miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-11-24 12:33 pm

fic: "Special" (Chapter 13/?)

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: 9,900
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: Thanks for putting up with the delay, guys! Everything is fixed. It wasn't cheap, and some other plans got shelved, but it's fixed. In true Glee style, I am coming back from a hiatus with a slower plot. ;) After three plot haymakers in a row, a quieter time was needed where people just thought and waited. I'm also finding that I'm juggling a lot of people now, rather than later as I expected. Unexpected! But it's working for me. Anyway, enjoy this little interlude before things pick up again.

And happy Thanksgiving to any fellow Americans! Anyone else should take this as an excuse to eat all the carbs.

Finn sat very quietly as he looked at Carole. Her mind was filled with mom stuff: grocery lists, work schedules, concern about the monthly budget. Strange cracks surrounded those thoughts and memories, and when he pushed on them they fell apart like glass. Someone had shielded her mind. That anonymous telepath had talent; Finn had delved deep into her memories before and he'd never noticed the block.

Carole didn't fight it. They seemed to be past that point. "So that's how it happened," she said quietly as Finn saw her real life.

She'd been in a medical and logistical support crew for S.H.I.E.L.D., whoever that was. Their small, mostly unarmored team would go into the harshest environments on earth to retrieve and support top-tier special agents. She'd been good. She liked her job. Then someone's predictions were off by two minutes, and their helicopter was hit by rockets that should have been taken out.

There had been seven of them that day. Four of them became bloody corpses around Carole, and a fifth was headed that way. Her own vision was going black. Something warm spilled out onto her chest until the last member of the crew slammed his hand down and applied life-saving pressure to her gaping wound.

The damage was worse than that single bleeder. It took her nearly a year in recovery and twice that in physical therapy until she regained full use of her limbs. She couldn't stand hearing sudden loud noises, and she found other things to look at when a special effects spectacular on TV had explosions. For more than four years, Carole took whatever domestic appointment was available for someone with her skills. She could no longer face the international appointments that had been the foundation of her career.

One of those corpses in the helicopter had landed on her. Her pressure-applying savior had to throw the corpse free. Before he'd turned into a charred, broken mess, Craig had been her husband.

She didn't get a personal visit asking her to join the program with the at-risk children. She didn't need one. When Carole was offered the chance to once again make a difference, and in a quiet town, she took it gladly. "So that's how I got you," she said.

Finn stared at where her hands were folded on her knees. She'd been lying to him all that time, and so she'd been a stranger who took him in immediately after some other stranger crammed his brain full of false memories. He should be furious. Maybe he should have run away like Kurt.

The difference for Finn, though, was that he could feel exactly how deeply and truly Carole loved him. There was no faking that.

"Am I still supposed to call you Mom?" he finally asked in confusion.

Her breath hitched, but she managed to smile. "I'd really like it if you did. I am your mother. You know that, right? Maybe I didn't start off that way, but I will be forever."

"Is Hudson your real name?"

"No. No, it was Napier." She shrugged. "They said they needed something 'close,' whatever that means. Burt's name already worked, apparently. He didn't have to change."

"That makes sense," Finn said. "Our real last name is Hutton. Hummel's close enough. Hudson's kind of... spooky close."

An odd sense of unreality filled the room. There they were, after Finn had just learned that his mom wasn't his mom and his family was nothing like he'd thought, and they were having a pleasant conversation. He was still on the news. If Mercedes' shields had failed, he would have died. It was really amazing, Finn thought as he compared himself with the heartbroken face Kurt had made just before he vanished, what a difference it made to feel exactly how much someone loved you. "How much do you know about what they did to us?" Finn finally asked.

"Not that much," she admitted. "More than most, though, since I used to be an agent. I know they were worried about keeping your memories locked away. That's why they tried to make families similar to what you'd lost. Apparently living in a new state wouldn't jostle your memories, but hearing the wrong name every day would." Carole shrugged. "I don't totally understand it."

"The little stuff came back to me before the big stuff," Finn theorized. "Little stuff's important."

"That's why they kept some of you apart," Carole added sadly. "Just being around people every day, repeating how you acted around them... they thought it could remind you too much of New York." She dug out her phone when it rang, and sighed in relief after answering it. "Okay, Burt. We'll see you soon. I'm glad you found him. Is he all right? Great. Bye." She hung up. "They're coming home."

That was good. Kurt shouldn't have run off alone like that. "What's going to happen to us now?"

"I don't know," Carole admitted. "It sounds like they're going to have to meet with everyone. They might need to do more fake memories."

Finn flinched.

"Burt and I are married, Finn," she said. "We'll refuse to split up if they ask us to."

"Would I start being mean to him again?" He hated being a pawn like this, but it didn't sound like he had much of a choice. He could give up his powers if it kept him safe, as he'd never know they were gone. But he couldn't turn back into who he'd been. He just couldn't.

"I don't know," Carole said helplessly. "Probably not, if you're still in the same family. I'm sorry, Finn. I really don't have much leverage here. I'd stop them if I could." She scooted forward and took his hand in hers. "It might not happen. After two years of safety, they might figure that you're off the radar by now."

That was more reassuring than it should have been, considering their television debut. Their house seemed like a stage set. Their family felt real, but they'd been reading lines for years. He and Carole didn't recite any more dialog. They sat in silence, loosely clasping the other's hand, until a key turned and the front door opened. Burt looked tired and Kurt looked dead on his feet, but they were both whole and healthy. "Got everything straightened out," Burt said as he guided Kurt inside and closed the door behind them. He kept his hand on Kurt's shoulder as he typed in a code to activate their security system again. "As much as we could, anyway."

Kurt just felt so broken, Finn realized as he touched the boy's mind. A quick survey of Burt's turned up the same intense love that Carole felt. If they each had more affection for the boy they'd started with, they still felt it for the other with a strength no one could fault. "They love us," Finn said. Kurt's huge, teary eyes met his uncertainly. "They just... trust me. I wish you could feel it. They love us."

Turning, Kurt looked at Burt, who nodded back with a wavering smile. "Okay," he said, and that seemed to be that. "I really want to go take a shower. It's been a long day."

"Yeah," Burt said. He swallowed. "It has. Go up, take your shower, and get some sleep. You guys might need to stick around the house for a while, okay?" They both nodded. "We'll talk more tomorrow, then."

Perhaps Finn should have stayed downstairs to listen in on their conversation, but it had been a long day for him, too. He followed Kurt upstairs and into his room. "Hey. You kinda took off and left me on my own."

"Sorry," Kurt said with a hiss as he carefully moved his arms across their full range of motion. "I think I'd left the driver's seat, at least a little."

"How bad is it?" Finn wondered.

Hesitating, Kurt peeled off his thin t-shirt and revealed the rapidly bruising skin underneath. It looked like... well, like he'd gotten into an argument with two cars and nearly lost. "I'm going to take some ibuprofen," he said as he rummaged for pajamas. "A lot of it."

"A safe 'lot,' right?" Finn asked.

"A safe lot," Kurt reassured him, and then they both turned to the door as it opened. Neither parent looked surprised to see Finn in there, despite Kurt's half-dressed state, but they did flinch at the bruises still darkening on his torso. "Oh, Kurt," Carole sighed.

Burt, pained, held out his hand. "Hey, uh... can you guys hand over your phones? Computers, too? You're not trapped in here, we don't want you to think that, but, well...."

"They're not trying to trap us," Finn confirmed to Kurt after a quick scan. Both parents flinched again at him feeling the need to verify their intentions.

"But what?" Kurt asked.

"Blaine might be in danger because he came with you," Burt said shortly. "Same with those other two. And the more you guys know, the more chance that you'll accidentally do something that the wrong people will hear about. Just... we just want to figure out what's supposed to happen next before you start texting anyone, okay?"

As Kurt's eyes widened, he mechanically retrieved his phone and laptop. Regret, shame, and fear poured off him in waves. "They all might be in danger?" Finn clarified, because he could tell even without trying that Kurt wasn't in the right headspace to put things into words.

"We're going to try to figure everything out," Carole said. "Just hang tight in here for a while. All right?" They both nodded and moved to leave them alone. As she left, Carole added, "And do try to go to sleep, all right? Night, boys. Remember: we both love you very, very much, and everything is going to work out. We promise."

She meant that, too, even if there was no real way to guarantee it. Finn found himself smiling after them as Kurt moved painfully toward the bathroom and the showerhead that would hopefully soothe the worst of his aches. "It'll work out," he repeated, and went to his bedroom. The noise of the shower kept him awake until it turned off abruptly, but even then he couldn't drift away from what had to be the biggest day of his life.

They'd just decided to go to Columbus that morning, he marveled. In one day's time they'd risked their lives, wound up on television, and learned about their true pasts. That was crazy. No wonder he was buzzed. It would burn out, he told himself as he shifted his weight on the mattress. Any time now, he'd fall asleep.

He didn't. It was lonely in his quiet room, with only the pattern of leaves' shadows on his ceiling. He tried to ignore the way they moved, to ignore everything that had happened since that morning when Artie had suggested going on their mission, but his brain refused to shut down. The car flying at Kurt and Rachel. Hoping Mercedes' shields would hold. New York. Twins.

Finn felt suddenly exposed. The wide slabs of a bunk should be above him, and his room was too large and airy. Besides, he thought as he got up and gathered a few blankets, he wanted to talk. "Hey," he said as he poked his head into Kurt's room.

Kurt's exhaustion seemed to be a powerful sleep aid after the day he'd had, one that could overcome almost anything. Including the sound of Finn's voice, he saw with annoyance, and frowned when Kurt continued to softly snore. Hey, he tried again, directly into Kurt's mind. He didn't feel bad about waking him; if Kurt had fallen asleep once when Finn couldn't manage it, he could fall asleep again.

Blinking, Kurt turned his head and looked at Finn.

Can I sleep in here? Finn asked.

After an instant of hesitation, Kurt smiled. Sure.

Finn grinned and hurried to the floor next to Kurt's bed. It wasn't comfortable. He wouldn't make a habit of doing this. But to hear Kurt's voice above him as they drifted off to sleep, to feel like he wasn't oddly abandoned in his own bedroom.... "How're you doing?" he asked when he was snug against the carpet. His ribs would yell at him tomorrow, but his heart thanked him.

"I don't know."

Reaching up, Finn found Kurt's hand and squeezed it. "July eleventh."

There was a soft rustling of blankets as Kurt propped himself up on his elbow and looked at Finn in confusion. The date was nearly half a month away, without any obvious meaning beyond 'one week after fireworks' prices take a nosedive.' He froze, then relaxed and said with wonder, "Our birthday."

'Our.' Finn giggled nervously. "Who do you think is older?"

"If you don't think that I am obviously the older brother, then there is something wrong with you," Kurt said.

"The term's 'big brother,' and right back at you," Finn grinned up at him.

"We couldn't have split the difference on height just a little less?" Kurt asked with a sigh. "Not that I actually want to be all that much taller, but another inch or two would do wonders on the lines of some jackets." He studied Finn. "Thanks for coming in here."

"Sure?" Finn said uncertainly.

"Maybe it'll help me sleep better."

But he'd been sound asleep, so why did he need to sleep better? Finn looked at the memories of Kurt's dreams before he could help himself. Shadowy figures, the worst supervillains in the world, crowded Kurt's mind. Blaine was a broken, bleeding doll on the pavement. Even Sam and Lauren were slowly dying. All of this was seen from Kurt's perspective as he was helpless against the ground. One of those villains walked up to him, bent down, and retrieved Kurt's own sword. "Thanks for the heads-up," he said before he drove the blade between Kurt's eyes.

Jolting, Finn grabbed Kurt's hand again and squeezed. "Did you take the painkillers?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Nothing." He'd just been thinking that maybe Nyquil would have been a better option, so that Kurt could have fallen safely off into the deep end of nothing that night. Finn didn't particularly want to have those sort of dreams come flying at him when he was asleep and vulnerable, either. Struck by a sudden idea, Finn half-sat up and asked, "Do you want to feel what they felt?"


If he could send thoughts at people, then he could send emotions. Right? "Do you want to know how much they love us?" Finn asked. "It's a lot. It really did make me feel better."

"All right," Kurt said warily.

Finn thought very carefully on what he'd felt from Burt when he surveyed his feelings for his first son. Pride, concern, amusement, and mingled awe were all wrapped up inside a package of love that burned brighter than any of their powers. He formed that all into a little knot in his head and then, not really knowing how, placed it into Kurt's.

When he heard Kurt shudder, Finn began to ask if he'd done something wrong. "No," Kurt said and wiped at his eyes. "No. That's how he feels?"

"Yeah. Maybe a little more. I've never, you know... sent a bunch of love at a guy before," Finn finished slowly, and laughed.

Kurt started laughing as well, but then his tears came—more than Finn expected. It had been a long day and Kurt kind of cried a lot anyway, but still, he'd just sent pure love and joy at someone. Crying was a weird reaction. Kurt got himself under control and explained, "Sorry. I just... you and me... it's a little different than before."

Before? Finn frowned. He'd come in there because he wanted them to be like before, though. Oh, he realized belatedly. Kurt didn't mean the 'before' of bunk beds. They were talking about the 'before' of privacy screens and Aladdin's whorehouse. "Yeah, well."

Kurt was probably still traumatized over the memories of what he'd done then. Those old days were resonating more than Finn would like, as well. He wasn't stuck on the sight of Kurt mooning over him; that had come back in a rush when he was talking to Rachel, but then it had faded just as quickly. Really, he was mostly past that, and it already felt like an embarrassing trump card that he could keep in his back pocket to humiliate Kurt at the most hilariously inappropriate moment. No: the memories that really echoed were Burt taking him to ball games. Kurt seeming isolated and lonely. The tears that threatened to spill in a basement when Finn wiped out his identity with one slur.

They were past that. He didn't know why all those memories were pounding at his mind and conscience again. Finn regularly screwed up like he was trying for a blue ribbon in it, but he thought he'd actually been pretty good recently. Hell, he'd saved Kurt's life that night.

Still, now that they'd raised the point, he kept picturing Kurt's teary, betrayed expression when he was made to feel less than human. Why?

Maybe coming in there had been a bad idea, Finn thought unhappily as Kurt's misery seemed to overtake him for no reason he could name. "Yeah, well," he finally repeated. "Just wanted to remind myself of what it was like, you know? Having someone to talk to."

"It's nice," Kurt replied, laying back against his pillow. In the next breath he added, "We are not getting bunk beds."

Yeah, that would have been pushing things a little. "Night," Finn said, and hoped that he wouldn't be brainwiped and moved to a new state again as he slept.

When Finn woke up, fresh dreams slipping from his mind, he had an unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Burt and Carole loved them with all their hearts. Of that, there was no question. Kurt and Finn had been as fortunate as two people could be, despite the turmoil around them. Even though Ohio had brainwashed the two of them, driven them apart, and set them at odds, Finn had the distinct impression that being there might be better than what they'd left. He couldn't remember specifics, just shadowy figments and half-formed emotions. They weren't pleasant.

He wondered why they could remember what their floor tiles look like, but still had no idea who their parents had been.

He wondered what they'd talked about in that Manhattan bedroom as they'd fallen asleep.

* * *

Rachel's dads got home in the middle of the night. They woke her up, stroked her hair, and let her fall back asleep. She barely processed how the windows locked with a strange thunk, or how she heard the beeping of something she didn't recognize. She'd nearly died that night. Answers could wait until morning.

They were waiting for her with a tray full of her favorite breakfast foods. Their smiles were sad and soft. "Hey, pumpkin," said Hiram as he put the tray in front of her. "Eat up, okay?"

"Did...." She swallowed. "Did you see the...."

"We know what you've been doing," Leroy said. He rubbed the back of his head and added, "We'd hoped this wouldn't happen. That tech crew were supposed to do a better job than they did. You need to lay low, all right? Just hold off until—"

"Why did we have to leave New York?" Rachel asked, and Leroy looked like he almost swallowed his tongue.

Hiram was deathly pale. "You remember?"

"Bits. Parts. Kurt and Finn remember almost everything, I think."

They exchanged a wary glance. "That's good to know," Leroy said. "Okay. Promise you won't mention any of this to your friends until we get some things straightened out, all right?"

"But...." Her hands balled in frustration. It felt suddenly as if she were being forced along tracks, as if there were only one reaction she could have to anything. With determination, Rachel picked up the breakfast tray, placed it to her side, and stood. Her fathers were much taller than her, and she hardly struck an imposing figure in a nightgown and bare feet. Still, when she put her hands on her hips, they took a step back. "What is going on? You owe me an answer."

"We'll tell you—"

"Not later." Rachel looked between them. "Now."


"On the last day of school our powers woke up," Rachel said. "We figured it out quickly and everyone naturally turned to me as the team leader. I organized everyone into groups and we've been operating all over northwestern Ohio. Last night we saved countless lives in Columbus, and it will serve as the launching pad to a career that will have me at least on the superheroic B-list." She'd shoot for A-list, but honestly, B-listers seemed to get all of the perks without losing so many limbs. "So... so there," she finished. Her voice only faltered a little. "I'm Anthem and I'm spectacular. That's the truth. Now you owe me yours."

They met each other's eyes again, sighed, and turned back. "We're special agents," Hiram said. "We're the primary S.H.I.E.L.D. point of contact for six Midwestern states that don't usually earn a ton of attention. It's why just the two of us cover so much territory."

She wasn't sure who S.H.I.E.L.D. was, but as revealing her ignorance would ruin the righteous snit she had going, Rachel kept her expression level. "I see."

"You could be in a lot of danger if you were noticed," Hiram continued. "You're supposed to be normal kids in Ohio. So it's important that, until we know what to do next, you don't tell people about New York. All right?"

"When do we get to go fight again?"

Her dads exchanged a wary glance. "Rachel, you can never use your powers again. At least not for a long time. Not in public like that."

"What?" Rachel demanded. "Did you see us? We stopped an entire university from being destroyed. We saved people from being killed." She fumbled for her remote, pointed to the screen, and added, "And I'm on television!"

"Yes, we know," Hiram said. "That's the entire problem."

"How can it be a problem?" Rachel pleaded. "The only problem is that I lied to you about what I was doing, and for that, all right, I'm sorry. But I'm strong, daddies. This is an even better future than I ever dreamed of. I'm not only going to be a musical icon, I'm going to be on lunchboxes."

"Rachel," Leroy said gravely, "no."

It was hard to remember hearing 'no' from them. She wasn't sure if she ever had, actually. "Ground me," Rachel said. "Ground me and get it over with. I lied, I put myself in danger, and I operated a covert superheroic team out of our basement." She hesitated. "That's about... two weeks of grounding?"

"I need to talk to Burt and Carole," Leroy muttered.

"You know any of the others?" Hiram asked, and Leroy shook his head. "Didn't think so. I just brought in the Lopezes. Was that ever a challenge," he added regretfully. "We need to put in a call to HQ, then, to get instructions for the next step?"

"Daddies!" Rachel said as they ignored her. Though she got their attention, it wasn't how she'd hoped.

"Give us your phone, Rachel," they said, holding out their hands. "Cellular and landline. Your computer, too."

She gasped. "But... interviews!" she said. The single word seemed to grow to fill her mouth. It was all she could manage.

"After we've saved your lives," Hiram said after a quick glance to Leroy, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

"After you've saved our lives?" Rachel repeated in confusion.

"Please, sweetie. Just listen to albums today. Read your books. We need to figure out what to do next."

But. "But." Frustrated, Rachel balled her fists and sought any possible argument. "But we have twins, now!" she said. "They'll be a huge hit!" It wasn't just how they'd protected Columbus and taken all the credit for saving those lives. She had been handed a marketable, photogenic pair of twins, where one was the leader's loyal boyfriend and the other could tuck his foot behind his head, and she was not going to waste them.

"Oh heavens," Leroy said and rubbed a hand down his face. "They know that, too. Baby, we really need to talk to people, and you need to just... not do anything today."

They left her in her room. Rachel didn't stop sputtering until they were down the hall.

* * *


As she'd barely slept, Santana roused immediately. She sat up like her parents had turned the crank on a jack-in-the-box. Do what they expect, she told herself. Do what they expect. The orders marched through her mind. She had no room for emotions. They'd been hollowed out at some time around 3 AM, when she turned over her pillow because the cloth against her cheek was too wet. She'd expected to keep crying on the fresh fabric, but instead she simply... stopped.

"We saw some very interesting things on the news last night."

Santana didn't say anything. She didn't trust her voice, and she couldn't think of any words that could help.

Her father's eyes were hard. "I don't think you realize how much I sacrificed to give you this life. You want something, you get it. You want a car, clothes, surgery to be like those girls on television? Fine. I let you live those dreams. Right now I could be...." He cut off, angry, and didn't say anything else.

"We're very disappointed in you," said her mother. "You caused that fire, didn't you? You could have burned down the entire house, and that was only the start of everything. Then we see you in Columbus, with that group, and... well."

Though she tried to hide it, and though she'd expected it, Santana flinched. "Do I have to leave?" she asked dully. Brittany's parents wouldn't let her stay. Not for more than a night's sleepover, and now that she and Brittany had been filmed, maybe not even that much. Rachel's dads might offer a spare bedroom, given their whole rainbow flag deal. Wouldn't that be ironic, she thought darkly: she'd been forced to stay with Rachel overnight almost like a punishment, and now it might be her liferaft. Maybe she could stay in Kurt's guest room, like they'd originally planned after the fire. Or maybe she could jam an ice pick through her skull.

"You're not leaving," her father said sharply. "You're not going anywhere that we don't allow, seeing anyone that we don't approve, until we figure out what to do here."

Her relief at not being thrown out left her limp and drained. She'd been ready to bolt for the door with nothing but a half-packed bag in hand. Even if her parents were furious, she still had a home. She still had her family. That was something. "Okay," Santana said meekly. That tone of voice felt strange to her, like she was wearing someone else's shoes.

"I just... I need a drink," her father finally muttered and vanished without a farewell. Neither mother nor daughter commented him doing so early in the morning, and soon Santana was left entirely alone. She fumbled automatically for her phone. Brittany's texts were a lifeline even on normal days. When her parents argued, when another strange man left her neighbor's house and she wondered if this would be the day when the ongoing affairs were discovered, Brittany's words were full of joy. Even as Santana's parents raised their voices at her or each other, Brittany recognized how totally beautiful a flower could be.

Her phone was gone. They must have taken it during the night.

At least she still had a home, Santana told herself as the day began to fade away in a miserable blur. It could have been worse. So she didn't get the gay pride parade that it sounded like Kurt had gotten. She would take being Santana Lopez over being Kurt Hummel any day of the goddamn week, just so long as she had a home. And she did. So she could deal.

Santana very nearly managed to believe what she was telling herself.

Morning ebbed into afternoon and they were suddenly on the news again. A shot of the club at Nationals was used, under a headline of "Superheroes Identified." Well. That hadn't taken long. Santana actually managed a small, wan smile when they talked about Noah Puckleman; he'd bitch about that mispronunciation for weeks. It was easy to find the humor so long as the reporter wasn't talking about her, but she didn't know how long that good fortune would last.

"Uh, yes, that's my club," said Will Schuester as he appeared on camera. Santana made a face before she could help it. He wasn't exactly the best person with words. Hopefully he wouldn't ramble and make things worse. "No, I had no idea this was going on. I'm pretty stunned."

"Were you aware that they were using your club as a cover for their operations?" the reporter asked. The intent look on her face was clearly designed to make any viewer think that she was speaking fact rather than speculation.

"Were they?" Will asked. He was clearly getting flustered. Awesome. He would indeed make things worse. "I was really just running a choir."

"I've done some looking into that choir," the reporter said with a glance at her notes. "Every time you faced closure, you just barely dodged the bullet. Did government backers keep the choir going? Or was your principal threatened by these so-called 'heroes?'"

"Wait, what?" Will sputtered. "My kids haven't threatened anyone. They're usually the ones getting targeted."

Pirouetting smoothly on her stance, the reporter asked sympathetically, "Do you suspect that's what might have driven them to act out like this?"

"Act out?" Will repeated in disbelief. He saw her opening her mouth again and seized control of the situation, courtesy of his flaring temper. "You listen to me, Ohio. These are good kids. If you were paying attention like I was, then you saw them save lives. A lot of these kids have been dumped on because of how they look or how they act or who they pray to or who they love, and I think it's pretty damn courageous of them to want to help people even after that."

"Mr. Schuester has pointed out one of the more dramatic moments of last night's fight in Columbus," the reporter said, moving to the side and cutting Will out of the frame. She was soon accompanied only by an idyllic background shot of McKinley, where trees moved gently in the wind. Will's offscreen protests were ignored. Although Santana expected to see footage of her on fire, or a building collapsing, they instead showed the three unmasked humans running up to join their partners with a kiss. "As with all youth teams to form in recent years, this group made sure to include gay members on their roster."

Santana's gut clenched as they showed the masked Kurt making out with Blaine, as she knew what was coming next. Sure enough, the screen soon changed to her kiss with Brittany. Seen in the third person like that, it was like some nightmare: walk into a classroom naked, take a test for a new class, have a lesbian kiss broadcast across the state.

Two new figures crowded the reporter from the other side. "We know them!" said Erik, a boy on the Cheerios who'd escaped the worst of Sue's wrath during his years on the squad. He'd been content to be in the background, propping up holds, while the more memorable members like her got both the blame and the glory. "Yeah, yeah, Brittany and Santana!"

"You mean Santana-and-Brittany," said Jason, his fellow invisible squadmate. The name came out like a single being. "They've been that way forever." He leaned closer to the camera and repeated for emphasis, "For-ever."

"There was also a male homosexual couple in the group," the reporter noted. "We've noticed that other teen teams tend to hold such pairings to one, maximum. Are the Awesomes trying to make a statement?" To her credit, she didn't laugh at Finn's stupid name for the group.

"Oh," Jason snorted. "They're not a couple."

Santana frowned and hugged her pillow to her chest. Wait, what?

Erik snorted to match him. "Yeah. They just make out for attention. I went out on a date with them freshman year and wound up buying unlimited pasta and breadsticks. And we weren't at Breadstix."

"It's creepy," Jason agreed. "Your wallet just... opens. It's like magic."

"Really, really hot magic," Erik said with a grin that danced shamelessly on the line between nostalgic and perverted.

When the reporter started talking about the number of deaths that could have been averted in Columbus, Santana realized she was crying. Wasn't that what she wanted? She'd thought the closet had been yanked open for her, because she was too adrenaline-fueled to realize what that lineup of cameras actually meant. Now those two boys had gracefully, believably slid it shut. If she'd kissed Brittany, it was to be popular. She'd done it for boys. The male audience, aged 18-45.

She had an excuse.

It didn't have to mean anything.

It didn't... but it did. How dare they? How dare they act like she'd done it for them? How fucking dare they take her moment of finally kissing Brittany where the world could see, and act like it was for the sole benefit of what hung between their legs?

When the smoke alarm started going off above her head, Santana realized with a jerk that her pillow had collapsed into ash. Her hands were tiny furnaces that had steadily burned through cotton and poly-fill as she clutched it. Her parents rushed to her door when they heard the sound, took in the sight there, and set their mouths in grim lines.

"Get ready, Santana," said her father.

Santana glanced out the window and distantly noted that despite their names being shouted across the airwaves, there weren't any media vans actually outside her house. Funny. If she had any energy left, she might wonder why.

* * *

So, Puck thought grimly as he balanced the dining table on his head, he might be in really deep trouble. He'd already had his truck pulled for two weeks, thanks to sneaking out. It sounded like he might have to talk to someone in authority, too. He wasn't a fan of anyone in a uniform.

Except when Kurt was in skintight leather.

Damn, his brain was still turned halfway to rainbow.

"Will you put that down, Noah?" his mother snapped.

"But Mom!" Sarah protested as Puck gently returned their table to the linoleum. "That was cool!"

"She thinks it was cool," Puck said, shrugging.

"And she is supposed to be in her room," his mother said grimly. "If she hadn't snuck down into the middle of our discussion, she would be." She cleared her throat pointedly until Sarah left them alone, and then shot Puck a long-suffering look. "How long has this been going on?"

Puck swallowed and tried to focus on anything except the way Kurt had put every last girl on the Cheerios to shame with that contortionist act. It didn't work. "Since about... yesterday morning."

She stared at him. "You started acting like you're on the Avengers, made a costume, and tore apart a city all starting yesterday morning?"

"Oh." Puck cleared his throat. "You meant... that stuff."

She ran her hands through her hair in exasperation. "What did you think I was talking about?"

"Nothing," Puck said quickly. And it was nothing. He had a girlfriend, Kurt had a boyfriend, and he was only Bowie, not Elton. Plus, he'd probably hit his head a few times against buildings the night before, so that could definitely play into his mind acting so strangely. "So, whatever. I shredded some bad guys. Go me. Uh, and I've been doing it for about a month."

"A month. I just can't... I need a drink," she said. "And you need to go up to your room until I can figure out what to do next."

Sarah poked her head around the corner at the top of the stairs. "Can he lift me on my bed?"

Puck turned, his eyebrows raised in question.

"No lifting your sister."

* * *

"This is all my fault," Artie heard his mother say mournfully as she paced the living room. "It was that treatment for his spine. I'm sure of it."

The conversation had been going on for a while. Every time Artie's hands began to steal toward his wheels, they told him not to move.

"You know," Artie pointed out, "I wasn't on TV. You can't prove I was there."

His father cleared his throat pointedly and stood over him. "Were you there in Columbus, Arthur?"

His courage did not last long, Artie quickly discovered as he stared up at the man. "Yes sir I was," he almost squeaked.

"This is all my fault," his mother said again, and his torture began anew.

* * *

Finn wondered what was going on with the others, as a good part of the day had passed with them locked inside the house. He kept checking their parents' minds and nodding to Kurt. They were still concerned and trying to keep them safe. They were still trustworthy. Ignoring the histories that had brought them to Ohio, they were still the same people they'd always been.

"I need a better shot," Kurt said as he watched them again on the television. Lima didn't get much news, normally. It had lost out on another national cheerleading championship that year, and so it was hungrier than ever for anything that might bring them glory. "My hair's a mess. I swear I have gravel stuck to my cheek, too."

"That's probably all they got last night," Finn said. "I mean... unless you meant you'd go out again. Did you?"

Kurt stared at the screen for a very long time before he answered, "I don't know. I nearly died, Finn. I would have, if not for you. Now they know my real name. Everything I was worried about with people being in danger, well, it might come true. And fighting again won't make me famous, though; it'd still be that not-so-secret identity."

"All those words sounded like 'no,'" Finn pointed out. He didn't need to add that Kurt's voice and heart weren't so sure.

"Exactly three people have asked me if I wanted to sing a featured role in front of an audience," Kurt said after a long, thoughtful pause. "Mr. Schuester was going to give me a solo out of pure pity, or maybe to make up for his own notable failings in stopping my bullying. I mean, that timing was just hysterical. I didn't even process what he'd offered until a few days later, when I was already gone. And right after that I learned that the Warblers thought that I was too showy and over-the-top."

Finn blinked. They seemed like nice guys; that didn't sound like them. "Who told you that?"

"Blaine. He—very nicely—suggested that I not try so hard after I auditioned for a solo. He'd been in there when they discussed me, so that had to be coming straight from the Council's mouth." Kurt shrugged. Finn didn't need psychic abilities to know that all these memories stung; taking criticism well didn't mean it was welcomed.

But that didn't make any sense. Finn had heard Kurt describe what they were like during practices. 'Don't try hard' didn't exactly match up to a group of guys who were all about flips and jumps and over-the-top performances. Hell, every expression Blaine made onstage basically defined 'try hard.' It wasn't like he was the only one; Rachel had some goofy showfaces, too. But for that same group to like those expressions and think that the audition Kurt had prepared was too much... Finn scratched his head and pointed out the obvious. "But they asked you to sing a duet."

"No. Blaine wanted to sing a duet with me." Kurt shrugged again. "It was pretty blatantly to flirt. I was happy about it, and I was happy that they gave him what he wanted, but no one independently thought of me for a performance." He glanced at Finn sidelong for a second and added, "I guess you wouldn't really know what that feels like."

Okay, ouch. Fair point, but ouch. "So then when did...?"

"Coach Sylvester." Kurt pulled his knees to his chest. "She thought I was talented and she put me up front, and then we won. Before or since, I've never felt so...." He laughed once and sounded embarrassed. "Special. Like I really had something to offer."

Finn glanced at the television, back to Kurt, and wondered how this all related.

"No one else could have saved us from the cops that first night," Kurt said softly. "It had to be me. We made mistakes when we split up, but then other people got a chance to shine. And then there'll be days when I'm perfect again. Not because someone is taking pity on me, but because I'm the best." He laughed weakly and tried to wave off his words. "I'm sorry, this sounds incredibly selfish. I used to talk about helping people who no one cares about, and now I'm all about an ego boost."

"You still saved people," Finn pointed out. "You scared off that guy before he shot someone."

Kurt eyed him. "Me scaring him made him shoot at the group."

Oh. Right. Oops. "Well... you definitely kept us from being thrown into jail, like you said. And you kept Rachel safe when we got separated, right? All of us together kept those jerks busy so they didn't hurt a bunch of kids on campus. I know they're not mutants or... or gay kids or immigrants or blind people or whatever, but they're still people who could have gotten hurt and they didn't." Considering that, Finn added, "And for all we know, maybe one of the people we saved was a blind gay mutant from Mexico."

After a long pause, Kurt said, "You are really terrible at speeches."

"Well," Finn said with a loose grin, "Burt sets a pretty high standard." That made Kurt laugh a bit, and Finn elbowed him gently. "I think you're allowed to want more than one thing at a time. So maybe you want to really help people, and maybe you also want to feel like what you're doing really counts. It seems like those two things work together, right?"

"I guess so," Kurt allowed.

The realization of just what was so odd about their discussion finally struck Finn. "Um, you kind of sound like you want to keep doing this."

Kurt didn't say anything.

"Not that that's bad. I mean, who knows if we'll even be allowed out of the house for the next year, and then it'd be kind of hard, but, uh... you kind of sound like you want to keep doing this," Finn repeated. "And you really didn't. Before." He waited for an answer, and eventually prodded, "Do you?"

"I don't know," Kurt said with what he probably thought was complete honesty.

Inside him, Finn felt real compassion for all those blind gay mutants from Mexico that no one else looked out for. They mattered, even if almost everyone in the world thought they didn't. Kurt just wanted to feel that, too.

* * *

"Why aren't there vans outside the house?" Rachel finally asked her dads when she'd waited patiently into the afternoon. "They know who was there. We're in the phone books. Why isn't anyone coming to talk to us?"

"We've taken care of the media," Leroy said neutrally. "Some of them started going to houses last night. They were called off. We can't stop them from going on the air, at least not without a lot of government trouble, but we can make them think that their lives will be very unpleasant if they don't cooperate on this point."

Frustrated tears threatened. "You're telling me that people might want to come interview me, and you're stopping them?"

"Yes," Hiram said bluntly.

All she'd ever wanted was to be noticed. To be something bigger than the day before. Not because she'd created fame out of mist and vapor like some reality television star, but because she was good enough to earn it. Her team had earned fame last night. Her chance to finally be noticed was there... and she couldn't take it. "This is incredibly unfair," she finally said through a choked throat. "How dare you. How dare you move me away from a city where I could already have auditioned for roles on Broadway, and put me in a town where I don't even remember that I had those chances? And now that I'm finally someone worth noticing, you're taking that from me, too?"

"Rachel, stop," Leroy said tiredly.

"No, Daddy! I will not stop! I'm owed answers! I've been calm and compliant and very, very accommodating all day, but my patience has about five minutes left." She looked between them. The two men did actually look a bit wary at the idea of her composure entirely failing her. "Answer yes or no. Did we used to live in New York?"

"No," Leroy said, just as Hiram answered, "It's complicated." They glanced at each other and grimaced.

"What?" Rachel asked, blinking. But she remembered living on the Upper West Side. Vaguely, but even those shadowy images were enough to convince her. And Kurt and Finn were positive.

"We... look. We heard back from command and we're taking you for some solid answers, all right? But we're not the agents who can give them." Hiram sighed. "We know everything, or near enough. But orders are orders."

* * *

Mercedes' mother poked her head into the living room. "Let's go, sweetheart. We've just been told where we're all meeting up."

She shot an uncertain glance to her little brothers. They seemed overwhelmed, as much from their sister being on the news as from the fact that she was so deeply in trouble that she had to go to school during the summer.

Still, her parents had talked about how worried they were. They'd fretted over her safety. They hadn't disowned her. They hadn't forbidden her from seeing any friends. So they probably just wanted to talk to the whole group together, right? To make sure everyone heard the same thing?


She took a deep breath and told herself that, over and over.

This would all be fine.

* * *


"We'll talk later."

Mike didn't open his mouth again until they'd parked the car.

* * *

"Please wait," Judy said as she hurried after her daughter.

Quinn didn't slow her pace as she walked through the doors of William McKinley and toward the gym. Most of the others were already there.

* * *

Burt pulled back the curtains, looked outside, and shook his head. "They're probably all there by now."

Finn and Kurt shifted their weight uncertainly on the couch. Apparently everyone else had been called for a group meeting to the gym. Whoever was in charge of the whole affair thought it was common territory that everyone would be comfortable with, and soon the entire group would hear exactly what S.H.I.E.L.D. was willing to tell them.

(Finn still wasn't sure who S.H.I.E.L.D. was.)

The two of them, however, had been left in limbo. Their unearthed memories were apparently quite problematic. Talking to their parents had revealed just how little information they'd been given, so he supposed that wasn't a surprise. Burt knew that Leroy Berry was an agent and that Rachel was adopted. Carole hadn't even known that much when she moved to Lima. She only knew enough about Finn to mother him, and had no idea how many other children in town were like him, or who they might be.

Seeing the members of New Directions all together had mingled shock, fear, and a grim sense of inevitability among everyone: of course it was all of them. S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently knew what to do if that came to light. They didn't quite know what to do, though, with two boys who remembered their old street address in Manhattan.

"Can we please go?" Kurt asked for what seemed like the dozenth time. "I just want to see everyone and make sure they're all right."

"I'm waiting to hear back," Carole said, distracted. "And they'll be fine. Everyone signed a contract. No one is getting thrown out of their houses, nothing like that."

Just as Kurt began to say that he was worried about more than the extremes of being thrown out, Finn frowned and said, "But Quinn was." Carole didn't have an answer for that.

Finn wanted to go and see everyone, too.

Eventually Burt returned from a phone call. He looked very serious. "Okay, boys. They say you can go see everyone, but you have to stay absolutely quiet about New York for now. Got it?" They both nodded. "And about, you know... brothers." They nodded again and he exhaled, long and slow. "Guess that's that, then. The agent in charge wanted to see everyone."

"He's black," Finn said suddenly.

Burt hesitated. "Come again?"

"The agent in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Finn said as another bubble burst in his memory. "He's a black guy. I can kind of see him. Sort of. Um. Never mind, now it's gone."

Kurt perked up. "Oh! Maybe it's not 'in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' but just this program. Artie's been obsessing off and on about Matt, right?"

Matt! "That makes total sense," Finn said. Of course! Matt had been secretly spying on them, and then he felt secure enough to leave the choir after a year of observation. Look at them, already figuring out how all this worked.

Burt and Carole blinked, and then Carole said, "Ah, right. Well, we'd better get a move on. It sounds like everyone is waiting for us." A face floated into Carole's mind, and Finn jolted with surprise. It was exactly the one he'd tried to latch onto. The man was older and grimmer than Matt, and he wore a pretty badass eyepatch that heightened his dark mood all the more. Whoever that was, Finn had clearly met him before. As a former agent, so had Carole.

Who were all these people?

"Your friends are probably being asked a lot of unpleasant questions," Burt said as they pulled out of the garage. "You were able to call us on New York, but remember, so far as they know, this is home and always has been. They never had any other families. And until S.H.I.E.L.D. says it's okay to tell them, you need to keep things under wraps. Got it?"

"Got it," Kurt said. Finn was a bit surprised at how Kurt not only said the worlds but seemed to agree with them, and sent a bolt of curiosity toward him. The answer he got back made sense: Learning everything so suddenly had me running away from home. If learning things more gently will help, well... let's help.

Finn nodded. Carole's eyes caught his in the rearview mirror. "And don't tell anyone anything telepathically," she warned him.

Jolted, Finn asked, "How did you know I—"

"Mom sense."

Like Spider-Man.

Finn stayed quiet for the rest of the ride.

"Will we get to go to school here again next year?" he asked as they parked in the mostly-empty lot and started walking toward McKinley's doors.

"We don't know," Carole admitted. "Probably?"

Remembering Kurt saying that he wasn't up for another transfer, Finn squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. Kurt shot him a quick smile back.

Burt looked up from whatever he was reading on his phone. "It sounds like they're bringing in the three other kids, too. They'll take you all through the main deal first, and then they'll talk to the, uh...."

"Normal people," Kurt supplied, and smiled at Burt's grimace and apology. "It's okay."

Just remember, Finn thought at him, they can be normal. We're special.

That earned another smile, more genuine than the one he'd given to Burt, as they reached the gymnasium and walked inside. Everyone else was already there, looking anywhere from confused to terrified. Tina and Mercedes were simply upset. Puck had the grumpy expression that he wore when he'd gotten into a long argument with his mother and lost, but when he saw the two of them walking in, he sat straight up and his eyes went wide.

Something odd prickled at Finn's brain, but another, even more overwhelming emotional response dragged all his attention toward Santana. She was sitting between her parents and looked ready to be hauled off to an execution. Misery rolled off her in waves. Brittany kept glancing at her with concern, but every time she did Santana's emotions only darkened more.

Strange, Finn thought as he took a seat on the bottom bleacher. Rachel wiggled her fingers at him; he waved back.

"Thank you all for coming," Leroy Berry said as he stood and walked to the front of the group. "I suppose we can begin now. Although I work for S.H.I.E.L.D., I only knew one other family before last night." He nodded to Burt and Carole, who nodded back. "Now, I suppose we've all learned just which children in this town were put under watch for safekeeping."

"Put under watch?" Quinn repeated, blinking.

"You'll learn all about it soon enough," Leroy promised her. "But we can at least tell you now that your parents aren't all who we said we are." Finn shifted his weight on the hard seat and saw Burt and Carole shake their heads at him. To placate them, he slumped down and tried not to move.

When no one spoke up, Leroy looked hopefully at Burt again. Burt cleared his throat and said, "I'm not actually a mechanic. Or I didn't start off as one, anyway. I used to work for Stark Industries."

"I was a field agent for S.H.I.E.L.D.," Carole said and looked to the side. Everything began to have the feeling of students introducing themselves on the first day of school.

The others began to speak up one by one as their children looked at them in surprise. "I am really a dentist," said Mercedes' father. "But I worked for NASA. Strange things can happen in space. I did a lot of reconstruction."

"I was a stay-at-home mother," Judy said in a wavering voice. The hostility radiating off Quinn probably explained her nerves. "It was Russell who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., but I had to go through all the checks, too."

Artie's parents did financial work for the CIA. Puck's mom archived files for Congress. Santana's dad was a doctor stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, and her mom was an engineer who kept up Cheyenne Mountain. Brittany's parents both worked on special government projects with Boeing. Tina's did lab maintenance at Los Alamos.

"The FBI kept me on staff when they had the budget, on retainer when they didn't," finished Mike Chang, Sr. "You'd be surprised how many wrongful injury cases get brought against them." With a glance to his wife, he answered for her. "Julia only worked for a bank in Silver Spring, but I got invited to some very important parties. It was easier if she had clearance, too."

As the children sat there, all stunned except for Kurt, Rachel, and Finn, Leroy picked up the explanation again. "You can all see that a lot of effort has been made to keep you safe. This is just a taste of how hard we're working to keep you out of harm's way."

"Who wants to hurt us?" Mercedes asked.

"No one wants to hurt you," Hiram half-laughed.

"But he just said that we're being kept 'out of harm's way,'" Quinn said pointedly.

Hiram sighed. "I'm bad at this. Look, we're not really in charge here. We're just general field agents! The permanent agent for this case is much better suited to discuss matters. However much Colonel Fury has allowed, anyway." He checked his phone. "Actually, we might get that explanation now. We've got an arrival. Excellent."

"Wait, wait, wait," Mercedes said more firmly. "Our parents are crazy government spies or something, someone wants to hurt us, and there's a 'permanent agent' who's been stalking us all this time?"

Her father pointed out with surprising good humor, "And you've been sneaking out for a month to go be a superhero, Mercedes." Some of the parents seemed to agree with him quite pointedly, while other children matched her defiant eyebrow pop.

"It'll all make sense," Leroy promised. "It'll make more sense when it's not us explaining any more," he added just under his breath.

Rachel shot Finn a quick thought in the silence. How did everything go last night?

Uh. Kurt ran away, Burt tracked him down in a cemetery, we slept together, and I'm not so sure about New York any more. He had to fight down a groan. I mean, I went to his room. And slept there. On the floor. It already felt weird to be alone; things must be changing quickly.

She nodded once, and looked faintly concerned. Perhaps it is better to let them set the pace of releasing information, then.

About to respond, Finn caught the same strange feeling off Puck as before. He turned and squinted at the boy, who stared back like he'd been caught. Just as Finn was about to say something to him, he felt a new arrival and icewater ran along his nerves. He turned to the door before the rest of the group, who joined him when they heard footsteps.

A tall, strong figure darkened the entrance. Military-grade boots gave way to thick fatigues. Holsters were heavy with guns and medals told of a successful career on the front lines. The agent assigned to them looked the group over in a slow survey and sighed.

"I really do hate this club," said Sue Sylvester.

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