miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-11-10 11:30 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 12/?)

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: 8,000
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: It's time for some big, heavy emotions, so: this group of characters. I am trying to make this feel like the show with superpowers. ;) Other kids' reactions to their situation will be explored as well, but since there's some additional knowledge for this group, it has them one step ahead of the plot game.

They'd moved to their apartment near Central Park when they were almost seven years old. The boys learned that it was expensive to move somewhere new, because you had to give money to the people who owned the building so that they would trust you to live there. There wasn't much of a birthday that year, but they didn't complain. Being so close to the park was a better gift than some plastic toy.

A year and a half later, Kurt thought numbly, his memories said he'd gone to a funeral in a small town in Ohio. Finn thought his dead father was sealed in an urn. "Finn?" he asked shakily. "I'm thinking of something right now, really hard. Can you look at it and see if it's real? I know it can't be, but I just want to make sure."

The sun had shone brightly that day. It gleamed on the polished surface of the coffin as it descended forever into the ground.

Finn focused enough that his eyes regained a faint purple glow in the darkness, and then shook his head. "It's fake. The whole funeral was fake."

Shock nearly made Kurt double over. He'd accepted that two pasts couldn't co-exist, but hearing the confirmation left him dizzy. The sadness of her death, the impact of her passing... and all this time it had never really happened? All this time Carole had been her, and alive? "I can't handle this," Kurt said and leaned against the side of Finn's truck. His head felt ready to float away. "I can't."

Finn didn't always know the right thing to say; he usually didn't, really. Telepathy had to help, though, and he smiled as he gently touched Kurt's shoulder and asked, "Remember what happened after you talked me through my first dates with Rachel? Back there, I mean?"

Did he remember? He remembered finding a restaurant she'd like and suggesting it to Finn. He remembered hearing Finn's voice from the bottom bed as he talked nervously about being sure that she'd dump him after one date. (When Finn's legs proved to be on the gangly and clumsy side, the bottom bed was for his own protection.) He remembered being asked if there were any girls he liked, because maybe Finn could return the favor.

He remembered whispering something into their dark room and feeling terrified until he heard that it was okay.

"Yeah," Kurt said, nodding. He managed to smile. "Yeah, I do. Remember when we saw The Nutcracker for Christmas when we were little?"

Finn laughed. It sounded like it hurt. "I was so scared of the rats. I didn't know why anyone would want to see that."

"You started crying," Kurt agreed. "We had to go home early."

Both boys trailed off, unable to do anything but look at each other in the dim light. Their lower lips trembled. Finn finally broke the stalemate when he lunged forward and wrapped Kurt in a firm hug. "I'm sorry, man."

"And I'm sorry," Kurt said against his shoulder. "I don't know what to... I can't... I have my brother back."

"Yeah," Finn said into his hair. "Let's go home."

It took them a few more clinging seconds before they finally stepped apart. The emotion seemed to have embarrassed both of them, and they laughed sheepishly as they peeled off their battered jackets and made do with the thin shirts underneath. Finn had on jeans, and Kurt wearing a pair of complicated pants wouldn't draw any notice, so they let that stand as good enough and climbed into the truck. They were nearly halfway there before either spoke again. "What do you think they were doing in New York?" Kurt wondered.

"I don't know," Finn said. "I can't remember. I still have all these big holes. I can't remember them or what school was like, but I can remember this really good ice cream shop around the corner."

Kurt nodded. Huge black voids still dotted his memory, like his life had been censored, but the little details were easier to retrieve. The bigger stuff would come eventually. Now that they'd breached the dam, he was sure of it.

Halfway there, Kurt watched curiously as a media van did a U-turn in the middle of the street and started heading the other direction. But his thoughts moved quickly past it, as he was starting to grow nervous over the upcoming confrontation. "How are we going to do this? I mean, how are we going to start?"

"I could read their minds and try to figure out what to say," Finn said. "Or we could just go for broke. You know: we used to live in New York! What's up with that?"

Kurt started laughing. "At the end of this long day, that does have a certain appealing simplicity to it."

Finn glanced away from the windshield and grinned. "You wanna do it that way?"

"We shouldn't." Kurt met his eyes and then gestured for him to look back to the road. "But let's."

Anticipation had them giddy by the time they parked and walked to the front door. They'd found another good reason for being late that night, so seeing lights on in the living room was a surprise. Kurt didn't think their parents would still be downstairs waiting for them. That was all right, though. It would streamline things. "Okay," he said. "Let's do this."

Finn bumped his fist against Kurt's and then fumbled with his keys until the door swung open.

He hadn't turned the lock. Burt and Carole were waiting for them.

"We need to talk," Burt said grimly.

"Yes, well," Kurt said with as much self-possession as he could. Ruining their grand entrance had let a little air out of their plans. "We need to talk to you, too."

They stepped back and let the boys inside, and closed and locked the door behind them. Finn and Kurt exchanged a heartening glance and nodded at each other as they followed their parents to wherever they were going, but froze as they rounded the corner. That was them on television. There was no hiding it, no trying to deny it. Not when the tall boy who looked like Finn in a tiny mask was kissing the girl who looked like Rachel in a tiny mask, or when Blaine was there without any mask at all.

"Is this what you've been doing all these nights you've been out with your friends?" Carole asked levelly. Burt looked at Kurt's pants, then back to the television where a reporter was discussing these new heroes, and his mouth thinned.

"Uh." Finn glanced at Kurt and grimaced. We kinda screwed up our plan, dude. But he took a deep breath and said, "Yeah. Yeah, that's us. We're superheroes. And we saved some lives tonight, so don't try to tell us it wasn't a good thing."

"When the hell did this start?" Burt asked. "How long have you been lying to us?"

Whenever Burt used that tone, Kurt wanted to follow orders without question. It took him a few words to break the habit. "Ever since the last day of... wait. Wait." He planted his feet firmly and demanded, "How long have you been lying to us?"

"Hey!" Burt said. His temper had sparked. Kurt could seldom stand up to seeing that fire in his eyes, but on that night he managed to meet his father glare for glare. "Don't try to change the subject on me, Kurt. This is not a joke. We are going to sit you down and find out exactly what the hell you two think you've been doing—"

"Ever since we moved from New York?" Kurt asked, and Burt faltered.

"What?" Carole asked.

Finn stepped in. "Don't lie, Mom. We know we used to live in New York. On 93rd. Remember?" He ignored the way Burt and Carole looked warily at each other and pressed on. "We know, okay? And all that stuff on the TV? Well, yeah. It's true. And I can read minds, so I know that when Kurt remembered living there, it really happened."

He hesitated, perhaps to give them a chance to speak up, but they didn't. They didn't seem to know what to say. Finn continued, "And we know that we had our memories ripped away, and we were turned into different people... but we're really brothers."

"Why?" Kurt pleaded when their parents remained silent. "Dad, why did you split us up?"

"Burt, they said this wouldn't happen," Carole muttered.

"'They?'" Finn repeated. "Who's 'they?' What's going on? Why have you lied to us?"

"We can explain," Burt said soothingly. He held up his hands. "Just sit down, all right, guys? We can explain."

"No you can't," Finn said. "I can feel it rolling off you guys. You're totally panicked." He took a step closer to Kurt, so that they formed a unified front against the two adults. "Why did you lie to us about New York?" he added more forcefully. "What have you been hiding?"

"Come on, guys," Burt said with a smile like he was talking down an angry dog. "Let's go sit down and Carole can grab you something to drink, okay? Let's just keep this all nice and calm."

"Keep what nice and calm?" Finn said and glowered at him until his eyes gleamed. Burt and Carole gasped at that first visible signs of their powers, but Finn gasped louder when he staggered back a step and latched onto Kurt's arm for balance. They were never in New York with us.

Kurt stared at Finn. What?

Seeming to realize what was happening, Burt and Carole stepped forward. Finn, panicked, held out his hands and a wall of telekinetic force drove them back. "No, Finn, please!" Carole shouted. "Oh god. Please let us through, this is important!"

"What did Mom and Dad look like?" Finn asked Kurt desperately.

"I don't..." It was hard to remember. He'd never really tried, and they'd had such a short time with their new memories. Kurt could remember ball games on the television and being tucked in at night when he was a child. Carole had flat brown hair, then, like she'd used to before he'd taught her about highlights. Burt had hair, and it was surprisingly coppery and must have given Kurt the undertones that showed up in the sun.

But in his memory, Burt had dark eyes.

Carole had the light ones.

As he realized the implications, Kurt let go of his assumptions of who had been in that apartment with them. The vaguely remembered faces stopped looking like the two people standing there that night. "You're not our parents," Kurt whispered.

Finn's shield fell, likely from exhaustion, but neither adult dared to take a step forward. "We are," Burt said. "We are absolutely your parents, guys. Come on. Think about what you're saying."

As he fought back tears, Finn stared at Carole and said, "You're picturing where you used to live. You used to live in Virginia. You told me you've always lived in Ohio."

"How long has this been going on?" Kurt asked. His hands shook.

"We promise we are your parents," Carole said desperately. "We are. We will be for the rest of your lives, and we love you both."

That wasn't what he'd asked. "And how long have you been our parents?" Kurt asked.

Her mouth worked silently before Carole admitted, "For about two years, now." Finn let out a strangled moan and backed toward the door. "Finn!" she cried and grabbed for him. He jerked his hands away, but when she held on more tightly he let her do it. His expression said that his mother was holding him, and he'd never throw her free. He'd never lay a hand on her, even if she was actually a stranger who'd been lying to him for all of his remembered life.

"Kurt, son, please just listen to us," Burt began. He took a step forward.

As soon as those hands were on him, Kurt knew he'd be just as helpless. Those were arms he associated with comfort and strength and everything good in the world, and he refused to be lied to again. When Burt took another step forward, Kurt vanished from their vision.

Burt and Carole looked wildly around as Kurt silently edged toward the front door. He heard Finn's voice pleading for him not to run off and leave Finn alone, but he couldn't stay. He couldn't look at Burt Hummel's face and wonder who the hell he was. Knowing this would be the risky few seconds, he flung the door open and darted into the open night before they could lunge at it and try to stop his invisible body.

He ran. He couldn't go back into the house for his keys, so it had to be by foot. Kurt's boots pounded relentlessly down the sidewalk. Every step jostled his injuries from the fight, but when he started crying it wasn't from pain. When he'd faced that week with Burt in the hospital, he had felt completely and utterly alone in the world. He didn't know if he'd have a home to come back to, or any family that would care about him. Then, in the space of one evening, he'd gained a blood brother and discovered that he'd never been looking at his real father in that hospital bed.

Fire soon shot through him. His fight-drained reserves were nearly gone and he couldn't push any harder. Kurt gave up and slowed to a walk, pressing hard on the stitch in his side, and resisted the urge to scream. Why? Why had this happened to him? He knew that New York was where he wanted to be. He hadn't been so alone there, unlike almost all his memories of Lima. Why had he lost some perfect life and been imprisoned in one that tried to beat him down until he couldn't stand back up?

Kurt drew back his foot and kicked a stray can hard. It went shooting across the road, rebounded off a tree, and rolled back across the middle line. That can was still moving gently when Burt's truck approached. He slowed to study it in his headlights, and then leaned his head out to call, "Kurt?" He put the truck in park and stepped out to survey the night around him. When he looked straight at Kurt it almost felt like he lingered, but then he continued past his invisible son.

Kurt didn't answer. Burt eventually drove on and Kurt cut across a lawn in the opposite direction. By the time the rottweiler in the first yard realized he was there, he was already flipping over the next fence.

* * *

Judy Fabray hadn't said anything for at least a minute. Quinn watched the microwave clock change twice. "Do you have an explanation for this, Quinn?" she finally asked.

Did she have an explanation? No. Quinn didn't feel like she had an explanation for much of anything any more. All her life she'd heard that she just needed to meet all these rules that someone else had laid out, and then people would finally like her. She'd changed herself. She'd worked. She'd fought down everything about herself that others called wrong.

But the second you took a false step, Quinn thought darkly, people loved to point it out. She was tired of it. She was tired of almost everything.

"My daughter is throwing herself around a war zone, dressed like a prostitute—"

"No, Mom," Quinn said. "You don't get to say those things any more. You don't get to make sex sound like the worst thing in the world when Dad cast his own daughter aside. You don't get to tell my hair looks terrible because I'm not a little Barbie you can play with any more." Her palms slammed against the table. "And you don't get to tell me that I should be ashamed of saving people's lives when you would have loved for me to rip girls' lives apart to win prom queen!"

"Don't take that tone with me," Judy said, but she seemed taken aback by the fervor in Quinn's voice.

"My costume looks great," Quinn added. "Kurt worked really hard on it. So did Tina and Mercedes. So did I. Remember when she came over? We made plans. We worked on them right here."

Judy opened her mouth, took a deep breath, and closed it without saying anything more. She calmed herself before she continued. "I don't think you know how hard this is for me, Quinn."

"Hard for you?" Quinn asked with a bitter laugh. "I'm sorry, were you the one who had to keep finding a new place to live because you made one mistake? Or were you the woman who watched her own daughter get thrown out of the house and didn't say one word to help her?"

"Your father was a difficult man to live with, Quinn. You know that."

"Yes I do," Quinn said. "I really do." She stood without being excused. "Whatever. I'm tired after throwing myself around a war zone, and this prostitute really wants to get some sleep."

"Quinn, please, I'm just upset." Judy took another deep breath. "Let's figure out what to do with this, all right?"

"Because your advice has worked out for well for me before?" Quinn asked. When Judy didn't answer, she walked to her room without saying anything more.

* * *

"Go up to your room, Mike."

Mike's jaw worked, but he couldn't find anything to say. His mother wouldn't meet his eyes. His father....

He wasn't going to pay for school. He wasn't going to let Mike see his friends again. He was going to rip out everything in Mike's room except a bare mattress and a blank desk, and lock him in there to do his homework and think very carefully on the choices he had made with his life. Mike could see all of those threats in his face, because Mike had done something terribly wrong.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really sorry."

"Please just go upstairs," they both said, and he had to blink back tears. They looked like they were deciding which execution method to use on him. He knew they'd be mad if they ever found out what he'd been doing, but he hadn't been prepared for a reaction like this. Nothing like this.

"Okay," he said quietly and walked upstairs. His legs were numb. He didn't feel the steps. When he closed his bedroom door behind him, it was difficult to hold the knob.

* * *


Santana stared hopelessly at the news. That was her. There was no way to pretend any differently. That was her, and she was making out with Brittany. She wanted to throw up and scream and break things and apologize and shout Brittany's name to the heavens and just vanish. "I. That's."

"Give us your phone," her father said, and Santana handed it over without protest. Their faces were blank and their voices level. She had to cooperate, she thought with terror that weakened her knees. If she did what they wanted, then maybe she wouldn't make things any worse. Angering them further would be the worst thing she could do.

Not the worst thing, her brain laughed at her, and Santana almost started crying.

"Everyone knows, now," said her father. "Do you know how many calls I've gotten?"

Her head fell. Hair covered her face like a curtain. "I'm sorry." If she could just turn back time and not do this... maybe Brittany actually could turn back time. Maybe they could fix this. There had to be a way to fix this, right?

"Go upstairs," he finally said.

By the time she hit the fourth step, Santana knew she was going to throw up. She bolted for the hallway and flung the lid open. It wasn't fast enough, and the first thin splash of bile didn't hit water. More came as she clung to the bowl, like it was an anchor that would keep her away from when everything would fall inevitably and completely apart. Her hair slipped back in front of her and got wet.

Santana threw up until her abdominal muscles threatened to cramp. She fell asleep beside the toilet with the taste of vomit still in her mouth. Eventually soft hands woke her up and she blinked at her mother's face. Exhaustion had left her too hollow to feel any more terror about her fate. "Go to bed, pequeña."

"Mom, I...."

"Go to bed." A damp washcloth wiped down Santana's face and the dirty locks of hair. "We'll talk in the morning."

* * *

What conversation would they have had, Kurt wondered as he walked down the empty street, if he and Finn hadn't been able to challenge them on their lies? Without that knowledge, what was everyone else facing? Surely everyone had seen how they'd been on the news, but they had no idea they'd lived in New York. Their parents would only talk to them about the heroics in Columbus. No one but him, Finn, and Rachel yet knew the truth.

A street light flickered. It went out, struggled, and faded for good. Kurt looked at it for a while before moving on. In the emptiness it felt like the world dying around him, as if everything had ended for them that night. But then, he thought as he slipped through shadows, it had.

Their world was over. This was post-apocalyptic Lima.

A car rounded a far corner and Kurt went invisible again. He was beyond tired by that point and his head was starting to pound with the effort. He couldn't risk pushing himself too much further and needed to get off the streets. In a daze, he looked around for the nearest street sign and managed to orient himself within the city. There weren't any truly safe refuges. His face was on television, and so he couldn't try to make it to someone's house. Blaine's parents would know. So would Lauren's or Sam's.

When he realized that he was actually considering trying to make it to Sue Sylvester's house to cry for amnesty like Esmeralda, Kurt forced himself to walk toward one location that he knew was nearby. It wouldn't have people in it, no one would expect him to be there, and it had some memories he wanted to confront. He crossed onto the cemetery's property, dropped his invisibility, and let the night be his only cover.

They'd made the trip twice a year ever since he was eight: Mother's Day and her birthday. (No, they hadn't. Those memories were lies.) It was different finding her in the dark, and Kurt's feet were slow and clumsy by that point. A long time passed before he looked at a name that meant everything to him and nothing. He didn't know what he was doing there, but he didn't have anywhere else to go. Kurt slowly sat down in front of someone's grave, bowed his head, and wondered what he was supposed to do next.

All things considered, it was a good thing that Burt was the one to discover him asleep, still half-dressed in his hero's outfit. "Kurt," he said quietly as he laid his hand on Kurt's shoulder.

Kurt bolted to his feet, nearly falling over in the process, and backed away from Burt. "How did you find me?" Had Finn sold him out? Scanned the town, pointed where they should go?

"Didn't think you'd be going to anyone's house, what with the news," Burt said. "And I guess I just hoped you couldn't stay out of sight forever. I thought about places that wouldn't have people there at this time of night, and you weren't anywhere at school that I checked. So... I thought I'd try here." His voice took on a hopeful tone. "Says something that I figured it out, huh? That I knew where you'd go?"


Burt flinched at the short word.

"Who is she?" Kurt asked as he leaned on the headstone with his mother's... what he'd thought was his mother's name. Burt didn't immediately reply, and so he snarled, "Who is she? Whose marker did you erase so you could lie to me? Who else's past did you steal?"

"It's empty," Burt said. "There's no one." The enormity of his words staggered Kurt and he nearly wobbled where he stood. Kurt turned to run again and Burt cried with agony, "Please, son, wait!"

"Don't call me that," Kurt said tearfully. But there was something in that familiar voice that kept him there, and he stayed still as Burt slowly approached him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He knew that hand. It had felt smaller as the years went by and he'd grown to fill it... but then, he hadn't, had he? All of the memories he had of Burt Hummel were false. He'd never pointed out his carefully-wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, or laughed when their ambition for a family dinner outstripped their skills.

"You," Burt said fiercely, "are my son. Okay?"

He had memories of watching his mother die. Kurt could picture the day when he learned what 'gay' meant and instantly knew that he couldn't ever tell his father. Years and years of aching, crushing loneliness, and for what purpose? He could have had any false memories jammed into his head, and someone thought he needed to have those? "So what's your real name?" he asked coldly.

Burt flinched at his tone. "Just what I've always said."

Oh, sure. Their names made sense when he'd supposedly been named for his father, but expecting him to believe it now was absurd. "Really." Kurt smiled thinly. He could see the hurt in his father's... in Burt's eyes. Good. This stranger had been lying to him for years. He'd had Kurt weeping at his hospital bedside, and for what purpose? He wasn't his father and Kurt might already be orphaned.

"Yes. Really." Burt swallowed again and managed to say, "When I heard your name, I guess I sort of... took it as a sign."

"And when did you hear my name?" Kurt asked. He took a step back, out of the reach of Burt's arm. Burt tensed, probably worried that Kurt would run again, and then let his hand fall when Kurt remained distant but didn't flee. "Was it on my cage when you picked me up from the pet store?"

"It wasn't like that, Kurt," Burt insisted. "Please, believe me."

"Why should I?" Kurt asked with a glance toward the empty grave at his feet.

"Because nothing I've done...." Burt bowed his head, sighed, and shook it before looking back up. With apology in his voice, he amended, "Hardly anything I've done for the past two years has been a lie. The conversations we had, when you trusted me enough to tell me things about yourself... that was me, buddy. All me. And I was glad to be there for it."

"Why should I believe you?" Kurt repeated.

"Because all this time I've been trying to save your life," Burt said bluntly, apparently unable to think of any more diplomatic approach. "You kids are here because your lives were—maybe are—in danger. Carole and I didn't know that you and Finn were both the same way until I was almost ready to propose. It was that big a deal. We held back that much, and we did it to keep you safe."

"So what happened to my real parents?" Kurt finally asked.

"I'm sorry, Kurt, but—"

They really were dead, then. When he remembered them, that would hurt. "How?"

"I don't know. There's a lot that I wasn't told."

"By who?" Kurt asked. "Who was making these decisions about my life? Our lives?"

Burt took a deep breath and told him.

* * *

Austin was too goddamn hot.

Burt had worked at the Stark Industries fabrication plant in Detroit for years when a change in corporate direction was announced. Facilities needed to be overhauled. Rather than drawing a reduced salary for eighteen months while he got part-time hours, he took a temporary transfer to the Austin R&D center. He'd been involved in engineering up in Michigan, and so the idea of just designing things all day was kind of exciting.

He'd come there with a plan. Tony Stark had his problems as the big boss man way, way upstairs, but he encouraged innovation among his workers. Employees got to keep a percentage of all profits made off any patent filed. That percentage was tiny, but given how expensive Stark's goods were, well... just one or two good discoveries and Burt would be able to give his wife a better life than he'd ever dreamed. Then they'd head back to Detroit and her family and they'd be set for their entire future together. Burt had just overlooked one flaw in his plan: Austin was really too goddamned hot.

"An air conditioner?" his boss asked that day when he came back from lunch.

Burt laughed sheepishly. "Small air conditioner, sized for an individual storage unit or something. Hardly needs any power supply and it goes to sixty below." He saw the amusement and added, "Look, July here makes me want to kill someone. Or myself. So I went a little nuts with turning down the heat."

"It might have some potential," his boss admitted. "I'm not seeing many immediate applications that a cheaper or less powerful unit isn't covering already, but you never know. Good work, Hummel. I'll get the paperwork filed."

It was hard to hold back his fistpump until he was alone again. Maybe this wouldn't be his big break, but he'd just come up with something that was all his. It was a chance, at least, and so he brought home champagne that night. "Hey," he said as he kissed Melissa. "Big news. Well, a shot at big news, anyway."

It turned out to be very big news. Burt didn't get a check for the patent sale, because his boss was right: no one would pay for a tiny cooling unit that went far colder than most people needed and cost so much that its energy savings could never pay for the sticker price. No one, that was, except for one of the richest men on the planet who flew around every day in a blazing hot metal suit that was powered by giant jets of flame.

Tony Stark signed the check himself. It was a special circumstance, his note explained. Legally he could have simply seized Burt's design, since he'd done it for his company, but he'd stumbled into solving a problem that had left Mr. Stark sweaty no matter how many solutions he tried. Since he hated being sweaty with no fun cause behind it, a quarter million dollars seemed like a fair reward.

"We could buy a friggin' mansion with this back home," Burt said in wonder as he sat at their kitchen table and stared at the check.

"You have to go deposit it tomorrow morning," Melissa said insistently. "Promise me you will, Burt? And don't use the ATM. Go inside. You have to—"

"I'll go inside," Burt laughed. He'd done it. This would pay for a home, colleges, the start of a really decent retirement fund... he'd done it. They could finally look at having kids. Yeah, they were starting late, but if they really ran into problems they had doctors for that. And he had the money to pay for it, Burt added to himself with a cheeky grin.

The next day he looked up how much those doctors cost, just in case. It was expensive to have a baby put together for you in a petri dish, and they couldn't even promise that it would work right the first time. Burt frowned. Well, he still had another eleven months in Austin. If he figured out a commercial patent that really took off, they wouldn't have to worry about anything. And then they wouldn't just have the core of a retirement fund, they'd be safe and sound forever.

Eleven months later, Melissa wasn't pregnant and Burt was on the verge of something big at work, he just knew it. "I can take a six month extension," he said. "And then we'll move right back up." He saw her protest building. Melissa hadn't wanted to move down there in the first place. Family was important to her, she hated leaving hers behind, and she thought they were comfortable enough to start trying for babies right away. He thought they needed to have every plan covered before they started, and she thought they could muddle through as they went.

Burt got his way again and they stayed for another six months.

If he stayed through the end of the fiscal year then there was an excellent chance he'd be a full manager back up in Detroit. Melissa looked ready to argue again, but what he was saying made sense, and he was going to give her the life she deserved. He told her that time and time again until she gave up and nodded.

With two weeks to go, Burt landed on an improvement in braking efficiency that would impact producers and consumers alike. This time his boss didn't try to tell him that no one would be interested, because they both knew that Burt Hummel was going to have some fat checks coming in for at least the next ten years. When Burt rushed home with a copy of the patent paperwork in hand, it felt like that stack of sheets was another check signed by Tony Stark.

A letter waited for him on the table. You're trying to give me the life you say I deserve, Melissa had written. But I can tell you stopped caring about the life I actually wanted a long time ago.

Calling her mother in Michigan did no good. He thought they were fine, but for months she'd been drifting away. Now she was gone. Burt thought he was providing for his future family, like a good husband and father. The divorce papers came by courier three days later.

He took a job offer in the Chicago office instead, and two years passed.

"Can I help you?" he asked the man walking into his office without an appointment. An appointment. He hated his job. Burt Hummel was supposed to be working with his hands like he'd done in Detroit and Austin, not contacting materials suppliers in a seventh-floor Chicago office. His necktie felt like it was strangling him.

"Mr. Hummel?" the man asked, extending his hand. He looked like a decent guy and so Burt shook it. "I'm Leroy Epson. I work for S.H.I.E.L.D."

"I know them, yeah," Burt said. He worked for one of the top technology and engineering firms in the world, of course he knew all the biggest government buyers.

"When you invented the technology for which Mr. Stark rewarded you, he conducted a higher-level security sweep on your background. He wanted to make sure that you weren't planted in his firm to create something that would blow up on him in the middle of a mission."

"Huh," Burt said shortly. Well, that was... weird. Who knew Iron Man was so paranoid?

"And so you are very valuable to us right now," Leroy continued, "because S.H.I.E.L.D. is faced with an emergency situation. We don't have agents to spare for this work, but we desperately need people who have already passed a high-level clearance check."

"What's the deal?" Burt asked. A frown carved deep lines across his face. He knew he worked for a company that dealt with many important issues, but he'd never faced them himself. Working in back rooms and finding his perfect tools had always been his role of choice.

"This is a class 7-R situation," Leroy said.

Burt drew back. He knew that code. That meant 'this project is so top-secret and has so many government fingers in the pie that breathing one word of it will land you in prison.' It made no logical sense to keep talking to this guy; what did he care about working with S.H.I.E.L.D.? He had paperwork to fill out. Ah, he realized. That's why he was still listening: because this might be something exciting in a day full of drudgery. "Got it."

"I'll take that as full legal acknowledgment," Leroy said and clicked something in his pocket. "We have a group of teenagers who are in serious danger. They developed into metahumans during exposure at a government facility, and if certain parties get ahold of them... they're dead." He let that sink into Burt's mind and then added, "There is also a non-negligible probability that the majority of the northern hemisphere would also be phased into another dimension, killing the entire population of the planet."

It took a lot to make him choke on his own spit, Burt thought as he finished coughing. He grabbed for a bottle of water and managed to get himself far enough under control to ask, "What the hell do you want from me, then? Isn't this what you guys handle?"

Leroy's expression softened. "Those kids just lost all their parents, Mr. Hummel, their powers have been suppressed, and someone at Xavier's just finished ripping out their memories. They don't even have those any more, just so they can be kept safe and out of sight. When they rebuild, they're going to need safe homes."

After the implications struck, Burt laughed. "What, you come in here without an appointment and ask me to adopt someone? Get the hell out, send in someone who's got a serious question for me."

"My partner and I are adopting one of them," he said. "She was the child of two gay men in New York. I don't wholly understand the rationale, but they're trying to mimic some aspects of their life there." He nodded when Burt looked surprised, and not just because he never would have guessed that this normal-looking guy would have a 'partner.' "That's right. I am walking the walk, here. We're even going to change our name to match hers."

Burt couldn't think of what to say. This was stupid, but talking to a man who was adopting a child to keep her safe was very different than being lectured to by an overreaching government employee. So he stayed quiet and listened to whatever Epson had to say next.

"You're a good enough match for the father of... one of the boys," he said with a strange hesitation in the middle. "This match was made specific to you. If you turn us down, we'll just be on our way to find some other option for him. They're currently being held in psychic stasis until new memories can be constructed. It won't hold forever, but...."

His head swam. Burt rubbed the bridge of his nose and held out his hand. Even discussing this was ridiculous, but he wasn't just going to turn some kid with a death sentence on his head over to whoever S.H.I.E.L.D. dug up as a last-minute option. After opening the file, he looked between the dossier and Leroy's face a few times before chuckling and asking, "So what's his real name?"

"Kurt," Leroy said with a smile. "I thought you'd like that. No, really. It is. He'd change to your last name, though. It's complicated that some are changing over and some aren't, I know, but we do have all of this handled." For a while there was silence as Burt flipped through papers, and he eventually risked saying, "He'll be turning sixteen soon. It has been two years since your divorce, and I understand that a central issue was wanting to settle down with a family. It might not be how you pictured, but this would give you a second chance."

Too far, too fast. Way too far. Burt smiled tightly, without humor, and shoved the file back at him. "Nice talking with you, Epson. Good luck with your kid."

His shoulders slumped and he accepted the file. "My apologies. We'll find someone else for Kurt, then. Some of the other children have already been rejected twice, so we are prepared for this sort of thing."

Wait. That wasn't right. They were in fear for their lives, and they'd already been kicked away from some hope at safety twice? Shit. "Give me the file again," Burt grumbled and extended his hand.

The kid looked like he could be related to him. The eyes were pretty spot-on, and the roundness of Burt's nose had been smoothed and refined. He was scrawny, though. He was supposed to be almost sixteen? He looked thirteen. "He's so little," Burt said despite himself and felt a surge of protectiveness swell.

Oh, damn.

"What happened to his folks?" Burt asked. "I mean, their folks. All of the kids."

"That's even more classified, I'm afraid. But it wasn't pretty." Leroy frowned, shook his head, and added, "It's what the kids are faced with, too. Don't worry, though. You'd hold no interest for them, we're pretty sure. You wouldn't be at risk."

That was good, he supposed, although it would be a hell of a lot more fair if someone like him could face down that threat instead. "How do you know that the parents you're grabbing will care about these kids?" Burt asked. If some of them were already on strike three, and the only thing they cared about was that the people had passed some security checks....

"We don't," Leroy admitted. "We don't have time for that level of screening. Psychic stasis can hollow people out pretty quickly. All we can do is put them somewhere where they'll be safe. Being loved will be an additional benefit, we hope." He allowed Burt to look at the picture a while longer before adding, "There's something additional the psychic at Xavier's says she can do. The type of energy that their parents were working with... it left imprints of their minds hanging in the air as they died. She was able to grab them."

Burt didn't like the sound of that. A psychic grabbing memories from beyond the grave was into midnight movie territory. "And?" he asked warily.

"We're offering the chance to have appropriate memories implanted, if they're still there. Not many. But... look, we know this is going to be hard. Adoptive parents seek out a child in an orderly fashion, they don't have someone spring on them like I'm doing. This is sudden and I apologize. Three days from now you could be in a new house in a new town with a new job."

"What job?" Burt asked. He had the unpleasant feeling that at some point, he'd agreed to this.

Leroy smiled and pulled out a file. Burt saw his name on it. "We have your aptitude tests here, as well as your stated career goals from your annual evaluations. You are not fond of this office, that much is very clear." He chuckled at the annoyed reaction Burt couldn't quite hold back. "You'd draw a small stipend from S.H.I.E.L.D., and of course you will continue to receive all the patent royalty checks for what you've done for Stark. Other than that, you'll be expected to provide for yourself and your family. We have some options that you'll like. Given your previous work, I'm sure you'll be very comfortable."

No. This was crazy. There was no way he'd do it. Just because Burt was facing a life he hated, no hope of romance, and so no normal family, and some kid was facing death.... "What memories would I get?" he asked softly.

"It varies from person to person. But big ones, generally. Things like bringing him home from the hospital."

"I'd think I actually did it?" Burt asked as his fingertips traced circles around the photo in front of him.

"No. You'd know some other man was holding his child. But at the same time, you'd feel like he should be yours." Leroy's head tilted a bit as he watched Burt's silent contemplation of the picture, and he gently added, "Worst case scenario, Burt—may I call you Burt? If this doesn't work out, it's not long before he's eighteen. Technically you'd sign up for the long haul, but I'm sure we both know plenty of people who looked at that eighteenth birthday like a finish line for the real work."

"I'd never do that," Burt said.

"Neither would I," Leroy said, and they shared a smile.

Burt looked down at the file again and choked back something that might have been a laugh when he looked at the kid's name. That had to mean something, right? It had to.

"I have the paperwork in my bag," Leroy said, "if you want to sign."

His hand stole across the table and fumbled for what he knew was there. Burt held up a hundred-dollar fountain pen with a flourish. It was a gift on his first anniversary at the Chicago office, so he could sign many more supply contracts for projects he didn't care about. "Let's do this."

* * *

Kurt didn't say anything for a long time.

"So maybe I'm not the guy you thought I was," Burt said, and risked taking a step closer. "But I am a guy who wanted to be your dad. I still do, and I always will."

"You've been lying to me."

Burt didn't argue. "It was to keep you safe. I don't know who's out there, but I know it's my job to stand between them and you. And," he risked adding with another careful step, "it's my job to talk to you when you have hard days, and make sure you have a big future ahead of you. Someday, I guess I hope I'll get to be a good granddad, too. You know, if that's what you want, and if you let me."

"How do I know that you're telling the truth now?"

"Because we can drive straight home," Burt said, "and have Finn read me. I'll tell the whole story again if you want, so you can see what he says. Please, Kurt. Get in and let me drive you home."

"Home? Won't it be a long drive to New York, though?" Kurt asked. Though Burt tensed at his tight tone, Kurt finally relented, nodded, and let himself be led to the truck. His hand rested on the handle but didn't open it, and Burt came around to see what was wrong.

"Finn's really my brother," Kurt said as the realization struck him anew. "All my life, he has been."

"Yeah," Burt said with a lopsided smile. "Who'd've figured, huh?"

Everything was starting to rush in. His defenses were down. "My real parents are dead."

Burt flinched at 'real,' but he nodded.

"I don't even remember their names. I'm on the news. Something wants to kill me." It was hard to breathe. "I never went to my mom's funeral here, and everything in Lima is a lie. And... and...." His words stalled inside his chest. Only soft choking noises came out as his final mental wall fell and he flashed back to seeing a car come flying at him. "And I almost died tonight." Tears came. When Burt pulled him into a hug, Kurt let him.

"Come on," Burt finally said when his shirt was soaked and Kurt had cried out the worst of his fears over everything. "Let's go home."

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