miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-12-01 11:15 am

fic: "Special" (Chapter 14/?)

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: 8,800
Spoilers: Through S2
Full-Series Warnings: Violence, potential character death, and other elements common to comics
Summary: Being a part of something special makes you special. (Also, having superpowers.)
Notes: Oh gosh, sorry for not replying yet to comments and messages. I kept planning to and then, well, yesterday involved an emergency 11-hour experiment construction session. This is what my time has been like when I think I have time to sit down and reply to people, every single time I intend to do that. I WILL I PROMISE. Also: this wound up being the infodumpiest bridge chapter that has ever existed in the world of anything, ever. SORRY 'BOUT THAT. OOPS.

Also: if you've seen some of the recent movies, well, enjoy the references. If you haven't, the relevant stuff will be explained!

Also also: Brittany's parents are named for two members of ABBA.

New Directions was silent for a long, awkward beat as they stared at Sue Sylvester in combat gear. Rachel had the distinct feeling that, unless things started making much more sense very soon, her head might explode.

"Oh, this can't be good," Quinn finally said.

Sue strode toward them. Her combat boots sounded heavy against the ground. When she pulled out a gun, everyone leaned back a few inches, children and parents alike. "See this?" No one answered and she scowled at the nearest face. "Brittany, I asked you a question."

Brittany blinked owlishly at the contents of her hand. "Yes?"

"Because of your little escapade last night, I had to pull out the heavy artillery. I'm packing special bullets just in case things abruptly move from bad to worse." She fumbled in her pocket and retrieved a small box. Opening it revealed bullets that glowed like miniature fluorescent lights.

"Ooh," Brittany said and began to lean toward them. Her parents quickly pulled her back, and Sue snorted and began to pace. Their parents looked incredibly wary at Sue Sylvester being in charge of their children's safety, and most of the students seemed ready to join Rachel in a raging headache.

Sue shot them a few more pointed glares before continuing. "You are making it impossible to meet my mission requirements. I'd be tempted to shoot those bullets at you, if I didn't think you'd just start shining when they hit. You'd probably suck in the energy like perky vampires and start some horrible Up With People revival tour."

"Your mission requirements?" Kurt asked in disbelief. "But... I...."

"And here I thought gay men were supposed to be good with words." Sue chuckled to herself. "'Men.' Well, I suppose that still gives you about eight years to catch up." Her gun slid neatly into its holster.

"Hey," Burt said, frowning.

"Is for horses," Sue replied, "which I'm sure you are familiar with, as you're dressed to clean out a barn. I want to talk to the kids alone." When no one moved, she cleared her throat pointedly. "That was not a request. That was me invoking the part of your contract that says you're required to follow the orders of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in charge of this program: Sue Sylvester."

"I don't remember signing anything like that," Tina's mother said archly.

"We did," sighed Mike's dad. When the other adults looked dubious, he said, "It was well into the stack of papers. She was only described by title, of course."

"I don't read fine print," Puck's mother grumbled. Most of the group seemed to agree with her, even as the resident lawyer looked horrified, but they were all convinced enough to leave their children with Sue. Though most of the teens looked longingly after their shields between them and Sue, Santana looked ready to cry with relief. Things must not have gone well last night, Rachel thought with concern.

Sue continued once they were alone. "You can't begin to know how annoyed everyone was that, after our very careful efforts to keep you all apart, you all joined that stupid glee club. I'm pretty sure the words at headquarters would have stripped the paint off an Amish wagon. We planted an operative to make sure your memories weren't coming back when you latched onto each other."

"Matt," Artie realized. Finn nodded sagely and looked proud of himself.

"Agent Rutherford got some plastic surgery to knock off a few years and watched you little moppets," Sue confirmed. "When we were confident that the wipe stuck, he got called back for other assignments. No need to commit two trained agents to high school. Have you paid attention to those classes? Talk about a waste of time."

Santana finally spoke up, having seemed to gain some confidence now that she was alone. "If you're some badass special government agent, then why were you such a raging bitch as a freaking cheerleading coach?"

Sue smiled nostalgically. "I've foiled the pathetic machinations of Doom’s minions, disassembled an AIM gene bomb with seconds left on the timer, and hunted Nazi commanders through the Alps."

Mercedes held up her hand. "Hold up, your mom is the Nazi hunter. You don't get to be everything."

"We're both Nazi hunters," Sue said. "I've run three campaigns against Red Skull. My mother just gets the missions that she can talk about in public. As I was saying, my work is legendary. And then I got assigned to Evil Mayberry. I've trained commandoes to take down supervillains; now I'm training future trophy wives and cabana boys to do toe touches and herkies." She saw their bewildered expressions, sighed in annoyance, and summarized, "I got bored."

She'd starved her squad members and screamed at them and bought a cannon because she got bored? "Wait. So all this time," Rachel began slowly, trying to pin the facts that wanted to squirm away like eels, "you've really been...."

"On orders of Colonel Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., I've been trying to destroy Will Schuester's glee club to protect the future of humanity."

"What?" Puck managed.

"And you're all so ungrateful," Sue said.

"Why does keeping the glee club apart from each other 'protect the future of humanity?'" Rachel asked in a voice that kept pitching itself higher with each word. She was momentarily concerned that she'd fire off her sonic blasts on accident and tried to rein herself in.

"If I don't tell you kids everything," Sue said, "then you won't be able to tell them anything if you're tortured." Everyone gawked at her. "Come on, basic strategy. Some of you should know this," she added, annoyed. "This has been part of my pre-Nationals pep talk for... you know, I suppose I actually only went once. Can't say I minded having all those memories of my constant glory implanted in the general populace's head, though," she added with a chuckle.

Kurt kept boggling at her. "You're referring to the pep talk where you told us what to do if members of another squad tried to kidnap, interrogate, and/or mutilate us." He sat in stunned silence when she cheerfully nodded, and then turned to Brittany and muttered, "I thought she was kidding." Quinn seemed at a loss over the implanted memory of the same 'pep talk' from Sue Sylvester in her freshman year, and Santana could barely muster the energy to blink.

"So you don't want to destroy New Directions because you hate the arts," Tina ventured.

"Oh, I think your amelodic yodeling is as big a waste of time as the annual career festival. Let's be honest; no one from this school needs to hear about any job that offers full benefits." Sue waved dismissively in the direction of the choir room. "The National Endowment for the Arts spent a hundred and twenty-five million dollars on useless feel-good antics last year. Do you know how much that would pay for things that actually matter?" When no one answered, she continued, "Just over four hours of the Iraq War could be fought on the dime of people who think that peeing on a dashboard Jesus will make them the next Da Vinci."

"Four hours," Kurt repeated in disbelief.

"I'm glad to hear you agree with me," she said, and spoke over him when he protested. "Those could be four extremely key hours." Sue shrugged. "But there are plenty of things that annoy me and I don't dedicate myself to eliminating them. Otherwise, the heads of the Kardashian clan—minus Khloe—would be stuffed and mounted on my wall."

Right: Sue Sylvester was a secret agent and she had a favorite Kardashian. If Rachel didn't get a firm handle on reality right that second, her head might very well just float off. "Then why—"

"I've told you: to protect the future of humanity. Keep up, 'Anthem.'"

Rachel didn't rise to the bait of her code name being sneered like an insult. "You've told us a lot of very general things that mean nothing in the end, Ms. Sylvester. We're owed more of an explanation than what you're giving us." Sue raised an eyebrow as Rachel folded her arms across her chest. "I can just have Finn read your mind, you know."

"You mean you would ask Finn to read her mind," Finn corrected. Rachel tried to hold back her irritation. She was making a point and Finn was not helping.

"Really," Sue said, and she actually seemed amused at Rachel's nerve. "Would you do that, Little Miss Leader?"

"Of course I would," Rachel replied. Her chin raised defiantly until she felt as if an onlooker could peer right up her nose.

"And what would you say if I told you that I'm shielded against any telepathic probes, and a psychic stupid enough to try to read my thoughts would wind up as a lobotomized husk on the floor?" Sue smirked at Finn, who'd gone pale. "Not that you'd notice."

"I don't think that's possible," Artie said after a thoughtful moment. "I've been trying to study what Tina's powers do, and they're the sort of energy that can be forced into a brain by a piece of machinery. But they're not psychic powers. She could make someone feel pain, but not destroy their mind. You need a psychic to do that. I mean... I think. Maybe." He bit his lower lip and then said to Finn, "Don't quote me on that."

Just within the boundaries of her peripheral vision, Rachel saw Kurt and Finn exchange a glance, then nod. Kurt took a deep breath, stood, and wiped his presumably sweaty palms on his pants before he could help himself. "Coach Sylvester," he said, and his voice wavered for just a second. "If I may?"

"You may not, Porcelain. Sit down."

"I have something that needs to be discussed as we negotiate for information." He turned to look at everyone, seemed to gather strength from their encouraging nods, and refocused on Sue. "If we had known what our powers were, we wouldn't have run into dangerous situations discovering them. If we'd been allowed to train under supervision, we wouldn't have put ourselves at risk in public. And if we'd been told the truth about our pasts," he said meaningfully, "then I wouldn't have almost run away last night."

Sue narrowed her eyes. Rachel couldn't decide whether she looked ready to smile at his audacity, bite his head off, or both. "The truth about your pasts?" she repeated, clearly daring him to expand upon that statement. Every line of her body said that it would be a terrible idea for Kurt to keep talking.

If it was a bluff, Kurt called it. Quinn looked satisfied at whatever was happening, Brittany chewed her thumbnail, and Santana could barely move. "I'm sure you laughed when you filed my squad medical paperwork, Coach Sylvester, since you knew perfectly well that the birthday was wrong." Her smile thinned further, but Kurt kept going. "I'm not a Gemini, am I?"

"Astrology is the realm of the weak-minded and easily-led." Despite the insult, Sue seemed almost... nervous.

"July eleventh falls under Cancer, doesn't it?" Kurt smiled at the tiny but visible flinch that date earned. "Please, no comments about that name. I can't say that I'm a fan. And really, all things considered, Gemini would have been far more appropriate."

"Wait, what?" Mike asked. "We've got different birthdays? What's going on?"

"Not all of us," Finn said. He didn't look away from Sue as he talked. "Just some of us."

As Sue began to chuckle darkly about having a talk with their parents, Rachel saw something on the floor and leaned over to Artie. Like a habit, he'd grabbed his backpack when he headed to school. She hoped that he'd ignored its contents in his desire to focus on summer freedom. "Artie, may I please see your bag?" she whispered, and with an odd look he handed it over. She found her target in short order. With a proud smile she held up a miniature photo album that was packed cover-to-cover with images of New York. "Ms. Sylvester," Rachel said politely as she wiggled her trophy. "If you were supposed to destroy the club, then what was running through your mind when we not only made it to Nationals, but went to... New York?"

Sue looked between the three of them. Her lips pursed and she looked ready to hit something or someone, but then she abruptly relaxed. "All right, kids. If you're willing to play with fire, then I'll let you get burned. You're right. If you knew what was going on, then maybe you would have avoided that astonishingly moronic stunt last night that could have set off a domino effect that will end with the destruction of all mankind."

"You're not going to scare us into behaving with ghost stories," Quinn said.

"These aren't stories," Sue replied. She checked something on her belt and, after seeming satisfied that they were alone, pulled up a folding metal chair in front of them and sat. "I have one condition. I will tell you what I feel is appropriate for today. If you have any more knowledge, just keep it to yourselves for now and it'll come out a little later." She saw the distrustful stares from Rachel, Kurt, and Finn. "This is going to get heavy quick, kids. Add any more and you'd just be confusing them."

Before any of the others could ask the trio what they knew, Sue began her tale. "As you might have guessed from Berry's prop comedy stylings, you used to live in New York City." Nearly everyone sat up straight, stared at her for a long second, and then began to talk excitedly over one another. "Hey. Hey!" she shouted. "I've barely started."

When they'd calmed, she continued. "Your parents worked at a government lab that was trying to explore new energy sources. Between that fusion disaster a few years back in Manhattan and how expensive Stark's first commercial arc reactor will be, the government was hoping to find a reliable and cheap supply. The Eastern Seaboard's grid is dying a slow death."

Rachel felt the information about infrastructure and cost allowances start to go over her head. Looking around the others revealed that, despite the shocking mention of New York, people were quickly becoming bored. She saw a wicked glint in Sue's eyes that said she was getting just the reaction she'd hoped for, and resolved to keep focused until she came back to relevant information.

Once she'd sufficiently punished them with the minutia of aging infrastructure, Sue finally circled back around to what mattered. "In recent years the government has come into the possession of an object of incredible power. I don't understand its properties, which is fine; they don't pay me to. It nearly turned the tide of World War II, in the wrong direction. It vanished for a while, but then Washington recovered it and has expended an awful lot of effort to get this thing figured out."

"What is it?" Puck asked.

Sue hesitated for just a breath, like she was debating whether she would give a title to this secret project, and then said, "The Cosmic Cube."

"The Cosmic Cube," Puck repeated slowly. "That has got to be one of the stupidest names I've ever heard in my life."

Sue eyed him. "I'm sorry, am I not talking to a member of 'the Awesomes?'"

Everyone turned to Finn. He folded his arms and said without any apology, "You guys should have thought of a name."

She snorted and continued. "Well, Puckerman, Washington actually agrees with you. People have also just been calling it 'the Tesseract.' Their best guess is that it's an unstable fold between a bunch of different dimensions, all with their own energy. If you can figure out how to plug it into an outlet, then Happy New Year, kids, let's turn Buffalo into Times Square."

"What does that have to do with us?" Tina asked.

"You are all spectacularly slow," Sue said. "I am constantly amazed at your refusal to use that grey matter rattling around inside your skulls like an imitation snake in a jar of peanuts."

Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Did you get to insult your fellow soldiers, Coach Sylvester, or did you actually get in trouble for that?"

"Just my underlings," Sue said fondly. "I miss being able to order people into the line of fire." A few of them cleared their throats and she glared at them. "I already told you. Your parents were working at that lab. Can you seriously not put two and two together?" After hesitating, she admitted, "You know, that's a fair point. You go to this school. You probably can't."

"Did our parents do something to us?" Artie asked.

"Not on purpose. You got to take a little pre-screened field trip for Take Your Daughter, Son, Or Other To Work Day."

"'Other?'" Mercedes repeated, but then noticed Kurt glaring at Sue. "Oh."

"Long story short: that unstable energy that they were hoping would light up the East Coast? A good chunk of it got shot straight into you. Pure potential, realized with incredibly stupid costumes and names."

"My costumes are fine," Kurt said, still glowering.

"This round isn't bad," Sue admitted. "A little on the S&M side, but I can respect that. It's saucy. But it's not the first time you've tried this gig. You might have guessed that you've tested out your powers before, given that you all don't remember living in New York." She shot a glare at Finn, Kurt, and Rachel that dared them to say otherwise. When they stayed obediently silent, she continued. "Fifteen year olds with easy access to spandex in every color of the rainbow, well. It wasn't pretty."

"How come we don't remember living in New York?" Puck asked.

"For your own safety," Sue said. "Look, you've got experimental energy coursing through your veins and some dangerous people interested in what went on. It made sense to hide you."

"Why not tell us?" Rachel asked. "We can defend ourselves, and would be doing even better at it if we'd been properly trained. Hiding us and just hoping for the best was clearly a terrible plan. We shouldn't have hidden, we should have faced them down and solved this problem. All it's done this way is fester."

Sue shrugged, unimpressed with her argument. "You can't use your powers for very long, can you? Or control them all that well? Think about the real heroes you see on the news. The Human Torch can fly around the sky for hours without burning out. The Invisible Woman can manipulate her fields into doing practically anything, not just barely holding together until someone comes to her rescue." She looked around the group and took in their reactions.

Rachel did the same and saw a full group of frowns. Kurt as he presumably remembered crumpling with a gushing nosebleed. Finn and his inadvertent mindreading. Artie's uncontrollable inventions, and Brittany's uncontrollable everything. Mike and Brittany's unreliable braking. Santana's fire form dying into embers, Mercedes losing her shields, Quinn not keeping in control after she thought she had things handled....

It was true. She and Tina were comfortable with their powers, but only because they'd barely pushed them. And just like Rachel had once said, Puck was the most reliably confident with what he could do, but he hardly matched up to some of the biggest heroes. What if he were stronger and faster than he'd currently shown? In ragged unison the group looked back up to Sue, hoping for an explanation.

"The energy inside you isn't just poorly understood, it's unstable," Sue explained.

"Are we going to blow up?" Brittany asked with wide eyes.

"That would suck," Finn agreed, looking discomfited.

"I could only be so fortunate," Sue said, which didn't reassure them much. "But it does mean that each and every one of you is currently walking around as a little derrick to other dimensions' energy wells until we figure out how to get you capped."

Artie, unsurprisingly, was the first one to follow that explanation to something like a logical conclusion. "So until your government guys figure out how to stabilize this energy, we have creepy bad guys after us that want access to unlimited power. And we might not be able to fight hard enough."

"Bingo, Christopher Reeve," Sue said. "And you've just figured out why one of the top agents in the world was assigned to this case." She watched everyone's reactions and chuckled at their fear. "After the annoyance of seeing you all on television last night, I have to say: your bewilderment and terror gives me strength." No one seemed to know how to respond to her, and for a while they sat in silence.

It was Santana who snapped first. "Fuck this," she said, standing. Everyone half-turned to her. "Fuck this sideways with a pair of garden shears, you got me? I am through getting yanked around by the world."

"San," Brittany said with worried glances between her and Sue, "Coach Sylvester has a gun."

"Yeah? So shoot me," she said defiantly. Her hands spread wide like targets.

Well, Rachel thought as she shrank down as far as she could, Santana certainly seemed to have perked up now that her parents were out of the room. Her apparent death wish didn't speak well to her overall mental state, however.

"Not gonna do it?" Santana asked like she'd proven a point.

"You're certainly feistier than usual," Sue said after a beat of studying her with a smile. "I can count on Boy George or Meghan McCain to occasionally find their spines and wave them at me, but you've pretty much been my reliable little toadie for as long as I've known you." Tension flared in her eyes, hard and sharp, and Rachel saw a woman who really had faced down foes gunning for her head. Sue was not happy about being forced into this discussion. "Let me guess: your obvious emotional instability has to do with how you managed to out yourself to the greater Columbus metropolitan region last night."

Everyone flinched, and then turned to Santana. Brittany reached for her hand and squeezed it. "Oh my god," Rachel heard Kurt whisper. "She did. She kissed Brittany. Oh god."

Santana didn't sit down, though tears were trickling down her cheeks. Her mascara was clearly left messily over from the night before, but much had been wiped off. The raccoon circles weren't as dramatic as they might have been and the black streaks tracking her tears weren't as dark.

"Moving on," Sue began after a tense second of staring, but Santana spoke up again. Brittany's hand was an anchor, and Rachel could see the tendons move in her wrist when her grip tightened even more.

"No. Not 'moving on.' Because ever since I saw myself on the TV, I have been terrified of what would happen next. But while everyone else here was thinking about New York and superhero costumes and whatever bullshit ego trip you're on?" Santana laughed bitterly. "I was thinking about my parents and what was going to happen when we went home again. So I guess I'm the one who put two and two together, McKinley education and all."

Sue's eyes narrowed. "Meaning?"

"You said our parents worked for a lab in New York." Santana's finger stabbed toward the door. "But Brittany's parents said they worked in Seattle. Tina's? New Mexico. All those people in D.C... get the picture?"

Sue pulled back. "Wait. When did they—"

Kurt and Finn began to smile. "Before you came in," Kurt said as he stepped smoothly in to support Santana. "Mr. Berry told everyone to give their real histories. Should he not have done that?"

"Oh, hell," Sue said. Most of the group looked bewildered as they tried to put everything together, but a few were starting to clue in. Eyes were widening.

"So," Santana said after the tension had built unbearably high, "did you just lie to us about where we got these powers, or are those people waiting in the choir room not really our parents?" Her tone of voice was strange, like she didn't know which answer she'd prefer.

Utter shock buffeted Rachel as she waited for Sue's answer. She'd never even considered that their masked memories might have hidden more than a change of address. Were her fathers not hers? They were agents for some secretive government organization, who'd clearly lied about their backgrounds to every last person they met. If Sue were telling the truth about their powers and the risks they posed, it made perfect sense that agents would be asked to adopt her. Or... ordered to adopt her.

Fear dried her tongue. Her fingers tingled. "Ms. Sylvester?" Rachel asked weakly. "Which is it? Are they our parents?" Maybe this was her punishment for misbehaving, rather than a few short weeks of grounding.

Was that why they were never home? Maybe they didn't feel like they wanted to be around a girl who wasn't really theirs, not like she was supposed to be.

After all, Shelby hadn't.

* * *

Unsurprisingly, the number given to the adults had turned out to be the choir room. Leroy explained how Sue had taken an opportunity to bug it during the process of constructing an implausibly large trophy case. Because of the constant sweeps she'd been running since then, she was confident the room was secure. It was either that or her office, and a few short words made it very clear that she would not be offering that as an option.

Burt shifted awkwardly on his plastic seat and wondered if the school had shrunk since he graduated. He was pretty sure they'd had full-sized chairs back when he was wearing a football jersey. "So, uh," he said into the horribly uncomfortable silence that had settled over everyone. "Guess it makes sense, huh. All our kids wanting to be in this choir? I mean, to look at them, some don't really seem like the singing type."

"Like they were drawn together," agreed Tina's dad. Burt couldn't remember his name. Of course, the only connection they had was that their adopted, superpowered children were in the same extracurricular club, so he supposed he could be excused.

Leroy's partner—husband?—spoke up. Burt couldn't remember his name either, and that one he did feel guilty about. "I was specifically told not to consider this, but now that the cat is out of the bag, well... I wonder what those implanted memories did to keep them apart. I can't imagine they all used to be incredibly close, but they did get along before. They surely had little groups of friends that weren't repeated here." Given that they were all clearly close again, he allowed, "Not immediately, at least."

Carole hopped down from peering through the high windows. "The vans are all still gone. It looks like any journalists have been scared off for the rest of the day; Sue is good at that, I'll admit." She realized everyone had turned to her and that she wasn't on the same wavelength as the rest of the group, and laughed nervously. "Sorry. I just like to make sure that the perimeter's secure."

Burt smiled at her reassuringly. Once they were close to marriage, they'd independently contacted S.H.I.E.L.D. to let them know what was happening. Neither had been asking for permission, really; they'd been told that they could live normal lives in Lima and both thought they would soon be marrying a civilian. The flustered response they got was nearly an order to break up and they'd apparently set off a debate about what to do. Burt's heart attack answered the question for them: it might happen again, and then they'd be in quite a spot with Kurt. S.H.I.E.L.D. told them mazel tov, essentially, and pushed them toward the aisle and toward telling each other what was going on.

At first they'd just laughed at the unbelievable odds. Then they'd talked about their pasts and what had led them to Lima. Carole fretted sometimes and Burt let her. He couldn't imagine what her life as an agent had been like. He'd never lived outside a world of 401ks and timesheets.

"Speaking of memories," said... damn, said Mercedes' father. "Who went for that offer of getting some for themselves?"

Burt, smiling, nodded at him and saw Carole doing the same. Not once had he regretted opening up his mind to another father's memories of Kurt's childhood. "It's crazy to remember Kurt when he was just a little kid and know it's not really me seeing him, but man, I wouldn't give it up. He's great. I'm glad I feel like I get to see more of him, you know?"

"Mercedes had quite the attitude," the man chuckled. "She didn't take anything from anyone." He sounded proud when he added, "You'd never know she didn't start off as mine."

Two attractive, very pale people that Burt hadn't met before smiled nostalgically. Unable to take it any more, Burt said, "Look, I'm sorry, but I can't remember half the names here, and we're all kind of in this together. I'm Burt Hummel, this is Carole Hudson-Hummel."

"Ben and Annie," Ben said, nodding to make up for how they were too distant for a handshake.

"Pierce," Annie added. "We're Brittany's."

"Jerry and Nancy Abrams," said a man in the next seat over. "Artie was such a good boy when he was growing up. So well-behaved."

Ben asked delicately, "How did he, ah...?"

Nancy sighed. "It was a car accident, like he remembered here, but it came after an explosion when his family was visiting Manhattan. So many people can get caught in those crossfires. A sedan went flying into the air and...." She shivered and forced herself to smile at the Pierce couple. "How was Brittany?"

They both laughed wryly and shook their heads. Annie sounded utterly in love with her daughter when she said, "An absolute handful. Every day she was dressing up, wanting to go to the zoo, coloring the walls. Anything that came to mind, she did. No filter at all. We were given a pretty thorough description of her powers, because it sounded like they were the most concerned about them out of anyone. If they started bleeding through, it would be cause for immediate concern. That's why they told us to make sure she could spend time with...." Trailing off, she looked at one of the few couples not to be smiling over their children.

"I suppose we know how they were spending that time," said Mr. Lopez shortly. He saw Burt frowning at him, as there was something in the man's tone that had him uneasy. "What? You saw the news."

"We had a pretty big night at our place," Burt said. "Whatever you're talking about slipped my mind." It hadn't. He'd been surprised when he saw those two girls kissing, because he didn't know Kurt wasn't alone like that in the club. Before the boys had gotten home and had taken over the night with their discussion of New York and brotherhood, Santana had certainly made an impression.

"Everything they've been doing," Mr. Lopez said, gesturing at the Pierces. Burt didn't know his first name, and from the sound of his voice, didn't care to learn it.

"And what's wrong with 'what they've been doing?'" Burt asked shortly. Carole patted his arm and made noises like she would very much like for him to calm down. He wasn't going to calm down. They were supposed to be there for those kids, especially now that they might be in mortal danger, and he didn't want to hear someone getting self-righteous over the fact that their kid's wedding topper might have two dresses on it.

"They've been going off like half-cocked superheroes!" Mr. Lopez said angrily. "Or have you not paid any attention to why we're here?"

Burt hesitated and tried to wrench his brain into place. The others looked similarly confused. "Wait, what? I thought you were yelling over your girl, uh, liking girls."

Mrs. Lopez blinked at him. "What? Why would you think we'd care about that? We knew when we took Santana in that she needed to stay close to Brittany. They think it helped stabilize her powers, just in case."

"And it's not like she's our daughter," Mr. Lopez added dismissively.

"Actually," Leroy said, "she is."

Mr. Lopez shot him a dark look. "We were pressured into taking this assignment." His sharp glare moved to the right, to Leroy's partner. The man looked levelly back. "I didn't want it. The U.S. government needs to work a bit harder on their diversity efforts; they had very few Hispanic couples who both already had high-level clearance. My career has been on hold until she went to college. And now that she's gone and made a fool out of herself on television, we'll get blamed for not maintaining control of her. I might not just lose time to this project, I might lose an entire pay grade."

Burt and Carole were struck mute as they struggled for a response. Most of the other parents there looked similarly dumbstruck at their casual dismissal of Santana's adoption and the family they were supposed to have formed. Burt had speeches ready for homophobia. He'd inspected the problem from every angle, it felt like, and could offer any perspective people needed to hear. He didn't know how to respond to two adults who thought a vulnerable child was nothing more than a burden who might hurt their salaries. Nor did anyone else, from the silence that settled across the room.

A quiet voice finally spoke up. "You sound like Russell." Everyone turned to see the woman speaking. Burt figured she must be Quinn's mom; he knew from discussions of the club that she and the punk were the kids with single mothers, and it was easy to see who would have been paired with who. "I'm Judy," she added. "I've met some of you before, but you probably don't remember it." She did give the impression of being insubstantial, like a cotton shirt that had been worn too long and washed too many times. Prim and collected, she still seemed frayed at every end.

"Quinn's mother," Mrs. Lopez placed. "Our girls are friends."

"I wish I'd encouraged her to spend more time with everyone," Judy said. "I think Quinn could use more friends. Good friends." Her smile wavered. "Russell just came home one day and told me that we were moving. He'd signed a contract for both of us. You're not supposed to be able to do that, but they were so rushed with trying to get everything sorted out that they just let him sign my name." Her hands smoothed her skirt. "He'd never gotten the promotions he wanted. I think he thought that joining this very important project would let him move up the ranks."

She hesitated before turning to Mercedes' father and saying, "Walter, isn't it?"

A bit surprised that she remembered, he nodded. "Yes, that's right."

"Your daughter came to see Quinn again this summer. It would be nice if they could stay close." Her thin smile wavered again, like it was tiring to hold. "Thank you for taking her in. It seemed like just as soon as we'd moved here, Russell started getting angry over little things. He began to think that maybe he'd made a mistake, and that maybe this would hurt his promotion chances instead of helping them. He didn't have much patience for Quinn... she was just a means to an end. When your boy told us that Quinn was pregnant...." Judy shrugged helplessly at Carole. "He was done. So long as one of us was still around to fulfill the contract, we wouldn't be thrown into prison. He left me here. I had to make up an excuse to tell Quinn, because I couldn't tell her the truth about her 'father.' It's been hard." With a look toward the Lopezes, she added, "But I've done my best."

Burt looked around and saw mixed reactions. Mike's parents seemed split, where his dad had sympathy for the tough spot the Lopezes found themselves in, while his mom clearly loved him. He and Carole, the Pierces, the Berrys, and Walter were perhaps the most committed of everyone; he assumed that Mercedes' mom would be much the same. "Whatever you think about your careers," he said tightly toward the Lopezes and anyone else who didn't seem totally on board, "we're dealing with these kids' whole lives. They need us, and we're in a lot better shape than any of them."

"And we'll fulfill our duties," Mrs. Lopez said. "I provide a safe home for my daughter, I talk to her after school, I deal with her many behavioral issues...." She punctuated the last with an eyebrow pop. "She'll have a safe home until she graduates, she'll get her government scholarship or however they're going to handle higher education for these kids, and we'll move back to Colorado. We will fulfill our contracts," she added with a pointed glance at Judy. "And our child will never wonder where she's sleeping tonight."

As Judy flinched, Puck's mom spoke up. "Yeah, I got involved with that, too. Her, I mean: Quinn. Boy, was that ever a mess. What kind of a group would dump a bunch of kids in this town and then turn them all into such a soap opera, when they were the ones deciding what was going on in their heads?"

Carole frowned. "You really think they changed them that much? If you think they made Finn and Quinn date each other, and then made her and Puck...." She trailed off as everyone followed that to its horrifying conclusion. "I saw S.H.I.E.L.D. do some brutal things," she eventually continued, voice shaking. "But I can't even fathom that they would mindcontrol two children into having sex."

"No, no," said Leroy. "Look, I don't know exactly what happened, but you're right, we wouldn't. I think they just planted some very strong suggestions in people's heads when they were implanting the false memories. Finn didn't want to date Rachel, he wanted to date Quinn. Hell, that tried to surge up again this past year, remember? Believe me, we heard all about that drama from our little girl. But in the end, that setup fell apart again. Right?"

"That's still coming very close to crossing a line," Carole said. "These poor kids."

"Yeah," Burt said unhappily, thinking back to how Finn kept saying that he didn't want to go back to where he'd started. It was one thing to allow a psychic to mess around in your head to just implant good stuff, like his memories of Kurt, but they'd clearly changed so much more with the kids. Once they started messing with a person's head, who knew how far they'd go?

"So I suppose we'll just wait, now," Tina's dad said when it became apparent that they were going to be stuck in there as Sue took their children whatever she wanted to tell. They'd left them right at the start of everything; by that point, they could have discussed any amount of information.

"Suppose so," said Puck's mom.

Burt shot her an annoyed look before he could help it, and then reined himself in. She'd said absolutely nothing wrong. He didn't know if she'd let the psychics go to work on her, but still, she clearly cared about her kid. Her son. Puck. That obnoxious, arrogant, trouble-making kid that Burt just flat-out didn't like.

Maybe he didn't have a good reason for it, but he was a dad. He didn't need reasons.

* * *

Though only a few seconds had passed since Rachel's question about their parents, it felt like hours. "Tell them," Sue finally snapped to Kurt and Finn. "You've clearly been itching to spill these extremely classified beans ever since you walked in here."

After a silent exchange, Kurt nodded and Finn stood. He adjusted his shirt nervously and turned to face everyone. "Yeah, okay. So I can read minds, which you knew, and Kurt and I managed to dig up a bunch of memories last night. They're probably in there for you, too, and you just need to find the right way to—"

"Speed it up," Santana snapped, "or is all that lard weighing you down?"

Finn glared at her and looked ready to say something else, but managed to collect himself with a pointed look from Kurt. "The two of us remembered just enough about our family to know... the people in that choir room aren't our parents." Rachel felt as if she'd taken a sledgehammer to the chest; she hadn't simply lost her breath, but was in physical pain. She could hear gasps, moans, whispered protests. Quinn and Santana simply stared. "But they love us," Finn continued. "I swear."

"They really do," Kurt added, rising to take a spot next to him. "Finn showed me and I'm completely convinced. They're still good people. The details might be different, but they're just who we thought." He took in their disbelief. "I know it's hard to believe. But we really did live in New York. It's not just Coach Sylvester telling us. I remembered, Finn and Rachel remembered, and Finn knows those memories are true. And he also knows it's true that our parents are good, caring—"

"You mean your 'parents' are good people," Quinn retorted, and everyone turned to her, slowly, like they were moving through water. "Or did you scan everyone when you walked in? Do they actually love all of us?" A thin, bitter laugh escaped her. "Because I've gotta say, everything is suddenly making a lot more sense to me."

"I... no, I didn't scan anyone else," Finn admitted. "But I could. It'll be the same way for everyone, come on."

"My parents love me," Mercedes said loudly before anyone could add more. "That is my dad in there, my mom is going to fly back tomorrow from visiting my grandma, and they are my real family."

"They are your real family," Kurt agreed very gently. "They just weren't always that way."

Her lower lip quivered. "Don't, Kurt."

She'd already gone through gaining and losing a mother, Rachel thought as she tried to steady her breathing. It had come close to breaking her. Her chest still ached. Had she already lost fathers in New York? Or... or another father and another mother? Mothers?

"No way," Artie said, although his voice lacked conviction. "Guys, Sue's just messing with us."

"Yeah," Puck said, just as uncertain.

"I'm not the one telling this story any more," Sue replied and gestured to the standing duo. "Blame them."

"They tried to make families close to what we started with," Finn continued. "Rachel, you probably had dads in New York. Puck, I'm betting you had a single mom. I don't know, I haven't remembered anything about them yet, but I'd put money on it."

Mike frowned at both of them. He didn't seem quite as relieved as Quinn and Santana, but he was in far better shape than Mercedes' heartbroken end of the emotional scale. "Did they try to keep us together once we were here in Ohio?"

That finally made Sue step back into command of the conversation. The very idea seemed to offend her. "Of course not. You were supposed to keep away from each other, at least more than a few at a time. And instead, you insisted on coming together like an ant hill that refused to be stomped out." Her foot kicked idly at the polished floor. "And believe me, I did try."

Most people seemed to accept that, but Mike spoke up again. "Did the government try to keep their parents from getting married?" he asked, gesturing between Kurt and Finn. "If people were supposed to stay apart, and they just randomly happened to, uh...." He smiled apologetically at them both. "Sorry. I'm just trying to figure out just how creepy and invasive this all is."

"It didn't just 'happen,'" Finn cheerfully corrected, slinging his arm around Kurt's shoulders. He pulled him close, which gave Kurt a pained expression and made the rest of the group look more than a little confused. Rachel, at least, found some small humor in knowing what Finn was really doing. "He was totally hot for my bod."

"Oh please stop," Kurt whimpered.

Finn did not stop. It was remarkable how well he was dealing with the entire situation, even if he had been given more time to process it. Rachel still felt dizzy. "Probably thought about me coming home after football practice, all sweaty...."

"I am begging you to stop," Kurt said, trying to squirm away.

"Dude," Puck said sharply and leaned forward as if he were a breath away from lunging at them. "Drop it."

Finn blinked and let Kurt push free of him. "Okay," he said, glancing between everyone like they would have the explanation for Puck's strange reaction. Rachel shrugged helplessly; they were all on edge. It might be as simple as that. He looked back to Puck, concentration pressing on his brow, and then froze like he'd seen something terrible in the boy's face.

Puck stared back, swallowed, and shook his head once.

As Rachel looked between them, Sue slapped her hands against her thighs and stood. "Well, I think we've said about enough. Jackie Chan, the short answer to your question is: we tried our best to keep you apart so you'd stay safely amnesiac and hidden, and you still came together like a highly annoying blood clot. I insulted you, terrorized you, tried to use members of your own group against one another just to twist the knife, and you still came out of it calling yourselves an extremely dysfunctional, sex-crazed family."

"But we don't have families," Santana said thinly. Her smile was heartbreaking.

"You do, Santana," Rachel said. She was a leader. She had to lead, even if that meant forcing down her emotional reaction in favor of the people who needed more help. "I... what Kurt and Finn told us is to hard to accept. I still want to cry over the very idea, and I want to be able to say they're wrong. But if we can make it through last night, we can make it through anything. Including this. I tried to help you when you almost burned down your house," she added. "If we're going to get through this, we need to let people help." She glanced to Finn for support, but he was still staring at Puck over whatever he'd read there. "Your parents—"

"We don't have families," she repeated, each word hard.

"You have me," said a soft voice beside Santana, and she looked down at Brittany like she'd forgotten that they were still holding hands. Brittany smiled tremulously. "I know this is hard and scary, but things can be that way and still be amazing. And I was mad at you for what you said in the car, sure, but I don't want you to be mad at yourself."

"Why would I be mad at myself?" Santana said lightly, like sun glinting off ice. "I'm great. Everyone else has their big, stupid problems."

"Because you think your parents are mad at you because you kissed me," Brittany said simply. "And you think you shouldn't have done it." Santana didn't say anything to that, and Brittany didn't seem to know what else to say. She started stroking the back of Santana's hand with her free fingers, gently, like a cat.

"Screw them if they have a problem with you," Quinn said, turning around to face her. "We can be better than our parents." She laughed disbelievingly and said, "You know what's great? If this is true? We can imagine that our real parents would never treat us this way."

"There's nothing good about this, Quinn," Mercedes said, and Rachel reached back to squeeze her hand in complete understanding. Kurt, who'd hurried away from Finn, clasped his hands around their wrists and held on.

"That's a lot easier for you to say," Quinn said with a shrug.

"We need to talk," Finn said suddenly and loudly. He'd never taken his eyes off Puck, and Puck hadn't dared look away. "Right now."

Sue smirked, like she knew the answer to whatever was happening between them, and brightened further when she turned to the door and the man who'd just entered. "William! I'm glad to hear you got my message, once you'd finished showing all the grace of Richard Nixon in front of the camera."

Will Schuester gawked at the group in the gymnasium. He then put his focus on his long-time nemesis. His smile looked like he was holding back hysterical laughter as he looked up and down her military ensemble. "Nice costume, Sue. I take it you had something to do with this?" Tightly, he turned his attention to the kids and added, "And guys, I was kind of surprised to see everything."

"It's a very long story, Mr. Schuester," Rachel sighed.

Still lost in their own world, Puck shouted back to Finn, "Drop it! We'll talk later!"

"No, not later, because—" Finn broke off when three people peered around Will: the normal humans who'd accompanied them on their trip to Columbus. He looked between them, then Puck, back to them, and sounded ready to punch something. "Perfect. Just perfect."

"How'd things go after I left?" Blaine called out from around Will's shoulder.

"They've been better," Kurt said weakly with a look to where Brittany was still comforting Santana and had pulled Quinn into the mixture. Mike looked distant as Tina tried to talk to him. Artie was zoning out. Rachel had latched onto Mercedes, a fellow sympathizer with the idea that they had their parents whom they absolutely would not give up, and they clung together like mutual life preservers.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Blaine said after a painfully long stretch where everyone at the door seemed more than a little confused about what they'd walked into. Will kept shrugging, clearly telling the kids that he didn't know what was happening.

"Why's he here?" Puck asked. Finn glared at him. When he tried to drag Puck off to the side, though, Puck only snorted at him as his superpowered body resisted any attempt Finn made. "Hey, baby," he added belatedly, waving at Lauren while Finn tried futilely to move Puck even an inch across the gym floor.

"Thanks for following my orders, William," Sue said as she nodded to the three newcomers. "I contacted their parents so they'd be sure to release them to you. See? I can make things easy for you, when I'm so inclined."

"Easy for me?" Will sputtered. "And I didn't 'follow orders,' I saw my kids—and him—putting their lives at risk on television, and then you said that you knew something about it! That they needed to come here for the sake of their personal safety! That I should look up their addresses and... sorry, I just wasn't sure how to include you," Will said when he saw that Blaine had been looking a bit put off ever since he was slapped with 'and him.'

"Well, let's let this discussion happen among everyone," Sue said, gesturing among the group. "I'm sure there are some people who really want to catch up. William, would you mind getting some refreshments for our guests? All of their parents are waiting in your choir room, and are probably getting more than a little bored. Hopefully they haven't started ripping apart your pathetic dominion out of boredom."

"What?" Will asked, his voice spiraling ever higher.

For the first time since everything had started, Rachel felt utterly out of control. Her fathers were fakes. Santana needed help, but didn't want hers. Her life was a lie. Sue Sylvester had effectively taken over command of her team, she couldn't meet the media who wanted to talk to her, and she had no idea why Finn was still trying to drag Puck off somewhere.

"I might be able to get a little fun out of this, after all," Sue said proudly as she looked around the room.

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