring fans. Even those who'd been reluctant to join found themselves loving the attention. It was, Rachel thought as she found herself on the verge of tears, exactly what she'd always dreamed of.

As they were overwhelmed by the reporters and onlookers, no one thought of anything else: property damage, how they would get to their cars without being followed, or what they would do for a follow-up.

Or how their faces filled a news break on every local channel.

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